A Song of Ice and Fire: On Finishing (and not)
I finally finished the five current books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. My best estimate is that this took me about two months of really solid reading — reading every second I could, including all through an airplane trip to Austin.
It’s a strange feeling, finishing something this huge. One major feeling is relief — phew! It’s done! I can move on to my other books! But because the last book published is not actually the last book in the series (we have at least two more to go), there’s this lingering sense of anticipation, of disappointment, of open-endedness.
What will happen to all of the characters? Will we ever find out how one managed to survive being hanged, how another arrived on the scene just in time? What is going on with the characters who have been missing for one or two books? Who will get their comeuppance, and who will ride the dragons? WHO IS DEAD AND WHO IS NOT?
This is hardly a new problem. Epic series such as Earth’s Children by Jean M. Auel and, more recently, the Harry Potter books, have taken decades to finish storylines — 30 years in the case of Ms. Auel’s series. There were 12 years in between Ms. Auel’s The Plains of Passage and The Shelters of Stone, 10 years between The Shelters of Stone and The Land of Painted Caves, the final book in the series. This makes the six-year wait between George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons seem like nothing. In this age of the internet and instant content, however, there are fans clamoring for blood because Mr. Martin has been working on his latest book for four years. You know, the massive 1,500-page tome with an enormous amount of pressure on it that needs to begin to gather disparate characters and amazingly complex storylines together.
Unlike so many fans, I don’t wish Mr. Martin would hurry it up. I think he should take as much time as he needs to make the series match his vision, and I don’t think he “owes” his readers anything regarding completion. He is a man writing what is the biggest, most complex story not only of his life, but potentially of our era. This is a legacy he’s building, a timeless story that will be read for generations, like The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He definitely should not rush the process for the sake of some whiny readers.
That being said, I do wonder how to cope with this gap in my reading. Do I read the series over and over and over again? Do I join the vast legions of fans out there formulating crazy theories about where the series is going to go? Do I try to determine who the “mummer’s dragon” is?
Help me, LT readers. Have you ever been in this situation? What did you do?