Critique of A Song of Ice and Fire: Magic

wildfire poster (source)
I've now written about two themes I really enjoy from George R. R. Martin's book series A Song of Ice and Firehistory and religion. Now I'd like to highlight one aspect of the series that I don't enjoy as much—the magic.

Why don't I enjoy the magic of Westeros and its universe? After all, most all "fantasy" books contain some type of magical creatures or magical powers. Well, I think my disappointment with the magic in the books is that it threatens the gritty realism present in the other aspects of the stories, such as the history and religion. In the politics of the game of thrones, everything is ambiguous: There are no clear good guys and bad guys, no clear dichotomy between good and evil. The same holds true for the religions: Which of the religions is right? Are they all fake? Are any of the gods real? Unfortunately, George R. R. Martin's use of magic in the books undermines this enjoyment.

Tyrion examines some wildfire. (source)
Take the pyromancers, for example. They produce powerful wildfire for the rulers of King's Landing, and claim to use magic to do so. For the most part, however, it appears to the reader that the pyromancers only make this claim to protect their trade. The wildfire must just be produced with certain formulas and chemicals. This is Tyrion Lannister's view, and the reader has no reason to disbelieve him—no reason, that is, until GRRM introduces other unambiguous magical elements and insists that the birth of three dragons has made all magic more potent, including the pyromancers' work. Gone is possibility that characters are simply manipulating a pretense of magic. Gone is the possibility that the magic isn't real.

I think this shift really occurred in A Storm of Swords, (third in the series), otherwise my favorite book. I won't give any particulars for those that could somehow have not read the books or watched the TV series yet and still hope to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say, however, there are enough obviously magical occurrences in A Storm of Swords that one can no longer entertain the possibility that it's all trickery masquerading as reality. Now that I'm reading A Dance with Dragons, (the fifth and most recent book), that possibility has long been tossed out the window.

I just think it's too bad. The uncertainty of supernatural powers, the possibility of faked magic and manipulated reality—those dynamics are exciting for a reader, (or at least a reader like me). When the jig's up and magic is just a mundane, everyday reality—well, I have to say, the reading loses a little bit of its magic.

[Note: There's a nice conversation among fans with some good ideas about magic in the series here. It does contain some spoilers.]

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