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On George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” Series

Martin is being called “the American Tolkein” on the strength of his massive, interminable, intricately-woven fantasy about the “Game of Thrones” in his somber, blood-soaked medieval world. Martin has made a point of dividing his Seven Kingdoms among various ancient Houses, each of which is diligently provided with heraldic arms, mottoes and a history of prominent or peculiar ancestors, marriage alliances with other Houses, etc., etc., etc. And every book ends with an exhaustive “Appendix” of everyone mentioned in it, arranged according to family or profession. There are as many characters as “War and Peace,” as many battles as the Civil War, but I suppose what sets the series apart from the usual quasi-medieval fantasy is that most of the main characters are nobles, and “right barsterds” – ruthless, conniving, treacherous and utterly devoted to seizing power, while the peasants or “smallfolk” are routinely massacred by invading armies or bands of defeated stragglers, but otherwise regarded solely as the source of foodstuffs, tax revenues or riots. And rather than being romanticised or ignored entirely, sex scenes are described in sordid detail. Far from resembling Tolkien’s works, Martin’s story is both more complex and more banal. His harsh, war-ravaged landscapes lack the the bucolic charm of Tolkein’s cozy English countryside; his ruthless, revenge-obsessed characters lack the idealism and eternal tenacity of  Tolkein’s Hobbits.

The Seven Kingdoms themselves are obviously a clone of medieval Britain, even including a Wall to keep out the marauding savages from the North, and guarded perpetually by a band of monastic warriors.

The fantasy characters, mainly invading from the frozen north beyond the Wall (which, let it be said and then forgotten, is 700 feet high and made of ice which somehow never melts) include cavemen, cannibals, Eskimos, mammoths, giants (which resemble Neanderthals) and Pict-like “wildlings” who call themselves “freemen” (as opposed to the civilized medieval “kneelers” they despise), and who seem to share the anti-government attitudes of the most rabid Tea-Baggers, or the “Survivalists” of the 1960s.
And behind them come an army of litches, or reanimated corpses, invulnerable to anything except fire or dismemberment, and beyond those the Others, a sort of malign elvish knights invulnerable to anything except obsidian, or “dragonglass.”
Mix them all together, add the memory of the domesticated Dragons (now extinct in the Seven kingdoms)Meerkat at the San Diego Zoo, which were instrumental in the conquest of the land by the deranged Targarden kings, who were eventually bloodily deposed, and whose last surviving member (a beautiful young girl, obviously) is now plotting an invasion from the Continent with the last three surviving Dragons, and you should have a plausible fantasy cycle. And so it is, for the most part… although there are technical clunkers and gratuitous implausibilities scattered through it that rather spoil the pleasure for a nit-picker like myself, and parallel but opposing forces of blatantly obvious Dark vs. Light…  neither of them particularly concerned with the happiness or welfare of mere humans.
Still, my main complaint is that Martin is the master of the end-of-chapter cliffhanger, which is what makes his phonebook-thick tomes so addictive – and thus devourers of one’s free time.

2011 Xmas letter

The Wentzian

Xmas Chronicle


December 2011


Dear Friends and Loved Ones:

Christmas is charging down upon us at breakneck speed, and again I begin this belated annual mumble with the holiday breathing down my neck. Tonight, as I sit in my cluttered study, surrounded by reminders of the festive season, outside my window I hear the honking of wild geese and the clatter of brass monkeys migrating south.  And I think to myself, “Self, Merry Christmas, and I hope the firewood holds out!”

It seems that every year, enjoying the pleasures of Spring and Summer, I forget what Oregon Winters are like. This year’s warm season was no different. Hiking in to waterfalls in the hills, going to movies, working in the Community Garden, building stained glass windows, I dawdled along “just as happy as if I had good sense,” as my dear old Auntie used to say, and giving never a thought  to the seasonal payoff for all those pleasures.

I suppose what inspires this line of thought is the fact that I got back from San Diego just last month. Son Zack and his wonderful wife, Shelby, had bought their first house, an older bungalow on the bench overlooking the city, and the inspectors had pointed out a few little things that needed fixing … such as a leaky back porch roof and bug damage in some rafters … and so dear old Dad caught the train South to help rebuild the roof (and, coincidentally, to soak up some of that wonderful San Diego weather). As it happened, San Diego got some rare rain while I was there … but we did get the roof done, Zack cooked some of his chef-quality meals, we visited with other relatives, I stopped off in Los Angeles to visit an old college friend, and then I caught the train home – and stepped off into Oregon Winter.

Well, Grinching aside, I do hope You and Yours are enjoying a happy and warm Holiday season, full of all  the good things of the holidays, and that the coming year will bring some happy times to all of us.

Certainly we still do have much to be thankful for, such as friends and family. Zack and Shelby are both working hard to refurbish their home in San Diego, while daughter Amber is working at landscaping, helping out at a cat adoption agency and tending her herd of goats, which live on rented land outside of town.

This spring she had to bring home an orphan goat kid – a pygmy that was also a runt, which meant it was about the size of a small cat. After a few weeks of bottle-feeding, it was about the size of a medium cat, and mischievous as one, too. The real cats regarded him with suspicion as he capered around them, coldly rejecting his invitations to play, and he retaliated by stealing their food. Eventually he was grown up enough to go back to the herd – I imagine he is the size of a full-grown tomcat by now, but hopefully he has no lingering feline identity mixups left over from his kid-hood.

So far as my own livestock, I am down to one-and-a-half cats now. The one cat is Raffles the Cat Burglar, who invited himself into the house every night until he made himself at home, and the half-cat is Amity, a small black female with a notched ear and the personality of Attila the Hun. Unfortunately, she combines her ingrown disposition with a tendency to lead with her right, and so she is generally nursing battle scars of one sort on another. She was too mean to tolerate the other cats in Amber’s cottage, so eventually she moved onto my back deck, where she studiously avoids any human or animal contact, except to stare accusingly through the back door window until I bring her food. After I go to bed, she sneaks in to check Raffles’ food bowl for contraband, and sneaks out again before I get up.

(Anyone desiring a quiet, unobtrusive pet will do well to check our inventory before shopping elsewhere. With her black color and stealthy habits, you will hardly know she is there at all. In fact, most of the time she won’t be. The notched ears are included at no extra charge).

Raffles is the opposite extreme, a peaceable, settled homebody who couldn’t be shifted out of the warm house with dynamite. He still does have some delusions of grandeur. While I was in San Diego, he apparently decided to give the bum’s rush to a raccoon. The raccoon declined to be rushed, and Raffles lost a ring of fur off his tail, about two inches above the base.

Now, when he is walking away from you, his tail resembles an exclamation point.

For my own part, I am not growing any older, although some of my accessories are.

While I was in San Diego, I noticed a couple of my teeth were acting a little strange and surly. After I got home, the dentist assured me those two teeth were plotting rebellion, and had to go. Now,  I’d had those teeth for years, and was quite attached to them.  Nonetheless, as rebels they had to suffer drawing and quartering, while I just had to suffer. Now I am left with a couple of gaps where two back grinders used to be, and a conviction that the human carcass was built with second-rate materials. When we attain the honorable estate of Codgerhood, it seems we should accumulate wisdom and gravitas and lots of free tickets, but instead we just collect malfunctions and factory recall notices.

And yet, life goes on, friends and family gather, happiness ensues at the most unexpected times, and Spring will come again as the old Earth continues to turn.

Hoping all of us continue to enjoy the ride, I remain:





Hello hello! Welcome to Quagmire’s Cuties and Comix!

Coming soon… lotsa cuties & comix by Josh Quagmire, creator of Cutey Bunny and many other

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