When the first group of my friends told me about their rabid fandom for HBO’s Game of Thrones, I didn’t hesitate to condemn them: I thought them cable whores and TV bitches and proclaimed without hesitation that I would not be party to their madness.
Such an attitude, of course, marks me as an illiterate whelp in the eyes of author and Santa Fe resident George RR Martin’s numerous fans. HBO’s weak-sauce interpretation of his multi-book fantasy epic A Song of Ice and Fire has only solidified the stature of “America’s Tolkien” among the pasty, big-pupiled, shy masturbators who make up the bulk of avid fantasy literature fans.
Still, despite SFR Copy Editor Ramón A Lovato’s patent skepticism for Martin’s books, I feel the need to defend them. There is not the faintest whiff of JRR Tolkien about his work, so let’s set that aside entirely, yet the complexity and the bottom-line wordsmithing of Martin’s intricate, reliably depressing series merits accolades, especially as the future appears to bear less and less welcome for imagination, for language, for spelling, for basic literacy.
What’s more, Martin’s elaborately detailed scenario of knights, kings, magic and epic drama turns out to be a thinly veiled excuse for rabid and indulgent food porn. Swords and sorcery may sell these books, but savories and sweets fill their pages, a point worth noting as Martin’s fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons, hit the stands on July 12 and dominates best-seller lists.
Most people know that a steer is a castrated bull, but how many people know that a capon is a castrated rooster? In the first four books of Martin’s series, capon appears at least 18 times. Sometimes, the capon is stuffed with leeks and mushrooms or covered with carrots, peaches and honey. Dotted with blanched almonds is certainly a manner in which Martin likes to image capons, as well as a number of other foods. This is not to say that he’s opposed to cold capon on brown bread or, more specifically, capon with skewers of pigeon, beef and barley stew and cold fruit soup. Apparently, capon stuffed with onions will do, as long as it’s nicely crisped.
But capon is the most average among Martin’s feasts. Certainly, his bleak world is filled with hard breads and, in rare moments for common men, stoic black sausages and stale tack. Still, when lords and ladies feast, Martin tends toward lamprey pie and roast suckling pigs, more often than not with various exotic fruits in their mouths and a plum sauce protecting them from chestnuts and truffles.
Martin’s fiction is imaginative enough that one can’t help but question why the gluttonous dishes in his prose are less so. After all, if krakens and wights and dragons stalk the Earth, why not indulge in fantastical meals as well? But Martin carefully constrains his food fantasies to those attainable on this present, real Earth.
Not that I’m complaining. I can scarcely recall a commendable feast scene from Tolkien or, worse, JK Rowling; but when I think of Martin, I imagine buttered turnips, cracklings and honeycomb more readily than I recall longships sailing into battle or wolves fighting supernatural warriors beside their human companions. Jellied calves’ brains and pike poached in almond milk are at least as common as sword fights and crossbow battles in Martin’s weirdling world.
It’s worth reading the entire series—even for those who loathe fiction and fantasy—just to imagine the recipe book that ought to accompany Martin’s efforts. If anyone needs extra coaxing, let me assure you that, at one point, there’s a scene with a 77-course meal, described in debilitating detail. If you love food and fanatical descriptions of its presentation, it’s worth donning your armor and sword and hacking your way through just to get to that chapter.
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