I finished A Game of Thrones and am exactly sixty percent through A Clash of Kings. That amounts to approximately 1200 pages of bloodshed, violence and intrigue. It’s not the cozy read that I usually pick up, and there are moments when I have to ask myself why I keep plowing through.
This series is dark and sometimes (frequently) ugly. One of the most prominent themes seems to be a total disregard for human dignity and inherent worth. I’ve heard A Song of Ice and Fire touted as a “realistic” Lord of the Rings. That is, LOTR without a unifying idealism which challenges characters to rise beyond selfish desires. I think there is some truth in that. I believe that humans naturally gravitate toward selfishness, and selfishness is what drives us toward a utilitarian view of other people. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read about human beings being decapitated, disemboweled, burned, stabbed, raped, captured and otherwise used as objects.
Utilitarianism to the extreme, baby. It’s disgusting.
And yet the characters that I read about seem to be reaching for something beyond utilitarianism and not quite finding it. At the core they all desire to be loved and counted worthy. They desire parental approval. Wealth and other people are vehicles to gain power, and power seems to be a vehicle for gaining the acknowledgement of their own worth.
I keep seeing human beings reaching for the light, hoping for more and then remaining mired in darkness. They remind me of people I know.
They remind me of me.
Christ challenges us to live an elevated life. He calls us to abandon utilitarianism and love our neighbors as ourselves and serve our brothers. I call myself a Christian. I believe in in the message of Christ, and yet I frequently fail to live up to the level of self-abnegation that he calls me to. Every time I cut someone off in traffic, selfishness wins. Every time I see someone as an obstacle, selfishness wins. Every time I love someone only insofar as they are serving my own needs, selfishness wins.
A Song of Ice and Fire reminds me of the ugliness that reigns when I set my standard to selfishness and reminds me of the beauty of the opposite: the Gospel.