FAIR WARNING – MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
(If you haven’t read the A Song of Ice andFire books, or are just starting, you may want to skip this post)
Just some observations. As I’ve been reading through George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (now on book 3, A Storm of Swords) one thing keeps stopping me and pulling me out of the story. This is not a criticism, but it’s such a glaring difference between the type of society depicted in the books and our own modern first-world society that it makes me stop and ponder every time I run across mention of someone’s age.
Many of the characters depicted in the books are children, but you really never see any of them acting like children. Frankly I’m astonished at the adult attitudes, thoughts, and ways of behaving of even the youngest children. At the age of sixteen, Robb is a seasoned battle commander and king, and returns home with a spoil of war: a bride. Strategizing battles, grasping political maneuvers and intrigue, even murder, are not beyond the Stark children. The younger daughter, Arya, has to learn how to live on the streets and hunt small animals and birds to keep herself alive. Even before the tide turns against them and the family is shattered, these kids are paying attention to the manners and mores of the adults, studying their father’s conduct and interactions with lords and knights, and visiting nobles who come to see Ned at Winterfell. There seems to be little time for leisure, and games as entertainment apparently don’t exist. Life is hard for these kids, but they’ve never known anything else. It’s a striking contrast to 21st century USA where the vast majority of kids seem to have nothing more to think about than the latest Wii or XBox, or Nintendo games, getting the latest iPhone or grumbling about school. I’m not making any judgments about it, I certainly don’t wish to live in the world of the books and have to learn to hunt pigeons to feed myself, and I realize there are places in the world where life is far harder. I know we’re quite privileged here and believe me I appreciate all my creature comforts. One of my high school teachers once remarked (I think he was quoting someone, but I don’t know who) “An extended childhood is the sign of an advanced civilization.” That would be us. Childhood for many here now extends well into middle-age.
Every time I run across these issues in the books, where these kids are put into impossible, unconscionable situations and have to face worst-case scenarios, it’s almost too hard to believe pre-teens and teenagers are able to do what they do when I compare them to modern teens. Nobody gets coddled or shielded from the harsh realities. And these are the privileged ones, the nobility who live in the castles and have servants to light the fires and cook their meals for them.
I really have to wonder how many of us could even survive, let alone thrive, under similar circumstances. Very few, I’d guess. And I suppose that’s good and bad. I’m a child of the 20th century, and I know I would have a rough time adjusting to life without hot and cold running water, electricity, and internal combustion engines. Not to mention mail-order. And the internet. Ok fine, I’d probably just die.
Now excuse me while I try to track down copies of the Foxfire books so I can learn to spin and weave and make my own crossbows and learn how to butcher a hog.