Game of Janes

Game of Janes

Last Sunday marked the return of one of my favorite shows – Game of Thrones! For the uninitiated (living under a rock, perhaps?), Game of Thrones is an HBO series adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s wildly popular fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire.

The yet-to-be-finished series follows a set of dynastic families as they war to unite control over the fictional Seven Kingdoms before an impending cold season which will bring a supernatural army to their front door. (That synopsis is as satisfying as describing Jane Austen’s novels as being about young girls in Regency England falling in love…accurate, yet barely scratching the surface.)

Game of Thrones (GOT) is about as far from Jane Austen (JA) as one can get. For example…when it comes to GOT vs JA we have the following comparisons.

  • Fantasy Medieval vs 18th Century England
  • Wildly Violent vs Pastorally Gentle
  • Overtly Sexual vs Sweetly Chaste

Yet both series rely heavily on the same device to propel action and intensify conflict in relationships: the advantageous marriage. Both authors explore marriage as a tool to create new strategic alliances, ensure future fortunes, and strengthen existing community ties.

It’s easy to see why Jane Austen’s world tends to choose love and sentimentality over practicality. The families, even when destitute, still live in relatively safe and peaceful times with reasonable prosperity. We cheer when our heroines forfeit the easy road or marry for money or convenience because the alternative would be a prison of their own making, however comfortable.

In Game of Thrones, however, the world is a much more dangerous place. The death rate borders on obscene, war is a regular and ongoing occurrence, and a coming winter season promises even more death by natural and supernatural circumstances. Yet even with these stakes, even with the fate of entire Kingdoms in the hands of the few, the arranged marriage is still a dreaded event – by good and evil (and nuanced) characters alike.

It begs the question: when is love not enough? Or when is there a cause greater than love?

Several characters in Game of Thrones do accept their marriages in order to receive larger gains, but rarely in good spirits. They cling to the martyrdom of their circumstances because they also hold to this ideal that love is the greatest principle – even if following their hearts would mean poverty or death or crisis for many others.

Call me practical, but a part of me doesn’t cheer for the character who insists on love over marriage when its dire consequences might be more global than individual. Yet, I cheer when Elizabeth Bennet turns down Mr. Collins even though it might mean making her sisters homeless and destitute. Would I have felt the same if she and Jane failed to capture the hearts of rich men? If the girls had been turned to the streets, to hard labor, or worse?

I struggle with an answer, but there are two famous quotes from the Martin series which serve as anchors to the discussion:

  1. “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground.”
  2. “In the game of thrones, even the humblest pieces can have wills of their own. Sometimes they refuse to make the moves you’ve planned for them.”

Both quotes that, if about love instead of thrones, would fit well in Jane Austen’s world.

16 Responses to Game of Janes

  1. I do watch Game of Thrones and have read some of the books in the series. Two of my adult children and their spouses also watch this. The one thing that bothers me is that you can NEVER form an attachment to any of the characters b/c the author loves to kill them off. Yes, it is not for the squeamish. But the opening art work is so amazing!!! Some of the scenes are horrifying so you must know how to erase those images from your mind if you want peaceful sleep. I have no problem with doing so.

  2. I don’t watch HBO or Showtime because of content. I won’t be watching GOT….. Thanks for the warning!

  3. I’ve never watched GOT but I agree there are parallels to be found to JA even in fantasy stories. I actually think most of JA’s characters would not cling to love (especially if it was an ambiguous loss and not directed at one person) if it harmed everyone and themselves. That’s actually something I really dislike about all the adultery plots I am seeing happening all over the place in period dramas.

  4. I have never watched GOT, as we have never subscribed to HBO, but one would have to be deaf, blind and exceedingly oblivious to miss all the pop culture references that have made their way into social media. I do love a good story, but knowing that it was HBO, and the reputation they have for pushing the envelope of their content, I haven’t sought it out. It is interesting that you would be able to find a parallel theme in two such divergent worlds. I suppose that mixing “wealth and power” with “love and/or marriage” is potent human chemistry!

  5. I confess that reading about the amount of nudity in this series turned me off so I never cared about watching it. However, I can see where someone could draw parallels between it and Jane Austen. Heck, I compare Jane Austen to everything I watch now. 🙂

  6. I have often wondered about the arranged marriage. Could I do it? If two people are of a mind, they could get along, be kind, find common ground, determine to make it work and perhaps have a good life. Perhaps it would even evolve into love. That is… if the couple is willing and determines to make it work. Otherwise it could be hell on earth.
    Just look at Rochester in Jane Eyre, who was party to an arranged marriage for financial gain. His family and her family sacrificed him. Her family needed to be rid of her. His family needed her dowry and sacrificed the younger son. How awful.
    Though it was a slightly different arrangement, even in Downton Abby there was a marriage for financial gain. I don’t know if I could do it.

    • I have a few friends who have engaged in arranged marriages because it’s within their culture to do so, and they’ve been very happy, but I find that different from an advantageous marriage, as they both hope to equally gain. I’m not sure if I could do it, either!

  7. Thank you Cecilia! I have yet to watch the show but have heard so many good things about it. It is on my binge list. 🙂

    • Caution: before you purchase or buy the GOT DVD or HBO, sit down with someone and have them explain [in great detail] what you are about to get into. I too had heard about it and purchased season 1. A former student was the checker and, when he saw it, looked up at me and said…it’s HBO and it is a little strong. I didn’t make the connection of what he meant until I started watching the first DVD. HBO does not pull any punches and I set frozen looking at full frontal nudity and base behavior that curled my sensibilities. You are an adult and can make your own decisions. Just be warned. As far as I was concerned, it was an X-rated 1st season. I threw away the box set and have never desired to watch it again. Perhaps if I had read the books first my feelings would have been different.

      • Your are correct. I should have said…read the books and don’t watch the HBO version if you are easily offended. Those I know that have read the books love them.

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