Bookworld with Brendle: George R.R. Martin's "A Guild of Men"
Martin handles the verbal conflict as carefully and insightfully as he does those of an intense melee battle between warriors. The reader can actually feel the sweat on these men's brows and the weight of their bodies as they shift nervously, each deciding for himself upon which side to fall. The themes of A Guild of Men run deeply throughout all 1423 pages of this novel. Martin forces the reader to ask himself whether there is merit in spending all of one's time worshiping a series of fables, dedicating one's self to their intricate, albeit irrelevant, mythology. Do the Tometalkers serve a great purpose, or are they turning their backs on society, contributing nothing of worth, endlessly going over the same arguments, so insulated that any outside idea is mercilessly combated?
Like his popular Song of Fire and Ice series, A Guild of Men raises interesting questions about learned knowledge versus experienced knowledge, as evidenced in a later passage during another outburst by Vitus Eirrell.
"You continue to denigrate women, to dismiss children, and you seem to enjoy quite well enough the descriptions of women and children in the texts. How do you reconcile the violence and disrespect for them with the reality of mistreating or demeaning another human being?" I shouted, banging my fists on the stone table. Gutlon raised his brows and looked Eirell square in the eyes.
"Unlike you, my opinion of women has not been sullied by firsthand experience. I preserve the sacred knowledge of the texts and do not need any other source of information upon which to make my judgments," he said, his face red with anger. "And as children go, I suggest you read up on Survival of the Fittest. It's how nature works. The strong survive, the weak perish. Where are your Gods? Laughing at you. That is, they would be, if they existed."
I was stunned, as the Elderr's retort earned the applause of the guild. How could they think this was admirable?
Many readers will find Vitus to be an unbearable villain, but Martin paints a multi-dimensional picture of his character, one that allows for some good to creep in. Martin, often called "the American Tolkien," builds his characters through their arc with a subtle mastery one might even call sublime. For instance, Elderr Gutlon's transition from stodgy, bearded Guildmaster to the Savior of the Tometalkers happens almost magically, as he wills himself to action in order to preserve the defense of the sacred books:
"There are many who will tell you the sacred texts are not sacred. That they are meaningless drivel, sold as snake oil to those unable to cope with reality, a salve for social inadequacy, a panacea for sexual isolation. They will tell you these lies and others. That all the texts are the same, that the Prophets of the Order of RR are indistinguishable and equal. That even lesser texts such as the Chronicles of the Lanced Dragon or the Legend of Durden Drizzle should be considered alongside them. Ha! These are books for children. Men read the sacred texts alone. And only those who dedicate themselves fully understand the great personal boon they bestow upon the faithful."