It seems to be a recurring theme this summer: whether it was because I am being contrarian or due to some unfair preconceived notion of a thing, I have almost missed out on some pretty cool literary experiences. Once gain, this has to do with a book which was once avoided, being read and greatly enjoyed.
George R. R. Martin's A Game Thrones has been an international phenomenon the past few years due in great part, I assume, to the success of the television series on HBO which began airing in 2011. As one of the rare folks who just recently purchased cable television just over a year ago, and has yet to succumb to the desire for "special" stations, I have never seen the show, but this past week bought the first novel in Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice series, the aforementioned A Game of Thrones.
Like some, I have occasionally suffered from an unsubstantiated bias against fantasy. As I sit here trying to type "I've never read much fantasy," I am reminded of my teen appreciation of the C.S. Lewis' Narnia books as well as some other sword and sorcery books the titles of which I have forgotten. This lazy dismissal runs opposite my recent affection for comic books based on the pulp heroes of Edgar Rice Burroughs (John Carter) and Robert E. Howard (Solomon Kane, Conan, Red Sonja).
There is not much for me to contribute to the praise for these books except to suggest that the high recommendation you've heard for the first novel are warranted. The most recognizable equivalents for literary merit and cultural impact I can think of are the original Frank Herbert Dune novels or (more obviously) Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series. The Dune comparison has more to do with the "wheels within wheels" structure of the plotting and romantic elements of the character development than the setting. In all three cases, each series is about "world building": the creation of a detailed and sophisticated "universe" that in some ways mirrors our own notions of a possible, imaginative histories, but with an added element of the fantastic.
As of this writing, I have yet to watch a single frame of HBO's well regarded adaptation, but am "all in" when it comes to most things A Game of Thrones. I look very forward to eventually watching the cable series on DVD (after first reading the novel which has been adapted for each season) and have recently taken it upon myself to quickly acquire as many individual issues of Dynamite Entertainment's comic book adaptation of the first novel. I have even seriously considered tracking down a used copy of the poorly reviewed X-Box 360 system game which depicts events which transpire alongside those in the first novel. In decorating my classroom, I also hung the poster to the rigth festuring Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) with one of my favorite quotes from the first novel.
The lesson here: don't make the mistake(s) I have by dismissing certain books because they seem "too popular" or "mainstream" to be worthy of your time. I've been nearly burned twice this past summer by such limited thinking and continue to be thankful for the reading experience I came late to the party for.