Like a lot of late-coming fans motivated by a like of the TV series, I’ve been reading (well, listening) to George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series of books. The short story is that I don’t think they’ve very well written, indulging in far too much “world building” for their own good. I think the TV series does an excellent job of excising unnecessary material.
But there’s one peculiarity about Martin’s writing that just drives me up a wall: there’s no breakfast in the mystical land of Westeros. Sure, characters eat in the morning and frequently “break fast” or are in the process of “breaking fast” but it’s never referred to as “breakfast.” Mind you, it’s not even that the characters don’t call it breakfast, it’s the omniscient third-party narrator who refuses to use that particular word (I don’t recall any dialogue where the word would have come up.)
Now, to hear fans of the books explain it, the word “breakfast” is only a recent invention (dating back to the 15th century) and so Martin is being accurate to the story’s medieval setting. This conveniently ignores the fact that the series isn’t taking place on Earth (although maybe in the far future) and certainly isn’t taking place in the past (specifically Medieval Europe.) In case it’s missed their notice, none of the lands, people, or even languages described in those books appear in our history. So that being the case, why should Martin’s word choice be constrained by our history. Furthermore, why would the line be drawn at excluding the word “breakfast” but eschew other period-accurate details? Shouldn’t the whole thing be written in middle English in order to fully embrace period accuracy (to a period that doesn’t exist)? For that matter, why is it only the non-character narrator who is so constrained by period accuracy? In fact, none of the characters in these books are speaking in English (instead it’s Dothraki, High Valyrian, or other made up tongues) but it’s translated–through the magic of books!–to English for the reader’s convenience. That being the case, it’s a direct line into the audience’s brains. That audience consists mostly of English speaking people on modern Earth: they know the word “breakfast.”
Why does this bother me so much? It’s like a great example of poor writing. It’s what happens when somebody performs some cursory and decides to incorporate that research into his or her work regardless of appropriateness. As it is, it only serves to draw attention to itself as a willful avoidance of a certain, natural word, one that–as soon as the reader notices it–leads to an unraveling of the illusion of the narrative.