So. I was complaining about the endless descriptions of castles, clothing, heraldic devices and food in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books (A Game of Thrones, etc). Food especially. He can’t resist a digression about pies or lemon cakes or whatever, and he has clearly done a lot of research into medieval food, as well as a lot of imagining of the crazy fancy things they might eat in his magical kingdom. He gets carried away with this stuff. I get that “world-building” is important in fantasy, but after a while we’re comfortable enough with the world that there’s no longer any need to keep forcing it down our throats. Then a funny thing happened: I reread Dubliners, and what should appear in the middle of “The Dead,” but an epic paragraph on food! So I think it’s worth a comparison. I don’t wanna do a close reading or try to demonstrate the superiority of one or the other, but it’s fun to see them side by side.

Martin first, with a typical feast from the middle of the fifth book in the series, A Dance with Dragons:

The feast continued late into the night, presided over by the grinning skull on its pillar of black marble. Seven courses were served, in honor of the seven gods and the seven brothers of the Kingsguard. The soup was made with eggs and lemons, the long green peppers stuffed with cheese and onions. There were lamprey pies, capons glazed with honey, a whiskerfish from the bottom of the Greenblood that was so big it took four serving men to carry it to table. After that came a savory snake stew, chunks of seven different sorts of snake slow-simmered with dragon peppers and blood oranges and a dash of venom to give it a good bite. The stew was fiery hot, Hotah knew, though he tasted none of it. Sherbert followed, to cool the tongue. For the sweet, each guest was served a skull of spun sugar. When the crust was broken, they found sweet custard inside and bits of plum and cherry.

And here’s James Joyce:

A fat brown goose lay at one end of the table and at the other end, on a bed of creased paper strewn with sprigs of parsley, lay a great ham, stripped of its outer skin and peppered over with crust crumbs, a neat paper frill round its shin and beside this was a round of spiced beef. Between these rival ends ran parallel lines of side-dishes: two little minsters of jelly, red and yellow; a shallow dish full of blocks of blancmange and red jam, a large green leaf-shaped dish with a stalk-shaped handle, on which lay bunches of purple raisins and peeled almonds, a companion dish on which lay a solid rectangle of Smyrna figs, a dish of custard topped with grated nutmeg, a small bowl full of chocolates and sweets wrapped in gold and silver papers and a glass vase in which stood some tall celery stalks. In the centre of the table there stood, as sentries to a fruit-stand which upheld a pyramid of oranges and American apples, two squat old-fashioned decanters of cut glass, one containing port and the other dark sherry. On the closed square piano a pudding in a huge yellow dish lay in waiting and behind it were three squads of bottles of stout and ale and minerals, drawn up according to the colours of their uniforms, the first two black, with brown and red labels, the third and smallest squad white, with transverse green sashes.

 

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