Literary snobs and film intellectuals have snubbed the Fantasy genre for aeons. Not just snubbed; reviled and neglected. It is a sad fact that is, in all honesty, based on firm reasoning. Fantasy tends to be formulaic and the result is a horrendous number of third-rate carbon copies that populate a reader’s market. Lord of the Rings made it difficult for subsequent writers to be… interesting. Tolkien’s meticulous mythology boasts great depth and relatability; a tough act to follow.
But there are Fantasy writers who have been able to produce something really special… and George RR Martin is one such writer. His Dance with Dragons series garnered critical acclaim as a novel and has since been adapted into an HBO TV show entitled Game of Thrones, which has racked up 13 Emmy Nominations.
The show kicks ass! It’s visceral. It does not pander to favourites or audience sensibilities – it is bloody, brutal, raw, real and totally unexpected. None of the characters are easy to pin and just when you have made up your mind about someone, your assumptions are dashed on some very jagged rocks.
Set in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, where “summers span decades and winters can last a lifetime,” Game of Thrones chronicles the violent dynastic struggles among the kingdom’s noble families for control of the Iron Throne; as the series opens, additional threats from the snow and ice covered region north of Westeros and from the eastern continent across a narrow sea are simultaneously beginning to rise.
Lord of the Rings was successful because Tolkien used the imagination of fantasy to comment on real life; it cast a lens on people’s deep fears about industrialisation and world war. A Game of Thrones is similar in its ability to mould Fantasy into a vehicle of social exposition.
Damien Walter, in an article for The Guardian, eloquently articulates a historic context that bears remarkable similarity to A Game of Thrones:
George RR Martin draws on historical sources to build his fantasy world. Westeros bears a startling resemblance to England in the period of the Wars of the Roses. One throne unifies the land but great houses fight over who will sit upon it. With no true king the land is beset with corrupt, money-grubbing lords whose only interest is their own prestige. Two loose alliances of power pit a poor but honourable North against a rich and cunning South. And the small folk must suffer through it all, regardless of which side wins. Many things change over the course of five centuries, but not politics it seems.
For a Fantasy story to qualify as Great; it must bare something other than historical context and social relevance. There must be more…
More being the ability to take politics, history and society and make it human. Human not humane! Human nature is anything but humane; it’s egotistical and merciless. But it also has a great capacity for loyalty, love and compassion. People are complex… and that is exactly why the show is so utterly gripping. Good and evil are rarely mutually exclusive. George RR Martin’s characters are so tangible; they are predictable and utterly unpredictable – the great paradox of the human condition. People are complicated and as much as Game of Thrones is entrenched in political intrigue, it is a story about people.
Read “George RR Martin’s fantasy is not far from reality” By Damien Walter for further insight into the show.