I am true-blooded Northerner, my friends, born and bred in snow and ice and cold. I had a childhood filled with winters of subzero temperatures, covered in enough layers of clothing to look like Patrick the Starfish, and walking to school in four feet of snow uphill both ways!
But this is too damn cold even for me. When the health advisements are “don’t breathe or go outside” that’s enough to make me want to go ahead and nope the hell down south. But I don’t have enough gas in my tank to make it and I’m not standing by at the pump in this meteorological nonsense.
So instead I’m going to stay inside and blog about Game of Thrones which I finished reading this morning while waiting for my car to heat up in the deathly cold. (The car wasn’t any happier about that than I was). Although on a related note, I’ve gotten pretty good at navigating my Kindle with my schnoz so I don’t have to take my gloves off to flip the pages. And having completed it, I’m not entirely sure if I can say whether or not it was actually a good book.
Game of Thrones is wildly popular, both as a television show and as a book. Granted, some of that popularity is the sort that controversy attracts. And with its extreme violence and graphic sex scenes, the series does attract controversy. Although to be honest, the sex is not that graphic in the original novel, and where it does appear, it’s not written in a particularly salacious or titillating way. Neither is the violence, though in some ways, the straightforward, matter-of-fact way that truly egregious acts like child murder and gang rape are described in the books is even more disturbing than the dramatization or bloody fight scenes of the HBO adaptation.
Violence is woven into the world which George R. R. Martin creates in this series. Violence is in its foundation, its purpose, even in its morality. No character is untouched by it or innocent of contributing to it. Now you can argue (and some do) that to a certain extent this is true of our own world—all of us, in one way or another, contribute to some form of violence against other people, by contributing to climate change, exploitative consumerism, if you do illegal drugs you may be contributing to gang violence, while on the other hand, supporting the criminalization of those same drugs also contributes to this problem, etc. But few of us are engaging in violence directly or intentionally. But in Martin’s world, it’s everywhere and it’s hands-on.
This makes for a pretty bleak world to visit and is the basis of the book’s reputation for being a “grimdark” version of fantasy. Juxtaposed with the typical pollyannish good vs. evil tropes that tend to permeate the world of fantasy (and which was even more true in 1996 when the book was first published), this grimdark fantasy world seems more serious, more adult, more worthy of inspection than other works in the fantasy genre. Personally, I think that’s a bit overblown—sex and violence do not necessarily indicate sophistication.
But it is compelling—and it does draw in readers who are not normally fans of the genre. Is that enough to determine if a work is “good”? Perhaps it’s not even worth it to ask that question-. Maybe, the more useful approach is to evaluate a work on its own terms. In other words, we should ask-what is it trying to do and does it succeed? Rather than questioning whether or not it is good, the question becomes, is it effective?
For the next few weeks this is going to become a pretty Game of Thrones-centric blog, as I delve into this question in greater detail.