When the network ventures away from its instincts for real-world sociology, as it has with the vampire saga “True Blood,” things start to feel cheap, and we feel as though we have been placed in the hands of cheaters. “Game of Thrones” serves up a lot of confusion in the name of no larger or really relevant idea beyond sketchily fleshed-out notions that war is ugly, families are insidious and power is hot. If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.
-- From “A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms,” Ginia Bellafante, New York Times
I’m probably not the best candidate to come to the defense of A Game of Thrones. Despite the praise heaped on it in some quarters I don’t place George R.R. Martin’s series at the level of The Lord of the Rings, A Wizard of Earthsea, The Once and Future King, The Broken Sword, or any of Robert E. Howard’s best short fiction. I do like it well enough. It’s gripping, unpredictable, gritty fantasy, and pulls together complex plotlines and multiple point of view characters in an impressive feat of sustained storytelling. I give author George R.R. Martin plenty of props for doing something different with the genre and for spinning a well-told tale. But I’ve read better.
But you know what? Martin doesn’t deserve the level of abuse he’s getting in some quarters. If you’re a fan of the fantasy genre you ought to feel insulted by what’s going on. I’m frankly appalled at the “open minded” media outlets that have savaged the series and/or fantasy by association at every turn. I’ve already mentioned one review from The LA Times, riddled with snark and anti-fantasy bias.
The next, courtesy of Slate (hat tip to Dweomera Lagomorpha), ups the vitriol. The title of the article says it all: “Quasi-Medieval, Dragon-Ridden Fantasy Crap.” This particular piece (of shite) is probably the worst of I’ve read (or I should say tried to read—it’s scarcely readable). A rambling, self-referential, near-incoherent opening morphs to a cliché-laden rant about fantasy as a whole. Its quite difficult to even determine the subject of the reviewer's scorn. Overall it’s an all-around poor job by Slate.
This piece from The Atlantic means well, but I think it reveals a problem with traditional media outlets whose reporters are expected to be jack of all trades (but wind up being master of none). When they attempt a deep analysis of a subject they know only on the periphery, it shows. Alyssa Rosenberg posits that fantasy always has a happy ending; this is typical of someone who doesn’t really get the ending of The Lord of the Rings, and hasn’t heard of works like The Broken Sword or Eric Brighteyes. And WTF is up with calling Tolkien “a religious skeptic?” (Having been a former writer for a newspaper, the safe bet in these instances is to just report the facts, and stop trying to pass yourself off as an expert).
Next is The Guardian, which engages in yet more patronizing. It’s not as terrible as the others, but it condemns most fantasy released prior to ASOIAF as for children. Someone better tell Tom Shippey he’s been wasting his time on a children’s book. Here's a cringeworthy statement from this piece:
Fantasy is not a genre you would ever expect to describe as having "grown up", but let's at least say it's moved on since Tolkien's day. If The Lord Of The Rings is like the gateway drug of high fantasy, then today's fans crave something harder.
The latest is from the New York Times, supposedly a bastion of open-minded thought. “A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms” by Ginia Bellafante contains all the standard anti-fantasy bias (escapist, for children, etc.), but ups the criticism by introducing misogyny into the discussion: A Game of Thrones is “boys adventure” with gratuitous sex scenes added in solely to attract a female readership, Bellafante says. Huh?
The Times piece prompted an angry response from Amy Ratcliffe over on Tor.com, who comes to the defense on behalf of female fantasy fans everywhere. Says Ratcliffe: How dare anyone say that Game of Thrones is “boy fiction.” What a crude and useless phrase. I am proof that it is not the case, and I am not alone. Also? I love The Hobbit.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Despite its immense readership and passionate fan base, fantasy continues to be treated like a turd in the punchbowl by most mainstream media. They don’t get it, great swathes of them actively hate it, and many of our “enlightened” 21st century media outlets refuse to treat it as a serious form of art. Martin must be wondering how he’s ever going to get an honest review under these circumstances.
On a side note, is anyone else tired of the ironic, cynical tone of these reviews? I guess this is what passes for hip, young, journalism these days.