I am not a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire. Or, for that matter, Game of Thrones. I said it. It is out in the open. On the internet. For people to find in years to come. There are many things I appreciate about it. There are many things I find problematic about it. I am in no way arguing it hasn’t had a massive impact on media in recent years. This post is not about any of that. This post is simply about being a fan of it. More specifically, about why I am not.
It comes down to this: I’m not going to immerse myself in Westeros long enough to become a fan.
There is this discussion surrounding Game of Thrones and the books that came in its wake that the truest stories are hard stories. Stories where there is only darkness and grit. Stories where people are only it for themselves. Stories where there is no good– only bad and worse. A Song of Ice and Fire became an epicenter for dark fantasy. Ripples of it touch other novels. Evil vs. Evil. Crapsack Worlds. Black and Gray Morality. Darker and Edgier. Failure Hero. I apologize for the time suck of TV Tropes I just sent you in. If you are still here, let’s move on…
As a general rule, I’ve always struggled with grimdark fantasy. The Lies of Locke Lamora is sitting half-read on my bookshelf, a bookmark still poised halfway in hopes that I will return soon, because I just couldn’t do it any more. I will come back to it. I will. I promise you, Scott Lynch.
I acknowledge that we all aren’t Paladins. The world is not as simple as good and evil. The lines between what is right and just and good can be blurred. Each person sees the scope of morality differently. It is in those differences that diverse narratives flourish. However, gray morality is not the same as a narrative which depicts violence and hatred as something that not only exists, but must exist as a necessary part of everyday life.
Although some novels paint this violence as a horror. Some do not. Some bask in violence. Some revel in it. A quick google search gives me this definition of grimdark: “a subgenre or a way to describe the tone, style or setting of a speculative fiction (especially fantasy) that is, depending on the definition used, markedly dystopian or amoral, or particularly violent or realistic.”
We place realism with violence. We combine them and twist them until we accept violence as a panacea.
I just can’t believe that.
Maybe this post is fueled by my idealism trying to win over my cynicism. I’ll let my idealism have the reins for a moment. Throughout my life I’ve constantly been surrounded by nonprofits. Either I’ve worked with them directly, or my family has, or friends have. One constant in my life has been people helping people.
When I read a story where there is only darkness, where there is only grit, where there is only pain, I can only think of the people we don’t talk about. The people who work in the bowels of such darkness. Advocates. Counselors. Activists. The people who help people.
At the end of the day I have to believe in that. I have to combat the darkness with light, not with more darkness. Darkness compounded by more darkness. Violence compounded by more violence. Hatred compounded by more hatred. I have to believe in stories where people help people.