A Grimdark Confession

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. EvilCrapsack WorldsBlack and Gray MoralityDarker and EdgierFailure 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.

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Author: authorialfuries

A literary dragon hoarding words like treasures.

9 thoughts on “A Grimdark Confession”

  1. Interesting post. And of course, no one should feel bad for not liking a novel.

    Admittedly, I’ve only read the first two novels in the A Song of Ice and Fire series and I’m planning to read the third book in July (soon, pretty much). Do you feel that the violence and darkness becomes gratuitous later on?

    Oh and the television show wants to have it both ways, I think. I watch Game of Thrones to find out what happens next but it’s pretty conventional good vs. evil storytelling with enough superficial sex and violence to look edgy. There’s something insincere about it, I think. The showrunners are happy to look edgy, but deep down they aren’t really pushing any boundaries storytelling-wise.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have read all the books that have come out so far and watched most of the TV series. I tapered out of the TV series about two seasons ago. Usually my response to things is: even if you don’t like it, that’s no reason to at least try it. You can always learn something. So, I’ll continue to read the darker fantasy because there are a lot of great writers in the genre who are doing a lot of interesting things.

      However, I can’t countenance some author’s treatment of sexual assault and abuse. An interesting discussion came from Seanan McGuire a few years ago that speaks about her horrified response to someone asking when her female characters would be assaulted, because it was, according to some, unrealistic it hadn’t happened yet. http://seanan-mcguire.livejournal.com/470626.html It’s this acceptance of violence as a necessary part of narrative (and life) I find problematic.

      That’s a bit of a rambling response, but there you are. Thanks for the comment!

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  2. You inspire me. I have a feeling that if more people were like you, the world would be a much better place. Yes, helping people is what life should be about. If you hadn’t gone there, I would be teasing you about your *gasp* dislike for the Game of Thrones.

    I do have to admit, that some of the storylines are hard to read (or watch) and if it wasn’t for characters like Tyrion, with his wit and honesty, I probably wouldn’t continue.

    I’m just glad that Martin has made dragons cool again since I”m writing a fantasy, albeit a much more lighthearted one.

    Great post by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I read the 1st book and maybe a quarter of the 2nd. I picked up Game of Thrones in the Middle of a supermarket and was so blown away that Martin wasn’t ripping off Tolkien, and actually could write, that I read the whole prologue, then paid the pricey dollar tag instead of ordering on line, went home and read till 2 in the morning. When Eddard Stark died I was like, “Martin has guts!” Problem is, the graphic violence and sex, including rape, just kept on going after that, and good people kept dying. Maybe gritty is more realistic, but I read to escape the gritty reality I already live in! Great post! Do you write fantasy yourself?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do write fantasy (for the most part)! I think while writing fantasy, you have to find the line between accepting the genre conventions that make fantasy what it is while using them to create something new and at least mildly inventive. Personally, I enjoy taking tropes and twisting them into something else. Not always inverting them entirely, but taking them into a different direction. Perhaps I want to read someone who inverts the inverted again in regards to “gritty is realistic.” We’ll see what is to come for the genre. Thanks for the comment!

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  4. I’m so glad that somebody said this. I read through SOIAF and while there are some things about it that I found impressive, it was rare that I actually found myself enjoying the books. Without any light to offset the grim dark, there were too many times I found myself more apathetic than immersed.

    And I like what you said about how violence and grit doesn’t make something realistic. That’s a great outlook, and I am constantly grateful that I don’t live in Westeros.

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  5. I like the books, but they were border-line too-far. I haven’t watched the TV show because it ran over the border.

    For me the greatest thing about the books is how we think Jamie Lannister is a complete scoundrel, only to discover that while seriously flawed, he is not so much of a scoundrel as we initially think. George RR Martin did a great job of shifting the reader’s opinion over the pace of a book or two. It is a brilliant work of character perspective.

    Of course, I also think Martin has overplayed his hand. Too many deaths mean that a reader is no longer interested in liking a character, because inevitably they will end up dead. What was shock-factor (killing a main character) has become normality; entirely expected; missed even when it doesn’t occur. But back to your post…

    Perhaps we have lost the essence of a true hero, because there are so few in existence today. (Or at least we seldom hear of them). Most people are too afraid – too self-centred to put themselves at risk for the benefit of others. What we need is more stories of real heroes. Not the spandex wearing ones but the men and women who “do the hard yards” for humanity.

    They exist, but they are also mostly humble. May we find them, and portray them to the world as they are: flawed and yet endlessly heroic.

    Like

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