Tits! Swords! Edginess!

Avatar

Will

Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

Related Post Roulette

39 Responses

  1. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    I don’t think Martin is writing gritty stuff to be edgy at all. What makes you think so? I. Terms of sex and violence he rather Palestine in comparison to many other fantasy writers.Report

  2. Avatar Maxwell James says:

    As I just commented on the other thread, completely agree re: Tolkien.

    Re: Martin, well, maybe. I’ll agree that the aspect of Martin’s books I like least is his tendency towards prurience and some mean-spirited debauchery. He’s certainly imaginative in coming up with cruel experiences for his characters to endure.

    At the same time, this aspect of his writing gets seriously overstated. There are over 3,000 pages in A Song of Ice and Fire, but I’d be surprised if the total pages of sex scenes amounted to even 50. Similarly, while there’s quite a bit of violence, it is generally described economically. Political intrigue- well yeah, there’s a lot of that, but if you don’t enjoy it I’d suggest these books are not for you.

    Where you underestimate him is in regards to character and plot. Martin is as good with character as anyone in the fantasy genre, and most others. And he puts Tolkien, most of whose characters are ciphers, completely to shame. By the end of the fourth book, almost all of the major characters have gone through very believable – if often subtly effected – changes, and no one is quite who you thought they were at the outset. And while his plot veers all over the place, the central thread remains remarkably tight through the first three books at least.

    Incidentally, if you didn’t get through the third book – you’re missing out. While it takes a while to build up, the last 600 pages or so are as riveting as any I’ve read.Report

    • Avatar Ryan B says:

      This seems exactly right to me. In trying to explain some of what I think Game of Thrones is about to my girlfriend last night, I was reflecting on the fact that Martin’s central characters are all broken in some way (with the possible exception of Daenerys, who is a weird character for many reasons). And in many/most/all(?) cases, it is the brokenness that inspires whatever heroic qualities may be on offer in Martin’s bleak world. One of the most compelling characters in the whole series is an outright villain for a good portion of it, until you (and he) realize that we’ve been looking at the world through a shaded lens.Report

    • Avatar Will says:

      To be clear, my criticism was mainly directed at HBO’s adaptation, which seems to be self-consciously positioning itself as an “edgy, adult” alternative to traditional fantasy. Martin’s books share some of the those flaws, but to a much lesser extent.

      As for the books themselves, I’m not altogether sure why I didn’t love them. Part of it may have to do with his writing style. Part of it is summed up in this old post from Alan Jacobs (the comments are also worth reading):

      http://theamericanscene.com/2009/05/11/a-farewell-to-malazanReport

      • Avatar Ryan says:

        Haven’t seen the HBO show just yet, but let me comment about the Jacobs piece.

        I tend to agree that most modern sci-fi and fantasy authors don’t really seem to have a concept of the good life they’re interested in sharing. The ones that do, like Banks, are the more interesting for it. But I think that Martin may stand out a bit there, though clearly not as well as Tolkien, as he does seem to be coming towards something like it in the later books. Daenerys seems to be developing something like a theory of justice, and one can see indications that what’s going on in Westeros is setting us up to buy into that. It’s getting more interesting.Report

      • Avatar Maxwell James says:

        I think HBO’s production is somewhat incoherent on that front. Clearly the network wants a bunch of sex and violence in there for marketing reasons, as with all of their non-Simon dramas. Yet it’s also clear even on a first viewing that the producers are going along out of obligation. (Spoiler) Their sympathies, for instance, are clearly with Dany during the various abuses she endures early on; they even took steps to more clearly show her wedding night as rape. (/Spoiler).

        I think if the show is financially successful, it will probably become somewhat more humane and non-salacious in the seasons to come. Within limitations of the source material, of course.

        As for Jacob’s essay, feh. I think Tolkien is a wonderful world builder and wrote a fine yarn. But I don’t think he has anything more to say about “the good life” than Martin does. In fact, it’s abundantly clear that in Martin’s world a life in which “art and friendship may flourish” is also ideal – it’s just a lot harder to come by. Which arguably makes it even more valuable.Report

        • Avatar Maxwell James says:

          Incidentally, Martin gives his own take on the morality of his books in <a href="http://tunedin.blogs.time.com/2011/04/18/grrm-interview-part-2-fantasy-and-history/&quot;)this very fine interview. Money quote:

          Yeah, I’ve always been attracted to grey characters. I’ve always taken it as a code William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech from the early ‘50’s, where he said that the human heart in conflict with the self was the only thing worth writing about. And I think that’s true…The battle between good and evil is a theme of much of fantasy. But I think the battle between good and evil is thought largely within the individual human heart, by the decisions that we make. It’s not like evil dresses up in black clothing and you know, they’re really ugly. These are some of the things that Tolkien did; he made them work fabulously, but in the hands of his imitators, they become total clichés. Report

  3. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    The other genre convention that Martin subverts is the primacy of magic over reality. Aragorn is a hero who restores a lost kingdom and defeats the massed forces of evil, but none of that would help unless the magic macguffin got melted. In most of what happens in Westeros, on the other hand, magic is irrelevant. Martin doesn’t go quite as far in this direction as Chip Delany, though, whose Neveryona books are Sword and Sorcery without any sorcery.Report

  4. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I think I’m generally accepting of salacious material, but I’ve grown sort of tired of the need to show a character’s suffering through graphic violence and their dissipation through gratuituous sex. It just seems too obvious and lazy. This was sort of the problem I had with the Passion of the Christ- it seemed like salacious gore where a better director would have brought home the suffering in less hamfistedly obvious ways. I did like Apocalypto though.Report

  5. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    What I wonder about Martin’s series is…

    Where did the Ice Zombies go? The ones from the first freakin’ chapter who appeared, were all scary, and then disappeared for the next three thousand pages?

    I mean, if it took five books to get through the political maneuvering leading up to the Zombie Apocalypse, then Jesus, this is going to be another Chung Kuo!Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Winter is Coming.

      More seriously, I think it’s a clue that one of the guys fighting to be king is allied with the opposite of Ice,and that he’s also the one guy who shows some sense of responsibility for the kingdom.Report

      • Avatar Murali says:

        *Book spoiler alert*

        Stannis is a dupe. The Red lady is Evil.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          Fighting evil with evil sounds like ASoIaF to me. It’s not as if there were much good around.Report

          • Avatar Murali says:

            One of the key things we see in the series as it progresses is that the shitty things that people do eventually catch up with them. Yes it is gritty, Yes, anyone can die, but still there is an idealistic core. Maleficence, malfeasance, and malevolence should not be confused with weakness of will.Report

        • Avatar Ryan B says:

          I’m actually somewhat unconvinced. I think it’s possible that Melisandre is a dupe.Report

  6. I watched Game of Thrones a bit, and I was actually surprised you didn’t mention the foul language in Deadwood for comparison purposes. Both shows try so hard to beat the viewer over the head with the fact that they are for adults for adults for adults that even a small amount of reflection fosters the realization that they are quite oviously for men between 20 and 35. As a man between 20 and 35, I’d feel uncomfortable watching either show with someone not of that demographic.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      I haven’t fit into the demographic for a while, and I loved Deadwood. Agreed that I wouldn’t watch it with the kids. Actually, I found the cursing in Deadwood to fit perfectly with the characters and the setting, and not nearly as forced as the constant use of the fish-word in, say, Six Feet under.Report

      • I found it incredibly awkward, but will admit that perhaps my knowledge of the cursing as a deliberate anachronism caused me to focus more on profanity than on anything else.Report

        • The story of Western Art really…Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I had heard that they swear a lot on Deadwood. I had even heard that they swear in such a way that pushed the artform forward somewhat.

          I watched a few episodes. I didn’t notice the swearing.

          I was disappointed.Report

        • Avatar Will says:

          I actually thought the swearing in Deadwood was effective insofar as it conveyed the idea that this was a rough-and-tumble frontier town. If obscenity or nudity serves a purpose, I don’t have a real problem with it. I just don’t want to be bludgeoned by boobies because some producer thinks it’s edgy or something.Report

          • It just seems like posturing to me. It’s precisely because nudity and foul language have so much power to provoke strong emotional reaction that they must be used sparingly and under the right circumstances. I see we’re in agreement on the general law here, just not when it comes to Deadwood.Report

      • Avatar Elia Isquire says:

        Yeah, Deadwood is one of my absolute favorite shows, and I think Milch was right in using contemporary profanities, thinking that to use the ones of the time would be alienating to the viewer. There’s that great little meta-joke, too, in Season 2 (I think it’s 2…) when E.B. says to Al, in reference to the latter’s paraphrasing of the Greeks with a few four-letter words (again, if memory serves…), “They talked like that back then?”Report

    • Avatar Elia Isquire says:

      FWIW, my girlfriend adores Deadwood, too.Report

  7. Tits? Tits?!? Assholes, mutherfuckers! ASSHOLES!!!Report