Sometimes the synchronicty of events seems almost uncanny … Only this Monday past, I posted on Winter is coming, talking not only about winter literally being just around the corner here in the southern hemisphere, but also about George RR Martin’s novel A Game of Thrones and the about-to-be-released HBO TV series of the same name, based on the book. (If you don’t already know then I’ll have to insist you read the post to see how the novel and series relate to the tag “winter is coming.” )
So I was intrigued, when I popped onto the Orbit blog this morning—just to see what was happening, you know how you do—that Daniel Abrahams had a guest post up talking, amongst other things, about A Game of Thrones and the HBO series. The post discusses—again, amongst other things—those fantasy stories that: “… celebrate violence, or more often treat it as something unreal and without cost … “ So those of you who read my Big Idea post on John Scalzi’s Whatever blog, back in October, will probably understand at once why it caught my interest.
Titled “The Two Tolkiens” (the second being not Christopher, JRR’s son, but George RR Martin, author of A Game of Thrones), the premise of Daniel Abraham’s post is that books such as The Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones are currently “reaching outside the usual genre readers to talk to … [a] … wider audience” because ” our two Tolkiens are telling us that we’re tired of war.”
Abrahams then advances his case with reference to both books, but concludes that their success doesn’t really mean that epic fantasy is back because quite a few fantasies (I would say a lot) are (as above) “… adventure stories that celebrate violence, or more often treat it as something unreal and without cost … “ But these, unlike The Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones, are not ” … the projects that are reaching outside the usual genre readers to talk to the wider audience.”
I hope I have now intrigued you enough to go and read the full post here. I definitely do think it’s worth it.
You will also, if you read the comments section, see that I question Abrahams’ premise. While the facts speak for themselves in terms of the appeal of both Tolkien and Martin (I do have a resistance to the tag of the “Two Tolkiens”, but that’s another topic …) I am not convinced that it is because “we’re tired of war.” (As I say in my comment, I’m not convinced that we are tired of war—the evidence of the world around us and the stories that dominate our media seem to suggest otherwise.)
One of the reasons both books have been so popular is, quite simply, because they’re damned fine stories. But the case I advanced in my comment, which is fundamentally the same as that contained in my Big Idea post of 21 October 2010, was this:
“In my view, what you have described with LoTR and AGoT is exactly what epic fantasy is–drawing on its roots in both the Greek and Norse (in western tradition) mythic epics (the same ones that initially hooked me into reading fantasy.) In those stories, it is the internal conflict within the protagonists—-their struggle between the pressures of self-interest, the socio-political forces in their societies and the codes they hold to be true and right—-that drive the power, drama and tragedy of the narrative.
The same forces, I believe, are at play in both LoTR and AGoT and that, I can’t help feeling, is what is really speaking to us out of both books, rather than a–perhaps–more simplistic weariness of war … We live in a world where any values of “right” and “true” that we are hold as individuals are constantly under pressure, being eroded even, by self-interest and self-preservation and by societal forces driving to achieve particular outcomes in terms of (for example) resource use / allocation and to enforce belief systems. I imagine that most of us try to have “bottom lines” and boundaries that we don’t cross—-but we live in a world where boundaries are often blurred and the pressure to push the margins further out, and then just a little further again, is a constant.
This is exactly the pressure that we see played out, time and again, in “A Game of Thrones”, and which the characters, through the metaphor of the ring, struggle to resist in “The Lord of the Rings.”
Anyway, I do hope you will go to the Orbit blog and read Daniel Abrahams post. As I said above, I really do think it’s worth the effort.
I’d also like to hear what you think, especially if you’re readers of epic fantasy—but even if you’re not you probably have an opinion on whether or not we really are tired of war. And if we are, whether that’s why books such as The Lord of the Rings and A Game of Thrones have been so successful.
For more you can also read: