The HBO series A Game of Thrones starts tonight, and author George R. R. Martin responds on his blog to the off-base New York Times article by Ginia Bellafante claiming that the fantasy genre of literature is “boy fiction” and that his series attracts women by spicing up his novels with graphic sex. As he notes in his post, female fantasy fans all over the internet are enraged about the charge that fantasy isn’t for girls, and that Martin’s series attracts the women folk solely through sex.
I’ve read a lot of fantasy series, but have veered away from the genre in the last ten years because many of them are so formulaic – which I’ve complained about here before – many follow the Joseph Campbell tropes – orphan hero with royal heritage goes on travel quest guided by mentor to defeat evil lurking in the mountains to save the world – that is pretty misogynist and repetitively boring as well. One of the many reasons I enjoy Martin’s series is because it blows that annoying trope out of the water – there’s no “one true hero” – but many; a huge cast of characters, all with their own motivations, moving against and with one another advancing the plot in their own ways. Drawing comparisons, I’d say The Wire is the closest I can think of in story construction to Martin’s series. It’s fascinating to see so many characters viewing the same story from different angles, all with partial understanding of what’s really going on, and succeeding and failing without always knowing entirely why.
And Martin has strong female characters – who are strong in different ways from each other – and who are acting on their own agendas, which may or may not be related to men’s agendas. That is a huge appeal as well; to see women acting like actual women act and not like cardboard cutout princesses from some distant mythic fairy tale.
So I’m glad that there’s been an outcry about the characterization of the series, especially since Martin’s fandom has been pretty critical of him of late; he’s had writers block over the last several years and the recent installments of his novels have been delayed. It’s nice to see them fiercely defend him for once, instead of giving him a hard time. I’m looking forward to the series. And if I get around to it, I may need to re-read the novels.