Au­thor Marc Turner won­ders if epic fan­tasy is be­com­ing too gritty

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Opinion - where writ­ers and opin­ions col­lide

Iread an ar­ti­cle a while back about Ge­orge RR Martin’s fan­tasy epic, Game Of Thrones. The au­thor was com­plain­ing about how dark the story was. “Where were all the he­roes?” she asked. And couldn’t the good guys – or, rather, the least bad ones – win some­times?

The move to­wards fan­tasy with a grit­tier edge has to be seen in the con­text of what came be­fore. The first fan­tasy novel I read was Pawn

Of Prophecy by David Ed­dings. I loved that book, but look­ing back, I’d have to say it of­fered an ide­alised view of the sub­ject mat­ter. In many fan­tasy se­ries of the ’ 70s and ’ 80s, the he­roes wore white, the vil­lains wore black, and the pro­tag­o­nist could cut his way through a le­gion of en­e­mies with­out get­ting even a spot of blood on his cloak.

Fan­tasy epics typ­i­cally deal with high stakes and mo­men­tous events. Most likely they will fea­ture armed con­flict, and if you’re go­ing to write about war, you shouldn’t ro­man­ti­cise it. You’ve got to in­clude a sprin­kling of sav­agery and hor­ror, be­cause if you don’t, you’re not de­pict­ing it ac­cu­rately. His­tory pro­vides plenty of ex­am­ples of such bru­tal­ity.

I have seen it ar­gued, though, that fan­tasy writ­ers are tak­ing grit­ti­ness too far. Ap­par­ently some of them are en­gaged in a “race to the bot­tom”, with more and more bru­tal­ity be­ing in­cluded for shock value alone. That is not a phe­nom­e­non I have wit­nessed my­self, but I do think it is some­thing to be wary of. If it is wrong to ro­man­ti­cise war, it is surely also wrong to ro­man­ti­cise vi­o­lence. Hor­ror should al­ways be pre­sented as hor­ri­ble, rather than as “cool”. Nor should bru­tal­ity be used as a sub­sti­tute for theme or char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment.

If you’re go­ing to in­clude bru­tal­ity, ar­guably it should be to a pur­pose. It could be used, for ex­am­ple, to ex­am­ine the im­pact of vi­o­lence on its vic­tims or its per­pe­tra­tors. As in most things, a bal­ance is called for. To my mind, epic fan­tasy should con­tain el­e­ments of both light and dark. But as to what the “right” bal­ance of those el­e­ments is… Well, ev­ery­one will have their own opin­ion on the mat­ter.

Marc Turner is the au­thor of The Dragon Hun­ters, book two of The Chron­i­cles Of The Ex­ile se­ries, out now from Ti­tan Books.

So is Game Of Thrones too dark and vi­o­lent?

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