Alexandra Duncan

Science Fiction. Fantasy. Feminism.


This afternoon, Jeremy drew my attention to Ginia Bellafante's New York Times review of HBO'S new fantasy show "Game of Thrones," based on the first book of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.  In short, Bellafante doesn't like the show.  That's fine.  I'm not too crazy about designer shoes and apple-tinis, so I never really got into Sex and the City the way one of my college roommates did.  We all have our cups of tea.

What's not fine is that Bellafante uses her review as a platform to summarily dismiss fantasy as a genre and make the bizarre, blundering generalization that women aren't interested in it whatsoever.  She also seems to have a problem with the existence of dwarfs (in this setting, a little person, not a fantasy creature), battle scenes, and the idea that the show's producers called someone in to create a language for the horse-riding nomads of Martin's world.

The first episode airs Sunday night, so of course I haven't seen it yet (nor will I until it comes out on DVD, since the money fairies have yet to produce the hundreds of dollars we would need to subscribe to cable TV), but I finished reading Martin's books earlier this year.  They aren't high art, but they're well-written, fast-paced, and full of complex characters.  Most notably, Martin includes a range of convincingly-written female characters, which makes Bellafante's pronouncements about female viewers all the stranger.

For example, speaking about the predictably high level of sex in the show (it's not TV, it's HBO) she writes,
The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.
Never mind the fact that the books have their fair share of illicit encounters.  Boy fiction? Seriously?  Did I miss a memo somewhere that disqualified me from reading about swords and sorcery based on my possession of ovaries?  I have nothing against realism.  I'm a great fan of writers like Barbara Kingsolver, Charles Frazier, and Toni Morrison.  I even had a major John Irving stage for a while there.  But I also love Neil Gaiman, Robin McKinley, and yes (horrors!) Tolkien.  (Incidentally, in high school, when I wasn't scarfing down Anne McAffery novels, I was writing Tolkien dwarf runes all over my backpack in glitter pen.)

I love fantasy.  So do all of the women packed into theaters to watch the Lord of the Rings movies and all the millions of paranormal romance fans.  Perhaps Ms. Bellafante needs to widen her own social circle if she's truly never met another woman interested in the fantasy genre.  Or perhaps if she stopped being so snotty, some of those Lorrie Moore fans might confess to liking Tolkien, too.

What I find truly disheartening is Bellafante's general tone of lazy disrespect.  Midway through the review, she laments,
The bigger question, though, is: What is "Game of Thrones" doing on HBO?  The series claims as one of its executive producers the screenwriter and best-selling author David Benioff, whose excellent script for Spike Lee’s post-9/11 meditation, '25th Hour,' did not suggest a writer with Middle Earth proclivities.
Can she truly not conceive of a world where people want variety in their entertainment, or is she so blinded by her personal distaste for all things fantasy that excellent scripts and Middle Earth proclivities automatically become mutually exclusive?  Maybe the bigger question is actually, why did the New York Times choose someone with a fundamental dislike and lack of understanding of the fantasy genre to review a fantasy show?  It's like sending someone with a professed hatred of mysteries to review "Murder on the Orient Express."

Even if "Game of Thrones" turns out to be a flop, I hope the kind of snobbery and artistic bullying Bellafante displays in her review won't keep people from reading quality fantasy like Martin's.  There's room for variety in the world, and life is too short to kowtow to the hobbit haters.

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