It’s not often a work of fantasy breaks into the the mainstream.
I read tons of fantasy when I was a kid and with the exception of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, the whole genre was considered a niche market.
Thus the re-emergence of fantasy into the popular consciousness comes as a major landmark.
Why did this happen?
The first word that people use when they describe Game of Thrones is ‘realistic.’
There’s no clearly defined good or bad guys, plot twists break from established conventions.
The whole social world is defined by infidelity, incest, Machiavellian self interest, and betrayal.
The one classically moral character who refuses to adapt and insists on sticking to his values comes to a tragic end.
Not only is he killed, his best intentions lead only to strife and catastrophe.
I tried to read these books at the recommendations of some friends, but I didn’t get very far. The first thing I noticed was that I’d been introduced to about 20 different characters by page 50 and I struggled to keep them all straight in my head and remember their unremarkable Old English names.
Already the social relationships between these characters were becoming a web of petty backbiting.
In short: it was an awful lot like spending time on facebook; the kind of shallow social interaction I’d always gone to fantasy books to get away from!
Fantasy is a form of mythology; it tells larger than life stories about the experiences in our daily lives.
The huge success of Game of Thrones is a powerful indicator of how the popular consciousness has shifted.
The schemers win and the honorable men are naive fools who will only end up being taken advantage of. Worse, their good intentions will inevitably backfire within our modern order.
Why does this tragic outcome have such a deep appeal?
Members of the audience perhaps wish an Eddard Stark could have won the day but simultaneously have a cynical knowledge that this can never be.
In this moral dissonance, we perhaps find a certain catharsis that helps us resolve emotions we bottle up every day.
We know that asshole boss who played The Game of Thrones better than we did is going to be the winner over us, tomorrow, and the next day, and the next…
Perhaps before this Second Great Depression revealed beyond all doubt that a great game of selfish intrigue defines our society up to its highest ranks, we could tell ourselves that some how the good guys will win in the end.
Those who care about the future of this society would do well to take note that these ‘realistic’ attitudes have seeped into the wellsprings of our collective imagination.