On "Game of Thrones" and "the final rehabilitation of fantasy"by Ian Irvine / June 29, 2016 / Leave a comment
On Monday, the final episode of the sixth season of Game of Thrones aired. One of the many virtues of the TV series has been the final rehabilitation of the previously patronised genre of fantasy in the eyes of the cultural elite. Though Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Lord of the Rings (and the subsequent, interminable Hobbits) were magnificent, they left many feeling that even Tolkien’s masterpiece of the genre, for all its linguistic erudition and deep roots in Northern European myth, was at heart a jejune taste. Dwarves and elves and walking, talking trees were something for adolescents who with luck should grow out of it and move on to more sophisticated fare.
Back in the 1970s when I was an adolescent, I was very keen on Tolkien—it was hard not to be, if you wanted to be taken seriously in my school’s arty (as opposed to hearty) circles. Carrying around the fat yellow paperback of Lord of the Rings was the pre-eminent badge of intellectual respectability. (Jonathan Coe’s novel, The Rotters’ Club, has an excellent, and very funny, account of this cultural moment. His 1970s’ schoolboy hero forms a band and considers various names: “Minas Tirath” eventually being dropped in favour of “Gandalf’s Pikestaff”.)
I used to buy Tolkien posters and calendars for my bedroom walls and transliterated my name into Elvish characters and wrote it on all my jotters. These were the early days of merchandising (before Star Wars transformed it into big business), but I’m sure that the very fact of such frivolous products and fan behaviour encouraged elite disdain. It did for Tolkien himself. Though appreciative of his vast royalties, he disliked having become a cult author and deplored his inclusion in the pantheon of the Sixties’ counterculture.
However it was in that rich stew of popular culture which George R R Martin (born in 1948), the author of the Game of Thrones novels,…