Did the War on Terror lead to Game of Thrones and Joe Abercrombie?

Illustration for article titled Did the War on Terror lead to emGame of Thrones/em and Joe Abercrombie?

Why has fantasy gotten so gritty and violent? Why are we so obsessed with Game of Thrones and book sagas about severed limbs and dirty deals, instead of epic quests involving elves and singing swords and Ultimate Evil? Writer David Chandler shares a fascinating theory over at SFSignal.

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In the 1980s, horror movies shifted away from stylized, somewhat sanitized scares towards full-blown gore and intense violence — and to some extent, this may have been a reaction to the Vietnam war. And maybe now something similar has happened with fantasy, in the wake of the War on Terror, writes Chandler:

I think fantasy is responding to the horrors of the War on Terror, just as horror responded to Vietnam... Elves with magic bows and children born under prophecies to save the world just don't fit with the new realities of war and politics. Instead we get constant, grueling warfare (Joe Abercrombie does a great job with this). We get the people in charge making secret deals and engaging in vicious reprisals (George R. R. Martin is the undisputed master here). We get sudden acts of terrifying carnage, and we get the desperate hopes of the people huddling in their mud hovels, hoping this time, just maybe, the war of good versus evil won't be played out on their fields and in their homes this time.

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The whole thing is well worth reading. And debating. [SFSignal via Richard Kadrey]

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DISCUSSION

I think that at least part of the reason is the general coarseness society has descended into since at least the end of World War II. One unintended consequence of people demanding a greater level of individual liberty is that the strictures of traditional culture have been loosened or eliminated entirely, making the world a bit more gritty and pessimistic.

I also think that the Cold War had a great deal to do with the rise of what is viewed as "realism," even if it isn't actually realistic. When you spend several decades looking down both barrels of a nuclear apocalypse, as much as you might wish otherwise, sweet and innocent fantasies are displaced by the raw and the vulgar.

Add in the advances in communications technology, sharp increases in population, overall declining standards of living, the increase of traditional institutions such as government and business being overrun by blatantly criminal enterprises — all in all, things look pretty grim.

Unlike some critics may believe, fantasy isn't about escaping from our problems. Fantasy is about recasting our problems in a way that allows us to actually deal with the root causes of those problems, albeit within a context of that fantasy. In order to do this, our fantasies have to reflect how we see the world, and we don't see the world in the traditional "us good, them bad" manner any more. Our view of the world has become more individualistic, but also more depressive and pessimistic. Our fantasies have adapted to these evolving points of view.

My 2 cents, for what it's worth.