23rd May 2012
Gina Goes Pop: The Rise of Fantasy Fiction
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past couple of months, chances are you’ve at least heard of Game of Thrones. Based upon George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, the TV show has received critical acclaim, and the books have become bestsellers.
As is natural with a genre receiving new found popularity (think of the rise in YA vampire novels), even more fantasy novels are being produced and gaining popularity. The majority of them are written by men. But why?
Some would argue the ‘masculine’ events depicted in the novels and shows such as war and politics can be more accurately portrayed by a man, though this reeks of sexism and stereotyping for both women and men, suggesting women are either too emotional or unintelligent to write realistic scenes of battle, and that men are unable to write with sensitivity or artistically.
There is a definite place in the market for a prominent woman writer taking on the fantasy genre, which is far more about character experiences than long depictions of war (not that I’m suggesting a woman cannot write about war, but that it would be a rewarding experience for anyone due to the detail and intense plots).
I love Game of Thrones, both the novels and the show, and I’m far from the only woman who does. If we concentrate on both the first novel and the first series, it’s interesting to consider the similarities and the differences between novel and show.
One of the most appealing aspects of the show is how rigidly it sticks to the plot originally composed by Martin, meaning that, in general, people like me who always say that “the book is better than” can’t really complain about plot differences.
The portrayal of women in the books is very interesting. While Sansa, the eldest Stark daughter is probably the single most irritating, ignorant and insipid female character I’ve ever read, she is balanced out by a number of strong, independent and powerful women.
Arya, the youngest girl of the Stark family, dreams not of princes, parties and silk gowns, but enjoys swordplay and the freedom being able to wield a sword provides. While at times overemotional, her determination to learn how to fight and complete commitment to her dreams is beautifully portrayed, and an excellent antidote to her elder sisters sappish behaviour.
Catelyn, mother of the Stark children and wife to Eddard Stark, is another powerful and wonderfully written character that breaks the stereotypical mother role portrayed in many genres. Her emotional attachment to her children is realistic as the chapters written from her perspectives share her thoughts and hopes, but she is not a weak woman solely dedicated to motherhood.
She is an integral part of the politics surrounding war, is not afraid to speak her mind or attack those that threaten those who are dearest to her. Her inclusion in war plans and positive influence over Robb Stark as he leads his men to battle is encouraging, allowing stereotypes to be broken without seeming clumsy or forced.
The most discouraging difference between the books and the show is the amount of nudity and the sexualisation of characters who aren’t really that sexual in the novels. Until the later episodes, when the violence becomes the focus, the amount of boobs in the TV series is quite shocking – it seems like every woman over the age of sixteen is expected to flash at some point during the show.
It strikes me as odd that this is such a prominent part of the show, when there are few sex scenes in the novels themselves. Why did the producers find it necessary to add such a sexual element to around 60% of the women in the show when it takes such a back seat in the novel, especially considering how rigidly they conform to the original plot in all other aspects?
The Guardian Culture section reviews Game of Thrones every week and even has a regular nudity section, such is the prominence of female nudity in the show. This wasn’t something that put me off from reading the books, but I can imagine some people being put off by the oversexualisation and misogynistic characterisation of the women characters.
I can’t come up with an answer for this deviation from the books to the TV shows beyond the idea that sex sells. I could question the fact that there are few, if any, examples of completely naked men, especially men playing characters who are high up in society and respected by other characters, but I don’t have an answer other than one that would completely trash an otherwise brilliant show that I enjoy every week.
The balance between positive portrayal and negative stereotyping is rocky in the TV series, but otherwise fantastic. The novel depicts women across a broad spectrum from pathetic princess to powerful warrior, and while there is little approach to outwardly feminist issues, it could be read in such a light.
But I still want a popular fantasy bestseller written by a woman.
Do you enjoy Game of Thrones or similar fantasy fiction? Am I missing out on a brilliant woman writer of this genre? Does the oversexualisation of characters ruin the show, or does it not matter? Let me know what you think!