Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Random Rants: Seeing Red

Sunday night I logged on to Facebook to find dozens of shocked and awed comments from friends and acquaintances about “Game of Thrones.” Even though I’m a season behind on the series, I knew immediately that they’d hit the Red Wedding.

I have to admit to getting a little annoyed. The “I read the book” snob came out in me, and I posted a snarky comment saying that I was tempted to tell everyone what happens next. Of course, I wouldn’t really do that, but I did have this irrational aggravation about what was going on.

Maybe it’s the metal kid that still lives inside me, but whenever something I love becomes wildly popular outside its genre, I feel an acute sense of loss. It’s hard to explain, but I don’t believe I’m the only one.
Take “The Lord of the Rings,” for example. I know millions of people had read it before I did, and millions more after I picked it up for the first time. Still, I felt a bit like it was my own little secret. Then came Peter Jackson’s film adaptations, and though I very much like them, it also felt like he opened the door to allow just any yahoo to traipse through my little world. I wrote about it at the time.

I felt the same way about “Game of Thrones,” a mixture of excitement and dread, which only worsened when it became the hit that it did. I don’t have cable, so I haven’t seen any of the third season yet, but I was quite pleased with the first two seasons, though I had a few quibbles and thought they felt a little rushed. I can also see the upside in a higher profile for fantasy fiction. I truly do hope that many of the people that enjoy the HBO series will take the time to pick up George R.R. Martin’s books and explore his world more fully. The shows are good, but they’re more like Cliff’s Notes.

I admit a selfishness in wanting to keep those things that I love all to myself, like a hoarding dragon. But there’s another, bigger part to my resentment. And that’s the fact that many of these same people who love “Game of Thrones” are people who would have – and often did – turn up their noses at my suggestion they might like fantasy.

I’ve been through this a few times before. In the early 1990s, one of my favorite bands, Metallica, exploded with their self-titled album. Kids who hated metal and, indeed, a few that made fun of me for being a metalhead, suddenly were driving around town blaring “Enter Sandman” in their cars. I wanted to smack them upside the head. Another good example is 2009, when the New Orleans Saints made their run to the Super Bowl and people who had made fun of me all my life for being a Saints fan were suddenly wearing the jerseys, flying the flags and calling them “our boys.” I found it incredibly frustrating.

Back to “Game of Thrones,” one of the people who has repeatedly tried to engage me in conversation about the show is the same person that once told me that fantasy was nothing but a whole lot of walking with a dragon thrown in occasionally. Now that person (who still hasn’t read the books) is wanting to discuss the finer points of the series with me? That’s where my desire to completely spoil their experience comes from, but I refrain.

Sadly, that’s an attitude that I run into often. People who think the speculative genres, fantasy in particular, are “silly.” They tell me it’s not realistic, that all of the problems are solved by magic with no explanation. In most cases, if they’ve read fantasy at all, they’ve read the wrong kind. Tell me this: Are the super secret agents of the thriller genre realistic? Are the detectives in mysteries that can solve every single case in 300 pages realistic? Are the passionate, hot and heavy trysts of romance novels realistic? And before the thriller, mystery and romance folks jump on my case, I know I’m making broad, simplistic stereotypical generalizations about genres that have much more depth than that. But, that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make. The same applies to fantasy.

Are there stories where three or more unlikely people meet in a tavern and go on a quest to kill the dragon? Sure. In fact, those were some of the first stories that brought me to the genre, and I can think of a few that are fine books. But there’s so much more to offer.

And as much as I love dragons, I can’t recall off the top of my head the last book that I read that contained one. It’s been a while.

Speculative fiction, including fantasy, is really the only genre of fiction where you’re truly limited only by your imagination. That’s why I choose to read it, and why I choose to write it. You don’t have to worry about whether or not something is possible. It can be made possible through your words. Oh, there are still “rules” of sorts. You have to be able to make people suspend their disbelief and make them believe that your creation is possible. If you can do that, though, whatever you can imagine, you can make real.

There is, also, I believe something for everyone within the speculative genres. Yes, magic and fantastic creatures do exist, but so does gritty realism. You can find deeply detailed new worlds or very well-done historical settings. You want action, adventure, thrills, mystery, romance? We’ve got it. There’s escapism, but there are also coming of age stories and tales that take a deep look at society and offer readers food for thought about our current situation. There are stories and writing that are every bit as good as you’ll find in “literary” fiction, some, in fact, much better. You just have to know where to look, and there are fans everywhere that will help you find what you’re looking for, whether you’re coming from “Game of Thrones” and looking to explore more or completely new to all of this. 

Being a fan of speculative fiction is sort of like the bumper stickers I see around here for the Masonic Order that tell you “to be one, ask one.” Ask us. For many of us, there’s nothing we’d rather talk about.

1 comment:

My Deep Woods life said...

I couldn't have said it better myself. Still haven't read GoT but I will before I watch more! Found out yesterday that my favorite book series, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is going to be made into a TV series, sorta like GoT. I'm heartbroken. That is my world and those are my friends and I feel an intimacy with the characters I don't want exposed to millions. The greater good is that others will get to experience the magic and mystery that is a great series and the bottom line will be great for Mrs. Gabaldone, but it leaves me feeling like people will be reading my diary. Selfish, I know, but I feel the same. I've bought these books for people and begged and pleaded for them to read them...and lo and behold, they will finally get the message I've been preaching for 20 years. Guess that's just part of the circle of a literary life...