It must be genetic. There’s part of my DNA that makes me love the HBO adaptation of George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones. That unique combination of amino acids means I’m predisposed to appreciate the top-notch scripts, great performances and stunning photography. It’s no surprise – I do, after all, have dragons in my double-helix
But that’s not the whole story. You see, it turns out my DNA’s faulty.
Here’s the thing: Game of Thrones is set in a made-up world. And I’m programmed to hate that. You might think that’s odd, coming from someone who spends a lot of time writing fantasy, but I really do. My problem can be summed up like this: It might be a fantasy, but I still like to know where I am.
The made-up world in question is Westeros. It’s a pseudo-medieval realm with warlord-kings and sword fights and castles on crags. All fine and dandy. But what bugs me is it all exists in total isolation. There’s no attempt to place Westeros and its denizens into our past (nor present or future for that matter), nor is it presented as myth. Martin’s world is just a gameboard, a sandbox built for the convenience of the storyteller. I just don’t believe in it.
‘What about Tolkien?’ I hear you cry. ‘You like The Lord of the Rings, don’t you?’ Well, yes, I do. But Tolkien’s made-up world – Middle Earth – is actually our world as it used to be, before the elves ran off with the magic and the men started building retail parks. There’s a powerful sense throughout Tolkien’s narrative that hobbits really did exist, it’s just that back then the rules of the world were different. LOTR is an alternative pre-history, a myth-that-could-have-been. All the rest of it – the kings and swords and castles – is just set dressing.
Luckily, my DNA compels me to like other kinds of fantasy fiction. Many other kinds. I’m doomed to adore alternate histories and urban fantasies and most flavours of science fiction and horror and stories about parallel universes and peculiar detectives and magic realism and I’ll stop before I run out of breath. It’s just that narrow band of high fantasy that sticks in my throat (and let’s not argue genre classifications – you know what I mean).
So why am I watching Game of Thrones if the made-up-world-thing offends me so much? Simple: because it’s high-quality, compelling drama played out by a talented cast and it beats the crap out of Midsomer Murders. But, deep down, I know it’s a cheat. This is not a criticism, by the way, of George R R Martin’s well-written and meticulously crafted novels (and yes, I read the first book some years ago, just never continued with the series). It’s just not the fantasy for me.
So I’m conflicted. So what? Like I said, don’t blame me. It’s in the genes.