Game of Thrones: How Fantasy and Intelligence are Marginalized

With the much-anticipated HBO series “Game of Thrones” starting tonight, Joshua S. Hill has some serious words for the New York Times reviewer who lambasted this epic fantasy.“Game of Thrones” is a 10-part series beginning Sunday on HBO.

Every morning — morning being that time of day immediately after I wake up, rather than anything relating to a.m. — I check my RSS feeds on my iGoogle page. On Saturday morning, I woke up and did just that, and came across this blog post written over on TOR — a blog for science fiction and fantasy lovers, and one of my favourite blogs. The post was entitled “A Response to the NY Times Game of Thrones Review” and the moment I saw the title I knew I was going to read about a New York Times review of Game of Thrones, the HBO fantasy epic based on George R. R. Martin’s series of books.

Now, let’s be fair. Not every “response to review” is a winner, nor worthy of attention. But TOR isn’t normally for the insecure, so I went in expecting to be shocked at the NY Times review.

I was.

Ms. Ginia Bellafante, the reviewer from the New York Times, has some serious questions to be asked of her:

a) What is wrong with intelligence?
b) What is wrong with fantasy?
c) Since when can’t fantasy secure a female audience?

I’m not going to sum up the review; if you care to read this post then I hope you’ll care to read the review, “A Fantasy World of Strange Feuding Kingdoms” and then the response on TOR before you continue reading here. And I recommend that you do, because in all seriousness, Ms. Bellafante is a nightmare-made-real.

Her agenda is set clearly from the beginning when she notes that “…[with]the amount of money apparently spent on “Game of Thrones,” … a show like “Mad Men” might have the financing to continue into the second term of a Malia Obama presidency.”

OK. So Ms. Bellafante likes Mad Men.

She goes on to say that “keeping track of the principals alone feels as though it requires the focused memory of someone who can play bridge at a Warren Buffett level of adeptness” and adds that a warning saying “if you can’t count cards, please return to reruns of “Sex and the City” should have run with the show.

And apparently Ms. Bellafante doesn’t like having to think.

It astounds me that something with this calibre of writing, i.e. minimal, is allowed to go to press. This review does nothing but marginalise and proves that non-intelligence is favoured these days. Heaven forbid we be challenged to think when we watch television, especially when short skirts and chauvinistic men are just an hour away.

One cannot help but see the blinding marquee that flashes from amidst this review, all but yelling to the world, “I’VE NEVER READ THE BOOKS!” When Ms. Bellafante refers to the show as “a costume-drama sexual hopscotch,” anyone who has read the books is forced to wonder just what set of blinders Ms. Bellafante was given before watching it.

Ms. Bellafante’s underlying thread is made clear when she starts summing up her review with the following:

“The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.”

No woman alive would watch “Game of Throne”s? I assume they wouldn’t read it either, right?

As Amy Ratcliffe in her TOR response reasonably asks, why didn’t  Ms. Bellafante “get crazy and try to seek out a female fan of Game of Thrones? Trust me, there are thousands of them! Then you could have asked her why she likes the series. Or you could have been more scientific and asked lots of female fans. This is better than simply making the arrogant claim that this is boy fiction.”

The sweeping antagonism towards fantasy fiction is evident when Ms. Bellafante adds that she has “…never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed The Hobbit first.”

What is wrong with The Hobbit? In fact, what is wrong with George R. R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire upon which “Game of Thrones” is based’? Or is there something inherently problematic with fantasy? And why is it labeled boy fiction? In fact, what is boy fiction for that matter?

The real crime, although I have trouble highlighting one single aspect out of this entire tragesty ( a combination of the words tragedy and travesty for those who are wondering), is the final paragraph of this insipid review:

“’Game of Thrones’ serves up a lot of confusion in the name of no larger or really relevant idea beyond sketchily fleshed-out notions that war is ugly, families are insidious and power is hot.”

I get the feeling that, if Ms. Bellafante has written a review for the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies, she would have summed them the trilogy up as “a cheap and false look into a world where evil and good fight.” It’s like willingly ignoring the idiom “it’s just the tip of the iceberg” and explaining how it’s actually a whale.

That lack of understanding extends to Ms. Bellafante’s overriding belief that nobody but a few males living in the basement of their parents house appreciate fantasy.

“If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort,” she notes. “If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.”

So in short, what have we learnt?

Fantasy is for boys, thinking isn’t appealing, and girls like sex?

After all, summing things up in such simple terms seems to be the way we do things these days.

For my part, nothing has me more excited than the premiere of “Game of Thrones” or the possibility that I can go back and reread the books that spawned this series. The depth of character and meaning that George. R. R. Martin has poured into this series, along with his very soul, make these books some of the greatest reading you will ever encounter, whether you like fantasy or not.

Photo Credit

Maisie Williams, left foreground, and Sean Bean in “Game of Thrones,” a 10-part series beginning Sunday on HBO. Photo by Helen Sloan/HBO

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  1. avatar says

    Thank you, Joshua! As one of said females who loved the Song of Ice and Fire series, I found Bellafante’s review incredibly insulting. It’s like saying women don’t comprehend folklore and history, and any student of folklore and history can see the parallels come to life in this fantasy series. As Amy Radcliffe eloquently pointed out, Bellafante obviously did not poll any women beyond her own narrow sphere.


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