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Green Gogol

On realism, grimdark and childishness

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Surfing the web, reading people’s opinion, browsing through forums, I always stumble upon the same type of comments.

It goes something like this: A song of fire and ice is more realistic because the characters are complex, because it’s gritty. Dragonlance bwa ha ha, that’s for children. Noble bright, that’s childish...

I just don’t get it. I know that some people are unpleasant. But how can a world where everybody is unpleasant and it is always raining can be thought of as more realistic than rainbows and unicorns?

I mean, in real life you have people with complex motivations and others who have simple motivations. Some are pleasant, some are unpleasant, some are silly, some are complete idiots, some are genius, some are heroic, some are selfish, some are generous etc. The world is not black and white, but’s it’s not in shades of grey either. It’s a world full of colors. 

And I find it annoying when I read that gritty fantasy is fantasy for grown ups. Fantasy for real men. And that the rest is considered childish. 

To quote C.S Lewis: "Critics who treat 'adult' as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”

What do you think about such attitude? About realism and grimdark?

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Well, I hate the term noble bright, but I also kind of hate the term grimdark.

But yeah, I dislike the whole, well this book doesn't have rape therefore it is YA argument I see sometimes.

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Wouldn't you do better engaging those people directly? I mean, if you are actually interested in understanding them rather than getting validation.

Personally, I find the obsession with grittiness and realism rather silly, but different strokes for different folks. I'll happily read a book that is 90% exposition but I wouldn't expect most people to share my enthusiasm. Oh, and I find gore rather unpleasant.

As far as being adult, I guess it is adult in the sense of having gore and sex. I wouldn't use it as a term of approval though. I think having depth and/or completeness is more relevant in being adult (as a term of approval). There is probably some conflation in the sense that grimdark books would generally have more depth.

Also, maybe perspectives have changed after GoT aired, but I'd have thought that fantasy as a whole was considered non-adult. 

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I blame great writers like  George RR Martin. Idiots not knowing how to make thoroughly complex characters, interesting moral dilemmas, and captivating dialogue, see the success of literature that had sex and gore and think that’s what holds up a story. Truth be told “Realism” has been misconstrued into being “dark” or “gritty”. It’s not. I think this YT video explains why that line of thinking is fundamentally flawed; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9_ODNTNDrY

Edited by Varysblackfyre321

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16 hours ago, Proudfeet said:

Also, maybe perspectives have changed after GoT aired, but I'd have thought that fantasy as a whole was considered non-adult

This is the mindset I don't understand. 

There is a room at my shop for fantasy, sci-fi, horror and crime/thrillers/mystery stuff.  Comic trades are in there also.  It must have happened, but I don't remember ever seeing a child browsing in that room.  Always adults.

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47 minutes ago, Inkdaub said:

This is the mindset I don't understand. 

There is a room at my shop for fantasy, sci-fi, horror and crime/thrillers/mystery stuff.  Comic trades are in there also.  It must have happened, but I don't remember ever seeing a child browsing in that room.  Always adults.

I believe  Martin did an interview where he disclaims how fantasy has been “adult” in literature  a long time  and only really kid friendly on screen. 

Edited by Varysblackfyre321

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24 minutes ago, Inkdaub said:

This is the mindset I don't understand. 

There is a room at my shop for fantasy, sci-fi, horror and crime/thrillers/mystery stuff.  Comic trades are in there also.  It must have happened, but I don't remember ever seeing a child browsing in that room.  Always adults.

I don't get it either. 

I don't understand what, why and how bookstores and/or publishers categorise their books. My bookstore places Harry Potter under what I think is the children's section, but not fantasy. They seem the same to me, but apparently they aren't. 

Anyway, what I meant to say was that fantasy as a genre is/was regarded as childish. Regardless of what it is marketed as/to.

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25 minutes ago, Proudfeet said:

I don't get it either. 

I don't understand what, why and how bookstores and/or publishers categorise their books. My bookstore places Harry Potter under what I think is the children's section, but not fantasy. They seem the same to me, but apparently they aren't. 

Anyway, what I meant to say was that fantasy as a genre is/was regarded as childish. Regardless of what it is marketed as/to.

Bookstores I kind of get, especially when it comes to books like HP. From a marketing perspective it makes sense to display the book in just one section, and Children is likely going to pull in more sales than fantasy. I can think of other fantasy books which were put in the children’s section of my local book store when I was young - Narnia, and the Hobbit being prime example. And obviously, quite a lot of children’s literature is fantasy of some kind. The first few Harry Potter books are definitely better marketed at children.

I don’t disagree with any of your points about the stupidity’s of seeing fantasy as childish though. And I too hate the term grimdark

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Proudfeet, I find it a wee bit insulting when you insinuate that I am seeking validation by posting this thread. 

I am actually reality interested in the phenomenon. It baffles me. Maybe it’s like HelenaExMachina says. In some people’s mind, quite a lot of children litterature is fantasy, thus fantasy is for children. Which is obviously plain wrong.

Two things. First I don’t really understand the urge to avoid looking childish. Of course some litterature is more appropriate for children. For instance, the Hobbit, Harry Potter or Narnia. Thus it make sense to offer those books to children. However, that doesn’t mean that adults cannot enjoy them. It also doesn’t mean that it is innapropria For adults to enjoy those. In fact I usually find the values and morality presented in “childish” fantasy litterature to be much more interesting than what is marketed as realistic to adults. Anybody can be a selfish asshole, that’s easy. But being heroic, standing up for what you believe in, that much more difficult. 

Second, I am wondering something. Fantasy is usually appreciated by geeks. And since many geeks suffered from bullying and rejection, maybe that gave them a skewed understanding of life...

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Sorry, I didn't mean to be insulting, but the thing is, you should talk to those people directly if you want to understand them. Otherwise, you/we are just speculating which isn't a good way of understanding people. Its more of a pile on.

Also, while your first post was more neutral, your second post does seem to reinforce that. It seems like you have already more or less made up your mind anyway. I can't really express it properly, but you come off as saying "I'm right, aren't I? rather than "I wonder why, perhaps it is this?"

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10 hours ago, Proudfeet said:

Sorry, I didn't mean to be insulting, but the thing is, you should talk to those people directly if you want to understand them. Otherwise, you/we are just speculating which isn't a good way of understanding people. Its more of a pile on.

Also, while your first post was more neutral, your second post does seem to reinforce that. It seems like you have already more or less made up your mind anyway. I can't really express it properly, but you come off as saying "I'm right, aren't I? rather than "I wonder why, perhaps it is this?"

I do have an opinion on the subject. Doesn’t mean I am not interested in hearing the opinion of someone else. In fact, that’s my goal in starting this thread. Understanding different points of view. I am not here to be convinced that I am wrong. And I don’t feel the need to convert others to my own point of view. I am interested in discussing the subject. 

But enough about my motives. I have stated my opinion, and tried to explain why I think that excessive grittiness is less realistic than more optimistic fantasy world. Now I want to hear what other people think.

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4 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Martin isn't a realist writer. He's a cynic with a strong streak of romanticism.

Cynism does seem to be going strong at the moment, and not just in fantasy litterature. And I find it unfortunate. Nihilism also seems to be quite popular. That makes for quite a bleak combo.

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On 1/26/2019 at 8:42 PM, Green Gogol said:

It goes something like this: A song of fire and ice is more realistic because the characters are complex, because it’s gritty. Dragonlance bwa ha ha, that’s for children. Noble bright, that’s childish...

I just don’t get it. I know that some people are unpleasant. But how can a world where everybody is unpleasant and it is always raining can be thought of as more realistic than rainbows and unicorns?

There are two distinct kinds of worlds that get this treatment and thus two distinct answers to your question. First, the pre-industrial worlds which don't use magic as a replacement for technology (or not widely, anyway) really are darker than the world of today. Martin adds some ice zombies and dragons and such which make things even worse, but most of the unpleasantness he describes comes straight out of history. People were more unpleasant because the stakes were much higher and the world was naturally a much crueler place (e.g. diseases that are either non-existent or a mild nuisance today were deadly without modern medicine). There is room for valid criticism when such a world is described as, for example, a pastoral utopia marred only by the presence of some pesky Dark Lord.

The second kind of world is either science fiction or fantasy with enough magic to make it a more advanced place than our own. One would think that worlds of this nature would, at least on average, be better places than our world for exactly the same reasons the pre-industrial worlds are worse, but this stopped being the case sometime after the mid-20th century. I don't know why such worlds are preferred to the point where the alternative has nearly died out; if I recall correctly, I made a thread on this topic a while back and we didn't come to a conclusive answer. My guess is that very few writers are capable of completely ignoring the influence of the contemporary environment and even though the vast majority of humanity is better off today than they were in the 1950s, during the latter, it felt like things are getting better while today it feels like we're not quite up to the challenges of the 21st century.

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4 minutes ago, Green Gogol said:

I do have an opinion on the subject. Doesn’t mean I am not interested in hearing the opinion of someone else. In fact, that’s my goal in starting this thread. Understanding different points of view. I am not here to be convinced that I am wrong. And I don’t feel the need to convert others to my own point of view. I am interested in discussing the subject. 

But enough about my motives. I have stated my opinion, and tried to explain why I think that excessive grittiness is less realistic than more optimistic fantasy world. Now I want to hear what other people think.

Again, you would be better served discussing it with people who actually hold the opinion you think they hold. You are probably only going to get similar points of view here.

For what its worth, I think both you and "they" are missing the point, or are conflating issues. It seems like you are going on grittiness=realistic=adult=good story? where one leads to another when it really should be taken apart and discussed individually. Its really easy to talk past people when you are actually in agreement if you don't lay out what you agree or disagree on.

Personally, the importance I place on realism is only to the extent that it isn't jarringly unbelievable. Whether it is gritty or optimistic or both is just the flavour. Whether it is childish or not is a completely different discussion, but I think the themes associated with grim dark has other factors besides realism that makes it inappropriate for children anyway. And then whether it is a good story is another discussion again. 

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Look, I am just talking about what i have read many times in multiple places on the web. It’s not a specific individual that can be pinpointed. I know your mean well, but it’s starting to get annoying now. I understood you the first time. No need to repeat it again. What would you like me to do? Erase the topic, make it disappear?

if you are interested in discussing the topic, then do so. My opinion, as stated before, is that I prefer it when characters are diverse, with some being noble, some heroic, some selfish.... and that I don’t find that a bleak world full of unpleasent people to be interesting.  I find it jarringly unbelievable.

Edited by Green Gogol

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12 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Martin isn't a realist writer. He's a cynic with a strong streak of romanticism.

Is there any fantasy genre writer that is truly "realist" in the sense of 19th century literature, e.g. like Flaubert?

I think that already with LotR critics realized the tension between the framework that seems like a 19th centuy realist novel but is really closer to a medieval Romance. Until now many fantasy novels hover uneasily between these (and more) influences. Among my favorites are the ones that largely avoid the realist style in favor of a "fake" saga or romance style, like "The broken sword" or several of Jack Vance's

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8 hours ago, Altherion said:

There are two distinct kinds of worlds that get this treatment and thus two distinct answers to your question. First, the pre-industrial worlds which don't use magic as a replacement for technology (or not widely, anyway) really are darker than the world of today. Martin adds some ice zombies and dragons and such which make things even worse, but most of the unpleasantness he describes comes straight out of history. People were more unpleasant because the stakes were much higher and the world was naturally a much crueler place (e.g. diseases that are either non-existent or a mild nuisance today were deadly without modern medicine). There is room for valid criticism when such a world is described as, for example, a pastoral utopia marred only by the presence of some pesky Dark Lord.

The danger of diseases was very similar in 1100, 1600 and 1800 and even in 1870 their deadliness was probably not even halfway between 1800 and 1950 (in the developed world) as the big medical advances only came in the late 19th/early 20th century (although it has been argued that the spread of hygiene and sanitation since the mid 19th century had an even larger impact than Pasteur, Koch etc. somewhat later). .

Nevertheless, central Europe or Britain were in many respects very different in 1100 vs. 1700 (at least in the upper/middle classes).  Diseases don't simply make the whole world cruel. How cruel daily life was depended on lots of other factors (mainly war and peace, not so different from today although many wars in the past were not "total wars", fairly short and had little impact on those not directly in their way). And compare how relevant death from disease is in narrative literature from former times. It seems almost irrelevant in medieval and early modern literature whereas in the 19th and early 20th century you get all those consumptive youths and damsels.

The "grittiness" hardly ever comes straight from a realist setting. Some things are always idealized, deemed irrelevant, explained away. E.g. very few fantasy writers bother with the minute social distinctions (usually we get caricatures informed by 21st century attitudes) or elaborate (but probably extremely boring) courtly or religious ceremonies etc. all of which were extremely important and shaping past societies.

Other aspects can be wildly exaggerated or distorted. Even considering the obvious idealizations and that there is more rain in Scotland compare the rural scenes in a contemporary depiction like the Book of Hours of the Duke of Berry and how the villages look in the "Braveheart" movie.

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From what I have read over the years, this notion that life was cruel, unpleasant and short in the middle ages is wildly exaggerated. It comes from myths and misconceptions that became widely circulated during the renaissance.

Knowing the importance of religion in the middle ages and knowing it’s teaching, I find it highly implausible that most individuals would be dangerous psychopaths bent on murder, rape and pillage. 

 

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23 minutes ago, Green Gogol said:

From what I have read over the years, this notion that life was cruel, unpleasant and short in the middle ages is wildly exaggerated. It comes from myths and misconceptions that became widely circulated during the renaissance.

Knowing the importance of religion in the middle ages and knowing it’s teaching, I find it highly implausible that most individuals would be dangerous psychopaths bent on murder, rape and pillage. 

 

If you were lucky enough not to be drafted or have an army march through your town or farm  then i guess life may have been simple/good. The problem is that most fantasies involve war and from the earliest accounts to the present there has always been looting, pillaging, rape and murder where large armies are concerned. It certainly doesn't mean every individual in an army was doing this (although there are plenty of accounts of soldiers being made to commit atrocities as a way of integrating).

I imagine starvation was always a concern even in times of peace. But again there are so many social levels to take into account before taking gender and geography into account too. We pretty much rely on archaeology to know how the majority of people lived as most history was from the tiny fragment that could write. 

I just don't know of any fantasy books set on a farm/small village completely isolated from outside forces where no famine, disease, wizards, abusive landlords exist. If they do I'm probably not going to be easily sold on reading it as it sounds undramatic. If soap operas were like real life there'd also be far less murders and disease occurring too.

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