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Green Gogol

On realism, grimdark and childishness

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2 hours ago, Jo498 said:

Neither necessary nor sufficient. Lots of so-called grimdark is hardly anything of the three features (hint: virtually everybody is a cynical but witty a**hole is not "moral ambiguity"). And there are plenty of books/stories with the three features that would usually not be called "grimdark" (e.g. Children of Hurin) but maybe it could.

What books may I ask have caused you to have this impression?

Where is your bad experience with grimdark from?

I ask as a grimdark author.

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1 hour ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Actually, I bring this up on reddit. "What are these stories?"

Everyone says there's a lot of grimdark where everyone is awful and nothing good happens.

Please point to specifics.

Because usually all the most famous grimdark...isn't that. Examples would be nice.

The Talented Mr. Ripley, and its sequels, by Patricia Highsmith, and Funeral Games, by Mary Renault, would be examples.  Very well written, but as dismal and depressing as you could imagine.

In terms of fantasy, I'd nominate The Hammer, by KJ Parker.

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I'd also like to point out that while Warhammer 40K was a satirical black scifi like Strotinium Dogs and Judge Dredd, it never actually used the term grimdark.

It used "in the grim dark future"

The words were combined only when it became a perjorative.

Deconstructionalist fantasy, admittedly, has existed a long time with Stephen Donaldson being famous for it.

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I find that both in e.g. SoIaF and First Law (+ loose sequels) many characters are described as "morally ambiguous" by fans or in critical discussions that would usually be clearly described as pretty straightforwardly bad or evil. Bayaz does not become ambiguous because at first we think that he is one of the "good guys". If virtually everyone is a ruthless Macchiavellian but there are cool plot twists and some people are not quite as ruthless as we suspected or expected, this is still not ambiguous. Murcatto's revenge excess is not ambiguous because some of the victims might deserve it.

Hamlet is a character in a moral dilemma. Murcatto clearly is not acting like one in such a dilemma (at least not most of the time, it's been a while that I read it). Someone does not become morally ambiguous because s/he is cool, witty or drawn sympathetically or not quite as evil as the "real villain" of a certain story.  Tywin Lannister does not become ambiguous because Ramsey Bolton is a total monster and therefore Tywin is not the worst bad guy in the story. (Admittely, there are morally ambiguous characters in SoIaF, but far fewer than is often claimed, I'd accept Tyrion, Danaerys, Jaime, maybe Arya and a few more as such characters.)

This does not at all mean that I think any of these books are bad or not entertaining. It's just that I don't think that the salient characterization is an abundance of morally ambiguous characters or tragic dilemmata. Rather it often is fairly graphic violence, general cynical tone, often too long descriptions of unrealistic fights to show the badassery of main characters.

Edited by Jo498

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6 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Actually, I bring this up on reddit. "What are these stories?"

Everyone says there's a lot of grimdark where everyone is awful and nothing good happens.

Please point to specifics.

Because usually all the most famous grimdark...isn't that. Examples would be nice.

The one i see mentioned the most is Bakker. Someone also pointed out The Hammer up thread. Of course I don't consider either grimdark, just regular dark fantasy. But again we get into definitions.

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9 hours ago, Jo498 said:

This does not at all mean that I think any of these books are bad or not entertaining. It's just that I don't think that the salient characterization is an abundance of morally ambiguous characters or tragic dilemmata. Rather it often is fairly graphic violence, general cynical tone, often too long descriptions of unrealistic fights to show the badassery of main characters.

Eh, I'd argue that Bayaz is a poor example because he's a mystery character. He's meant to be like the Prince in Frozen where his true nature is a surprise. The moral ambiguity of the First Law Trilogy is in its other characters.

* Jezal is a character who backs and forths between learning a very valuable lesson about being a responsible nobleman as well as leader versus getting lots of riches as well as fame for doing nothing.
* Glokta backs and forths between having a horrifying job he enjoys versus moments of humanity as well as regret.
* The Bloody Nine seems like a straightforward hero except virtually everyone who met him before we did thinks of him as Ed Gein crossed with a whirlwind.
* Henry West is a noble, virtuous, and capable leader...who is also a misogynist entitled jerkass who strongly dislikes anyone who doesn't aid his career or fawn over him.

They are deeply flawed protagonists and antiheroes whose actions often result in bad ends or failure.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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17 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Deconstructionalist fantasy, admittedly, has existed a long time with Stephen Donaldson being famous for it.

A very long time. The Hobbit is deconstructionalist fantasy.

I'd also agree with the defining attribute of Grimdark being its extreme cynicism (which, again, is why I don't put Martin in there - ASOIAF is existentialist, with strong currents of romanticism).

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On 2/7/2019 at 1:39 AM, C.T. Phipps said:

I believe grimdark is one of the best things to happen to fiction and basically are a shorthand to let readers know that it is going to be dark, tragic, and full of moral ambiguity.

Hamlet is dark, tragic, and full of moral ambiguity. But if someone were to ask for Grimdark Shakespeare, I'd be thinking of Titus Andronicus.

(Grimdark as the modern variant of Jacobean Revenge Tragedies perhaps?).

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17 hours ago, Jo498 said:

I find that both in e.g. SoIaF and First Law (+ loose sequels) many characters are described as "morally ambiguous" by fans or in critical discussions that would usually be clearly described as pretty straightforwardly bad or evil. Bayaz does not become ambiguous because at first we think that he is one of the "good guys". If virtually everyone is a ruthless Macchiavellian but there are cool plot twists and some people are not quite as ruthless as we suspected or expected, this is still not ambiguous. Murcatto's revenge excess is not ambiguous because some of the victims might deserve it.

Hamlet is a character in a moral dilemma. Murcatto clearly is not acting like one in such a dilemma (at least not most of the time, it's been a while that I read it). Someone does not become morally ambiguous because s/he is cool, witty or drawn sympathetically or not quite as evil as the "real villain" of a certain story.  Tywin Lannister does not become ambiguous because Ramsey Bolton is a total monster and therefore Tywin is not the worst bad guy in the story. (Admittely, there are morally ambiguous characters in SoIaF, but far fewer than is often claimed, I'd accept Tyrion, Danaerys, Jaime, maybe Arya and a few more as such characters.)

This does not at all mean that I think any of these books are bad or not entertaining. It's just that I don't think that the salient characterization is an abundance of morally ambiguous characters or tragic dilemmata. Rather it often is fairly graphic violence, general cynical tone, often too long descriptions of unrealistic fights to show the badassery of main characters.

Murcatto is an amoral, sociopathic, snake. But, then, so is everyone else.  What makes the book enjoyable is the black humour.

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Yes, but black humour and general cynicism is very different from morally ambiguous characters facing dilemmas. My point is mainly that the latter is not more frequent in "grimdark" than elsewhere, maybe even on the contrary. Because if most characters are sociopaths (or pretty close) they are not as likely to face dilemmas like Hamlet. If one has no conscience anyway one is not likely to break into several pages of monologue about whether suicide or possibly justified revenge against blood relatives is preferable.

There is also a frequent misuse of "tragic". For me in literature, tragic does not merely mean that bad things happen to people who might not deserve them but that there are almost unavoidable but still plausible conflicts with an almost necessarily bad outcome. Basically, at least a few characters have to act from good intentions but either because of tragic circumstances (like those swapped potions, messengers arriving too late etc.) or impossible dilemmas bad things are the consequence. Or catastrophic consequences because a villain makes use of mostly excusable character flaws of an otherwise good guy (like Iago using Othello's jealousy).

Ned Starks failure at the court and eventual downfall is an almost classic (if fairly straightforward case). Ned is morally upright but too naive for the schemes of Littlefinger, Varys and others. He acts for the good and out of compassion for Cersei and her kids acts too late and too soft. So his good traits are flaws in this context and are exploited by the bad guys and bad consequences for the Starks follow.

Other dilemmatic situations have rather mild consequences. Jaime acts against his oath and kills a mad king before many innocents could be burned. But this is resolved non-tragically because the only consequences he suffers are mild social reproach (Kingslayer) and as his family remains very powerful within the new regime he can return to his job and everything. So it worked out well and the dilemma was not so dire at all.

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The big argument of A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE being grimdark is becoming less and less true but was seemingly the case by A STORM OF SWORDS. Basically, it was the idea that being morally upright and making the correct decision was very often not the right thing. As we see with Ned Stark and Robb Stark that the horrific consequences of being noble is something that reflects the presumed ethos of the world. The idea that Dany's problem may be she was too nice in Slaver's Bay and Astapor and what she should have done was come down like a hammer to cleanse her enemies Roman-style (which is not a particularly good lesson).

It also gave a very humanizing portrayal of Tyrion and Jaime despite the fact both were guilty of terrible crimes (Jaime more so than Tyrion, though the latter is a rapist and murderer).

However, assuming that the show is at least partially still on track, it seems the heroic characters and their heroic decisions are going to be increasingly shown as correct.

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On this subject, The Children of Hurin actually draws a distinction between Grimdark and more Classic Tragedy. Androg the Outlaw is an amoral sociopath (and not even a very clever one - he doesn't understand sarcasm), who would fit the Grimdark mould. Turin, whatever his other faults, has a functioning moral compass, but is afflicted with various tragic flaws, and is an altogether more grand figure.  

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5 minutes ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Basically, it was the idea that being morally upright and making the correct decision was very often not the right thing.

Arguing that effective politics involves the dirtying of hands is indeed a key Martin theme, but it is hardly a groundbreaking point. I would also counter-balance it with the Tywin Lannister example - Tywin caring only about realpolitik, with no moral concerns whatsoever. He not only gets shot by his own son on the toilet, but his cherished legacy is in ruins. Northmen mourned Ned. No-one apart from Pycelle mourned Tywin.

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23 minutes ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Arguing that effective politics involves the dirtying of hands is indeed a key Martin theme, but it is hardly a groundbreaking point. I would also counter-balance it with the Tywin Lannister example - Tywin caring only about realpolitik, with no moral concerns whatsoever. He not only gets shot by his own son on the toilet, but his cherished legacy is in ruins. Northmen mourned Ned. No-one apart from Pycelle mourned Tywin. 

Which is part of the nihilism of the setting. There's no moral point and no way to win. I don't agree but that was a fascinating premise. Mind you, I don't consider a "grim" and "dark" setting to be bad. In fact, I much prefer it to more happier optimistic worlds.

Generally, I consider grimdark heroes to be of the Byronic mold. They have deep character flaws, are against society as a whole, but are charming and probably set against someone much worse.

I wrote this essay about them:

https://www.grimdarkmagazine.com/discussion-who-is-the-grimdark-hero/

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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2 minutes ago, C.T. Phipps said:

Which is part of the nihilism of the setting. There's no moral point and no way to win. I don't agree but that was a fascinating premise. Mind you, I don't consider a "grim" and "dark" setting to be bad. In fact, I much prefer it to more happier optimistic worlds.

Argh. ASOIAF is not nihilistic - and only really would be if the Others end up winning, thereby negating all that has gone before. "All Men Must Die, But First We Live," is not a exhortation to go and slit your wrists/drink yourself to death in the face of a meaningless universe. It's an exhortation to go out and make something of your life. To impose personal meaning on the world.

As I've said before, it's existentialist, not nihilist. 

Quote

Generally, I consider grimdark heroes to be of the Byronic mold. They have deep character flaws, are against society as a whole, but are charming and probably set against someone much worse.

I wrote this essay about them:

https://www.grimdarkmagazine.com/discussion-who-is-the-grimdark-hero/

It's late here, so I'll check out the essay tomorrow. I will say though that I think we have very different conceptions of Grimdark - I see Grimdark as an attempt to bring "grit" to fantasy - a cynical perspective allegedly associated with making the story more "realistic". A Byronic Hero is practically the polar opposite of that, being a hallmark of romanticism.

(Tolkien's Feanor, incidentally, fits your description perfectly).

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7 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Hamlet is dark, tragic, and full of moral ambiguity. But if someone were to ask for Grimdark Shakespeare, I'd be thinking of Titus Andronicus.

(Grimdark as the modern variant of Jacobean Revenge Tragedies perhaps?).

Perhaps the literary term groped for is "Grand Guignol," appearing on the stage toward the close of the 19th century, drawing inspiration from the Elizabethan and Jacobean vengeance tragedies.  Or maybe, even, melodrama.

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I’d say that ASOIAF is existential nihilism. It’s been many years since I’ve read it and I gave up somewhere in the fourth book if I remember correctly. i might be mistaken, but I seem to remember that altruism is not present in any meaningful way. 

Also, i gave up because I was fed up we the endless bad things happening. Nothing good ever happened. And I don’t remember any scene where 5e characters were happy, having fun. So maybe some characters are morally ambiguous, but the tone of the book is grim and dark.

As for the first law trilogy, again it’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I really enjoyed The characters. However at the end i felt nothing changed. Jezal was an arrogant fool, and he was the same at the end. Ninefingers was a bloodthirsty tyrant, and he was the same in the end. Don’t remember what happened with Glotka but I don’t remember him changing at all. As if the character arc was a circle instead. They went through a lot, but didn’t change in the end. 

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I see the essential appeal of grimdark in that the story and universe aren't necessarily on the protagonist's "side" or the side of good. It is a neutral, even malevolent, kind of place where good is not necessarily rewarded and evil not necessarily punished. So protagonists are forced to deal with life that is nasty, brutish, and short.

Either by seeking wealth and what pleasure they can or doing what small good they can try to accomplish.

There may be no good gods in Westeros (and if there is a god, it's probably R'hllor who is terrifying) so what meaning there is is what you make of life.

Nihilism isn't a statement of external emptiness, not internal.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

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3 hours ago, Green Gogol said:

As for the first law trilogy, again it’s been a while since I’ve read it, and I really enjoyed The characters. However at the end i felt nothing changed. Jezal was an arrogant fool, and he was the same at the end. Ninefingers was a bloodthirsty tyrant, and he was the same in the end. Don’t remember what happened with Glotka but I don’t remember him changing at all. As if the character arc was a circle instead. They went through a lot, but didn’t change in the end. 

That's the point. Violence begets violence, et cetera, and nothing the characters do matters.

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