Jump to content
Green Gogol

On realism, grimdark and childishness

Recommended Posts

1 hour ago, C.T. Phipps said:

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.

It might just be my Catholic upbringing coming through, but why the hell would "good goes unrewarded" be an excuse not to do good? Surely the entire point of doing good is that it is good in itself, not that you expect reward out of it. And if everyone does good... doesn't that rather create a strange form of grimdark? A world where everyone behaves as though objective morality exists becomes indistinguishable from a world where objective morality exists. Is Good versus Good possible in a grimdark setting, so long as the universe is neutral?

Funny thing is, Justine, by the Marquis de Sade, actually becomes relevant here - and, logically, a foundational piece of grimdark. De Sade's argument was that virtue is always punished (Justine), and vice is always rewarded (Juliette) - which he extended to mean that nature and the universe WANT us to pursue vice, and who are we as humans to argue with Mother Nature?

Edited by The Marquis de Leech

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, Darth Richard II said:

Man, don’t read any Bakker.

I'm currently writing up an essay on this (thanks, C.T. Phipps!), so I did a bit of research. Turns out Bakker actually does (to some degree) identify with the label Grimdark, which he defines as Fascination with the Abomination. Not sure what to make of that, to be honest. It rather implies that the entire horror genre is Grimdark... which strikes me as a bit broad.

Bakker's world - if it is Grimdark - is also a strange sort of Grimdark, in that objective morality really does exist. It's just the objective morality in question is Old Testament-style, and decidedly not nice.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Like I’ve said a few times before, Bakker lacks the humor I usually associate with Grimdark. Hell he lacks humor, period.

do post that essay though when it’s done, your stuff is always great reading

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

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.

But isn't it misleading to claim that as some new, special and interesting characteristic? Almost every story beyond the most naive or moralizing fairy tale has some main characters succumbing to the odds they have to face etc. Take the Illiad, the Greek or Shakespearean tragedies, many of the Norse Sagas, the high middle ages stuff like Song of Roland, Tristan and Isolde, the Nibelungs.

Sure, there are also ones with triumphant heroes, but they are not the standard and even they will often involve tragic conflicts losses

Therefore I disagree that this is an interesting difference to other literature. The difference is rather black humour and cynical main characters who often don't even try to do "the good thing". They are frequently cast in "shades of black" to begin with, not morally upright people forced to become "grey" because of an extremely cruel environment.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, C.T. Phipps said:

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.

But in real life, neither the story nor the universe is on anobydy’s side. It’s rather neutral. Does prevent people from being altruistic and having emoathy and compassion. There are some bad and horrible people, but the great majority doesn’t want to put a dagger through your ribs.

Yes, of course the grimdark stories are usually about war, which drive people to do terrible things to survive. But it doesn’t turn everybody into homicidal maniacs. In fact if you read a bit about wars, you’ll hear about lots of people doing heroic things and being altruistic, showing empathy and compassion.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

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

 

Maybe that’s the point of the story. But imho it’s not an interesting point to make. Neither is it revolutionary. It’s as old as the world.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

It might just be my Catholic upbringing coming through, but why the hell would "good goes unrewarded" be an excuse not to do good? Surely the entire point of doing good is that it is good in itself, not that you expect reward out of it. And if everyone does good... doesn't that rather create a strange form of grimdark? A world where everyone behaves as though objective morality exists becomes indistinguishable from a world where objective morality exists. Is Good versus Good possible in a grimdark setting, so long as the universe is neutral?

Funny thing is, Justine, by the Marquis de Sade, actually becomes relevant here - and, logically, a foundational piece of grimdark. De Sade's argument was that virtue is always punished (Justine), and vice is always rewarded (Juliette) - which he extended to mean that nature and the universe WANT us to pursue vice, and who are we as humans to argue with Mother Nature?

You're actually stumbling on why grimdark is liked rather than disliked.

Geralt of Rivia is one of the most beloved grimdark protagonists because he's a sour anti-hero who exists in a world where the kings are totalitarian corrupt bastards, the peasants are superstitious racists, there's an expanionist Germanic Empire, and the elves are racist terrorists fuming over 1000+ year old wrongs (i.e. Sapkowski translated his Eastern European background to the Middle Ages and exaggerated it). Doing good doesn't get you praise or respect but very often gets Geralt in trouble because he refuses to stand there and let elven children get murdered, human peasants get murdered by elves, or the king's men rape whatever village they're punishing. He's a hero but because he's a Witcher, he's loathed and treated as a disgusting mutant.

Good is a struggle and there's a lot of pathos in that.

I'd also like to state that the Marquis De Sade, Hamlet, Titus, and a bunch of other stories are not grimdark. Because they're not fantasy or science fiction or a reactionary literay phenomenon. Grimdark is a bit like saying, "90s Antihero" for comic books or the "Dark Age of Comics." It is a specific reaction to the glut of high fantasy rules and doesn't exist prior to maybe the mid-to-late 80s.

Therefore I disagree that this is an interesting difference to other literature. The difference is rather black humour and cynical main characters who often don't even try to do "the good thing". They are frequently cast in "shades of black" to begin with, not morally upright people forced to become "grey" because of an extremely cruel environment.



See above for my response to that.

Mind you, I identify my own writing )Lucifer's Star, Wraith Knight, Cthulhu Armageddon) very much with the fact the protagonists aren't evil but people forced into antiheroism.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Green Gogol said:

But in real life, neither the story nor the universe is on anobydy’s side. It’s rather neutral. Does prevent people from being altruistic and having emoathy and compassion. There are some bad and horrible people, but the great majority doesn’t want to put a dagger through your ribs.

Yes, of course the grimdark stories are usually about war, which drive people to do terrible things to survive. But it doesn’t turn everybody into homicidal maniacs. In fact if you read a bit about wars, you’ll hear about lots of people doing heroic things and being altruistic, showing empathy and compassion. 

I think we keep coming back to the idea that people believe grimdark heroes are necessarily monsters when a large part of the appeal of the heroes is they're people who may or may not commit terrible crimes but aren't completely monstrous. Usually, they are contrasted against people who are completely irredeemable.

Ciri in THE WITCHER goes one step beyond Geralt in that she becomes a murderer and bandit to survive, doing terrible things that her father may forgive but would never understand.

However, she's then confronted with Leo Bonhart who is a serial killing psychopath that makes her "evil" look quaint and shakes her out of it to an extent.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, C.T. Phipps said:

I think we keep coming back to the idea that people believe grimdark heroes are necessarily monsters when a large part of the appeal of the heroes is they're people who may or may not commit terrible crimes but aren't completely monstrous. Usually, they are contrasted against people who are completely irredeemable.

Ciri in THE WITCHER goes one step beyond Geralt in that she becomes a murderer and bandit to survive, doing terrible things that her father may forgive but would never understand.

However, she's then confronted with Leo Bonhart who is a serial killing psychopath that makes her "evil" look quaint and shakes her out of it to an extent.

 

Ah, but being less unpleasant and horrible than your neighbor doesn’t make what you do any less reprehensible.

So fantasy authors and readers discovered that nobody is completely evil, and now they are having a blast exploring different degrees of evil. But I’d say that evil is not interesting when it’s opposite is inexistant.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, Green Gogol said:

Ah, but being less unpleasant and horrible than your neighbor doesn’t make what you do any less reprehensible.

So fantasy authors and readers discovered that nobody is completely evil, and now they are having a blast exploring different degrees of evil. But I’d say that evil is not interesting when it’s opposite is inexistant.

That depends on circumstance.  Ciri is like Arya Stark.  She's basically kind- hearted, but has terrible things happen to her that are not her fault, and does some bad things to survive.

Bonhart kills people because he enjoys it, and for profit.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Like Drizzt do Urden vs. Artemis Entreri? Or like the Count of Monte Cristo (revence excess with a just cause) vs. some sadistic moustache twirling villain? Or probably many characters already in those 17th century revenge tragedies (I am not familiar with any details of them). Or Robin Hood? Or a more lethal version of the Artful Dodger vs. a simple villain like Fagin or Sikes.

I don't deny that there are a few original twists and combinations of old tropes in some so-called "grimdark" stories. But overall very little is half as new or original as frequently claimed, so I claim that most of these tropes DID exist prior to 80s mass market "high fantasy". And furthermore nothing of this makes "grimdark" any  "deeper", "more complex" or "realistic". In fact, the exaggerations of the villainous, scheming types and "punishing world" are bordering on the (sometimes unintentionally) comic.

BTW there is hardly anything grimdark about the first (the only I read) Locke Lamora book. It's a pretty good adaption of the early modern picaresque in a renaissance setting that is very closely modelled on Venice. I started a thread on the picaresque two years or so and there is quite a bit of it in older fantasy such as Howard, Leiber, Vance but as a side aspect it is also present in the Hobbit and in RPG-inspired series like Icewind Dale and Dragonlance.

Edited by Jo498

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, Green Gogol said:

Ah, but being less unpleasant and horrible than your neighbor doesn’t make what you do any less reprehensible.

So fantasy authors and readers discovered that nobody is completely evil, and now they are having a blast exploring different degrees of evil. But I’d say that evil is not interesting when it’s opposite is inexistant.

I say this is wrong via example. What example? I could give less of a shit about Jon Snow in the show. He sucks the very air out of the room and I'm not honestly that interested in his book counterparts story either. The problem with Jon Snow is that the narrative is very strongly behind him and declares his actions "good" which means that there is very little critical analysis of them and it strongly hurts his storyline. Good is very often declared "better" and in any confrontation between characters, we're meant to pick a side in it which means that there's no narrative weight to it.

This is fine in a lot of stories but the Jon Snow and Daeny portions are often the least interesting sections of A Song of Ice and Fire save, ironically, when George R.R. Martin is trying to INSIST this character is utterly irredeemable and thus we shouldn't care about her (Cersei in AFFC).

Whereas the Stannis, Davos, Tyrion, Jaime, Arya and other sections are much more interesting because they're protagonists trying to navigate good versus evil when the questions of it are extremely opaqe. Is it right to do X to accomplish Y? Is it better or worse to be ruthless. Characters who carry around moral certainty as backed by the narrative hurt I think when doing a gritty "realistic' universe as most grimdark is.

I recommend the RHENWARS saga by M.L. Spencer for example as a unconventional grimdark story because the entirety of the series is about a bunch of standard fantasy heroes who keep switching sides or getting their certainties screwed with because their attempts to do the right thing are hurt by the realities of complex political as well as social situations.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Jo498 said:

BTW there is hardly anything grimdark about the first (the only I read) Locke Lamora book. It's a pretty good adaption of the early modern picaresque in a renaissance setting that is very closely modelled on Venice. I started a thread on the picaresque two years or so and there is quite a bit of it in older fantasy such as Howard, Leiber, Vance but as a side aspect it is also present in the Hobbit and in RPG-inspired series like Icewind Dale and Dragonlance. 

The Lies of Locke Lamora are considered grimdark because the story takes a somewhat jovial and amusing Arsene Lupin-esque gang of thieves them subjects them to horrifying consequences that make the tone much much darker. It is a setting where children are hanged, slavery is upfront, and the class conflicts of the time are in full effect. One of the elements of grimdark is it's very much a "Dung Ages" depiction of the Middle Ages where the romantic elements of high fantasy (Aragorn and chivalric romance) are replaced with a peasants-eye perspective. ASI&F doesn't do a great job with this because, for the most part, it's still only concerned with the nobility. The Gentleman Bastards series has, at least, a middle class view of things that shows the nobility to be distinctly horrible.

Edit:

Funny fact, I wrote a SECOND article on the subject of what sort of villains show up in grimdark fiction.

https://www.grimdarkmagazine.com/discussion-grimdark-villain/

 

Edited by C.T. Phipps

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 minutes ago, C.T. Phipps said:

The Lies of Locke Lamora are considered grimdark because the story takes a somewhat jovial and amusing Arsene Lupin-esque gang of thieves them subjects them to horrifying consequences that make the tone much much darker. It is a setting where children are hanged, slavery is upfront, and the class conflicts of the time are in full effect. One of the elements of grimdark is it's very much a "Dung Ages" depiction of the Middle Ages where the romantic elements of high fantasy (Aragorn and chivalric romance) are replaced with a peasants-eye perspective. ASI&F doesn't do a great job with this because, for the most part, it's still only concerned with the nobility. The Gentleman Bastards series has, at least, a middle class view of things that shows the nobility to be distinctly horrible.

Edit:

Funny fact, I wrote a SECOND article on the subject of what sort of villains show up in grimdark fiction.

https://www.grimdarkmagazine.com/discussion-grimdark-villain/

 

The aristocrats in the Gentlemen Bastards are mostly caricatures.  They even give their children puppies to torture!

Martin's aristocrats are more nuanced.  They range from the genuinely benevolent, via the selfish, to the cruel and ruthless.

Edited by SeanF

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
33 minutes ago, SeanF said:

The aristocrats in the Gentlemen Bastards are mostly caricatures.  They even give their children puppies to torture!

Martin's aristocrats are more nuanced.  They range from the genuinely benevolent, via the selfish, to the cruel and ruthless.

You are wrong since at least three are protagonists. Also, bluntly, animal torture was a hobby of both the nobility and lower classes in RL.

Honestly, give me purely evil aristocrats over "nuance" any day.

I'm so sick of aristocratic apologia, I'm hoping for a fantasy novel where they all get devoured by orcs and the world is a better place.

Edited by C.T. Phipps

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I might totally misremember this but I don't recall anything "dung age" about Lamora's Pseudo-Venice. It's a fantasy Venice with probably somewhat modernized organized crime thrown in. Overall pretty civilized and luxurious.

That's actually another important point. Most of so-called grimdark is roughly a fantasy amalgamation of 20th century hardboiled crime, mobster and occasionally "futile war from a grunt's perspective" tropes. As the last one is exemplified in "Black Company" it might even be the oldest one. I don't know if we have authentic, biographical material from medieval condottieri and their troups. But from early modernity, i.e. the 30 years war there is a brilliant (if sprawling)  picaresque novel which to some extent takes place among the soldiers and mercenaries of this war. (Grimmelshausen: Simplicius Simplicissimus) Problem here is that as was often the case, a lot of the brutality is played for laughs, i.e. describing plunder, torture and rape through the naive eyes of a somewhat simplistic youth. Still, it is very different from the Vietnam or WW 2 inspired perspective of Black Company.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 minute ago, Jo498 said:

I might totally misremember this but I don't recall anything "dung age" about Lamora's Pseudo-Venice. It's a fantasy Venice with probably somewhat modernized organized crime thrown in. Overall pretty civilized and luxurious.

That's actually another important point. Most of so-called grimdark is roughly a fantasy amalgamation of 20th century hardboiled crime, mobster and occasionally "futile war from a grunt's perspective" tropes. As the last one is exemplified in "Black Company" it might even be the oldest one. I don't know if we have authentic, biographical material from medieval condottieri and their troups. But from early modernity, i.e. the 30 years war there is a brilliant (if sprawling)  picaresque novel which to some extent takes place among the soldiers and mercenaries of this war. (Grimmelshausen: Simplicius Simplicissimus) Problem here is that as was often the case, a lot of the brutality is played for laughs, i.e. describing plunder, torture and rape through the naive eyes of a somewhat simplistic youth. Still, it is very different from the Vietnam or WW 2 inspired perspective of Black Company.

The Lies of Locke Lamora spent pages and pages talking about what an absolutely shit place to live the city was. The people starving in the streets, the hanging of all thieves even when they were starving, the glutted excess of the nobility, and the fact it is a city with its own secret police. How bad is it? Organized crime has a treaty with the rich so the organized crime can freely prey on anyone BUT the rich and aristocracy with no reprocussions. It is a hellish cariacture of a civilization and wonderful as a setting.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, C.T. Phipps said:

You are wrong since at least three are protagonists. Also, bluntly, animal torture was a hobby of both the nobility and lower classes in RL.

Honestly, give me purely evil aristocrats over "nuance" any day.

I'm so sick of aristocratic apologia, I'm hoping for a fantasy novel where they all get devoured by orcs and the world is a better place.

You serious? I think the worst thing in most contemporary fantasy is the total inability to distance oneself from late 20th/21st century values. This cheap and uninformed feeling of superiority is not only square and boring but short-sighted and self-righteous.

Mark Twain's Yankee at Arthur's Court was at least somewhat funny but it was already in the same vein. And today we view much of Twains time and mores as bad and backwards as he viewed his caricature of the middle ages.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Maybe people were starving in the streets. EVERYTHING was so comically exaggerated that I forgot such details; it's also been several years that I read it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
27 minutes ago, C.T. Phipps said:

You are wrong since at least three are protagonists. Also, bluntly, animal torture was a hobby of both the nobility and lower classes in RL.

Honestly, give me purely evil aristocrats over "nuance" any day.

I'm so sick of aristocratic apologia, I'm hoping for a fantasy novel where they all get devoured by orcs and the world is a better place.

Evil aristocrats are fun, but if you want to portray them as they really are, you need a mix of the good, the bad, and the indifferent.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×