Nitty Gritty, With a Side of Titty

Sand In My Fantasy

Watch out villains, there’s a new breed of fantasy sheriff in town, and they like to write dirty. Actually, villains need not beware at all. Chances are good they’re now the protagonist. Fantasy isn’t for heroes anymore, my friends. It’s gone and got all gritty on us.

George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Mark Lawrence, and just about everyone else in this damn genre are all out there writing dark, gritty fantasy. Some of it’s good. Some of it’s even great. Some of it just feels dark for the sake of trying to be cool. Why write about an orphan who grows up to become a knight when you can write about an orphan who grows up to become a rapist? Knights are for pussies, everyone loves a good rapist hero! Oh, wait, no they don’t.

But the grittier style of fantasy is quite popular with the kids (and their parents) these days. Martin got a huge deal from HBO to turn his Song of Ice and Fire into a series. Of course, if you watch much HBO, you know that they’re not really known for happy-go-lucky romantic comedies, so it’s not a stretch to think they’d like all the blood and murder in his books. Also, they like lots of sex, and Martin delivers with the sexing. Dwarf sex, dragon sex, brother-on-sister action. You name it, he’s doin’ it. HBO loves that shit. Although it comes off a lot creepier when you imagine the old, bearded dude sitting at his keyboard pecking out that sex scene with the thirteen-year-old girl. HBO don’t love that so much, which is why they aged the characters up by several years.

The Dark Theme Rises

It’s not just books though. Consumers of all media seem to want things darker now. The Dark Knight, The Wire, The Shield, Breaking Bad, True Blood. Audiences have grown up some and decided we want some damn adult themes in our entertainment! Heck, I’m one of them. I don’t need to be fed weak stories and recycled plots. I don’t need characters in nothing but black and white. Give me shades of grey (just not fifty of them), I’m cool with that.

But I still like a happy ending. Or at least someone I can get behind. In the end, I still want someone to root for. Batman may be darker than his Avenger counterparts, but we can still root for him as the hero. Some of the newer fantasy seems to have no heroes at all. Hell, some don’t even have a damn protagonist you can pick out! Who the hell am I rooting for, Martin?! I guess with his books all you can root for is your favorite character not to die. Or die and then come back a zombie.

Readers loved that Martin had no mercy when it came to killing his characters. Until their favorite character (whom they secretly thought was safe from the axe) got the axe. Then it wasn’t so fun anymore. When you take the time to read a book or watch a show, you become invested in the characters. If anyone can die at any moment, you can’t really invest in anyone.

Yes, it makes it more like real life. One minute you’re headed for military service in exchange for denouncing your traitorous ways and the next your severed head is on a pike. That can happen to anyone. Yes, you can be shouting at your dwarf uncle one minute and choke on a pigeon pie and die in the next breath. That’s real life. ย But what the fuck do I want to watch real life for?

We Don’t Need Another Hero

Heroic fantasy has fallen out of favor with a lot of readers, and many have picked up the grittier stuff in its place. I can’t say I blame them. I get a thrill reading something totally new and unique too, and some of the old tropes are just done to death. The problem now is that if everyone is doing a thing, it’s not new or unique anymore. Everyone is writing gritty now, so every author is doing their best to try and one up the last one. Martin had a pony rape a thirteen-year-old girl?! Well, I’ll show him! My guy’ll rape the damn pony! And then cut its head off! While he’s… raping it… Hmm… And he’s a vampire! Are those Twilight chicks into ponies too? Yes? This thing has awesome crossover potential!

I read a lot of the grittier fantasy. It’s hard to avoid it if you want to read the new releases in epic fantasy, really. And, like I said, some of it is really good. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the read. ย But I still like a hero I can get behind. And not because I plan to stab him in the back, cut his belly open and feast on his entrails.

HBO would love that shit though.

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5 Responses to Nitty Gritty, With a Side of Titty

  1. Michelle Roberts says:

    Yeah, I’m still mad Martin killed Ned and Rob Stark. Though I have to say that Tyrion is becoming one of my favorites (which means he’ll probably die in the next book).

    • Oooh… You’re lucky I just finished Storm of Swords, or I’d be SO pissed you spoiled the Robb thing. For anyone reading these comments, if you haven’t gotten to the part where Robb gets killed, please stop reading if you don’t want to find out Robb gets killed. He gets killed. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Tyrion has become everyone’s favorite. Which means he’s sure to die at some point. ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Michelle Roberts says:

        Oops. ๐Ÿ™‚ I sometimes forget just how fast I read. I read all the books so close together (within a couple months) it’s sometimes hard to remember what happened in which books. Sorry I almost spoiled it.

  2. Hmm, epic fantasy as defined by a fight against a big bad that is threatening the whole world eventually? Then can I direct you to Michelle Sagara West and both her Essalieyan books (the Hunter’s Oath, Sun Sword, House War series) and her Elantra books (the Cast In … series). And P.C. Hodgell is currently continuing her stories about Godstalker Jamethiel Dreamweaver at BAEN.

    You might also like Sherwood Smith’s Inda series and her newest release Banner of the Damned although that is kingdom-level epic fantasy and not the whole world in danger. Andrea Hรถst’s Stained Glass Creatures is kingdom-level, too.

    They all have heroes and heroines to cheer for, still some shades of grey (especially around the villains).

    • Well, I’m not really defining it as the big bad threatening the whole world, though that’s generally where heroic fantasy tends to go. The battle can be on a much smaller scale, or it can end up not being a big battle at all, though, again, that’s where these things tend to go. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I don’t need my heroes and villains to be all black and white. In fact, that’s pretty boring. Villains with shades of gray are far more interesting than a villain who is evil just because they are evil. Gray good guys are fine too, but I like when they are still good and you like them. A nice sidekick to toe the good guy party line doesn’t hurt my feelings though.

      Joe Abercrombie (who writes awesome, gritty fantasy) has amazing characters. His First Law trilogy is filled with great, meaty characters you can really sink your teeth into. But really, the only one that feels worth rooting for at all is Logan Ninefingers and his crew. They kill because they have to, not because they’re just killers. He creates sympathy where there almost should be none in Inquisitor Glokta, which is quite a feat. But there’s no hero to be seen in the whole thing. I don’t require a hero, but again, who do I root for? The Bloody Nine was about it.

      The First Law is all gray (and sometimes downright black) and gritty, and I still love it. But much like readers got really sick of heroic fantasy until gritty stuff came along, you get tired of reading the same old gritty stuff if that’s all there is coming out. It’s partly the fault of publishers following the current zeitgeist. Can’t really be helped sometimes. Trends make money.

      Kind of like everyone trying to throw out a “boy wizard” book as quickly as possible once Harry Potter took off. Or how “The Hunger Games” now has everyone scrambling for dystopian future YA novels. Gritty is the big thing in fantasy right now.

      Thanks for the suggestions! I’ve added them to my to-read list. ๐Ÿ™‚

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