5:56 pm - 05/03/2014

The New York Times interviews George R.R. Martin

The fantasy series “Game of Thrones” has set off a wide-ranging debate about rape, and whether this popular franchise — which includes best-selling novels, a hit HBO television adaptation, a line of comic books and more — trivializes sexual violence with its frequent and often graphic depictions.

George R. R. Martin, whose “Song of Ice and Fire” novels are the foundation of the “Game of Thrones” series, answered email questions from The New York Times about why his books contain scenes of sexual brutality, and responded to some of the criticism that these moments have elicited. These are his responses in their entirety.

Why have you included incidents of rape or sexual violence in your “Song of Ice and Fire” novels? What larger themes are you trying to bring out with these scenes?

An artist has an obligation to tell the truth. My novels are epic fantasy, but they are inspired by and grounded in history. Rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day. To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest, and would have undermined one of the themes of the books: that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves. We are the monsters. (And the heroes too). Each of us has within himself the capacity for great good, and great evil.

Some critics of the books have said that even if such scenes are meant to illustrate that the world of Westeros is often a dark and depraved place, there is an overreliance on these moments over the course of the novels, and at a certain point they are no longer shocking and become titillating. How do you respond to this criticism?

I have to take issue with the notion that Westeros is a “dark and depraved place.” It’s not the Disneyland Middle Ages, no, and that was quite deliberate … but it is no darker nor more depraved than our own world. History is written in blood. The atrocities in “A Song of Ice and Fire,” sexual and otherwise, pale in comparison to what can be found in any good history book.

As for the criticism that some of the scenes of sexual violence are titillating, to me that says more about these critics than about my books. Maybe they found certain scenes titillating. Most of my readers, I suspect, read them as intended.

I will say that my philosophy as a writer, since the very start of my career, has been one of “show, don’t tell.” Whatever might be happening in my books, I try to put the reader into the middle of it, rather than summarizing the action. That requires vivid sensory detail. I don’t want distance, I want to put you there. When the scene in question is a sex scene, some readers find that intensely uncomfortable… and that’s ten times as true for scenes of sexual violence.

But that is as it should be. Certain scenes are meant to be uncomfortable, disturbing, hard to read.

As your novels have been adapted for TV, comic books and other visual media, do you think these scenes of sexual violence that you described in oblique and indirect ways are becoming more explicit and more shocking? Is that a potential problem?

The graphic novels and television programs are in the hands of others, who make their own artistic choices as to what sort of approach will work best in their respective mediums.

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kurtvonnegut 3rd-May-2014 10:05 pm (UTC)
the idea that it is inherently dishonest to portray men and women as social equals in fantasy is so stupid i can't believe people still try it.
watermeloncholy 3rd-May-2014 10:17 pm (UTC)
but that's just how it was back then

people also had pet dragons...back then
kurtvonnegut 3rd-May-2014 10:21 pm (UTC)
just the way these authors try to pretend like they're making some point about the horrors of war... stop, you're writing a novel, you're not fucking william faulkner.
chrislola 3rd-May-2014 10:30 pm (UTC)
lol i love this comment
300psychosis 3rd-May-2014 10:34 pm (UTC)
Don't forget all the necromancers and ice zombies who roamed the fields.
mrcumberbatch 3rd-May-2014 10:58 pm (UTC)
miakun 3rd-May-2014 11:02 pm (UTC)
It's super gross how many people think like this. Esp when they defend these ideas that DID NOT actually happen, like their being only white people in Europe until 2012.
anolinde 3rd-May-2014 11:00 pm (UTC)
That's not what he's saying, though.
iamadrinker 3rd-May-2014 10:05 pm (UTC)
Im 15 minutes into Pompeii with Jon Snow right now and its already boring me.
imnotasquirrel 3rd-May-2014 10:07 pm (UTC)
just fast forward to when the volcano starts spewing shit
fruitchews 3rd-May-2014 10:11 pm (UTC)
It's so bad! The end is eye-roll worthy too.
smegma 3rd-May-2014 10:22 pm (UTC)
lemme guess, they're floating on a door in a river of lava but it can't hold their weight so kitten jumps off while whatsherface promises to never let go?
chrislola 3rd-May-2014 10:31 pm (UTC)
i was going to see it for emily browning in theater, but i couldn't bring myself to do it. downloaded it last night, but haven't gotten around to seeing it yet. is it at least lol worthy bad?
cyberghostface 4th-May-2014 12:20 am (UTC)
How is Adewale?
jellycar 3rd-May-2014 10:14 pm (UTC)
go grab a six pack of something alcoholic then you might enjoy it
tyrion_is_hbic 3rd-May-2014 10:08 pm (UTC)
The show is waaaaay worse than the books. I was occasionally really squicked out reading the books, but nowhere near as horrified as I was watching that Crasters Keep shit that HBO shoehorned in there.
fauxkaren 3rd-May-2014 10:11 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the books have their issues, for sure. And there is room for criticism there. But the show takes it to a whole other level.
lcacbc 3rd-May-2014 10:15 pm (UTC)
While the Jaime / Cersei scene in particular was slightly horrifying in the books, my eyebrows travelled so far up my forehead watching the show they disappeared into my hairline. It's just like, it was bad enough already, WHY MAKE IT WORSE??

Urgh and it was so against Jaime's character as well, he's supposed to really love Cersei. I can't
starchain 3rd-May-2014 10:26 pm (UTC)
The books don't have naked women hanging around like they're furniture. That's a big and important difference to me.
watermeloncholy 3rd-May-2014 10:33 pm (UTC)
you mean you don't chill in a tavern naked while some dude assaults another miraculously naked woman in the corner?
ectypes 3rd-May-2014 10:32 pm (UTC)
MFTE. like, GRRM, you don't need to apologize. D&D need to apologize for being gratuitous. maybe it's just me, but the crap in ASOIAF never felt gratuitous.
mila_s_garden 3rd-May-2014 10:09 pm (UTC)
Now I wanna google what's up with that little turtle he wears in his hats.
cheeseasauras 3rd-May-2014 10:13 pm (UTC)
he's a secret warg and that's what he wargs into: a turtle. its why he's so slow.
fruitchews 3rd-May-2014 10:15 pm (UTC)
mila_s_garden 3rd-May-2014 10:18 pm (UTC)
lmao, that explains it all.
ophiodeiros 4th-May-2014 12:09 am (UTC)
cheeseasauras 3rd-May-2014 10:10 pm (UTC)
omg george, stop doing interviews. please. stop doing interviews and conventions and appearances and write. goddamn it.
fauxkaren 3rd-May-2014 10:11 pm (UTC)
Hey, hey George.

I don't care what you have to say unless it's "I've finished Winds of Winter."
chrislola 3rd-May-2014 10:32 pm (UTC)
this. i never really bother to fully read his interviews because all that's relevant to me is him finishing this fucking series. stop talking. start doing.
miakun 3rd-May-2014 11:05 pm (UTC)

Actually no, how about Winds of Winter and whatever the hell else he needs to end this shit before the show catches up.
ncsujen 3rd-May-2014 11:47 pm (UTC)
Dude needs to get crackin
democralypse 3rd-May-2014 10:14 pm (UTC)
i can't believe the times would overlook that the show CHANGES consensual sex to rape. they did that in another article i think up today
nabuch 3rd-May-2014 10:16 pm (UTC)
How come Bioware can portray societies rooted in fantasy settings where women and men are equals while most of book authors cannot?
miakun 3rd-May-2014 11:06 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but neckbeard fans of those games still complain about aspects of it. Plus Mass Effect (which is more Scifi than Fantasy, but still) had some issues with how the characters were portrayed. Ashley getting a "sexy makeover" for ME3 still makes me mad.
duijangs 4th-May-2014 05:50 pm (UTC)
Agreed. They really did great with Dragon Age (Origins, I havent played Dragon Age 2).
jellycar 3rd-May-2014 10:16 pm (UTC)
I'm not even gonna bother reading bc I'm kinda tipsy rn but like just finish TWOW cmon Georgie WHAT YOU WAITING FOR
snappple 3rd-May-2014 10:18 pm (UTC)
He clearly lost interest in the books which is why hes giving it to D&D to finish it off for him. I don't think hes even writing that book.
starchain 3rd-May-2014 10:25 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure it is clear. He keeps writing stuff about it. He clearly loves the material. He just published a short story about the Dance of Dragons. He has a hysterical encyclopaedia coming out in october. He is just slow.
ectypes 3rd-May-2014 10:33 pm (UTC)
watch him release it tomorrow
snappple 3rd-May-2014 10:34 pm (UTC)
i wisssshhhhhhhhh!!!! lol but seriously, he just seems to not care anymore, he probably takes comfort now in knowing that d&d know the ending and the story.
juliaeulalia 4th-May-2014 12:01 am (UTC)
he's pulling a beyonce
cyberghostface 3rd-May-2014 11:49 pm (UTC)
I think if he had lost interest he could easily write one book with Daenerys coming to Westeros and burning everyone. I just think it's gotten bigger than he planned and he's trying to find ways to wrap everything up, that's one of the reasons why ADWD took as long as it did.
alfendi 3rd-May-2014 10:20 pm (UTC)
Rape and sexual violence have been a part of every war ever fought, from the ancient Sumerians to our present day. To omit them from a narrative centered on war and power would have been fundamentally false and dishonest

I'm pretty sure adding dragons and ice zombies already made things pretty "false and dishonest." What a shitty excuse.
watermeloncholy 3rd-May-2014 10:25 pm (UTC)
it always makes me laugh (and by that i mean makes me hopeless) when people pick and choose what they want to apply "realism" to.

as if a work can't be realistic if you change the power dynamics.

it's not realism, it's just authors conforming their world and their societies according to our own oppressive power dynamics without trying to imagine any different. we only think of it as realistic and normal because of societal conditioning, but it would be no less realistic if men and women were imagined to be as equal.

but i guess that kind of equality is just TOO fantastical and less realistic than ice zombies.
x_spinfaster 3rd-May-2014 10:54 pm (UTC)
huh I actually agreed with GRRM's interview until I read your comment. ty for explaining!

Edited at 2014-05-03 10:55 pm (UTC)
anijen21 4th-May-2014 12:21 am (UTC)
lmao I said something similar to the bros who are like "women being heroes in video games is not realistic!" oh and mario jumping 17 times his own height is????
misscrystal 4th-May-2014 05:30 am (UTC)
but i guess that kind of equality is just TOO fantastical and less realistic than ice zombies.

Except the ice zombies and dragons could hardly fill up three whole chapters out of 5 huge books.

ASOIAF is not the Hobbit. It's not even King Arthur. The magical elements are so far in the background that most of the characters in the story don't even believe in it.

The series is 99% about regular ass human bullshit. Fighting, fucking, warring, plotting, etc. It's a completely valid creative choice to make the world your characters live in a reflection of the world you and your readers live in when the focus of your series is humans and their bullshit.

I'm sorry, but you're doing a lot of cherry picking and misrepresenting the entire tone of the series to make your argument.
theantipoet 3rd-May-2014 11:10 pm (UTC)
in terms of suspension of disbelief, I can buy flying dragons and ice zombies easier than I can buy fundamental human nature changing.
cyberghostface 3rd-May-2014 11:42 pm (UTC)
Adding dragons and zombies into a medieval society doesn't stop said society from being medieval.
watermeloncholy 3rd-May-2014 10:20 pm (UTC)
sexual violence is no longer shocking and becomes tired, boring and has less of an impact when authors rely on it too much to tell a story.

idk anyone who's said the rape in these books becomes titillating.

the interview fucked up that question.
sugartitty 3rd-May-2014 10:26 pm (UTC)
I've read the books and I never felt like the sexual violence contained within them was written with the intent of being titillating.

The show on the other hand...
watermeloncholy 3rd-May-2014 10:30 pm (UTC)
lbr the consensual sex isn't very titillating either

i don't think the sexual violence is written that way either, but he definitely uses it carelessly and crosses the line at certain points.

the show is so disgusting that they even make rape scenes male gazey... ugh, sometimes i'm like why am i still watching this for the few good scenes left?
catnipped_mind 3rd-May-2014 10:28 pm (UTC)
ugh yes. GRRM relies on it as a narrative device for sure, which just diminishes its impact
democralypse 3rd-May-2014 10:30 pm (UTC)
when my ex-bf and i were watching the first scene with dany/drogo he was like "she has great boobs" and he didn't understand that it was a RAPE SCENE and how could that be all he got out of it?
catnipped_mind 3rd-May-2014 10:24 pm (UTC)
I'm not against exploring sexual violence if it's done realistically and not as a plot device but I think that the books cross that line sometimes.

The show gleefully leaps over it though, which is even more disturbing to me.
lcacbc 3rd-May-2014 10:28 pm (UTC)
The inequality between men and women is one the things I find most interesting in the books tbh. It's fascinating to see how each of the women approaches it / tries to overcome it. The differences between Cersei, Sansa and Arya for example - each possessing a different type of strength.

Although I agree that some of the sexual aspects are uncomfortable to read and some unnecessary.

Vague spoilers - I hated Cersei, but when she was shamed into walking through the city naked, I was rooting for her. It was frustrating to read.
catnipped_mind 3rd-May-2014 10:35 pm (UTC)
I actually agree with you mostly. I can relate to the women's struggles in an unequal society more than I can to a perfectly equal society.

I still think that it's lazy for GRRM to use the whole "it's realism" excuse though because that's bullshit. It also annoys me that almost every fantasy author chooses to make a misogynistic world and there aren't really any alternatives.
lcacbc 3rd-May-2014 10:37 pm (UTC)
Well yes, I don't know how he can try and claim realism when dragons are flying around
watermeloncholy 3rd-May-2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
that kind of narrative is nothing new. we live it and we see it depicted everywhere. because the genre's so lacking, then of course asoiaf is seen as innovative, but thinking about it...there's nothing innovative about writing about women being oppressed as usual.

grrm's a man writing about many different types of women and focusing on them in his epic fantasy story (instead of just making them props), which is what makes his books different from the rest...

but i'm not sure i've ever really seen a woman get so much praise for writing about women's struggles from their pov.
sandvich 3rd-May-2014 10:36 pm (UTC)
That's one of the things I like best about the books as well: seeing how women in this radically unequal society struggle to empower themselves. Some of them are fighters, some of them are schemers, some take up traditionally masculine practices and others find strength in traditional femininity. There's a really wide spectrum of womanhood and strength on display, as opposed to most fantasy series where there's a token wimpy princess and/or a token tough warrior girl.
ectypes 3rd-May-2014 10:55 pm (UTC)
anolinde 3rd-May-2014 11:11 pm (UTC)
The inequality between men and women is one the things I find most interesting in the books tbh. It's fascinating to see how each of the women approaches it / tries to overcome it. The differences between Cersei, Sansa and Arya for example - each possessing a different type of strength.

Mte. Like, if I'm going to be reading about a place where the patriarchy is so heavily enforced, it's actually (sadly) pretty refreshing to see GRRM's take on it.
invisiblegirlx 4th-May-2014 07:55 am (UTC)
that is what I like in the books. I feel like the TV show completely missed out on this aspect of it and just go for plain old misogyny with no context.
bitterblueb 3rd-May-2014 10:28 pm (UTC)
I legit think there were people far more upset about sparking vampires in Twilight than there are people upset about the sexual violence in these books.
chrislola 3rd-May-2014 10:34 pm (UTC)
because those people say the same bullshit that grrm said - that's just how it was back then! it's accurate! i want to just give one collective hard slap to everyone who uses that shitty excuse.
notoriousreign 4th-May-2014 12:32 am (UTC)
Stephenie Meyer is a scourge on society for writing sparkling vampires. Explicit sexual violence in a TV show that wasn't originally in the books? "It was of the time~"
bitterblueb 4th-May-2014 04:55 am (UTC)
I think people need to re-read that scene, this whole ~it wasn't in the books~ needs to stop
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