Fantasy’s Disturbing Turn

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I love fantasy books. Tolkien, Lewis, Terry Brooks, Eddings, McKiernan, Robert Jordan.

And I’m always looking out for some good new series to read. So I got on my Kindle and downloaded a free sample of Martin’s Game of Thrones. This is the best-selling series that HBO has now even made into TV shows.

Much to my dismay, just a few chapters in, Martin starts using the ugliest profanity to describe vicious and brutal sexual acts. If this is the way he begins the story, I knew that the rest would get even worse. I stopped reading, deleted the sample from my device, and went online to check out the reviews. Sure enough, they describe just how much worse he gets. I won’t go into any details, but it’s disturbing stuff. Stuff people shouldn’t read. Because it is bad for them. Garbage.

This isn’t the first series to try to go this route. The first fantasy series that I ever stopped reading, mid-book, was Terry Goodkind’s Wizards First Rule. It starts with some semi-promising characters and story ideas before devolving into sadistic sexual acts. No thanks.

I guess this is how authors think they’re being “modern” and “real” and “edgy.” But in fact they are just producing works that will leave violent and deforming images in the minds of readers. Instead of creating a world where the true, good, and beautiful can be found, as Tolkien and Lewis so masterly did, in their worlds there is nothing truly good or beautiful.

But there’s a upside to this situation, too. Because of all the base fantasy novels out there, many fans of the genre are starving for something worthy to read. And that need can be filled most powerfully by Catholic and other Christian authors, because our beliefs are true. And people want to read stories that reveal the deep truth in humanity and in existence itself. Catholic authors have largely ceded this field to secular writers, but it need not be so.

I add my voice to the many others that have been calling for a renaissance in fiction-written-by-Christians. Let’s write the next Lord of the Rings and Narnia series. Let’s learn how to tell stories that enrich people’s lives by showing to them the truth of who they are. The world is longing for it. Will we answer the call?


20 Replies to “Fantasy’s Disturbing Turn”

  1. I have been thinking the same thing for a while. I am also disturbed by the 50 Shades series – I haven’t read it but the synopsis (and apparently disastrous writing) were enough to tell me the world needs some serious Catholic media that is not sentimental but can fight the Twilights, Shades of Grey, Games of Thrones etc.

  2. It’s a shame, because Martin’s series is marked by a very high-quality, realistic story and milieu, probably the best I have read. But yes, the gratuitous and graphically described sexual acts are over the top to say the least.

  3. Thanks for the heads up, I love fantasy and have been wanting to check this out because of all the hoopla. I’ll pass!

    There is a void of good books out there, but, from my experience, the Christian ones (marketed by the Christian publishers) are milquetoast. There is a void, that is certain.

  4. I know what you mean. Stephen King used to be one of my favorite authors, and even now I think he has genuine talent–but I no longer like or can read the kinds of things he writes. Even the one book he supposedly wrote for younger readers, “The Eyes of the Dragon”, mentions people’s private parts (if I recall correctly)–in and of itself that doesn’t have to be a bad thing (I don’t remember the exact context) but taken with the graphic sexual matters he writes about which ought to be private, it almost feels as though he can’t write unless he mentions stuff like that.

    It’s a shame because, like the late Stanley Kubrick, I believe Stephen King is an artist with genuine talent and passion who nevertheless uses it to create works that ought not to exist, at least as they are.

  5. The great dam of Christian culture holding back the anarchy of evil has been under attack verociously ever since the so-called ‘enlightment era’of the ninteenth century fostered mostly by Freemasons. Every new generation has witnessed a successive decline of virtue and decency spawned by the deliberate dismantleing of morality and righteusness by so called progressives like George Martin, among many others. Because of them, we must necessarily pass through an age of decadence, sexual deviation and perversion and do our best to negate these evils with a counteraction of hope and Christian militancy by being articulate, courgeous and action orientated towards goodness! So yes, let us write books as well as review and blogs like this, as well as give seminars, conferences and classes in order to educate and make people aware of what is going on right under their noses!

  6. One of the major, underlying issues in this whole business is that the art of storytelling has long disappeared from books, music, painting and the cinema. While one cannot affix a definite date when the rot set in I think it fairly safe to assume that by 1965-70ish it was pretty much over. Having said that there were disturbing signs of corruption in evidence in the 20s, 40s and 50s but things really exploded in the late 60s-early 70s.

    Take just one point: when untalented hacks like Stephen King and the gal who writes those awful Harry Potter books can be considered serious writers that is a sure sign that both the creators and their audience have lost their moorings. King uses the grammar of a sixth-grader, yet his books sell millions. That does not speak well of the people who read him. I daresay if you put a book by Wodehouse, for example, in front of those who read King they wouldn’t know what to do with it. The biting humor and brilliant writing would sail right over their heads.

    The cinema is in even worse shape. The makers of truly inspiring and intelligent (and entertaining) fantasy films like George Pal, Walt Disney (and I mean Walt himself, not the creeps who have run his studio and his legacy into the ground since his death), Ray Harryhausen and Willis O’Brien have been pushed out of the public mind by the puerile movies of the Spielbergs, the Lucases, and the current crops whose films are so forgettable that not even the names of their makers are worth registering in the mind (does anyone really care who “directed” the mind-numbing “Batman” films being made?). Where are the new Alfred Hitchcocks, David Leans, Keatons, Howard Hawkses, Jean Renoirs, George Seatons, John Fords? A simple answer: they don’t exist. And one of the main reasons they don’t exist is the corrupt, artistically bankrupt moguls who run and CONTROL the movie industry, and make sure that the real creative men will find no place there.

    No, to enjoy fantasy again one must go backwards. Back to great books, great music and great films created by people with art and humanity. Men who loved what they were doing and lived and breathed in their work. Yes, here and there a few talented individuals will find themselves published, but we all know this is the exception and not the rule. There are talented people write now creating fine paintings, writing great music, even writing excellent books, but they are rarely, if ever, to be found in the “mainstream”. And with the enormous costs involved in making films, which virtually guarantees that mediocrity will rise to the top, any true movie makers out there will be confined to the small independents who get little exposure.

    So, back to the basics: go see the 1937 SNOW WHITE again, or the 1958 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD, or the 1933 KING KONG if you want to see the fantasy film at its finest. Read Verne, Wells and Conan Doyle for fantasy in print. Listen to great music: BRUCKNER, si; EMINEM, no. Let these works inspire you.

  7. The next LOTR will not be written by someone trying to write a Catholic fantasy. Tolkien was not trying to write a ‘Catholic fantasy’; he was trying to write a great epic, and his Catholicism came into it naturally because it was part of who he was and he could not write a book that did not include it in some sense. My point being not that he did not allow shimmerings of Catholicism to enter into it (which he certainly did, though I think much – not all – of it was unconscious on his part), but that his *intention* was not to write a specifically Catholic book and mythology, but to write a great book and mythology (I refer here also to his other writings on Middle-Earth). I express myself poorly, I fear.

    Incidentally, Tolkien’s letters are lovely reading. (He does avow one bizarre belief which I am not sure is in harmony with Catholicism – something about the rule of the saints at some point in the future. I’m not an expert on eschatology, though. I also note that his words saying that Frodo could not resist the Ring at Mount Doom seem to go against the writing in the New Testament (I can’t remember whether it is St. Paul or St. Peter) that God does not allow us to be tempted beyond our strength.)

    I would like to see Catholics trying to write good fiction, not trying to write Catholic fiction; I think that the truth is that if you are serious about your faith and don’t actually try to exclude it, your belief will suffuse your writing.

    Anyway, I fear this may come off as a bit harsh. Forgive me, I beg, for any rudeness of expression in this comment; I feel rather strongly on this subject, and it doesn’t always look pretty.

  8. Devin – I wholeheartedly agree with you regarding Martin’s series. I made it through a third of Game of Thrones and had to get rid of it – Martin comes across as a dirty old man. I don’t recall where I read it, but Tolkien was able to depict evil creatures by showing their lack of hospitality towards others; Martin seems to depict it by the level of incest they engage in. That’s putting it rather simply, but I think it’s a pretty good way of looking at one of their differences as authors.

    I read Wizard’s First Rule, and didn’t move on. Something about Goodkind’s writing style – perhaps it was too “dumbed down” for my tastes, I’m not quite sure. Never really got around to caring for the characters. Same went for Jordan’s Wheel Of Time series.

    I’m looking forward to future installments of this series – are you considering the Thomas Covenant series and Sword of Shannara (sp?) as well?

  9. Thanks for the great feedback, y’all! I’ve been reading all the comments but haven’t had time to respond.

    Larry, thanks man! Regarding Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, the first time through I made it through book four before stalling out, the next time through, book five. Finally the last time I made it all the way through the books, but only because my friends who owned the series lent them to me so I didn’t have to waste money on them! I’m going to borrow and read the last book in the series early next year after it comes out and my friends finish it. At this point, the series has become so long-winded that the end cannot help but be anti-climatic.

    I’ve read almost every book Terry Brooks has written but I haven’t read the Thomas Covenant series. I’ll check that one out and see if I can get it on my Kindle.

    God bless!

  10. i completely disagree. Martin chooses not to show a ‘world where the true, good, and beautiful can be found, s Tolkien and Lewis did so materly did bcecause in the real world these things dont exist. he wants to creat a realistic world where people arent catagorized strictly as good or bad. the good characters have bad characteristics amd the bad characters have some reedeming qualities. he paints his picture in shades of grey instead of black and white. this is how he is able to create these unbelievable complex characters. if you are gonna discount this classic work by one of the modern day fantasy masters then its your loss. As Martin says “words are wind.” words only have the power that you give them… and by completly shunning something because of some “curse ” words you are elevating them to a status that holds power over you.

  11. Heath,

    Tolkien did the same thing with Boromir, but with tact and virtue, not by making him incestuous. C.S. Lewis did the same with Edmund, for example, who betrays his family then redeems himself.

    Words are not wind. They are powerful because they signify real things.

  12. There are some attempts to counteract this problem. Companies like Tuscany Press ( and others (some in their infancy) are trying to bring about a renewal in Catholic literature. Stay tuned, there should be some good things coming down the pike.

  13. I don’t have a problem with sexuality being recognized in fiction, but it doesn’t have to be explicit for those issues to be explored. I have heard (and used to subscribe to myself) the idea that “nothing should be private” or that if sex is not depicted it must indicate some kind of shame, but truly, I can read stories that involve romantic/sexual relationships, in all their messiness (and “real” messiness instead of contrived soap opera kind of stuff), and get to know the characters and fall in love with the story without an obvious “heya! They are into each others’ hot bods!” Jane Austen is a really good example of this kind of fiction (although admittedly it’s not fantasy.)

    Actually, for how much Tolkien gets depicted as some kind of anti-woman, anti-sex person (simply because there isn’t a lot of sex in his books), there IS actually sex in his books – or at least, references to where children come from, that would be tame enough for an adolescent to miss (I didn’t notice them until I was older). Think about The Silmarillion’s “Of Turin Turambar”, or the reference in LOTR to Saruman’s breeding of the Uruk-hai – that is some pretty dark stuff, but it only takes a sentence or two to explain for the mature reader, who will get the thematic importance just from that.

    One thing I don’t particularly like about most explicitly labelled “Christian fiction” is that I just find it appallingly bad. Although Lewis is more directly Christian than Tolkien, that’s the kind of thing I like – Christian themes, but no banging over the head with the “This is holy and you better like it!” stick.

  14. Check out authors like Brandon Sanderson and Robin Hobb. Brandon is very clean (he’s a mormon), and Hobb’s books–besides being excellently written–focus generally on perseverance, duty vs. character, and are rooted in the good and beautiful found despite sadness and pain.

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