George R.R. Martin shares his thoughts on the controversy surrounding sexism and rape on HBO’s Game of Thrones, as well as his own work.
Martin, the best-selling author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series on which Game of Thrones is based, takes a familiarly fatalistic approach the complicated subject matter.
“The books reflect a patriarchal society based on the Middle Ages,” Martin says. “The Middle Ages were not a time of sexual egalitarianism. It was very classist, dividing people into three classes. And they had strong ideas about the roles of women.”
“There were, of course, some strong and competent women,” he qualifies. “It still doesn’t change the nature of the society.”
According to Martin, all of his most fascinating characters are “outliers” in the context of their society, and his female characters are, for the most part, no exception. Martin also feels that hewing to this historical reality is important, in spite of the fact that Game of Thrones is a fantasy complete with dragons, ice-zombies, and straight-up magic.
“Just because you put in dragons doesn’t mean you can put in anything you want,” Martin argues. “If pigs could fly, then that’s your book. But that doesn’t mean you also want people walking on their hands instead of their feet.”
As he has expressed in previous discussions of A Song of Ice and Fire, Martin feels that fantasy elements work best in moderation.
“It’s best to only do one of them, or a few,” he says. “I wanted my books to be strongly grounded in history and to show what medieval society was like… Most stories depict what I call the ‘Disneyland Middle Ages.’ There are princes and princesses and knights in shining armor, but they didn’t want to show what those societies meant and how they functioned.”
According to Martin, employing the socially ingrained sexism – on which of medieval society indisputably worked – does not reflect on himself as an author.
“To be non-sexist, does that mean you need to portray an egalitarian society?” he asks. “That’s not in our history; it’s something for science fiction. And 21st century America isn’t egalitarian, either. There are still barriers against women.”