Being A Woman Who Reads (and writes) Fantasy

A currently-exploding story is of a New York Times review of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” – specifically, the brou-ha-ha is focused upon the fifth and sixth paragraphs of the piece, which I copy out here (emph. mine):

The show has been elaborately made to the point that producers turned to a professional at something called the Language Creation Society to design a vocabulary for the savage Dothraki nomads who provide some of the more Playboy-TV-style plot points and who are forced to speak in subtitles. Like “The Tudors” and “The Borgias” on Showtime and the “Spartacus” series on Starz, “Game of Thrones,” is a costume-drama sexual hopscotch, even if it is more sophisticated than its predecessors. It says something about current American attitudes toward sex that with the exception of the lurid and awful “Californication,” nearly all eroticism on television is past tense. The imagined historical universe of “Game of Thrones” gives license for unhindered bed-jumping — here sibling intimacy is hardly confined to emotional exchange.

The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise. While I do not doubt that there are women in the world who read books like Mr. Martin’s, I can honestly say that I have never met a single woman who has stood up in indignation at her book club and refused to read the latest from Lorrie Moore unless everyone agreed to “The Hobbit” first. “Game of Thrones” is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.

I strongly encourage you to go read the entirety of the (8-paragraph) review for context in full, but the concern found in these paragraphs stands even following a full reading – Ms. Bellafante has made the unfortunate and grave assumption that (A) the sex is only thrown into the series to attract women and that (B) that no woman would be interested in watching a fantasy epic that didn’t involve some on-screen canoodling.

And yet she references The Hobbit, a Tolkein book from the same universe (and some of the same characters) as the famed Lord of the Rings series, which was made into a trilogy of films, and has just as rabid a fan following among women as men, both book and screen form. The Hobbit was, in fact, one of my first major grown-up epic fantasy novels, before I had even reads a double-digit age group.

In addition to the Hobbit, of course, my reading list has included a huge swath of Terry Pratchett (Discworld, especially), Neil Gaiman (Fantasy both modern, past, and otherworldly, in text AND graphic novel form), Jacqueline Carey (Fantastical reimagining of a european-based world with a different slant on religion where angelic creatures are still very much involve with the world, and also some hot sex amidst the political intrigue), The Dragonlance books, Piers Anthony (Xanth, Incarnations of Immortality, and others), Orson Scott Card (Ender series), Frank Herbert (Dune), David Eddings (Belgariad AND Mallorean, and others), Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, Lloyd Alexander (Chronicles of Prydain (AND played the video game of The Black Cauldron)), C.S. Lewis (Chronicles of Narnia), Anne McCaffrey (Dragonriders of Pern), R.A. Salvatore (Dark Elf Trilogy), not to mention J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter Heptalogy).

There are men and women alike in this list of authors – which I contend shows that not only do women like to read epic fantasy novels (regardless of sexual content), but they like to write it just as much as men do. I know that I am currently working on a novel-length epic fantasy project as well as a short story to go into an anthology, and many of the people that I know doing much the same are women. We write what we like to read.

I’d be quite indignant if I found myself somehow in a book club where nobody had read the Hobbit. I also find myself rather indignant at myself that I’ve not even heard of Lorrie Moore, let alone read her work, and think I shall put her on my To-Read list. But she’s below Roger Zelazny and S.M. Stirling.

And as for all the sex on TV being past tense… does she even watch Television? True Blood, Bones, Dexter, Battlestar Galactica – there’s sex out there, and it’s modern (or even futuristic), and it’s not just there for something illicit or prurient – often, ti’s there because it’s part of people’s lives, and affects and changes things sometimes. It’s a plot point just as much as any stealthy political intrigue.

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