On A Song of Ice and Fire
Foreword: Stories for the Nights to Come
Why write it? To entertain? To enlighten? To cut new alleyways of allegory? To chase spirituality with magic?
It pains me when I hear Margaret Atwood claim that she’s not a fantasy author, as if that label somehow diminishes the quality of her work, just as it pained me three decades ago when my favorite literature professor discovered that I was reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in my free time. How his face turned red with anger! He had been pushing me toward his beloved Brandeis, to follow in his literary training, and bristled at the notion that I was wasting my intellect with such drivel.
He is long retired, but Tolkien certainly isn’t. The twilight fancies resound about us, in books, movies, and television. They dominate the nascent art form of video games.
But even today, the pushback remains, as professors teaching Gilgamesh and Beowulf, Homer and Dante, wonder the worth instead of the irony. So it follows: when we see specific works of fantasy fiction, such as George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, threatening to break into the halls of respectability, there is an undercurrent of commentary seeking to discredit the notion that said praiseworthy works could actually be, well, fantasy. Whether it’s the author’s own statements, as with Ms. Atwood and Terry Goodkind, or the marketing angle attached to the books–Chris Paolini is a “child prodigy writing young adult stories”; Philip Pullman is writing religious (or antireligious) allegory; J.K. Rowling is carrying on the …