On The New York Times Reviews of Game of Thrones

*Reviews contain spoilers for those not familiar with the events of season 1.

Last year, The New York Times review of the HBO series, Game of Thrones, stereotyped women by suggesting that Tolkien and the genre he defined are just not for them. This year, in the paper’s review of season 2 of the show, Neil Genzlinger echoes some of the snideness of his predecessor. The new review refers patronizingly to “people who love this kind of stuff” and “Dungeons & Dragons types.” Do you think there is some snobbery going on here? Shouldn’t it be possible to write a review of something you do not like without mischaracterizing and even ridiculing those who do?

7 thoughts on “On The New York Times Reviews of Game of Thrones

  1. I think it must be a requirement that if you write about fantastical fiction for the NYT that you find a way, some way to look down your nose at it and insult people who like it. Bonus points if you, like Genzlinger complaining that the SHOW made the mistake of killing Ned Stark, aren’t at all familiar with the source material.

  2. Your point about gratuitous snideness and snobbery is well taken. And while Genzlinger seems impatient with complexity, I tended to admire Martin’s commitment to spinning an epic amount of yarn. Martin did a marvelous job at telling a sustained set of stories that hold a spectrum of tensions. But this NYT review does reflect some of the concerns that I felt, visiting Martin’s world. Shady Grady makes a good point about being familiar with the source material, and I haven’t yet seen the HBO series. But in terms of the books, at least, I share Genzlinger’s seeming lack of enthusiasm for the relentless brutality. Martin dwells upon an awesome variety of bad behavior, and too often it seems as if this inhumanity goes beyond evocation of the awful truths that we must ponder when confronted by epic forms of human violence and the consequent banality of evil. Okay, I kept saying to myself, people can be plenty vile; I know that already. In those moments, I thought the books fell short of the Tolkien-like mythic resonance that I appreciate in fantasy literature. I guess for violence in art to resonate with me, something about it must draw me in, or it must draw in some part of me that I didn’t know was there, waiting to become fascinated by the unthinkable. Martin’s meditations on casual bloodlust and insensitivity too often achieved a kind of totality that made me feel more weary than horrified or outraged. These cruelties, I said to myself, have nothing to which I can attach some thread of myself. Even so, there were enough other dimensions in his storytelling to keep me moving forward. So I am looking forward to watching the first season of the HBO series. But your larger point is one that I agree with, Badgaladriel — I am sometimes willing to admit that my preferential aesthetic spectrum may not provide the ultimate standard by which all art ought to be measured. Others may well enjoy and find deeply meaningful sections of the human spectrum beyond what I find interesting.

  3. talelmarhazad, I nominate you as the NYT mythic conscious and fantasy critic. The books leave me empty. However I find the HBO series compelling. This is unusual for me as I have never been able to get through the LOTR movies.

  4. I am enjoying the books, though I do have to take them in small doses sometimes because of the brutality. I agree, though, that talelmarhazad would make an excellent critic and not just because he is not the kind of writer to make generalizations about the kind of people who like a particular work. I also agree that blaming the show for killing off Ned Stark is like blaming the RSC for killing off Macbeth!

  5. Good points. As I am sure everyone is aware Martin always speaks fondly of Tolkien and holds him up as the primary influence in fantastical literature.

    I’ve read all of the ASOIAF books so far. There have been a few cases of brutality where I had to stop reading temporarily but again, when we look at real life such things have happened and continue to take place.

    I don’t have a problem with the NYT critic just being honest about his likes/dislikes. That is what he should do. But the piece just rubbed me the wrong way b/c I think it made some unjustified assumptions.

  6. After reading both these critical reviews, I am struck by the problems both critics had with the number of characters in these books, the convoluted and intertwining plots, and the need to keep all the information straight. Perhaps they simply don’t have the concentration necessary to handle something more advanced than Captain Underpants.

    That said, the way they belittle those who do like fantasy reading that is more advanced than the Twilight series makes me think less of them. Can they honestly criticize the level of violence in ASOIAF when they no doubt read books like Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities? Nowhere yet has George Martin matched the civilian slaughter described in the streets of Paris. If these critics call themselves literary experts, no doubt they have read Nell as well. Whatever sexcapades are shown in ASOIAF pale in comparison to the main character’s adventures in that book, but I don’t hear them complaining.

    To the literary editors of the New York Times: When you assign some writer to critique a piece of fiction, at least ask whether he or she likes the genre. If the rest of us wanted an exhibition of attitude, we’d watch reruns of Dynasty.

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