Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Everything That Is Wrong With Commercial Fantasy In A Single Quote

with 21 comments

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

George R R Martin, ‘On Fantasy’

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Written by Martin

11 July 2012 at 08:57

Posted in quotes, sf

Tagged with ,

21 Responses

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  1. Nostalgia plus delusion… sounds like he needs to squeeze a few protons off the old hydrogen atom.

    But seriously. Why can’t he have fabulous wines all the time?

    Sam X.

    12 July 2012 at 15:17

  2. So that’s *his* fantasy and *his* reality….

    margueritereed

    13 July 2012 at 14:01

  3. When I look at this entry it comes with a web ad that says ‘To Investors Who Want To Retire Comfortably’.

    Now THAT’S fantasy.

    P Hudson

    18 July 2012 at 15:43

  4. Pfft. You’re dumb. You couldn’t even appreciate a “realist” novel. The phone book is the right kind of art for you sheep.

    Matt

    9 August 2012 at 14:22

  5. Honest question… what is your rationale for why this quote is representative of everything wrong with fantasy?

    Brian Murphy

    24 August 2012 at 21:02

  6. It plays into the artificial and embarrassing Us versus Them divide that is sadly all too common within the genre community. Beyond the stupidity of jamming his thumb on the scales and simply assigning high status words to the thing Martin likes, however, is the amusing contradiction that those high status words have to come from reality. As Sam says, you certainly couldn’t get a bloody steak in reality, could you?

    At the most basic level, if Martin can’t write movingly or beautifully about the strip malls of Burbank (and I’m certainly prepared to believe he can’t) then he has no business writing anything. He is basically saying he has no eye, no ear, no empathy. And that is why it is speaks to the problem of commercial fantasy in general.

    Martin

    27 August 2012 at 08:44

  7. I understand what you mean, Martin. Fantasy can certainly be applicable to reality, as Tolkien once wrote. But I guess I would differ with you that Martin’s quote represents everything wrong with commercial fantasy.

    What if the “them” in your “us vs. them” comparison is our world, not some particular piece of it? Martin is creating through his imagination another world that never was and never could be, but I would argue that this exercise is nevertheless of worth as it demonstrates our ability as humans to dream and to create. Imagination is something we as humans do, and its fruits (even the otherworldly ones) are thus part of the “real” human condition.

    Do you think there is ever a place for other worlds, or must all fiction, even heroic fantasy, engage with our own? Much of reality does suck, unfortunately; are we ever allowed even brief escape in the pages of a book?

    I think Martin’s quote highlights something fantasy can do and strives to do, even if much of it is pedestrian and falls short in the attempt.

    Just as a sidenote, I think it’s rather ironic that Martin of all fantasy writers would have chosen this quote, given that by far and away his most popular creation, A Song of Ice and Fire, is quite grim and dark and shares much more common with gritty historical reality (the bloody War of the Roses) than fantasy.

    Brian Murphy

    28 August 2012 at 00:08

  8. Wow, well I see you and I are pretty much opposites, because I think his quote is just what I think is right about fantasy. I’m sick to death of this real world, and I’ll take a nice fantasy world any time. I have to live my day to day life here, so the last thing I would want to do in my free time is read more about our own reality.

    Ted Cross

    28 August 2012 at 06:40

  9. Do you think there is ever a place for other worlds, or must all fiction, even heroic fantasy, engage with our own? Much of reality does suck, unfortunately; are we ever allowed even brief escape in the pages of a book?

    For me all fiction must engage with our own world. I don’t see how even a secondary world epic fantasy can exist outside of the context of the world it was written in (ie our world). And Martin obviously does engage since, as you point out below, his most famous series is a re-telling of the War of the Roses.

    Everyone is certainly allowed escape. Personally I rarely have the urge to escape but, when I do, I go for a walk or a pint or play a game. I don’t see art as a means of escape but fair enough if other people so. However, when escapism is praised as a virtue, as Martin does here, then I think that is sad and to the detriment of literature. It is an attitude that I believe explains why so much epic fantasy is badly written.

    Just as a sidenote, I think it’s rather ironic that Martin of all fantasy writers would have chosen this quote, given that by far and away his most popular creation, A Song of Ice and Fire, is quite grim and dark and shares much more common with gritty historical reality (the bloody War of the Roses) than fantasy.

    “Ashes at the end”, indeed.

    Martin

    28 August 2012 at 09:46

  10. Maybe Martin wasn’t necessarily saying the two were mutually exclusive? His description plays one against the other to benefit of both.

    I’ve always reckoned the best books have a mixture. Mike Moorcock is probably best known for his S&S characters, but one of my favourite books by him is ‘The Condition of Muzak’, in which the central character seems to be leading two wholly separate lives, one exotic and fantastical, the other grubby and mundane. The more escapist passages – a futuristic London at Christmas – are so effective because they’re contrasted against a gig in some dingy hall that goes horribly wrong etc,etc.

    More recently, Harrison’s ‘Empty Space: A Haunting’ (at least, I think that’s the correct title) has two parallel narratives, one set in the very distant future, one in modern-day london, one very much rooted in the ordinary, one very alien and strange. Both narratives need the other to work properly.

    Aonghus Fallon

    29 August 2012 at 22:46

  11. Aonghus, I think Martin’s last line pretty much puts paid to the idea that he means anything to the benefit of reality.

    Ted, if your real world is all tofu, beans, and ashes, you need to get out more. Okay, maybe Budapest is short on habaneros, but talk about honey and cinnamon and cloves and rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer!

    David Moles

    29 August 2012 at 23:29

  12. Oops! Missed that last line. Funnily enough the only phrase that really jumped out at me was ‘the smokestacks of cleveland’. Sounds kind of fantastical – in a ‘satanic mills’ kind of way….

    Aonghus Fallon

    30 August 2012 at 00:22

  13. I’m with Brian Murphy & Ted Cross on this one. The best kind of fantasy lets us see the potential of reality, while letting us escape from it. And I don’t see the problem with escapist literature, or why it would be inherently “worse” than literature that’s trying to teach us some sort of lesson about reality.

    Traci Loudin (@TraciLoudin)

    10 September 2012 at 03:40

  14. [...] What’s The Opposite Of Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes? – in which I take issue with the Nebulas. 2) Everything That Is Wrong With Commercial Fantasy In A Single Quote – in which I identify everything wrong with commercial fantasy using a single quote. 3) [...]

    Four « Everything Is Nice

    24 September 2012 at 13:19

  15. I’ve made some damn fine tofu, cooked with, well, not habaneros because I don’t like them that hot, but with some less-firey peppers, and with cinnamon and cloves. And I like my wine a little drier, but I certainly have had some good ones, especially if I’m making some kind of fancy tofu thing.

    So what it sounds like is, fantasy isn’t vegetarian and reality doesn’t know how to cook or pair wines. (Hint: If it tastes like ashes, you should turn down the burner. Come on.)

    josh brandt

    24 September 2012 at 23:13

  16. So what it sounds like is, fantasy isn’t vegetarian

    I’d expand on that to say it is just completely normative; Martin’s list is boring, flashy, lazy and domineeringly masculine.

    Martin

    25 September 2012 at 07:59

  17. “Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?” Really, is anyone going to pretend they don’t know what Martin means?

    Dude

    23 March 2013 at 04:15

  18. Well, the answer to the question seems to be capitalism but I’m guessing that’s not what you think Martin means.

    Martin

    23 March 2013 at 09:21

  19. I know this is a bit belated but since this post still gets quite a few hits, I thought I’d link to this discussion of it (which I forgot to link at the time).

    Martin

    16 August 2013 at 10:57

  20. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark.
    Is it odd that I find the descriptions of reality far more appealing those of fantasy? I am serious, I love the way he’s written this. I wish someone would write a whole book full of language like this. I love the nit and grit and filth and factories and alleyways and dirty snow and construction sites and abandoned warehouses and the whole industrial sprawl of the modern age. I love to look into peoples windows as I drive past at night. I am fascinated with the average, the hum drum, the eyesores, the slums, the blue collar workers and the street kids. With the empty lots and smog and apartment complexes, gas station employees, motel maids, the homeless, the junkies, the high school drop outs.
    Sorry, I may have gotten a bit carried away. But if anyone know of books like this, please tell me.

    Monroe

    27 September 2013 at 21:19

  21. […] popular discussion of a story I didn’t like. (Down seven places from last year.) 10) Everything That Is Wrong With Commercial Fantasy In A Single Quote – Boo to George RR Martin and his stupid ideas about literature. (Down eight places from last […]

    Five | Everything Is Nice

    28 September 2013 at 12:47


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