Welcome to the Desert of the Real

Sometimes I swear there really is a collective unconscious. I decided in early February that this would be my March post; now, in the last week or so, I’ve come across a groundswell of people discussing the exact same topic: “gritty” fantasy (and gritty fiction in general).

I’m talking about the books where the heroes are just barely a lighter shade of grey than the villains, where death comes for everyone without warning, where people get hurt and don’t recover, and betrayal is the order of the day. George R. R. Martin is, if anything, the lighter end of this trend, with people like Joe Abercrombie being further down the path. We’ve coined a number of adjectives to describe the kind of story they’re writing, like “grimdark” or (if you’re feeling much less charitable) “crapsack,” on account of how the world it takes place in comes across as wall-to-wall misery and filth.

Or — and here we get to my argument — “realistic.”

I don’t have a problem with stories where everything is grim and dark and horrible. I may not want to read them, but I’m not going to run around saying they shouldn’t exist in the first place. What I do have a problem with is the imputation of moral virtue to those stories: the idea that they are inherently better than the “escapist” tales in which the characters don’t all behave like assholes to one another, and that people who like Abercrombie’s novels (or whoever; I’m not here to pick on him specifically) are superior to readers who don’t want their faces rubbed in the gutter. After all, the readers of grit are able to look unflinchingly into the ugly face of reality! The rest of us are hiding.

Foz Meadows points out the next problem in the chain, which is the way the claim of “realism” enshrines certain issues as the natural order of things, which we should not expect to be any other way. If “female characters being raped” = “realistic,” then it follows that “female characters not being raped” = “unrealistic.” Sucks to be us, ladies! Ditto racism, homophobia, and a host of other unpleasantnesses many people are working to change right now. That’s the way the world was Back Then, the defenders of grimdark say, and they’re just being honest about it.

(Strange how narrow a view of Back Then those defenders usually have. I want to see them applaud a grimdark fantasy in which the manly tradition of warriors includes institutionalized age-structured homosexuality, with the older members buggering the trainees. Oh, sorry, did I get realism in their “realism”? My bad.)

This trend came up at Fourth Street Fantasy last year, and I found myself vehemently rejecting the notion that only the ugly parts of the world are real. Men’s respect for women is just as true and meaningful as their disrespect. If the unbreakable trust of an ally is not inevitable, neither is betrayal; the world is made out of both. There really are people of breathtaking virtue and decency, as well as complete scum. You can focus on the latter if you want to, but don’t tell me it’s better — morally or factually — than focusing on the former.

How did we arrive at this state, where we valorize that kind of borderline nihilism? The answer to that is complicated and would take a twenty-seven mile detour through recent global history, but my epiphany at Fourth Street was to blame Thomas Bowdler — or rather, the trend to which he gave his name. He edited Shakespeare to remove passages considered unsuitable for women and children, which is just one facet of a larger movement that separated out childhood as a time of innocence, untouched by violence or sexuality or any hint of moral greyness. And, well, if stuff without those things is For Children, then stuff with them is For Adults (or even, as with Bowdler, just For Men), which by the transitive property of storytelling means that if you’re writing for adults/adult men, you ought to put in violence and sex and moral greyness. Pretty soon those things become intellectually superior, because whatever adult men are reading is of course the most important thing out there, and then it’s even more superior to write stuff that’s all about those things. To do otherwise is childish.

I repeat: there’s nothing wrong with writing about violence (even bloody, horrific violence), sex (even nonconsensual sex, which is to say rape), or moral greyness. All of those things are real. But they are not the whole picture. Reality is not a desert in which we stagger from one tiny oasis to the next, barely sucking down enough muddy, stagnant water to stay alive. If you’re writing about the desert, ask yourself why, and where you’re going in it, and whether you’re following that path because it will take you somewhere useful, or just because everyone else has gone that way. Don’t have a female character get raped just because rape is what happens to women. Don’t exclude people of color from meaningful roles in your story just because that’s what you’re accustomed to seeing. Read some actual history and get a sense of how it worked, rather than basing your assumptions on the last ten fantasy novels you read.

That is the way to be honest, mature — and realistic.

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  1. 1. Paul (@princejvstin)

    Thanks, Marie.

    I do think there is a belief that putting in the grimdark stuff makes fantasy “more adult”, “less childish”, “more realistic”.

    Your bit about buggery was brought up by the Galactic Suburbia trio and Game of Thrones, noting that there is no male on male rape in the books (although plenty of male on female rape), even though buggery happened and would be “Realistic”. As you say, you got realism in the realism.

    And I love this sentence:

    “Reality is not a desert in which we stagger from one tiny oasis to the next, barely sucking down enough muddy, stagnant water to stay alive”

  2. 2. Wolf Lahti

    I find it harder these days to find a book I can *feel good* about reading. Whatever else fiction may aspire to be, it is still a medium of *entertainment*, and I, for one, am not entertained by page after page of “unrelenting ill-fortune”, as some wise author phrased it.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to agree without exception to it, but I can sympathize with Miss Prism (from Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”) when she says, “The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.”

  3. 3. Ken Marable

    All I can say is “Thank you.” The next time I hear some ranting about how grim stories are more realistic (and I hear it all too often), now I can just point to this. You nailed it. Besides, I really don’t get this whole fascination with wanting your favorite fiction to be considered “realistic” like that label is some grand goal to attain… in writing that is, by definition *fiction*. Seems awful silly to me.

  4. 4. Marie Brennan

    Paul — Even in the real world, the fact of male-on-male rape (which is especially common in wartime) is something people don’t want to talk about. In some ways, that makes me wish it did show up in fiction more often: sweeping it under the rug just makes the real victims feel even more like they can’t admit what happened to them.

    Wolf — Yeah, sometime you want, or even need, a story that will make you feel good when it’s done. That isn’t somehow “lesser” than a story which rakes you over a cheese-grater.

    Ken — I suspect a lot of it can be traced back to the impact modernism (in the aesthetic sense) had on fiction. It’s part and parcel of the ideology that says mimetic fiction — the so-called “literary” stuff — is superior to genre, especially of the speculative sort.

  5. 5. BenjaminJB

    Marie, this turn towards grimdark/realism in fantasy might be related (or relatable) to Le Guin’s classic essay, “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?” The connection would go something like:

    Americans used to avoid “childish” (and womanish) fantasy (and fiction more broadly) because they were interested in work/profit; but now fantasy is made safe for men by showcasing the hard facts of reality (that also tend to be the ones that flatter certain masculinist tendencies). (And it doesn’t hurt that fantasy was shown to be big business, too.)

    The corollary here might be 90s comic scene, where comics strutted their “realism” with a lot of violence. The question for me though is why this would happen in the 90s in comics and in the 00s for fantasy. (Or is that timetable not entirely accurate?)

  6. 6. oldfart

    Institutionalized buggery was widely believed to be the ancient Spartan training, and is more widely believed to be prevalent in the British Guards Regiments and British so-called Public Schools. Note the regiments and schools have different age groups as recruits and very distinct social backgrounds.

  7. 7. Mary

    One could cite Aristotle’s dictum about how people like characters in a story to be as good as they are, or a little bit better, and while this included more kinds of good than moral — a good swordsman, a good archer, etc. — it did include the moral.

    Then one might draw conclusions about people who prefer one kind of character to another.

    But that would be rude. 0:)

  8. 8. Mary

    Though I must mention seeing a writer rant that SF was trapped in a ghetto intended for 8 year olds by the notion of avoiding talking dirty.

    One notes that the ghetto is indeed rather crowded because 95% of the world’s literature is in it; even the literature heavy on the sex and violence is often in it.

  9. 9. Richard Morgan

    Men’s respect for women is just as true and meaningful as their disrespect.

    Yes, but much, MUCH less common – and scaling to overwhelmingly so in times of war or other breakdown of civilisationally-imposed norms. Fiction that elides that imbalance is doing none of us any favours.

  10. 10. Marie Brennan

    Benjamin JB — Good point about comics. They were limited for a long time by the Comics Code, which was part of creating the image that they were for children; take that away, and the backlash went straight to all the adult things they’d been forbidden before.

    oldfart — It was common in pre-modern Japan, too. Probably other places as well, but those are the ones I’m familiar with.

    Mary — We also enjoy characters who are worse than us, though, so we can feel smug. :-)

    Richard — There are a lot of assumptions packed into your comment, such as: 1) when we discuss fiction, we’re automatically talking about times of war or other breakdown of civilizationally-imposed norms, 2) fiction reflects what is common, at least in this instance, rather than what is exceptional, and 3) writing about instances of respect = “eliding the imbalance,” rather than correcting an existing imbalance in which the respect pretty much vanishes entirely. I’ve read pretty extensively in history, and I disagree. Furthermore, are you equally concerned about how such fiction elides the imbalance of men being raped in times of war? That, too, has been hugely common — and yet one almost never sees it in fantasy.

  11. 11. Richard Morgan

    Marie -

    1) When we discuss epic fantasy, yes we’re largely talking about times of war or other breakdown of civilisational norms. it’s a staple of the form.

    2) Fiction can certainly – and often does – reflect what is exceptional (a man who genuinely treats women as equals, for example), but it will need to do so against a background of the commonplace, otherwise at best it will be fail as an attempt to address the human condition and at worst may perpetuate utterly unrealistic illusions about the world (eg – I’ve noticed the US Military is fond of full page recruitment ads in Marvel comics)

    3) Answered in (2) above, I believe

    I have also read a bit of history (it was my undergraduate degree) and my reading is that women have had the shitty end of the stick pretty consistently since forever. A choice example – marital rape did not exist as a crime until the mid twentieth century, and by the end of said century (1997) had been criminalised in only 17 of the world’s states. To be fair, that has risen sharply since, but in 2008 the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights reported that violence against women was still “globally endemic” – no country was exempt. And nothing I have read leads me to believe there was some halcyon era prior to the twentieth century where things were better than this rather shabby norm.

    Male rape – absolutely. Bring it on (it features in my own fantasy novel The Steel Remains in exactly the context you cite in your article) War brutalises at every level and, as I said before, we do no-one any favours when we elide that fact.

  12. 12. Spencer Shiraev

    It is my observation that anyone who makes claims about a certain group being treated in a certain way throughout the entire course of history has not read enough history.

    For a broader view, there are many places to begin: Moen’s ‘The Gendered Landscape’ about Vikings; Ladurie’s ‘Montaillou’ about a 14th century french village; the lack of application of seemingly unequal divorce and marriage laws in ancient Sumer alongside the continued separation of contracts and property; etc. etc.

  13. 13. Richard Morgan

    Spencer –

    No-one has ever read “enough” history, but please don’t talk to me about Vikings.

    Viking society habitually practiced arranged marriage of girls from the age of about twelve upward and with little to no account taken of the girl’s own feelings. While Viking women enjoyed remarkable access to divorce compared to women in the rest of Europe at the time (who had none), this was still in practice as often as not dependent on having a tough or influential family to back the slighted daughter/sister up. At every level of society, from head of household upward, male was the default setting. Where women had power, it was in the absence of a suitable male – seasonally where the able-bodied males were away trading or rieving, or where no suitable male remained living. Oh and let’s not forget that this was a slave-owning culture in which female thralls who became pregnant (read: were raped) had to give up their offspring to the ownership of their master….

    But if you want to paint that as a high point in the history of gender equality, go right ahead……

  14. 14. Spencer Shiraev

    To truly compare gender equality in any era one must ask if it were different for the men; while I am not a specialist in Vikings, it has always struck me as odd that arranged marriages for women/girls in many cultures are pointed out as a Terrible Unequal Thing for women without noting that the men/boys were often also such arranged without their desires being taken into account – a terrible thing all around, to our modern views, but not (always) a strict case for inequality.

    If you actually looked up Moen’s recent publication or a summary of it, it specifically challenges the notion of men being the default heads. To quote the summary: “The Scandinavian Late Iron Age, popularly known as the Viking Age, is often represented as deeply and inherently male, with male aggressiveness as the ideal presented to the public, leaving little room for alternative gender roles in the popular imagination…. I will attempt to show that the gender roles of the Viking Age are perhaps often interpreted and represented too simplistically….” To quote a writeup/interview: ” ‘Since the Viking era became an important part of building Norwegian national identity in the 19th century, early archaeology was influenced by Victorian ideals. The contemporary ideals of women belonging to the home and men being out in the public was imposed on Viking society,’ says Moen.

    ‘The domestic role of Viking women may have been less limited to the private sphere than it is today. The large estates were contemporary seats of power, and the woman of the house had the keys. How private or public this role was should be interpreted outside our own cultural context.’”

    Also, women in Europe at or shortly after that time period absolutely had some access to divorce, ranging from inability of the husband to perform sexually, to, well, divorce simply not being as formal a thing in the less formal (but often more common) common-law marriages. The peasant class certainly swapped partners without animosity far more than popular culture has ever represented them as doing, even if frequently nominally still being married. This is easily seen in Ladurie, from the (decent) acceptance of bastard children of both husbands and wives to the remark that it was much better for a wife to sleep with the pastor, because the pastor couldn’t propose marriage to her; it is less easily seen, but still very present, in such instances as Galileo’s common-law wife electing of her own free will to not move cities with him – this, in a highly Catholic time period in Italy of all places, was not remarked upon as being odd.

    In regards to sexual violence, I’ve recently found this: http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Sexual_Violence_and_Rape_in_the_Middle_A.html?id=eNNHypRNsoMC&redir_esc=y (“Contrary to modern assumptions, sexual violence and rape were treated as severe crimes in the Middle Ages.”) but I have not read it.

    I don’t believe I made any remarks about nadirs or zeniths of gender equality; my main issue is and was the simplification of women “[having] the shitty end of the stick pretty consistently since forever,” which generalizes over the vast differences in equality that have existed throughout history. (And also ignores that the shittiness of the stick in question must be compared with the shittiness others dealt with, not out modern lives – i.e., the import question to ask it how much worse did it suck for women than men, not how much worse did it suck for women then than women now, if you’re examining gender equality)

    In other words, I entirely agree with Marie Brennan’s “Read some actual history and get a sense of how it worked, rather than basing your assumptions on the last ten fantasy novels you read.”

  15. 15. Richard Morgan

    So do I. One of my history degree modules dealt with the Vikings and their close cousins the Viking Rus in some considerable detail. And while some young viking boys might get married off for political alliance, the general trend of arranged marriages was young (sometimes very young) girls to older men, reflecting, as you’d expect, an interest in women primarily as breeding stock.

    If you want to argue that throughout human hisotry the stick has been pretty shitty for most people, male and female, you’ll get no disagreement from me. But I have still neither read nor heard of any era, including our own, where I would have preferred to be born female. Perhaps you, in your extensive historical reading, have?

  16. 16. Mary

    Yeah, but not too much worse than us or it’s no fun. I am always astounded by people who defend works in which the human characters are better than the gods, who are depicted as badly brought-up three-year-olds on the grounds that the superiority is the point — you set the bar no higher than that? We should praise people for acting better than three-year-olds?

  17. 17. Mary

    Marrying off young women to older men also reflects an interest in men as cash cows. I still remember a novel in which a woman sat down with her son, about to go to college, and explaining the insanity of his wanting to marry a woman only a year his younger. He has to attend college and get his career started before he can even think of marriage, by which time she will be married with two or three babies.

  18. 18. Spencer Shiraev

    Richard – I have stated little more than that I take issue with over-generalization and ludicrous simplification, and I have tried to illustrate complexity with citations and links to research, translations/interpretations of primary sources, and specific events, instead of any appeal to authority.

    Specifically, I find the phrase “my reading is that women have had the shitty end of the stick pretty consistently since forever” to entirely contribute to, for example, that “rape is what happens to women” when someone is going for “realism,” by entirely erasing the actual reality of the many different human cultures that have and do exist throughout all of history and enforcing the idea that shitty things happened primary to women (and some shitty things only to women). It paves the path for “historically awful things happened to women, therefore in my pseudo-historical land I will write awful things happening to women” thinking instead of any actual serious thought or reflection on social structure.

    To state it another way: someone who reads “women have had the shitty end of the stick pretty consistently since forever” can easily walk away with the idea that female characters (and possibly only they) “should” get raped in grimdark because that’s an awfully shitty end of the stick, especially when this comment comes up in a discussion of the over-emphases of literary darkness.

    I have made no claims that some Nirvana of equality has existed, although I obviously hold that some societies have been traditionally portrayed as more unequal than they actually were – like exactly what happens with the ratio of portrayed male-on-female rape to portrayed male-on-male rape in speculative media.

    You seem to be reading the argument that cultures have actually been wildly different, complicated, and sometimes more equal than how they are depicted as… something else entirely.

  19. 19. Spencer Shiraev

    An attempt to summarize –

    The article: “Hey, it’s cool to be all grimdark and all, but life isn’t entirely limited to grimdark; don’t laud it as being more worthy. Also, you know, that grimdark isn’t necessarily as realistic as you might think.”

    Richard: “But history actually has sucked for women.”

    Anyway, I loved the line “Oh, sorry, did I get realism in their “realism”? My bad.” :P

  20. 20. D Armstrong

    Well and intelligently thought out, as usual, Marie. You are now up with LeGuin on our ‘drop everything and read what they have to say’ list.

    However, I do point to Peter V. Brett as an example of balanced realism. Strong and intelligent women and men, of various skin shades, and equal opportunity victimization, including “institutionalized age-structured homosexuality”. And, on the positive side, plenty of bootstrapping, too.

  21. 21. Richard Morgan

    @ Mary-

    Marrying off young women to older men also reflects an interest in men as cash cows.

    Indeed – and milking said cash cows via the prostitution of female children/adolescents. Oops, here comes that shitty end of the stick again…….

  22. 22. Richard Morgan

    @ Spencer

    Man, you really know how to dance around a point, don’t you.

    Can you or can you not point to a historical period and/or geographical location in which women were not the recipients of the shittier end of the stick, regardless of how shitty said stick might have been in general? Because if you can’t, then I really think you need to retract that rather insulting word ludicrous, and accept that in fact the simplification I offered did what a decent simplification should do, which is to summarise the available data to accurate informative effect.

    As for this:

    someone who reads “women have had the shitty end of the stick pretty consistently since forever” can easily walk away with the idea that female characters (and possibly only they) “should” get raped in grimdark because that’s an awfully shitty end of the stick, especially when this comment comes up in a discussion of the over-emphases of literary darkness.

    Well, I’m afraid I’m working off the assumption that we’re all intelligent adults here. I can’t legislate for people with retarded reading skills or an inability to utilise basic conversational logic at an adult level. If you (somewhat patronisingly, I feel) believe that we should,however, worry about such people, then perhaps you’d care to offer a paraphrase of my ludicrous generalisation which allows for such a sub-functional readership and still conveys the essential anthropological truth that I was expressing and that you have so far failed to refute.

    Over to you…..

  23. 23. Marie Brennan

    Wow, comments took off while I was gone yesterday . . .

    We could very easily fall down any one of a number of historical rabbit-holes here. I, for example, am tempted to pick up the Viking one, as my senior thesis in archaeology was on Viking Age gender roles (and included such points as the habit of sexing skeletons based on their grave goods — i.e. if it had a sword it was a man, which closer analysis has proved to not be always true), but it’s a digression from the actual point of my post. To recap in very short form:

    The reality depicted by “gritty” fantasy is selective, in ways that are often unacknowledged by its proponents (e.g. the elision of male rape in most such fiction, versus the overwhelming focus on female rape, which is not an accurate depiction of historical fact). Ergo, its claim to greater realism is suspect, and its claim to superiority — aesthetic, intellectual, moral, whatever — is even more so. It can be good, but the presence of that “grit” does not make it inherently better than stories where not every female character is threatened with rape.

  24. 24. Leo J


    I’m not currently wanting to get involved in the gender role argument, but do you have any publicly available/easily available information on what you mentioned about Viking skeletons being sexed incorrectly via grave goods? Archaeology and gender roles is a topic of interest to me. Thanks.

  25. 25. Marie Brennan

    Leo — C&P’d directly from my thesis bibliography! :-)

    Hjørungdal, Tove. “Poles Apart: Have There Been Any Male and Female Graves?” Current Swedish Archaeology 2 (1994): 141-149.

    Jesch, Judith. Women in the Viking Age. Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 1991.

    Solberg, Bergljot. “Social Status in the Merovingian and Viking Periods in Norway From Archaeological and Historical Sources.” Norwegian Archaeological Review 18.1-2 (1985): 61-76.

    I don’t know how easily available those are for you, but they’re the three most directly relevant sources I cited.

    (For those who are unaware: sexing skeletons based on physical characteristics requires a certain level of preservation that isn’t always available, and also is a matter of statistical averages rather than unambiguous markers. Ergo, grave goods play a large role in the process, but that is demonstrably subject to observer bias. Graves with mixed goods have even been called “double graves” when there’s no second skeleton!)

  26. 26. Paul Connelly

    I always found it disappointing that the same Shakespeare who could write a solid, realistic drama like Titus Andronicus would so often wimp out by writing more light-hearted fare like Hamlet and King Lear. The man just lacked the courage of his convictions.

  27. 27. Spencer Shiraev

    Richard – I have not so much danced around the point than directly called out your “point” as beyond the actual point. To be even more direct: you are derailing the conversation and you are doing so in a manner that reinforces the status quo.

    As you have also wandered into ablest slurs, I refuse to engage with you further.

    Marie – thanks for the articles! (Was your thesis used by Moen? That would be an awesome case of small world. :-P )

    And also thank you for writing this.

  28. 28. Leo J

    Thanks for the resources! I may be able to get ahold of them at my library, particularly the book, but either way, I appreciate the direction.

  29. 29. Damien RS

    “Can you or can you not point to a historical period and/or geographical location in which women were not the recipients of the shittier end of the stick, regardless of how shitty said stick might have been in general?”

    Not unambiguously, no. But why are you treating how shitty the stick was as irrelevant? That’s not realistic. The shittiness, both of the total stick and of the two (or more: hijra, third-soul, etc.) ends relative to each other varied hugely, and following no clear pattern that I can see.

    And to give Martin credit, he has some reflection of that diversity, sexual or otherwise. Women warriors or leaders in the south and north of Westeros, Brienne, rough democracy among Tyrion’s hill tribes and north of the Wall, Romanesque plutocratic-democracy in old Valyria and modern Volantis, slave societies, slaveless societies, total sociopaths, people who really do mean well, people in between…

  30. 30. Fatikis

    Mentioning Joe Abercrombie was entirely idiotic.

    I see very few of his fans ever claim Joe Abercrombie is “realistic” whatever that may mean in a fantasy setting.

    Joe Abercrombies stories are dark. They are on the other side of the spectrum of all of this always happiness barely stories we often get.

    These stories don’t in anyway borderline nihilism. Saying that just shows you either have not read them or that you don’t know the definition of nihilism.

  31. 31. Marie Brennan

    Fatikis — May I suggest that calling me an idiot in your first sentence isn’t a good way to launch your argument?

    As for the rest of it, I’m glad you don’t find them nihilistic (and haven’t been subjected to people saying their darkness makes them more “real”), but your experience isn’t universal.

  32. 32. Mary

    Can you or can you not point to a historical period and/or geographical location in which women were not the recipients of the shittier end of the stick, regardless of how shitty said stick might have been in general?

    Are you prepared to regard the short end of the stick as a matter open to debate, or will you define it in advance as what happens to women?

    I ask because I have myself see an citation from an article that said women got the short end of the stick in the Soviet Union, because all the men dying in World War II and in the gulags meant the women had to do the work the men could have done otherwise. Obviously, the writer of that article could not be pointed to such an era.

  33. 33. Sam Graham

    Marie, I’m somewhat surprised by this article, you usually write very insightfully about the the topic of gender issues, with care and diligence to avoid sweeping statements.

    This article really seems to be attacking a straw man though. There’s plenty of dark and gritty fantasy that makes no claims on realism just on being entertaining if you like that sort of thing (like any writing). There’s plenty of dark and gritty fantasy that has no rape. There’s dark and gritty fantasy (not sure about “plenty” on that one…) that handles rape or other victimization of characters (male or female) in a sensitive and nuanced manner rather than just as a lazy plotting device.

    There’s plenty of dark and gritty fantasy that uses the grimness of the setting to highlight the wonder of heroism – an act of kindness or valour or sacrifice in a world that doesn’t expect it or from a character you’d least expect it from can (can, not always or necessary to) really focus the mind on certain aspects of what heroism really means: doing something because it’s right, not because it’s easy, all the harder because the character is going against the grain or their “friends” or the expectations placed upon them.

    I think that a character rising above their baser instincts to “do good” does strike a note of more realism to a lot of people, because most of us are flawed human beings rather than paragons of virtue. I’m sure there are paragons of virtue out there and they’re equally realistic, but from inside my skull one story resonates slightly more believably. (Not just me, right? Right? Oh dear.) That resonance is probably enough for most people to give the perception of realism even if it isn’t.

    I absolutely agree that certain sections of the dark and gritty fantasy subgenre display all the problems you’ve noticed, but then so does all writing unfortunately, in my experience of reading fantasy of all colours, bad writing is no more prevalent there than elsewhere, and tarring it with an overbroad brush does no-one any favours when it comes to fixing the issue.


  1. Linky wants to start by referring back to realism | Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
  2. Gritty Washback | Joe Abercrombie
  3. Marie Brennan on Grimdark | Cheryl's Mewsings
  4. It’s still very grimdark out there | Cora Buhlert
  5. Linkspam on Fantasy, Realism, and “Grit” | Jenny's Library
  6. December 2014 links | DcK Area

Author Information

Marie Brennan

Marie Brennan is the author of more than forty short stories and seven novels, the most recent of which is the urban fantasy Lies and Prophecy. Visit site.



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