A few weeks ago The Guardian published an article by Steve Rose arguing that the board game, Dungeons and dragons, had paved the way to Game of Thrones. Apart from using the word “geekdom”, which made me cringe, the article quite surprised me – I am not saying that it is impossible that it went that way for some: I am aware the game was hugely popular in the 80’s, a time when fantasy was starting to flourish, among the perplexities of film critics.
If you read the original reviews of films like Excalibur,Conan the barbarian and Legend you realise that critics at the time of their release (respectively 1981, 1982 and 1985) treated those films as weird, to say the least. Magic? Monsters? Heroism? Some european (especially Italian) critics deemed heroes (especially northern ones) suspiciously right-wing, and not only Conan, who appeared on the screen after a quote by Nietsche. Even King Arthur: the only context in which a sword could be safely drawn from a stone was a Disney film. Thankfully those days are over, and we can happily choose to read and watch stories of worlds where magic and epic marry happily and produce wonderful offspring. There are those who don’t, of course. I’ll have to go back to this.
I really do not know why the tide changed , but I don’t really think it was the craze for Dungeons and Dragons. Not in Europe, for sure. There were fantasy novels being written already, although they were called “sword and sorcery”. I am grateful it happened, and that Peter Jackson had funds enough for his adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. The LOTR trilogy sanctioned the genre in movies. After that, anything fantasy could find a way to the screen, large or small, and stories set in the Dark Ages could as well, like the recent History Channel series “Vikings”.
So, going back to Mr Rose (an excellent film critic, by the way), I believe he is a bit pessimistic when he says that most spectators don’t read the books from which films and shows originate. I think that readers are the core of Game of Thrones fans. It is true that when a season of Game of Thrones is running, videos are posted on Youtube explaining difficult points in each episode, because some American viewers seem to find the plot as difficult as a history class, but with dragons; readers of “A song of Ice and fire”, though, and of other novels including, of course, Tolkien’s, are more than he seems to imagine, even though the books are often huge.
It may also be that at least some of the many readers and spectators take a further step and get to the original spring from which fantasy originates: epic poetry. It is not so unlikely, just look how much you can find on Youtube if you look up Beowulf or the sagas.