Ah, the fantasy genre. The truly awful middle-ages have never appeared as good as they have in the last fifty years. Books, films and television shows have glamorised these times, adeptly sidestepping the harsh realities of living in filth; a time when all food tasted like dirt and the average mortality rate was something like twelve years old.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy remains the genre’s high-water mark, of course, represented here by some lovely organ work by Swedish prog-botherer Bo Hansson. Before Peter Jackson’s film series in the early 2000s, and aside from a 1978 animated film, Tolkien’s work was only really visible through the imagined art of John Howe and Alan Lee.
Hansson’s Lord Of The Rings album adds to that work as a quasi-soundtrack, inspired by Tolkien’s writing and acting as an aural backdrop to the events of the books. As you might expect, it doesn’t sound a million miles away from the likes of Genesis records from around the same time. It’s the sort of music you might expect to hear in a shop that sells crystals and incense, run by a bra-less lady in her sixties.
Peter Jackson reintroduced Tolkien to the world, and gave the fantasy genre a commercial shot in the arm. This renewed interest in the anything-goes optimism of medieval times has led, of course, to the success of Game Of Thrones, both on television and in the writings of author George R.R. Martin. To be taken seriously in fantasy writing, it looks like you need to have two middle initials. One wonders whether the Yellow Pages’ fly-fishing book would have sold in greater quantities, and therefore been easier to find, if J.R. Hartley had had another middle name.
The Game Of Thrones TV show recently concluded. After eight seasons of soap-opera level dialogue scenes, interspersed by the occasional action sequence, it’s finally over. I won’t have to hear people go on and ON about it anymore. All of these people, who have probably never seen The Wire, Band Of Brothers, or The Sopranos – or in some cases, not even Breaking Bad – will no longer bore me daily with their opinion that Game Of Thrones is television’s greatest achievement.
I have to admit, I’ve enjoyed this eighth and final season. The budgets have matched those you’d expect from feature films, and the long-separated main characters finally came together to fight a mutual enemy. If it had been like this throughout the show, I would have enjoyed it a lot more, but on the whole it’s been a long, ponderous show.
The first season was enjoyable, particularly the first episode reuniting The Full Monty’s Sean Bean and Mark Addy. It all fell apart after that, as the storylines drifted further and further apart. Most of the show’s fans seem to miss the point too, thinking that the show is about dragons and battles and the quest to sit on an iron throne. It’s not. It’s simply about a family that gets split up by the greed and bureaucracy of another family. Anything else is just dressing.
More than anything, the show was perfectly timed to cash-in on the young fans of the Harry Potter series, those annoying middle-class children who grew up immune to the derivative nature of J.K. Rowling’s books and their respective film adaptations, and were left adrift with nothing in popular culture to capture their attention. These children spent their adolescence in a time when science-fiction was in decline and Hollywood had almost killed off the traditional action genre. Suddenly, fantasy was king.
The other low point of Game Of Thrones was its unashamed use of sex to attract new, younger fans. This isn’t a new thing – even Homeland, a more serious (grown up?) show that ran over the same period, had more than its fair share of tits on display in its first season. Game Of Thrones seemed to relish in its portrayal of the female body though. You have to wonder how many of its hardcore fan-base came to the show primarily for this; came for the clunge, stayed for the dragons.
Hit: Leaving Shire
Hidden Gem: The Old Forest