Game of Thrones's creator George RR Martin explains to Jessica Salter why his epic fantasy, which features boobs, swords and dragons, surprisingly appeals to women.
Typically fantasy writers paint women either as angels or demons. But Martin’s women are more three dimensional - part of his creative appeal.
They include the beautiful and manipulative Cersei Lannister (played by Lena Headey), who would defend her children and family to the death; Lady Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley), a strong mother, devoted wife and a shrewd political strategist not afraid of a 300 mile trek on a horse to join her son in battle; Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), a nine-year-old tomboy who wants her own sword and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who wants to cross the narrow sea to win back her father’s throne.
Oh and not forgetting the most awesome Brienne of Tarth, a female knight played by the 6’ 3’’ actress Gwendoline Christie.
The sexy high priestess Melisandre, played by actress Carice van Houten PHOTO: HBO
He gets plenty of feedback from his fans. ‘Some women hate the female characters,' he says. 'But importantly they hate them as people, because of things that they've done, not because the character is underdeveloped.'
The pitfalls of lots of other fantasy texts, he says is when writers stray into writing in stereotypes.
But because Martin has a sprawling world with thousands of characters (and five books to do it in), he has the luxury of developing each one fully. 'Male or female, I believe in painting in shades of grey,' he says. 'All of the characters should be flawed; they should all have good and bad, because that's what I see. Yes, it’s fantasy, but the characters still need to be real.’
Martin should be used to female adoration by now. Although he has only hit mainstream consciousness in the last few years (his books have sold more than 20m worldwide), he has been a minor celebrity on the science fiction circuit for years. His wife’s first words to him, when she met him at a science fiction conference in 1975 were that his first novel, A Song for Lya, ‘made her cry’.
Now he is mobbed wherever he goes - his trademark fisherman's cap an instant giveaway that he is the man behind the globally successful franchise.
Arya Stark, a nine-year-old tomboy played by Maisie Williams PHOTO: HBO
His books feature sex pretty heavily (to say the least) but it is something that has been ramped up even further for the television show, which is back on Sky Atlantic tonight. Often crucial conversations between characters happen while one of them is having sex (not always mentioned in the book) - something that has the American academic Myles McNutt to term them ‘sexposition’.
‘Is it simply because we couldn’t be trusted to pay attention otherwise?’ McNutt asked on his blog. ‘It’s as though they think having a prostitute appear and only talking, without actually having sex, would be some sort of cop-out. In my view, at least, it’s the other way around: it just feels lazy.’
Daenerys Targaryen, the would-be queen, played by actress, Emilia Clarke PHOTO: HBO
Gina Bellafonte in The New York Times went further. Last year she wrote: ‘all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.’ The truth was, she sniffed, ‘Game of Thrones is boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half.’
Female GOT fans lept to Martin's defence, including Emily Nussbaum from the New Yorker who wrote that the strength of the series was ‘its insight into what it means to be excluded from power: to be a woman, or a bastard, or a ‘half man’ [dwarf].’
But Bellafonte's comments still rankle with Martin a year later because he is, at heart, a feminist, despite being cautious about admitting it.
‘There was a period in my life when I would have called myself a feminist, back in the seventies, when the feminist movement was really getting going and growing out of the counter culture of the sixties,’ he says.
‘But the feminist movement has changed. Sometime in the 80s and 90s I read some pieces by women saying that no man can ever be a feminist and you shouldn't call yourself that because it's hypocritical, so I backed off. I thought if the current crop of feminists believes that no man can be a feminist, then I guess I’m not one.’
Cersei Lannister, mother of King Joffrey Baratheon, played by Lena Headey PHOTO: HBO
I tell him men are allowed to be feminists again – that he can have Ryan Gosling, the 21st century’s thinking woman’s crumpet, as his mentor. He chuckles behind his candyfloss beard. ‘To me being a feminist is about treating men and women the same,’ he said.
‘I regard men and women as all human - yes there are differences, but many of those differences are created by the culture that we live in, whether it's the medieval culture of Westeros, or 21st century western culture.’