On Wednesday’s episode of “The Andrew Klavan Show,” the host answers a question from the mailbag about exploring morality through fiction from J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. Video and partial transcript below.
From Sam, “Dear three-eyed Klavan, you have mentioned before how even though there’s no religion in Tolkien’s Middle Earth books, the fantasy world he created essentially proclaims the existence of an almighty and good creator mirroring his own Catholicism. ‘Game of Thrones,’ on the other hand, seemed to create the illusion of realism by presenting a nihilistic fantasy; a fallen world in which there’s no good or evil but only power. If Westeros does indeed seem to evoke more of a true illusion of reality than Tolkien, then does that suggest our own real world has more in common with Westeros than Middle Earth and its implicit morality? If not, then why is it the nihilistic stories seem more real than those that more clearly reveal the truth a moral world?”
Well, look, we live in a tragic nihilistic world. We have faith that there is more to that world than what we see. That is our faith. That is why when you see nihilistic stories it has this kind of hard brute reality that strikes you that way. But it’s also true, for instance, that when you got to the end of “Game of Thrones” you knew who the good guys were, you knew who was doing wrong, you knew implicitly there was nothing he could do to make destroying a city “good.”
There was nothing he could do about that because we know what’s right and wrong, we know we have an inherent sense of what’s fair and good and that is what speaks to us of a logic beyond logic, right? If there were no life beyond life, then the sensible thing to do would be to get everything you could in this life no matter who you hurt. But we don’t feel that way. Nobody thinks that’s a good thing. It’s not just game theory that makes us feel that way, it’s because we understand that there is a greater logic than just our lives.
Now you can say, you can argue that it’s the logic of the whole of humankind and not the logic of a life beyond life. You can argue all kinds of things, but you can’t argue that morality doesn’t exist. So, you can tell a story in which the bad guys win, in which everybody, all the bad guys are happy at the end and all the good guys lose and it has a resonance because we know that really happens in life. And the artist may have faith. And that may affect what he writes, but he can’t change reality in the name of his faith.
He can’t change reality in the name of his faith because then we know it’s false, and that’s my beef with all those happy talk Christian movies, which I’ve been told not to pick on so much, but still that’s my beef with them that … they’re telling you something as fact that we only know in faith. And it’s fine to depict faith. It’s fine to depict a world that looks like the world faith imagines, but it’s not fine to depict faith as fact. Because it just … doesn’t grab you as realistic. It’s really interesting that we know when we deal with Tolkien that we’re dealing with a vision of the world we know, when we’re dealing with “Game of Thrones” that there’s something wrong that doesn’t hold together with the vision. Who are the dead? Who is the Lord of Light? … It just goes away. There are all these things in there that go away. That has a certain realism to it too, but it speaks to the fact that they haven’t thought out their metaphysics very well. And I thought that was one of the underlying problems with the show. But it did have the reality that power corrupts. It did have the reality that people will do almost anything for power, and that is just really resonant.