Peter Hitchens, the Christian and God-believing brother of Christopher Hitchens, penned an insightful piece for First Things in which he castigates the “Game of Thrones” series for creating a counterfeit medieval mythology that dwells on vice and cruelty at the expense of virtue and chivalry.
Hitchens begins by recalling the two great literary works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — “The White Company” and “Sir Nigel” — both of which understood the Middle Ages for what they were: a time of intense virtue piercing through a world of impenetrable darkness, the crux upon which all Medieval romanticism is based. Conan Doyle explained it thus to his readers:
In those simple times there was a great wonder and mystery in life. Man walked in fear and solemnity, with Heaven very close above his head, and Hell below his very feet. God’s visible hand was everywhere, in the rainbow and the comet, in the thunder and the wind. The Devil, too, raged openly upon the earth; he skulked behind the hedgerows in the gloaming; he laughed loudly in the night-time; he clawed the dying sinner, pounced on the unbaptized babe, and twisted the limbs of the epileptic.
In Hitchens’ view, George R.R. Martin’s books not only fail to grasp this philosophical ethos but downright pervert it. Hitchens gets to the heart of the matter, rolling back the layers to reveal why the show frequently succumbs to such human indignity. The answer lies not so much in the showrunners but in the mind of its creator: George R.R. Martin himself.
Having never seen the shows, Hitchens judges “GOT” only by what he has read in the books, which he has found to be often filled with “profound cynicism about human goodness.”
“He gives twenty-first-century religious opinions to people who have fifteenth-century lives,” Hitchens notes.
In sum, if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis built their works upon the rich cultural heritage of Western civilization with reverential admiration, then George R. R. Martin sneers at it as a cheap lie, an “opiate for the masses” as Marx would say. In Martin’s world, there are no saints, no chivalrous knights or fair maidens, no joyful peasants, no good or evil to speak of. It is a world where “virtue and trust are always punished.” Hitchens cites just a few examples of “GOT” playing out this deceit:
The most attractive major character, Eddard Stark, dies swiftly, unjustly, and horribly. He dies largely because he is so honorable and dutiful. His horrified family is scattered to the winds to suffer or perish. And from that moment on in the story, almost everyone associated with honesty, selfless courage, and justice is doomed. Almost the only likable figure who survives through all the books is the dwarf, Tyrion, who is occasionally kind, but also consumed with cynicism and despair.
Bravery and charity toward others are rewarded with death or betrayal. The simple poor are raped, robbed, enslaved, and burned out of their homes. Chivalry, a real thing in Conan Doyle’s world, is for Martin a fraud. All kinds of cruelty and greed, typified by the House of Lannister, flourish like the green bay tree. Treachery and the most debauched cynicism are the only salvation, the only route to safety or advantage.
Hitchens goes on:
Martin’s creation is a society in which man knows how to build and travel, to make himself comfortable, perhaps to cure and treat some diseases, and to fight wars scientifically—but in which there is no trace of Christ. The Good Samaritan is not known of here. Nobody has heard of the Prodigal Son, and the Sermon on the Mount has never been delivered. There are not even rumors of these things.
Hitchens notes that a world in which the “Golden Rule” is king above all else is a world of exploitation:
The only appeal is to a very basic common decency, the absurdly overrated Golden Rule, which in a world without Jesus has two great unavoidable flaws. The first is that the weaker and poorer you are, the less other people are inclined to hope for favors from you, or fear your revenge. And so enlightened self-interest will cheerfully leave you wounded, destitute, or alone, or tolerate the fact that you are enslaved, reserving the Golden Rule in practice for others who are more likely to reciprocate. The second is that, having no way to find the mind’s construction in the face, or to see into our neighbors’ secret hearts, we have very little true knowledge of the secret deeds and inward thoughts of others. ‘Do as you would be done by’ rapidly becomes the very different ‘Appear to do as you would be done by.’
In such a kingdom, power and virtue are entirely separate. The snarling brute rules, unrestrained by reminders that a just God will judge him in turn. He is wealthy, powerful, and clever. He sits at the pinnacle of a civilization of impunity, which delivers many joys to the rich and the strong, and misery to the weak and poor. Imagine that, stretching out in all directions and forever, and you have George Martin’s world.