I happened to catch David Shuster’s interview with the interesting creator of “Game of Thrones” George R.R. Martin on the fine and mighty fine Al Jazeera America News Channel, a most unbiased news agency that takes news and culture with seriousness and depth, btw, that Fox, MSNBC and CNN just don’t. (You’re welcome for that review of the evermore awful, biased, sloppy 24-hour news channels and the one that stands above them for really good broadcast journalism.)
I have to confess that I’m not a fan of Martin’s books or the massively popular TV series “Game of Thrones,” only because the fantasy genre in fiction has never interested me all that much.
But Martin himself interests me because in interviews I’ve read or seen, he’s seems to be a thoughtful, interesting man as well as an accomplished writer. Something that Martin said to Shuster about evil naturally interested me as a clergyman since clergy types have to work out their theology of evil in this world of good and evil.
Here’s the question on good and evil that Shuster posed:
“Time magazine wrote of you, ‘What really distinguishes Martin and what marks him as a major force for evolution in fantasy is his refusal to embrace a vision of the world as a struggle between good and evil.’ Do you agree?”
I think the struggle between good and evil is central to fantasy and, indeed, in some ways, central to most fiction. It’s certainly a worthy subject for fiction.
But I regard the struggle between good and evil as being waged within the individual human heart. (My italics for emphasis.) It’s not waged as fantasy would have it, where a character called the Dark Lord gathers all the evil people together and puts them in black clothing and you know they’re evil ’cause they’re really ugly and all the good people are handsome and they wear white and they meet on a big battlefield. In the real world … very few people get up in the morning and say, “Oh, I’m evil. What evil can I do today? I’m gonna cover the world with darkness, and my legions of evil will rule all.”
That’s silly. You know, the greatest monsters of history, as we look back on them, thought they were the heroes of the story. You know, the villain is the hero of the other side, as sometimes said. That doesn’t mean that it’s all morally relative. That doesn’t mean that all things are equally good and evil.
I think there is good and there is evil in the world. But you know, it’s sometimes a struggle to tell one from the other and to make the right choices. And all of us, I’ve always been attracted to great characters, maybe because that’s what I see when I look around the real world, whether I read about it in history books or the news or just people I meet.
I mean, all of us have it within ourselves to be heroes. All of us have it within ourselves to be villains. We’ve all done good things in our lives, and most of us have also done selfish things, cowardly things, things that we’re ashamed of in later years. And to my mind, that’s, I don’t know, the glory of the human race. We’re such wonderfully contradictory, mixed-up creatures that we’re endlessly fascinating to write about and read about.
A big amen to all that.
It brought to mind this quote from a great Russian writer who suffered enormously at the hands of some nasty Soviets back in the day:
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil. (My italics.)
“Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956″