George RR Martin, Game of Thrones and the triumph of fantasy fiction

John Mullan in The Guardian:

GameHas fantasy fiction, for decades a thriving literary genre, finally taken its place in the literary mainstream? It hardly needs bien pensant “literary” admirers: the most successful fantasy novelists have not only their sales figures to encourage them, but also the host of companion volumes, analytical websites, conferences and online commentaries that characterise fantasy fandom. It is a genre that has always generated critical expertise, and fantasy novelists have long been in a dialogue with their readers that other novelists must envy (witness the attention given to every tweet made by Neil Gaiman to his 2.2 million followers). Fantasy’s devotees must feel rueful as the critics now rush to declare their addiction to HBO’s Game of Thrones – adapted from George RR Martin’s multi-volume fantasy saga A Song of Ice and Fire, and about to enter series five – or record their admiration of Terry Pratchett, as part of the overwhelming response to his recent death. The debt to fantasy fiction of The Buried Giant, the new novel by one of Britain’s leading literary novelists, Kazuo Ishiguro, must seem overdue vindication of the genre.

Ishiguro has spoken in the past few weeks of how the barrier between this once-disdained brand of fiction and “serious” novels is breaking down. If this is true, New Jersey-born George RR Martin has surely led the charge. Martin is the reigning laureate of fantasy fiction. His ongoing sequence of novels A Song of Ice and Fire (the first book of which gives its title to Game of Thrones) began appearing in 1996 and now comprises five long books (with two more promised). He has a host of fans who resent the low status accorded to their favoured genre and some distinguished admirers who rather agree. One proponent of Martin’s merits, accomplished literary novelist John Lanchester, has openly invited literary snobs to cross that apparently “unbridgeable crevasse” between the readership of fantasy and “the wider literate public”. Discussing the delights of Martin’s fantasy roman fleuve, Lanchester has celebrated not only its creation of a richly imagined world, but the prevailing “sense of unsafety and uncertainty” of that world.

More here.