(Living Church) Daniel Muth on Game of Thrones–A Medieval Pottersville

In Game of Thrones we’re shown a world of medieval technology, accoutrement, and honorifics, but without chivalry (some lame pretense is made here and there, but it plays no part even in the life of the nobility, and the tale is told solely through their eyes) because there is no Christ to inspire it and no Church to encourage it. The denizens of the land claim a belief, of whatever sort, in “the gods,” who are never specified, whose mythology is never told, and of whom worship seems virtually nonexistent. The latter is the one significant breach with real-world paganism, which always involved true belief and often extravagant liturgics. There is also (as there was with Rome) a most implausible dearth of numinous awe for the natural world. One may have to pledge one’s son in marriage to the daughter of the castle-holder controlling a vital river crossing in order to get one’s army across, but of the necessity of offering a she-goat or woodcock to the river god himself in order to be granted safe passage there is nary a trace.

This is a significant oversight and makes the world a more modern one that the filmmakers should be comfortable with. Nevertheless, we are presented a generally accurate (for Hollywood) portrayal of what theologian David Bentley Hart calls the “glorious sadness” of ancient paganism in which life was short, or at least wildly precarious, and relatively meaningless while it lasted, and death both all too common and all too horrid to contemplate. Pleasures were to be grasped in whatever form they may be readily at hand, and whether they involved cruelty or kindness was a matter of relative taste. Joy may flit briefly by, but only in such a manner and measure as to enhance the agony of its loss and the poignancy of its ephemerality.

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, History, Movies & Television, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Wicca / paganism

8 comments on “(Living Church) Daniel Muth on Game of Thrones–A Medieval Pottersville

  1. Dick Mitchell says:

    Excellent piece. Thanks, Dan.

  2. Michael+ says:

    While I’ve enjoyed the books, at times, I’ve found myself thinking, “Is there anything redemptive about these folks?” Thanks to this excellent article, I’ve been able to conclude, “Nope.”

  3. Ad Orientem says:

    This is a weaknesses that is rather common in the medieval fantasy genre. I thoroughly enjoyed the books (haven’t seen the HBO series) and indeed religion is underrepresented in the first few books. But it does take on a greater importance later in the story.

  4. Bookworm(God keep Snarkster) says:

    “The women are all harlots, with the difference being that the underclass are paid for their services and the high born are technically married to those they lie with (though of course adultery remains a blood sport).”

    I understand the main point the author is trying to make with the column. And by no means am I a raging feminist, but the above blanket statement is untrue and ridiculous; making me wonder if the author has bizarre issues with women himself or we’re watching two different series.

    It’s true the series doesn’t lack for prostitution; sadly the women locked in that “profession” have their roles to play–objects, spies, toys, etc. But, believe it or not, some try to operate with kindness and ethics, attempting to ensure their survival and that of others.

    So, “all women are harlots” here? But just to name a few:

    1. Catelyn, a faithful wife, brutally widowed, who loved her husband and forgave his adultery to preserve their marriage; a non-victim fighting to find her lost children;
    2. Daenerys, also brutally widowed after a faithful marriage, even if she smothered her comatose husband to end his suffering–she fights for the throne because she basically knows that she’ll do a better job as monarch than the dolt(male) currently in charge, freeing slaves and being fair along the way;
    3.Ygritte, fighting to survive in a place that resembles the Star Wars ice planet of Hoth;
    4. Sansa and Arya, sister witnesses to utter carnage also making strong efforts to survive life, which does include being bartered as upper-class wives–Arya needs to be careful with revenge, but if you call her a “harlot” she’d likely put an arrow in your eye;
    5. Yara and Brienne, warriors who even occasionally demonstrate some ethics;
    6. Osha, desperately trying to save children and live herself;
    7. Lady Olenna, using politics as her weapon, and outsmarting most of the men in her path–just to name a few.

    If you watch any interviews with the author of the series or the television producers, they’ll be the first ones to tell you that this is a pagan fantasy world very far away from here–but of course it is true that humans are broken and can demonstrate bad behavior anywhere. Personally I don’t look for my Christian theology while watching or reading Game of Thrones or A Song of Ice and Fire, but I do agree that the series is a large window into a pagan world, and it’s not pretty. But to characterize all the women as “harlots” is an uncalled-for, ridiculous misrepresentation. And as far as its editorial comment on Deism, you might want to see where the series goes before you make that judgment.

  5. Daniel Muth says:

    “Bookworm” – So the article makes you “wonder if the author [namely me] has bizarre issues with women,” huh? Well, uh, frankly, no. Not even close. I’m painting with broad brush strokes. That’s it. I would’ve thought that rather blindingly obvious. I don’t go into anywhere near the detail that you do – and do so for a reason. Since you claim to understand the point I’m making, I would have thought you would get that. You might even have considered commenting on the article itself instead of tossing around preposterous speculations on my mental state based on one throwaway bit of obvious hyperbole. It’s a shame that so much of what should be reasonable conversation comes down to silliness of this sort.

  6. Bookworm(God keep Snarkster) says:

    When you base the point of your column on hyperbolic “broad brush strokes”, it validates you as an author if all your “broad brush strokes” are accurate–and they are not, as all of my reasonable details illustrate. Back to the drawing board, I’d say.

  7. Daniel Muth says:

    “Bookworm” #6 – Baloney. The word “all” was no doubt a gross overstatement, but that statement itself comes nowhere near being the basis for the article. For your information, this is not in fact a piece on harlotry in make-believe lands, but a commentary on how Christianity has changed western civilization as illustrated by a (prettty good) TV show. Again I would have thought that obvious and again I would appreciate your actually responding to the article rather than attempting to make mountains out of nitpricks. Best regards – DWM

  8. Daniel Muth says:

    “Bookworm” – I don’t know if you’re ever coming back to this thread, but please understand that I’m trying to help you out here. I have noticed that some people on the internet (there are several good examples over at Stand Firm) seem to think that scoring points in fatuous rhetorical “got-ya” games is the same thing as making substantive contributions to an intellectual exchange.

    The fact is, a valid point is not necessarily the same thing as a substantive one. Despite taking appropriate umbrage at your egregious insult regarding my mental state in your #4 (and yes, you should have apologized for that in #6), I have been prepared to concede from the first that “all” should have been “many” in the statement you dispute.

    Whan I ask the obvious question, “so what?”, you can have no answer. The point is valid but not substantive. That’s what I was referring to as “silliness” in #5. I honestly have no idea what you mean by “…it validates you as author if…” in #6. The fact that I wrote the piece validates me as author. I think you mean to say that if you find a nit-picky error, the entire article is invalidated. That’s what I’m referring to when I say “baloney” in #7.

    You also have an erroneous statement I have not yet challenged you on. You mention “Deism” in #4. Again, I have no idea what you’re talking about. 18th century theological fads have about as much to do with [i]Game of Thrones[/i] as quantum physics. I *think* you’re referring to expressions of religious belief in the show/books (by the bye, notice what I’m doing here: I caught you in a rhetorical error and instead of trying to score vapid points, I’m clarifying what I think you mean and responding to its substance. You might try doing likewise when you find small errors in what others say). I am clear in the article that my commentary is on the first two seasons of the show. If something else happens later on, it’s of no more concern to the substance of my article than the sexual mores of the show’s fictional females.

    If you had acknowledged, as you should have, that #4 constitutes a mere quibble, I’d have thanked you for the correction and moved on. But instead you’ve chosen to pretend to something more. That sort of attitude is not going to help you if you want to carry on future conversations in this (or, frankly, any other) medium. It makes you a troll rather than a conversant. And that would be a shame.

    All the best to you – DWM