Me versus The Strawman
(Note: I include examples of writing that contains sexual violence)
Strawman: It's a new plague I tell you, the world will drown in blood, the youth corrupted, old men hacking each other to death with swords!
Me: What is?
Strawman: Violence in fantasy. These new writers with their dark fantasy and grim societies. They're polluting everything that's good and bringing the world to its knees so they can kick it in the face. Terrible people!
Me: Well, Strawman, you raise a point. Not a good one, but definitely a point. Violence has been a part of literature since... well... since literature.
Strawman: But it's much worse now. So much worse. We're all going to die. And for the love of GOD will nobody think of the children?
Me: Worse? In The Knight of The Swords (1971) Moorcock gives us his hero strapped to a board and having an eye put out and a hand cut off.
Strawman: Yeah but... there wasn't the level of detail in those days. It was all very cartoony.
Me: So many things to say to that.
Firstly that 'the level of detail' isn't really what this is all about, surely? Isn't the important thing the fact a person died or was hurt or whatever, not how well it was described?
Secondly... isn't cartoon violence worse? Surely it's better to know that if you hit someone in the head with an iron bar THEY WILL BREAK rather than see them fall over accompanied by an amusing sound effect then bounce back up again?
Here's what is threatened against the hero, Corum in Moorcock's The Knight of The Swords (1971) and if you click on the text you can read a detailed account of it going down.
We think, in fact, that we will give you a chance to live. If you can survive with your eyes gone, your tongue put out, your hands and feet removed and your genitals taken away, then we will let you so survive.
Strawman: Yeah but... it's all sexualized violence these days. That's much worse now.
Me: People seem to think it is - but that's not the same as it being true that it is.
I read a blogger saying that this (by me 2011):
The fat girl had a lot to say, just like her father. Screeched like a barn owl: hurt my ears with it. I liked the older one better. She was quiet enough. So quiet you'd give a twist here or there just to check she hadn't died of fright.
a) an example of Lawrence humiliating a female character about her weight
b) a scene of sexual violence that makes Stephen Donaldson seem MILD in comparison.
Here's a paragraph from the Donaldson scene (Lord Foul's Bane, 1977) - click on it to see the entire page worth.
A moment later, he dropped the burden of his weight on her chest, and her loins were stabbed with a wild, white fire that broke her silence, made her scream. But even as she cried out she knew that it was too late for her. Something that her people thought of as a gift had been torn from her.
Strawman: Yeah... but it's all part of a thing. It didn't use to be like that in the good old days.
Me: Just how old are you? Never mind... the point is that YES IT DID.
In Shakespeare's King Lear Cornwall gouges out Gloucester's eyes:
Out vile jelly. Where is thy lustre now?
An act repeated on stage time and again for countless thousands to witness. His work has plenty of violent scenes.
Strawman: But... the classics. The real good stuff. The foundations of civilized thought and philosophy... they didn't need all this unpleasantness! Shakespeare was just entertaining the unwashed masses. No literary intellectual would really take him seriously.
Menelaos struck him as he came onward, in the forehead over the base of the nose and smashed the bones, so that both eyes dropped, bloody, and lay in the dust at his feet before him.
‘So I spoke, but he in pitiless spirit answered/ Nothing, but sprang up and reached for my companions,/ Caught up two together and slapped them, like killing puppies,/ Against the ground, and the brains ran all over the floor, soaking/ The earth. Then he cut them up limb by limb and got supper ready,/ And like a lion reared in the hills, without leaving anything,/ Ate them, entrails, flesh and the marrowy bones alike…
But Meriones sent a bronze-tipped arrow at him as he retreated, and struck him in the right buttock: the arrow passed on through under the bone and into his bladder. He sank down where he was, in the arms of his dear companions, the life breathing from him, and lay there curled on the earth like a worm: and the dark blood left him, soaking the ground.
many more examples
Strawman: Look. Facts are all very well and dandy but it doesn't mean it's right does it? I mean... think of the children. We have a whole generation of desensitized violent thugs who want nothing more than to go out stabbing people and eating human flesh and it's all because they read it in the books that grim dark monsters like you write!
Me: Have you actually read my books?
Strawman: No. But I have strong opinions about them!
Me: The thing is - were society currently plunging into an abyss of violence (and statistics tell us that it isn't) then would it really be the people with the library cards leading the charge? Is it really the people sitting quietly reading a book that are going to snatch up their machetes and start laying about? It seems more credible (though still highly unlikely) that it would be the watchers of violent videos and the players of violent games. A touch more credible still it would be the fans of certain sports who gather weekly in tribal hordes and demonize the fans of opposing teams. More likely by far it will be governments driven by ideological, religious, and financial differences that haul us off to violent deaths...
But at the end of it all - I feel fairly confident that imagined brutality fictionalized on pages of a fantasy book in a tradition that was started before printing, ink, paper, the English language, or the birth of Christ, is not a major worry.
But yes, it's fun to talk about.