abjectly terrified reluctant to write about the really nerdy stuff I read.
I’m not talking about Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones here. That’s pop culture nerdy, the kind that even image-obsessed women can get away with. There’s no fear of judgment because they’re so widely accepted.
What I’m talking about are Dragonlance novels. Star Wars “expanded universe” shit. You know, the books I refuse to place on my living room bookshelves and, instead, hide in boxes in my storage room like shameful porn.
This self-inflicted nerd shame is the reason the blog’s gotten a little backed up lately, because I spent a good chunk of November reading The Stolen Throne and The Calling by David Gaider. These novels are based on the Dragon Age series of video games and I wasn’t sure how to even talk about them here because–barring some miracle–no one who reads this post is ever going to read books like these.
Also, talking about this stuff kind of terrifies me.
So the weeks went by and the blog went dormant. I needed to write about these two Dragon Age novels but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. And then the season six trailer for Game of Thrones dropped and everyone went apeshit–the before mentioned image-obsessed included–and I said “screw it, it’s time we all talked about this.”
Why is Fantasy Only Accepted in Movies and Television?
Back in 1997, when I was 13, a friend and I read The Fellowship of the Ring for our 7th grade English class. Aside from the standard book report stuff our teacher made us do (plot summaries, essay questions and all that) we also had to present something about the book to the class. For some reason, we chose to re-enact the Bilbo/Gollum riddle scene, which, in hindsight, makes no sense because that actually takes place in The Hobbit. My classmate, playing the part of Gollum … absolutely nailed it. Like, Andy Serkis could have taken cues from this performance. It was ridiculously entertaining, and it came from the mind of a 13-year-old boy.
It couldn’t have gone any better, but I was taunted and jeered at and called a faggot for the next few weeks. Because, while other kids read books about football and war, I read a book about goblins and magic and little people with big dreams. You know, fag stuff.
Four years later The Fellowship of the Ring became one of the biggest and most well-loved movies of all time, and in the fifteen years since, LotR hasn’t caused me a second of grief.
Fast forward to 2007. I’d just finished university and I was jobless (in the sad way only an English/Philosophy major/minor can be). My girlfriend at the time was an engineer. She worked her ass off, and typically didn’t come home until after 9 o’clock every night. Meanwhile, I was lost. I’d received my degree, but quickly discovered that no one–and I mean no one–wants to hire an English major for anything. You’re under qualified for anything literary (a masters is basically a pre-requisite) and you’re over qualified for even working in a bookstore.
I spent the first four months after university unemployed, and the only thing that kept me sane was George R. R. Martin and A Song of Ice and Fire. My girlfriend knew I was spending the majority of my time reading, and she never seemed to have a problem with it. That is, until she found out what I was reading: Fantasy.
She’d been relatively quiet when she thought I was reading John Irving and Wally Lamb, but as soon as she found out that my time involved swordplay, ice monsters, and dragon worshippers my time spent was suddenly “pathetic.” (An actual quote.)
Four years later Game of Thrones became the biggest show in the history of HBO and a cultural phenomenon. Now she watches it with her new boyfriend.
Fun > Snooty
As I talk about these two moments in my life it’s easy to see where my nerd shame came from, but it also speaks to the fact that movies and television have a way of legitimizing the nerdy in ways books and comics and video games never will.
Marvel has made some of the most watched (and loved) films of all time, yet the idea of walking into a comic book store to buy the newest issue of Iron Man makes people want to pull my pants down and throw tomatoes at me. Everyone and their mother watches Game of Thrones, but before it got the HBO seal of approval most of the people reading A Song of Ice and Fire on busses smelled weird. If the two Dragon Age novels I just read were made into films I don’t doubt that they could have Pirates of the Caribbean-level fanfare. But they’re books, based on video games, and
because those types of books usually suck for some reason, that means they shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Today, I feel bad for David Gaider. With The Stolen Throne and The Calling he wrote two really solid fantasy novels. The Stolen Throne, especially. It’s excellent. High on adventure and chock full of battles, yes, but the three characters at its centre (Maric, Rowan, and Loghain) are almost as near and dear to me as Luke, Leia, and Han. It’s wonderfully plotted, it’s emotional as hell, and I’ve now read it three times. Snooty literature, it is not, but it’s easily–easily–on par with The Hunger Games and Divergent and the rest of their ilk.
So what is it about movies and television that allows people to enjoy the nerdiest parts of themselves? I could forgive it if, by now, people smartened up and realized that nerd shit, regardless of the medium, is nerdy and fun and silly and amazing. But despite the success of LotR and GoT, there’s still a heavy amount of contempt levelled at me if I pull out a book like The Curse of the Mistwraith at my desk at work. God forbid I start reading a Marvel comic.
Let Your Flags Fly
I don’t know what it is that keeps people judging. I don’t know what the answer is in terms of making people relax about this stuff. All I can do is take charge of my own anxieties, to not care (so much) about other people’s small minds.
Dragon Age, be it in novel or game form, is fantastic. I’m currently playing/reading through its entire universe, a journey that will include three games, five novels, five trade paperback comics, two Penny Arcade comics, two YouTube series’, and an animated movie. And the folks at BioWare aren’t slowing down. This universe is fun and rich and evocative and organic. It’s expansive. It’s emotional. And it’s the culmination of incredibly hard work by incredibly talented people.
Oh, and yeah, it’s inspired by that Game of Thrones show everyone loves so much.
The lesson, I guess, is to let your freak flag fly. And to stop calling it a freak flag. So, I guess I’m letting my flag fly. It’s been dusty for too long.
Have you ever felt shamed by something you loved? Do you have any thoughts on the mass cultural likability of movies over books? Any advice for me, or others like me? Let me know in the comments!