In fantasy, medieval life is portrayed as all sexual violence and misery. It is not that simple

Whenever a fantasy story goes too far into gruesome violence or simple human exploitation, storytellers like to spout four little words:

That’s the explanation the makers of ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel ‘House of the Dragon’ gave after the premiere served up an assortment of gore, including an agonizing forced birth scene in which a woman is sliced ​​like a turkey in hopes of saving her baby at the expense of her own life. (Both die.)
“We thought it was an interesting way to explore the fact that for a woman in medieval times, giving birth was violence,” co-hosted Miguel Sapochnik. told the Hollywood Reporter about the scene. (HBO, home to “Game of Thrones” and “House of the Dragon,” shares parent company Warner Bros. Discovery with CNN.)

Is Sexual and Reproductive Violence Historically Accurate in Medieval Times? To some extent, yes, as the records show. But so does a myriad of other things that seem to easily fall off the storyboard when it’s time to add authenticity.

“The desire to be ‘accurate’ suddenly disappears when sex isn’t involved and it’s really interesting day-to-day,” says Eleanor Janega, a medieval historian who teaches at the London School of Economics. “If the world (“Game of Thrones”) was historically accurate, why isn’t every noble house or castle absolutely covered in huge, showy, colorful murals? Why isn’t this form of historical accuracy- it not important, but showing rape is it endemic?

Other historians point out that, as lustful and gasping as something like a brutal death by caesarean section, such butchery was not as widespread as storytellers would have you believe.

“They were very keen to protect mothers from harm,” Sara McDougall, a specialist in medieval history, told Slate.

Texts from the time indicate that such extreme measures would generally be applied to women who were already dead – and not, as in “The House of the Dragon”, a fully awake and alert woman with no idea what was about to happen to her.

The original “Game of Thrones” series was heavily criticized for its endless carousel of rape, abuse, sexual humiliation, cruelty and, of course, childbirth gone wrong. George RR Martin, the mind behind the iconic ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series that spawned ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘House of the Dragon’, has long said he looks to history to ground his stories. The rivalry between the Starks and the Lannisters, for example, is fashioned after the legendary Wars of the Roses. Even The Deadly Red Wedding (which features another unhappy ending for a pregnant character) draws inspiration from it. of an event in Scottish medieval history known as “Black Dinner”.

Janega points out that while medieval times certainly weren’t too kind to women or anyone else who wasn’t wealthy, powerful, and masculine, they weren’t the burlesque of suffering that we have seen. used to seeing on the screen.

What is "Game Of Thrones"  tells us about a trauma

“‘Accuracy’ always focuses on the unpleasant aspects of a society, but never on the pleasant ones,” she says. “(It) always encompasses sexual violence and never things like, say, the three field system or fish weirs. They don’t really show how women other than the nobility are a dynamic part of the workforce. Medieval work Women are found in almost all facets of medieval work: as blacksmiths, managers of workshops, brewers of beer, in the production of fabrics, managers of public baths or in trade delegations. addressing the court.”

In fiction, the story is always negotiable. Do we really need to see, say, the specifics of medieval plumbing, or glimpse the frayed cuff of a noblewoman to feel centered in a story that also includes dragons and magical fire? Probably not, as the public noticed. But that means, as Janega observes, that the details that matter can say more about the present than the past.

“It would be more accurate to say it’s fiction, but it reflects the society that creates the art, and that society is chock full of sexual assault, rather than implying that it just has to be done. in the name of bearing witness to a misogynistic past that we no longer know,” says Janega.

It’s easy, and perhaps a little comforting, to look back a few hundred years and decide that things were much worse on every level. While much of this is true, records show that we carry a host of misconceptions about medieval and surrounding eras that make our current reality seem much more sophisticated in contrast.

While we can imagine rotting teeth and stinking bodies, oral hygiene and cleanliness, though limited by today’s standards, was important for those who had access to proper tools and clean (or not so clean) water. Even something as horrible as rape was defined differently, encompassing abduction and forms of extramarital sex. Yes, people still stank. Yes, people still indulge in unthinkable forms of violence. But the “historical accuracy” argument can often put more emphasis on finding differences between the past and the present than on fighting the uncomfortable similarities that researchers have noted.

Of course, it should be remembered that fantasy does not have to resemble history at all. If the vast recesses of the imagination can birth icy giants and bring the dead back to life, surely they can invent a world where social structures are not defined by pervasive suffering. And if there is going to be fire and blood, perhaps there are more creative, even more historically accurate ways to portray it.

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