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Essay: George R.R. Martin’s series of A Song of Ice and Fire

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  • George R.R. Martin's series of A Song of Ice and Fire
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Genre is a complicated and inherently problematic issue due to many reasons especially history which stands accused of confusing things when it comes to the differentiation between genre fiction and literary fiction (Joshua Rothman, November 6, 2014 9 the new Yorker). After reading A Song of Ice and Fire one might give himself the privilege of assigning its genre as Fantasy for all its key elements are present …nevertheless, these five novels can fit into a subgenre of Fantasy named as high fantasy which normally includes an imaginary world represented by G.R.R Martin through the two continents of Westeros and Essos, nonhuman races impersonated by the white walkers ( Army of the dead ) , magical creatures such as dragons and most importantly the presence of Medieval technology and architecture .
“ASOIAF is a fantasy, but to call it that is an oversimplification, because it is also a story about power, family, ambition and history, on both micro and macro scale, a myth that, however fantastical it can get, always resonates in our temporal world” (Charles Yu, 2018, the New York times magazines, 143). The novels are not as basic fiction like others, in game of thrones danger lies in people not in dragons, in treacherous schemes of nobles that can affect the world’s destiny and be more frightening than the zombies of the army of the dead. Moreover, many have claimed that A Game of Thrones goes in details depicting what made that era disastrous and a terrible time to live which helped the novels to be perceived as historical since Martin was kin in establishing a real violent world where people die because there was no penicillin and use the milk of the puppy as an analgesic then, injecting gradually elements of fantasy. (2018, SHMOOP UNIVERSITY). Another criterion of high fantasy is that adults constitute its target audience and Martin expressed that in an interview where he states:” I don’t have anything against kids’ books or young adult fantasies, there are many wonderful kids’ s fantasies out there—I grew up on that stuff and cut my teeth on it, but there should also be Fantasy for adults. Fantasy is the realm of imagination and romance.” (interview by Lesley Goldberg 2012, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER).
While studying the genre of “ASOIAF”, signs of historiographic metafiction can be detected; which is a form that exhibits a contradiction while strongly assuring its artistic fictional state and rooted liaison with some historical facts (Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism 5). We can notice how the writer based his fantasy on historical truths and incidents even though he didn’t set his novels in a well-defined time and place however he was apt to demonstrate it by paralleling his world to the world in the 15th c in several fundamental elements.
The middle ages:
As defined by the New Meriam Webster Dictionary, the middle ages are the period of European history from about A, D. 500 to about 1500. It begins approximately from the collapse of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance period between the 13th to the 14th century and often described by the ‘Dark Ages’ not due to the absence of electricity though, but because it was full of some violently shocking history responsible for turning it into a’ Dark ‘phase.
Some people regard medieval society as a barbaric, war-torn one ruled by illiterate peasants. This perspective however is considered to be biased, because this period is described as ‘Dark’ out of the lack of written records and legible evidence to support the notion that there was any advancement in society during the period 500 to 1400; before the start of the enlightenment of the Byzantine empire described by many scholars as the Golden Age of Islam although, a readjustment period was witnessed after the fall of Rome but was merely concerned with maintaining peace and empire building rather than promoting research and learning centers. Nonetheless, western Europe began slowly to rise up from the constant internal warring in the period between 1000 to 1300 and expand with trading despite the wars with the Muslims who translated Ancient Greek texts into Arabic and consequently many scholars journeyed to Spain to translate these volumes into Latin after mastering the Arabic language strangely these reformations known as the first Renaissance of the Middle Ages was ceased by the ‘ Black Death’ caused by the plague which killed over a third of the European population and led to the suspension of the scientific development and set back the progress of knowledge that didn’t resurface until the Renaissance.( Martyn Shuttleworth / science)
Modern people’s interest in the middle ages and the great concern in its reality is influenced by J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and his depiction of the middle earth. Elisa Scubla claims in CA. that many academics suggest that Tolkien was trying to bridge the missing gap left by early Medieval literatures while explaining the reason behind the loss of information.
Jane Ciabattari wrote in that contemporary fantasy writers can’t escape from Tolkien’s shadow, she argues that the fundamentals in The two series are similar. In each series the plot consists of a “ticking time bomb”, ‘The One Ring’ in The Lord of the Ring and ‘Winter is coming’ which is the line that introduces the action in Martin’s creation. Moreover, they both offer diversion through fantastical elements like dragons, elves and dire wolves while writing scenes that bring to mind Shakespearean history plays, intersecting sword fighting with sophisticated dialogue, false accusations of treachery and beheadings as both relied upon Britain’s brutal past, particularly medieval history and Anglo-Saxons literature. Even though Tolkien’s vision of good and evil is clearly presented as it is inspired by the world wars of the 20th century, Martin’s view is regarded as better suited to this period of overlapping and interconnecting struggles for the series induce more familiar strains in a phase when office politics and personal associations are sometimes spiteful and revenge causing.

About the books

George R.R. Martin series of A Song of Ice and Fire , famously known nowadays by the collective name Game of Thrones has become a worldly phenomenon selling more than 70 million copies all over the world as being translated into 47 languages according to the Guardian .The book collection consists of five novels starting with A Game of Thrones (1996), A Clash of Kings (1998), A Storm of Swords ( 2000),A Feast for Crows (2005), and A Dance with Dragons (2011) with two forthcoming novels entitled by The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring.
The books start with maps illustrating the regions where the fantasy takes place, then the prologue followed by chapters called by the names of the characters. Individual chapters are narrated from the character’s point of view. At the end of each book there is an explanation of the families’ histories along with detailed family trees and sigils.
The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is located in 2 fictional continents known as Westeros and Essos and as winter approaches which is being expected to be a very harsh one the realm of the seven kingdoms is plunged into an unprecedented political crisis, the main families of this feudal system are trying to expand their influence over King’s Landing where the king sits upon the iron throne. It all began with the death of Robert Baratheon who brought stability to the kingdom seated on the throne for 17 years His death led to the first crisis; the war of the five kings., his son Geoffrey succeeded to the iron throne but his parentage was questioned, for his mother Cersei Lannister is accused of conceiving him from her own brother as a result many claimed that the throne is controlled by house Lannister. Therefore, Robert’s two brothers made an alliance with the powerful house of Tyrell and prepared an army to march on King’s Landing however one brother killed the other and took over the march towards the capital but he was defeated on the hands of house Lannister and retreated consequently. In the meanwhile Rob stark in the north was similarly heading towards the capital to avenge the beheading of his father; the king’s counselor Lord Eddard Stark but got killed during his journey , a shocking death known as the red wedding .In Essos, Daenerys , the surviving daughter of the Targaryen king who ruled prior to king Robert is gaining power and building her own army by freeing slaves from multiple cities along with her 3 dragons to conquer Westeros and proclaim the throne as the rightful heir.
George R.R. Martin’s skills to write intriguing and compelling characters with intricate drives is a major reason in the huge success of the series. The characters vary from simple individuals living up in the worst circumstances, to prosperous and royal families seeking command and control of lands and cities. the uncommon criteria of Martin’s characters are that they are being presented as grey rather than white or black, a mischievous character for example can perform a noble deed and inversely. Erik Germani sates that the easiest method to create an interesting character is to provide him with more page time then set them in interesting situations which is exactly what Martin does “unconsciously”. his characters are given the opportunity to be portrayed from their own point of views in some parts of the novels which made them more realistically human having both positive as well as negative qualities.
In an interview with Laura Miller on 92YPlus,Martin states that the map creation in his world of Ice and Fire was ongoing throughout his writing period “ you know when I began back in 1991 I had probably written about 50 pages I said oh I better creates a map so I know where I am. Maps are necessary to fantasy I think ,I know some critics occasionally have sort of made mock them up but if you’re creating a secondary world ,you really need them […] if I am writing straight historical fiction and my character in Ireland says I must go to France, you don’t need a map. I know where France is but in my world if a character says I am going to Dorne, you don’t know if Dorne is the next village or you know halfway around the world, you better have a map so these things the characters are saying make some I created a map which was basically simple and as the story continued I started adding more and more places to it […] we did the map book lands that the ice and fire which involve considerably more map creation …”
The world of A Song of Ice and Fire is made of three continents: Sothoryos, Essos and Westeros. While all the action in the novels takes place in Westeros and Essos. the latter is mostly similar to Asia, and Westeros is Britain for the division of the seven kingdoms, with a lord in each of these realms is much like the seven kingdoms of England consisting of North Umbria, Mercia, East Anglia, Kent, Essex, Sussex, and Wessex.

Speaking at Comic-Con in 2014, George R.R. Martin answered a question about the source of inspiration for his maps; he said that if anyone wants to know the origin of fantasy maps, he has to check the map in his favorite fantasy book and turn it upside down. For “Westeros began as upside-down Ireland”.
Figure .1 illustrates the map of Westeros as compared to the map of the British Isles after inverting Ireland.
Westeros Europe
The North Scotland
The Vale Switzerland
The Crownlands London
The Stormlands Wales
The Westerlands England
Dorne Spain
The Reach France
The Riverlands Germany

To highlight the theory about Martin’s reformation, it is important to start with the visual feature. In view of Westeros and the British Isles maps, the significant amount of regional closeness is undisputable. They have related organizations and are distributed into seven terrains. The Narrow Sea parallels the English Channel, since it comes between the Westeros peninsula and the larger continent of Essos. Additionally, the eastern continent of Essos fits with the Euro Asiatic zone due to the fact that both are positioned in the East section and have a large size. The two continents are bordered by an extensive group of islands and the Iron Islands might match with Ireland in place and history because they are located on the West side of those continents and live under their dominance. In addition, both of them are threatened by the East –the Andal raid in Westeros and the Anglo-Saxon invasion in Britain- and another from the North, the residence of the wildlings along with the white walkers in ASOIAF and the Viking invasions in Britain. (Ponjavić, 2013a).
The Origin of the Country
Unquestionably, both realms share an exterior and some details, but also a few historical roots. Considering the past of both countries, various events can be classified as common. For instance, in England the first civilizations that lived there were the Celts (Diomedes, 2006). These inhabitants were resided within forests, staying close to nature. likewise, in Westeros there were the Children of the Forest, people with a profound association with the land (Martin, 2012: 166, 167. 246, 248). Moreover, they both honored trees; oaks in England, and weirwoods in Westeros. They lived peacefully before the arrival of new conquerors. Historically, the arrival of new colonizers carries along hostilities. When Romans reached England, they occupied the land with the purpose of seizing Britain to the Roman Empire (Diomedes, 2006). Nonetheless, they had to deal with Celtic societies. Likewise, the First Men came to Westeros and provoked the Children of the Forest (Martin, 1996: 74, 75).
Finally, both clashes were resolved with the sovereignty of the victors through peace agreements. As time goes by, different colonizers arrived to both lands. Anglo-Saxons from the North of the continent broke peace agreements when they conquered the land and Consequently, they hardly extinguished the Celtic tribes and the Romans were eventually banished (Diomedes, 2006). similarly, Westeros was invaded by distant folks; A race of tall, fair haired troopers well-known by their command of the sea who attacked with fire and steel weaponries slaughtering all in their route. They singed the sacred woods and hacked away the carved faces in their weirwoods while spreading their own religion of The Seven. (Shepard, 2014). Actually, the accounts of the Andals match with Anglo-Saxons features; they were described as “(people) with large bodies, light skin with blue eyes and fair hair” (Diomedes, 2006). Additionally, after these conquests, both countries were divided into seven zones –the Heptarchs in England, and the Seven Kingdoms in Westeros. The alliance of both territories came with the last conquerors. In Britain, Scandinavian forces subdued all the land, except the South (Wessex). Finally, William the Conqueror, who came from Normandy and traversed the English Channel, achieved the unification of the land (Diomedes 2006). Equally, Targaryens, from the old Valyria, arrived to Westeros commanded by Aegon the Conqueror. They stretched their dominions all over the land apart from the South (Dorne). This fact caused a regional, political, and religious fusion in both the real and the fantasy realms.
The facts
The strongest bedrock that supports the notion of the historical base is the central conflict of the novels. The plot illustrates a civil war between two of the most influential houses for the Iron Throne. House Stark, which comes from the North has privileges in this area but not to the crown, is represented by the color white; House Lannister, the most powerful and wealthiest, attempts to have a durable impact in the court and is represented by the color red. Looking back in time, one of the most significant events of England’s history matches with these characteristics. The War of the Roses incited in a civil war between the York and Lancaster houses, which were also represented by white and red roses, respectively (History, 2014). These color representations fit with the Stark and Lannister flags and with their conflict during the War of the Five Kings, initiated after a direct conflict between House Stark and House Lannister (Martin, 1998: 237, 238, 239). Actually, the names of the houses have a similar resonance. Alternatively, the declaration of an independent north can be compared to the Wars of the Scottish Independence during which, the north of the land fought against the English crown; also, Robb Stark declared himself as the King in the North and freed the area from the Seven Kingdoms “From this time until the end of time, we are free and independent kingdom.” (Benioff, 2013)
One of the most gruesome chapters of the saga is the Red Wedding, where Starks were betrayed by other families that were supposed to be supporting Robb Stark’s cause during the War of the Five Kings. The King in the North and his mother were slaughtered by Walder Frey and his subordinates during a wedding festivity in The Twins (Martin, 2000: 481, 482). This incident resembles the Black Dinner, where the Clan Douglas leaders were arrested and killed during an assembly with the Scottish monarch. The dinner was prearranged by other Scottish clans who deceived the Douglasses who used to trust them (BBC, 2014a). The greatest battle during the War of the Five Kings is the Battle of the Blackwater Bay (Martin, 1998: 514). The armada of Stannis Baratheon sought to besiege King’s Landing. However, the defenses of the city accompanied by the support of House Tyrell and a wildfire attack, burned the fleet and secured Kings landing (Martin, 1998: 515). Likewise, the Siege of Constantinople was carried out by fleets and Greek fire (Comneno, 1989).
Additionally, The Dothrak’s expansion and culture are correlate the Mongol Empire. They embody the menace from the East with an exotic basis. Their most significant features are that both are wanderers who live to invade (Sissiyomar, 2013). Also, their societies are established in a meritocracy system where the leader is esteemed and equally feared. This headman received a unique title—Kan for Mongol sand Khal for Dothrak’s—which have the same sonority (Martin, 1996).
The characters
Besides the concurrences of historical facts, there are also some characters in Martin’s works who are visibly inspired by some real identities. For instance, in House Lannister, Cersei is comparable to Margaret of Anjou. Both were led their houses during wars, and had orchestrated marriages. Margaret’s marriage was arranged by the duke of Suffolk, a Lancastrian (Johnson Lewis, 2014); similarly, Tywin Lannister arranged Cersei’s marriage to Robert Baratheon. Besides, the duke of York was the Protector of the throne like Eddard Stark was the hand of the king. Furthermore, the legitimacy of inheritance of their descendants was questioned and, consequently, the duke of York and Lord Eddard were killed (Martin, 1996: 196, 197, 226). Plus, Tywin Lannister is inspired by Richard Neville, the wealthiest man of the reign also known as “The Kingmaker” that had domineering political connections through the land and defended the legitimacy of the kings. (Johnson Lewis, 2014).
Similarly, Lord Tywin is the most controlling and wealthiest man in the Seven Kingdoms and allied the monarch to his convenience (Martin, 1996: 238, 239). In the case of House Stark, two of their members have several similitudes with the same person. Eddard Stark and the leader of Scottish revolution, William Wallace, were accused of betrayal and were consequently beheaded by the king (BBC, 2014b). Besides, their heads were placed on a pike as a warning for rebels (Martin, 1996: 226). Eddard’s son, Robb Stark, resembles Wallace profile too. Both were representatives of the North in the war and declared these territories as independent kingdoms. The younger members of House Stark, Bran and Rickon, share a special story with the Princes in the Tower; a couple of toddlers with rights to the throne that were hidden during their childhood (Baldwin, 2013). Both events present a couple of princes that are alienated from their families because of the political instability. They both lost their rights to the throne and were officially murdered, but there are reports which support that they were apt to escape. Although it is true that the children survived in Westeros (Martin, 1998: 447,448), there are only expectations about what happened with the Princes in the Tower (Baldwin, 2013).
When it comes to the Targaryen dynasty it is thought to be related to two of the most important characters of English history. Aegon the Conqueror is similar to William the Conqueror, not only in their nicknames: they colonized lands effectively, unified the territories, and were proclaimed kings (Diomedes, 2006). In addition, Daenerys Stormborn bring to mind Elizabeth I in many aspects. In their childhood they were detached from their families and the court, and their rights to the throne were questioned (Briscoe, 2011). Both queens succeeded to the throne during their early life and presented themselves as independent and tough women (Martin, 2012: 51, 52). Besides, they were leaders in a world of men and never left that the romantic matters divert their politic commitments (Briscoe, 2011).

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