We’re shaking things up around here at All Things Urban Fantasy! Though we normally stick with Urban Fantasy, Fantasy is Fantasy, so when Maria approached us to write about the inspirations for Game of Thrones, we figured it would interest you book lovers. Have a great idea for a guest post? Feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]
Ever since it’s break onto the HBO TV scene in 2011, Game of Thrones has been a spectacular hit. But even before that the A Song of Ice and Fire book series has had an impressive empire of followers. The reason of the success of the series might seem obvious to the average viewer, especially after Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series seemed to break new grounds for the fantasy genre. However, there is a much larger, much more varied history at work behind the style of storytelling than what meets the eye, and with season 5 having just started (which you can watch if you have HBO Go or DirecTV), now is a great time to take a closer look at what goes into these stories we all love so much.
For anyone who might not know, A Song of Ice and Fire is the series of medieval fantasy novels by American author George R.R. Martin that Game of Thrones was based on. The story takes place in a fictional world in which seasons last for years and follows the lives of several different families as they contend for control of the land. What has made the series such a hit is Martin’s ability to explore each individual character’s journey while still moving forward with an overarching plot, thus lending to it the feel of real life.
These days it’s nearly impossible to talk about the inspiration behind any fantasy novel without also talking about Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings. After all, it is in many cases our default for the ideas of dwarves, elves, and dragons. More surprising to people, however, would be the influence of authors such as Robert E. Howard, who created the character Conan the Barbarian, and T.H. White, author of The Once and Future King. From Howard, we get the image of the ultimate warrior, traveling the countryside, loyal to anyone who hires him, and with a set of skills that seem more fitted to a rogue than a hero. From White, came the King Arthur legend that we all grew up watching in Disney animated form. But more importantly, with White’s fictionalizing of Arthur’s lineage and legacy, he paved the way for future writers like Martin to create complex and convincing fictional societies.
Other stories that have greatly influenced Martin and other great fantasy authors throughout history are written mythologies ancient cultures. Perhaps the greatest influence on Martin (and Tolkien) in particular is the mythology of the Vikings, more specifically stories from the Volsunga Saga. It’s no secret that Tolkien drew from Norse mythology in creating his Middle Earth (even going so far as to use the names for his characters), and the inspiration is there for Martin too. The Volsunga Saga is known as a story of great passion and great violence, including murder, torture, and giant wolves that devour humans. So while Tolkien may have drawn on the Volsunga Saga for ideas of magical creatures or human loyalties, Martin seems more influenced by the darker storytelling aspects.
It’s not just Norse history that Martin drew from though. Much of the world he has created has origins in the history of England. Everything from the general shape of his world on a map to the wars that its inhabitants fight is drawn from Anglo-Saxon history. Even Hadrian’s wall has been adapted for use in his world.
There’s a lot more to the world that Martin created than what meets the eye. He’s taken inspiration from everything around him — from previous fantasy writers and the mark they’ve left to historical cultures from all over the world — and that coupled with his own impressive imagination has resulted in one of the most popular franchises the world has ever seen.
About the Author
Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889.