Highlights of A Song of Ice and Fire: History
|HBO key art for Season 4|
I've written a few times now on this blog about Game of Thrones, launching a popular critique, mapping a fanciful comparison to Alaska, and musing about narrative and historical theory. This time, however, I'll keep things more straightforward: I'm writing about three themes in the books. Two I heartily enjoy, and one I think is worthy of critique.
Besides the obvious joys of plot twists, dynamic characters, and vivid details, there are two huge highlights that I enjoy in A Song of Ice and Fire—the history and the religion. Let's start with the history.
Note: There won't be any plot spoilers here. I promise.
|Even Ned Stark reads history books!|
Instead, the history of Westeros is valued and discussed by the characters in the story: They talk about it, read it, record it, and remember it, or forget it as the case may be. They reflect on it, refer back to it, and even analyze it as a guide for their actions. In essence, Westeros is a land filled with historians—people who care about and interpret their past, utilizing it as a tool in the present. When characters forget it, as they often do, the consequences may be disastrous. What better propaganda could a history teacher want?
|A Feast For Crows,|
fourth book in ASOIAF
To be sure, many instances of characters thinking about history serve mostly as an expository tool for George R. R. Martin, just like J. K. Rowling's pensieve in the Harry Potter books was a handy way to share detailed scenes from major characters' memories. Martin's exposition never needs magical means, though, or an omniscient narrator, as in prototypical fantasy epics like The Lord of the Rings: The sharing of history between characters feels more raw, and potentially flawed. Instead of going off on detailed tangents like a history professor, (unless it's their occupation), characters share only the stories they love or need to tell, all with doubtful facts or biased perspectives.
For many people, fictional history in fantasy novels must sound like a terribly boring prospect. In my view, however, characters who engage with the history of their universe have the potential to enrich a story immensely. It's one thing to make a story epic by giving it a detailed setting; even more impressive is to show deep, genuine interplay between characters and the backstory of their world, just as we interact with history in our everyday lives. That's what happens in A Song of Ice and Fire.