In class on November 3rd, Doctor McCoy raised the point that one of the seven new gods, the Stranger, from A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin is not a novel idea that Martin came up with alone. Rather, the idea that there is a supernatural being that represents death is an idea that has occurred many times in literature. While Doctor McCoy related this to the books we read in class I sat there, baffled at what to me was a mind-boggling concept. There was one of my favorite book series, the very basis of my favorite television show, under the radar for what felt to me was a claim of being unoriginal. I can’t even begin to explain how much this new idea got to me. All those times I had talked about the originality and creativity of A Song of Ice and Fire flashed in my mind.
“You know nothing,” I wish I could tell the past Alex, the Alex before I acted as a reader and looked more into Doctor McCoy’s comment, just as Ygritte would tell Jon Snow. Of course, finding intertextuality and interdisciplinarity in A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t make it any less of a very original and creative series (as I go into in Part Two of this two parter blog). My rational self knows that. But, before I had time to grasp the new information, I didn’t want to settle for “very” original. I wanted the most original and creative series.
Yet I couldn’t defend Martin’s book series in my head the rest of the day. At first, I thought of the seven new gods in A Song of Ice and Fire and Greek mythology as represented in Bacchae. The Crone and Athena are both female gods representing wisdom, the Smith and Hephaestus both male gods representing craftsmanship, and the Maiden and Artemis both female gods representing virginity. The Father and Mother of the seven new gods are an integral part of the weddings in A Song of Ice and Fire. The couple getting married stands between their statues, representing marriage between the Father and Mother, much like how Zeus and Hera are married. Then there is the fact that the Father and Mother are referred to as the Father Above and the Mother Above (unlike the other five gods), creating the idea that the Father and the Mother are the more important gods of the seven, just like how Zeus and Hera are the King and Queen of gods. Analyzing the Stranger was the worst for me. Just as Doctor McCoy alluded to in class, the Stranger and Hades both represent death. But then I realized just as the Stranger is hardly ever worshipped or prayed to in A Song of Ice and Fire, Hades is oftentimes cast aside, too, for residing in the underworld and not in Mount Olympus. Hades isn’t even considered one of the major Olympians, despite the fact that he is a brother to Zeus and Poseidon, such as how the Stranger could be considered the least important of the Seven. Just as Doctor McCoy had said, I could find A Song of Ice and Fire in the books we read for our class.
After I found that out, I couldn’t control myself; I turned to a secondary source. Curiosity killed the cat, they say, and I was definitely killed when I read “the Real History of Game of Thrones” by David Crow. First, Crow wrote, “For every element author George R.R. Martin may have borrowed from Tolkien, there were countless more derived from a true medieval world.” I, who had read the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, had been blinded by the retroactive interference of reading A Song of Ice and Fire many years after reading Tolkien’s books. “You should read A Song of Ice and Fire,” I told a friend last year, thinking she would enjoy Martin’s books. No wonder I thought that; my friend’s favorite series was the Lord of the Rings.
Of course, I could have argue this is just intertextuality. Martin is in conversation with Tolkien’s book. But did this fit with my idea that A Song of Ice and Fire is a completely original, new, creative series? No. But I kept reading Crow’s article to see how Martin had drawn from history, too. The War of the Roses- like the War of the Five Kings- contained two warring families, York and Lancaster, to which Crow only replied, “Huh.” That one word summed it all up- Stark and York and Lannister and Lancaster. Stark and Lannister, the two rivals in Martin’s series. Each corresponding names even had the same number of syllables. Crow continued to say that Henry VI married Queen Consort Margaret of Anjou. Henry VI was compared to King Robert and King Joffrey, just as Queen Margaret was related to Queen Cersei and Queen Margaery. Crow writes, “The once boy king’s French wife and advisor often behaved like Cersei by taking the reigns due to Henry VI’s bouts of insanity.” Not only was Henry VI mad like Joffrey, but also the name Margaery could not be any closer to sounding like Margaret. Richard III is like Tyrion Lannister even in physical qualities, as Crow says that in History of the Kings of England Richard III was “described as having a hunchback, stunted body and distorted features due to spending two years in his mother’s womb.” Even the emphasis on Richard’s experience in his mother’s womb reminded me of Tyrion killing his mother in childbirth. And of course in A Song of Ice and Fire Tyrion is described as hideous, not evening having a nose after the second book, A Clash of Kings. The most convincing piece of evidence that swayed me was that Richard “happened to discover…[his nephews] were illegitimate! Richard III kept them in ‘safe keeping’ within the Tower of London… Tudor historians claim that Richard murdered his boy nephews, though there is no evidence other than their damning disappearance,” writes Crow. Richard III and Tyrion both knew about the damning secret of the bastard children that they were charged for murdering. As I continued reading, I got little solace from Crow comparing Daenerys Targaryen to Henry VII. According to Crow, just like Henry VII, Daenerys “never knew her father…knew little of her homeland…. has remained in [exile] some fifteen years… is building an army of foreign followers.” If Martin is basing Daenerys off Henry VII, at least Henry VII in the end wins the crown. Before I finished A Storm of Swords, I wanted Daenerys to be Queen of the Westeros with Robb Stark as King of the North. But now I can barely think about that with this influx of new information. The Targaryen family? Based off the Ptolemys, Crow says. The Red Wedding? Based off of the Black Dinner and the Massacre of Glencoe. Margaery Tyrell? Based off of Anne Boleyn. I, who always liked learning about Boleyn, had not seen the connection. Even when Natalie Dormer, the very actress who played Boleyn on the Tudors (a show I own), was cast as Margaery, I did not see it!
Looking at it now, I remember subtle hints, most recently in my anthropology assigned reading by Margery Wolf called “Uterine Families and the Women’s Community”. This passage discusses the role of patrilineal descent has on women in Taiwanese family life. I had used mnemonic devices to remember key facts, all relating to A Song of Ice and Fire. Of the Taiwanese women, Wolf writes, “A woman finds herself quite literally without a family. She enters the household of her husband- a man who in earlier time, say fifty years ago, she would never have met and who even today, in modern rural Taiwan, she is unlikely to know very well.” I related this to Daenerys when she is forced to marry Khal Drogo. The only family she has is her abusive brother, Viserys. In fact, isolation because of marriage is taken to a whole new other level with Daenerys, who does not at first even speak her husband’s language or follow his culture the slightest. I didn’t think, when making the connections the first time around, that this similarity was one of many things that made A Song of Ice and Fire not as original as I believed. The idea of a woman needing to create a uterine family- which is composed of the Taiwanese woman’s mother, brother, and children- fit Catelyn Tully and Cersei Lannister perfectly. It explained why Catelyn felt so much hostility toward Jon Snow, her husband’s illegitimate child. The uterine family is a woman’s attempt at creating a family for herself when her husband and biological family won’t accept her. The uterine family gives her a sense of belonging and security. Jon was, in Catelyn’s mind, ruining everything she had spent years building, just more proof that her husband never accepted her even after she had to give up living with her family and culture (in that the Tullys differ from the Starks in aspects including but not up to religion). As for Cersei, it’s hardly a secret that Cersei is bonded to her brother Jaime. She admits it herself, giving readers textual evidence on page seventy-five of A Feast for Crows when she thinks, “She wanted to draw [Jaime’s] face to hers for a kiss. Later, she told herself, later he will come to me, for comfort.” How could she not cling to her brother, when the man she was forced to marry loved another, Lyanna Stark? Like the Taiwanese, she was forced into an unhappy marriage. On Game of Thrones, Cersei tells Sansa Stark, “Love no one but your children.” This sums up the uterine family; the Taiwanese women should only love their children. Like the pressure Cersei felt to have sons in order to carry on the Baratheon name and to have a future King, being a male in Taiwan is said by Wolf as like having a membership that is “permanent; loyalty is assured.” When people start to doubt that Cersei’s children are not true Baratheons, it’s as if that membership is taken away, as it is for Taiwanese women.
Another comparison I drew from Wolf’s passage in reference to mother in laws and daughter in laws is when she wrote, “A minor foray by the younger woman suggests to the older one an all-out attack on everything she has worked so hard to build in the years of her own loneliness and insecurity.” There’s no doubt that Cersei has worked hard to gain everything she has by A Dance with Dragons. She will undoubtedly do anything to keep the power for her and her children, such as allowing her son Tommen to marry his older brother’s widow, Margaery. “Tommen’s hold upon the Iron Throne was not secure enough for her to risk offending Highgarden,” Cersei thinks in A Feast for Crows on page 245, though she’d like to offend the Tyrells. All Cersei wants to do is put Margaery in her place. All Cersei has put up with- wishing for Prince Rhaegar, marrying the man who killed Rhaegar, being separated from Jaime, having a husband that loves another and cheats on her- in her years of “loneliness and security” is something that Margaery can’t take away from her. Cersei always feel persuaded by the Tyrells, particularly with Tommen and Margaery’s wedding where Cersei feels Highgarden should have been satisfied with a betrothal between the two. Just as the Taiwanese mother in laws could withhold things from their daughter in laws such as not allowing the daughters to visit their families on New Years, Cersei looks to “manipulate her, but not appear to be manipulating” by framing Margaery as an adulterer. This gets Margaery arrested and Cersei (temporarily) gets all she wanted.
How could the women of A Song of Ice and Fire relate more to the Taiwanese women? Also outside of having children, the Taiwanese women needed allies. Allies are clearly a dominant factor in winning wars in A Song of Ice and Fire. This is proven in the War of the Five Kings. The first time is when the Tyrell’s army shows up at the Battle of Blackwater, ultimately saving the Lannisters from losing King’s Landing, the crown, and their lives to Stannis Baratheon. The second time is when the Freys and Boltons turn their alliance against the Starks, ending in the Stark’s slaughtering at the Red Wedding. The Taiwanese needed female allies, however, particularly older women, who had already established their power and control to others. Lady Olenna is an elderly, powerful woman who helps both Margaery and Sansa Stark. Olenna tries to help Sansa by planning a marriage between Willas Tyrell and Sansa, while Olenna does countless deeds for Margaery, including assisting in the murder of Margaery’s betrothed, Joffrey. One could even argue that Margaery avoided appearing like “a girl who gossips” as Sansa avoided being “too reticent”, as Wolf suggests Taiwanese girls to do to gain allies, as a gossiper is a “troublemaker” and a reticent girl is “accused of snobbery.” Margaery used her cousins as ravens to get information for her as opposed to Margaery doing it herself, while Sansa (though not honest) did always reveal her ‘feelings’ by saying she loved her former betrothed Joffrey, but also telling Olenna that Joffrey is a monster to gain Olenna’s trust. When the Taiwanese women get allies, the women will “retain considering influence over their sons’ actions…. further, older women who have displayed years of good judgment are regularly consulted by their husbands” according to Wolf. Catelyn’s husband, Eddard, calls on her for decisions, such as when she advises him to accept the offer of being King Robert’s Hand and the offer for their daughter Sansa to marry Joffrey. In A Clash of Kings, Catelyn always helps her son, Robb, in the war, including influencing him to make allies with Renly Baratheon.
To quote Doctor McCoy, I would call this entire blog post an embarrassment of riches. This blog posts includes a brainstorming of examples, my own and outside sources, of books, history, mythology, and societies that A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin is in conversation with. In an effort to make this (somehow) two thousand-word blog post shorter, I’ll make this two posts, with the second part dealing with the link to what I read in Interdisciplinarity to this blog posts, Part One.