A Song of Ice and Fire

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A Song of Ice and Fire
Author George R. R. Martin

A Song of Ice and Fire (commonly abbreviated as ASoIaF) is a series of epic fantasy novels by American author George R. R. Martin. According to the author, the series will consist of seven novels.

The story takes place in a fictional world, mainly on a continent called Westeros and the Eastern land mass, There are three principal story lines, the chronicles a many-sided struggle for control of Westeros; the rising threat of the Others and the adventures of Daenerys Targaryen, in the east.

Themes of the novels

The books are known for complex characters, sudden and often violent plot twists, and political intrigue. In a genre where magic usually takes center stage, this series has a reputation for its limited and subtle use of magic, employing it as an ambiguous and often sinister background force.[1] Finally, the novels do not (presently) center around a climactic clash between "Good" and "Evil;" plot lines have revolved primarily around political infighting and civil war, with only one or two storyline arcs even suggesting the possibility of an external threat.

The novels are narrated from a very strict third person limited omniscient perspective, the chapters alternating between different point of view characters. Martin's treatment of his characters makes them extremely hard to classify: very few can be labeled as "good" or "evil". The author also has a reputation of not being afraid to kill any character, no matter how major.

Back story

A Song of Ice and Fire is set primarily in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a large, South American-sized continent with an ancient history stretching back some twelve thousand years. A detailed history reveals how seven kingdoms came to dominate this continent, and then how these seven nations were united as one by Aegon the Conqueror, of House Targaryen. Some 283 years after Aegon's conquest, the Targaryens are overthrown in a civil war and King Robert Baratheon, backed primarily by his friend Lord Eddard Stark and foster father Lord Jon Arryn, takes the Iron Throne. The novels, which begin fifteen years later, follow the fall-out from this event across three major storylines, set not only in Westeros but on the eastern continent as well.

The first storyline, set in the Seven Kingdoms themselves, chronicles a many-sided struggle for the Iron Throne that develops after King Robert's death. The throne is claimed by his son Joffrey, supported by his mother's powerful family, House Lannister, but Robert's brother Stannis claims that Robert's children are illegitimate, and claims the throne himself, to a less-than-enthusiastic response. Robert's youngest brother, Renly, also claims the throne with the support of the extremely powerful House Tyrell. Whilst these three claimants battle for the throne itself, Robb Stark, Lord Eddard Stark's heir, is proclaimed King in the North as the northmen and their allies in the Riverlands seek to break away from the Iron Throne and rule themselves. Similarly, Balon Greyjoy also claims the throne of his own region, the Iron Islands, and likewise seeks independence. The War of the Five Kings is the principal storyline in the second and third novels, with its fall-out and repercussions affecting much of what follows.

The second storyline is set on the extreme northern border of Westeros. Here, eight thousand years ago, a huge wall of ice and gravel was constructed by spells and by hand to defend Westeros from the threat of 'The Others', a semi-mythical race of ice creatures living in the uttermost north. The 300-mile-long, 700-foot-tall Wall is defended by the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch, which by the time of the novels is badly under-strength and under threat by the human 'wildlings' or 'free folk' who live to the north. This storyline strand follows Jon Snow, bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark, as he rises through the ranks of the Watch and learns the true nature of the threat from the north. By the end of the third volume, this storyline has become more entangled with the civil war to the south as well.

The third storyline is set on the huge eastern continent and follows the adventures of Daenerys Targaryen, the last (known) scion of House Targaryen and another claimant to the Iron Throne. Daenerys's story shows her growing rise to power, from a near-penniless wanderer to a powerful and canny ruler who possesses the last living dragons. Though her story is separated from the others by many thousands of miles, her stated goal is to reclaim the Iron Throne. Although she is not known to many in Westeros, the chaos of two civil wars in rapid succession has led to much yearning among the smallfolk for the days of stability under the Targaryens. Daenerys' storyline will return her to Westeros before the end of the series.

The eponymous Song of Ice and Fire is mentioned only once in the series, in a vision Daenerys sees in A Clash of Kings: "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire", spoken by a Targaryen (probably Daenerys's dead older brother Rhaegar Targaryen) about his infant son named Aegon. It is implied that there is a connection between the song, the promise, and Daenerys herself. This is established more clearly in A Feast for Crows, when Aemon Targaryen identifies Daenerys as the heir that was promised. The phrase "ice and fire" is also mentioned in the Reeds' oath of loyalty to Bran in A Clash of Kings. However, the song and the promise are never mentioned again, and the song itself remains a mystery.

See also: List of all characters

Concept and creation

Historical and literary influences

Numerous parallels have been seen between the events and characters in A Song of Ice and Fire and events and people involved in the Wars of the Roses. Two of the principal families in A Song of Ice and Fire, the Starks and the Lannisters, are seen as representing the historical House of York and House of Lancaster, respectively.

A similar reality-inspired conflict is the succession struggle called the Dance of the Dragons between two children Aegon II and Rhaenyra. A historical struggle (labeled The Anarchy) between Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England, and her cousin Stephen of Blois, provides the inspiration. Each daughter is announced as her father's successor, but due to differing reasons, male rivals seize the crown and are anointed as rulers. During the dynastic struggle, the rival claimants are deposed and succeeded by the son (Aegon III and Henry II of England respectively) of the original designated heir. Neither Empress Matilda nor Rhaenyra actually ruled in their own name.

Martin is an avid student of medieval Europe, and has said that the Wars of the Roses, along with many other events in Europe during that time, have influenced the series. However, he insists that "there's really no one-for-one character-for-character correspondence. I like to use history to flavor my fantasy, to add texture and verisimilitude, but simply rewriting history with the names changed has no appeal for me. I prefer to re-imagine it all, and take it in new and unexpected directions." [2]

Martin has also said the Albigensian Crusades are an influence for the series.

Origins of the series

Although George RR Martin had long had a love of model knights and medieval history, his early novels and short stories mostly fit into the science fiction genre, although eventually several fantasy stories did appear, such as The Ice Dragon. In the mid-1980s, Martin worked mainly in Hollywood, principally as a writer or producer on The New Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast. After Beauty and the Beast ended in 1989 Martin returned to writing prose and started work on a science fiction novel called Avalon. In 1991, whilst struggling with this story, Martin conceived of a scene where several youngsters find a dead direwolf with a stag's antler in its throat. The direwolf has several pups, which are taken by the youngsters to raise as their own. Martin's imagination was fired by this idea and he developed it into an epic fantasy story, which he envisaged as a trilogy consisting of the books A Game of Thrones, A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter. Martin had previously apparently not been inspired by the genre, but reading Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series had convinced him it could be approached in a more adult and mature way than previous authors.

In 1992 he put the book to one side when one of his TV ideas was picked up by Hollywood, resulting in the production of a pilot called Doorways. The pilot was not successful and not picked up for a series.

In 1994 Martin resumed work on A Game of Thrones and completed it the following year, although he was only one-third of the way through his initial plan for the first novel. Martin then expanded the series to four books, and eventually to six. Publication of A Game of Thrones followed in early 1996. Pre-release publicity included publication of a 'sample novella' called Blood of the Dragon.

After expanding the series to four volumes, Martin remarked, "What can I say? It's a BIG story, and a cast of thousands." [3]

After A Storm of Swords was completed in 2000, Martin began writing A Dance with Dragons, the intended fourth volume which would pick up the story five years after the previous volume. Martin found it difficult to make this work without an over-reliance on flashbacks. At the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia on 1 September 2001, Martin announced that he was scrapping more than a year's work and writing a different fourth book that would fill in the gap, named A Feast for Crows. He found it extremely difficult to go back and start again, especially as this novel was not planned for in his scheme for the series, and work on the book progressed slowly.

By May 2005 A Feast for Crows had become longer than A Storm of Swords and his publishers said they could not publish the book in one volume. They suggested splitting the book in two and releasing the volumes as A Feast for Crows, Volume I and A Feast for Crows, Volume II, but Martin was unhappy with this idea. After discussing the matter with his publishers and his friend and fellow writer Daniel Abraham, Martin decided to split the book by character and location instead. The published A Feast for Crows thus contained all of the characters in the South of the Seven Kingdoms, whilst the forthcoming A Dance with Dragons will contain the characters in the North, the Free Cities and in Slaver's Bay.

In a May 2005 statement, the author also said that this move now meant that the series would require seven volumes. Martin recognized that this decision could cause frustration among some of his fans. He wrote: "I know some of you may be disappointed, especially when you buy A Feast for Crows and discover that your favorite character does not appear, but given the realities I think this was the best solution... and the more I look at it, the more convinced I am that these two parallel novels, when taken together, will actually tell the story better than one big book." [4]

Despite the problems, A Feast for Crows was released in October 2005 and immediately won largely positive reviews. Time Magazine dubbed Martin, "The American Tolkien"[1], and the novel went straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

On January 24, 2006, Martin updated a statement on his personal site to note that he had completed 542 of an estimated 1200-1300 manuscript pages for the new book, A Dance with Dragons. In the same statement, he explains that while the fifth book will run in a parallel timeline with the fourth, there is nothing to stop the line from extending further; hinting that if room remains, he will include chapters for some of the characters left in a cliffhanger-state at the end of the previous novel. He rounds out his site update by stating, "And before anyone writes me asking, yes, there is a third Dunk and Egg novella in the works as well. It's maybe three-quarters done, and sometime soon I want to find the time to finish that one too." [5]

In a later update, Martin confirmed that the fifth book will be completed in early 2007 for publication in late 2007. He lost some time in writing the book due to a demanding appearances schedule and also due to home renovations.


Originally planned as a trilogy, the series now consists of five published volumes :

The remaining two novels are provisionally titled: As of June 2010, Martin had already finished four chapters of the sixth book, The Winds of Winter.

Additionally there are also three prequel novellas, set in the same world, roughly 90 years before the main events, commonly known as the "Tales of Dunk and Egg" after their main protagonists:

These short stories are commonly known as "Dunk and Egg" stories (after their protagonists). The Hedge Knight is also available as a graphic novel from Dabel Brothers Productions; an adaptation of The Sworn Sword is forthcoming from the same company. The author has said that he would like to write a number of these stories (varying from six to twelve from interview to interview) covering the entire lives of these two characters.

Additionally there are also three novellas based on chapter sets from the books, previously in collected form in other outlets.

Also a companion volume for the series is in development by George R. R. Martin and co-authors Elio M. Garc?a, Jr. and Linda Antonsson, although no publication date has been confirmed as yet.


The series has been placed as the number 1 rated series at the Internet Book List since a revision of the rating system in October 2005.[6], Also most of the books won an award of some sort.

Derived works

The series is the basis of a great number of derived works, including the HBO TV series Game of Thrones, a card game, a board game, a role-playing game and two video games under development. It has also inspired several musicians, and an upcoming parody of A Game of Thrones.

Pronunciation of names

Unlike J. R. R. Tolkien, who provided detailed instructions for the pronunciation of the languages of Middle-earth, Martin has provided no canonical way of pronouncing Westerosi names, stating "You can pronounce it however you like." [7] However, it is possible to establish some guidelines.

References and Notes

  1. SFX Magazine #138 feature, Christmas 2005
  2. So Spake Martin Report #1
  3. Martin in post to Legends, October 6 1998. So Spake Martin – Posts to Legends (SSL)
  4. Message on Martin's website, May 29 2005 It's Done!!!
  5. Message on Martin's website, January 24 2006 Update
  6. list Internet book list rating ASOIAF, retrieved December 20th, 2006
  7. So Spake Martin Report #107

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