A Song of Ice and Fire
|A Song of Ice and Fire|
|Author||George R. R. Martin|
|Genre(s)||High fantasy, Dark fantasy, Medieval fantasy|
print (hardcover and paperback)|
A Song of Ice and Fire (commonly abbreviated as ASoIaF) is an ongoing a series of epic fantasy novels by American novelist and screenwriter George R. R. Martin. Martin began writing the series in 1991 and the first volume was published in 1996. Originally planned as a trilogy, the series now consists of five published volumes; a further two are planned. In addition there are three prequel novellas currently available, with several more being planned, and a series of novella-length excerpts from the main Ice and Fire novels.
The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place in a fictional world, primarily on a continent called Westeros but also on a large landmass to the east, known as Essos. Most of the characters are human but as the series progresses others are introduced, such as the cold and menacing supernatural Others from the far North and fire-breathing dragons from the East, both thought to be extinct by the humans of the story. There are three principal story lines in the series: the chronicling of a dynastic civil war for control of Westeros among several competing families; the rising threat of the Others, who dwell beyond an immense wall of ice that forms Westeros' northern border; and the ambition of Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled daughter of a king who was murdered in another civil war fifteen years before, to return to Westeros and claim her rightful throne. As the series progresses, the three story lines become increasingly interwoven and dependent upon each other.
The series is told in the third-person through the eyes of a number of point of view characters. By the end of the fourth volume, there have been 17 such characters with multiple chapters and eight who only have one chapter apiece. Several new viewpoint characters are introduced by the conclusion of the fifth volume, setting the stage for the major events of the sixth novel.
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. However, Lord Eddard Stark, King Robert's Hand, finds out Robert's children are illegitimate, and that the throne should therefore fall to the second of the three Baratheon brothers, Stannis. The charismatic and popular youngest brother, Renly, also places a claim, openly disregarding the order of precedence, with the support of the powerful House Tyrell. While the claimants battle for the Iron Throne, Robb Stark, Lord Eddard Stark's heir, is proclaimed King in the North as the northmen and their allies in the Riverlands seek to return to self-rule. Likewise, Balon Greyjoy also (re-)claims the ancient throne of his own region, the Iron Islands, with an eye toward independence. This so-called War of the Five Kings is the principal storyline of the first four novels; indeed, the fourth novel primarily concerns Westeros's recovery from it in the face of the coming winter and the political machinations of those seeking to gain in its aftermath. In the wake of the war, four of the five self-proclaimed kings have been killed, leaving Stannis as the sole survivor. The Iron Throne is currently held by Tommen Baratheon, allegedly Robert's son, but illegitimate too. His former regent, Cersei Lannister has been deposed and imprisoned in King's Landing by the Faith. Stannis and his army, having gained little support from the Great Houses of Westeros, are presently at the Wall, far to the north where Stannis seeks to protect the realm from the threat of invasion, and simultaneously win the favor of the northern strongholds.
The second storyline is set on the extreme northern border of Westeros. Here, many thousands of years ago, a huge wall of ice and gravel was constructed by both magic and labor to defend Westeros from the threat of The Others, a race of now-mythical creatures living in the uttermost north. This Wall, 300-mile-long, 700-foot-tall, is defended and maintained by the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch, whose duty is to guard the kingdom against the Others. By the time of the novels, the Others have not been seen in over 8,000 years, and the Night's Watch has devolved into essentially a penal colony: it is badly under-strength, manned primarily by criminals and refugees, with only a few knights or men of honor to stiffen them, and spends most of its time dealing with the human "wildlings" or "free folk" who live beyond the Wall. This storyline is told primarily through the eyes of Jon Snow, bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark, as he rises through the ranks of the Watch, learns the true nature of the threat from the north, and prepares to defend the realm, even though the people of Westeros are too busy warring to send support. By the end of the third volume, this storyline is somewhat entangled with the civil war to the south.
The third storyline is set on the huge eastern continent of Essos, across the narrow sea, and follows the adventures of Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen in exile and another claimant to the Iron Throne. Daenerys's adventures showcase her growing ability as she rises from a pauper sold into a dynastic marriage to a barbarian warlord to a powerful and canny ruler in her own right. Her rise is aided by the birth of three dragons, creatures thought long extinct, from fossilized eggs given to her as wedding gifts. Because her family standard is the dragon, these creatures are of symbolic value before they have grown big enough to be of tactical use. Though her story is separated from the others by many thousands of miles, her stated goal is to reclaim the Iron Throne.
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.
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. 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.
Concept and creation
Background & Origins
Martin had a longtime love of miniature knights and medieval history, but his early novels and short stories mostly fit into the science fiction and horror genres; however, eventually several fantasy stories did appear, such as The Ice Dragon, which he later turned into an illustrated children's book by the same name. 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, while 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 birthed several pups, which are then taken by the youngsters to raise as their own. Martin's imagination was fired by this idea, and he eventually developed this scene into an epic fantasy story, which he first envisaged as a trilogy consisting of the novels A Game of Thrones, A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter. Martin had apparently not been previously inspired by the genre, but reading Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series convinced him it could be approached in a more adult and mature way than previous authors had attempted.
After a lengthy hiatus spent writing and producing a television pilot for a science fiction series he had created called Doorways, Martin resumed work in 1994 on A Game of Thrones and completed it the following year, although he was only partway through his initial plan for the first novel. As a result, over time, Martin eventually expanded his plan for the series to include four books, then six, and finally seven, as the tale "grew in the telling," he said, quoting epic fantasy master J.R.R. Tolkien. Publication of A Game of Thrones followed in 1996. In the UK, the book was the subject of a fierce bidding war, eventually won by HarperCollins for £450,000. Pre-release publicity included publication of a "sample novella" called Blood of the Dragon, which went on to win the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Novella. To fit A Game of Thrones into one volume, Martin had pulled out the last quarter or so of the book and made it the opening section of the second book, 1998's A Clash of Kings. In May 2005 Martin noted that his manuscript for A Game of Thrones had been 1088 pages long without the appendices, and A Clash of Kings was even longer at 1184 pages.
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." 
Martin has also said the Albigensian Crusades are an influence for the series.
When it comes to content, there are some major differences between the series and much of the high fantasy genre, but its structure has a lot in common with The Lord of the Rings: "Although I differ from Tolkien in important ways, I’m second to no one in my respect for him. If you look at Lord of the Rings, it begins with a tight focus and all the characters are together. Then by end of the first book the Fellowship splits up and they have different adventures. I did the same thing. Everybody is at Winterfell in the beginning except for Dany, then they split up into groups, and ultimately those split up too. The intent was to fan out, then curve and come back together. Finding the point where that turn begins has been one of the issues I’ve wrestled with." Martin has acknowledged his debt to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack Vance and Tad Williams, but the series differs from Tolkien's inspiration in its greater use of realistic elements. While Tolkien was inspired by mythology, A Song of Ice and Fire is more clearly influenced by medieval and early modern history, most notably Jacobitism and the Wars of the Roses. Likewise, while Tolkien tended toward romantic relationships, Martin writes frankly of sex, including incest, adultery, prostitution, and rape. As a result, illegitimate children play prominent roles throughout the series. This has led to the series being cited as the forerunners of a 'gritty' new wave of epic fantasy authors that followed, including Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie. On his website, Martin has acknowledged historical fiction authors such as Bernard Cornwell and George MacDonald Fraser to be influences on the series. Martin has cited the cover blurb by Robert Jordan for the first book to have been influential in ensuring the series' early success with fantasy readers.
Originally planned as a trilogy, the series now consists of five published volumes :
- A Game of Thrones (1996)
- A Clash of Kings (1998)
- A Storm of Swords (2000)
- A Feast for Crows (2005)
- A Dance with Dragons (2011)
Please note that the book sizes may vary among editions..
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.
- Blood of the Dragon (Asimov’s, July 1996) based on the Daenerys chapters from A Game of Thrones. Received the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Novella.
- Path of the Dragon (Asimov’s, December 2000) based on the Daenerys chapters from A Storm of Swords.
- Arms of the Kraken (Dragon issue 305, August 2002) based on the Iron Islands chapters from A Feast for Crows.
Also a companion volume for the series is in development by George R. R. Martin and co-authors Elio M. Garcia, 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., Additionally the individual books has won a number of awards:
- A Game of Thrones (1996) - Locus Award winner, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards nominee, 1997.
- A Clash of Kings (1998) - Locus Award winner, Nebula Award nominee, 1999.
- A Storm of Swords (2000) - Locus Award winner, Hugo and Nebula Awards nominee, 2001.
- A Feast for Crows (2005) - Hugo, Locus, and British Fantasy Awards nominee, 2006.
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."  However, it is possible to establish some guidelines.
References and Notes
- Spanish Q&A - July 2008
- SFX Magazine #138 feature, Christmas 2005
- Biographical author summaries in Dreamsongs
- Ansible #79, February 1994
- So Spake Martin Report #1
- EW interview: George R.R. Martin talks 'A Dance With Dragons'
- Q&A Summary on Westeros.org - September 1999
- Author statement on Westeros.org - 11 November 1998
- Author statement on Westeros.org - 4 December 1999
- Featured Review: The Hedge Knight
- Interview with Scott Lynch - 2006
- Joe Abercrombie blog entry on A Game of Thrones - 16 February 2008
- GRRM's Blog - 16 September 2007
- 2000 Edition, ISBN 978-0006479901; 2011 Edition, ISBN 978-0006479901
- 2001 Edition, ISBN 978-0007119554; 2011 Edition, ISBN 978-0007447855
- See specifically the 2011 UK Bundles A Game of Thrones 4 VOLUME BOX SET - The Story Continues (A Song of Ice and Fire) [Paperback]; ISBN 978-0007448043, ISBN 978-0007450664, ISBN 978-0007448050, ASIN B005MGAM82.
- A thread that discusses these changes of book size in the UK bundles is available in the forum.
- list Internet book list rating ASOIAF, retrieved December 20th, 2006
- So Spake Martin Report #107
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