Writing in the Guardian newspaper in December, 2015 Carolyne Larrington, author of Winter is Coming, The Medieval World of Game of Thrones says:
“Both the show and the book sequence on which it’s based, George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, reflect very closely the cultures, beliefs and practices of (the Medieval) era. From the Mongols to the Vikings, from the Mediterranean trading ports to the Celtic lake-dwelling tribes, Martin’s imagined world brings the medieval vividly to life.”
This may be so, but as someone who knows relatively little about the period, I would argue that it is Larrington’s book that brings Martin’s ‘imagined world’ to life. In her book, the reader journeys from the Citadel headquarters of the Order of Maesters, through Westeros and on to the ice Wall of the North, then down to Dorne and across to the East. Readers are shown how Westeros and Essos relate to Europe, the medieval Mediterranean and the exotic, frightening East. Drawing on contemporary accounts by Franciscan friars who visited the court of Ghengis Khan, for example, Larrington discusses the background to the ‘free cities’ and the Dothraki khalasars. In A Game of Thrones, Jorah Mormont says, “A Dothraki wedding without at least three deaths is considered a dull affair”. Larrington adds to this by quoting from a tenth century Old English poem The Fortunes of Men, that tells how the volatile combination of heavy drinking and bragging “about bravery in battle” lead to a rapid loss of life. The book is full of these connections.
Larrington sets out to reveal how the fantasy series is rooted in history, myth and legend, and along the way the reader is treated to details about dragons and giants, and the Undead. We learn how the Iron Bank relates to the medieval banking system and Venetian trade; how the cult of chivalry determined how a man (and Brienne of Tarth) should act; how women in noble houses were constrained, with examples of real queens who when thwarted proved dangerous to both their families and their realms. We learn about noble houses and their sigils, about direwolves and ravens, the Weirwood and its Norse equivalents. Real history and magic; it is a compelling combination.
Carolyne Larrington, who teaches medieval English literature at St John’s College, Oxford, identifies and explains how Martin has used history in a thoroughly sound but accessible manner. The book assumes one is familiar with Martin’s created world, but there are symbols for spoilers so if you are just starting to watch or read, you can see where to skip paragraphs or pages if need be. While this book is unquestionable dense, brim full of historical fact and parallel fictional constructs, it is easy to read. Some paragraphs do get a bit over-full, but Larrington does have much to say. All in all, Winter is Coming is an excellent companion to both the show and books.
Winter is Coming: The Medieval World of Game of Thrones is out now.
Jane G. Harlond is a full-time author, whose historical fiction examines aspects of how time and place influence a person’s life-choices and identity. Her novels include The Empress Emerald set in the first half of the twentieth century (Famelton Publishing, 2014), and The Chosen Man, set in the seventeenth century (Penmore Press, 2015).
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