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A Song of Ice and Fire

A Song of Ice and Fire is an award-winning 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 four published volumes with three more projected. There are also two prequel novellas available, with several more planned, and a series of novellas consisting of excerpts of the main novels. One of these excerpt novellas has won a Hugo Award. The series has been translated into eighteen languages and the fourth volume reached the top of the New York Times bestseller lists upon its release.

The story of A Song of Ice and Fire takes place in a fictional secondary world, primarily upon a continent called Westeros but also on a large landmass to the east. Most of the characters are human but as the series progresses other races are introduced, such as the enigmatic and threatening Others and a towering race of giants from the far north. There are three principal storylines in the series: the chronicling of a dynastic civil war for control of Westeros between several competing families; the rising threat of the Others who dwell beyond an immense wall of ice that forms Westeros' northern border; and the journey of Daenerys Targaryen, the exiled daughter of the rightful king who was murdered in another civil war fifteen years previously and now seeks to return to Westeros and claim her rightful throne.

The series is told in the limited third-person through the eyes of a number of POV characters. By the end of the fourth volume, there have been twenty-five such characters, although these include eight who only appear once apiece. Martin is noted for his ruthlessness towards his characters. By the end of the fourth volume eight of the POV characters have been killed.

While the series is set in a fictional secondary world and Martin has acknowledged his debt to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Jack Vance and Tad Williams, the series differs from these earlier works in its greater interest in and use of realistic elements. While Tolkien was inspired by mythology, A Song of Ice and Fire is more clearly influenced by medieval history, most notably the Wars of the Roses. This has led to the series being cited as a forerunner of a 'gritty' new wave of epic fantasy authors that followed, including Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erikson and Scott Bakker. 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 series to have been influential in ensuring the series' early success with fantasy readers.

The growing popularity of the series led to it being optioned by HBO, an option which they have now chosen to exercise, for a possible television adaptation, while there are popular board and role-playing games based on the books available, as well as a collection of artwork based on and inspired by the series.

The series has been placed as the number 2 rated series at the Internet Book List as of November 12th, 2007.

Novels and novellas

There are also three prequel novellas to the series, known as the "Tales of Dunk and Egg" after the main protagonists. They are set about ninety years before the novels.

The Hedge Knight and The Sworn Sword are also both available as graphic novels from Dabel Brothers Productions. 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. Publication of the third "Dunk and Egg" novella, entitled The Mystery Knight, is provisionally set for 2009 in an anthology named Warriors, which will be edited by Martin and Gardner Dozois.

Background

The background to A Song of Ice and Fire is revealed through the lengthy appendices which follow on from each volume, with additional information revealed through the novellas, the text of the novels themselves and the role-playing game.

The narrative is set primarily in the fictional Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, a large, South America-sized continent with an ancient history stretching back some twelve thousand years, and where the seasons last for years. The original inhabitants of the land were the children of the forest (whose old gods are still worshipped in the North), a dimunitive race who lived in harmony with nature and employed powerful magic. The First Men, a civilisation of primitive warriors wielding bronze weapons and riding horses, crossed over from the eastern continent via a land bridge (destroyed in the resulting conflicts) and fought a series of wars against the children which ended with the Pact of the Isle of Faces being signed, with the First Men taking control of the open lands and the children remaining in the forests.

The Pact was weakened after four thousand years by the emergence of the Others, an enigmatic race from the furthermost north, who swept south into Westeros and caused great death and destruction, bringing about a night that lasted a generation and a winter that lasted decades. In the War for the Dawn, the Others were thrown back by the First Men and the children of the forest, and the vast Wall was raised to bar their passage south should they come again. In the following centuries the children gradually disappeared, and it was presumed that they died out or left Westeros altogether.

Approximately two thousand years after the War for the Dawn, the Andals crossed the narrow sea from the eastern continent. The Andals wielded iron weapons, had tamed horses to use in battle and brought with them the Faith of the Seven. They landed in the Vale of Arryn and over the course of several millennia subjugated the southern kingdoms. However, they could not take the North due to natural defences. Over time six great and powerful kingdoms were forged across Westeros: the Kingdom of the North, the Kingdom of the Iron Islands, the Kingdom of Vale and Sky, the Kingdom of the Rock, the Kingdom of the Storm Kings and the Kingdom of the Reach. A seventh kingdom—that of the Riverlands—was repeatedly conquered by its neighbours and eventually was destroyed altogether, whilst the small desert kingships in the far south of Westeros were divided by constant struggle and war. One thousand years prior to the events of the novels, a great host of refugees from the region of the River Rhoyne on the eastern continent—displaced by the growing power of a distant empire called Valyria—crossed the narrow sea under the warrior-queen Nymeria and landed in the southern-most part of Westeros. The Rhoynar allied with the native Lord Mors Martell and conquered the southern peninsula of Dorne, forging another powerful kingdom.

By five centuries later the expanding Valyrian Freehold had reached the far coast of the narrow sea and established links with Westeros, using the island of Dragonstone as a trading port. However, a mere century later the Valyrian Freehold was destroyed by a titanic disaster known as the Doom. The Valyrian family that controlled Dragonstone, the Targaryens, spent a further century in preparing their forces, and then launched a devastating invasion of Westeros under Aegon the Conqueror. Although their forces were tiny, they had with them the last three dragons in the western world and they were able to use these to subjugate the continent. Six of the Seven Kingdoms were conquered in this initial war, but Dorne resisted so fiercely that Aegon agreed to let them remain independent. The Targaryens adopted the native Faith of the Seven (although they still married brother to sister in the ancient Valyrian tradition in defiance of the Faith's teachings) and Westerosi customs, and within a few decades had crushed all resistance to their rule. The last dragons died out a century and a half into the Targaryen rule, but by this time they had become the ruling power on the continent and their rule was not challenged at this time.

Fifteen years prior to the beginning of the novels, the Targaryens were displaced from power in a civil war brought about by King Aerys II's (called "the Mad King") insanity and cruelty. An alliance of houses under the leadership of Lord Robert Baratheon, Lord Jon Arryn and Lord Eddard Stark successfully destroyed the Targaryen armies, slew King Aerys and his heirs and wiped out most of the line, aside from Aerys' pregnant wife and his son Viserys, who fled to Dragonstone. Aerys' wife died giving birth to Daenerys Targaryen, who was taken to safety in the Free Cities beyond the narrow sea by loyal retainers. In the meantime, Robert Baratheon took the Iron Throne and married Cersei Lannister, whose father Tywin had delivered Robert the capital of King's Landing through treachery.

Plot summary

A Song of Ice and Fire follows three principal storylines, divided by geography and participants.

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 that the throne should fall to him. Robert's youngest brother, Renly, also places a claim with the support of the extremely powerful House Tyrell. Whilst these three 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 towards independence. The War of the Five Kings is the principal storyline in the second and third novels, while the fourth novel concerns the realm's recovery in the face of the coming winter.

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 both magic and labor to defend Westeros from the threat of The Others, a race of ice creatures living in the uttermost north. This Wall, long and tall, is defended and maintained by the Sworn Brotherhood of the Night's Watch, whose primary duty is to guard against the Others, but by the time of the novels it is badly under-strength and has almost forgotten its original purpose, instead being threatened by the human 'wildlings' or 'free folk' who live to the north. This storyline follows Jon Snow, bastard son of 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 from it, despite the fact that the people of Westeros are too busy warring to send support. By the end of the third volume, this storyline has become somewhat entangled with the civil war to the south with the arrival of one of the claimants to the Iron Throne after the defeat of his armies in battle.

The third storyline is set on the huge eastern continent and follows the journeys of Daenerys Targaryen, the last (known) scion of House Targaryen and another claimant to the Iron Throne. Daenerys's adventures showcase her growing ability, as she rises 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, and it is presumed she will travel to Westeros before the end of the series. While she has no memories of Westeros and is barely known there, she may still be welcomed: 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.

The eponymous Song of Ice and Fire has been mentioned only rarely in the series so far, most notably in a vision Daenerys sees in A Clash of Kings. This vision depicts her dead brother Rhaegar speaking of his son, saying, "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire". It is implied that there is a connection between this song, the promised prince, and Daenerys herself, who according to her grand-uncle Aemon will fulfill the prophecy (the Valyrian word "prince" is gender-neutral, just as their dragons are hermaphrodites). The phrase "ice and fire" is also mentioned in the Reeds' oath of loyalty to Bran in A Clash of Kings.

See also: List of characters in A Song of Ice and Fire

Historical and literary sources

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 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.

A comparison of Martin's map of Northern Westeros and a map of Great Britain will also show a geographical resemblance. Martin's "Wall" geographically corresponding with Hadrian's Wall and Dorne with Cornwall. Westeros is, however, much larger than Britain, stretching for nearly three thousand miles from the Wall to the Summer Sea.

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 reimagine it all, and take it in new and unexpected directions."

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

Origins of the series

Although George R. R. 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.

After a two-year working hiatus, Martin resumed work on A Game of Thrones in 1994 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, which went on to win the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Novella.

Growth of the series

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

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, while 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."

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

Despite initial hopes of A Dance with Dragons being published quickly after A Feast for Crows, the writing and revision process for this fifth novel proved more difficult than anticipated. On 1 January 2008 Martin published an update on his website saying he hoped to have the book published in the autumn of 2008. In early 2008, publisher Spectra confirmed Martin's update, announcing that A Dance with Dragons will be released on September 30, 2008. However, this date was proved to be incorrect, and Martin's UK publishers issued an apology via Amazon.co.uk and stated that they hope to publish the book in April 2009 instead.

TV adaptation

Variety reported on 17 January 2007 that the rights for A Song of Ice and Fire have been sold to HBO with the intent of turning the novels into a television series. Written and executive produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the series is expected to cover one novel’s worth of material per season. Martin plans to co-executive produce the series and is expected to write one episode per season. The series will be filmed in Europe or New Zealand.

Martin reported in August 2007 that the first draft of the script is complete and stated in November that the script was approved and budgeting has begun. It should be noted, however, that the series has still not been officially greenlit, and the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike could have delayed the process.

In April 2008 David Benioff confirmed that development of the script and series was continuing. He suggested a ‘crappy’ tagline for the project could be, “The Sopranos in Middle-earth.”

In June 2008 Martin reported in his blog that the second draft of the script is complete, but again a final decision has not been made. If the series were to go ahead, the BBC would also be financially involved much as they were for the HBO series Rome.

In September 2008 according to Martin's blog HBO has exercised its option to buy the television rights to produce A Game of Thrones. Martin is quick to point out the project has still not been greenlit, but it is an encouraging first step.

Spin-offs

In addition to the novels and novellas, there are number of other products inspired by the series.

Related publications

Some of the novels' chapters have appeared 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.

A Game of Thrones collectible card game

This is a collectible card game (CCG) produced by Fantasy Flight Games. A number of base sets have been released for the game, each with a number of expansions. The game's primary designer is Eric Lang and the lead developer is Nate French. The A Game of Thrones: Westeros Edition won the Origins Award for Best Trading Card Game of 2002. The Game of Thrones: Ice and Fire Edition won the Origins Award for Best Card Game Expansion or Supplement of 2003. It is an ongoing project consisting of five editions and eight expansions to date.

A Game of Thrones Board Game

In 2003, Fantasy Flight Games released the A Game of Thrones strategy board game created by Christian T. Petersen. The Origins Award-winning game allows the players to take on the roles of several of the Great Houses vying for control of the Seven Kingdoms, including House Stark, House Lannister, House Baratheon, House Greyjoy, House Tyrell, and as of the expansion A Clash of Kings, House Martell. Players maneuver armies to secure support in the various regions that comprise the Seven Kingdoms, with the goal of capturing enough support to claim the Iron Throne. Two expansions for the game, A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords have been released.

A Game of Thrones Roleplaying Game

The A Game of Thrones Roleplaying Game (2005), created by the defunct Guardians of Order company and published by White Wolf, is a roleplaying game using the d20 and the Tri-Stat dX rules systems. The game consists of a single large, full-colour rulebook featuring information on role-playing in the Seven Kingdoms and also background information to the series not found in the novels, including a detailed map of the Seven Kingdoms. The game was very well-received and was nominated for several awards (and won 3 silver ENnie awards for Best Production, Best Game, and Best d20/OGL Product), but this was not enough to save its parent company from closure in July 2006.

On 28 July 2006 George R. R. Martin confirmed that he had received word from the head of Guardians of Order that the company was folding and that no further releases for the setting would take place. Martin expressed hope that the game might be salvaged by another company, and on 24 April 2007, Green Ronin Publishing announced they would be producing a new role-playing game entitled A Song of Ice and Fire.

Green Ronin subsequently established a devoted sub-site for the game, and confirmed that there will be a free 20-page preview booklet of the system made available in June 2008, followed by the Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying core rulebook in August, an adventure entitled Peril at King's Landing in September and the Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying Campaign Guide in October.

The Art of Ice and Fire

This book, published in 2005 by Fantasy Flight Games, contains numerous works of art inspired by the series from a variety of different artists and illustrators. Some of the art previously appeared in the card game or on-line, but most of it was new.

Models and figures

Testor Corporation announced that in late 2006 it would begin releasing model figures based on the series, to be followed by a tactical wargame. Only one product shipped, a Ruby Ford diorama. In April 2007, Martin announced that the licensing agreement with Testor had expired, and Testor's A Song of Ice and Fire product lines had been canceled. In December 2006, Haute Productions signed a deal to release a range of resin mini-busts featuring characters from A Song of Ice and Fire, under the name Valyrian Resin. The company plans to expand the line to include resin statues and pewter chess sets. On August 13, 2007, Dark Sword Miniatures announced a line of premium pewter miniatures based on the world of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, and sculpted by renowned miniatures artist Tom Meier.

The World of Ice and Fire

A companion volume for the series, provisionally known as a ‘world book’, is in development by George R. R. Martin and co-authors Elio M. García, Jr. and Linda Antonsson, although no publication date has been announced as yet. García and Antonsson run the largest A Song of Ice and Fire community on the web and assisted in the writing of the roleplaying game. The companion volume was given the working title The World of Ice and Fire at the 2006 Worldcon, during a discussion between the writers. They confirmed that the book will open with a historical overview of the setting, have a ‘who's who’ of characters and have a large amount of heraldry and at least the Targaryen family tree, possibly more. The book will also contain a large amount of artwork and will be published after A Dance with Dragons is released. The artist Ted Nasmith, best known for his work on illustrated editions of J. R. R. Tolkien books, has been asked to do some landscape and castle portraits for the book. In his correspondence with the publishers, Nasmith was told that the target release date was spring 2008.

Weapon replicas

On 20 March 2007, George R. R. Martin announced on his blog that he had “signed a deal with Jalic, Inc of East Lansing, Michigan, granting them a license to manufacture and sell full-sized high-quality replicas of the arms and armor from A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE”, under the name Valyrian Steel, starting with the bastard sword Longclaw wielded by Jon Snow.

Notes

External links

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