The smash-hit HBO Game of Thrones television series continues to be a huge hit for both fans of the source novels and of the show itself. With the highly anticipated premiere of the fifth season on April 12th (check HBOgo or DTV for times) now’s a good time to look at the series connections and relationships to other, equally riveting, literature. As revolutionary as it seems, the novels and thus the television show owe much of their inspiration and source material to other, earlier works. George R.R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire series, of which Game of Thrones is the title of the first novel, freely admits to inspiration from a variety of sources, including historical events, fellow fantasy and historical fiction authors, and iconic works of Norse mythology.
Both the novels and the resulting television series have a general premise that resembles a tale as old as time, to borrow a phrase. In Game of Thrones, several families vie for power, control, and ultimately the rulership over the fictional land of Westeros. It’s a theme played out over and over again, both in actual historical events and in various forms of fiction, many of which Martin freely admits to having read and emulated throughout his life.
First off, we have historical inspirations. Martin’s inspiration for the great wall that separates Westeros from the Wildlings and Others came from his own visit to Hadrian’s Wall, or the tourist attraction that remains of it. He also draws inspiration from his knowledge of the historical Wars of the Roses that raged for several decades of the 15th century, although Martin is also quick to point out that this should not be mistaken for a direct character for character comparison.
Further historical influences include real historical massacres that provided fodder for the Red Wedding of the novels and television series, mainly two particular Scottish events that resulted in deception and death when hospitality was expected, called respectively the Black Dinner and the Glencoe Massacre. The rule of hospitality used within the series is also taken directly from historical perspective, as is the concept of arranged marriages that was prevalent throughout much of the world during the Middle Ages and not nearly as contested as portrayed so often in fiction.
Perhaps a little closer to home for fans of the fantasy genre. Martin credits some of his inspiration for the more fantastic elements and the structure of his novels to earlier authors Robert E. Howard, T.H. White, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, and Tad Williams, authors that he admits to having read voraciously throughout his life. Borrowing from such sword and sorcery classics as the Conan the Barbarian stories by Howard and the Arthurian stories as told by White, Game of Thrones has its share of fantastic creatures and characters. Series that went beyond the formulaic trilogy structure that was so popular in the 1960’s and ’70’s, such as Lord of the Rings and Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series inspired Martin to create a series that will eventually stretch to seven books in all.
Finally, no acknowledgement of prior fantasy works would be complete without reaching back to mythological tales, in this case the Norse Volsunga Saga and the Elder Edda, both of which were instrumental in providing many of the themes found in the works of authors that in turn, inspired Martin in Game of Thrones. The legends contained in these works involved dragons, warriors of both sexes, dwarves and characters of other races, and the conquest of kingdoms, elements borrowed and/or stolen for just about any fantasy work that followed, including Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and then Martin’s Game of Thrones.
From Norse mythology to more contemporary icons of the fantasy genre, Martin takes the best of what’s come before and makes it his own in Game of Thrones, and fans of the novels, the television series, or both are grateful for it.