“Boys and girls, they’re all Bat Durston stories.”–GRRM
Hello and welcome to a quick post that I hope provides a little insight into how I and why I compare the works of George R.R. Martin within its own world. This does often include snippets of GRRM’s admitted other inspirations outside of his #Martinworld works. However, after many years in the fandom, I am at a point in fan-analysis that I find a focus on how GRRM is using these influences and working what parts into A Song of Ice and Fire (part of Martinworld) is more useful. I have read and studied all of his printed, filmed, and available works.
This is an oft debated topic and I speculate that it will never be settled in, or out of, the fandom. I am not trying to change anyone’s mind about the matter, just giving George R.R. Martin quotes in, and out of, his stories.
What’s it all about?
Science refers to the process of exploring new knowledge methodically through observation and experiments. Technology refers to the process of applying scientific knowledge in practical applications for various purposes. Depending on where you go in the world, it could just be magic, right? For the record, in my own opinion based on reading all of the written works by George R.R. Martin, the merging in ASOIAF-world of the knowledge of the maesters and folk practices/knowledge is going to show readers a glimpse of the future of Westeros (Planetos?) beyond the written story. An epilogue that seeds the future. This merging will bring about the birth scientific knowledge, and that is why Greenseeing Means Enlightenment.
SSM Submitted By: G. Rome: There is an aspect of a SOI&F (and all high/medieval fanatasy) which has me puzzled. Why is there so little technological process? The Starks have been medieval lords and kings for millennia, and it seems that there is very little chance of Westeros ever progressing beyond a medieval society. Is this because the existence of magic inhibits or precludes linear technological progress?
GRRM: Oh, I wouldn’t go that far.
I don’t know that “linear technological progress” is necessarily inevitable in a society. In fact, if you look at our real world, it only happened once. Other cultures and societies existed for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years without ever experiencing major technological change.
In the specific case of Westeros, the unpredictable nature of the seasonal changes and the harshness of the winters must play a role.
I do think that magic perhaps makes development of the scientific method less likely. If men can fly by means of a spell, do you ever get the Wright Brothers? Or even daVinci? An interesting question, and I’m not sure I know the answer.
The answer to GRRM’s work is in GRRM’s works. This furniture rule is the connecting thread to his own style of writing. In his writing style, this is stronger than what real world influences could be, or what we want them to be. His world, his rules:
“In A Song of Ice and Fire, I take stuff from the Wars of the Roses and other fantasy things, and all these things work around in my head and somehow they jell into what I hope is uniquely my own.” –GRRM
So here I am with a test video documenting my horrid ‘read out loud’ skills. This is a long standing and well known fact in the critique groups I work with (sorry, authors). Because I am reading a small section of a larger passage, I am also going to provide the text after the video.
(Sorry about that awful video, haha. Didn’t mean to torture ya with my five minute/no prep/first video ever idea. I can only promise to torture you more in the future when you least expect it.)
Now, this doesn’t mean that A Song of Ice and Fire is secret SciFi. No, that’s just the furniture. ASOIAF is part of Martinworld, which is made up of all of George R.R. Martin’s works. ASOIAF is not secretly part of Thousand Worlds, or Wildcards, or Armageddon Rag either. Forget those conspiracy theories and enjoy ASOAIF for the magnum opus that it is, after all, GRRM has been working for decades to perfect it.
Someone asked why the seasons are so messed up. Martin said he couldn’t give an answer because that would be telling! He did say that there would eventually be an answer in one of the books, and the answer would be a fantasy (as opposed to a science fiction/science based) answer. —So Spake Martin
This is an excerpt from a Weird Tales interview that took place a few years ago:
The most conspicuous aspect of the world of Westeros in A Song of Ice and Fire is the nature of the seasons, the long and random nature of the seasons. I have gotten a number of fan letters over the years from readers who are trying to figure out the reason for why the seasons are the way they are. They develop lengthy theories: perhaps it’s a multiple-star system, and what the axial tilt is, but I have to say, “Nice try, guys, but you’re thinking in the wrong direction.” This is a fantasy series. I am going to explain it all eventually, but it’s going to be a fantasy explanation. It’s not going to be a science-fiction explanation.
A better, broader term for what George R.R. Martin most often writes in is the category known as speculative fiction. Speculative fiction is a literary ‘super genre,’ which encompasses a number of different genres of fiction, each with elements that are based on conjecture and do not exist in the real world. Fantasy and Science Fiction are basically children of speculative fiction; siblings to each other.
Also, I did speak to Game of Owns about Martinworld at the beginning of the year before Earth started its 2020 cataclysms. Listen here, if you want.
Q: Although you have always written both Fantasy and SF, A Song of Ice and Fire is, I believe, your first foray into the traditional epic Fantasy genre. Commercial considerations aside, what attracted you to the genre?
GRRM: Actually, I had made several forays into high fantasy years and even decades before I began work on A Song of Ice and Fire — The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr, The Ice Dragon, In the Lost Lands, etc. Even in my rock ‘n’ roll mystery horror fantasy, The Armageddon Rag, I named my fictional 60s rock band the Nazgul, and called their first album “Hot Wind Out of Mordor.”
A Game of Thrones was my first attempt at epic Fantasy at novel length, but I’d loved the genre all my life. Growing up, I never made any distinctions between SF, Fantasy, and Horror. I would read Jack Vance’s Dying Earth one week, and Asimov’s Foundation the next, and enjoy them both. And The Lord of the Rings had as much impact on me as any book I ever read.
Here he is explaining the rationalism he builds into his works of imaginative-speculative fiction.
The Furniture Rule, by George R.R. Martin
One might argue that Richard III is rightfully about the Wars of the Roses, not the fascist movements of the ’30s. One might also insist that Coriolanus should be set in Rome, not Paris. One might point out rather forcefully that Mercutio was not, in fact, a black drag queen. All that is true, as far as it goes.
And yet … sometimes … more often than not … the Bard’s plays still work, no matter how bizarrely the genius directors decide to trick them out. Once in the while, as in Ian McClellan’s film of Richard III, they work rather magnificently.
And for that matter, my favorite science fiction film of all time is not 2001: A Space Odyssey or Alien, or Star Wars, or Bladerunner, or (ugh) The Matrix, but rather Forbidden Planet, better known to us cognoscenti as The Tempest on Altair-4, and starring Leslie Nielsen, Anne Francis, Walter Pidgeon, and Bat Durston.
But how could this be? How could critics and theatergoers and Shakespeareans possibly applaud these Bat Durston productions, rip’d untimely as they are from their natural and proper settings?
The answer is simple. Motor cars or horses, tricorns or togas, ray-guns or six-shooters, none of it matters, so long as the people remain. Sometimes we get so busy drawing boundaries and making labels that we lose track of that truth.
Casablanca put it most succinctly. “It’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die.”
William Faulkner said much the same thing while accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature, when he spoke of “the old verities and truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” The “human heart in conflict with itself,” Faulkner said, “alone can make good writing, because only that is worth writing about.”
We can make up all the definitions of science fiction and fantasy and horror that we want. We can draw our boundaries and make our labels, but in the end it’s still the same old story, the one about the human heart in conflict with itself.
The rest, my friends, is furniture.
The House of Fantasy is built of stone and wood and furnished in High Medieval. Its people travel by horse and galley, fight with sword and spell and battle-axe, communicate by palantir or raven, and break bread with elves and dragons.
The House of Science Fiction is built of duralloy and plastic and furnished in Faux Future. Its people travel by starship and aircar, fight with nukes and tailored germs, communicate by ansible and laser, and break protein bars with aliens.
The House of Horror is built of bone and cobwebs and furnished in Ghastly Gothick. Its people travel only by night, fight with anything that will kill messily, communicate in screams and shrieks and gibbers, and sip blood with vampires and werewolves.
The Furniture Rule, I call it.
Forget the definitions. Furniture Rules.
Ask Phyllis Eisenstein, who has written a series of fine stories about a minstrel named Alaric, traveling through a medieval realm she never names … but if you corner her at a con she may whisper the name of this far kingdom. “Germany.” The only fantastic element in the Alaric stories is teleportation, a psi ability generally classed as a trope of SF. Ah, but Alaric carries a lute, and sleeps in castles, and around him are lords with swords, so ninety-nine readers out of every hundred, and most publishers as well, see the series as fantasy. The Furniture Rules.
Ask Walter Jon Williams. In Metropolitan and City on Fire he gives us a secondary world as fully imagined as Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a world powered entirely by magic, which Walter calls “plasm.” But because the world is a single huge decaying city, rife with corrupt politics and racial tensions, and the plasm is piped and metered by the plasm authority, and the sorcerers live in high-rises instead of castles, critics and reviewers and readers alike keep calling the books science fiction. The Furniture Rules.
Peter Nicholls writes, “… SF and fantasy, if genres at all, are impure genres … their fruit may be SF, but the roots are fantasy, and the flowers and leaves perhaps something else again.” If anything, Nicholls does not go far enough, for westerns and mysteries and romances and historicals and all the rest are impure as well. What we really have, when we get right down to the nitty-gritty, are stories. Just stories.
–Dreamsongs volume II
Book Club Rereads
I have started a book club re-read for the older works of George R.R. Martin for purposes such as research, scholarship, and teaching. I own all copies of material that is used for this book club. If you have not yet read a story listed, please check with your local bookstore for your own reading material to purchase. (Indie Bookstore Finder, or Martin’s Website) The full list of GRRM stories outside of the A Song of Ice and Fire series that I have read can be found on this page here.
If this has done more to whet your tentacles with a seething desire to feed upon the organic noodle matter of more stories, peruse the main Book Club page for the most up-to-date list, or from the list below:
- Bitterblooms– In the dead of deep winter, a young girl named Shawn has to find the mental courage to escape a red fiery witch. Prototyping Val, Stannis, and Arya along with the red witch Melisandre.
- The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr – Discarded Knights guards the gates as Sharra feels the Seven while searching for lost love. Many Sansa and Ashara Dayne prototyping here as well.
- …And Seven Times Never Kill Man– A look into a proto-Andal+Targaryen fiery world as the Jaenshi way of life is erased. But who is controlling these events? Black & Red Pyramids who merge with Bakkalon are on full display in this story.
- The Last Super Bowl– Football meets SciFi tech with plenty of ASOIAF carryover battle elements.
- Nobody Leaves New Pittsburg– first in the Corpse Handler trio, and sets a lot of tone for future ASOIAF thematics.
- Closing Time– A short story that shows many precursor themes for future GRRM stories, including skinchanging, Sneaky Pete’s, catastrophic long nights…
- The Glass Flower– a tale of how the drive for perfection creates mindlords and mental slavery.
- Run to Starlight– A tale of coexistence and morality set to a high stakes game of football.
- Remembering Melody– A ghost tale written by GRRM in 1981 that tells of long nights, bloodbaths, and pancakes.
- Fast-Friend transcribed and noted. Written in December 1973, this story is a precursor to skinchanging, Bran, Euron, Daenerys, and ways to scheme to reclaim lost love.
- The Steel Andal Invasion– A re-read of a partial section of The World of Ice and Fire text compared to the story …And Seven Times Never Kill Man. This has to do with both fire and ice Others in ASOIAF.
- A Song for Lya– A novella about a psi-link couple investigating a fiery ‘god’. Very much a trees vs fire motif, and one of GRRM’s best stories out there.
- For A Single Yesterday– A short story about learning from the past to rebuild the future.
- This Tower of Ashes– A story of how lost love, mother’s milk, and spiders don’t mix all too well.
- A Peripheral Affair (1973)– When a Terran scout ship on a routine patrol through the Periphery suddenly disappears, a battle-hungry admiral prepares to renew the border war.
- The Stone City– a have-not surviving while stranded on a corporate planet. Practically a GRRM autobiography in itself.
- Slide Show– a story of putting the stars before the children.
- Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark– rubies, fire, blood sacrifice, and Saagael- oh my!
- A Night at the Tarn House– a magical game of life and death played at an inn at a crossroads.
- Men of Greywater Station– Is it the trees, the fungus, or is the real danger humans?
- The Computer Cried Charge!– what are we fighting for and is it worth it?
- The Needle Men– the fiery hand wields itself again, only, why are we looking for men?
- Black and White and Red All Over– a partial take on a partial story.
- Fire & Blood excerpt; Alysanne in the north– not a full story, but transcribed and noted section of the book Fire & Blood, volume 1.
If you want to browse my own thoughts and speculations on the ASOIAF world using GRRM’s own work history, use the drop-down menu above for the most content, or click on the page that just shows recent posts -> Recent Posts Page.
Also, don’t forget to check out new guest author SandraM and her essays about Sansa and more. Storm Cloud Rising main page.
Thank you for reading the jambles and jumbles of the Fattest Leech of Ice and Fire, by Gumbo!