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 seventeen 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.
- 1 Back story
- 2 Themes of the novels
- 3 Concept and creation
- 4 Publishing history
- 5 Reception
- 6 Derived works
- 7 Pronunciation of names
- 8 References
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 I 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 and 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 Targaryen 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.
Regarding content, there are some major differences between the series and much of the high fantasy genre, but its structure has much in common with The Lord of the Rings. Martin states, "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)
The remaining two novels are provisionally titled:
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:
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. Further, a collection containing the first three published Dunk and Egg novellas called A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms was published in 2015.
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.
Furthermore, Martin released a "history compendium", a companion book to the main series, and has announced a second and third.
- The World of Ice & Fire (2014)
- Fire and Blood, to be released in two volumes, with the first being expected towards the end of 2018 or the start of 2019
First three novels (1991–2000)
George R. R. Martin was already a successful fantasy and sci-fi author and TV writer before writing his A Song of Ice and Fire book series. Martin published his first short story in 1971 and his first novel in 1977. By the mid-1990s, he had won three Hugo Awards, two Nebulas and other awards for his short fiction. Although his early books were well received within the fantasy fiction community, his readership remained relatively small and Martin took on jobs as a writer in Hollywood in the mid-1980s. He principally worked on the revival of The Twilight Zone throughout 1986 and on Beauty and the Beast from 1987 through 1990, but also developed his own TV pilots and wrote feature film scripts. Growing frustrated that none of his pilots and screenplays were getting made, he was also getting tired of TV-related production limitations like budgets and episode lengths that often forced him to cut characters and trim battle scenes. This pushed Martin back towards writing books, his first love, where he did not have to worry about compromising the magnitude of his imagination. Admiring the works of J. R. R. Tolkien in his childhood, he wanted to write an epic fantasy but did not have any specific ideas.
When Martin was between Hollywood projects in the summer of 1991, he started writing a new science fiction novel called Avalon. After three chapters, he had a vivid idea of a boy seeing a man's beheading and finding direwolves in the snow, which would eventually become the first non-prologue chapter of A Game of Thrones. Putting Avalon aside, Martin finished this chapter in a few days and grew certain that it was part of a longer story. After a few more chapters, Martin perceived his new book as a fantasy story and started making maps and genealogies. However, the writing of this book was interrupted for a few years when Martin returned to Hollywood to produce his TV series Doorways that ABC had ordered but eventually never aired.
Martin resumed work on A Game of Thrones in 1994, selling the novel as part of a trilogy to his agent, with the novels A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter following. Shortly afterwards, while still writing the novel, he felt the series needed to be four and eventually six books, imagined as two linked trilogies of one long story. Martin, who likes ambiguous fiction titles because he feels they enrich the writing, chose A Song of Ice And Fire as the overall series title: Martin saw the struggle of the cold Others and the fiery dragons as one possible meaning for "Ice and Fire", whereas the word "song" had previously appeared in Martin's book titles A Song for Lya and Songs of the Dead Men Sing, stemming from his obsessions with songs.
The finished manuscript for A Game of Thrones was 1088 pages long (without the appendices), with the publication following in August 1996. Wheel of Time author Robert Jordan had written a short endorsement for the cover that was influential in ensuring the book's and hence series' early success with fantasy readers. Released for pre-release publicity, a sample novella called Blood of the Dragon went on to win the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Novella.
The second book called A Clash of Kings was released in February 1999 in the United States, with a manuscript length (without appendices) of 1184 pages. A Clash of Kings was the first book of the Ice and Fire series to make the best-seller lists, reaching 13 on the The New York Times Best Seller list in 1999. After the success of The Lord of the Rings film series, Martin received his first inquiries to the rights of the Ice and Fire series from various producers and filmmakers.
Martin was several months late turning in the third book, A Storm of Swords. The last chapter he had written was about the "Red Wedding", a scene notable for its violence two-thirds through the book (see Themes: Violence and death). A Storm of Swords was 1521 pages in manuscript (without appendices), causing problems for many of Martin's publishers around the world. Bantam Books published A Storm of Swords in a single volume in the United States in November 2000, whereas some other-language editions were divided into two, three, or even four volumes. A Storm of Swords debuted at number 12 in the New York Times bestseller list.
Bridging the timeline gap (2000–2011)
After A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, and A Storm of Swords, Martin originally intended to write three more books. The fourth book, tentatively titled A Dance with Dragons, was to focus on Daenerys Targaryen's return to Westeros and the conflicts that creates. Martin wanted to set this story five years after A Storm of Swords so that the younger characters could grow older and the dragons grow larger. Agreeing with his publishers early on that the new book should be shorter than A Storm of Swords, Martin set out to write the novel closer in length to A Clash of Kings. A long prologue was to establish what had happened in the meantime, initially just as one chapter of Aeron Damphair on the Iron Islands at the kingsmoot. Since the events in Dorne and the Iron Islands were to have an impact on the book, Martin eventually expanded the kingsmoot events to be told from three new viewpoints since the existing POV characters were not present in Dorne and the Iron Islands.
In 2001, Martin was still optimistic that the fourth installment might be released in the last quarter of 2002. However, the five-year gap did not work for all characters during writing. On one hand, Martin was unsatisfied with covering the events during the gap solely through flashbacks and internal retrospection. On the other hand, it was implausible to have nothing happening for five years. After working on the book for about a year, Martin realized he needed an additional interim book, which he called A Feast for Crows. The book would pick up the story immediately after the third book, and Martin scrapped the idea of a five-year gap. The material of the 250-page prologue for the beginning of A Feast for Crows was mixed in as new viewpoint characters from Dorne and the Iron Islands. As these expanded storylines affected the others, the plot became much more complicated for Martin.
The manuscript length of A Feast For Crows eventually surpassed A Storm of Swords. Martin was reluctant to make the necessary deep cuts to get the book down to publishable length, as that would have compromised the story he had in mind. Printing the book in "microtype on onion skin paper and giving each reader a magnifying glass" was also not an option for him. On the other hand, Martin rejected the publishers' idea of splitting the narrative chronologically into A Feast for Crows, Parts One and Two. Being already late with the book, Martin had not even started writing all characters' stories and also objected ending the first book without any resolution for its many viewpoint characters and their respective stories as in previous books.
Since the characters were spread out across the world, a friend of Martin suggested to divide the story geographically into two volumes, of which A Feast for Crows would be the first. Splitting the story this way would give Martin the room to complete his commenced story arcs as he had originally intended, which he still felt was the best approach years later. Martin moved the unfinished characters' stories set in the east (Essos) and north (Winterfell and the Wall) into the next book, A Dance with Dragons, and left A Feast for Crows to cover the events on Westeros, King's Landing, the riverlands, Dorne, and the Iron Islands. Both books begin immediately after the end of A Storm of Swords, running in parallel instead of sequentially and involving different casts of characters with only little overlap. Martin split Arya's chapters into both books after having already moved the three other most popular characters (Jon Snow, Tyrion and Daenerys) into A Dance with Dragons.
Upon its release in October 2005 in the UK and November 2005 in the US, A Feast for Crows went straight to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Among the positive reviewers was Lev Grossman of Time, who dubbed Martin "the American Tolkien". However, fans and critics alike were disappointed with the story split that left the fates of several popular characters unresolved after the previous book's cliffhanger ending. With A Dance with Dragons said to be half-finished, Martin mentioned in the epilogue in A Feast for Crows that the next volume would be released by the next year. However, planned release dates were repeatedly pushed back. Meanwhile, HBO acquired the rights to turn Ice and Fire into a dramatic series in 2007 and aired the first of ten episodes covering A Game of Thrones in April 2011.
With around 1600 pages in manuscript length, A Dance with Dragons was eventually published in July 2011 after six years of writing, longer in page count and writing time than any of the preceding four novels. The story of A Dance with Dragons catches up on A Feast of Crows around two thirds into the book, going further than Feast, but covered less story than Martin intended, omitting at least one planned large battle sequence and leaving several character threads ending in cliff-hangers. Martin attributed the delay mainly to his untangling "the Meereenese knot", which the interviewer understood as "making the chronology and characters mesh up as various threads converged on [Daenerys]". Martin also acknowledged spending too much time on rewriting and perfecting the story, but soundly rejected the theories of his more extravagant critics that he had lost interest in the series or would bide his time to make more money.
Planned novels and future
The sixth book is going to be called The Winds of Winter, taking the title of the originally planned fifth book. In June 2010, Martin had already finished four chapters of The Winds of Winter from the viewpoints of Sansa Stark, Arya Stark and Arianne Martell. In the middle of 2011, he also moved a finished Aeron Damphair POV chapter from the then unpublished A Dance with Dragons to the next book. By the publication of A Dance with Dragons, around 100 pages of The Winds of Winter were completed. After a book tour and several conventions, he intended to continue his work on the long-overdue The World of Ice & Fire about the history and genealogy of Westeros, which he wanted to have finished by the end of 2011. He also intended to work on a new Tales of Dunk and Egg novella that was to appear in an anthology called Dangerous Women, but in January 2013 it was announced that that story was delayed and instead it had been replaced with "The Princess and the Queen", a recounting of the events leading up to and through the Dance of the Dragons. Having released a Theon Greyjoy POV sample chapter on his website in December 2011, Martin promised to release a second chapter in the back of the A Dance with Dragons paper-back edition.
Martin hopes to finish The Winds of Winter much faster than the fifth book. Having gotten in trouble from fans for repeatedly estimating his publication dates too optimistically, Martin refrains from making absolute estimates for book six. A realistic estimation for finishing The Winds of Winter might be three years for him at a good pace, but ultimately the book "will be done when it's done". Martin does not intend to separate the characters geographically again but acknowledged that "Three years from  when I'm sitting on 1,800 pages of manuscript with no end in sight, who the hell knows".
Displeased with the provisional title A Time For Wolves for the final volume, Martin ultimately announced A Dream of Spring as the title for the seventh book in 2006. Martin is firm about ending the series with the seventh novel "until I decide not to be firm", leaving open the possibility of an eighth book to finish the series. With his goal to tell the story from beginning to end, he will not truncate the story to fit into an arbitrary number of volumes. Martin is confident to have published the remaining books before the TV series overtakes him, although he told major plot points to the two main Game of Thrones producers in case he should die. (Aged 62 in 2011, Martin is by all accounts in robust health.) However, Martin indicated he would not permit another writer to finish the series. He knows the ending in broad strokes as well as the future of the main characters, which will have bittersweet elements where not everyone will live happily ever after. Martin hopes to write an ending similar to The Lord of the Rings that he felt gave the story a satisfying depth and resonance. On the other hand, Martin noted the challenge to avoid a situation like the finale of Lost, which left fans disappointed by deviating from their own theories and desires.
Martin does not rule out additional stories set in Westeros after the last book, although he is unlikely to continue in that vein immediately. He is fairly definite about only returning to the World of Westeros in context of stand-alone novels. Having created a huge world in such detail, Martin sees the possibility of more stories to tell there. But instead of a direct continuation of A Song of Ice and Fire, he would write stories about characters from other periods of history. He also wants to finish the Dunk and Egg project. He will see if his audience follows him after publishing his next project. He would love to return to writing short stories, novellas, novelettes and stand-alone novels from diverse genres such as science fiction, horror, fantasy, or even a murder mystery. Regarding A Song of Ice and Fire as his magnum opus, Martin is certain to never write anything on the scale of this series again.
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.
- A Dance with Dragons (2011) - Locus Award Winner, Hugo Award nominee, 2012.
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.
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