Game of Tropes: Subversion of Medieval Ideals in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire
By Luuk Verweij
Master’s Thesis, Leiden University, 2017
Introduction: George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire incorporates many elements that make the genre of fantasy so appealing, such as dragons, zombies, magic, wars, kings, and knights. Scholars have observed that Martin’s world is influenced greatly by medieval history and literature. Carolyn Larrington, for instance, states that “A Song of Ice and Fire constructs its fantasy out of familiar building blocks […] chiselled out of the historical and imaginary medieval past”.
Larrington points out that Martin draws on both early medieval and high medieval history, incorporating into his work warrior tribes like the Anglo-Saxons as well as important themes from a later medieval period, such as chivalry. From the twelfth century onwards, Larrington explains, chivalry became concerned with courtesy, good manners, and respect towards women. In spite of this medieval knightly ideal, many of Martin’s princes and knights lack manners and treat women badly: Martin does not only incorporate these medieval “building blocks” into his own work, he also deviates from them.
Sansa Stark’s story exemplifies this deviation: always dreaming about knights and princes, she is beside herself with excitement when she is betrothed to crown prince Joffrey. As the story unfolds, however, Joffrey turns out to be rather vile and sadistic. Eventually, Sansa is forced to accept that her romantic view of kingship and chivalry was far removed from reality. The different approach to chivalry that Martin offers is not the only way in which A Song of Ice and Fire contrasts with conventional medieval values.