On A Song of Ice and Fire

A Different Kind of Other

The Role of Freaks and Outcasts in A Song of Ice and Fire

By Brent Hartinger

Who doesn’t love an underdog?

As humans, most of us seem to be instinctively drawn to outsiders, to the excluded. At least on some level, most of us sympathize with those who are denied even the opportunity to prove their full worth. We recognize that’s just not fair.

Writers know that audiences love underdog stories. From Rocky to Rudy, Star Wars to Seabiscuit, people never seem to tire of them. Besides, if the antagonist isn’t stronger than the protagonist, at least at first, there is no story.

But there are outsiders and then there are outsiders. The sprawling cast of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series includes a surprisingly large number of major characters who are considered social rejects, if not outright freaks, by the people around them: gender-nonconformists like Arya, Brienne, and Varys; at least two disabled characters, Bran and Donal; the overweight Samwell; Jon, a bastard; a number of gay men, including Renly and Loras.

And, of course, the series includes a dwarf, Tyrion: not the beard-wearing, underground-dwelling race of German mythology (and many other works of fantasy), but an actual genetic dwarf.

Indeed, of the series’ fourteen major point-of-view characters to date—Tyrion, Arya, Jon, Daenerys, Bran, Samwell, Brienne, Catelyn, Jaime, Cersei, Eddard, Davos, Theon, and Sansa—at least the first seven violate major gender or social norms. Until just the last few decades, individuals such as these have typically been treated as objects of scorn, ridicule, or pity—not just in most literature, but in the Western civilization that this  …

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