On A Song of Ice and Fire
Art Imitates War
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in A Song of Ice and Fire
By Myke Cole
It’s hard to zero in on what makes A Song of Ice and Fire so incredibly compelling. It’s one of the most celebrated and famous works in modern fantasy, on par with Tolkien, Jordan, or Sanderson. If there’s one specific area I like to hone in on, it’s Martin’s facility with character. Martin routinely steps into the mindsets of a wide range of characters who are nothing like him. We see through the eyes of Cersei, a haughty woman; Tyrion, a crippled dwarf; Bran, a broken little boy; Petyr Baelish, a politically connected schemer. The list goes on: eunuchs, mothers, blacksmiths, bastards, even animals and monsters. Each one fully realized. Each one authentic.
And each one suffering from intense trauma. Martin’s not very nice to his characters. Westeros is a rough place to grow up. Every single major character in the saga is horribly traumatized at some point, and that trauma is exacerbated as their stories evolve. It’s in that trauma, and how his characters react to it, that I see Martin at his best.
I’ve been to war three times and responded to two major domestic disasters. I’ve seen what serious mental and emotional trauma does to people firsthand. I never expected that experience to apply to a work of fantasy. But by the time I finished A Dance with Dragons, I realized with a start that Martin had captured the range of reactions associated with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). More surprising, Martin was portraying PTSD accurately, as it really happens, …