On A Song of Ice and Fire

Introduction: In Praise of Living History

By James Lowder

In August 1996, when A Game of Thrones first hit store shelves, the speculative fiction cognoscenti thought they knew what they had before them. For more than two decades, George R.R. Martin had been producing consistently smart, finely crafted prose in the service of predictably unpredictable plots. Industry insiders, along with fans and scholars of genre fiction, had saluted these works with an impressive array of nominations and awards, stretching all the way back to the early 1970s. A new Martin release was something to anticipate, at least for those in the know, and the smart money was on the book garnering several major award nominations, if not the statues themselves.

The few thousand readers who picked up the first printing of A Game of Thrones cracked it open and nodded knowingly at the grim, character-focused tale. As with many of Martin’s earlier works, history and the fantasy tradition–in particular, lesser-known weird fantasy authors such as Mervyn Peake and Jack Vance–inform the rich setting. Scrape the paint on the house sigils and beneath the gold lions and grey direwolves you’ll glimpse the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York. Map out the treacherous rooftops of Winterfell as Bran Stark races across them in play and you can see where he might well bump into Steerpike as that arch-schemer makes his own trek across the vast and crumbling roofscape of Castle Gormenghast.

As expected, the cognoscenti nominated A Game of Thrones for a World Fantasy Award and a Nebula, while  …

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