Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Song of Religion and Literature: The Influence of Real Faith on A Song of Ice and Fire

While writing the book series A Song of Ice and Fire, author George R.R Martin was clear in his intentions.  During an interview with New Jersey monthly (Martin originates from Bayonne New Jersey) he stated, “…historical fiction, particularly the historical fiction set during the middle ages, had an excitement to it and a grittiness and a realness to it that the fantasy novels lacked, even when they were supposedly set during a quasi-medieval period. I wanted to combine the best of both worlds, to almost write a historical novel about history that never happened.”  By drawing inspiration from factual history, Martin adds realistic depth to his novels.  Some of the arms, such as wild fire, were inspired by Greek fire used during the Byzantine Empire.  In addition, several of the characters, such as Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon, were drawn by medieval kings Richard the third and Edward the fourth respectively.  However, Martin’s biggest influence on his novels may have not been in weapons or specific people from history, but in the grounded religions present in Westeros.
Old Gods of the Forest
Though Martin’s world is vast, there are only a few religions present in his novels.  There are the old gods, who are the gods of the forest, mountains and streams.  They are the oldest religion in Westeros, worshipedby the magical children of the forest before the First Men came to the continent and later adopted the religion.  Another is the faith of the seven, which is the dominant religion in the Seven Kingdoms.  Appropriate to its name, the religion is devised around the number seven, meaning to symbolize the seven facets of its one god.  R’hloor is a faith brought from the separate continent of Essos.  It holds a black and white view of the world, where R’hllor is the one true god, and other religions are false idols that must be destroyed.   In addition, there are a few minor gods, such as the Drowned God, the Storm God, the Lady of the Waves, and the Lord of the Skies.
Star of the Seven
All of these religions were created with real world religions in mind.  The old gods are similar to gods of nomadic peoples.  Westeros citizens treat followers of these gods with disdain, labelling them as archaic.  In one regard, this could relate to Judaism in medieval times, where followers of Christianity viewed the Jewish faith as outdated.  In their eyes, they could not see why Jews would continue to believe in the old religion.  Comparatively, the faith of the seven is representative of the Christian faith.  In the faith of the seven, seven different aspects (the Father, the Mother, the Maiden, the Crone, the Warrior, the Smith, and the Stranger) compromise the face of the one god.  This is symbolic of Christianity, where the holy trinity of father, son, and holy ghost are separate, but connected to each other.  Similarly, the many rituals and structure of the faith is similar to Catholic establishments in medieval times.   Churches are known as “septs”, which are seven-sided buildings, with each wall dedicated to one of the seven aspects. Followers of the Faith gather in septs for group prayer, which involves singing hymns of praise to the Seven. One such hymn dedicated to the Mother is "Gentle Mother, Font of Mercy", which was influenced by the many hymns for the Virgin Mary in Catholicism.
Sept of Baelor
While religion provides character background details in his novels, Martin refuses to acknowledge any of his religions as being right or wrong.  Similar to the real world, wars are influenced by religions, but he never puts one religion as less important than another in his novels.  Though there are miracles present, they never have the effect that Christianity has on medieval literature, such as The King of Tars.  By drawing from real religions in his writing, Martin subverts some of the tropes we are seeing in classic medieval literature.

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