Dragons, The World of Ice and Fire, & Your Thoughts on Fantasy

smaug-hobbit-drogon

Last night, at his New York chat about his latest book The World of Ice and Fire, George RR Martin said that his dragons, notably Drogon, wouldn’t stand a chance against The Hobbit‘s Smaug. “Drogon could never beat Smaug in a fight… Drogon is a very young dragon,” Martin said. “Not to mention Smaug, like, talks, which would give him an intellectual advantage.”

dragons-game-of-thrones

Bad-boy dragon, Drogon. © HBO.

(For the record, Martin also noted that The World of Ice and Fire does not rival Tolkein’s The Silmarillion.)

The A Song of  Ice and Fire series contains relatively little magic compared to some fantasy novels. In fact, Martin nearly wrote a historical novel about the Wars of the Roses and almost didn’t include dragons in A Game of Thrones. His friend Phyllis Eisenstein talked him into adding the fire-breathers by saying, as Martin tells it, “George, it’s a fantasy – you’ve got to put in the dragons.”

Recently, I found myself reflecting on Martin’s use of fantasy. I have some friends — ISTJs for anyone into Myers-Briggs personality types — who wrinkle their noses they hear “fantasy” and grit their teeth through the GoT scenes with dragons.

Does fantasy add to ASOIAF/GoT or subtract from it? Share your thoughts in these polls and in the comments below.

Do you like the magic in Game of Thrones?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Before you read GoT or watched ASOIAF, were you a...

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

(I realize that the novels elaborate more about the fantasy, and it a different fantasy experience; however, for simplicity I lumped both the show and under “GoT” in the poll.)

 Image: Copyright Warner Bros.

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

8 Comments

  • Reply October 27, 2014

    Grant

    The magic goes nicely with the themes of the series. Wargs and animal motifs, resurrection powers and the uses of fire, the costs of magic and how much someone will pay to get what they want. Then there’s the prophecies, very similar to their use in Greek works and how they spur people to unwise actions. True that last one could exist even without the prophecies being real, but I don’t think it would have the same strength.

    Not every fantasy novel needs to go to great lengths to show how magic ties into every possible thing, but a good one uses the fantastic to bolster the mundane story.

  • Reply October 28, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    Hmm… bolster the mundane story? Do you think that Game of Thrones would be mundane without the magic? (I’m not being sarcastic or challenging; I’m being curious. Minus the magic and you could argue that GoT is mainly just a story about politics. Political theory/politics isn’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea – admittedly I like it, but I’m just saying…)

    I just had a conversation with somebody about well-done fantasy/magic the other day, and that person made the very clever observation that fantasy amplifies emotions and theme. That is, it needs to be integrated. Terrible example but the magic in the movie The Craft makes the girls beautiful or desirable. The theme of the movie is about girls’ coming of age experiences, their insecurity about their looks, boys, etc. The magic in the (Christian) allegorical Chronicles of Narnia often relates to the Resurrection of Christ (in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) and the creation of the world (The Magician’s Nephew). You could argue the ending of Harry Potter is like that too.

    • Reply October 29, 2014

      Grant

      Mundane as in regular or based on real life, not mundane as in below average. You could still have the theme of cold equaling death without the Others, but it’s definitely bolstered by them.

      • Reply October 29, 2014

        Jamie Adair

        You’re right. I think adding fantasy does heighten the drama or emotions.Adding fantasy to a cold death makes it a lot more interesting than watching somebody shiver to death. (BTW, in Canada a standard short story on the curriculum is Jack London’s miserable “To Build a Fire” – which is about a man freezing to death in the Yukon. The story is like chewing on tin foil.)

  • Reply October 28, 2014

    Jun

    I read very little fantasy before stumbling upon A Game of Thrones. The thing is, a lot of what we are familiar with, like the Bible and folklore and ghost stories and Latin American literature, have some magic without being overwhelmed by supernatural elements. I think most people have a bit of magical thinking anyway. The chief feature of fantasy literature is not really magic but world building.

    The thing is, if GRRM actually wrote a historical novel, he couldn’t have mixed so many disparate sources and inspirations into one novel, could he? (Although that might not be a bad thing.) A realistic historical novel couldn’t have combined allegories of the Mini-Ice Age, as you recently mentioned, and nuclear weapons (ie, dragons). Have to use fantasy.

  • Reply October 28, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I am puzzled as to how the legend of dragons arose in the real world. I read one theory that places that have coal deposits (eg Wales) sometimes had smoke coming from the ground and stories of fire-breathing beasts grew up to explain this. Another theory I came across was that people in times past were perplexed by dinosaur ones. Searching on the internet I came across this sitehttp://www.draconika.com/legends.php about dragons. Maud and the Wyvern was new to me, though the wyvern has to go in the end. There are fantastical elements in the King Arthur Legend – which I grew up with in the UK and in the Welsh Mabinogian. As an aside, Mark Henwick, the father of Jessica H, the Nymeria Sand actress for GoT has written books with a fantastical aspect and in her teens Jessica played one of a group of youngsters who were transported into the spirit world “Spirit Warriors” (a BBC children’s programme) to take on villains and their mentor was a water dragon voiced by Burt Kwouk [well-known in the UK but North Americans would likely know him as Cato – the kung fu practising factotem in the Peter Sellars Inspector Clouseau films). That’s off-topic – co-incidences interest me though.

    • Reply October 29, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      @Watcher… first of all, thanks for the link. Coincidentally, I was working on an article about dragons when I saw your comment! (I just published it http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/magic/magic-dragons). I took a look at the Draconika website, and it looks very cool. I could see it becoming a new addiction. I didn’t have enough time before I published this article to really drill into the site. I could not find anything great on the origins of dragons sadly. Your theories here are better than the ones I found – I especially love the legend about Wales and smoke.

      The best information that I could find is in The Real Middle Earth book that I have — and even then nothing on point. (BTW, I’m not a huge LOTR fan, but I got the book to try to learn more about GRRM’s influences and the book is fascinating. I’m not necessarily recommending it unless you love LOTR, but it has all these tidbits about the dark ages, etc.)

      That’s a weird/neat coincidence about the sand snake actress’s father being a fantasy novelist. He must be thrilled to pieces his daughter got that part.

  • Reply October 30, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I think I read the surmising about the origins of dragons in an old (online) copy of the New York Times. If I can find the article again I will provide a link; it’s a while since I found it – after I’d just finished “Merlin” and had recently discovered “Game of Thrones”.

Leave a Reply