A Game of Thrones is like The Lord of the Rings meets the nightly news. It's got all the things you want in an epic fantasy novel: knights, castles, war, barbarians, strange gods, made-up languages, and even dragons (sort of). But it also has sex, murder, conspiracy, mutilation, incest, rape, and worst of all, lice. So, if you picked up this book hoping for an escape into an anxiety-free land of enchantment and chivalry, then you're probably going to be disappointed: A Game of Thrones may be fantasy, but it's also very real.
A Game of Thrones is the first book in George R.R. Martin's fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, which is currently five books long and not yet complete. (Check out the "Brain Snacks" for some fan angst over that fact.) This first novel tells the story of a medieval-like fantasy land that's different from what we're used to in this type of book: you're not going to get wizards throwing magical fireballs and you're certainly not going to find absolutely evil demons fighting against perfect heroes.
Instead, what we read is a lot more like our own history: there's a civil war, and the characters you like don't always do the right thing (and don't always win). Unlike other fantasy stories, where people worry about dragons (The Hobbit, we're looking at you), people in Martin's world worry about infection and poison and debts that they owe.
On top of its real-but-fantastical content, we also love A Game of Thrones because of how it's set-up: each chapter is told through the eyes of some particular character, from a young child to an exiled princess. Each of these characters gets several chapters to share their story, so we get to know these characters pretty well while still hearing the story from all angles. (See our discussion of "Narrative Technique" for more on that.)
Martin had been a writer almost all his life: he sold his first professional story when he was just twenty-one (so, if you're procrastinating about writing your fantasy epic, get to work). He also had a gig as a Hollywood writer, but itching for something different, he started to write A Game of Thrones in 1991, between projects. Clearly, Martin let himself write a giant, epic story – the kind of story that he couldn't write when he was working for Hollywood, the kind of story that would be too expensive for Hollywood to make. Go ahead, Hollywood, we dare you.
Oh wait. In 2011, HBO actually turned A Game of Thrones into huge, expensive TV series. Though the book wasn't a mega-hit when it first came out in 1996, the whole HBO thing helped quite a bit. And in addition to the highest honor of being made into a TV show, A Game of Thrones won the 1997 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel; and the Daenerys chapters won a Hugo Award for Best Novella when they were printed separately as "Blood of the Dragon." Not bad.
We hope your school or workplace isn't run by people who keep dragons as pets; but except for that and a few other things, the world of A Game of Thrones looks a lot like the world today. That's right – the big ol' fantasy novel is really quite, well, real. Just hear us out.
George R.R. Martin's novel may not be about your upcoming math test or annual employee review, but this book is about people doing the following things:
This is a story about being put into situations where you may want to act heroically (or just effectively), but where it's not always clear how to go about doing that. And because we read this story from multiple points of view, it helps us remember that everyone – even the villains in our own lives – have their own conflicts and baggage.
So in many ways, A Game of Thrones gets us thinking about our own lives. Because when it comes down to it, this is a story about ordinary, everyday life. Plus dragons.
This is George R.R. Martin's website, so it's got a little bit of everything, from his bio to some fan-made art that he seems to like for his books.
Not a Blog
George R. R. Martin does a lot of writing, and some of it is on this not-a-blog. If you want to see what he has to say about editing anthologies or working with HBO, this is your site.
Best Fan-Site Ever
The best apart about Tower of the Hand is that you can set the "scope" for the site: so if you've only read A Game of Thrones, you can set that as the scope and the site won't show you information from the later books. That means no spoilers. Awesome.
Chatting with the Fans
Another fan-site, the Citadel, includes an archive of fan correspondence with Martin. That's right, he's a real person.
A Non-Shmooper Gives it a Shot
Tor.com features a reading (analysis) of the whole series, with chapter-by-chapter thoughts. It's no Shmoop, but it's fun to see what someone else thought when they read A Game of Thrones for the first time.
On the Small Screen
HBO put a lot – a lot – of money into the production and promotion of this show. (They even had food trucks in NYC and LA that had "authentic" food from the Seven Kingdoms.) Apparently, it was worth it: Peter Dinklage even won an Emmy for his version of Tyrion Lannister. Sure, it doesn't follow the book exactly, but it's definitely worth watching.
HBO Tells All
HBO has a very nice website and guide for the TV show that might be helpful for people interested in the book. Oh, and check out those house symbols.
The Author's Take on TV
This interview with George R.R. Martin discusses a lot of interesting issues surrounding the HBO adaptation.
TV Tropes Recaps the Episodes
One of our favorite sites, TV Tropes recaps every episode of the HBO series, including a description of how the episodes differed from the book.
At the New York Times, David Orr gives his (positive) thoughts on Martin's fantasy novels. But wait: Orr isn't a sci-fi reviewer; he mostly writes about poetry. When poetry reviewers are reading a book about dragons, you know it must be good.
This article tracks the sales of <em>A Game of Thrones</em> and the other books in the series over time. Surprise: The HBO series really launched these books into the realm of bestsellers.
Realpolitick in a Fantasy World
Martin's books are loved both by fantasy authors and by real people (zing, take that fantasy authors). For instance, the journal Foreign Policy has an online article about how Martin's series showcases real issues of international relations.
Influential to the Max
John Hodgman argues that Martin is one of our world's best storytellers, creating complex characters and unclear moral situations. That's why he made it on Time's 2011 list of the 100 most influential people. Unexpected, but kind of awesome.
The Author Speaks (at Google!)
It's an hour long, but this Q&A is full of interesting information.
Fantasy Author a Fantasy Author
In another chat with the author, Martin is interviewed by fantasy author Joe Abercrombie. Here he discusses both the book and the TV show.
Peter Dinklage on Tyrion Lannister
Now that it's a TV show, you can find lots of videos of the actors discussing their characters. Here, celeb Peter Dinklage discusses how this book is really about the human drama.
What do you think of the TV show's opening sequence? Why did they decide to show everything as if it were clock-powered?
This "podcast" is only eight short episodes, but it has a lot of interesting discussion on where this book came from and how Martin feels about the games. If you want to hear him talk, this is a good place to start.
The Author Talks Fandom
In this interview, Martin discusses the creation of his fantasy world and how his fans appreciate it. And boy, do we.
The Man Behind the Novels
This is pretty much exactly how we pictured him, to be honest.
Don't Judge a Book by its Old Cover
An old-ish cover for A Game of Thrones. Doesn't quite convey the awesomeness of the book.
Sean Bean as Eddard Stark
What a dude.
Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen
What do you think? Is this how you pictured the princess?
George R. R. Martin as College Professor
This comic strip will be appreciated by anyone whose had some trouble with the, um, massive freakin' length of the books.
The Art of A Song of Ice and Fire
Professional and fan art of Martin's world. Pretty amazing stuff.
A Game of Thrones in LEGOs
If you don't think this is awesome (or hilarious), you may not have a heart.