To be clear, this is not an accusation of plagiarism, but a list of authors, books and creative choices that inspired George R.R. Martin as author of the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and as co-head writer (alongside D.B. Weiss and David Benioff) on Game of Thrones. In fact, author Martin has readily admitted in interviews to drawing inspiration from some of the people and artistic creations listed here.
Some of the authors and art listed are obvious sources that many if not most fantasy and sci-fi authors draw from. Others are less common literary devices or sources of inspiration, artistic works or writers from other genres that you might not otherwise expect to have kicked off George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy juggernaut. And still others, by no means the majority, are things that neither Martin, Weiss, nor Benioff have admitted or even know have influenced their writing; themes that have become part of the collective culture and are therefore echoed in most popular media whether consciously or not.
With a slightly inaccurate, possibly inflammatory, but guaranteed catchy title for a list of people and works that inspired George R.R. Martin, here is: 10 Things That Game Of Thrones “Borrowed” From Other Fantasy Franchises.
10. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth
The most obvious and explicit influence on George R.R. Martin’s initial inspiration to create an epic fantasy with a rich, fully realized cultural, historical, and geographic backdrop to an epic story are Tolkien’s ever-relevant works, all set in a fully mapped out Middle Earth. Martin himself admits to intentionally starting his host of characters on their journeys together (save Daenerys on her lonely trek west), having them split off and eventually unite again like the Fellowship of the Ring splintered and coalesced in the book and film of the same name. Case in point: To fact-check this paragraph and confirm that Daenerys traveled west toward Westeros, an interactive map of George R.R.’s “Earth” was consulted.
9. Historical Fiction
George R.R. Martin admits, in a conversation with historical novelist Bernard Cornwell, a British author whose writings about a Napoleonic rifleman’s fictional wartime experiences were adapted into a TV miniseries, to being influenced by historical fiction including Cornwell’s work. The historical novelist reciprocates in this recorded conversation by calling Martin’s work historical fiction in a fabricated world; where Cornwell has some leeway when it comes to, for example, his book on King Arthur, due to lack of evidence that Merlin’s former apprentice and future king was more than myth, Martin has the ultimate freedom to shape the historical context of his fictional characters. Fun fact: The same actor played Cornwell’s rifleman and Eddard “Ned” Stark.
8. H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Cult
The influences of H.P. Lovecraft and even Edgar Allen Poe are in part responsible for earning on Song of Ice and Fire the title (from sci-fi writer Adam Roberts) of “grimdark” fantasy. Just one example is George R.R. Martin’s use of made-up religions, or cults from characters’ perspectives, and religious leaders who wield dark powers they themselves do not fully understand; leaders who scare non-believers with prophesies about a time when god-like beings who readers and viewers have a hunch are not so friendly will reign again. In the Lovecraft universe, Cthulhu was that ominous being and his worshipers were as creepy as Game of Thrones’ priestess of the Lord of Light, Melisandre.
7. Epic Battles And Military Strategy
He may attribute his penchant for writing military strategy and drawn out battle sequences to his love of historical fiction, but it is impossible to ignore the parallels between Game of Thrones’ sequences like the Battle of Blackwater on one hand, and the Final Battle from the Narnia Chronicles installment of the same name, for example, or Tolkien’s numerous detailed battle plans and epic clashes, on the other. In his conversation with historical novelist Cornwell, George R.R. Martin even name drops some of the battles from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, like Helms Deep and the Battle of Pellenor Field.
6. The Dark Ages
Probably partly due to the fact that Tolkien and peers like C.S. Lewis were Brits writing during and in the wake of a war (WWII) that devastated their country and pitted truly evil, totalitarian regimes against the at-the-time innocent Western world, both authors set up the convention in fantasy writing that holds to this day of setting the story in a time and place like the Dark Ages that follow the Fall of Rome in non-fiction history books.
However, this convention has most likely stood the test of time because characters living on the brink of mutually assured destruction, and in an era when human intellectual and cultural progress has been waylaid by destruction and ignorance are superstitious and so believe in gods and magic and are prone to the brutish behavior that Game of Thrones fans have come to expect and love.
5. Ambiguous Prophesies And A “Chosen One”
King Arthur of Camelot, Neo from the Matrix trilogy, title character Willow, the Baggins’ of The Shire; all were destined to save the world, none of them were told exactly how, but all developed over the course of their story arcs from naive, fearful zeroes into extraordinary leaders and heroes. What is different about Game of Thrones and Song of Ice and Fire and what keeps fans of the franchise(s) hooked is that unlike King Arthur or Neo, we do not know who will eventually take the throne to unite George R.R. Martin’s Seven Kingdom, but there is no shortage of fan predictions.
4. Big Evil, One Love
Alan Moore is absolutely not the first storyteller to write about a cataclysmic event or conquering forces that unifies humankind in solidarity against it, but his is the most creative use of this convention in sci-fi writing to bring the species together in his award-winning graphic novel Watchmen. Similar to the monster summoned in Watchmen, or the invading alien army in films like Independence Day, the Game of Thrones‘ White Walkers represent the possibility for the unfrozen characters in George R.R. Martin’s epic to unite against a common foe. The white walkers are coming, and the Wall is manned, but who watches the (Knights of the Black) Watch…men?
3. Made-Up Commodities
Valerian, in our world, is one of the active ingredients in catnip while the best weapons in the Game of Thrones universe is Valerian steel. X-Man Wolverine adamantly uses his adamantium claws and skeleton, and Valerian weapons are sure to put people to sleep, permanently. Stories like those that take place in the Ring World sci-fi series, extended universe books based in the infinite realms of the once-popular PC game Myst, and of course we can’t forget Dune and the intrigue and epic battles over “the spice” called melange, all examples of fantasy or science fiction series’ that revolve at least in part around competition over or the trade of rare, completely imaginary commodities or living in fantastical ecosystems.
2. TV on the HBO
Dated TV On The Radio reference aside, most fans of the show Game of Thrones might not know that the author’s initial ambition was to be a writer for television, but unavoidable constraints on budget and casting left him craving the ability to tell stories of epic scope. After grinding away during the 80s and early-90s, most notably on a Twilight Zone reboot, the live-action silver screen adaptation of Beauty and the Beast and an unaired sci-fi series called Doorways. George R.R. has in fact gone on record to say that his use in script writing of what is called an “act break” to leave an audiences hanging during commercial breaks, is the reason why his books so easily translate to HBO.
1. The Author’s Name
Author George R.R. Martin only has one middle name on his birth certificate, but because the creator of Middle Earth, J.R.R. Tolkien‘s, birth name is John Ronald Reuel, the creator of Westeros and surrounding lands now calls himself George Raymond “Richard”. Whether or not the creator of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones (the TV series being named after the first book in the literary series) admits that his second middle name is an homage to one of the late and greatest patriarchs of modern fantasy writing, it cannot be a coincidence that someone who so openly admits to being largely influenced by Tolkien has the same alliterative middle initials.