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The ASOIAF Culture

WHAT IS CULTURE?

There are many ways to define culture, probably the most famous one is that culture is a way of life of a group of people–the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next. Most people when they hear “culture” thinks of nationality, and although one is part of the culture present in their country, they’re not limited to it. In fact, people are part of many different cultures at the same time.

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Image from Pixabay

Culture is all about people sharing a way of life, behaving similarly, sharing values, and so on. People from the same places tend to be part of the same culture, but thanks to globalization, culture has no boundaries. Cultures have no need for physical space, their members needn’t be near. Two people living thousands of miles away can be part of the same particularly culture, even if they are unaware of each other’s existence. These are relatively new concepts, but new generations find them essential. Cultures that aren’t stopped by borders can be anything a group of people have interest on, sports, films, music. And this culture is as significant as any other one. One may live in a completely different country, with different habits, but once a soccer game is on, for example, he is part of a culture which enjoys the game.

HOW IT IS IN ASOIAF

 

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Image from Flickr. via Robert Jemimus

In A Song of Ice and Fire the same happens. Regardless of where someone comes from or what they like in life, from the moment they sit to enjoy reading the books or watching the series, they become part of a culture. It matters not what has caused someone to discover the books or what are the reasons for their enjoyment, every person who enjoys it becomes part of this culture, even if they are completely unaware such culture exists.

The ASOIAF culture is very similar to other fantasy books cultures. A group of people who enjoy it, sharing their appreciation and thoughts. There are no rules as to how each member of this culture should behave, or to how their views must be, which differs this culture from most. There are, however, expectations for everyone who becomes a member. Not everyone can accomplish everything expected, but this does not exclude them from being members. The expectations on the members vary a lot, but they tend to be about the overall enjoyment of the book. Minor expectations include having read the book, understanding why it is valued so highly. The culture also tend to expect readers to enjoy the original work better than any adaptations made from it, which most do. People who don’t however, are still part of the culture, as this is not a rule. People are also expected to understand the struggles of the main characters and the story, and relate to both. Most importantly, however, the ASOIAF culture is all about expecting people to enjoy the books, however this may be achieved.

As mentioned before, the ASOIAF culture has no rules that each member must follow. The members do not depend upon it to live, except for the author and the people involved in the production of the TV show, and most people see this culture only as a hobby. For these reasons there are no rules which determine how people should behave, dress, or interact with other people.  There are expectancies, sure, but people are not obligated to do what’s expected.

AN UNIQUE CULTURE

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Enter a caption Hina Ichigo

This is a common trait of most cultures based films, series, or books. The ASOIAF culture, however, is capable of being unique. It differs from most of these similar cultures because of the importance of minor details in the story, which most cultures will not do. The ASOIAF culture, inspired by George R. R. Martin’s, the author, attention to every single detail in his literary work, is accustomed to having every detail valued, even small ones. When reading the book, one has to pay close attention to every sentence, as nothing can be missed. Nothing in the books is irrelevant. Something that also differs this culture from the rest is the importance that is given to the lore (the equivalent of the real world’s history). George R. R. Martin has written so many details about the history of the world he created, that it even was collected and made into a book (The World of Ice and Fire). The ASOIAF culture is so familiar with small details being important and the importance of a backstory that they have become inseparable, which cannot be said about most cultures.

 

 

A CULTURE, NONETHELESS

The ASOIAF culture is not your everyday culture. It is not known for how people dress, it doesn’t seem to care about someone’s language, economic power, class, gender, or race, and it does not care about backgrounds. It is however, very important for the people who are members of it. If the culture does not affect how people dress, or their social class, it definitely affects how they view things. People have their views of the world changed after becoming members of this culture, and this is why it is so important, and why it can be considered a culture.

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ASOIAF and Marxist Class Conflict

KARL MARX AND HIS WORK

 

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Credits to Wikimedia Commons

Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818 in Trier, where he received a classical education. He studied jurisprudence at Bonn and later in Berlin, where, however, his preoccupation with philosophy soon turned him away from law. He is most famous for his critiques to the economic and social power that is created and promoted by Capitalism. Marx is one of the most famous philosophers and revolutionaries to have ever lived, and he spent most of his life fighting for the lower class against the bourgeois and nobility. Marx’s book  Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Capital: Critique of Political Economy) is the most famous work he has ever produced. In it, he fully expressed his opinions and created the term Proletariat to describe the worker’s class, as well as stating what is now known as the basis
for Marxism and Communism.

 

MARXISM AND GOVERNMENT FORMS

Both Marx and his book (Das Kapital) are well-regarded for trying to help those who were not helped at all, the workers. Every single society that had ever existed to that point was built upon aspects condemned by Marx, such as exploration of the workers and people becoming richer and richer out of other people’s efforts. Most of the ancient societies known to men, such as Greece, Egypt, and Rome, allowed and benefited from the use of slaves as workers. In these societies, was always also present a extremely powerful individual, such as a king or an emperor. These powerful individuals made their lives out of exploring mostly the slaves, but also their own people. Not very different from today, unfortunately, but more visible, all the power and wealth of those societies resided on the hands of an extremely small group of people, while all the rest had nothing or close to it.

These societies had almost all vanished by the 6th century, but the legacy they left behind shaped the Middle-Age societies. Those societies arose with the same ideals that had been present in the ancient societies: a select group of people control almost all the money and have power over everyone else. Monarchies, which were present in these societies, are the most criticized aspect by Karl Marx, as he lived in a time when they had almost finished, if not already finished, but their legacy caused the exact same thing that happened in them: the select group of people who control everything and everyone. So, it is safe to say that Marx criticism, although it is still valid today, is directed to monarchies and their legacy.

Monarchy is probably the most well-known form of government, after the ones we have today. In it, the most powerful person is above the law and can do anything that pleases. This includes controlling the money, exploring the workers, causing wars, and even killing anyone, if “need” be.

ASOIAF AND MARXISM

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Credits to Robert; via Flickr

And monarchy is where A Song of Ice and Fire steps in. Although it is a fantasy book, it is clearly based on this form of government. Their societies follow the same rules the real world ones did; they have kings, guardians, vassals, and even exploration of the workers. Although almost every character from the book series is part of the nobility, George R.R. Martin is still able to explore the conflict between classes. He clearly expresses who are the haves and the have-nots, and behind his literary work there is an extensive critique of monarchies and the exploration of the proletariat. Martin is an avid critic of war and social power, as well as the high value that is given to money, so it is not hard to find parallels between ASOIAF and Marx’s work.

ASOIAF has shown how a few families controlled everything and how they explore those of lower class, but the people still love them. They have been so brainwashed by the circumstances, that they cannot see how they are explored, and still believe that everything that happens to them is just. This class conflict, however, was not so apparent in the first two books of the series- A Game of Thrones and A Clash of KingsThis theme became a fundamental matter in the third book –A Storm of Swords– and has continued its path to shaping the story and the characters in books four and five-  A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons

Although the Marxist criticism is present through the whole series, many readers fail to perceive its existence. As the story is told by the views of people who come from wealthy and powerful families – except for a few characters, of whom I will talk later- it can be hard for the reader to look at it with a different perspective, especially when the story is told accordingly to the point of view of the characters (what means that the reader will not know of something the character doesn’t know, and the background of this character determines how things are perceived by himself and, therefore, the reader). It is extremely hard to perceive “small” things in the book, that do not happen to the main characters, and most characters do not feel empathy to the poorer, so nowhere in the books the reader will read a sentence supporting the ascension of these people.

What Martin does, brilliantly, is having characters completely despise the lower class. It may seem odd, but this can actually help readers to perceive this social issue. It would seem even unnatural, kind of Disney-like, to have extremely powerful characters care about the poorer. It does happen in real life, but doing it hundreds of years ago meant either losing all the power and money or being killed, for having different ideas than the nobility and the king.

Showing a little empathy was important to control the masses, but too much was a weakness. This is very clear with one character in ASOIAF, Margaery Tyrell. She is crowned queen in the third book, and what is extremely interesting about her is how she seems to care about everyone, even the poor. She spends her time with them, helps bringing food, and try to make them feel safe, she shows a bit of empathy. However, she still lives in a castle where thousands of people could live, she has as much food as the whole city could consume while hunger is a serious problem for the lower class. She knows that in order to stay alive and powerful, she cannot be too kind.

CHARACTERS WITH POOR BACKGROUNDS

There are also characters who are originally from the lower class, and they deserve a special attention. Ser Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, was born and raised in Flea-Bottom, the poorest part of King’s Landing- the capital. In order to gain wealth and some power, he became a smuggler. This is an example of how far people are willing to go, in order to become someone. He became an anointed knight after smuggling onions to lord Stannis Baratheon while he was under a siege, hence his nickname. As soon as he became wealthier and powerful, he realized that in order to survive he had to live like a noble. This shows that no matter how poor someone is, this person is likely to forget how it was and not worry about the people in that situation now.

A second character worth mentioning is Melisandre of Asshai. Not a lot is known about her past, only that she comes from a mysterious place and was extremely poor. She served a few years as a slave, before becoming a red priest. She rose to power when she contacted the rightful heir to the throne, Stannis Baratheon. And although she doesn’t seem to care or have a great wealth, power has become an important aspect of her life. Now that she has become powerful, she seldom thinks about people who are not as powerful as her, and justify this flow of thoughts by her beliefs. She, as many people, use religion to justify things that don’t seem fair and to comprehend things that don’t have an clear explanation. Religion plays a big role in the social class conflict, so it is not surprising that it was included in ASOIAF.

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                                       An example of a Marxist ideal in George R.R. Martin’s work                                         Credits to ComingSoon.net

Overall, it is safe to say that George R.R. Martin has viewed the world through Marxist lens. He and his work fit in almost every category of a Marxist critique. And he was able to put it in his book series in a way that few could, and it is so well done that he is able to pass the message even though the characteristics of his book do not help.

Allusions- ASOIAF and A Dirty Job

Recently I’ve been reading a book for my English class, A Dirty Job, and I figured I could talk about it. Although the book was assigned by my teacher, I am thoroughly enjoying it.

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Image by HailBraker via Deviant Art

A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore, is a book whose main topic is death and most of the times when death, the biggest taboo in our society, is mentioned it is with no figurative mean. At a first glance, this book may seem a simple one, one which does not bother with allusions and references, and focuses only on the story itself. However, when one goes deep into it, he/she can see the innumerous allusions, direct references, and metaphors brilliantly hidden by the author. Allusions tend to be the best way to make a reference, because it is made in such a simple but effective way, but also is not as clear as a simple reference, because one needs to look into it.

 

 

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an allusion is something that is said or written that is intended to make you think of a particular thing or person; brief or indirect reference.

 

The main allusions present in the book are:

          The Hellhounds: The hellhounds Mohammed and Alvin are introduced in the chapter 13, when they save baby Sophie from the attack of one of the harpies. Hellhounds are folklore creatures that are similar to dogs, but fiercer, stronger, and bigger, and most famous for their role in the Greek Mythology. Hellhounds are considered bearers of death, because they were supposedly created by ancient demons to serve as heralds of death, and one can die by simply looking at them. It is not surprising that on A Dirty Job there would be such allusion.

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Image by FuriarossasAndMimma by Devian Art

     

The Morrigan: The Morrigan has often been likened to the Valkyries of Norse mythology and Norns (female beings who rule the destiny of gods and men) of Germanic mythology, and therefore is also associated with fate and destiny of men in various ways. In the book however, it is introduced in the last couple of pages of the Part One. The role it plays on it is somewhat related to these ideas of fate and destiny, as they try to fulfill a supposed fate and bring the dark world to rule over our world. As I have not yet finished the book, it is hard to know completely how this allusion will turn out to be in the end, but I can predict that the Morrigans will play an important role in the Part Three of the book.

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Image by Wikipedia

The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Epic of Gilgamesh, is a well-known epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia, dating around 2100 BC, which is regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature. This epic is a very long and complex one, but we are interested in only half of it. The second half of the epic is about Gilgamesh undertaking a long and perilous journey
to discover the secret of eternal life. As its main topic is death and eternal life, it does certainly relate to the book. In fact, A Dirty Job begins with a poem of such epic  when it tries to show us, the readers, what the book will be about and how the tone of it will be. But the references and allusions continue to appear throughout the whole book. In my opinion, Charlie’s journey can be compared to Gilgamesh’s, what makes it the biggest allusion, as Charlie is the main character.

Part 2:

         

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Image by Mark Turner via Flickr

Now you must be wondering: “Okay, but what about the A Song of Ice and Fire?”, and I understand, as this blog is about it. However, I wanted to share my experience with this other book I’m reading, which is incredibly good, I must say, even though I believe the book series by George R.R. Martin are of a level that few can reach. So, let’s do it, let’s talk about A Song of Ice and Fire.

 

All the five books are packed with allusions, some very clear and some not so much, but if there is one thing this series does not lack is of allusions. The main allusions in the series are, in my opinion, the ones that relate to either real life history, other books, or religions. My favorite allusion in the book series is, by far, is between of the great houses of Westeros (Greyjoy) to Cthulhu, who is a fictional cosmic entity created by writer H. P. Lovecraft and first introduced in the short story The Call of Cthulhu. Cthulhu is often related to this idea of destruction, plumbing, and killing which is exactly what the Greyjoys are known for in the book series. And it is no coincidence that the Greyjoy’s symbol is a kraken (Cthulhu is described as a monster with a face that resembles an octopus).

There also many allusions made by other literary works and popular television programs to A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series, and A Game of Thrones, the TV series, as both have become extremely popular. The series are known for killing main characters and for its innumerous bloodbaths, so many times when a different series does something similar, it is seem as an allusion or a reference. There have been references and allusions to the series in many other media, such as The Simpsons when there was a couch gag about game of thrones, South Park when a character, who is a teacher explained correctly the political history of Westeros, Parks & Recreation many times because two characters are big fans of it, and Family Guy where there was an allusion to Cersei’s walk of shame. This list goes on and on, it would be impossible to have every single time when allusions or references were made to the series, but these are examples of famous shows that have made allusions to the series.

Allusions are, therefore, a big part of the Song of Ice and Fire. George R.R. Martin actually said many times before in interviews how he was inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien, who is arguably the greatest fantasy author of all time, and how his own books are full of references and allusions to Tolkien’s work. And it is beyond doubt that Martin  has inspired other authors the same way Tolkien inspired him, and therefore many other literary works are full of references and allusions to the ASOIAF.

Death in Westeros

Death is as common in the A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) as they were in the medieval times, which makes it a kind of fantasy that most people are not familiar to, the ones where the good fights against the evil and the good always win. When George R.R. Martin published the first book of the series, A Game of Thrones (1996), he had bigger goals in his mind than simply creating a superficial world where the good guys fight the evil ones, his books are dense and make the reader think about morals and how we perceive someone, always looking to define this person as good or evil. In his book series, there are no truly evil or truly good characters, every person has good and evil characteristics just like it is in real life.

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Credits to Jemimus via Flickr

George R.R. Martin first shocked his readers by killing off the main character of the series- or who the readers thought would be it- by the end of the first book, bringing the idea that no one is safe, and there will be no such things as a hero. The author, who is many times regarded as a bloodthirsty one, keeps the tradition in the next books by killing many of the main characters, showing once again that no one is ever safe. By the end of the fifth book, 293 named characters die in the series.

Death is a very recurring topic in ASOIAF, and it generally addresses death the same way we do, however there are a few differences. In Westeros (where the novels take place) there are many different religions and they view death different from one another. All the religions believe in some sort of afterlife, it just differs on how it is. Religion in ASOIAF is such a complex topic that I would have to do a post talking only about it, but what is important now is that the majority of people in Westeros believe in afterlife of some sort. The main religions and their rituals are:

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Faith of the Seven: The body of the deceased is laid down in state for visitors and prayers, in formal clothes, and two stones with eyes painted on it are placed over the deceased’s eyes. The symbolic meaning of this is to remind the faithful that they should not fear death, because it is not truly the end: we close our eyes in this world, but our eyes open again in the afterlife.

 

 

Old Gods: The tradition says that the dead must be buried, the members of the wealthy noble families must be buried in extensive tombs. It is believed by the followers of this religion that the spirits of the ones who have passed away continue helping his relatives.

 

 

 

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R’hllor (Lord of Light): Little is known about how the followers of the Red God think of the afterlife, but there are hints in the books that they believe in it. They burn the bodies of the dead to honor their god, as he is often associated with flames, and they believe that the world they currently live in is already hell.

 

 

Those are the religious views, but in the third book (A Storm of Swords) a character is actually brought back to life after being dead. He is brought back by a Red Priest, what means that this is technically a proof that R’hllor is real. However, when questioned about what he saw while he was dead, his answer was a simply: “nothing”.