Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Tales after Tolkien at Kalamazoo 2016: A Session of Ice and Fire

At 1330 EDT on Saturday, 14 May 2016, the Tales after Tolkien Society sponsored several talks in A Session of Ice and Fire: Medievalism in the Game of Thrones Franchise. Three excellent papers were presented to a full audience (of which thirty members signed up for inclusion in the Society). Abstracts for each appear below, listed with a brief blurb about the author and organized by order of presentation.

Alexandra Garner

Alexandra Garner holds master's degrees in both medieval studies and popular culture. In Fall 2016, she begins work on a doctorate in English at the University of Oregon. Her ongoing work traces medievalism in popular culture. Describing her paper, "Forging and Reforging Valyrian Steel: The Role of Arthurian Sword Motifs in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire," she writes
George R.R. Martin himself has characterized Valyrian steel as “a fantasy metal, which means it has magical characteristics, and magic plays a role in its forging.” While Valyrian steel weapons often have a mystical aura about them in the series, both on page and screen, they are marvels not only magical, but literary. The Valyrian steel weapons that are crucial to the narrative as has thus far been revealed all carry a genealogical relevance to Arthurian swords and their properties.

This presentation delves into a few weapons—especially swords—from Martin’s series and its HBO adaptation Game of Thrones that are reflections or deviations of Arthurian swords and sword motifs. In particular, I discuss Ice, the greatsword held by Ned Stark until his death, at which point Tywin Lannister has it re-forged into the longsword Oathkeeper and the shortsword Widow’s Wail, given to Jaime Lannister (and then Brienne of Tarth) and Joffrey Baratheon, respectively. Additionally, the Mormont house sword called Longclaw, repurposed and given to Jon Snow, bears some significance when compared to Arthurian swords.

Being weapons crucial to survival in Westeros and in the medieval period, swords feature prominently in the literature of both. Depictions of Valyrian steel swords, their owners, and the contexts in which they feature in the series reveal their deviance from and adherence to medieval sword motifs. I analyze the aforementioned examples and juxtapose these with Arthurian swords like Excalibur to argue that Martin’s Valyrian steel relies on and adapts these motifs and characteristics in particular ways for the series.

Carol Jamison

Carol Jamison, an eminent professor of medieval literature and linguistics at Armstrong State University, has taught and written on Martin, as well as on Gower, Rowling, and fabliaux, among many others. She is currently at work on a book on Martin's chivalric codes. In the abstract of her paper, "Peaceweaving in Westeros," she remarks
The female characters in A Song of Ice and Fire echo the freoβuwebbe, or peace weavers, of Anglo-Saxon literature who are married off in attempts to form political alliances. The peace weaver could become, in the best of situations, a sort of diplomat, participating actively in the politics of her husband’s kingdom. However, in a society that values warfare, especially one in which a game of thrones is underway, marrying off women as a means to gain power or ensure peace could turn out badly. Martin’s peace weaving exchanges are pervasive and numerous, and they vividly evoke the various situations of literary peace weavers in such works as Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon elegies "The Wife’s Lament" and "Wulf." Like their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, peace weavers in Westeros have a number of possible responses to marital exchanges. While some are victimized by the exchanges, others find power within the system, either asserting their influence as mothers and diplomats in their new husbands’ homes, or exerting power as queens. My presentation explores several of the peace exchanges in Martin’s novels that illustrate the variety of possibilities that could occur when women (and men and children) are used to forge alliances. I emphasize Sansa Stark, who echoes the passive peace weavers of the Anglo-Saxon elegies, and Cersei Lannister, who causes destruction rather than using her status as queen to wield positive political power.

Shiloh Carroll

Shiloh Carroll, working at the Tennessee State University Writing Center, is working on a book on Martin's medievalisms in A Song of Ice and Fire and its television adaptation. Of her paper, "Dragons, Alliances, Power, and Gold: Disruptor Beam's Game of Thrones Ascent," she notes
This paper examines the structure, mechanics, and medievalism of Game of Thrones Ascent, the social media flash game based on HBO's Game of Thrones. An examination of video game theory reveals that Ascent suffers from many of the problems usually seen in social media games, particularly Skinner box mechanics and micro-transactions. Likewise, the game also uses neomedieval trappings to enhance engagement and keep players involved with their Skinner-box mechanics and paying for neomedievally-themed gear and other perks. However, Ascent does provide some psychological satisfaction through meeting the player's need for mastery, autonomy, and social relevance.

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