History and legends of Game of Thrones: The Field of Fire

So this is probably going to be my shortest post ever in this series.  For this article we’re going to look at one specific event in the Game of Thrones universe, the Field of Fire, and it’s historical counterpart the Battle of Hastings.

So after Aegon landed in Westeros he set about the daunting challenge of conquering the Seven Andal kingdoms.  While the Seven Kingdoms were divided each one of them had larger armies than his own.  Thankfully, their constant bickering meant that they couldn’t unite against Aegon and he could take them on piecemeal.  His greatest challenge would arise when two of the biggest kings of Westeros: King Lorren Lannister of the Rock ( from whom the Lannisters from the show trace their ancestry) and King Mern XI of the Reach (the place where the Tyrells would eventually rule, but that’s later).  Both kings realized that this foreign invader would have to be crushed and they united to form the biggest army Westeros had ever seen.

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All told the two kings had an army numbering over 50,000 including 5,000 heavy cavalry while Aegon could only field an army one fifth that size.  In the end it didn’t really matter though because Aegon had an ace in the hole: his three dragons.

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The battle went about as well as anyone would expect with a total rout of the Andals and complete victory for Aegon.  King Mern would perish in the fire and King Loren realized that he rather liked living and decided to yield to Aegon and submit to his rule.  The victory meant that Aegon controlled most of the South of Westeros and while there was still plenty of fighting to do, the Field of Fire showed that final victory was all but inevitable.

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The closet historical equivalent to the Field of Fire in real life history is the Battle of Hastings, fought in 1066 near the town of Battle in Essex England between the forces of the Anglo Saxon/Andal Harold II and the Norman/Targareyen army of William of Normandy.  You can visit the site to this day, it’s actually quite nice.

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Like Aegon, William had just landed his Norman Army and was facing the daunting task of subjugating an entire country with a comparatively small force.  Harold meanwhile had just finished fighting off another threat to his crown at the Battle of Stamford Bridge against a Norwegian king named Harald III (you see this a lot in history, not a whole lot of original names) and was unable to oppose William from landing safely.  However, once both sides were ready, a battle was set at Hastings that would decide the fate of Britain forever.

The battle itself does not share a whole lot of similarities with its fantasy counterpart.  While William had a unique weapon at his disposal in the form of the first mounted knights to ever be used on British soil they did not have the dramatic impact that Aegon’s dragons had in the Field of Fire.

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While it is interesting to think of a line of armored warriors moving quickly on horseback being similar to a dragon the Saxon army was actually quite resilient and even almost won the day.  Harold was not a stupid man, he understood the strengths of his army and weaknesses of his enemy.  Harold was able to seize the high ground at Hastings and formed a Saxon shield wall made up of his best warriors and a collection of local militia.

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Despite what people might think, horses actually have a very strong will to live and are usually not keen on riding into a tightly packed wall of shields and spears.  What William was able to do though was to slowly break the Saxon army apart and defeat them piecemeal until only Harold and his elite bodyguard remained.  Harold was eventually cut down and while it is unclear exactly how he died, popular accounts say he was slain by an arrow in the eye.

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A quick note: the image above is from the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the most well known sources of William’s invasion and the battle itself.

While the Field of Fire and the Battle of Hastings do not share many details the most important thing is that they had the same impact on both their worlds.  The Field of Fire cemented the foreign Aegon as a major ruler in Westeros while the Battle of Hastings settled the dispute over who should rule England and placed William the Conqueror firmly in control over most of the island.  Both these men were huge figures in their respective histories and both of them would go on to found ruling dynasties that would last for centuries.

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History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Aegon the Conqueror

Welcome to the post in this blog that is about one specific person.  The one man who united all of Westeros under his sole rule and shaped the modern day events of the book and show more than any one individual: Aegon I Targaryen more commonly known as Aegon the Conqueror.

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Aegon was not a native of Westeros and did not claim to be a descendant of any ethnic group that made up the population of Westeros.  He was from the neighboring continent of Essos and, unlike the Andals, he claimed to be one of the last surviving members of one of the continent’s last great superpowers, The Freehold of Valyria.  We’ll talk about Valyria and Essos later but for now all we have to know is that Aegon saw that his homeland was dying and there was a large continent to the west that was divided among seven squabbling kingdoms and was ripe for conquering.  With his two sister wives, Visenya and Rhaynes, Aegon looked west and headed towards Westeros.

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After successfully sailing his army across the sea and making landfall at the spot that would eventually become the city of King’s Landing (the people of Westeros are many things but creative naming is not one of their forte) Aegon would set about the daunting task of subjugating and ruling the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.  It would not be easy.  Even though the Seven Kingdoms were not united and were fighting among each other they still possessed armies and resources that were vastly superior to his own and Aegon was a foreign king in a strange land who didn’t even speak the language of the people.  However, he did have one distinct advantage over everyone else, one that would prove to be so successful and complete that it allowed him to conquer a continent and establish a legacy that would last for thousands of years: dragons.

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After the Viking invasion of Britain, and their eventual assimilation into British culture, the cultural hodgepodge that was the British Islands would experience one final invasion that would forever change their culture and way of life: the invasion of William the Conqueror.

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Now, while there are several parallels between Aegon and William there are several key differences.  First and foremost, Aegon was Valyrian, a group of people who were ethnically and culturally different from the people of Westeros while William was the Duke of Normandy, a kingdom in Northern France that was founded by Viking settlers at the point of a spear.  Fun fact: the name “Normandy” literally means “land of the Northmen”

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Also, William had loose familial ties to the kings of England, and in fact the reason he invaded was over a dispute over who should hold the title of King of England while Aegon was completely separated from the culture and ruling class of Westeros.  He was a foreign invader in every sense of the word.

That being said, there are still many similarities between the two.  For example, while the Norman invaders of England did share the same ethnic background they had spent enough time apart to develop their own distinct culture and language.  The Normans spoke an early version of French and had developed many ideas that we would later associate with the Medieval Ages.  Ideas like chivalry, reverence for the sword as the weapon of choice, and the use of plate and mail armor.  However, the biggest similarity is that both Aegon and William had a secret weapon up their sleeve.  A weapon that would allow a comparatively small fighting force to conquer a large collection of many different kingdoms under their rule.  While Aegon had his dragons William brought a new style of fighting from his home that would prove very effective: armored cavalry.

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We’ll talk about how both rulers would use their innovations on Wednesday.

The Primordial Soup: Superheroes and the birth of ANGST!

So it’s pretty clear that a lot of superheroes are dark, brooding, and filled with angst.

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Lots

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And lots

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of angst.

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It’s not that surprising really, angst and dark internal conflict sell really well.  People love it when they see some of the most powerful people in the world brought down to their level and suffer through base human emotions like grief and hopelessness and while the thought is incredibly depressing it is nothing new, humanity has loved the tortured hero for centuries and today we are going to look at one of the first.

The Greeks were famous for many things: democracy, philosophy, and hating the Persians, but they were also incredibly talented at creating deeply flawed heroes suffering from the kind of inner turmoil that would make the most die hard drama queen blush.  One of the most famous is Hercules.

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Now we may know Hercules as a super strong demigod who had parent issues (come to think of it, most Greek heroes had parent issues) and twelve seemingly impossible tasks involving everything from lopping the heads off of an eight headed demon snake.

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To cleaning out a metric ton of cow dung.

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But what a lot of people may not know is why Hercules had to perform these task and in order to do that we have to look at his back story.  Hercules was the ill conceived product of Zeus deciding he wanted to sleep with a mortal woman and after tricking a woman named Alcmene into sleeping with him.  It went about as well as every other time Zeus slept with a mortal woman: badly.  Zeus wife/sister Hera was not very happy and sent two snakes to kill her husband’s newest bastard.  It did not go well for the snakes and Hercules killed them when he was a baby.

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After realizing just how strong Hercules was Hera tried a different approach.  Instead of killing him directly Hera waited for him to grow up, marry a woman named Megara, and then poisoned Hercules’ mind with an uncontrollable rage that caused him to kill his wife and family.  Heartbroken over this terrible crime Hercules takes up the twelve labors in an attempt to atone for his sins.

It is the inner conflict that drives Hercules on his adventures.  He is plagued with a terrible rage that was given to him against his will based on events he could not control and people suffered for it.  His own strength and powers are turned against him and only through a long and arduous journey of twelve (originally ten but Hera was being spiteful and changed the rules) labors did he finally find some chance at a peaceful life.  It is that kind of personal angst and trauma that makes Hercules one of the most enduring stories in Western history and one of the biggest reason why the idea of a guilt ridden comic book hero filled with angst is so popular today.

 

History and legends of Game of Thrones: The Iron Islands

The Iron Islands are one of the most isolated human factions in the entire series but they are also incredibly important to the history and development of Westeros and have accomplished far more than their tiny island nation should have any right to accomplish.

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The Iron Islands are a small chain of islands in the Sunset Sea, Westeros’ western ocean and, as far as anyone in Westeros knew, was the end of the world.  They are windswept, desolate islands with very poor soil and very little in the way of resources. Despite the fact that only an idiot would try to live there they were settled by a group of First Men in ancient times and absorbed the Andal invasion with little to no resistance.  Due to their geographic isolation, or possibly a desire to separate themselves from the rest of their people, the people who lived there adopted a new religion: The religion of the Drowned God.

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The religion is simple when compared to the other systems of faith in Westeros.  The Drowned God is a single deity who brought fire out from the ocean (somehow), was engaged in a constant battle with the rival Storm God, and created the men of the Iron Islands specifically to sack, pillage, and murder whenever and wherever they pleased.  This rather bleak outlook on creation coupled with their location led to the Iron born, the name the people of the Iron Islands give themselves, to become exceptional sailors and raiders.   During the time of the Andal conquest the Iron born struck out to sea in giant longships to pillage the coast of Westeros, taking everything from valuables to food and slaves.

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This strategy proved quite successful and in time the Iron born controlled a massive empire that occupied most of the coast and several thousand miles inland.  Thanks to a strong lack of unified central leadership the Iron born prospered, although the Starks in the North and Gardeners in the South did manage to drive them off from select parts of the continent (I would show you a picture but alas I couldn’t find anything).  For a time the Iron born ruled and the height of their power would be achieved under House Hoare.  By the time of King Harren  the Black the Iron born controlled most of Westeros and in order to solidify his power King Harren ordered the construction of Harrenhall, a location that was incredibly important in season 2 of the show.  It was the biggest castle in all of Westeros and was designed to withstand sieges for years.  However, it would wind up being conquered in a day by forces we will talk about next week.

Before we start talking about the historical equivalent of the Iron born I must confess something.  Most of of my comparisons are made based on speculation, a love of Game of Thrones, and my own historical knowledge (plus what I find on the internet for research purposes). With that being said this is one of the easiest comparisons I’ve ever had to make and something that George himself has alluded to many times.  The Iron born share several similarities to the Vikings, these guys.

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Like the Iron born, the Vikings were a group of raiders and soldiers who struck out from their homes in modern day Scandinavia in long ships and began raiding around 780 A.D.

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Fun fact: the word “Viking” does not describe a certain ethnic group, it’s a general term to describe someone who raids or takes what doesn’t belong to him/her. We don’t know exactly what was the cause of these raids but it is speculated that one of the biggest causes was a population explosion and a lack of farm land, something they share with the Iron born.

The final biggest similarity the Vikings and the Iron born share is the impact they had on Westeros/Britain.  The age of the Viking raids roughly began with the pillaging of the Lindisfarne monastery in 793 A.D.  After a couple of decades of raiding and pillaging the Viking raiders decided that it would be much easier to simply stay in Britain and settle down.  After all, why risk a long perilous boat ride back to Norway when you can have all the farm land and gold you can take?  Eventually enough Vikings settled in Britain form them to take over a huge part of Britain, a territory they called the Danelaw.

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You’ll notice that large parts of the North and West remained unconquered due to the Celts and Scots (a reflection of the North and the First Men beating back the Iron born) and the South remained a Saxon stronghold under the strong leadership of Alfred the Great (that would be the Andals and House Gardener in the books).  This would continue for some time until the Vikings were overthrown by a much scarier enemy, which we will talk about next week.

Further Reading:

Most of the links will take you to sources used for the article that contain a lot more information about the Iron born and the Vikings.  Also, there is a very good television show on the History Channel that dramatizes the Viking invasion of England.

The Myths and Legends behind Game of Thrones: Religion

So this is going to be a very abstract article since it is going to be talking about ideas rather than concrete facts and people, but then again one of the most important aspects of studying history is the rise and conflict of different ideas.  Also, if you haven’t watched the show this article contains SPOILERS from season 1, you have been warned.

One of my favorite aspects of the books and the show is how George R.R Martin treats a topic as big and as important to human history as religion.  Granted, it’s not as important as other themes like the origin of authority and power or the shifting tides of fortune (maybe we’ll save those for another day) but it’s still there in the background.  You’ll recall from previous posts that the First Men originally fought with the Children of the Forest but once they made peace the First Men adopted the religion of the Children and worshiped the faces carved into trees.

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After peace lasted several thousand years the Andals invaded from Essos and brought with them the Faith of the Seven.

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The conflict between the First Men and the Andals was long and brutal and religion became an inevitable, and important, part of the war.  Once the Andals conquered Westeros and the First Men they claimed they had “slain the old gods with the new”.  It wasn’t enough that the Andals killed the First Men, they had to kill their gods as well.  However, the Andals weren’t entirely successful in conquering the North and the Old Gods continued to be worshiped by the remnants of the First Men.  You can see this in Season 1 of the show when John Snow is entering the Night’s Watch.  Before they begin the leaders tell each of the new recruits they can swear their vows according to their religion and John swears his oath in front of a tree.

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Religion may not be an important aspect in the Game of Thrones universe, but it is an integral part of each character’s identity and how they separate themselves from other cultures throughout the world.

Let’s turn away from the show and books for a second and look at the impact religion has had in real world history.  To be clear, the Faith of the Seven bears several similarities to the Medieval Catholic Church in it’s organization and belief systems.  For example, the Faith believes in one God divided into seven parts much like Christianity believes in one God divided into three parts or the trinity.

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It is worth mentioning that George R.R Martin himself is a professed lapsed Catholic but that’s not what we’re here to discuss.  The point is that the spread Christianity in Medieval England followed a similar pattern to the Faith of the Seven in Westeros.

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Anglo Saxon lords and ruler who converted to Christianity gained several distinct and important advantages over the rival Celtic tribes and fellow pagan rulers.  For starters, they had a means to distinguish themselves and their people from everyone else, something that would help rally people to their cause and their power base.  Second and most importantly, they gained access to the resources and support of the Church everything from an educational and social network providing assistance and aid to their poorer subjects to a collection of other Christian rulers in mainland Europe ready and willing to trade on friendlier terms and provide assistance to their fellow brothers in Christ.  Thanks to the support and aid the Church provided to willing rulers Christianity was able to supplant the old gods with the new and establish itself as the dominant religion and identity of Europe.

History and legends of Game of Thrones: The Wall and Age of Heroes.

So our last blog post covered the Andal invasion of Westeros and the Saxon invasion of Britain.  We’re going to back the timeline up a bit and talk about a time period before the Andals which led to the foundation of several of the key ruling families of Westeros and the creation of one of the series most iconic landmarks: The Wall.

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The Age of Heroes was a time after the First Men and the Children of the Forest made their peace where things stabilized and mankind to focus of ruling.  During this time there were several legends of certain kings, lords, and vagabonds who accomplished deeds so great they were remembered in legends.  In fact, they were so integral to the history of Westeros that several of the most important families of Westeros believed it was important to claim ancestry to these special individuals in order to lend credibility and pedigree to their names.  Four of the biggest names were:

Durran the Storm King: 

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Durran was the first Storm King and the alleged founding ancestor of the Baratheon household.  According to legend Durran was a mortal king who fell in love with Elenei the daughter of the god of the sea and the goddess of the winds.  Despite her parent’s displeasure they were married anyway and the sea and wind resolved to make Durran miserable.  They destroyed every castle he attempted to build and almost succeed, until Durran finally built Storms End, a castle with walls so thick not even the sea and wind could knock it down.  Durran and his Baratheon descendants made Storm’s End the seat of their power and it has survived to this day.

Lann the Clever:

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Lann the Clever is more famous for his wit and intelligence rather than strength and brawn.  According to legend he was a bastard with no title or prospects, until he poisoned a son of one of the great lords of the Reach named Garth Greenhand and made away with part of the son’s inheritance.  But by far his most famous story is how he became the Lord of Casterly Rock, the current stronghold of House Lannister and the House that claims his legacy.  The story states that Casterly Rock used to belong to House Casterly and was an impregnable fortress, until Lann discovered a secret passage that was so small he had to coat himself in butter to fit.  Once he was inside, he proceeded to drive the residents insane by stealing trinkets, terrifying them with screams and unseen threats, and picking them off one by one until the Casterlies gave up and left.

Bran the Builder:

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Bran the Builder is one of the most stalwart legends to arise from the Age of Heroes and is the mind behind its most lasting legacy: The Wall.  Legend has it he also helped build Winterfell with the help of the giants and while not much is known about his birth and life, his building projects have secured his legacy to a point where the Starks of Winterfell claim the be his descendants.  He is also known as the first King of the North, a title that has been used in the books and the show by many of the Northerners to assert their independence and as a symbol for them to rally around.

We decided to talk about the Age of Heroes after the Andals because the Age of Heroes is based more around early British mythology rather than history, although the Wall does have definite historical counterpart: Hadrian’s Wall which was created to keep the Scots away from Roman occupied Britain.  Granted Hadrian’s wall isn’t as epic as the Westeros counterpart, but they both set out to accomplish the same thing.

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Once we get past Hadrian’s Wall the Age of Heroes shares more similarities with Celtic folklore and mythic heroes.  Like what we see in Game of Thrones, Celtic folklore deals with men of exceptional talent and skill interacting with the gods and elements and eventually triumphing over them to gain great power and wealth.  An exact match to a specific god or hero is almost impossible considering that the records of these stories are quite vague but there are two important figures of note: Gwydion and Culhwch.

Gwydion:

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Prince Gwydion shares quite a few similarities to Lann the Clever in the books.  Like Lann he is a trickster and has no problem using other people to his own nefarious ends.  In one famous instance Gwydion, who is the nephew of a Welsh King Math the Mighty steals a herd of pigs from a rival king in order to incite a war between the king and his uncle so he can sleep with one of his uncle’s servants.  In another instance, Gwydion assists his kingdom by enchanting a forest of trees to fight the forces of the Underworld.

Culhwch:

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The story of Culhwch and Olwen is another Welsh folktale that shares some similarities with the story of Durran and Elenni.  Like their Westerosi counterparts Culhwch and Olwen fall in love despite Olwen’s family objecting to the marriage.  The difference in this story is that while Elenni is the daughter of gods, Olwen is the daughter of giants.  Culhwch resolves to marry her and after gaining the help of his cousin King Arthur (this story is also one of the earliest accounts of King Arthur and his knights) and after accomplishing a series of seemingly impossible tasks Culhwch and Olwen are married.

Besides the story itself the legend of Culhwch and Olwen is important for another reason.  I mentioned that this story is one of the earliest records of King Arthur, another very important figure in British mythology.  Now, Arthur’s adventures would take up another article, but the most important detail is how he is viewed.  It is told that Arthur is the King of the Britons and will arise from the grave when his people need him the most.  This has made him an important political tool through the ages as a rallying cry for the British against any oppressors, just like how the great men in the Age of Heroes are used by the ruling families of Westeros to claim their identities and assert their status as rulers.

Further Reading:

Evangeline Walton’s Mabinogion is one of the definitive translations of Welsh mythology and tall tales and the source of both the stories mentioned in the article.

There are also several very good BBC documentaries about Welsh and Celtic mythology that can be found on the internet.

The Primordial Soup: The first superheroes

So we have a comic strip released every Tuesday and Thursday while running a blog series on Game of Thrones.  We at Cambrian Comics thought it would be a fun idea to spend each Saturday talking about superheroes in the rather unimaginatively named “Super Saturday” (seriously, if anyone has a better name for it please let us know) where we are going to talk about superheroes and super villains in all their big, colorful, and sometimes really stupid, glory.

If we’re going to talk about super heroes what better place to start then the very beginning?  For our inaugural post we are going to talk about the world’s very first supermen.

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Oh, were we expecting something a bit different?  Someone with a cape, red underwear, and a big “S” on his chest?  Well we’ll get to him later but for now we have these two.  This is a carving of the two main characters from one of the world’s first written stories: The Epic of Gilgamesh.

Now the entire story has been translated from a series of clay tablets.  It is very long and you can find a translated version here but I’ll summarize the story here.  Gilgamesh is the king of the Sumerian city of Uruk.  He is incredibly strong, incredibly vain, and incredibly bored since he doesn’t have a friend who he can share his life with.  He winds up sleeping with all the women in the city (he’s also a love making machine) and their husbands aren’t happy about it.  In desperation the people pray to the gods to deliver them from their king and in response the gods create Enkidu from clay.  Enkidu is a wild man, covered in hair and is the one with horns in the picture above.  Enkidu is eventually lured to Uruk by a prostitute (after six days of continuous lovemaking) and when he and Gilgamesh meet they wrestle.

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The match ends in a draw and the two men become good friends, saving the city from Gilgamesh’s frustrations.  After Gilgamesh winds up rejecting the Sumerian goddess of love Ishtar she demands that both men be killed.  In order to do this she convinces her father Anu to summon the winged Bull of Heaven to trample the men and the city.  Enkidu and Gilgamesh fight the god but Enkidu winds up dying.

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Distraught over the death of his friend and fearful for his life Gilgamesh decides to venture into the Underworld and attempt to discover the secret of immortality.  He ultimately succeeds by discovering a special flower that gives him eternal youth but is eventually foiled when a serpent steals the flower.

If it seems the story ends rather abruptly it is because a good portion of the story is missing.  This is a story that is thousands of years old and record keeping wasn’t as good as it is today.  There are some versions of the story where it ends with the failure of Gilgamesh and there are some where Gilgamesh brings Enkidu back to life.  Either way there are several superhero tropes that show up in one of the world’s first stories.  First, it is about two men who have superhuman abilities, in this case super strength and sexual prowess and they spend most of the story proving it.  Also, both heroes face and defeat otherworldly threats to their people and their existence, something we’ve seen time and time again as Superman has saved Metropolis from aliens and Spiderman has saved yet another orphan from a falling car.

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Now we’ve talked about the physical abilities of Enkidu and Gilgamesh but we can go a bit deeper with our comparison.  First, in a historical first that will play out in a lot of modern day superhero stories, both Enkidu and Gilgamesh are representations of larger social and political issues.  The Epic of Gilgamesh was written as humanity was organizing itself and forming cities and farms.  Naturally the resources consuming and progressive cities faced some conflict with the resource producing and conservative countryside.  The Epic of Gilgamesh is not just a story about two men it is a story of civilization and man vs. nature.  When he is created by the gods Enkidu is a wild man, uncivilized and covered in hair, and hates the royal Gilgamesh.  The wild country boy attempts to take down the city boy but winds up becoming good friends with him and becomes civilized.  Likewise, most of our modern day superheros (the good ones at least) usually represent something bigger then themselves.  Iron man represents science and technological progress.

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While a hero like Batman represents the power of human will and desire for order.

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The idea that there are beings that are bigger and stronger than any ordinary human and can represent something bigger than themselves is the very foundation of the modern day superhero, and they all owe it the world’s first superheroes in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

We hope you enjoyed our first post in this series.  If you have a topic or hero you’d like to talk about please let us know on Facebook or Twitter @Cambriancomics.  If you want to yell at us, tell us how wrong we are, or just insult us…yeah sure you can do that too.

 

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Andals

So after the First Men and the Children of the Forest fought, made peace, and beat back an invasion of evil undead winter themed zombies which we won’t talk about here because they are pure fantasy and have no real historical counterpart, peace reigned in Westeros for a while barring a few small land disputes and the odd local war.  All of that would be changed again with the arrival of another new ethnic group coming from Essos across the sea: the Andals.

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The Andals came to Westeros roughly 6,000 years before the events of the book and they are the group who has the biggest influence over Westeros politics and culture.  Their two biggest contributions to the land where the use of iron tools and weapons and a new religion: the Faith of the Seven.  The Faith of the Seven or the “New Gods” is interesting in one aspect that it’s not really worshiping seven separate gods but rather one God divided into seven parts or aspects: the Father, the Mother, the Warrior, the Maiden, the Smith, the Crone, and the ever popular Stranger.

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To talk about the Seven in further detail would take more up more time then we have but for now all we need to understand is that the Andal occupation of Westeros was incredibly successful and the end result were the seven kingdoms of Westeros: Dorne, the Reach, the Stormlands, the Rock, the Vale, the Riverlands, and the North.  It is Andal language, ideology, and armed knights that dominate Westeros in the books, although it should be noted that most of the ruling class considers themselves to be mostly Andals, especially the ruling families of the Vale and the Lannisters, the Andals also did quite a bit of intermingling with the First Men and to this day a lot of common folk consider themselves to be a mix of both with the North claiming almost no influence by the Andals at all.

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Culturally the Andals are a mix of several important ethnic and cultural groups that played an important role in Britain.  However, if we look at them within the context of history there are two very distinct ethnic groups the Andals share similarities with: the Angles and the Saxons.

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After the Celts arrived in Britain the island was relatively peaceful.  Then the Roman Empire came marching in and Britain remained under Roman rule for the better part of 400 years.  The Romans don’t play very much into the Game of Thrones mythology although there was one very important structure they created that has a huge impact in the books (the image presented is a hint for later)

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Around 400 A.D the Romans left Britain and it was thrown wide open to marauding Germanic tribes, two of biggest were the Angles and the Saxons.  Both these tribes fought and conquered the Celtic inhabitants, although they had difficulty conquering what is now known as Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall.

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The map above shows the Celtic territory in green with the Saxon held kingdoms all named.  As you can see there are seven of them.  It is also important to consider that there was quite a bit of intermingling between the Saxons and the Celts, especially in the lower classes since Britain was a big place and it was easier to simply assimilate into the culture than try to replace it.  Finally, there is also the name.  Andal could be seen as a combination of Angle and Vandal (another group of barbarians who sacked Rome further to  the south) so the similarities are almost uncanny.

There is another similarity between the Saxons and the Andals: religion.  The Andals were responsible for bringing the dominant religion of the Seven to Westeros and the Saxons were responsible for bringing Christianity to Britain.  We’re going to run an article on religion in Game of Thrones next week but for now all we need to understand is that the Saxons were eventually converted to Christianity after meeting missionaries from the Roman Catholic Church.

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So we have the third and biggest mass migration to Westeros/Britain.  The Andals/Saxons were effective conquerors and were able to assimilate the First Men/Celts into their way of life so effectively that they became the dominant culture of their new home.

Further Reading:

Simon Schama’s History of Britain is a very good book for looking into the Saxons within a wider context while The Anglo Saxons by James Campbell, Eric John, and Patrick Wormald is a great insight into the history and culture of the Saxons specifically.

 

History and legends of Game of Thrones: The First Men

The Children of the Forest existed in Westeros for thousands of years until everything changed.  Over 12,000 years before the events of the books and show Westeros saw the arrival of its first human inhabitants: The First Men.

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They arrived from the neighboring continent of Essos and they brought two important innovations from their homeland: bronze and agriculture.  It also should be noted that while the First Men had a basic runic language they preferred to spread their traditions orally.  This resulted in the First Men cutting down large portions of forest to grow food, including the weirwood trees (the trees with faces in them) that the Children found sacred.  This, coupled with mounting pressure for living space, resulted in a war between the First Men and the Children.  While the Children had their greenseers and powerful magic the First Men eventually ground them down due to higher numbers, bigger stature, and better weapons.  The war was long and brutal and the effects are still seen in Westeros thousands of years later.

 

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If you look at the very bottom left of the map you’ll see that Westeros and Essos are separated by a narrow stretch of water.  That was originally a land bridge between the two continents and was created by the Children of the Forest in an attempt to cut off the First Men from Essos.  Despite this the war dragged on and eventually the First Men and Children made peace.  The First Men settled into Westeros creating a thousand small kingdoms, built their farms, and most importantly adopted the religion of the Children by worshiping the weirwood trees with faces carved into them.

At the start of the book the First Men are still around.  Although they suffered from the invasion of another group of people called the Andals (we’ll talk about them next) they still survive in places like the North, where the natural defenses of the Neck (a series of bogs and swamps created by the Children in another attempt to fend off the First Men) made sure that Northern First Men culture remained isolated.  The Starks of Winterfell still claim to be members of the First Men.

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As do many common folk throughout Westeros and the Wildlings north of the Wall.

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In short, the First Men hold an important part in the history of Westeros and while they had no written records they are still remembered through stories, lineage, and their surviving descendants living in the North.

The clearest historical similarity for the First Men would be the Celtic tribes of ancient and modern day Britain.

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The Celts arrived in Britain around 500 B.C from Europe and like the First Men the Celts introduced bronze, a mixture of tin and copper, to the region.  They divided Britain into a large number of petty kingdoms that were constantly warring with each other and had a basic written language, but preferred to pass down their traditions and history orally.   Even though these are two important similarities they share with the First Men there are two more similarities that are much more important: their religion and their eventual fate as a people.

When we start talking about Celtic religion and traditions some really spooky similarities start cropping up.  When the First Men started carving faces into trees they were literally living with their gods among them.  The Celts worshiped nature and animal spirits, that their gods surrounded them and played a part of their everyday life.  One of most important aspects of Celtic religion was the worship of trees like the oak, apple, and yew tree.  Fun fact: the expression “knock on wood” comes from Celtic religion where it was believed that knocking on a tree would invite a spirit to come out and assist you with whatever you needed.

The second similarity between the Celts and the First Men is their eventual fate.  At the beginning of the Bronze Age there is archaeological evidence that the Celts were spread out all over Europe.

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Unfortunately, mounting pressure from the Romans in the South and Germanic people in the West ensured that the Celts would eventually loose most of their cultural dominance until they were pushed back into the northern parts of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales which remain holdouts of Celtic culture to this day.

Next time we’ll talk about the Andal invasion of Westeros and several key locations that play a major part of in the story.

Further Reading:

 If you’d like to learn more about the Celts themselves there is a whole host of academic work about them.  Some of the more prominent names are Barry Cunliffe, Simon James, and Lloyd Laing.

The history and myths behind Game of Thrones: The Children of the Forest

Due to the non profit educational value of the material presented in this post all images and sources are used under Fair Use of the Copyright Act of 1976.  All images and sources used belong to their respective owners.  This blog post is presented without spoilers to the television show or the books.  Please read at your leisure.

Welcome to our first post about the history and mythology behind Game of Thrones.  In honor of beginning this epic odyssey we are going to start from the group of people who occupy the continent of Westeros at the very beginning: the Children of the Forest.

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In the books George Martin describes the Children as the original residents of Westeros before the continent was settled by mankind and roughly 12,000 years before the events of the show (don’t worry we’re only going to discuss things that have no relation to the plot, I said this is spoiler free and I meant it).  Not a lot is known about the Children because they left no ruins and had no written language to leave records behind.   They preferred to live off the land, foraging for berries and roots, and wearing clothing made from bark and leaves.  There are two more details about the Children that will be important for our discussion.  First, they worshiped the Old Gods of Westeros (we’ll get to them later) by carving faces into trees and second, they had very powerful magicians called Greenseers that used magic that drew its power from nature to create spells that could allow its user to talk to animals or control the elements.

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The three known facts about the Children of the Forest: their lack of evidence about their existence, their worship of trees and naturalistic spirits, and the fact they utilized powerful magic rooted in nature would lead us to believe that the Children of the Forest were heavily rooted in Celtic mythology.

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Now the Celts are a group of people we will be talking about later but for now all we need to know is that they were one of the first people to inhabit Britain and it is widely believed they were animists and spiritualists.  They believed that the world around them was part of the divine, that their gods and goddesses lived in and influenced the world around them.  One of the most important aspects of Celtic religion was the worship of trees (again, we’ll get to that later) but another important aspect of their culture was the belief in fairy folk.

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Now, there is more to the Fairy folk then wings and pointy ears, a lot of tropes we associate with elves in modern fantasy comes from fairy lore and there are so many different types and so many different interpretations between different cultures that could fill several books, but almost every interpretation can agree on a couple of things that solidify the similarities between faeries and the Children of the Forest.  First, the Fairy Folk were smaller than humans.  Second, they used powerful magic that was tied to nature and the world around them (woe betide a farmer who angered even the smallest fairy, for his milk would go bad and his crops would fail) and it is widely believed that they once shared the world with mankind but were slowly driven extinct or forced into hiding, a topic that leads nicely into our next article: the arrival of the First Men and their war with the Children of the Forest.

Further reading:

If you would like to learn more about the Children of the Forest and how they relate to the Game of Thrones books and show there is a very good wiki about the novels which you can find here

If you would like to know more about Celtic mythology and the Fairy Folk there are countless books on the subject.  Here are a few to get you started.

If you’re looking for a more academic view on Celtic mythology then Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis is pretty good and so is Celtic Gods and Heroes by Marie-Louise Sjoestedt.

If you want more of an entertaining fictionalized look at Celtic mythology then I suggest the works of Stephen Grundy, Juliet Marillier, and Morgan Llywelyn.