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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.