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.

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The history and myths behind Game of Thrones: Introduction

Before we begin it should be noted that this article, and every article concerning Game of Thrones that runs on this website, is intended to fulfill a non profit educational purpose and therefore claims protection under the Copyright Act of 1976.  All images are not owned by Cambrian Comics and belong to their respective owners.  Should anyone viewing these articles see something they view as incorrect (and if you should be reading this George Martin, hello, huge fan of your work) please direct you complaints to corrections@cambriancomics.com.  Thank you

So this little show is starting its fifth season today.

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As you might imagine we here at Cambrian Comics are huge fans and are very excited for the show to start again.  It’s pretty obvious that Game of Thrones is kind of a big deal and that it has created a legacy that will change the landscape of television and the fantasy genre for a long time.  But what exactly makes this show so popular?  What makes it so appealing that millions of people tune in every week to watch this epic tale of kings and dragons?  Well, over the next couple of weeks we are going to attempt to answer this questions and look at the legends and stories behind the show and who knows, maybe at the very end we’ll all have learned something.

In order to try to figure out what makes Game of Thrones so great we have to go back to its source material and in order to do that we have to go back to the beginning of the modern fantasy genre, which starts with this man.

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This is J.R.R Tolkien, a professor of languages at Merton College and a titan of the fantasy genre.  It’s fair to say that his contributions to fantasy have had some of the most substantial and longest lasting effects on the genre and it wouldn’t be where it is today without him.  Seriously, when was the last time you read a fantasy book from 1954 to 2000 that DIDN’T include elves, dwarfs, orcs, the rise of man, and some great implacable evil that had to be stopped for some vague yet definitive reason or at the very least paid homage to it?  What Tolkien did was special, creating an entire set story tropes that influenced a generation and Game of Thrones took all that and threw it out the window.  George R.R Martin is the anti-Tolkien and we are going to find out why.

In order to figure out what makes George R.R Martin’s work so different form Tolkien’s we have to go back to the source material for each of these epics.  Tolkien was a professor of Anglo Saxon and English literature and spent a lot of time studying and translating the epic Old English poem Beowulf which meant he was surrounded by images like this.

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 You can see all of these influences in Tolkien’s work.  and there are other similarities as well: Norse and Anglo Saxon mythology also feature such fantasy stalwarts as elves and dwarfs quite heavily and the final climactic battle of the Lord of Rings can draw several parallels to Ragnarok, the world changing confrontation between good and evil in Norse mythology.

If The Lord of the Rings is special because it created the standard from which most fantasy is based off of then Game of Thrones is special because it destroys most of these conventions and helps create a new standard.  What George R.R Martin did was nothing short of revolutionary.  Instead of basing his epic around mythology Martin bases his work around history.

Again you can see the influences throughout the books and television show.  Take one look at a map of Westeros and tell me it doesn’t look a bit familiar.  Here, I’ll help.map-of-westeros-1351122403britain

If you compare a map of Westeros to a map of modern day Britain you have to admit they look a bit similar, and that is what makes Game of Thrones so great.  So much of what George Martin puts in the history and lore of Westeros is taken from Early and Medieval British history and we are going to break it down bit by bit.

Starting tomorrow we will take one aspect from the extensive pre-history of the books and compare it to its real world historical equivalent. It will be a long, bloody, and enlightening journey filled with legend, invasion, blood, warfare, politics, and excitement because sometimes actual history can be just as exciting as the stories it inspires.  We hope you enjoy this series and that it is as exciting and interesting to you as it is to us.