According to historian Tom Holland, the popular series Game of Thrones has plundered "real events from the ancient world to the middle ages to produce a heady cocktail of drama."
Again, though, it would be a mistake to imagine that Martin's purposes can be divined simply by transplanting the history of 15th-century England on to the convulsions that devastate Westeros. He is far too subtle for that. When Robert succumbs to a plot hatched by his beautiful queen, Cersei, who then rules the kingdom on behalf of her son, it is hard not to be reminded of Isabella, the wonderfully nicknamed "she-wolf of France", who similarly dealt with her own husband, Edward II. When a fleet attacks her capital only to be annihilated by liquid explosives, the obvious parallel is with the "Greek fire" deployed by the Byzantines in their defence of Constantinople against the Arabs. Different events and different periods elide to consistently potent and surprising effect. In Game of Thrones, episodes from the history of our own world lie in wait for the characters like booby traps.
In this, the obvious contrast is with the only work of fantasy to compare in terms of ambition and achievement to Martin's own: The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien's Middle-earth, unlike Westeros, is the creation of a dauntingly learned scholar: his ambition was to fashion from the languages, literature and history of the early middle ages an invented mythology that would nevertheless retain the stamp of the period that had inspired it. Martin's approach is infinitely more slapdash. Just as the characters and plot twists of his novels derive from a whole range of different periods, so too do their settings. The default mode is high medieval, but alongside all the tournaments and castles there are echoes as well of earlier periods. Offshore, a recognisably Viking kingdom boasts a fleet of longships; Westeros itself, like dark ages England, was once a heptarchy, a realm of seven kingdoms; the massive rampart of ice which guards its northernmost frontier is recognisably inspired by Hadrian's wall. Beyond Westeros, in a continent traversed by a Targaryen would-be queen, the echoes of our own world's history are just as clear if more exotic. An army of horsemen sweeps across endless grasslands, much as Genghis Khan's Mongols did; memories of a vanished empire conflate Rome with the legend of Atlantis.
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