his month marks the conclusion to HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones, based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels by George R. R. Martin, which themselves take many elements from Tad Williams’ classic fantasy series “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn”. “MS&T”, written in the mid-1980s to early 1990s, tells the tale of a fantasy world beset by political intrigue, while in the frozen north, supernatural creatures plot to destroy mankind.
Martin weaves much of his own tale into A Song of Ice and Fire, but many of his story elements are closely based on Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn; particularly the Stark children and their fates.
The following contains spoilers for both series of books.
The characters of Bran Stark and Jon Snow seem to have been based on Simon Snowlock from Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn: like Bran, Simon spends many hours climbing castle walls, and later, after a devastating injury (Simon’s from being burned by dragon blood, Bran’s from being pushed from a tower), both acquire spooky, prophetic visions. Simon dreams of spinning wheels, of titanic trees, and of birds, while Bran dreams of titanic trees and birds.
“You know nothing, Simon Snow!”
Similarly, Jon Snow shares many plot elements with Simon Snowlock: his parents are dead, and he’s been raised as an orphan, but he secretly (but unwittingly) has a claim to the throne of the realm. Unknowing of his heritage, he journeys to the north to fight against the otherworldly creatures, befriending wolves, facing dragons, and bandying words with a dwarfish companion (in both series, the dwarfish companion is later put on trial and his own lover testifies against him).
Martin’s female characters, Arya and Sansa Stark, seem to have been borrowed from Marya in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. Marya is split into two Stark girls: the tomboyish, cross-dressing Arya, and the more regal Sansa. In MS&T, the noble girl Marya disguises herself as a boy, learns to fight with swords and bows, and begins traveling with a wolf companion. One slight difference is that Marya’s uncle’s sword, Needle, in ASOIAF becomes Arya’s sword, also named Needle.
Marya’s adventures are also clearly mirrored by those of Sansa Stark: seduced by a handsome young nobleman, she is raped, and goes from one gilded cage to another: Marya goes from being imprisoned by Count Streawe to being imprisoned by Earl Aspitis Preves. Likewise, Sansa Stark becomes the plaything of Lords Littlefinger and Bolton.
The April 28th episode of Game of Thrones yet again solidified the parallels between the two series; in the episode, Arya kills the supernatural Night King, the leader of the northern creatures, by plunging a sharp object into his chest. This perfectly mirrors MS&T, in which Marya kills the supernatural Storm King, leader of the northern creatures, by plunging a sharp object into his chest. In both series, the single blow is enough to destroy the magicks of the Storm/Night King entirely.
With just two episodes left, it is likely, just like in MS&T, that Jon Snow will take the throne, deposing Cercei Lannister; Cercei (if she follows MS&T’s Duchess Nessalanta), will take poison rather than admit defeat. The hound-helmed Hound (aka Jegger the Queen’s Huntsman) will die, but not before proving himself with one last kill.
In Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, prophecies are tricky prospects, and this clearly influenced A Song of Ice and Fire, as described in this video:
Williams’ latest novel, Empire of Grass, was published just this week, to rave reviews. It remains to be seen, however, how much inspiration George R.R. Martin will derive from the new volume. It is clear, though, that Martin owes a great deal of debt to an earlier author.
The cover of The Dragonbone Chair features Simon Snowlock and the dwarfish Binabik, as well as the wolf Qantaqa (on back cover). The cover of A Game of Thrones features Jon Snow and the dwarf Tyrion, and the direwolf Ghost.
It is no secret that George R. R. Martin drew inspiration for his A Song of Ice and Fire series of novels from the best-selling Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series by Tad Williams. Martin has stated repeatedly that Williams inspired him to write ASOIAF:
Tad’s fantasy series, The Dragonbone Chair and the rest of his famous four-book trilogy was one of the things that inspired me to write my own seven-book trilogy. I read Tad and was impressed by him, but the imitators that followed — well, fantasy got a bad rep for being very formulaic and ritual. And I read The Dragonbone Chair and said, “My god, they can do something with this form,” and it’s Tad doing it. It’s one of my favorite fantasy series.
In fact, Martin purposely buried some homages to MS&T in ASOIAF, while at other points, he seems to reuse the same plot elements, often to a surprisingly detailed degree. Here are 31 similarities between the two book series [contains spoilers for both series of novels]:
1) A high-born girl named (M)arya disguises herself as a boy, and learns to fight with a sword as she travels throughout the lands. In both “Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn” (MS&T) and “A Song of Ice and Fire” (ASOIAF), a young noble girl, called either Marya or Arya, flees her home, traveling in disguise as a boy. Despite the fact that many people see through her flimsy ‘disguise’, she keeps wearing it. Author George R.R. Martin’s naming of Arya is clearly an homage to the original cross-dressing noble girl, Marya from MS&T.
2) On her journey, the girl-in-disguise (M)arya meets many characters, including a man wearing a helmet shaped like a hound’s head, who is sent to bring her back to the king. In MS&T, this hound-helmeted character is named Ingen Jegger; in ASOIAF, his name is Sandor Clegane.In both cases, these men are skilled warriors who manage to escape death on multiple occasions.
3) Two princely brothers who hate each other fight over the royal throne after the death of the old king. The country is torn apart as various factions choose sides. In MS&T, the princes are named Elias and Josua. In ASOIAF, the feuding brothers are named Stannis and Renly Baratheon.
4) A red-robed advisor to the new king convinces the king that he needs to sacrifice his hated younger brother; this blood sacrifice, the red-robed advisor says, will make the kingdom whole once more. In MS&T, this red-robed advisor is named Pryrates; in ASOIAF, her name is Melisandre. In both series, these red-robed priests slowly convince their respective royal masters to allow them to practice a strange fire-ritual which they claim will allow them victory. This fire ritual requires royal blood in order to be successful.
5) A tailed star appears in the sky, portending doom/change. In MS&T, this tailed star is called the Conqueror Star, or sa Astrian Conquidilles, and it appears in the sky for three years after an absence of 497 years. In ASOIAF, this star is called shierak qiya, the Dragon’s Tail, or the Red Comet.
6) Feuding brothers named Elias/Elyas and Josua appear in the story. In a not-so-subtle nudge in Williams’ direction, author George R.R. Martin names two feuding background characters Elyas and Josua, in a tribute to one of his favorite Fantasy series, MS&T (which features the feuding brothers Elias and Josua). In an even less subtle nod, these two feuding brothers are said to be the sons of Lord Willum. These three characters are mentioned in chapter 22 of A Clash of Kings, the second volume of ASOIAF.
7) Strange, otherworldly icy creatures who live in the far north appear, and although they have been inactive for centuries, they plot to take over the mortal world Their ruler is called the Night King/Storm King. They have been exiled at the northern edge of the world for many years, but the Night King/Storm King plots to soon take it all back, displacing Mankind. In MS&T, these icy creatures are the Norns; in ASOIAF, they’re known as the Others.
8) It is foretold of the coming of an unusual winter which will last a very long time, at the same time as the otherworldly invasion from the north. Only the northern farmers in rural areas take these old legends seriously. Everyone else laughs at such absurd tales. But the people of the north never forget.
9) An unusual throne lies at the center of the human dispute for the kingdom, but it is only a distraction for the real conflict. In MS&T, this throne is named the Dragonbone Chair, crafted by King John after he slaughtered the fire-drake Shurakai. In ASOIAF, it is the Iron Throne. In both cases, the mortal kingdoms are so busy fighting one another that they fail to take notice of eldritch powers rising in the north.
10) A major noble character, a close relative of the king, loses his hand in battle. In MS&T, the handless character is Prince Josua Lackhand. In ASOIAF, the character is Ser Jaime Lannister. In both instances, the nobles lose their respective right hands.
11) A wolf plays a major role in the series. In MS&T, it is the gray wolf Qantaqa, Binabik’s wolf companion, who is loyal to her friend, but a menace to all his enemies. In ASOIAF, the direwolves the Stark children discover in the first volume are named Ghost, Grey Wind, Lady, Nymeria, Shaggydog, and Summer. These canines are just as loyal to their masters as Qantaqa is to Binabik.
12) A character that is the ‘Hand’ figures prominently. In MS&T, the Prince’s Right Hand is Sir Deornoth, Prince Josua’s right-hand man. Early on in ASOIAF, the Hand of the King is Lord Eddard Stark.
13) A slender sword named ‘Needle’/’Naidel’ is wielded by a main character, who can’t use a heavier sword. In MS&T, the sword is named Naidel, and is wielded by Prince Josua Lackhand, while in ASOIAF, Needle’s owner is Arya Stark.
14) Everybody laughs at the idea of giants and other otherworldly creatures in the north… until they see them for themselves. In both series, the soft southlanders eventually realize their folly, after encounters with what Tyrion originally dismisses as legends of “grumkins and snarks,” while in MS&T, these are legends of “pookhas and niskies”.
15) Young, noble children are cruelly thrust out into the cold, cruel world by evil adults. In both series, teenagers are chased by murderers, thieves, and con-men, as they slowly learn to fend for themselves as they grow into young men and women.
16) A crown made to resemble antlers is worn by a king. The crown in MS&T appears on the brow of Ineluki the Storm King, while in ASOIAF, the antlered crown is worn by Renly Baratheon.
17) A very short yet intelligent character has a betrothal as part of his storyline. But he is soon put on trial, where the penalty is death, and everyone seems set on killing him… even his own lover. In MS&T, this character is Binabik, and his betrothed is Sisquinanamook; in ASOIAF, the character is Tyrion Lannister, and his betrothed is Shae.
18) The story begins shortly before the death of the old king, whose reign was peaceful, and which kept the kingdoms safe. The king brought peace and prosperity to the lands, but now his death has thrown the empire into conflict, with factions fighting. In MS&T, the old king is the nonagenarian King John Presbyter of Warinsten, who brought the language of Westerling to his people as he united all the realms under one rule. In ASOIAF, it is King Robert Baratheon, lord of Westeros.
19) The Children of the Dawn/Forest, who once lived throughout the realm, but who are now living in hiding in the forests of the world, have a role in the story. In both MS&T and ASOIAF, both the Children of the Dawn and the Children of the Forest appear to be at odds with the otherworldly creatures in the far north.
20) A character whose name is Snow(lock), who is forced to journey into the north, is a main character. In MS&T, Simon Snowlock bears some similarities to ASOIAF’s Jon Snow.
21) A guilt-tormented knight spends years in exile in the south, only to return, where he is at last revealed as still being alive. In MS&T, this is Sir Camaris sa-Vinitta, while in ASOIAF, it is Ser Jon Connington.
22) A major character lives thousands of miles from the rest of the other main characters, for over a thousand pages having no real interaction with the main groups. But eventually, in both series, Danaerys/Tiamak interact with characters in the rest of the world.
23) The series was meant to be a trilogy, but got out of hand. In the case of MS&T, three volumes grew to four, while ASOIAF may eventually be seven volumes, if author George R.R. Martin ever completes the series. Martin has humorously referred to both Williams’ “four-book trilogy” and his own “seven-book trilogy”.
24) A major young male character likes to climb his castle’s walls and turrets, and can do so with ease. Eventually, he will be forced to leave his childhood home, no longer able to climb the castle’s walls and turrets. In MS&T, this character is Simon Mooncalf climbing the walls of Hayholt Castle, while in ASOIAF, it is Bran Stark climbing the walls of Winterfell.
25) The same character who climbs castle walls is plagued by prophetic, spooky dreams. These dreams appear to be a curse, as they usually do not reveal enough to be helpful.
26) A new god, the Red God, demands blood sacrifice. His adherents are more than willing to do the Red God’s bidding, no matter how awful the sacrifice is. Once blood is spilled, the spell is created, and shadowy figures begin appear…
27) A fierce people of nomadic grasslanders lives to the east of the world. In MS&T, these are the Thrithings-folk, while in ASOIAF, they are called the Dothraki. In both cases, these warriors treat their women horribly, and live in loosely-knit clans where the leaders rule through barbaric acts. In both series, horses are treated better than the women of the clan, who hold no power in the society.
28) Birds are used as messengers between intellectuals. In MS&T, they are sparrows, sent between members of the League of the Scroll, while in ASOIAF, maesters send messages via ravens.
29) In both series, a battle takes place on a frozen lake. This is technically not yet canonical in ASOIAF but the scene appears in the television series. In MS&T, the battle scene takes place in the Stefflod River Valley.
30) In both series, a girl strikes a blow to the otherworldly king of the north. In both respective series, (M)arya shoots/stabs the Storm/Night King.
31) In both series, a young woman of royal blood has an advisor who falls in love with her, as she tries to protect her people, who are refugees fleeing war. In both series, the young woman slowly falls into madness, after sending away her advisor, who has fallen in love with her. In MS&T, the young woman is Princess Maegwin of Hernystir, who sees Count Eolair of Nad Mullach slowly fall in love with her. She sends him away, and slowly falls into madness. In ASOIAF, the young woman is Daenarys of House Targaryen, whose advisor, Ser Jorah Mormont, falls in love with her. She eventually sends him away, and then — at least, according to the TV series — falls into madness.