Top critical review
3 people found this helpful
on 21 March 2015
I was intrigued by this book, perhaps hopig to learn something new I didn't know about, yet this book proved to be a pointless read. While I liked the first chapter about the houses Lancaster and York, the second chapter presents the parallels between the migrations of real-world Britain to those of Westeros in a rather haphazard fashion. There are two major problems in the author's work - the lack of research of George R.R. Martin's statements and the ignorance of real history, both resulting in bad interpretation of A Song of Ice and Fire in terms of inspiration. Considering that is the whole point of the book, I would not be so enthusiastic about reading it.
The author's attempts to draw parallels between migrations and religious changes in Westeros with those of Britain. First Men had adopted the animistic religion (as George R.R. Martin characterises it) of the original population, but they also pushed the ancient inhabitants of Westeros into seclusion, so much so that the Children of the Forest are believed to be extinct. First Men are therefore both Celtic with regards to religion and Anglo-Saxon with the runic alphabet and wergild system. The parallel between Andals and Anglo-Saxons can't be taken seriously, because Andals are monotheists, not polytheists like Angles and Saxons, even though Ed West thinks Andals are polytheists.
In fact, Andals bring the Faith of the Seven to Westeros, which is a belief in seven gods who are one. A Song of Ice and Fire books are full of these references. George R.R. Martin himself says that the Faith of the Seven is based on Catholicism, but while Christians have a Trinity, three gods in one, the Faith of the Seven has...well...seven gods in one. And just like people in the middle ages (or today for that matter) didn't understand the Trinity, so people in Westeros don't understand the seven-gods-in-one thing. It's a theological mystery and maybe the saying "Anyone who claims to understand the Trinity doesn't understand the Trinity" is applicable to the Faith of the Seven as well. While Anglo-Saxons worshipped Old Norse Gods like Odin (Woden) and Thor, a religion that doesn't have any formal structure or hierarchy, the Faith of the Seven has a very Catholic one. Septons (priests) and septas (nuns) and High Septon (pope) are all too familiar to anyone knowing the Christian Church hierarchy (but the editor of the Catholic Herald, Ed West, seems to miss it altogether). Even the military orders that Cersei revives in the 4th book, are based on the Templars and Hospitallers. Not to mention the words "septon" and "septas" are derived from "septem" (Latin for "seven"). So Andals brought to Westeros their equivalent of the western Christianity, not Norse Paganism.
Then Ed West likens the faith in the Lord of Light, or R'hllor to Christianity, his research being so poor that even the Authors @Google interview with George R.R. Martin from 2011 would tell him that the dualistic religion of the Lord of Light is based on Zoroastrianism, though later (apocalyptic) Judaism indeed was heavily inspired by Zoroastrians, but in Christian sense the dualistic religion (and without the belief in Trinity) can be found in gnostic sects of the 2nd to 4th century CE and even in Cathars of the 13th century (Catholics even waged Crusades against them).
Going into the real history problems with Ed West's book is that he has a poor knowledge of the Anglo-Saxon era, that is, before the Conquest of 1066. Edward the Confessor wasn't a chaste king, his childless marriage probably stemming from his or his wife's infertility, but he certainly blamed his wife, because in 1050s, after his father-in-law died, Edward started looking for another wife. Same goes for the early middle ages and the opinions about bastardy. Until the later period in King Henry I's reign, bastards weren't frowned upon, but there was a theological shift in that period, in the early 12th century, even banning marriage for the Catholic priests. Æthelstan, the first King of England, may have been a bastard, but either way, Alfred the Great, a very pious and devout Christian, didn't mind, giving his grandson gifts that many believed designated Æthelstan for kingship. William the Bastard would never inherit the Duchy of Normandy, much less claim the crown of England, if the Church frowned upon bastards 60-70 years earlier than it actually did.
The Red Wedding in which the rebellion of Robb Stark ends with his and his mother's death is inspired by The Black Dinner in Scottish, NOT English history, but Ed West would need to see or read an interview with the author about who's works he's writing a book.
And last, I would claim (and this is just my guess, because I don't think GRRM was inspired by the Anglo-Saxon era that much) that Tywin Lannister is more similar to Godwin, Earl of Wessex, than any other English political fugure in the middle ages, certainly not one from the post-1066 era. Kudos to West here, he indeed says that Godwin caused the death of Edward the Confessor's brother Alfred, but Godwin didn't start out as a pirate. Godwin's father was a Sussex thegn, but was outlawed and thus Godwin moved in high circles in London to get back in favour to have his father's lands returned to him, winning them back in the will of Æthelred the Unready's son, Æthelstan. Godwin then rose during the reign of Cnut, the Danish King of England. Cnut gave Godwin the title of Earl of Wessex, which is more than a mere title of the "Warden of the West" that Tywin Lannister has, but just like Tywin, Godwin was the wealthiest Earl in England, his wealth second only to the King. His daughter married Edward the Confessor, just like Cersei married Robert, though Godwin exercised great influence over the royal decisions of three kings after Cnut while Tywin stays more or less idle during Robert's reign, but is hugely influential during the reign of Aerys II, the Mad King.
All in all, I wouldn't recommend this book. It tries to draw parallels with the real world, but there are three bad parallels to every good one and thus it is a pointless read, because searching YouTube for "George R R Marin Interview" (and looking for videos longer than 20min) would give you a far better understanding of his inspiration for the world of Westeros and Essos than this book.