Book Review: Gods of Thrones: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Religions of Ice and Fire: Vol. 1.

Gods of Thrones

GODS OF THRONES: A PILGRIM’S GUIDE TO THE RELIGIONS OF ICE AND FIRE: VOL. 1.
A. Ron Hubbard & Anthony LeDonne
Bald Move Books

While I’ve only really skirted around the peripherals of geekdom, I’ve often felt the gravitational pull into fanboy nerdishness that beautifully constructed fantasy worlds like Middle Earth, Osten Ard, Hyboria, Krynn and Allansia emanate from their cores. Teenage-me lapped up tales from such perilous realms with devotion, while Tolkien’s words on man’s role as the ‘sub-creator’ of the divine mysteries through his creative output has remained an inspiration to me right through to middle-age, a time of life in which the yearning for days of high adventure seem to have as much chance of happening as Arnold dusting off his codpiece to play King Conan.

With the emergence of A Song of Ice and Fire, which I discovered around 2010, and the ridiculously excellent HBO series Game of Thrones that came a year later, the spotty, sinewy teen who wandered the woods and hills of south Wales fruitlessly hoping for glimpses of elves, re-emerged like the sapling of the White Tree of Gondor. I found my lifelong interests in magic, myth and religion—which, in the early days, were doubtlessly nurtured by the re-sacralisation of the magical imagination by the likes of Tolkien, Terry Brooks and Tad Williams—were once again complimented by a modern creation worthy of unleashing my inner geek upon. I read the entire series up to A Feast for Crows in less than a month before I had to briefly join the frustrated hordes waiting for the release of A Dance with Dragons in 2011. Since then, with several more years having lapsed between Dance and the long-anticipated Winds of Winter, the frustration of waiting a year, and more recently two years, between seasons of Game of Thrones completed the total long-term absorption of Martin’s world into the fabric of my psyche. He is an author whose works require patience and devotion, having now strung his devotees along for twenty-three years since A Game of Thrones was released; but like all exceptional works, the forthcoming culmination of the HBO series will undoubtedly prove worth the wait, as will the presently theoretical release of A Dream of Spring.

Re-watching the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones recently, I noticed—in ways both subtle and gross—just how much the movement of many plot devices could be construed as the movements of the gods moving our beloved and despised characters around as their pawns over the chequered landscapes of Westeros and Essos. Noting this, I wondered if anyone had thought to look into the patterns of behaviour and motivations of the gods in Martin’s world in order to decipher more about what their ultimate game was. Further, I wondered if anyone had tried to piece together what religious and magical inspirations from our own terribly fucked world Martin and the show runners looked towards in order to shape their own unique visions of divine action in Game of Thrones. The answer, I discovered, was that someone—two someones, in fact— had recently done that very thing.

The resulting book, Gods of Thrones, comes courtesy of Bald Move’s A.Ron Hubbard and religious scholar Anthony LeDonne, whose combined knowledge of Martin’s world and the philosophical, historical, mythical and religious landscapes of our own shines effortlessly in this volume, which covers topics such as animism, Zoroastrianism, patriarchal cults, tribalism, scepticism and Messianic figures in the context of Martin’s own background as a meticulous ‘sub-creator’ and lapsed Catholic. With the forthcoming Volume 2 of this work looking to cover the mythology of the Ironborn, the culture of the Dothraki and the ‘dragon cult’ of the Targaryens, the combined efforts of the authors will prove a welcome addition to the ever-broadening world that Martin has shaped.

While Gods of Thrones holds an expert stock of well-presented and researched information, my only sticking point came with its jocular and over-familiar tone which featured a few too many cross-references to other vessels of geekdom that the authors obviously revere. While reading, I noted that if I were listening to or watching what I was reading on a podcast (which, in fairness, is Hubbard’s primary medium) or on YouTube, I would probably have enjoyed its style and laughed along. In book-form, however, the less formal approach suitable for online media doesn’t translate as well. It wasn’t that the attempts at humour were terrible, but rather that they sat awkwardly in what was otherwise an excellent and informative book. Still, this personal gripe wouldn’t put me off purchasing, and most-likely enjoying, Volume 2, though I expect I may occasionally grit my teeth and scrunch up my face at times as I did with this Volume.

In response to my own criticisms of the book I think it would only be right for me to check out Bald Move’s Game of Thrones podcast before reading Volume 2 to see if it’s a case of needing a degree of familiarity with Hubbard’s style to better appreciate the book. If not, nothing lost, Volume 2 will be worth getting hold of anyway, as is this.