Con of Thrones 2018: Shakespeare and Psychedelia Influences in Game of Thrones

Posted: July 1, 2018 by patricksponaugle in Game of Thrones, Music
Tags: , , , , ,

Just over a month ago (at the time of this post’s creation) Con of Thrones 2018 was in full swing in Dallas, Texas.

In the past weeks I’ve shared a links to audio from panels that I was fortunate to be a presenter on, but I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite panels that I experienced as a member of the audience.

Two in particular are of note since they were the first two panels I saw at Con of Thrones and shared the similar theme of exploring the influences of other bodies of work on George RR Martin and his epic series A Song of Ice and Fire.

First up was Lauren “Shakespeare of Thrones” (withholding her full name so as not to doxx her, you animals) who presented The Influence of Shakespeare in ASOIAF. Following her was author David Lovett and The Fire From the Ice: How the Grateful Dead’s Music Influenced A Song of Ice and Fire.

It’s not hard to understand the appeal of Lauren’s presentation. Shakespeare and his plays are compelling (if you feel otherwise, please keep your benightedness to yourself) and it is not surprising that there are echoes of the Stratford’s famous son’s plays within a sprawling story filled with drunken kings, treachery, debauchery, seduction, prophecies, witches, characters traveling incognito, family strife, old grudges, murder, poisoning, dynastic disputes, succession squabbles, and hardcore moneylenders.

I’m not going to try and extensively recap her panel here. Instead I’d recommend you watch her presentation on YouTube:

If you don’t have time for that, to summarize: she paired up scenes from the show with relevant video clips from Shakespearean cinematic productions, like Anthony Hopkins as Titus Andronicus and Ian McKellen as Richard III. A major segment of her presentation talked about Stannis Baratheon and Macbeth – everyone should check out her Macbeth essay here: Stannis Baratheon: Macbeth Revisited

(I fear that I’m really underselling her talk. Just trust me and listen to it via the YouTube link. You’re young. You have time.)

You can find more of Lauren’s work on her blog, or if you want you can follow her on Twitter where she’s @shakesofthrones – Twitter is how I first came across her work, where she’d present dialogue from the books and/or show but rewritten in Shakespearean verse. It’s great.

Near the end of her presentation, when taking questions from the audience, David Lovett (who was next on the schedule) asked what Shakespeare influence she had wanted to talk about but didn’t have time for in the time allowed by the format.

Lauren revealed that if she could have she would have included an analysis of Othello‘s Iago as a reference for Littlefinger, and the audience audibly oohed in agreement. (Maybe next year.)

Following Lauren’s panel was David Lovett’s presentation of the influence of the Grateful Dead on A Song of Ice and Fire.

Full disclosure. I’m not really a follower of the Grateful Dead. I’m aware of their songs, I know who they are, I’ve known Deadheads, but I’ve never owned a Dead album. I don’t dislike them, they just weren’t in my zone, I guess.

So you might be wondering why I sat in on a presentation about this band’s influences on GRRM’s works.

In general, I’m a fan of David Lovett’s works – his blog What Would Bale Do is great, and I was fortunate enough to review his novel The Moonborn.

I was aware of his essays talking about Grateful Dead references in A Song of Ice and Fire and I’ve known that GRRM is a fan of and friends with the band, so I was up for this presentation.

I really don’t know if I could do his talk justice by attempting to recap (you should follow the link above – all of his essays are engaging and insightful) but I can make some observations:

  • As a Game of Thrones fan, after hearing his talk – I’m now invested in listening to some more Grateful Dead music. It certainly feels like there’s something to this.
  • Lovett had a refreshing perspective on the connections he was finding between Grateful Dead lyrics and themes in A Song of Ice and Fire.

His takes were this:

  1. Martin was deliberately using Grateful Dead songs as an inspiration for the themes and elements of his fantasy story. Or …
  2. Martin was unconsciously putting in references to the Grateful Dead. Or …
  3. The similar elements were accidental because both works were inspired by some older work – in a Joseph Campbell way. Or…
  4. Sometimes, coincidences happen.

(Hopefully I’m paraphrasing his approach correctly. For the actual points of comparison, and there are many, please check out his blog.)

Often I’ve seen people asserting with 100% certainty that they’ve cracked some secret code that George RR Martin has carefully and deliberately used in his work, based on some vast hodge-podge corpus of existing myth and shared wordplay. And that their theory was a secret truth which becomes self-evident after a few points of comparison form the groundwork. (Why, I have one of those theories as well.)

So I applaud Lovett framing it as “here are similarities that I’ve found, but I can’t say for sure if they’re meaningful.” Because it doesn’t matter if these similarities are deliberate, or coincidental, or are intended to convey some specific meaning – or not. They’re cool just for existing and should be talked about.

Okay, it might actually matter to the story of A Song of Ice and Fire if Martin is deliberately putting in references to the Grateful Dead because the Night King’s ghouls are in reality ardent fans of the White Walkers’ musical stylings, and King’s Landing has the only venue that can hold them all for a massive Deadhead-esque jam session. But I don’t necessarily think that’s the case.

Regardless, using one body of work as a lens to view another is interesting and at times fulfilling, if only to give the audience a different frame of reference. It’ll be hard for me not to perceive Game of Thrones themes in the song “Uncle John’s Band” now.

And should I take in some more of Shakespeare’s plays (which everyone should) – I’ll be engaged on a new level of looking for things in harmony with Martin’s works.

So many thanks to Lauren and David for their areas of interest, and connecting them to A Song of Ice and Fire. This is the quality content that I look forward to experiencing. (Particularly because we still have so long until the final season, and the next few books. Thoughtful analysis is needed to get us through these long, discontented seasons.)

I’m honestly humbled to know them, and hopefully some of my readers will check out more of their work.

(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)

If you liked this article, thank you! I have all of my Game of Thrones related articles on my handy-dandy Game of Thrones page should you want to read more but don’t want to navigate around my site.

The image of the Grateful Dead logo and album cover are obviously property of the Grateful Dead. The split image of Jonny Snow and Billy Shakespeare was purloined from Lauren’s twitter account, because I’m a scoundrel. (Likewise the image of Varys talking to Ned, sporting Lauren’s spot-on verse.) Hopefully she’ll forgive the liberties that I’ve taken. I make no claims to the images, or to the verse.

© Patrick Sponaugle 2018 Some Rights Reserved

  1. I took a course on Shakespeare a few years ago and we talked about the structure of tragic stories, and that formula reminded me of Stannis in the fifth season of the show. It very much reminds me of Macbeth.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m definitely listening to the Shakespeare one later. I remember hearing about the Grateful Dead comparisons with something about Arya and Jon, but I’m not a Dead Head so I couldn’t begin to tell you what it was. I, too, have written that list of possibilities for why narratives share paradigms. I’m working on a set of ASOIAF comparative essays myself (or…I plan on and have been planning for a year), and I’m pretty sure it’s the the third one or they pull from the same pool of paradigms. I’ve noticed similar stuff with lots of epic stories. Creators will often grab from the same cache, and with Marin he has so many damn things going on, of course there are going to be similarities with other stories. I think he’s admitted to it…but I could see him as Dead Head :p

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sorry I was late in responding to your comment (I’ve been busy, but that’s not an excuse – I apologize.)
      Your comparative essays on ASOIAF sound intriguing, I am looking forward to seeing them! I’m mostly in your camp about pulling from the same pool, that offers a lot of solid explanations for things. And yeah, GRRM is close with the band.

      Liked by 1 person

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