George R.R. Martin has only written five out of a proposed seven books in A Song of Ice and Fire so far, and already the series clocks in at approximately 1,770,000 words (that means that Infinite Jest could fit inside the series 3.1 times over). With so much story to tell, it's no surprise that Martin has found himself borrowing from other works of literature and mythology—and sneaking in a few little winks at his favorite authors as well. Here are some of the most clever literary references in A Song of Ice and Fire.
Many of Martin's sneaky references are hidden within descriptions of heraldry and lists of knights, so careful not to skip over any long, seemingly pointless passages. You might miss a few Easter Eggs. Martin slips in shout outs to his fellow fantasy writers, favorite musicians, and favorite sports teams. The lyrics to the '70s anthem "I Am Woman" are even hidden within the mottos of the Great Houses. But perhaps most interesting of all is the way that Martin takes different elements of literature and mythology and weaves them into something new. From Tolkien-inspired characters to evil squid monsters, here are a few of the best literary references hidden in the series:
The Three-Eyed Crow is a lot like Odin
Norse Mythology is a heavy influence on the World of Ice and Fire. For one, the Norse concept of Ragnarok, or the death of the gods, is pretty close to this endless death-winter that everyone's trying to avoid. For another thing, the Three-Eyed Crow (Three-Eyed Raven in the TV adaption) has some not-so-subtle shades of Odin to him. Odin is the king of the Norse Gods in classic Norse Mythology. Like Odin, the Three-Eyed Crow is an all-seeing figure with only one literal eye. Odin can see through the eyes of his loyal ravens and wolves, much like the Three-Eyed Crow, and he had to sacrifice his body to the Tree of Life in order to obtain his infinite wisdom. The chief adversaries of Odin and his family are also ice giants, who are forever trying to break through the wall into the godly realm of Asgard.
The Drowned God might be Cthulhu
The Ironborn of the Iron Islands worship a creepy, squiddy deity known as the drowned god. Their catchphrase, "What is dead may never die!" is also a snappier version of H.P. Lovecraft's quote, “That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.” Lovecraft's quote is referring to Cthulhu, his own creepy, squiddy monster god, who slumbers eternally beneath the sea. If that's not enough for you, Martin makes vague, oblique references to sea creatures known as "The Deep Ones," who also appear in the Lovecraft story, The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
Martin loves 'The Wheel of Time'
A Song of Ice and Fire features a whole slew of subtle references to the fantasy series The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Archmaester Rigney theorizes that time is a shaped like a wheel, and James Oliver Rigney Jr. was Robert Jordan's real name. And then there's the delightfully obvious mention of Lord Trebor Jordayne of the Tor (Tor was the publisher of most of Jordan's books).
Harry gets a nasty forehead scar
In A Clash of Kings, Brienne of Tarth fights both Harry Sawyer and Robin Potter, giving Harry a nasty scar on his forehead. Harry and Potter are both rude characters, but Martin has gone on record saying that he appreciates all that J.K. Rowling has done for the fantasy genre (even if she did beat him at the Hugo Awards).
All Hobbits Must Die
There are a lot of subtle nods to J.R.R. Tolkien in George R.R. Martin's work: Sam Tarly and Sam Gamgee share a lot of character traits, and both authors use the names Oakenshield, Drogo, and Theodan. Most notable, though, the phrase "Valar Morghulis" is repeated throughout Martin's books, meaning "all men must die." The "Valar" are deities in Tolkien's world and "Minas Morghul" is a fortress, with "Morghul" meaning "Dark Sorcery."
Joffrey is a biblically bad king
While young Joffrey is king, he (but mostly his mother) has all of the previous King Robert's bastards put to death. This involves massacring infants, because King Robert really got around. Joffrey's decree mirrors similar decrees in the Bible: in the Gospel of Matthew, King Herod tries to have all male babies killed to prevent the rise of Jesus, and in Exodus, the Pharaoh has all male Hebrew babies put to death to prevent rebellion. I guess this means all of Robert's surviving bastards are going to team up and part the Narrow Sea?
R’hllor is not the first Lord of Light
The Red Priests worship the fire god R'hllor, known as the Lord of Light. But before Melisandre was trying to burn children alive, Roger Zelazny wrote a famous novel titled The Lord of Light. The similar name is probably not a coincidence, since Zelazny was friends with Martin, even collaborating with him on the series Wild Cards. This fictional religion also draws influence from the very real religion of Zoroastrianism, which centers around two gods, one good and one evil, and venerates fire and the powers of resurrection.
Tyrion has demon eyes
Tyrion has one green eye and one black eye, just like the character Professor Woland from The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Much like Tyrion, Woland is a seductive rogue who, despite being a demon, is far more honest than all of the wealthy, bureaucratic mortals who surround him. Tyrion is no demon (despite what his sister thinks), but he does provide some much need fun and honesty to the corrupt courts of Westeros.
Persephone might be the key to the weird seasons
In Greek Mythology and classical literature, Persephone is a goddess of the spring. She's kidnapped by Hades, the god of death, and brought to be his queen in the land of the dead. In the end, it is decided that Persephone may spend half the year above ground, bringing sun and warmth, and half the year with Hades, causing winter to fall across the land. This myth is echoed in Prince Rhaegar "kidnapping" Lyanna Stark: her disappearance brings about Robert's rebellion, and shortly after her death Westeros sees one of the longest summers in living memory, before being engulfed by one of the most dangerous winters.
...and then, of course, there are all the references to Martin’s other books
I mean, look, if you were a successful fantasy author, you'd reference your own books, too. Bakkalon, one of the gods in the House of Black and White, is a deity in Martin's story And Seven Times Never Kill Man! Lord Baelor Blacktyde's ship Nightflyer is named after Martin's novella Nightflyers. The Fever River in Westeros is a callback to Martin's novel Fevre Dream. And Will's quote in the prologue of A Game of Thrones, "Dead men sing no songs," is a play on Martin's novella, Songs the Dead Men Sing.