Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Carolyne Larrington

‘We’re fighting the north and it’s not going anywhere’

Old Norse Myth and Culture, and Game of Thrones

Thursday, May 17, 2018, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Carolyne Larrington

In this lecture, Carolyne Larrington talks about the connections between medieval Old Norse-Icelandic tradition, and the HBO TV series Game of Thrones. From direwolves to the Three-Eyed Raven, from beyond the Wall to the Iron Isles, she will trace the ways in which George R. R. Martin, author of the book series A Song of Ice and Fire, on which the show is based, and David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the showrunners, adapt motifs from Old Norse literature, mythology and legend to shape its vision of the North. Óðinn, Valhöll, vikings, draugar, cosmic wolves and ravens, and the very Fimbulvetr itself, that inspires one of the series’ most resonant phrases: Winter is coming.

George R. R. Martin is steeped in Old Norse mythology and Viking history, and has made creative use of themes and tropes drawn from the medieval North. In particular the show harnesses the myth and attributes of Óðinn, traditions about the undead and the frost-giants, shape-changing magic, an exaggerated view of Viking ethics in its depiction of the Iron-Born people, and the fundamental myth of ragnarök itself. The show’s vision of apocalypse is shaped by the end of the world as imagined in Völuspá, and — since both show and book series have yet to conclude — we may wonder whether the continent of Westeros can hope for the kind of rebirth that follows catastrophe in Eddic poetry. And can saga tradition offer some clues as how the great existential threat of the White Walkers and their army of undead draugar can be countered?

The lecture will both discuss and critique Martin and the show’s views of the medieval North, examining how popular cultural genres can over-simplify, but also can build creatively on the medieval past, opening up interesting questions about ethics, identity, adapting to cultural change and the ways in which power, information and technology intersect in the imagined world of Westeros.

Carolyne Larrington’s most recent book is a popular guide to Old Norse myth and legend, published by Thames and Hudson in 2017, and has translated the Poetic Edda into English. In 2015 she published Winter is Coming: the Medieval World of Game of Thrones; she has lectured across three continents on the books, the show and their parallels in medieval history, literature and imaginations.

Carolyne Larrington is Professor of medieval European literature at the University of Oxford and Official Fellow in medieval English at St John’s College, Oxford. She researches widely in Old Norse-Icelandic literature, Arthurian studies, the history of emotion and, most recently, medievalism. Author of a best-selling book on Game of Thrones, she is currently writing a sequel about the show.

The talk will be delivered in English. All are welcome to attend.