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The Seven Senses of Westeros

Call me schizophrenic – I’m a guy of several different foci, usually in focus simultaneously.  While mostly covering the gaming industry for several different sites (Gamasutra, IGN, Nintendojo, TotalPlayStation), I also write about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando Resort for Orlando Informer and found-footage films for Corona’s Coming Attractions and, but of course, George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire for Tower of the Hand.

With season two of HBO’s Game of Thrones quickly approaching (in two weeks!), it’s been mostly the last that has consumed my every waking thought.  In between re-watching season one episodes, rereading chapters of A Clash of Kings, and publishing ebooks on the subject, I thought it might be fun – and, just possibly, instructive – to gather a chorus of experts to chat away on a slightly different perspective on Martin’s multimedia creation.  The subject?  Why, that one fundamental element absolutely crucial to each and every type of imagined world, whether it be physical or literary or, yes, digital:  verisimilitude.

Just to veer in the specific, the question posed to each of my distinguished-in-the-halls-of-fantasy-nerdom guests was:  what is the one detail – color, taste, sound, texture – that makes the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros come the most alive for you?

Ted Nasmith
World-famous painter, musician, and scholar of all things J.R.R. Tolkien – and, now, George R.R. Martin

Not having seen the HBO version, I’m going by impressions the GRRM books have left me.  Color is out since my art covers the gamut.  I’ll say the sound of the sea – which nicely covers Middle-earth, too.

Amin Javadi
A co-host – and co-founder – of A Podcast of Ice and Fire

If it is the books, then I would say the sense of taste – that is, the vivid descriptions that we get of the foods and feasting in Westeros.  They are detailed enough that the ladies at the Inn at the Crossroads were inspired to create their website and write a Westerosi cookbook.

If it is the TV show, I would say the sense of sound.  They have really gotten the audio down right for the TV show, from the great intro music to all the various musical themes and background audio.

Elio García
Co-founder of Westeros.org, the first Game of Thrones website, and co-author, with Martin himself, of A World of Ice and Fire

In his short “On Fantasy,” GRRM says that we read fantasy “to find the colors again,” among many other reasons.  And I suppose it is the colors of it – the colors of the heraldic banners, the full flare of the pageantry and chivalry that Martin describes – that first really stirred my imagination, because it was so carefully constructed as a veneer over something much more visceral and much less innocent, as the Hound states when he talks about chivalry as wrapping ribbons around a sword.

If you need a specific color, though, I suppose it’s blue:  the color of winter roses.

John Jasmin
Co-founder of ToweroftheHand.com, the so-called Encyclopedia of Ice and Fire (and all-around top-notch editor)

I have no idea if George R. R. Martin is a gourmet cook or a food aficionado.  I do know, however, that GRRM seems to enjoy peppering A Song of Ice and Fire – normally a grim affair – with lavish and grandiose feasts.  It doesn’t matter if he’s setting the table for welcoming the king or serving the final meal before the castle walls come down.  GRRM spares no words in detailing everything from appetizer to dessert.

But this is often beyond-exotic fare, food that’s available only to the one percent of the fictional world of Westeros.  Even the brilliant Inn at the Crossroads can’t recreate everything on ASOIAF‘s wondrous menu.  Because it’s so difficult for an earthly peasant like me to imagine how swans, peacocks, and larks taste, tantalizing as GRRM makes them sound, it’s occasionally the most basic of foods that gets my mouth watering.

A Feast for Crows [the fourth book] introduces us to Dorne and, particularly, to the great orange groves of House Martell.  The first Dornish chapter surrounds us with blood oranges, a specimen perfect in color and shape, with a sharp, sweet smell and ripe beyond belief.  “I should have gathered up the oranges that fell,” a servant of House Martell says to himself at one point, “and went to sleep dreaming of the tart, sweet taste of them, and the sticky feel of the red juice on [my] fingers.”

Once again, GRRM takes great care in describing his world’s finest delicacies, but this time I can relate.  I consider the best orange I’ve ever tasted, then imagine these blood oranges to surpass them in every single way.  All at once, this little detail makes Westeros that much more alive to me… and that much more fantastical.

Marc N. Kleinhenz has written for 18 sites, including IGN, Gamasutra, and Nintendojo, where he co-hosts the Airship Travelogues podcast.  His ebook for the Amazon Kindle features all of these fine chaps – plus much, much more.

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