A game of fans
It’s hard to imagine, given the current stratospheric popularity of the TV series Game Of Thrones, that George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire (ASOIAF) novels have been around for a very long time. The first, A Game Of Thrones, was published in 1996, and Martin had been working on it since 1991. At the time, the series was envisaged as a trilogy, and Martin expected the novels to be done and dusted by the early 2000s. The series was meant to resolve with A Dance With Dragons and The Winds Of Winter. However, by his own admission, once A Game Of Thrones had exceeded 1,400 manuscript pages, with no end in sight, the number of books became four. Then five. Finally, seven.
The first three books were finished quite fast, with A Clash Of Kings and A Storm Of Swords coming out in 1998 and 2000, respectively. The series had dedicated fans right from the beginning, as well as fan theorists speculating about how the saga would pan out and the fates of the principal characters.
A Feast For Crows was published in 2005. In the meantime, a close fight for the 2001 Hugo Award for Best Novel with J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire—which Rowling won—had elevated the series’ profile far beyond genre fans. When A Feast For Crows came out, it shot to the top of the best-seller charts, a feat none of the three previous novels had managed. Where the first novels in the series used to be reviewed by genre publications, after A Feast For Crows, Time magazine called Martin “the American Tolkien”.
By this time, the internet was filled with ASOIAF fan forums. The first, Dragonstone, had an FAQ page and a board to discuss fan theories. Dragonstone folded in 1997, when its server crashed. In its place arose what is today the biggest ASOIAF forum—Westeros.org, formed in 1999 and helmed by superfans Elio M. García and Linda Antonsson. The couple began Westeros.org as a role-playing game, with Martin’s blessings. Soon it became a full-fledged resource on the imaginary land of Westeros. With thousands of registered users, this is the “official” fan forum. García and Antonsson have even co-authored a book with Martin, The World Of Ice & Fire, which was published in 2014. García is a Martin-approved consultant on all tie-in licensed merchandise, including the TV series.
However, García and Antonsson’s closeness to Martin has been a sore point of contention for many fans, who view the duo’s gatekeeping of Martin’s creations as suspect. Even otherwise, a fandom as diverse as this would require more than just one catch-all fan site. Since 2011, when A Dance With Dragons was published and the TV series began, many more have mushroomed.
The site Asoiafuniversity.tumblr.com came into being in 2012, and is home to all the “meta” that is published online about the books, characters, themes and locales of ASOIAF. Metas—fan theories and analyses of the texts—are shorthand for fans talking about fandom. Maintained by a handful of fans and theorists, each of the admin members have blogs, and fans are free to send them “asks”—queries related to the books and, to a lesser extent, the shows.
The beauty of these Tumblr metas is that they ask tough questions on the text, from discussions on disability and patriarchy to the role of people of colour in leading roles in Martin’s universe. The writers who moderate the Asoiafuniversity.tumblr.com site have their specializations, on the basis of which general asks are answered. So fans seeking some clarity on the politics of Westeros are directed to Steve Attewell, who writes under the name Race For The Iron Throne. Questions regarding the women in the saga are generally answered by Lauren, who goes by the name of Joanna Lannister. One of the moderators, Emmett Booth (Poor Quentyn), has achieved a degree of fame by being very astute about certain magical endgame aspects of the saga; if you’re a fan, look up “Eldritch Apocalypse” on Google.
All things Westeros
Asoiafuniversity.tumblr.com: Erudite discussions on the novels, as well as fan theories.
Watchers on the Wall: A one-stop resource for fans of the TV show.
Radio Westeros: Regular podcasts on the novels and the TV show.
Westeros.org and A Wiki of Ice and Fire: Invaluable resource on every little thing in the books.
Tower of the Hand: An encyclopaedia of the world of ‘ASOIAF’.
A Search of Ice and Fire: A search engine that scans all the books for passages that a fan might want to look up.