Academic journal article Extrapolation

"Ser Piggy": Identifying an Intertextual Relationship between William Golding's Lord of the Flies and George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones

Academic journal article Extrapolation

"Ser Piggy": Identifying an Intertextual Relationship between William Golding's Lord of the Flies and George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones

Article excerpt


George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire can safely claim to be one of the most erudite fantasy series in English: its numerous references to world mythologies and historical figures and events continue to provoke wide-ranging debate amongst its readers. Literary inspirations are also present, and J. R. R. Tolkien, with his wide-ranging and epic vision of distant kingdoms and enchantment, is perhaps Martin's most obvious literary ancestor. As Martin's initials mirror Tolkien's, and a review by Lev Grossman in 2005 dubbed him "the American Tolkien," some are tempted to draw comparisons between A Song of Ice and Fire and The Lord of the Rings.

In particular, links have been drawn between the figures of Samwell Tarly and Samwise Gamgee: both have similar status as a hero's devoted and sometimes comic companion, and a similarity in naming is matched in titles bestowed upon them: "Samwise the Brave" and "Sam the Slayer." With these parallels in place, people are generally content to see Tolkien's Samwise as the literary root of Martin's Samwell. However, we would argue that a more fruitful comparison lies not with The Lord of the Rings, but with William Golding's twentieth-century "campus classic" Lord of the Flies.

A cursory examination of A Game of Thrones, the first book in Martin's series, shows a number of superficial links between Golding's novel and Martin's. The Lannister family seat, "Casterley Rock," may owe a debt in naming to Golding's "Castle Rock": both locations have associations of power wielded cruelly and unjustly. The theme of decapitation and the display of the severed head on a spike, so striking in Golding's novel ("Pig's head on a stick"; "Roger sharpened a stick at both ends"; 177, 234) is a leitmotif throughout A Game of Thrones, from the deserter beheaded by Lord Eddard Stark near the novel's opening to Stark's own later execution and the subsequent display of his head on the battlements. Golding's theme of the pig hunt is given an ironic reversal when, during a hunt, King Robert Baratheon is apparently dealt a death wound by the very wild boar he intended to kill. However, the chief point of comparison (and one to which we will devote the majority of this essay) is the character of Samwell Tarly.

Samwell Tarly has much in common with Golding's Piggy as an embodiment of the archetypal "fat kid," unsociable yet capable of intelligence; the intertextual reference is made blatant with bullying taunts of "Ser Piggy," "Lady Piggy," "my Lord of Ham" (260, 261) and other such porcine insults in Samwell's first few scenes at "the Wall." However, though Samwell's initial status as a despised outsider in his community bears a marked similarity to that of Golding's character, his eventual fate is the polar opposite of Piggy's. Unlike Golding's "fat boy," Martin's character Samwell is not rejected, not exploited, not murdered: instead, he is brought into the fold, his voice is listened to, and he becomes a valued and trusted member of the community.

The transformation of the archetypal "fat boy" from Golding's despised and scapegoated victim to Martin's stable and respected community member is the subject of this close reading. By an examination of the fat characters, their immediate allies and their location, it can be inferred that Martin is offering a demonstration, both practical and ethical, of the circumstances required for a "Piggy's" survival. The first section of this article will examine the differences in character between Golding's Piggy and Martin's Samwell.

Piggy and Samwell

Golding's Piggy is one of the few fat characters in literature prescribed for young adults to go beyond the presentation of fatness as negative moral lesson or terrible warning (of the grotesque "Augustus Gloop" variety). He is a deftly observed, realistic small child, with all the irritating obstinacy of the young "know-it-all." His vividly ungrammatical declarations, whining diction, and frustrated awkwardness all add up to a highly memorable character, and his pointless killing has a considerable impact on the reader. …

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