The "Antihero" Defying Clichés. A Study of a Character in George R.R. Martin´s "A Song of Ice and Fire"

Master's Thesis 2014 56 Pages

American Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1. A Song of Ice and Fire
1.2. Approach

2. The Genre Fantasy
2.1. Term
2.2. Definition
2.3. Heroes in Fantasy .

3. Characterization
3.1. What is a Character?
3.2. Characters in Fantasy

4. Dwarfism
4.1. Background on Dwarfism
4.2. Dwarfs in Literature .
4.3. Dwarfs in Fantasy

5. Tyrion Lannister - Defying Fantasy Clichés
5.1. Mentality and Appearance
5.2. History and Recent Events
5.3. Relationships
5.4. Defying Expectations
5.4.1. Defying Family Character Traits .
5.4.2. Defying Dwarfism
5.4.3. Defying Characterization .

6. Crossing Boundaries - Is that what makes him a Hero? .

7. Outlook

8. Works Cited


Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1. Introduction

“ I never appreciated “ positive heroes ” in literature. They are almost always cliches, copies of copies, until the model is exhausted. I prefer perplexity, doubt, uncertainty, not just it provides a more “ productive ” literary raw material, but because that is the way we humans really are. ” (José Saramago, qtd. in “BrainyQuote.com”)

1.1. A Song of Ice and Fire

“Winter is coming” - a phrase not only fervent readers of Fantasy know but also thousands of people throughout the world. The success of the book series A Song of Ice and Fire from George R.R. Martin transcends the literary cosmos as it has long been picturized in the form of an HBO series; hundreds of fan articles are produced each year. Not unlike the roaring popularity of the Harry Potter series a few years ago, the fictional worlds of Westeros and Essos in this Fantasy saga have captured the attention of the masses.

Written by the American author George R.R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire is a series of Fantasy novels whose story lines take place in an alternative world with its own long history. The first book A Game of Thrones was published in 1996, the series holds now five books and two more are expected to be published. Each chapter is written from the limited perspective of one character. When there were only nine character narrators in the first novel, the fifth book now chooses between thirty-one. The new characters have normally already been introduced in previous chapters by other narrators in whose surroundings they have been active. The main story lines of the novels can be divided in three: the struggle for crown and power among the first houses (families) of Westeros, the fight with the wildlings and the threat of the non-human Others beyond the wall (Westeros’ northern border) and the quest of Daenerys Targaryen, the last descendant of the ancient royal dynasty in Essos.

The reader is introduced to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, which have been united under the Targaryens hundreds of years before the the story of A Game of Thrones begins. One season can last years in this fictional world. The story of the novels begin at the end of the longest summer anyone can remember, when King Robert Baratheon seeks Lord Eddard Stark out to be his new Hand[1]. The first book concentrates mainly on the power struggle resulting from the death of this king. Robert’s son Joffrey claims the throne with the support of his family, the Lannisters. Lord Eddard Stark, still Hand of the King, finds out that the new king Joffrey and the two other children of the Queen Cersei Lannister are not from Robert Baratheon but the result of an incest relationship between her and her twin brother Jaime. Lord Stark is officially executed for treason but the queen really wanted to keep Stark’s knowledge from leaking out. In the following, not only Stark’s son Robb rises as proclaimed King of the North, but also Robert’s brothers Stannis and Renly lay claim to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. In the second book A Clash of Kings Balon Greyjoy proclaims himself King of the Iron Islands finally giving the war the name “War of the Five Kings”. In the course of this storyline not only King Robb is slaughtered along with most of his supporters but also King Renly and King Joffrey, making his little brother Tommen heir to the Iron Throne, with his mother being regent.

The second storyline is mainly narrated through Jon Snow, the bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark. He is part of, and later on leads, the Night’s Watch, a sworn brotherhood manning a gigantic eight-thousand-year-old wall of solid ice; defending the northern border of the realm. By the third book A Storm of Swords they are entangled in a war with the wildlings while still protecting themselves against the Others, the “rising dead” - non-human, immortal creatures with enhanced strength and speed.

In the center of the third storyline the reader gets to know the eastern continent Essos through the eyes of Daenerys Targaryen, who is rather isolated from the other narrators. Daenerys rises from a beggar with ancestral roots to a self confident intelligent ruler of thousands. Contributing to her success are three dragons that hatched at the end of the first novel - first they are just a symbol of her power but later she uses them as weapons. Disregarding smaller story lines in this short synopsis, the story unfolds itself for the reader with surprising twists and turns.

The reader dives into the lives and struggles of the characters, feeling and fighting with them and sometimes even crying when they unexpectedly die (as can be seen in the uproar and comments on various blogs on internet communities when Eddard Stark was unexpectedly executed). Every reader of A Song of Ice and Fire has his or her own favorite characters. In the first novel it was no doubt the nobel and honorable Lord Eddard Stark for most of the literary community - the obvious hero of the masses. But since his shocking demise the preferences of the readers seem to have changed and found a new darling - Tyrion Lannister. As the most discussed and controversial of all characters nobody seems to fully comprehend him: dwarf, egoist, drunkard, nymphomaniac, nerd - the list is long and might be longer still. The only thing all readers, blog-writers and fans seem to agree on is that he is the true hero of the series. But can a hero be an egotistical, sex maniac dwarf?

1.2. Approach

The main goal of this paper is to analyze the character of Tyrion Lannister of A Song of Ice and Fire from George R.R. Martin on the basis of his main character traits - his popularity as a hero, his physical stature as a dwarf and finally his setting in a fantasy world. All these concepts evoke certain ideas and images in readers. Rarely have they been combined in one character. The rarity of a character like Tyrion Lannister and his connection to three controversial concepts make for an interesting study. This paper aims to unravel these concepts generally, then with regard to Fantasy literature and finally analyze to what extent the character Tyrion Lannister goes conform with the stereotypes that are connected with them.

The theoretical groundwork will be laid in the first part of the paper. The terms and concepts of Fantasy, heroes, characterization and dwarfism will be examined and brought to the point. Based on these results, the character of Tyrion Lannister will be thoroughly analyzed in the second part of the research paper. In the beginning, a first impression and his appearance, as well as a short history and relationships of the character will be provided. In the following, Tyrion Lannister will be examined by means of the concepts from the first part and how he seems to evade every one of them. In the end there will be a summary of the results of the analysis and draw a conclusion as to how this inconceivability contributes to the popularity of the character and the making of a hero.

The content of this paper can neither be universal nor exclusive - it is merely the first attempt to capture the character Tyrion Lannister. George R.R. Martin has written five books of the series A Song of Ice and Fire so far and at least two more are in progress; so there is a lot of content to examine since Tyrion is frequently presented in every one of them. In this work the focus will be on the concepts of dwarfism, characterization and heroism. The examples from the books will be chosen to support those core areas. There can never be used all examples there are about those points, so only samples will be provided to give an idea about the subject matter. To further widen the understanding, all books except the ones Martin has not written yet will be taken into account. The psychological development will be clearer and more fascinating as the story progresses. A difficulty in the progress of this paper lies in the sources that are available. The theoretical background can be based on ample sources as the preoccupation with those concepts and also Fantasy in general are not new and not subjected to only a few scientists. A Song of Ice and Fire on the other hand has not been part of any extensive research. It is mentioned in a few texts about literature but never elaborate or excessive. Subsequently, the second part shall be based on the works of George R.R. Martin himself and my own thoughts, ideas and conclusions, that I have drawn while examining the scientific works about Fantasy, dwarfism and heroism.

2. The Genre Fantasy

“ Fantasy is the ability to see the common world anew and let oneself be enchanted by this uncommon, new way of looking at the world. ” (J.R.R. Tolkien, Weinreich 2008)

2.1. Term

Who dares to wander the world of literature will find himself in the possibilities of imagination. The reader knows that anything is possible and accepts that for the duration of reading, without thinking that the author is lying. Umberto Eco calls this the “Fiktionsvertrag”, a contract of fiction between the reader and the author which includes “the willing suspension of disbelief” (103), a quote he adopted from Coleridge. This contract is true for any kind of fiction, may it be a novel, a fairytale or a fantasy novel. The conventions of the genres will help readers avoid confusion in the fictional world.

When talking of Fantasy as a literary genre, one has to define the term genre first. Pronounced like its french origin, the word derives from the Latin word “genus” which means “kind” or “sort”. The theoretical categorization in genres is used to identify and analyze large groups of texts, music or any forms of art. Genres are flexible since cultural conventions change over time as well as works can fit into more than one genre by reinventing or combining those conventions. Generally one can say that a genre is a subcategory in literature, music or art and includes works with the same markers.

When looking the term Fantasy up one can find an overwhelming mass of non-specific definitions as in the Dictionary of World Literary Terms: “Fantasy includes, in the action, the characters, or the setting, things that are impossible under ordinary conditions or in the normal course of human events” (Nikolajeva 7). The imprecision of this definition leaves the door open for a variety of opinions and disagreements. For the past 50 years most German researcher of literature agreed on Fantasy being a sub genre of fantastic literature, even though there have been many, who mistook them for being one and the same; a misused synonym like in the book title “Fantasy: Studien zur Phantasik”[2] (1982) from Rolf Giesen. Fantastic literature has been a genre in its own right since the late 19. century but until today there is no clear definition of its boundaries. (Durst 17) In the past few years there has even been a tendency among German scientists to discard fantastic literature as outdated, since modern fictional works could be counted into more than one genre. The anglo-american literary studies on the other hand now widened its understanding of the fantastic and equalize “fantastic” and “fantasy”. As we can see, the vastness of opinions about fantastic literature and Fantasy make it difficult to determine the groundwork for differentiating the genre of the fantastic in itself and more so, its sub categories. Nevertheless I will keep to the concept of the genre Fantasy that I find most sensible: Fantasy includes all works that take place in an alternative, closed world without the characters having any connection to our modern “real” world. Of course there are many realistic, authentic elements that the reader recognizes but they all happen/are in the conclusive fictitious world.

2.2. Definition and History

According to Jens M. Fischer there still is no concrete manifestation of the term today, making it difficult to differ between fantastic and Fantasy texts. Ideas of its boundaries even vary in the cultural zones. (Kulik 52) In the english-speaking regions Fantasy includes texts defined as fantastic literature as well as texts that, in german-speaking regions, are related to Fantasy in general. Those are differentiated in “High Fantasy”, of which Tolkiens creations are the epitome; “Low Fantasy”, “Sword and Sorcery”, “Weird Fantasy”, “Horror Fantasy” or “Heroic Fantasy” (Fischer 16). These categories will be disregarded hereinafter as it is the goal to determine the general markers of Fantasy for this thesis. In the early stages of the genre the hero of Fantasy - J.R.R. Tolkien - was among the first authors to outgrow the standing conception of fantastic literature, since The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings no longer quite fit the criteria of this genre. (Kulik 51) Other authors to be mentioned at the creation of Fantasy are George MacDonald and William Morris (The House of Wolfings). Their style of writing molded modern Fantasy and it now assumed a more definite shape after the publication of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in the mid-fifties. On the T.S. Eliot principle that every writer creates his own tradition, the success of Tolkien’s book helped show that the tradition behind it, of George MacDonald and Lewis Carroll and William Morris, was, if not "the great" tradition, a tradition nonetheless. (Frye 43)

Of course, when those authors laid the groundwork for the new genre, it was not called Fantasy yet. It was only in the 1960s that Lin Carter published Adult Fantasy, a series of books after which the new writing style received its name. (Weinreich 63)

The content of Fantasy is fiction compared to our real world, but it tells coherent stories in which there is truth. This claim of sincerity and reality does not have to be explained like in fantastic literature, but the reason and structure for non-realistic events is implicit. When contrasting Fantasy and fantastic literature in his work Franz Rottensteiner writes, that in Fantasy

zwar viele übernatürliche Elemente, aber keinen Konflikt der Weltordnung [gibt]: Natürliches und Übernatürliches stehen einander nicht feindlich gegenüber, sondern verschmelzen, Magie, Zauberer und übernatürliche Wesen sind ein als natürlich empfundener Bestandteil des Milieus […] (Rottensteiner 18)

Herein also lies the difference between Fantasy and fairytale: a fairytale never explaines non-realistic events; whereas in Fantasy there can be an explanation for them; and in fantastic literature they are needed since the characters and the narrator have need to have the knowledge of the super-natural. J.R.R. Tolkien, who was not only a very influential fantasy writer but also a theorist called enchantment and magic its most noble and crucial functions.

Another characteristic of Fantasy are the maps of the fictional worlds that are often in the book covers, as can be seen in The Lord of the Rings, M ä rchenmond from Wolfgang and Heike Hohlbein or A Song of Ice and Fire from George R.R. Martin. They emphasize the fact that the story takes place in a derivative world - it is a self-contained reality. It has everything and nothing to do with our own world. Everything because we recognize most of the things and concepts of everyday life (like tables, houses, dinner for example); and nothing because it is part of a closed fictional dimension that the habitant of the earth has no access to.

One last difference between fairytale and Fantasy lies in the specializing of its characters. (Kulik 54) In Fantasy the characters are no strangers to mental and bodily harm; they are a product of their past; they can learn, develop; feel impulses, regret, doubts and they can reflect their actions. The worlds of Fantasy have no relation to our reality, are mostly pictured medieval or in the likeness of fairytales. (Biesterfeld 73) A popular theme in Fantasy is a quest - not only a physical, adventurous one but also a quest for meaning and virtue. (Hetmann 22-23) Most works of Fantasy let its characters deal with personal struggles, may it be Bilbo’s journey to the Erebor, Frodo’s struggle against the powers of the ring, Eragon’s quest to find his true self or Jon Snow’s endeavor to maintain his moral values.

2.3. Heroes in Fantasy

“[…] but his friend Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mein, […]” (Austen 12). When thinking of heroes one automatically thinks of one as strong, handsome and morally intact as Mr. Darcy, the ultimate romance hero. Or one thinks of a hero like Batman - brave, selfless, courageous, saving the lives of millions. The definitions of a hero in online dictionaries write of “any person, esp. a man, admired for courage, nobility, or exploits, esp. in war” (“Your dictionary”), “any person, esp. a man, admired for qualities or achievements and regarded as an ideal or model” (“Your dictionary”) and “the central male character in a novel, play, poem, etc., with whom the reader or audience is supposed to sympathize” (“Your dictionary”). The definitions usually also include the mythical hero, a man favored or descended by the gods. The first proposal of how a hero should be came from Aristotle who wrote in his Poetic (approx. 335 B.C.) that tragic heroes should present “men slightly better than average” (Koch 29-30) and comedian heroes worse. A more modern concept of a hero from Jens Eder, Fotis Jannidis and Ralf Schneider (2010) for example converges to those of the dictionaries:

If the aim of saving the community from an external or internal threat were not an important element in the value system of the hero, he would never venture out to face the dangers; there is either the fear of disturbances to the community (and, conversely, the wish to keep disturbances away); also, he must hope for some reward for his deeds, whether the acknowledgement of the community, the love of a lady, or riches. (25)

This concept gives the hero a altruistic cosmic goal as well as an intrinsic egotistical one. Are those the same heroes we find in Fantasy?

The hero-concept of Fantasy was largely formed with the development of the genre Fantasy and foremost from its pioneers Morris and Tolkien. Whereas Morris created the modern romance hero, Tolkien formed his own original hero. Two fundamentally different hero types that nevertheless set the course for the heroes in decades of Fantasy. Morris’ first hero Thiodolf (House of Wolfings) is the prototype of all his heroes like Face-of-God (Roots of the Mountains), Golden Walter (The Wood beyond the World) or many more. Thiodolf is favored by the gods and as all the heroes he is “physically handsome, strong, courageous, virtuous, and innocent. Although they are clearly human, they transcend their humanity to measure themselves against the gods” (Mathews 88). In the book House of Wolfings Thiodolf presents the bridge between infinite and finite beings, as he is the lover of a goddess Wood-Sun and father to Hall-Sun the tribal priestess. As a champion of the tribe he is also responsible for its welfare and for upholding its values. In the course of the book he has to confront an antagonistic force - the urban, road-building Romans who threaten the tribal way of life. He not only confronts them on the battlefield but also in his mind, making his character more deep and complex. Morris presented him in a struggling relationship to a significant other, the goddess Wood-Sun, who wants to secure his life by giving him a dwarf-made magic hauberk for the oncoming battles. In the end of the story he renounces this non-human magic, strips of the hauberk and dies defending his tribe. Paradoxically, in discarding the supernatural that would secure his life, and staying true to his identity as a human, he is made immortal by the tales and legends of his tribe.

Morris’ hero is what Mathews calls a horizontal Fantasy hero (Mathews 90). The horizontal hero “seeks a wholeness or synthesis of relationships in terms of this world, a horizontal continuity of community and history” (Mathews 90). Opposed to Morris’ horizontal romance Fantasy hero, there is the vertical hero who “seeks resolution by departing the world for heaven or hell” (Mathews 90). Richard Mathews sees Frodo Baggins (The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien) as the typical vertical hero.

Frodo Baggins has neither the physical nor mental greatness of Thiodolf. He is a hobbit, half the size of a human, with hairy feet and skillful hands. Hobbits are said to be related to man but it is not certain in which way. Frodo is not only set apart in his looks but also in his hobbit society, as he and his uncle Bilbo are regarded as eccentric and too adventurous for hobbits. Through outer circumstances Frodo is now the bearer of the ring and is pulled into a cosmic struggle of light and dark and also in the struggle of his mind. He is entangled into a struggle with the power of the ring and remained separated from the ultimate battlefields of the outside forces (the armies of Sauron and Aragorn). In the course of the book, it is largely outer forces that motivate him to do good or ill. In the end, the inner battle which concerns Tolkien the most seems lost, as his internal good wavers and he puts on the ring. Only lucky circumstances prevent a disastrous outcome when Gollum plunges into the fire of destruction with the ring. Tolkien’s hero is neither grand nor powerful, does not rival the gods, is not motivated by a cosmic goal and does not have a relationship with a significant other. The vertical direction of this hero expresses itself in the way that Frodo’s actions move upward or downward as he is propelled toward or away from absolute good or evil, rather than one who struggles horizontally on a plain where values must be determined without the benefit of divine intervention, where the hero himself must be God. (Mathews 92)

In the end Frodo seeks immortality by writing the events down; and peace by sailing with the elves into the eternity of the gods. When looking at contemporary Fantasy, Stephen Donaldson or Piers Anthony for example, in their heroes (White Gold Wielder, Brother Paul) we can see the continuation of the unchanged horizontal and vertical hero concepts of Morris and Tolkien.

3. Characterization

“ Creativity techniques are meant to enhance the fantasy and imaginative potential of the author in order to form >someone< individual, original, authentic, exciting, and fascinating. ” (Heidbrink 70)

3.1. What is a Character?

Mr. Darcy, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Mickey Mouse or Peter Pan: millions of people know them but have never looked behind the character, maybe because of the normality and familiarity of them. We can encounter them everyday, they are alive somehow, they influence us but we never meet them on the street or talk to them. This is but one of the complexities that characters present us with and many researchers are trying to dissolve under closer scrutiny.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the English term „character“ derives from the Greek charaktér, “a stamping tool” which means the unique personality stamp of humans. Definitions of “personnage” (Italian) or “Figur” (German) of other languages will be disregarded here but what is important to point out is that in all of the languages, characters are defined as fictive persons (Eder, Jannidis and Schneider 7). Characters and their representation have long since been the object of scientists and their studies. Every age has its own ideas of what a character should present and concepts of how he or she should be presented. Forms and dimensions of literary presentations of characters have occupied the literary theory and science for a long time, but the terms and and definitions are still debated by theorists today. (Koch 10) Due to the focus of this thesis general markers of characters on the groundwork of common understandings of researchers of literary studies will be determined and the debate disregarded.

The most important aspect of a character is that they are a creation of their author - the “inventio” (Koch 9) of literary characters. “At the prototypical core of the concept of character, then, is a recognizable fictional being, to which the ability to think and act is ascribed” (Eder, Jannidis and Schneider 10). The inventio of this literary character can be looked at from two perspectives: the character as a type, a category of humans, what Thomas Koch describes as the transformation of idealistic ideas or sections of the world[3] or the construction of the fictional human with different elements like aesthetics, psychology, physiology, ethics and social attributes. The most popular structuralist classification of characters and their psychological composition derives from the theorist E. M. Forster:

Flat characters were called "humours" in the seventeenth century, and are sometimes called types, and sometimes caricatures. In their purest form they are constructed round a single idea or quality: when there is more than one factor in them, we get the beginning of the curve towards the round […] The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises, it is flat. (75)

This classification also closes up to the concepts “dynamic” and “static” concerning the psychological development of the characters. (Koch 136) Following those dichotomies the literary theory agrees on defining characters as such: A flat, static character is a type and a round, dynamic one is an individual. (Koch 136, Forster 65, Wenger 623-625) Even though this typology of characters is still popular and used in many occasions it must be open to criticism and correction. Forster’s definition is problematic in terms of discreteness; he implies that all characters which are not flat, are round. He then concludes that there is a “curve towards the round” (Forster 73), thus contradicting himself. According to this typology, we would only have a few really “one factor flat characters” (Culpeper 53). Most typologies following Forster relied on this type of flatness and roundness. Jonathan Culpeper (2001) suggests adapting the definition in applying a scale to distinct the characters:

Factors associated with roundness include complexity, change, conflict, and inner life. Flatness is associated with the opposites of these factors: simplicity, statis, immunity from conflict, and external life (that is, we are not given direct access to a character`s thoughts). (56)

Following up on this adaption, the characterization of this character describes the style and techniques with which the author presents him or her to create a “person“ to his liking, as the quote from Henriette Heidbrink (70) above points out. Because this characterization does not only occur from the perspective of the author but also between author and reader, it also has strategic dimensions going beyond the stylistics. The author wants to create an emotional picture of the character in the reader and thus evoke a certain reaction. The characterization of a fictive person takes place in three steps: describing the physical appearance, finding the attributes that are directly described in the text and indirectly determining the traits that are only obvious through the characters actions. This means, that characterizing is a complex process and “the term >characterization< can refer to different phenomena, not all of which are distinguished from each other clearly enough in common usage” (Eder, Jannidis and Schneider 30). In the introduction of their edited book “Characters in Fictional Worlds” Jens Eder, Fotis Jannidis and Ralf Schneider determined three concepts and approaches to characterization: stable character traits, indirect information and contingent information.


[1] The Hand of the King is his second in command and most trusted advisor.

[2] Translated: “Fantasy: studies of fantastic literature”

[3] “Übersetzung eines ideellen Gehalts oder eines Weltausschnitts“ (Koch 10)


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antihero defying clichés study character george martin´s song fire



Title: The "Antihero" Defying Clichés. A Study of a Character in George R.R. Martin´s "A Song of Ice and Fire"