Five things you’ll learn in UBC’s new Game of Thrones class

We chatted with the professor behind the media-hyped literature course

November 12, 2015

By Trevor Melanson / Photo: Game of Thrones

When word got out that UBC would be offering a course in Game of Thrones—or rather, A Song of Ice and Fire, the actual title of the book series—media, including international media, were predictably all over it. The 16-person, fourth-year literature class, which requires that students have read all five books beforehand, filled up immediately. So, what questions will students be asking come January? We reached out to the professor in charge, Robert Rouse, and had him break it down to five big ones:

Is GoT a reflection of our past or present?
“We’ll examine how George R.R. Martin recreates a fantastical version of the European Middle Ages,” says Rouse, noting that popular conceptions of history are always about the present rather than any authentic past. “If the medieval is always a mirror of our own time—and it is—then what vision of America and the modern world can we read from GoT?”

What inspired George R.R. Martin’s magnum opus?
Students will examine Martin’s cultural, historical, and literary influences. “Much has been made of Martin’s use of the Wars of the Roses,” Rouse says, “but he is more influenced by Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, itself written in the shadow of the Wars of the Roses. The influence of history here is via literature, and nostalgic Arthurian literature at that.”

 Where does GoT fit into the fantasy genre?
“Martin’s work is part of a genre of fantasy writing that developed in the late nineteenth century, flourished in the second half of the twentieth century, and which continues to thrive today,” Rouse says. “As such, it is also influenced by its genre predecessors.” He says GoT is in part a response to the genre’s many J.R.R. Tolkien imitators.

Does it matter that he’s an American writing about (sort of) Europe?
“While Martin’s world is set in a pseudo-medieval Europe, he is, of course, extremely American,” Rouse says. “Students will be encouraged to discuss why America (and American writers from Twain to Steinbeck to Martin) are so interested in the medieval European past.”

Why does the show deviate from the book?
Students will be asked to compare the books with the HBO show, picking a single episode or plot line to analyze comparatively. Why were certain things changed for the screen—or not changed? “This exercise will allow students to develop an appreciation for the demands of screen adaption,” Rouse says. “I will have a guest presenter, a colleague who is a filmmaker, in to talk to them.”

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