On the A Song of Ice and Fire forum, a recent poster challenged forum attendees to come up with a ‘grand global theory of everything’ in ASOIAF. The OP did so, with some interesting ways to connect the WW and the CotF. I’d like to use that challenge as a way to discuss the Maesters and the presence of religion in ASOIAF.
If we accept the premise that GRRM is modeling Westeros on some sort of run-through of the history of the British Isles, then two aspects that I don’t see discussed much are the Enlightenment and the religious wars.
As far as religion is concerned, I’m not sure if this lack of discussion comes from fantasy fans being uncomfortable with religion, or if perhaps all the deliberate tweaking that Martin is doing with fantasy conventions has fans so dazzled that they don’t pay much attention to it, but Martin spends way too time on religion developing religions and making religious figures major characters to ignore.
The Enlightenment is a bit different, and in connecting it to England in the Middle Ages I’m making some serious leaps. The most treacherous, perhaps, is the connection that I feel to what Martin is doing. His basic sense of the way that this planet works in the midst of all the others makes sense to me, and I think that he is trying to write his back to that time, just prior to the Enlightenment, when Things both Got Much Better and Fell Apart. Adam Smith, John Locke, David Hume, Sir Francis Bacon, even Thomas Hobbes, are philosophers who would recognize what Martin is doing, methinks, and they stand as ciphers for the Enlightenment in general (not forgetting the Continentals like Leibniz and a half dozen others I’m drawing a blank on).
The rest of this post will discuss this theory. I’ll look at religion in the next.
In a sense, then, the natural philosophers of the Enlightenment are represented (loosely) by the Maesters. I’m not going to try to draw connections from Maester to natural philosopher (a task that seems meaningless) but I’m going to instead try to make the connection between the Maester’s project (remove magic from the world, at least for some of them) and what the Royal Society and the Continentals were arguing. I’m not taking any conspiratorial views (despite my snarky title), but instead I’m assuming that at the very worst these arguments were made out of enlightened self-interest and a genuine interest in improving the lives of at least those around them.
Essentially, the Enlightenment