If Game of Thrones feels familiar to viewers, it might be because author George RR Martin was inspired by several popular fantasy works while writing. All artists steal from one another, accumulating ideas to twist and mold into new and different plots. Watching or reading media is like playing Six Degrees of Separation with your favorite artists. There's even a book by Austin Kleon called Steal Like An Artist that describes the process.
Like any other artist, Martin accesses all of the previous pieces of media that affected him when he works, which means he's not liable to recall every single influence. In interviews, he has told fans that there are some specific works or authors that definitely had a part in shaping the world of Westeros in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.
10 Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn By Tad Williams
Martin has referred to Tad Williams’ fantasy series Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn as one of his favorite fantasy series of all time. He says that when he read the first book in the popular series, The Dragonbone Chair, which has over 55,000 ratings on Goodreads, he was amazed by the form it took.
"Tad’s fantasy series, The Dragonbone Chair and the rest of his famous four-book trilogy was one of the things that inspired me to write my own seven-book trilogy," Martin said. He stated that fantasies that came after Williams' quartet gave fantasy a "bad rep for being very formulaic and ritual."
9 Philippa Gregory's Works
The political games of Henry VIII’s court depicted in The Other Boleyn Girl are definitely the sort of which Martin has employed in A Song of Ice and Fire, and Martin says that Gregory's works, among several others, were an influence while writing the books.
"I read a lot of historical fiction, both the classic writers of historical fiction that I read many decades ago—people like Thomas B. Costain and Frank Yerby and so forth—and some of the more contemporary writers of historical fiction, like Bernard Cornwell, Sharon Kay Penman, and Philippa Gregory. I wanted to capture these two threads to get some of the magic and the wonder and imagination of fantasy and combine it with some of the grittiness and realism and complexity of historical fiction."
8 Conan the Barbarian By Robert E. Howard
Martin says, "My series owes a lot to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Jack Vance, Fritz Leiber, and the other great fantasists who came before me." He's also said, "Robert E. Howard - you know, Conan the Barbarian is great for a 13-year-old boy. It's a good age to discover Conan. Certain writers you have to read at certain ages."
From swords and sorcery to youthful warriors making a name for themselves well before adulthood, it's easy to see elements of Howard's works in Martin's. There are tyrannical leaders, horrible monsters, damsels in distress and plenty of women falling for Conan all over the place, much like what we see in Westeros.
7 Sharon Kay Penman's Works
When asked about what works have inspired his writing, Martin has frequently cited author Sharon Kay Penman, and on his blog he wrote, "Sharon Kay Penman is the strongest historical novelist working the medieval period at present, a worthy heir to two of my all-time favorites, Thomas B. Costain and Nigel Tranter."
Martin has explicitly recommended several of Penman's works to his readers, including When Christ and His Saints Slept and its sequel, Time and Chance. The stories are, unsurprisingly, about the battle for the English throne, with the first volume focusing on Stephen and the Empress Maude and the second deals with Henry Fitz Empress, Eleanor of Aquitaine and Thomas Becket. Martin says Penman "brings history vividly to life."
6 The Accursed Kings By Maurice Druon
The Hundred Years War is a big influence on the Game of Thrones series, and Martin has stated that The Accursed Kings historical fiction series is one of his biggest inspirations. He says the books have it all:
"Iron kings and strangled queens, battles and betrayals, lies and lust, deception, family rivalries, the curse of the Templars, babies switched at birth, she-wolves, sin, and swords, the doom of a great dynasty... and all of it (well, most of it) straight from the pages of history. And believe me, the Starks and the Lannisters have nothing on the Capets and Plantagenets."
5 The Avengers #9
Many fantasy writers have enjoyed or even written comic books, so it should come as no surprise that Martin cites Marvel comics as one of the many inspirations behind his popular book series. One of the things he liked most about Marvel was that the characters develop and change over time rather than remain static as they do in some other comics.
Martin says that the influence of Stan Lee's work was vast. "The Marvel characters were constantly changing. Important things were happening. The lineup for the Avengers was constantly changing. People would quit, then they would have fights and all of that. As opposed to DC where everybody got along and it was all very nice and all the heroes liked each other. None of this was happening, so really, Stan Lee introduced a whole concept of characterization to comic books and conflict; maybe even a touch of gray in some of the characters. Looking back on it now, I can see that probably was a bigger influence on my own work than I would have dreamed."
4 Eric Frank Russell's Stories
Another one of Martin's literary heroes is Frank Russell. "I fell in love with science fiction, thanks to Robert A. Heinlein, Andre Norton, and Eric Frank Russell," he's written. The British author is famous for short stories and science fiction novels like Sinister Barrier, Sentinels From Space and With a Strange Device, all published between 1939 and 1964.
Russell's works were published in pulp magazines like Astounding Science Fiction and were probably like candy to a youthful Martin. He often threw alien bureaucracy against human fighters, which is akin to Martin's battles against the Others, or the White Walkers, as they're called on the HBO show.
3 Thomas B. Costain's Historical Fiction
Martin has flat-out said that Costain's The Plantagenets series was the model he used for A Song of Ice and Fire. "My model for this was the four-volume history of the Plantagenets that Thomas B Costain wrote in the 50s. It’s old‑fashioned history: he’s not interested in analyzing socioeconomic trends or cultural shifts so much as the wars and the assignations and the murders and the plots and the betrayals, all the juicy stuff. Costain did a wonderful job on the Plantagenets so I tried to do that for the Targaryens."
Many fans might find this to be interesting news, especially regarding the series finale and what that means to all of the Houses that Martin brought to life.
2 Bernard Cornwell's Works
Bernard Cornwell has famously criticized HBO's Game of Thrones as a "very, very dull" series, saying, "So many characters. So many strands. You have to have large sections where the plot is explained, just have to sit there and be told what’s going on," among other harsh words about the show.
So hopefully Martin, who cites Cornwell as one of his inspirations for the series, didn't take it to hard too hard, especially since Cornwell, whose books were used to create an eight-part drama series called The Last Kingdom on BBC2, has praised the books themselves, saying that he still hasn't forgiven Martin for offing Ned Stark. Martin has utilized Cornwell for inspiration, saying, "Bernard Cornwell does the best battle scenes of any writer I've ever read, past or present."
1 The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Have you ever wondered why magic isn't the central focus in Game of Thrones? It's definitely featured, but sword-fighting usually takes precedence over spells. That's because Martin saw J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy as his "great model" for A Song of Ice and Fire.
Tolkien's work is also the inspiration for how Game of Thrones is structured. Martin says that he began the series with most of the characters together at Winterfell before splitting them up on their own adventures only to come back together in the end, much like the Fellowship of the Ring.