Special Topic: Game of Thrones

Course Details

Course Number
Section Number
Summer I 2014
Bea Wood Hall
Classroom Number
Days & Times

MTWR 12:20-2:20 PM

Dr. Peter Fields (view Profile)


Clash of Kings
Trade Paper
Storm of Swords
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A Feast for Crows
Trade Paper
Dance with Dragons
Trade Paper
Game of Thrones
Trade Paper

Course Objectives

The course will approach George R. R. Martin’s wide-ranging A Song of Ice and Fire from the standpoint of character and imagination. Much has been made of the sex and violence in the series. Critics note how different the series is from the work of J. K. Rowling and J. R. R. Tolkien. Interestingly, most of these points of comparison refer to stories we usually categorize as Young Adult Fantasy, a category which at first blush would seem wholly inappropriate for any discussion of A Game of Thrones and subsequent volumes in the series. But the mention of Tolkien and Rowling by the critics and reviewers is perhaps more natural than we might assume if we stop and consider that Martin’s imaginative world features an epistemology, or set of ground rules, similar to the more familiar fantasy titles. 

The word epistemology refers to our sense of what is possible and not possible—the assumptions underlying what we consider rationally true or not true. If I toss a pencil in the air, what direction will it fall? Down or Up? When we roll our eyes at that question we are like the characters at the beginning of A Song of Ice and Fire. We assume certain things are possible and certain things most assuredly are not possible. Martin ultimately takes us on a quest that gradually expands and deepens not only the epistemology of the fantasy universe but perhaps also our own. 

Ultimately, fantasy literature privileges the world of the imagination over the world of empirical Newtonian science. Novels by authors like Rowling, Meyer, Pullman, Lewis, Tolkien, Barrie, and Baum, even if aimed at a younger audience than Martin’s, have the same mission as Martin: we are gradually introduced to an unfolding mystery where we have to expand our sense of what the word nature or human means, not to mention reality. 

Especially important to A Song of Ice and Fire is the opportunity fantasy literature has to give us perspective on cultural history and the legacy of the past. Across Martin’s epic series we take stock of what western culture has done with class, gender, family, love, and spirituality. Fantasy literature (e.g., Spenser’s The Faerie Queene in Shakespeare’s time) has tended to allegorize the present but it does so (as Martin demonstrates) with a command of, and concern for, how we arrived at where we are. Fantasy literature may seem obsessed with magic (not to mention heroic types), but it is keenly alert to race, violence, war, religion, and sexuality—with powerful cautionary implications for the thoughtful reader. 

Not unlike its classic and recent forbears (from Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan to The Hunger Games and Ender’s Game), A Song of Ice and Fire is especially memorable for its portraits of certain classic types of character: children or young adolescents (usually at a cusp point in their development), parents (usually unable to cope with their children), teachers (including their educational institutions), heroes (sometimes unlikely), misfits (characters who may be adults but who are left out the way children feel in an adult world), monsters (friendly or violent or both, lovable or horrific or both), and villains (usually more like bullies than ideological adversaries). We follow the youngsters as they come of age which has something to do with accepting and navigating the moral complexity of a world where right and wrong are meaningful distinctions, but people wrestle with the implications of making a moral decision. Knowing a friend from an enemy is especially complex. 

Accordingly, children are not able to stay children. They must grow up in regard to taking responsibility. They have to master skills and accumulate knowledge. The learning curve of young people is an important part of fantasy literature. The other categories (parents, teachers, monsters, misfits, and bullies) become blurred as parents struggle—and fail—to do the right thing because they are human, misfits struggle to fit in (or to thrive without fitting in), and bullies struggle when the shoe is on the other foot and they too become victims. These perennial categories, so to speak, are just as important in Martin’s fantasy universe as they might be in J. K. Rowling or C. S. Lewis. 

The special challenge of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series is that we are drawn into a world more dangerous than most of the fantasy constructs we usually encounter. The maiming, killing, and sacrifice on the part of Martin’s characters are motifs that set his magical realm apart from even that of Collins’s The Hunger Games, Card’s Ender’s Game, Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, or Pullman’s His Dark Materials. The young people in A Song of Ice and Fire are confronted with the horror and tragic finality of decisions which are truly life-and-death. Moreover, sex is not hinted at here as it might be in Philip Pullman, Stephanie Meyer, or Suzanne Collins. The topography of human sexuality in Martin’s series is raw, explicit, and gratuitous. Adults, in fact, would know better than youngsters the line some of the characters cross between sensuality and sexual assault. Undeniably, Martin’s series is marked off from the usual realm of imaginative literature precisely to the degree that it has a message best grasped by adults

Martin may be suggesting that a realistic encounter with a deadly universe doesn’t change a very important lesson—and that lesson is aimed at jaded adults. Even as some parents may keep A Game of Thrones from their children (while allowing even Card, Collins, or Pullman), Martin wants us (the adult readers) to remember something remains the same across the boundaries of imaginative worlds. If we limit our epistemology—our sense of what is possible and not possible—we come of age only to lose that creativity which makes the human experience meaningful. 

More to the point, if we feel that real death cancels out imaginative possibility, we have lost the “war” between good and evil (at least as we find those poles in fantasy literature). Fantasy literature celebrates the expanded sense of possibility we associate with the power of story, myth, and legend. As adults, we’re harder nuts to crack than our younger alter egos. They are more easily persuaded that magic remains possible. We (the older readers) have to weigh magic against the worst, most reprehensible tragedies of the human experience. Only on the other side of confronting hard facts will we re-engage a sense of wonder. The realm of super-nature must be earned. Martin gives the “adult” reader that earned experience through which tragedy is a stepping stone to a wider, more intuitive sense of what is possible and not possible. 

Checklist for FANTASY Dynamics. Where in A Song of Ice and Fire do we see similar motifs?

  • The protagonist seems alienated in some way but feels a deep sense of responsibility.
  • The protagonist craves “normal” things but learns to accept the extraordinary to the point of transformation of self and world.
  • The protagonist is privy to the unusual knowledge of a mystery at the heart of an extraordinary “other” world.
  • The protagonist discovers that conventional knowledge is flawed and that pre-conceived notions about the nature of reality must give way to a more comprehensive knowledge of what is possible or not possible. When we speak of what is possible (or not) in a given world, we are speaking of epistemology (e.g., the reversed principles of a looking-glass world in Lewis Carroll).
  • The protagonist over the course of the story develops mastery of his or her extraordinary world.
  • One way of talking about how the protagonist shapes and affects the nature of his/her extraordinary world is to use the term agency.
  • A protagonist’s agency is subject to rules even if mastery is possible. The “rules” of a given world are another way of talking about its epistemology. When an elite group of cognoscenti understand the rules better than others, we sometimes use the word “gnostic” to describe that epistemology. The gnosis (the boundaries of knowledge) in a fantasy world privileges a few who have cracked the code and discovered the real knowledge between the lines of that lesser knowledge available to the masses.
  • We never escape the sense that the protagonist in some way influences the epistemology of the extraordinary “other” world.
  • A gnostic universe presumes that the usual battles and conflicts belie that nature of the real battle which is between two primordial, coeval forces (a dualistic universe). Most people are ignorant of this primordial struggle.
  • The fantasy genre is a modern genre (not unlike science fiction, psychological thrillers, detective mysteries, or supernatural horror) that challenges, or puts into question, some prevailing notion of modern culture and posits a meaningful alternative.
  • Fantasy has an ironic, even satirical relationship to technology and privileges the old and clunky (dusty and forgotten) over the new and shiny. Both Lewis and Tolkien, for instance, rejected the “machine” of 20th century technology (the tanks and machine guns of WWI were on their minds) in favor of the creative role of human imagination (see esp. Tolkien’s preface to the 2nd edition of The Silmarillion).
  • The term participation means that perception and consciousness—in a word, mindfulness—informs and helps shape the nature of what we consider to be reality. In Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo’s seeing is a conduit of participative agency, overcoming time and space, when he encounters Lothlórien for the first time. He feels as if what he perceives is coming into being through his own awareness. Paradoxically, he seems to be creating—or feeling the creation of—everything including time and eternity: “All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured for ever” (341).  
  • However, fantasy literature is disturbing, troubling, and even subversive precisely because it is “participative.” Fantasy privileges the “make believe” possibilities of how young people experience the world. Instead of saying nothing is under the bed or in the closet, fantasy says that indeed something might be—something like the person peering into that darkness. Instead of reassuring young people that they are safe because everything is going to be “normal,” fantasy literature suggests that one world (the “normal) is giving way to another (anything but “normal”) world. Fantasy by its very nature expands possibility instead of closing it.
  • An increased sense of possibility makes this genre by nature epistemological (concerned with the nature of what we know and how we know) and transformational (exceeding normal terms of what it means to be human), whether we are talking about the protagonist or the world around the protagonist.

Course Expectations

Students are required to do the following:

  • Write three seven paragraph (five and a half page typed) essays.
  • An essay has one long quote (a Block Quote of some five or more lines) and eight shorter quotes (no more than four lines—even just a phrase or single word).
  • The Block Quote is pushed in an extra 10 spaces on the left. After the final period, the page number in the book is indicated in parentheses.
  • The eight shorter quotes (four lines or fewer, even one word) may be used at any point in pars. 3-7. Shorter quotes should be couched within or follow the student’s own thought (hence the necessity for quotation marks and parenthetical numbers for the page). Students should not cite a quote and then explain it (we’re not annotating).
  • The FIRST paragraph does two things: 1) it starts with the student’s position—the argument or rationale—supported by the rest of the paper; 2) the introduction provides the relevant plot-points for a Block Quote. The Block Quote follows the FIRST paragraph.
  • The SECOND paragraph expounds on ideas related to the Block Quote.
  • The THIRD paragraph begins In regard to character and discusses the relevant personality traits of the character in question.
  • The FOURTH paragraph begins In regard to irony and discusses how Martin surprises us in some regard to the character in question.
  • The FIFTH paragraph begins In regard to good and evil and discusses the moral dynamics at stake in regard to the character in question.
  • The SIXTH paragraph begins In regard to magic and the supernatural and discusses the heightened sense of possibility in regard to the character.
  • The SEVENTH paragraph begins In regard to fitting in and discusses the degree to which the character fulfills some kind of social/family expectation—or meets the expectation of a significant other.
  • The BLUE BOOK FINAL (open-book, hand-written in class) has the same format as above with one difference. The Block Quote comes first and may be pre-entered. Then the FIRST paragraph follows, the SECOND, and so forth. The Works Cited may be pre-entered on the back of the last page.
  • GRAMMAR and PUNCTUATION count! Students must write clearly with a college level concern for complete sentences and avoidance of fragments, comma splices, and other errors.
  • Students must use in-body citing and a Works Cited (bibliography). In-body means setting off verbatim material as quotes (10 spaces extra on the left for more than four lines of typing; using quotation marks around material of four or fewer lines). A parenthetical number after the quote indicates the page number in the book.
  • Any use of a source other than A Song of Fire and Ice must be APPROVED by the instructor. Students are well-advised to stay off the internet if they cannot resist appropriating language from online sources.

Grading Standards


The FOUR grades (three papers and one Blue Book) are averaged together for the final semester grade.


Final Exam

07/03/2014 Final Blue Book 12:20 PM

Submission Format Policy

Proper Submission of Student Writing

  • The THREE essays must be typed (12 point Times New Roman), double-spaced, with a header for the student’s last name (in the default .5 setting in upper right corner), page numbers inserted (upper right, .5 setting), and MLA format for citing, including the Works Cited. However, while the top, right, and bottom margins should be set at one inch, the left margin should be an inch and a quarter to accommodate the folder. On the first page of an essay, the student name, instructor name, course, and date should be in the upper left, double-spaced.
  • Students must submit, and retain, all their typed hole-punched assignments in the clasps (i.e., “brads”) of a folder (which has both brads and pockets) in the order that they were assigned. The photocopy or printout of any pre-approved relevant outside source (either the whole article or the whole chapter if from a book) must be in the left pocket (highlighted for the relevant passages). The most recent assignment that needs to be graded is always the last item (hole-punched and fixed in the brads).
  • Students must submit their work in person (from their hands into the instructor’s hands). Submission for a due-date is never by e-mail attachment or under the office door, or left on a desk, or by surrogate (classmate or relative). Late work also must be submitted in person.
  • Work submitted apart from the guidelines of this syllabus will not be evaluated and must be resubmitted and penalized for lateness.

Dr. Fields reserves the right to ask students to send him the computer files of their essays for archival purposes. He will keep the final Blue Book unless the student arranges to make a copy

Note: You may not submit a paper for a grade in this class that already has been (or will be) submitted for a grade in another course, unless you obtain the explicit written permission of me and the other instructor involved in advance.

Late Paper Policy

Late Penalties and Illness

An assignment is penalized 10 points if submitted after the class period it is due. If late by two class periods, the essay is penalized 20 points. No late work may be submitted after the Final Blue Book exam. A class period is officially over when the instructor dismisses it. All late work must be submitted IN PERSON.

If students are too ill to submit their work personally, they should submit it when they return to class. They may avoid penalty for late submission by obtaining documentation from a relevant professional in a timely fashion (e.g., a doctor or the Dean of Students’ office). Absence for the sake of others requires similar documentation.

Plagiarism Policy

Plagiarism is the use of someone else's thoughts, words, ideas, or lines of argument in your own work without appropriate documentation (a parenthetical citation at the end and a listing in "Works Cited")-whether you use that material in a quote, paraphrase, or summary. It is a theft of intellectual property and will not be tolerated, whether intentional or not.

Student Honor Creed

As an MSU Student, I pledge not to lie, cheat, steal, or help anyone else do so."

As students at MSU, we recognize that any great society must be composed of empowered, responsible citizens. We also recognize universities play an important role in helping mold these responsible citizens. We believe students themselves play an important part in developing responsible citizenship by maintaining a community where integrity and honorable character are the norm, not the exception.

Thus, We, the Students of Midwestern State University, resolve to uphold the honor of the University by affirming our commitment to complete academic honesty. We resolve not only to be honest but also to hold our peers accountable for complete honesty in all university matters.

We consider it dishonest to ask for, give, or receive help in examinations or quizzes, to use any unauthorized material in examinations, or to present, as one's own, work or ideas which are not entirely one's own. We recognize that any instructor has the right to expect that all student work is honest, original work. We accept and acknowledge that responsibility for lying, cheating, stealing, plagiarism, and other forms of academic dishonesty fundamentally rests within each individual student.

We expect of ourselves academic integrity, personal professionalism, and ethical character. We appreciate steps taken by University officials to protect the honor of the University against any who would disgrace the MSU student body by violating the spirit of this creed.

Written and adopted by the 2002-2003 MSU Student Senate.

Students with Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal anti-discrimination statute that provides comprehensive civil rights protection for persons with disabilities. Among other things, this legislation requires that all students with disabilities be guaranteed a learning environment that provides for reasonable accommodation of their disabilities. If you believe you have a disability requiring an accommodation, please contact the Disability Support Services in Room 168 of the Clark Student Center, (940) 397-4140.

Safe Zones Statement

The professor considers this classroom to be a place where you will be treated with respect as a human being - regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, political beliefs, age, or ability. Additionally, diversity of thought is appreciated and encouraged, provided you can agree to disagree. It is the professor's expectation that ALL students consider the classroom a safe environment.

Contacting your Instructor

All instructors in the Department have voicemail in their offices and MWSU e-mail addresses. Make sure you add your instructor's phone number and e-mail address to both email and cell phone lists of contacts.

Attendance Requirements

Attendance Policy (NO MORE THAN SIX ABSENCES; no absence is considered excused).

Roll is taken right away as soon as class begins. The instructor is not obliged to count people present who arrive late. A student with MORE THAN SIX absences automatically fails the course. The absences may be for illness, court date, school event, child’s illness—it doesn’t matter. ALL absences count towards this policy of no more than six. The purpose of documenting a given absence is only for purposes of avoiding penalty on a late paper.

Other Policies

Plagiarism and Proper Documentation (we use MLA)

Any use of someone else’s phrasing as the student’s own is plagiarism even if part or most of the essay is original. The charge of plagiarism remains operative even if the student changes some of the words to obscure the lack of originality or if the student provides partial documentation (for instance, mention of the source in the bibliography but not in the body of the paper). 

Proper attribution and acknowledgement of sources includes in-body citing: identifying the title of the work and the author, using quotation marks or (if more than four typed lines, the passage should be set in an extra 10 spaces all the way down on the left), providing parenthetical page numbers, and otherwise ensuring that the reader clearly sees and knows the difference between material the student came up with and material borrowed from somebody else. 

Plagiarism means an F (a “0”/no points) for the assignment and forfeiting of any remaining assignments and tests which now also receive a “0.” The student should NOT return to the course. The attendance policy is operative in this case as well and if the student incurs an F for plagiarism with a remaining six periods or more, those periods are forfeit and considered absences, which means an F for the course. The instructor must report the matter to the department chair, but the file will not go beyond the department unless the student persists in attending further class periods and/or does not accept the sanction. At that point, the instructor is obliged to report the matter to the Dean of Students and the problem becomes subject to university policy.

Writing Proficiency Requirement

All students seeking a Bachelor's degree from Midwestern State University must satisfy a writing proficiency requirement once they've 1) passed the 6 hours of Communication Core and and 2) earned 60 hours. You may meet this requirement by passing either the Writing Proficiency Exam or English 2113. Please keep in mind that, once you've earned over 90 hours, you lose the opportunity to take the $25 exam and have no option but to enroll in the three-credit hour course. If you have any questions about the exam, visit the Writing Proficiency Office website at, or call 397-4131.

Campus Carry

Senate Bill 11 passed by the 84th Texas Legislature allows licensed handgun holders to carry concealed handguns on campus, effective August 1, 2016. Areas excluded from concealed carry are appropriately marked, in accordance with state law. For more information regarding campus carry, please refer to the University’s webpage at

If you have questions or concerns, please contact MSU Chief of Police Patrick Coggins at