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Why the south of Westeros is the north of Ireland
As Game of Thrones ends, a revealing resolution to its perplexing geography.
- The fantasy world of Game of Thrones was inspired by real places and events.
- But the map of Westeros is a good example of the perplexing relation between fantasy and reality.
- Like Britain, it has a Wall in the North, but the map only really clicks into place if you add Ireland.
A world of "goblin porn"
The Known World, with Westeros top left. Image source: A Wiki of Ice and Fire / public domain
Warning: if you haven't caught up, mild spoiler ahead.
"Hell is other people talking about Game of Thrones," writes Arwa Mahdawi in The Guardian this week. A few days more, and the eighth and final season of the show she dubs "densely plotted goblin porn" — clearly, she's not a fan — will be over.
Meanwhile, hell is hard to avoid. When it comes to following GoT, I'm on Team Arwa (a.k.a. Team Stewart) but even we have heard rumors about a sudden bout of genocidal mania, and Daenerys perhaps no longer being such a good baby name.
Fortunately for map nerds, GoT's dense plotting also extends to its topography. Just like the series' peoples, protagonists and events — often borrowed from actual history, then slightly altered — its fictional map is more than loosely based on ours.
Maps to frame fantasy
The first part of Gulliver's Travels (1726) contained a Map of Lilliput and Blefuscu, showing the fictional islands positioned in the Indian Ocean, north-west of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania). Image source: British Library / public domain
Fantasy locations have been a literary device at least since Plato spun his stories about Atlantis, back in the 4th century BC. From Plato only a description of the island survives, more recent tales of fictional geography came with a map: Thomas More's Utopia, Jonathan Swift's Lilliput (and other islands visited by Gulliver), and Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.
The watershed fantasy map, the one that spawned a thousand imitations, is the map of Middle-Earth, created by J.R.R. Tolkien himself (from the 1920s to the 1940s): as the endpapers to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, they framed the wanderings of the Fellowship, the movements of armies and heroes, and the deep history underlying the narrative.
"I wisely started with a map and made the story fit," Tolkien once quipped. George R.R. Martin did it the other way around: he envisaged the opening scene of the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire (the book series adapted as GoT) and built the tale — and the world around it — from there.
Not just a badly drawn Britain
Mighty Westeros side by side with tiny Britain. Image source: Imgur
Only then did he take on the mantle of the First Cartographer, and it's his hand-drawn maps that appear in the books. Another similarity with Tolkien, whose fantasy world was inspired by real geography was that Martin also drew his world with one eye on the map of Europe, and especially the British Isles.
Most of the action, in the books and the series, takes place on the continent of Westeros (there is a whole Known World out there as well). There's an obvious parallel with Great Britain in the Wall in the North: at 700 feet high and 300 miles long, it is a clear extrapolation of Hadrian's Wall (a mere 73 miles long, and never higher than 20 feet).
Westeros is much bigger than Britain, though: about 3,000 miles from the Wall to the south coast, about six times the distance from Aberdeen to London. But Westeros is not just a badly drawn Britain, nor a mirrored version of its land mass (two popular theories). Things click into place — literally — if you do the following:
Take Ireland, turn it on its head, inflate it by about a third, and stick it to Britain's bottom (via a new land bridge called The Neck). And hey presto, there's Westeros.
Britain and Ireland, joined at the - ahem - south coast
In fact, Martin admitted as much at the 2014 Comic–Con: "If you want to know where a lot of fantasy maps come from, take a look at any map in the front of your favorite fantasy book and turn it upside down. Westeros began as upside-down Ireland. You can see the Fingers at the Dingle Peninsula."
This has some implications for the (presumed) parallels between locations in Westeros on one side, and Britain/Ireland on the other. For instance, King's Landing, the capital of Westeros, corresponds to Galway rather than London.
But such correspondences are futile. Each borrowing from actual history and geography is given a little twist, so people can argue until they're blue in the face whether the Red Wedding was inspired by the St. Bartholomew Day's Massacre or by the Black Dinner, whether the Dothraki are the Huns or the Mongols, and if Winterfell is Manchester or Leeds.
For some, King's Landing is reminiscent of old Constantinople. In the TV series, the old walled cities of Mdina (Malta) and Dubrovnik (Croatia) stand in for the capital. And Martin himself dreamt up the teeming city remembering the view of Staten Island from his childhood home in Bayonne, New Jersey.
For some, that tension with "real" history and geography adds a layer of enjoyment to GoT. Team Arwa can feign interest in a cartographic discovery that hardcore fans have made years ago, and will be happy only when the last dragon has finally landed.
Strange Maps #974
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
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How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
A unique exoplanet without clouds or haze was found by astrophysicists from Harvard and Smithsonian.
- Astronomers from Harvard and Smithsonian find a very rare "hot Jupiter" exoplanet without clouds or haze.
- Such planets were formed differently from others and offer unique research opportunities.
- Only one other such exoplanet was found previously.
Munazza Alam – a graduate student at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian.
Credit: Jackie Faherty
Jupiter's Colorful Cloud Bands Studied by Spacecraft<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a72dfe5b407b584cf867852c36211dc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GzUzCesfVuw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Scientists discover burrows of giant predator worms that lived on the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- Scientists in Taiwan find the lair of giant predator worms that inhabited the seafloor 20 million years ago.
- The worm is possibly related to the modern bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois).
- The creatures can reach several meters in length and famously ambush their pray.
A three-dimensional model of the feeding behavior of Bobbit worms and the proposed formation of Pennichnus formosae.
Credit: Scientific Reports
Beware the Bobbit Worm!<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1f9918e77851242c91382369581d3aac"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/_As1pHhyDHY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The idea behind the law was simple: make it more difficult for online sex traffickers to find victims.