When you think of trending internet memes, you probably don't think of Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales were all well and good in English class, but since 2006 a new audience has discovered medieval English through the frequent posts of Geoffrey “LeVostreGC” Chaucer, written in the vernacular of the time.
Now Brantley Bryant, the youthful Sonoma State University assistant professor of English who blogs in the voice, meter and language of Chaucer, is applying his intimate knowledge of the medieval literature to HBO's gritty HBO fantasy series "Game of Thrones."
It's a live action series, not an animation, although the occasional animated dragon does join the cast. The third year of the series starts March 31, but Bryant is only covering the first year "to avoid spoilers."
"It's been called the Sopranos of Middle Earth," he said. "It's set in a fantasy world, based on late medieval England. So I thought I'd apply the lens of medieval studies to the show."
"Not just the story’s setting, but its characters, ideas, and plot all have their roots in the poetry and politics of distant centuries," Bryant writes. "Literary classics like Chaucer and Beowulf are more like 'Game of Thrones' than you might think."
He's written and taught not just about the Canterbury Tales, but medieval women's literature, and intersections of literary and historical studies as well. A favorite classroom topic is his discussion of medieval monsters, drawing from sources as diverse as Beowulf and the Inferno to the French tales of courtly love Lais of Marie de France, which includes a werewolf among its transformations.
On "Game of Thrones," though, it's the TV characters based on George R.R. Martin's multi-book A Song of Ice and Fire who are placed under the lens of academic studies. Bryant examines rugged Ned Stark (Sean Bean), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklange) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), among others, sourcing their lineage to medieval tales and epics.
The first year of the series detailed the violent civil wars and struggles among the noble families of the Seven Kingdoms as they fought for control of the Iron Throne. Issues of social caste, religion, sex, and crime and punishment are peppered throughout the episodes. Bryant will show how these settings, characters, plot lines and politics can all be traced back to the literature and poetry of medieval England.
His talks, "Sex, Violence and Medieval Literature in Game of Thrones," are scheduled for three public libraries in Sonoma county over the next couple months, Bryant hopes to share his enthusiasm as "just a way to start a conversation with the audience."
Questions are, of course, welcome. "The bigger the crowd, the better it is."
Brantly Bryant will speak on "The Real Medieval Game of Thrones" at the Healdsburg Regional Library at the Windsor Regional Library on March 16 at 2 p.m., and the Petaluma Regional Library on April 6, again at 2 p.m.