While Game of Thrones is known and loved for its elaborate political machinations and warring families, hiding beyond the realms of men lays a terrifying world of dark sorcery and inevitable prophecy. George R.R. Martin has crafted one of the greatest dark fantasy series in the history of the genre, even if many people don’t consider it as such. That’s a testament to his relatively sparse use of the supernatural. Even with dragons and an undead army in play, the world still seems very grounded in reality most of the time. That slowly changed, though.
“With each book that I write, the level of magic rises a little,” Martin told the New York Times in 2011. “It’s a gradual introduction. I suppose it’s like the crab in the pot. You put a crab in hot water, he’ll jump right out. But you put him in cold water and you gradually heat it up — the hot water is fantasy and magic, and the crab is the audience.”
But don’t expect armies of wizards hurling fireballs to turn up any time soon. Martin’s take is definitely dark fantasy rather than Lord of the Rings high fantasy or Harry Potter contemporary fantasy. And one of his biggest influences for that darkness is H.P. Lovecraft, the pioneering horror writer who created the Cthulu Mythos, a shared fictional universe full of death cults, demon gods, and cosmic evils too vast for the human mind to even comprehend. Lovecraft’s many short stories and novellas set in this growing world of darkest horror was a stunning new take on the genre, especially considering that The Call of Cthulu came out in 1928.
Martin is no casual fan of Lovecraft. He regularly cites the writer as one of his earliest reading obsessions. He’s visited Lovecraft’s grave in Rhode Island, and even wrote some elaborate fan fiction back in 2011 pitting Jaime Lannister against Cthulu in a deathmatch. When George sat down to speak with Stephen King, their conversation kept leading back to Lovecraft’s influence on both of their writing.
So it should be no surprise that there’s all manner of Lovecraftian influence noticable in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, from simple name drops to parallel mythologies. Leng, Ib, K’Dath, and Sarnath are all locations in both Martin and Lovecraft’s worlds. The Black Goat is a cult god from Qorth whose name references Shub-Niggurath, The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young featured in multiple Cthulu Mythos stories. And Dagon Greyjoy of the Iron Islands is named after Dagon, one of Lovecraft’s Great Old Ones. The further you examine the dark supernatural underbelly of the Iron Islands, the more you’ll find H.P. Lovecraft influencing Martin’s dark fantasy.