Narrative structure of A Song of Ice and Fire creates a fictional world with realistic measures of social complexity

Thomas Gessey-Jones, Colm Connaughton, Robin Dunbar, Ralph Kenna, Pádraig MacCarron, Cathal O'Conchobhair, Joseph Yose

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Abstract

Network science and data analytics are used to quantify static and dynamic structures in George R. R. Martin’s epic novels, A Song of Ice and Fire, works noted for their scale and complexity. By tracking the network of character interactions as the story unfolds, it is found that structural properties remain approximately stable and comparable to real-world social networks. Furthermore, the degrees of the most connected characters reflect a cognitive limit on the number of concurrent social connections that humans tend to maintain. We also analyze the distribution of time intervals between significant deaths measured with respect to the in-story timeline. These are consistent with power-law distributions commonly found in interevent times for a range of nonviolent human activities in the real world. We propose that structural features in the narrative that are reflected in our actual social world help readers to follow and to relate to the story, despite its sprawling extent. It is also found that the distribution of intervals between significant deaths in chapters is different to that for the in-story timeline; it is geometric rather than power law. Geometric distributions are memoryless in that the time since the last death does not inform as to the time to the next. This provides measurable support for the widely held view that significant deaths in A Song of Ice and Fire are unpredictable chapter by chapter.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28582-28588
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume117
Issue number46
Early online date2 Nov 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 17 Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

This open access article is distributed under Creative Commons Attribution License 4.0 (CC-BY)

Funder

Gold Travel Fund from Fitzwilliam College and C.O. by a Coventry University grant. R.K., P.M., and J.Y. were in part supported by the European Commission’s Marie Curie Action “International Research Staff Exchange Scheme” project number 612707 and the Leverhulme Trust research grant “Women, conflict and peace: gendered networks in early medieval narratives” RPG-2018-014. P.M. was additionally supported by the European Research Council (grant 802421). R.K. was additionally supported by a Coventry University City of Culture award.

Keywords

  • A Song of Ice and Fire
  • Dunbar’s number
  • Game of Thrones
  • comparative literature
  • networks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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