A few weeks ago, Saika wrote a post on magic and science, where she talked about how the two are often pitted against each other with one side shown as superior to the other. She also mentioned that sometimes this is not the case. Every once in a while, we get a story about magic and science coexisting. Like Saika, I love stories in which science and magic work together. The combination of these two elements can make a pretty fascinating setting—because of the existence of magic, sometimes a world that is less scientific than ours will occasionally end up with inventions that are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years more advanced than their current level of technology. On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes magic has the exact opposite effect and its use stunts a people’s technological growth. We get a wonderful example of this in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.
When you look at the world of Westeros, it seems to have developed writing in the modern sense at least eight thousand years ago. Maybe twelve thousand. Barring cave paintings, that is significantly longer than our own history. Our world also went through a period of time in the Dark Ages where we viewed certain scientific achievements as evil magic, and therefore burned anyone who practiced them. Westeros is a world in which magic is not thought of as evil for religious reasons. As such, they wouldn’t stunt themselves from scientific and technological advancements because of a mistrust of magic—in fact, magic would only be seen as beneficial
. Furthermore, considering that they developed writing and the ability to travel over vast oceans much sooner than we did, it stands to reason that they should currently be more advanced than us. But they’re not.
Not only that, from the way Westerosi legends are told, it doesn’t seem as though the people who lived in Westeros thousands of years ago were less advanced than the people who live there now. In fact, especially in reference to Valyria, they seemed more advanced. Overall, though, the Seven Kingdoms have been trapped in a medieval-like setting for thousands of years.
We know that the people in Valyria were highly advanced compared to the rest of the world—and I’m quite certain their magic had a lot to do with it. Using magic, they tamed dragons and built incredible architecture. Valyrian magic actually allowed them to liquefy stone and reshape it however they wanted. Additionally, they had what is known as Valyrian steel, which wouldn’t chip and could be molded into swords much sharper than normal steel swords. At the height of its power, the Valyria Freehold ruled most of the world and easily crushed any rebelling armies. It wasn’t until the Doom of Valyria—a cataclysmic event that destroyed the capital city—that the rest of the world broke free of its rule. This event wiped out most of the dragons still alive, and as someone who hasn’t finished reading the books, I’m assuming that this is also the event that started a massive decline of magic in the world.
When we see technologies from Valyria, they are significantly better and more advanced than from elsewhere. Unfortunately, with Valyria gone, no one in Westeros or any of the other continents seem to know how to replicate Valyria’s tech, and as such, their scientific advancements have remained stagnant. People had relied heavily on magic, but magic is currently all but gone, and it’s only just now making its way back into the world.
In some ways, I think that if Westeros wants to continue to advance, the return of magic will only be a hindrance. They have had thousands of years to move beyond the medieval era in their history—we did it in about five centuries, and we started later. Magic probably allowed them to reach the medieval era in a much shorter time frame than it took us to, but it has had the unfortunate side effect of keeping them there. As such, the people continue to hold onto disproven, dangerous beliefs about health and superstition. It’s mentioned numerous times that they believe bastard children grow up to be sex-driven adults, because they themselves are born from passion. We know that’s not how it works. But they don’t. At one point, Sansa poses as a bastard when escaping King’s Landing, and someone attempts to rape her, using this belief about bastards as justification. At another point in the series, a large comet appears, burning as it passes their world’s atmosphere. The people celebrate this occurrence and say it’s a sign from on high. That thing was huge. It could have struck down and wiped out civilization as they know it. And who knows, the next time it passes by it just might. This is why organizations like NASA are so important. And if their world doesn’t reach an age where they can achieve space travel, they’re going to have a pretty shitty future filled with giant ash clouds somewhere down the line.
Of course, I don’t think magic is all that bad—they have reaped numerous benefits from it. For starters, if they didn’t have magic, dragons probably would have unleashed hell upon all the civilizations on Essos and the White Walkers would have overrun Westeros.
Unfortunately, now that magic has remained absent from their world for a significant amount of time, people are not used to living with it anymore. From their perspective, most of their histories based in magic are just legends. So the return of magic will potentially do much more than stunt any progress their world has made in that time. With the return of magic, they get dragons. Let’s face, dragons are awesome, but they can easily overrun a civilization if not contained. Daenerys doesn’t have all the tools her ancestors used to keep their dragons in line, and we know that dragons are wild and dangerous. As her dragons get bigger, they start snapping at her and attacking people.
Furthermore, whatever’s brought magic back has also awoken the White Walkers, who have previously been gone for so long that no one believes they even exist anymore. And even after the Night’s Watch learns of their return, they hardly have the means to fight them, since Walkers can only be killed by Dragon Glass. And now that Valyria’s gone, no one’s even making Dragon Glass anymore.
All too often A Song of Ice and Fire tells us legends about people who lived hundreds, sometimes thousands, of years ago, who had fantastical lives that shaped the way Westeros and the other nations are today. The more the books continue, the less those legends seem like legends and the more they seem like forgotten history. Regardless, considering the way magic has affected the history of this world makes the books a more fascinating read.