This is the first part of our research of the bookish and literary objects of the fictional world of Game of Thrones TV Series. Find out more here.
Disclaimer: This post contains images with scenes of nudity from the Game of Thrones TV series. And of course, there are spoilers here.
I first conceived the idea of writing a post about the book as an object in the fictional world of Game of Thrones TV series when the creators showed us the Library of the Citadel. But now this initial plan evolved into something bigger.
Well, it wasn’t only me who had that idea, and that’s how some posts about chained books and the library itself appeared on the web. However, I wanted to dig deeper. Wanted to search for things, related not only to that one library, even if it is the most magnificent library of Westeros, but understand how the creators of the show imagined the literary realm.
I remembered there were some books in the show. And, of course, letters sent by ravens. But most of the details were long forgotten. And, as the rewatch showed, some of them I even didn’t catch on the first two turns.
Yes, I decided to watch all the seven seasons again. And as you see, I have a perfect excuse for that. At least that’s what I say to myself.
In this quest, I’ve received some help from my colleagues. If you noticed something we missed, or you’d like to join the team for reviewing next seasons, just leave a comment below.
I want to say special thank you to Eliane Gomes, book restorer and the owner of the Nautilus Boekbinderij in Haarlem, the Netherlands. Without her input, this post wouldn’t have been half as deep as it is now. And there are some of the small details I didn’t catch even after the recent rewatch.
There are several types of literary objects in the series:
- Scrolls, rolls, and other documents
- Raven letters
- Unidentified scrolls
- Books used by characters
- Tomes serving decorum purposes
All of these objects are handwritten. There is no indication whatsoever, that printing could have been invented and used anywhere in Westeros. Or even in the whole known world.
However, the collection of styles represented in the series is very eclectic. Ranging from late medieval Gothic or early Renaissance styled bindings, to volumes visually similar to something you may fond in the 17th or 18th-century France, to apparent steampunk tomes. The latter, by the way, is the most used class of books of the first season. I guess it is due to their relative simplicity of production.
The Most Bookish Characters of the Season
I’d give the first place to Tyrion Lannister. Because he is the person, who reads the most in the series (both in books and on TV). However, during the first season, he doesn’t have a chance to show how many books he has and uses in his everyday life. Even while he’s literally the only person, who’s shown reading a book while traveling. That’s when he’s going to the Castle Black with Jon Snow.
I’m not sure whether it’s a collection of pages gathered in a hard folder, or Tyrion’s book is just falling apart.
Petyr Baelish is almost always with a book. But that’s the same one tome: King’s Ledger. There are some books in Jeor Mormont’s study as well. Although he’s only shown reading letters, his books lay still on the table.
It looks like Daenerys doesn’t have any books in her collection at the beginning of the show. At least, you can see none in her tent later on, besides the three books given to her by Jorah Mormont.
Surprisingly, Theon Greyjoy has three or four books on his writing table in his room at Winterfell. Didn’t ever consider him to be a bookish person.
Last but not least, there is the Grand Maester Pycell. He has lots of books in his study, and he gives one to Ned Stark, which leads the latter to his unpleasant end.
So, I guess the Grand Maester Pycell and Tyrion Lannister should share the title of the most bookish characters of the first season.
The first literary object introduced to us in the series is some paper document Maester Luwin holds in his hands while Lady Catelyn instructs him un the upcoming visit of the king.
Probably some sort of tasks list. At least there is something inscribed on it.
Documents that are not messages from one person to another are seen in the series from time to time. But most of the rolls, scrolls, and folded sheets of paper are letters.
There are five more such documents in the first season, besides the Master Luwin’s list:
- Order by Robert Baratheon to hold a tournament honoring the new Hand of the King, Eddard Stark
- Drawing made by Tyrion Lannister with a scheme of a saddle for the injured Bran Stark
- The will of Robert Baratheon
- A list of new Brothers in Black arrived at the Castle Black
- Order to replace the traitor Eddard Stark at his duties as the Hand of the King with Tywin Lannister.
All of them, as you may see, have much more importance than the Maester Luwin’s list.
Order by Robert Baratheon
Here you may see a still shot from the episode, and a turned image that is easier to read. Like many other documents and letters, this one initially was rolled. And that wasn’t the most popular way to store documents in medieval Europe. With the exception, for example, of the Jewish tradition and some other individual cases.
However, we all know that the world of Game of Thrones isn’t really medieval, it’s something else.
Drawing Made by Tyrion
On his way back from the Wall Tyrion gives Bran Stark a scheme of a saddle, that will allow the injured boy to ride a horse. The drawing has something of Leonardo da Vinci’s style, don’t you think? Once again, it’s a roll. This time tied with lace. Not an efficient way to store documents. Especially during travel. But it looks more archaic, so be it.
The Will of Robert Baratheon
Check out the quill. As it is supposed to be in a medieval setting, it doesn’t have a metal point. Remember that, we will return to this topic in the later seasons. Is it some variation on the Carolingian script or a Carolingian hybrid?
That portable writing set is introduced a bit earlier in the series. Petyr Baelish uses it as a support for a book that resembles King’s ledger in an audience of the Hand scene of the sixths episode. More about these ledgers later in this post and the following publications.
We see the will later. Ser Barristan Selmy takes it from Ned Stark and gives to the Queen Cersei to read it:
However, that’s a different prop. You may see that the signature takes much more space. And if you look closely, the style of calligraphy is a bit different (the image below is reflected so that the text could be read):
List of Brothers in Black
No chance to read something, but here it is:
Order to Remove Eddard Stark
Here are images from the scene, and below you will find a reversed close-up, that allows reading the text:
Does this one look more like Humanistic script?
What’s funny is that in the scene the second paragraph concerning Janos Slint is read first, while Sansa is entering the Great Hall. And only after that follows the first paragraph, proclaiming replacement of traitorous Eddard Stark with Tywin Lannister to act as the Hand of the King.
Letters in Scrolls and Rolls
The first time we see a letter in the series, it looks well enough like a medieval document. It is a folded sheet of paper with a seal.
By the way, check our post on letterlocking. Even while nobody in the fictional world of Game of Thrones seemed to bother to secure their letters, it may give you an idea how some of the letters were protected in the old times.
Here’s a letter from Lysa Arryn, informing her sister Catelyn Stark of the death of the Lysa’s husband and the previous Hand of the King. We can see the outlines of the sigil of the House of Arryn on the seal (see the close-up).
The absolute majority of other letters are small and large rolls delivered with ravens.
The last literary object shown in the first season is a letter to the Lord Commander Mormont from beyond the Wall. I can read almost nothing beyond the first line: “To Lord Commander Mormont, Castle Black.” Maybe you have sharper eyes?
There are at least two more letters in the first season, besides the one received by Lady Catelyn in the very beginning, that seem to be appropriately folded and sealed: the message that Ned Stark sends to Stannis Baratheon from the King’s Landing; and some document in the war tent of Tywin Lannister.
Here is the first, properly folded and secured. Nobody should be able to read it without breaking the seal. At least in the whole, because, as you can see, some of the words are showing through the paper.
The document in Tywin’s tent is just a prop. But it as well shows evidence of being folded and sealed:
As stated before, the collection of books used in the series is quite eclectic. Props are probably taken right from the old books shops. But with the books that have a specific function, it’s a different story.
The style of the most represented type of books here probably should be called steampunk. They are some cobbled together volumes, or tomes that have characteristics of styles from different eras and regions united together.
Books Received by Daenerys from Jorah Mormont
Starting right with the first books shown in the series. The ones, received by Daenerys from Jorah Mormont:
Books have Gothic, and maybe Asian influence, coupled with a steampunk touch provided by the hinges, that probably never been used in Medieval Europe.
Ledgers of Petyr Baelish
They are not called King’s Ledgers in the first season yet. He just carries them with him everywhere, writes in them, and uses them even while instructing newbie prostitutes at his brothel.
Once again, the style may be called steampunk. Structurally, they are screw post bindings. It is hard to tell whether Petyr uses the same book throughout the season or they just look similar. Later on, it will be revealed that he has dozens of them. Not surprising at all, if you consider the size of the Seven Kingdoms.
The Lineage and Histories of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms
We get a chance to see this steampunk style of binding closer when Ned Stark receives from the Grand Maester Pycelle a book, that will lead him to his doom: The Lineage and Histories of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms.
And here are some more books from Pycelle’s collection:
By the way, on the Grand Maester’s table, you see lots of folded documents. That’s the proper medieval way!
Books of Mormont
Jeor Mormont has a variety of books in his study at the Castle Black as well.
Flat book on the table looks like something of a late-Gothic/Rennaissance style. The second book has studs on its covers, characteristic for Medieval tomes. They were intended to protect the leather and/or decorated covers of books. While doing some damage to the table surfaces, I guess…
Here is something that looks like French bindings with tooled spines:
You will find more about Tyrion’s books above and below, but here are two more. Shae holds them while packing to move to the King’s Landing. The top one is looking like another Gothic/early Renaissance binding:
There are some examples of limp binding books in the first season of the show. They are books with covers made of soft materials, like cloth, leather, or vellum; without any boards to reinforce the structure. Here you may see some of them in Robb Stark’s war tent:
One more type of documents met in the series is maps. In the later seasons, the variety of map increases significantly. Maps of the northerners are drawn on leather. Considering the size, it is most likely not a goat, but calf leather:
A map used by Maester Luwin to teach Bran Stark the Great Houses of Westeros:
A large map in the war tent of Robb Stark:
The maps seen in Tywin Lannister’s war tent, on the contrary, are rectangular and drawn on paper:
Fun Stuff and More
We counted 40 scenes in which some literary objects appear. That doesn’t mean they are used, or all of them used. Often bookish things are only there as props and characters do not interact with them. Like most of the tomes in the Grand Maester’s room, or these three or four French-styled tight-backs in Theon’s room:
I’m not sure if we ever see Then reading books later on in the series. He will deliver a letter from Robb, and a message to the defenders of the Caitlin Moat from Bolton’s bastard. But he will be Reek most of the time, so, I guess there’s just no chance for him for reading books.
The most scenes with literary objects (seven) you will find in the 8th episode: The Pointy End. No surprises here: the war has started, and everybody is sending letters all over the Seven Kingdoms and using maps.
The least, in the 6th episode: A Golden Crown. Only Petyr Baelish is seen here with his ledger. Not a surprise again, this episode is more about action than anything else.
Capsa or Scrinium – Cylindrical Boxes for Books and Documents
With so many rolled documents seen in the series and delivered from person to person, it is strange to see almost no proper containers for them.
Capsa or scrinium is a cylindrical box for books or documents. That type of encasement was widely used in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome.
It looks like the only time we see them in the first season is when Ned Stark talks to Varys in his study in the Red Keep:
I have only rewatched four seasons to the moment. And I’m not sure about the remaining part of the show, but within these four seasons, just the first has lower third titles announcing three major locations of the story: Winterfell, King’s Landing, and Pentos. All three of them appear in the first episode never to be seen again.
And these three lower thirds are embellished with decorated initials:
Making Writing Materials in Winterfell
In the scene when Maester Luwin is preparing to tell Bran bad news about his father, something is happening in the background. That man is preparing animal hides. Will they be used for book covers or as writing materials? What do you think?
A Guy with a Rolled Document in the Crowd
In the crowd watching Ned Stark’s execution, there’s a guy with a rolled document is his hand:
Daenerys and Tyrion Share Some Books
On her wedding day, Daenerys first meets Jorah Mormont and receives a gift from him: three books with “Songs and histories from the Seven Kingdoms.”
And here they are, in Tyrion’s war tent when he first meets Shae:
It looks like the full set. Even in the same order. Only the top one is turned 180° or so.
But that seems to be the only major bookish slip-up of the season. And we even can try to explain that coincidence by Tyrion’s obvious love to history. Maybe they just had all three books bound by the same bookbinders.
Have you noticed something we didn’t? We are still looking for collaborators, who would look into the calligraphy and leather materials used in the show. Please leave a comment if you are willing to participate!