Medieval Themed Literature in Focus: A Song of Ice and Fire Series

war of the rosesAs the saying goes: history is everywhere.

We believe that’s true, even in pieces of literature that don’t, on the surface, appear to have anything to do with real life.

The goal of a good author, after all, is to make a world come to life within his story that somehow parallels the world of his reader. That can be a difficult task, especially when the setting of the a series like A Song of Ice and Fire seems so far removed from our modern day world.

But, fortunately for George RR Martin, it isn’t far removed from the medieval one, and there we can find a lot of parallels.

What We Can Learn from Historical Fantasy

Even though there’s not any specific truth to the Game of Thrones series, for instance, there was no King Stannis harnessing the powers of magic to attempt to overtake the throne, and there was never a mythical ice land where the walking dead resurface and impose a years-long winter on the entire kingdom, the series does actually have a historical base.

The conflict emerges out of Britain’s War of the Roses, which began after the death of King Edward the 3rd, in the 14th century.

When King Edward died, his eldest son had already passed away, and the throne went to Edward’s eldest grandson of his eldest son. But, Edward still had two other direct heirs from two other surviving sons.

This led to an internal family conflict, and sparked a dynastic war that struck England for decades.

This period of medieval history no doubt loosely inspire George Martin in the conception of the Game of Thrones plot.

Learn More

Check out A game of thrones on Amazon, or if you want to listen to the series, you can get A Feast for Crows audiobook free from

Or, check out the latest novel, A Dance with Dragons book to stay current before the release of the 6th installment this spring!

If you’ve already read all of the novels and want to dive deeper into some of the topics mentioned, I suggest this TED-Ed video.

Is There Science Behind the Magic? Dissecting Harry Potter

science vs magicBy now we’re all familiar with the wonderful wizardry of Harry Potter, and have long past the stage where we were first swept off our feet by the sparkling new broomsticks to head over to our first Quidditch match.

And even though Harry has finally solved all of the riddles that popped up at Hogwart’s and unlocked the mystery of Voldemort and connected the dots across each one of the books in the series, there are still a few questions that remain.

Namely: is there anything we can learn from Harry and Hogwarts when we look with a scientific eye? Or is the magic of JK Rowling just pomp and circumstance to dazzle us without leaving behind any calculated curiosities?

Let’s take a closer look at two of the books to find out.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Despite the introduction of the magical world in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, most of the magic in the first book of the series is related to the setting, and not the heart of the book.

The real magic begins to get going in book two, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, so let’s take a look there.

In particular, let’s look at the mythical creature named Fluffy, who guards the gate to the Chamber of Secrets.

This dog, though he isn’t particularly scientific, is in fact part of legendary tales from ancient Greece and Rome. In those, his name is Cerberus, not Fluffy, and he is a servant of Hades, guarding the gates to the underworld to prevent the dead from escaping.

If you ask me, the parallels with Fluffy are certainly clear.

Download The Chamber of Secrets audio mp3 free, or get the book from Amazon.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Another example of magic that’s based on science comes in The Order of the Phoenix.

At the start of the book, Harry is escorted to Hogwarts via the company of other members of the Order, who have all sworn to protect him and fight against Voldemort.

In order to get Harry past the impending assault, the team drinks a potion to instantly look like Harry. Harry has also used this same potion to imitate Draco Malfoy earlier in the series.

There isn’t any hard science here either, but with recent improvements in facial reconstructive technology and plastic surgery, it is increasingly possible to change one’s appearance to look exactly like that of another.

Of course, it isn’t as simple as drinking a swag of potion!

Download The Order of the Phoenix audio mp3 free, or get the book from Amazon.

More Magic vs. Science in Hogwarts

Check out this video for more insights into the science of Harry’s magic, plus a sneak peek behind the set of Hogwarts!

Exploring Science Through Literature with Madeleine L’Engle

wrinkle in timeHere at Solaster MB, we’re big believers in the ability of cross-disciplinary education. Science and the Humanities are so often intertwined that we think it’s hugely important to make sure we integrate the two as much as possible, rather than adhere to the traditional separation of quantitative and non-quantitative courses.

This is especially true when it comes to children’s education, since there are a number of creative and exciting ways to explain complex concepts to children, which can work extremely well by integrating arts and sciences.

There’s a great study by Carleton University on the benefits of cross disciplinary learning, if you want to read more about the topic.

Using A Wrinkle in Time to Teach Physics

One example of this philosophy is A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle.

We all know that physics is the “most difficult” science for students to grasp, and you most certainly can’t teach concepts like relativity and string theory to elementary school children…or can you?

A Wrinkle in Time does this job extremely well, by combining a bit of creative imagination with a fun story, and an underpinning of real life scientific principles, L’Engle takes children’s science education to a new level.

While students obviously aren’t memorizing E=mc**2 and other mathematical underpinnings, they do get an exposure to some of the weird, quirky ways in which our universe functions.

Having that conceptual framework is very important as they grow as learners, and can ultimately provide a great base for deeper study of physics, perhaps even at a much earlier age than is traditionally taught.

Instead of having physics be geared only for graduating high school seniors, why not include it into core middle and elementary level curriculum? That’s something we’d like to see more of.

To get the work, you can listen to listen to the audio of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle at

For a deeper discussion of the work, see the author’s panel conversation below:

Scripps Institution of Oceanography Talk on Marine Biodiversity

If you have any interest in learning about marine biodiversity, this video is a must watch. It’s a great lecture on how tropical marine ecosystems evolve, with a specific focus on how coral reefs form and grow as ecosystems and individual organizations.

No specific technical background is required to understand this video, since it is presented in a clear and concise manner designed for the educated non-scientist.

That makes this a great watch for both students and professors alike.

You can also click here for more on the Scripps Institute at UCSD one of the leading marine biodiversity research centers in the world!