Sunday, August 9, 2015

How 'Big' is the 'Game of Thrones' World?

Let me be clear: I am in no way questioning the size of its fanbase or the sprawling narrative that is A Song of Ice and Fire." I am not the type of nerd to belittle any particular fandom or its accomplishments, even those to which I don't personally belong. No, I'm the type of nerd who needs to functionally quantify how those worlds work until I am either sufficiently assuaged or beaten by those next to me into a light coma.

When I ask, "How big is the Game of Thrones world?" I'm asking if the continents we've seen make up the bulk or simply a small fraction of their world's landmasses. I'm asking if, like James Cameron's Pandora, the planet is physically smaller than Earth and–having a potentially lower mass–the gravity is weak enough to allow large reptiles to grow in an oxygen-rich atmosphere and ascend to the skies on leathery wings. Does rain fall less forcefully? Are the blows from the executioner's blade less powerful? How high would Ned Stark's skull bounce? More pressing, narratively, is there an entire world of events happening outside the scope of this franchise waiting to be mined for ideas? Other civilizations at different technological levels inhabiting the same celestial sphere?

I will take your continued presence here as tacit permission to ruin the mystique of imagination. To begin, let's get this out of the way: George Martin is a little bit of a coy dick about the planetary mechanics of his fictional universe. Which is actually fair, considering the more information he gives us, the less magic exists in his world.

I don't mean that in a literary way; there would still be dragons and wights. I mean that if we get more than even a reasonable sense of scale, we can actually determine to size of The World, and from that extrapolate its approximate mass and gravity (how dragons can sustain flight, maximum likely biped height, the strength of an executioner's swinging arm, the physical effects of non-congenital dwarfism, etc). Worse, with a little heliocentric tinkering, we could determine the planet's probable distance from a yellow sun to be in the 'Goldilocks Zone' of habitability, and possible eccentricity of orbit and tilt, thus giving us a predictable seasonal cycle, what is essentially the giant looming doom on the horizon of the whole series.

So, it's pretty reasonable that Mr. Martin doesn't want us science-y types mucking around in his playpen.


Click for embiggening.
Here's a map I just pieced together from the most recent official map release (free posters from Barnes & Noble) and a previous map derived from the Lands of Ice and Fire book that included distance scale. It is the most detailed map to date, though clearly cuts out large chunks of land in the Southern and South-Eastern regions. Additionally, there are tall tales of lands of eternal summer and without death in the distant West. Based on the similarity to Tolkein's work, I'm going to assume this land is full of elves and demigods. Since most people discount these stories, we should probably assume that they are 100% a real place. Martin has also said, at various times, that this planet is round (spherical is the implication), and about the same size as Earth or possibly a little bigger. Sothoryos, the lush continent at bottom center is described as being roughly akin to Africa in that it is jungle and historically unexplored by the people of the North. Ulthos, to the far South-East, is almost completely unknown except it is also covered in dense jungle.

Now what then can we glean from this image?

Well firstly, as a sense of scale, the image at hand, based on the scale from its predecessor, is just shy of being 8,700 miles across. This is fairly important.

The Earth's equator is just shy of 25,000 mi in circumference. We're tempted by the layout of the map to assume the centerline runs through The World's equator, but historically this wasn't the case on Earth until the mid 16th century. More often, Jerusalem or another politically important center was used as the center of a map, often eclipsing any rational scale or sense of distances.

Heinrich Bünting's map of the world, 1581.
He also drew Europe as a person whose head pointed West. Because yep.

Moreover, if we consider the climateology described by Martin and the map, only Northern Westeros seems to maintain an arctic climate. (In fact this is a major part of the nation's history and folklore, concerning the White Walkers and whatever else lives beyond The Wall in the Lands of Always Winter.) Importantly, at the bottom of our map we find only tropical climes. Not only is the map missing a large portion of The World latitudinally, it's missing ITS ENTIRE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE.

I'll say that again. We currently have a map of verifiably less than half the planet. That is a problem.


"But!" I say! We can fix this! For we now know some important facts:
  1. The distances involved are fairly accurate, as they pertain to a well-traveled set of lands in the center of the map.
  2. These lands are, very approximately, halfway between the tropical regions and the arctic ones.
  3. The circumference of a sphere at any latitude is its equatorial circumference times the cosine of the latitude. (Apparently.)
Earth, for example, is just about 24,900 miles at the equator. Let's call it an even 24k to compensate for oblation of the sphere and just to make our lives a little easier. The Earth's circumference at the 42nd parallel, which New York resides along, would be:
cos(42) • 24000 = roughly 17,800 miles.
 So The World of Ice and Fire, then, at approximately the same latitude it would seem, would be:
cos(42) • X = 8,700
Solving for X would give us a planet only 11,700 miles in circumference. That would make it about 15% smaller than Mars, which already has gravity approximately 1/3 Earth norm. If this were the case, not only could dragons easily fly through even a thin atmosphere, but White Walkers could grow to enormous heights. Also, rain, snow, and the swinging of an axe towards the neck of anyone House Stark wouldn't really function as they do.

Conclusion: Not only are we missing the ENTIRE BOTTOM HALF OF THE GLOBE, we are ALSO MISSING A QUARTER MORE UP TOP.

Now, let me run into rampant speculation, and say that what follows are numbers I am only guessing at, grossly approximated for a perfect, spherical planet, and I actually have no idea if the math I'm doing is even remotely close enough to provide us any meaningful data about this fake World, but I have an idea and I haven't yet seen the Internet regurgitate anything remotely similar, so I'm calling this as my show from here on out.

If we do accept this as a spherical planet, although none really are, we could theoretically switch our orientation and calculate the circumference of The World at a longitudinal point!

The HEIGHT of our given map is approximately 5,700 miles. Let's round up to an even 6,000 to bring our map 'down' to the probable equator, and then double that for the Southern hemisphere. That gives us a vertical circumference at any Meridian of approximately 12,000 miles, or roughly the same as Earth! (Obviously the extent of the tropical zone is approximated, as is the exact distance from the Lands of Always Winter to The World's North Pole.)

So with these calculations, and matching what information George Martin has released to the public on the topic, we can see that The World really is about the same size as the Earth, possibly a little smaller or larger depending on how much we fudge the measurements and what is essentially Medieval cartography.

And that means The World really looks like this:

Which is stupid. It should clearly be black and cloudy around the unexplored bits, like in the first two Warcraft games for Windows 95/98. But since science is almost as cool, I guess we could translate that map onto a 3D surface and make a sweet Westeroglobe.

Here's what that looks like:

Way cooler. We've got a lot of map left to fill in. For my money, I'm putting an ancient Middle Earth on the other side of the globe, possibly upside-down à la Douglas Adams' "Mostly Harmless" since it is said the Sun first rose in the West before Varda decided it should rise opposite. And let's go with Conan's Hyborian Age on the other side of the Northern hemisphere, so that their "snow apes"–driven from their homelands to the far North of the remnants of the continent of Thuria by the now Neolithic humans who they then came to loathe–can be Neanderthal-ish ancestors to the White Walkers.

Boom. I just saved space by putting 3 fantasy novels and a Douglas Adams sequel on a single planet. That's just fictionally economical.

"Now bring me that horizon." (Five.)

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