The science fiction and comics convention TitanCon has just finished in Belfast and with the filming of Game of Thrones only a few miles away, Belfast is becoming a must-visit for SF and mythology fans of all kinds. The convention is a civilised and eclectic mix of different elements and as the HBO blockbuster reaches a tipping point of mainstream cultural significance we may see the TitanCon event reach a new level, as fans are almost guaranteed close contact with Northern Irish based actors and crew on their weekend break.
Northern Ireland is an intriguing place to hold a SF convention. The culture, politics and landscapes of the region are full of myths, invented or otherwise, and there is a certain texture, a chill, forbidding flavour and bite in the air, that certain scenes shot in Game of Thrones take from the locality.
Think botched beheadings in an unrelenting rain. Think family members confronting each other head-on, unyielding with murderous intent in their eyes. That’s a little of the Northern Irish landscape seeping into the edge of the screen.
I’m not citing these as negative elements, but really as great positives in the process of bringing a major, and now highly influential, invented myth to TV screens around the world. Shooting Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland was sheer genius.
As one of the panel at a TitanCon discussion of Irish History and Mythology in Comics said, ‘What being Irish means is to believe that there is something more,’ and Will Simpson, storyboard artist on Game of Thrones, made the connection between the TV series and the Irish mythological cycles like the Tain Bo Cuailnge. Indeed the earthy, dark, violent, chilling world of The Tain would be familiar to the millions of Game of Thrones fans if they ever get the chance to enter this Irish otherworld and savour it’s passion, wit and broken narratives.
Will Game of Thrones be the nearest Ireland ever gets to producing a great mythological masterpiece on-screen – by playing a not insignificant part in the US TV production of a modern invented myth? There are signs of a new confidence and passion in Irish design and visual arts, that may come from playing a part in such a worldwide cultural phenomenon.
Of course Ireland has been the location for other great screen mythologies in the past – notably John Boorman’s Excalibur, an adaptation of Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, shot in Wicklow in the early 1980’s, a film that featured Game of Thrones’ Ciaran Hinds (Mance Rayder) in a supporting role.
But Boorman’s Wicklow Mountains are soft and gentle compared to the harsh Northern Irish landscape which is much better suited for George RR Martin’s harsh vision. Martin tells the story that one of the inspirations for his series of novels came when he visited Hanrian’s Wall and tried to imagine what it would be like for a Roman legionary standing at the end of the world. Visit Northern Ireland and find out.
Superman, The Magnificent Seven, The Hidden Fortress, Batman, Game of Thrones, all are invented myths with narratives that have deep meanings and uncover strong urges and longings in each of us, and have been brought to the screen with varying degrees of success.
Myths reach the places that everyday, ordinary dramas fail to reach – the dark depths and bright shining lights of the human soul. They grab us by the throat and draw us in perhaps because they are both part of our history and part of our future. Whatever that may be.