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A Song of Ice and High Surface Gravity

By Taylor Marvin

I just finished my reread of A Song of Ice and Fire, and this morning one line from the books jumped out at me. In A Dance with Dragons, Ser Barristan remarks that Westeros is ten thousand leagues from Meereen. It’s unclear if he’s exaggerating this distance, or speaking in the abstract. But given that he’d recently journeyed from Westeros to Meereen, it would be odd for him to significantly inflate the figure. His phrasing (here, ‘the nearest silent sister is ten thousand leagues away’ rather than, say, ‘it’s a ten thousand league journey to Westeros’) also suggests that the figure is as the crow, or dragon, flies, rather than a travel route distance.

The A Wiki of Ice and Fire website notes a league, as used in the text, as equal to three miles. This gives us a distance of roughly 30,000 miles. If Westeros and Meereen are on exactly opposite sides of the globe (a conservative assumption), the circumference of the ASoIaF world is at least 60,000 miles, giving a radius for the planet of 15,367 km. Again, this is a very conservative assumption, and is instead a least possible figure. This shows a planet over twice the size of Earth, and, assuming an average density similar to Earth’s, a surface gravity of 2.4 g (feel free to check my math).

Of course, this isn’t supported in the text. There’s little evidence the surface gravity is actually that different from Earth’s, and in A Feast for Crow 400 yards is noted as exceptional range for a bow, which is at the upper end of a medieval English longbow’s range. If the surface gravity in ASoIaF actually was significantly higher, we would expect objects to fall faster and projectiles to have less range. There’s also the problem that the definition of both feet and miles is based on human biology — a foot is roughly, well, a foot, and the definition of mile was originally 1,000 human paces. Both these units are dependent on human height, which we would expect to be significantly shorter on a high-gravity world. But I think it’s safe to assume that units of distance given in the text have been translated to those the reader is familiar with, just as characters do not actually speak English.

This also contradicts author GRRM’s statement that Westeros is about the size of South America, which is over 4,600 miles from north to south. Given that Westeros appears to span a longer distance from north to south than the distance between it and Meereen, this contradicts Ser Barristan’s ten thousand leagues figure.

Incidentally, this gets to a textual problem in ASoIaF: short travel times. It’s difficult to imagine that Tyrion would travel 1,200 miles round trip on horseback to visit the Wall on a whim, just as it would be prohibitively time consuming for King Robert to visit Winterfell from King’s landing, a roughly 6,000 mile round trip.

Note: If it isn’t obvious, this post is very tongue-in-cheek.

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