Reading George Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” can be like looking at a tapestry of the middle ages that features central figures in action, a few witnesses in the background, but also meticulous details of flora and fauna. Once you look beyond the main image, and concentrate on all the tiny details you notice the creator worked in some elves dueling with each other, and some dark figure hiding behind bushes, a fox catching a hare, seemingly all unrelated to the main figures and story in the forefront. We can dismiss these almost hidden scenes as unimportant, mere detail to build the background world. But it takes more hours to work in all those details than it does to weave the main scene. Then we notice the fox sigil embroidered on one of the main figures and start to consider that maybe it is not as unrelated as we first thought; that it actually may be telling us something more about the main figures. Once we understand and can make associations the tapestry gains layers of depth that sheds a new light on the whole. It does not change the story, but it makes it so much richer, renders clues, and interconnected.
A straightforward hint in the books themselves to read beyond first appearance is given in Catelyn’s second chapter of aGoT, when Maester Luwin describes the box with Lysa’s hidden message in.
“A wooden box, you say?” Catelyn said.
“Inside was a fine new lens for the observatory, from Myr by the look of it. The lenscrafters of Myr are without equal.”
Ned frowned. He had little patience for this sort of thing, Catelyn knew. “A lens,” he said. “What has that to do with me?”
“I asked the same question,” Maester Luwin said. “Clearly there was more to this than the seeming.”
Under the heavy weight of her furs, Catelyn shivered. “A lens is an instrument to help us see.”
Catelyn could feel dread stirring inside her once again. “What is it that they would have us see more clearly?”
“The very thing I asked myself.” Maester Luwin drew a tightly rolled paper out of his sleeve. “I found the true message concealed within a false bottom when I dismantled the box the lens had come in, ….” (aGoT, Catelyn II)
So, the lens was a hint for Luwin to dismantle the box and he discovered a false bottom. In this“second layer” he finds a message written in a secret language. I tend to think this is George’s instructional metaphor on reading the books, where the books are like the box. The lens is the hint to remind us to look more closely how the books are written. And he urges us to deconstruct the writing to find the double layers and its “hidden message” written in “secret code” (and no, don’t take me too literal on this. No Da Vinci Code. I get to use poetic license too). What is required from the reader to understand the messages? Well, Catelyn has foreboding feelings just by looking at the sealed message. While not all readers agree with the interpretation, most readers do agree that certain scenes, dialogues or descriptions give them a sense of foreboding, a chill, just like Catelyn has. So, trust your intuition that these paragraphs do contain a foreshadowing or a hint to the solution of a mystery. For the interpretation you use Luwin’s rationality, and methods of literary analysis – parallels, references, metaphors, motifs and symbolism.
While tapestries are woven with thread and color, stories are woven with words to create the imagery. The oldest form of storytelling remains with us via mythology that sometimes took epic proportions. With that many people being illiterate, storytelling was an oral tradition. Storytellers used tricks to remember the variety of stories – they used verses, but also symbolism, repetitive scenarios, themes of certain imagery that belong together. These were not only known to bards, but the audience as well. In telling us his epic, George R. Martin needs to use similar tricks, borrowing from known mythological material that we are somewhat intuitively acquainted with at least, but also teaching us certain meanings by repetition of the same symbols in similar events.
Roger Zelazny wrote the sci-fantasy “Lord of Light” novel regarding human colonizers of another planet, dominating the local lifeforms by using a reincarnation machine that allows them to pretend to be a Hindu god of the Hindu pantheon. Throughout the novel the reincarnating colonizers at times choose or end up as another Hindu god with different attributes. So there is never a complete 1:1 mapping from Hindu mythology to a certain character. Roger Zelazny is a personal friend of George Martin and my own copy of the book carries George’s review comment, ‘One of the five best SF-novels ever written’. George pays homage to the book in aSoIaF by using “Lord of Light” as a title for R’hllor. George R.R. Martin does something similar in aSoIaF, except without involving a sci-fi machine, but rather actual death and resurrection or a more symbolical journey into the underworld in dreams or via trauma, and referencing to different mythologies – Welsh, Arthurian, Greek, ancient Middle Eastern, Norse, North American… On top of that there are the fairytales we still grow up with as children – Grimms’ brothers, Andersen, …
It is quite impossible for me to cover and uncover all. But in this blog I will reveal for example what we can expect to happen in a broad general way when a bear is featured or referenced in a scene, how it is almost logical in a mythological sense why Bloodraven’s cave is North of the Wall, or that Beric Dondarrion and Lady Stoneheart happen to be undead in the Riverlands, and how Arya’s arc in relation to the Faceless Men is more than that of revenge.
On navigating my blog: Most of my essays are grouped in a theme on which the analysis focuses. The Chthonic Cycle focuses on the mythology of the underworld and how George incorporates this into the plot of characters as well as George’s world building. So far, they are best read sequentionally as they build on previous chthonic essays. The Trail of the Red Stallion analyses the possible meaning of the often featured ‘red stallion’ and horse scenes in general, such as tourneys. Bears and Maidens deals with, well, bear related plots, characters, families and of course the song using the perspective of global subarctic bear-folklore, taboos and beliefs. Most of these can be read in any order you wish, though it helps to read at least the basic background on bear folklore in its main title page and the song‘s analysis. Ragtag Band of Misfits goes into identities, backgrounds, origin and roles of various ragtag teams George has set up all over Planetos.
That said, some essays can be read as a stand-alone theory or analysis. These are
- Sansa and the Giants: or otherwise known as my avalanche-prediction that I expect to happen in the Vale in tWoW. This would coincide or rather be followed up with an attack of the Clans of the Mountains of the Moon, led by Timett son of Timett, the unknown Arryn heir. The theory is based on a set of foreshadowing scenes: Ser Hugh’s death scene at the Hand’s Tourney, the words of the Ghost of High Heart, the snow castle scene at the Eyrie, Sansa looking down on the Gates of the Moon, and Catelyn’s description of the Vale from her arrival at the Bloody Gate, the Gates of the Moon and climb to the Eyrie.
- Shadrich, Morgath and Byron – The Three Hedge Knights Howland Reed, Elder Brother and Sandor (by Blue Eyed Wolf): Yes, that’s right. This identity theory provides evidence and reasoning for three unexpected allies in disguise showing up at the Gates of the Moon. Howland Reed is not in King’s Landing as the High Septon, nor the Hooded Man in Winterfell, and he is not at Greyguard either. Like out of a fairytale of Harrenhal, Howland donned the disguise of the Mad Mouse, followed Brienne’s trail to the Quiet Isle where Elder Brother and Sandor were waiting for an opportunity to redeem their mistakes. A weirwood magician, a gifted healer, rubies and bones, with a beast glamored into a beauty, the gallant lout Ser Byron. All for House Stark and Sansa! You think it nuts? Wait until you read it.
- Craster’s Black Blooded Curse: a detective theory that proposes Craster was personally and physically involved with the death of Jafer Flowers and Othor (two of Benjen’s rangers) and that the other rangers ended up as ranger bacon and black blooded wight sausage in Craster’s secret larder. The theory is based on the high number of specific chekhov parallels within and between the following book chapters: aGoT Jon VII (where Jafer and Othor are found and brought into Castle Black), aCoK Jon III (where the Night’s Watch stays at Craster’s Keep), aSoS Samwell II (where the survivors of the Fist lick their wounds at Craster’s Keep) and aDwD Bran II (where Coldhands feeds the children with long pork after killing the mutineers).
- The Beast’s Kiss – Sansa’s Maturation: an analasys of Sansa’s sexual maturation process based on her experiences and fantasies regarding Sandor and the Knight of Flowers, comparing three intimate scenes: Sandor revealing his background story of his burns to Sansa, Loras Tyrell escorting Sansa to his grandmother, and the wedding night with Tyrion.
- House Blackfyre: a composition of the various sources to have a single history write-up on House Blackfyre, starting with Aegon IV as father of Daemon Blackfyre all the way until Maelys the Monstrous. Includes speculation to fill in some timeline and family tree gaps. Theorizes that Maelys was the last and youngest son of Daemon I Blackfyre.
- The Silk Route: explores the mystery surrounding Varys, following the hinted silk route, to identify potential origin ties of Varys. This does not lead to Blackfyres or Targaryens, but to Qarth and leukism.
- The Plutonian Others: (in cooperation with the Fattest Leech and Kissdbyfire) an analysis of George’s words, D&D’s, the two scenes that feature the Others, Old Nan’s tale, spider-parallels (including older non-aSoIaF related stories). Theorizes that the Others are an inhuman species with hemocyanin blue blood, and a mentality that is more like spiders than human; that the “ice” they are made of is not regular ice, but akin to the surface of Pluto – solid nitrogen and carbon monoxide. This makes for a Lovecraftian threat.
- Ice Magic and Mirrors: (some in cooperation with the Fattest Leech and Kissdbyfire) various essays investigating characters and scenes in which “mirror shields” or “mirror armor” appear. Such as Dany’s brass platter at Qarth, or Areo Hotah wearing mirror-armor in aDwD’s chapter, The Watcher, making him the sole POV in the books who characterizes the abilities of someone watching from behind a mirror. This also includes an analysis on the use of the character Mirrors in George’s novel the Armageddon Rag. An analysis of the Warrior’s Sons and Cersei’s arc with the Faith: Swords, Foxes and Beauty.
- The Mirror Mirror – Serwyn series delves into Bran’s arc as well as Dany as Saint George’s Dragon in two parts.
- NEW The Night’s King series: Based on the maester’s and Old Nan’s version I go through a ton of textual material, first to straighten out the timeline of the Night’s King in relation to the Long Night, and Brandon the Builder. I propose the three main roles of a Night’s King figure in relation to the corpse queen. In from Sandkings to Nigthqueens, I delve into a synopsis of Sandkings and propose the corpse queen is one of the several maws on Planetos, what her needs are and how she operates as a hivemind. With these three as foundation, I explore Craster again and his Wives.
A few of my theories that I have not had time yet to incorporate in my blog but can be found on westeros.org are:
- the Valkyrie of the FM: Valkyries were Odin’s helpers in “choosing the slain” on a battlefield, thereby deciding which side won and lost, as well as cupbearers at Walhalla. I show how the Facelss Man known as Jaqen H’ghar specifically tests Arya on these traits and dedicates the battle for Harrenhal within its walls to Arya as if she were a Valkyrie. I then analyse the legends about the First of the Faceless Men and propose that the First most likely was a woman and that the FM may have a prophecy about a First Reborn and that they believe Arya is this First Reborn.
- the Slayer of Lies proposes that the three lies that Dany sees portrayed in the House of the Undying all have to do with the proposed Azor Ahai reborn and/or Prince that Was Promised. It also proposes that the vision of the stone beast taking wing out of a tower hints at a translation mistake or lie within the Azor Ahai reborn prophecy itself. Not only was the High Valyrian gender neutral “dragon” mistranslated as “prince”, but there is something dubious about the prophecy speaking about a dragon-person (Azor Ahai, or Dragon prince/princess) being reborn while also talking of dragon-animals being born from stone as a separate event. It seems as if a twofold interpretation of the same event is portrayed as two separate events, and I think this is a mistake, and therefore a lie.
Credits: I wish to thank fellow contributors of westeros.org and the Last Hearth for the exchange of ideas so far during discussions, support or challenge, and/or their own hard work in a similar vein on different elements of the books – Lucifer Means Lightbringer, Evolett, Lady Blizzardborn, Lady Barbrey, Sly Wren, Lady Sharya, Lady Gwynhyfvar, Mithras, Bemused, Kingmonkey, Voice, Lady Dianna, The Fattest Leech, Darkstream, Painkiller Jane and so many others!
Sweetsunray (Admin and Author)
Blue Eyed Wolf (Author)
5 thoughts on “Home”
Awesome stuff, and great intro! Very nicely written. I really like how you’ve the tapestry analogy to demonstrate the importance of background information and associated symbolism. Sometimes I just tell people to watch “Room 257,” the documentary which breaks down some of the perceived symbolism and metaphor in Kubrick’s The Shining. That one is fabulous… in any case this is all part of the grand literary tradition, although it may be new to some readers (as it was for me before I began analyzing ASOIAF in an in-depth way).
I addressed these same topics in an essay comparing George’s writing style to that used in world mythology:
Thanks for the shoutout, I’ll be sure to link to this page from mine. Hooray!
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If you use symbolism tactics on movies directed by David Lynch, or say Pan’s Labyrith of Guillermo del Torro the movie ends up making way more sense. Pan’s Labyrinth for example uses a lot of symbolism of ‘legends’ and stories about Franco. In short, for Pan’s Labyrinth, from the metaphorical wedding of Franco to Spain (Ofelia’s mother) was born Spain’s savior (political son King Juan Carlos) and the wish for a republic (Ofelia) had to sacrifice herself to make it happen. So, yes, imo the best movies and literature are those that use allegory and metaphors to tell the tale.
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HI Sweetsunray ! Excuse me in advance for my english, which I can read easily but no so easy speak ! I was reading “L’ours : histoire d’un roi déchu” from french historian Michel Pastoureau, and looking for other studies on the web, when one link conducted me to your essay “the bear and the maiden” on westeros.org. Very interesting luminous for me, as also fan of ASOIAF (during reading your essay, I was also so proud to anticipate all the hidden bears ^^). Ad then, I arrive on your blog. I don’t have readed all yet, but I will.
I have a blog too, since last year, where I put my own analysis of ASOIAF : it is in french. I don’t take the labor of others, so I would ask if I can refer to your blog, and better : translate (and make adaptation) of some of your essays (if you say yes, and if you understand french, naturaly I would be glad to allow the same for you).
For me, at the origin of the Starks story, there were two brothers, a wolf and a crow, and a kin(g)slayer; but after the reading of Pastoureau’s book and your essay on the bear, I had forgot the third brother, the bear; one greenseer, two skinchangers, exactly like Robb, Bran and Rickon (or Brandon, Ned and Benjen too ?). Of course, there was a woman too, in this story. If the bear doesn’t appear in the Stark story, perhaps is it to hide a kin(g)slayer.
Have a nice day !
Bonjour Emmalaure et enchanter! Oui je comprend, parle et entend le français, mais je suis mediocre si j’écris en français.
I’m not sure whether it’s the Stark echo, but I think we are indeed seeing bears, greenseers, skingchangers and kinslayers echo and referenced throughout several arcs and scenes, often together with the Grey King symbolism or Azor Ahai. They also usually flow with echo scenes that Lucifer Means Lightbringer refers too in his Mythological Astronomy, but also tied with the Last Hero or Bloodstone Emperor type of betrayal, as well as hints of splitting of family branch or perhaps a choice for the dark or light side. So, yes somewhere in the origin of the Long Night, the Last Hero, Azor Ahai, Bloodstone Emperor and Ironborn Grey King, we either have brothers or a father with son and daughter, involving kinslaying, blood magic, bear revenge with sacrifice and wedding conjoining.
I’m glad to hear that you anticipated some of the bear characters I identified in the original westeros.org essays (and those are actually a minority), and that a search on bears and mythology lead you to my essays. I would not be against you translating and referencing my essays. I would have one condition though. The original bear essays are being expanded on and reworked. The only updated and most thorough essays are those who have also been featured as an article on this blog. The rest I still am reworking. So, if you translate bear-maiden essays of mine, please only do the essays that are featured on the blog.
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Thanks for reply ! I think finally I won’t translate, but let link and make little abstracts, as I do with some theories from the french site “La Garde de Nuit”
Yes, GRRM loves making many, many, many variations about a well hidden theme !
To go further with the bear and his mythology, all this remind me another book which was about the stag’s european mythology and the link with “carnaval” (“Aux origines de Carnaval” from Anne Lombard-Jourdain) : stag shares some specificities with the bear : it is a king in the forest, protective, who die/loose its horns during winter (=carnaval), and have a re-birth with the spring. The stags hunt and the die is very strongly codified, and a royal activity. There i tory to explin the fll of the horn : stag encounter a snakewoman beneath a source, fight with, kill under its feet and eat, but the venom is mortal and the fever get high. So the stag must drink lot of water to refresh and dance furiously to evacuate the venom which purge the body of the stag and regenerate : stag loose its horn and hide itself because it is in great weakness, but with the spring, it appears higher and stronger. In the myths with humans characters, the snake-woman is Melusine (Melusine is the reverse of the swan-knight Lohengrin, who disappear when his secret is revealed by the fault of a third jalous characteror by the fault of curiosity).
As the bear, the stag has no proper name, but the words for it are to qualify : “stag” (=> the male), cerf from cervus (=> the horn; who served to name a gallic god without name “Cernunnos”), deer (=> the animal, same root than “Tier”/animal in germain) and so on…
As two animals kings, the mythology of stag and bear are mixed together – I think – in some myths : king Arthur (=whose name is “the bear”) is also represented as a king stag who share bed with his sister Morgan, and loose the kingdom when their son Mordred is becoming a adult.
At the end, the stag is the object of the “Wild Hunts”, hunts of the deads, furious spirits of the dead, who have committed a crime against gods and are condamned to hunt for eternity without rest. The master hunter is “Hellequin” (with the root “horn/hern/cornu…”) who gave the italian “Arlechino”, the comic character who is dressed in patchwork, and so, in ASOIAF, we have Shagwell from the Mummers (a hunter hunted and sacrified by Brienne), and also the strange and big Patchface with his hat with horns and bells (Patchface is also a dancing bear^^). And what could we say about the Baratheon, as black and furious as bears !
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