asoiaf

Ser Jay of House Gatsby: American Myths in ASOIAF

A sword shivers from a scabbard. A lion banner flaps in the early winter wind. The moors are disquiet. To the north are the cold mountains and crags; to the south are the lands of decadence; to the east are the horselords and their strange wild customs. To the west is the open sea, the end of the world, from which no sailor returns. Kings brood in golden halls. Something that isn’t quite the Catholic Church holds sway with the peasantry.

Hey, look at that! We just built 90% of all fantasy settings!

The Medieval European Milieu Experience (MEME for short) is the most common setting for fantasy stories through the last century. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions – there are tons of exceptions – but the image of fantasy is a decidedly French-British-Germanic one, variations on the theme of the heyday of feudal Christendom.

A Song of Ice and Fire, aesthetically, fits this milieu. The swords are broad and the armor is plated. The main players are kings, queens, lords, and ladies, all dressed in Ren Fest gear, boiled leather, and jeweled hairpieces. It’s a comfortable place for many fantasy fans, this MEME. But while ASOIAF dwells in the MEME, the meat of the series – the blood and sinew, the stuff that makes it move – is uniquely, categorically, American.

In the following essay, I will talk about the myth of the self-made man in America, and how many characters in ASOIAF explore this idea, both in a historical sense and in a literary one, arguing that ASOIAF is a much a part of the Great American Novel Canon as it is the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Hall of Fame.

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Hardhome’s Refugees and the Rocks of Cannibal Isle

George R. R. Martin likes boats.

In Arya’s The Blind Girl chapter in A Dance with Dragons, we hear tell of two boats in particular: the Elephant and the Goodheart. These two ships – a pair of Lyseni galleys, crewed by pirates and rascals – dropped anchor at Hardhome after having been driven north by a storm. Ever the enterprising (and amoral) businessmen, the Lyseni pirates offered to take all the women and children from Hardhome to safety. As soon as the women and children were loaded on the galleys, however, they were clapped in chains and hauled off to be sold as slaves at the markets in Lys.

Fate intervened, though. The gales of autumn still blew in the Narrow Sea. Another storm separated the Goodheart and the Elephant. The Goodheart was blown to Braavos, where the Sealord immediately seized her and her cargo. Slaving, after all, is illegal in Braavos. Arya (as Blind Beth) overhears sullen sailors from the Goodheart discussing their plight. She relays their conversation to the Kindly Man:

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Toxic Narratives and ASOIAF: From Within and Without

That was in the dawn of days, when our sun was rising. Now it sinks, and this is our long dwindling (Dance, Bran III)

A specter is haunting ASOIAF – the specter of the past. Our characters are haunted by the great things that came before them, from myth and song to parents and grandparents. In this essay, I’m going to talk about some of the toxic nostalgia our characters participate in…and then talk about how some in-real-life toxic nostalgia may be informing some of the storytelling choices GRRM makes.

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The Others as Shoggoths: Lovecraft & Martin

As much as GRRM likes to draw on traditional high fantasy tropes, A Song of Ice and Fire is very much a sword-and-sorcery world, akin to something written by Robert E Howard. Howard himself was a contemporary and collaborator with H.P. Lovecraft himself, the father of eldritch weirdness. A lot of people have pointed out the many Lovecraftian elements to the world of ice and fire – from Leng to the Five Forts to Asshai to Toad Isle to the Seastone Chair to Battle Isle to the mazemakers to the squishers.

But there’s one big element that needs to be addressed: the Others.

One common theory is that the Others are, essentially “misunderstood snow elves.” They’re a race whose goals and aims run contrary to human life…but they aren’t necessarily evil. This is a popular theory. Some think there’ll be a pact with the Others, that humans need to resolve their Other-ing of a different race. That to end with a big battle would be disingenuous to the messages of ASOIAF, about hard peace etc.

I disagree. And I promise I’ll explain! But first,

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Game of Thrones S6E9: bubble of the bustards

spoilers below the cut. also I feel like I should say – every week I do these. And they’re pretty much my first impressions. usually a week later i’ve changed my mind on some stuff.

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Game of Thrones S6E8 “No One”

This year, I’ve been watching Outlander alongside Game of Thrones. The STARZ show is based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, which is 90% historical fiction and 10% fantasy. It’s a tightly-focused character drama centering on Claire Randall, who is transported back in time to the Jacobite uprising centered around Bonnie Prince Charlie.

The advantage to Outlander is how focused it is. There are two main characters, Jamie and Claire. And that’s it. Oh sure, sometimes the show does scenes from other POVs, but it’s still just one story, as opposed to the six or seven in Game of Thrones. So for all you people hungering for in-depth politicking, drawn-out tension, and breathing room in general, go watch Outlander. The latest episode, “Prestonpans,” is a great example of the kind of battle episode that really works on TV.

Anyway, let’s talk about Game of Thrones.

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Game of Thrones S6E7: “The Broken Man”

Melisandre would have you believe that if an onion (or a show) is all bad, you should throw it out entirely. Samwell Tarly, though is perfectly happy to chop off the rot and enjoy the good bits of the onion. Let’s be more like Sam, when we talk about Game of Thrones. It’s not The Ultimate Television Show, but it also isn’t The Ultimate Betrayal. We move from one incredible scene to one baffling scene; great decision to questionable decision. And it’s those strong scenes that make the weak ones weaker. When you know how good this show can be -writing, directing, production – seeing it not be that good is even more disappointing/frustrating/whatever.

Alright, I think that’s enough of a spoiler shield. SPOILERS!

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