Friday, August 4, 2017

Daenerys - A Most Unreliable Narrator

   One of the tricks that George R. R. Martin uses to surprise his readers is the concept of the unreliable narrator.  For example, think of your first impressions of Rhaegar Targaryen.  At the very beginning of the very first book, Robert Baratheon describes the man as a rapist and a monster.  Many will take Robert's tale for granted until much later in the series when other characters like Jon Connington and Barristan Selmy reveal that Rhaegar was not, in fact, a monster.  However, by this time it is too late for the reader to pay close attention to the fact that Eddard Stark never acknowledged Robert's description of Rhaegar, and even seemed to hold a quite different opinion of the man.  All but the most attentive readers will have missed this clue to unraveling what really may have happened in the past.  First impressions are lasting impressions, and George has used this trick of unreliable first impressions to great effect.

   This brings me to Daenerys.  What many don't realize until it's too late is that Daenerys is an extremely unreliable narrator.  By the time the reader has enough clues to understand this, he has already recorded her musings into his perceived history of events.  He has forgotten that the only significant account of the flight to and from Dragonstone came from Daenerys, and it is now locked into his head as historical fact.

   How unreliable is Daenerys?  Let's put things into perspective.  Daenerys was not even born until Willem Darry supposedly fled with her and Viserys from Dragonstone.  Therefore, everything she knows up to and including this event must come from others.  Who is her primary source for this information?  Viserys.

   I shouldn't need to explain that Viserys is delusional - unable to even recognize the reality in front of his own two eyes.  On top of that, however, we can demonstrate that his memory of history is often imagined.  Consider a couple of examples:

   Viserys believes that the Usurper's hired knives were chasing them all across Essos, but Robert explains, "I should have had them both killed years ago, when it was easy to get at them, but Jon was as bad as you. More fool I, I listened to him."

   Daenerys reveals that "Viserys had told her stories of the tourneys he had witnessed in the Seven Kingdoms, but Dany had never seen a joust herself."  Yet, Viserys was not allowed to attend tournaments due to Aerys's fear of attempts on his life.  Viserys was not even allowed to attend the tourney held in honor of his own birth!

   At this point, we should be questioning all the things that Daenerys believes about her past.  All. The. Things.

"His blunt words startled her. It seemed as though all the things she had always believed were suddenly called into question."

   In truth, you wouldn't even need tinfoil to question if she is the sister of Viserys!

"Daenerys... Remember who you are."

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Dragonseed of the Mad King

   Will the eventual dragonriders in the Song of Ice and Fire be the three Great Bastards of Aerys II

"The seed is strong."
- Jon Arryn

   There exist three separate theories that are well formed and quite plausible:
1) Tyrion Lannister is the son of Aerys II Targaryen and Joanna Lannister.
2) Jon Snow is the son of Aerys II Targaryen and Lyanna Stark.
3) Daenerys Targaryen is the daughter of Aerys II Targaryen and Ashara Dayne.

   These are all so well thought out that I wish I could take credit for them.  (I especially appreciate the Water Gardens analysis in the Daenerys section.  Go read it!)  Alas, I cannot.  However, I have not seen anyone question whether all three of these theories combine to form a tale greater than the sum of its parts.

"Daenerys. Remember the Undying. Remember who you are."
"I remember the Undying. Child of three, they called me."

   You will note that all three of these characters are often considered to be eventual dragonriders.  There was an old woods witch who prophesied - apparently - that the Prince that was Promised would come from the line of Aerys and Rhaella.  Of course, we don't actually have a first-hand account of that prophecy, so in typical GRRM fashion it was likely twisted and deceptive.  What if the three heads of the dragon are, instead, Aerys's illegitimate children?  This sounds very much like GRRM's style.

"He spoke of dreams and never named the dreamer, of a glass candle that could not be lit and eggs that would not hatch. He said the sphinx was the riddle, not the riddler, whatever that meant."

   Could Aemon have been onto something?  Did Aerys fail to light the Targaryen candle?  Rhaella's eggs would not hatch.  Is the result of this failure a Valyrian Sphynx?  A mixture of various houses joined by a common Dragon?

   This possibility would explain much and more, and it doesn't interfere too much with many of the other more established theories out there.  After all, Jon is already suspected of being a Targaryen, so much of the evidence already accepted works for this version.  It even explains many things better, as you can see in the pieces linked above.  Enjoy!

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Longclaw's True History

Spoiler Alert: This piece may contain spoilers from any material of A Song of Ice and Fire.

   Longclaw's history, as given by Jeor Mormont, was deliberately fabricated.

   It's interesting to observe that, until a year ago, many people were on-board with the idea that Longclaw was actually Blackfyre, one of two known ancestral Targaryen swords.  Then, George had to go and ruin everyone's fun when someone asked him about it on his blog:

Fan 1: "I'm a big fan of your work and have a question for you: Is Longclaw really Blackfyre, the bastard sword of the Targaryen kings? Searching through the books I found the description of both blades to be almost identical."
GRRM: "No."
Fan 2: "I think most people speculate that Longclaw may actually be Darksister. The sword brought to Castle Black by Bloodraven. Any truth to that?"
Fan 3: "Is there something hidden underneath the crypts of Winterfell?"
GRRM: "Hey, guys... enough of this. I am not going to reveal anything in the comments section of my Not A Blog. That's what the BOOKS are for."

   Notably, this exchange is reminiscent of the time George dodged the question of Rhaegar's burial.  George likes to answer questions as long as people don't get too near the truth of the secrets he wishes to remain hidden for now.

   Therefore, we face the question: why not Dark Sister?  The primary objection to the Darkclaw theory is a great litmus test for determining which fans are RPG gamers and which fans are historians.  Those who believe ASoIAF is a D&D rulebook will declare that Longclaw cannot be Dark Sister because a bastard sword cannot be a longsword.  I like a good RPG as much as the next guy, but that's not what George is writing.  For those who would like clarification, this handy primer from ARMA describes why it is perfectly acceptable to call a bastard sword a longsword.  This is especially true if the hilt was remade because The term [bastard sword] may derive not from the blade length, but because bastard-swords typically had longer handles with special 'half-grips' which could be used by either one or both hands.

Left: Dark Sister by Velvet Engine from The World of Ice and Fire.
Right: Longclaw from Jalic, Inc's official Valyrian Steel blade line.
The relative dimensions are in no way contrary to canon.
   Another common argument is that the physical descriptions of the swords are contrary.  This is great for a different litmus test - determining which readers can actually comprehend the words in front of them.  Let's start with the descriptions of Longclaw:

   The pommel was a hunk of pale stone weighted with lead to balance the long blade. It had been carved into the likeness of a snarling wolf's head, with chips of garnet set into the eyes. The grip was virgin leather, soft and black, as yet unstained by sweat or blood. The blade itself was a good half foot longer than those Jon was used to, tapered to thrust as well as slash, with three fullers deeply incised in the metal. Where Ice was a true two-handed greatsword, this was a hand-and-a-halfer, sometimes named a 'bastard sword.' Yet the wolf sword actually seemed lighter than the blades he had wielded before. When Jon turned it sideways, he could see the ripples in the dark steel where the metal had been folded back on itself again and again.

   You’ll want to wear that over the shoulder, I imagine. It’s too long for the hip, at least until you’ve put on a few inches.

   Slung across his back in a black leather shoulder sheath was Longclaw, the hand-and-a-half bastard blade the Old Bear had given him for saving his life. A bastard sword for a bastard, the men joked. The hilt had been fashioned new for him, adorned with a wolf's-head pommel in pale stone, but the blade itself was Valyrian steel, old and light and deadly sharp.

   "He let him feel the lightness, the balance, had him turn the blade so that ripples gleamed in the smoke-dark metal. "Valyrian steel," he said, "spell-forged and razor-sharp, nigh on indestructible."

   Longclaw was feather-light.

   Notice that while it is longer than the practice swords Jon is used to, it is short enough for a grown man to wear at the hip.

   Now for Dark Sister's descriptions:

   the Valyrian longsword Dark Sister, whose slender blade is designed for a woman's hand

   Blackfyre is "somewhat larger and darker" than Dark Sister or Lady Forlorn.

   The word "slender" is a reference to thickness or width, not length.  The fact that Blackfyre is "somewhat larger" may refer to length or width or both, but is ambiguous.  Ultimately, we have no reference for how the length of Blackfyre compares with Longclaw.  Nor do we have a reference for Longclaw's width.  Therefore, there is no point at which the sizes of the two swords contrast.

   Notice, also, that Longclaw's lightness is highlighted ad nauseum.  This is consistent with a Valyrian blade "designed for a woman's hand."  The slenderness of Dark Sister and Lightness of Longclaw are also quite consistent with the physical description of Snow himself!  Jon was slender where Robb was muscular, dark where Robb was fair, graceful and quick where his half brother was strong and fast.

   Observe the artistic representations of Dark Sister and Longclaw in the image and how similar the blades are, especially the three fullers in both.  Dark Sister's image is from The World of Ice and Fire.  See Ran's comment in this link regarding the canon of the book's illustrations.  Of Jalic, Inc's representation of Longclaw, George has this to say: "Chris and I have been trading emails for months, fine tuning the design, and we finally have one we love."   This certainly is not proof, but it is an apt demonstration of how they may look alike.

   There is one time that the word "great" is used in reference to Longclaw: Longclaw was slung to his saddle, the carved stone wolf's-head pommel and soft leather grip of the great bastard sword within easy reach.  Even if this did refer to a great size, it's quite ambiguous.  Consider, however, that the only other times the words "great bastard" are mentioned in any canon texts they refer to Aegon the Unworthy's sons, and one of them is the last known wielder of Dark Sister.

   This brings us to the biggest piece of evidence that makes Dark Sister a more likely fit for Longclaw than Blackfyre: Bloodraven.  He was a Lord Commander of the Night's Watch before he became a tree, and it's not unlikely that he left Dark Sister in what became Mormont's chambers.  It is widely believed that Bloodraven communicates through Mormont's unusual raven, which, as it happens, loves to perch upon Longclaw.  It also seems that they both gave Jon the blade:

   "The fire melted the silver off the pommel and burnt the crossguard and grip. Well, dry leather and old wood, what could you expect? The blade, now... you'd need a fire a hundred times as hot to harm the blade." Mormont shoved the scabbard across the rough oak planks. "I had the rest made anew. Take it."
   "Take it," echoed his raven, preening. "Take it, take it."

   Finally, here's another subtle nod to Dark Sister, sword of the famous Dragonknight, Aemon Targaryen: The gift of a sword, even a sword as fine as Longclaw, did not make him a Mormont. Nor was he Aemon Targaryen.

   It seems that Mormont is fibbing just a bit.  Why?  The man certainly demonstrates a notable understanding of Targaryen history in Jon's first chapter of the second book.  Could he be in on Ned's conspiracy?  I suspect that the history of House Mormont has been fabricated along with the history of its ancestral sword, but that is a story for another time.