Clouds and Mirrors: Dr. Who’s The Snowmen

Imagine Calvin and Hobbes, with A Christmas Carol, a Sherlock Holmes detective mystery parody, an English fairy-tale, some steampunk, and a hint–just a pinch–of true love in a whole lot of wonder.

And those were some of the most immediate feelings I had watching the Prequel to “The Snowmen” Christmas Special of Dr. Who.

Now, I am going to go into “The Snowmen” Episode itself: into Spoiler Territory.

First off, from the trailers and the title alone, I got a major Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons vibe: especially from the beginning when a young lonely boy–Walter Simeon–has a snowman of his own creation begin to talk back to him in 1842. I couldn’t help but feel sympathy for Walter because most of us have been there: where we don’t understand children our age–or even relate to them–and would rather have imaginary friends instead. Unfortunately, Walter made a very bad imaginary friend who would continue to be there with him for the next fifty years: essentially becoming a giant steampunk snow globe and, well, mutating with more snow being added onto it.

Also, a word of advice: if someone ever offers to feed you, it would probably be prudent to figure out of there are more words in that sentence: you know the ones after “I will feed you …” as the now-Doctor Simeon’s workers discovered to their chagrin.

Anyway, then we get introduced to Clara. And then we get reintroduced to The Doctor.

Clara goes outside of the bar that she is working at to see a Snowman appear there pretty much out of nowhere. We then see The Doctor walking by in passing and she accuses him of making it. The Doctor looks very different now: as much as the same Regeneration can. He looks … tired, and subdued. Really, he is very sad and he has reason to be when you take into consideration what happened to his last Companions. He wants nothing to do with anything save for the bare minimum of contact with some of his allies.

So after he gives her some advice, he leaves. But even when very depressed and angst-ridden, The Doctor says interesting things or his mere existence is a curiosity in itself. So what does Clara the barmaid–and later as it turns out part-time governess do? Well, it’s quite simple.

She follows him.

So we go from a the beginnings of a weird horror story to what is now a Christmas fairy-tale adventure as Clara continues to stalk The Doctor and discovers more strange and new things about him. The Doctor has a Sontaran friend/servant named Strax that attempts to get a memory-worm The Doctor has to erase Clara’s memories under his order. Strax is hilarious in that he often advocates militaristic force in all situations and speaks something like this, “Impudent human scum. Prepare to be destroyed … I mean, may I have your coat please?” The Doctor also refers to him as a Potato more often than not.

Of course, with such a mentality Strax keeps touching the memory-worm and forgetting where it is: though there is evidence to believe that the former clone soldier isn’t quite as “stupid” as he attempts to act and often does these things to annoy people if it amuses him: especially The Doctor. Also, Clara doesn’t really want her memory erased, but plays along with interacting with The Doctor: which is consciously what he doesn’t want to happen–he doesn’t want to make a new bond–but subconsciously continues to converse anyway.

This won’t be a part-by-part dissection of the entire Episode, just to let you know. The Doctor realizes that robbing Clara of her memory wouldn’t be a good idea because she needs to remember to “not-think” about the Snowmen so they don’t multiply and try to kill her … conveniently enough.

But while The Doctor is trying not to get involved with the world or–really–people, there are two other people trying to figure out what Dr. Simeon is up to. So if you watched the Prequel link above, you’ll know that there is a Silurian woman named Madame Vastra and her human maid-wife Jenny Flint who essentially solve crimes in the Victorian era.

Dr. Who has always, aside from being an epic show of crazy linked ideas has–at least in the twenty-first century–been very open-minded and progressive. I mean, Jack Harkness is an omni-sexual being and there is such a wide array of civilizations and times out there in the Whoverse that something like different kinds of sexuality is just a given really. So a primordial lizard woman and a human woman being a couple–and being married–in Victorian times is not very shocking to me.

In fact, aside from Vastra–and even then people rationalize her existence as having something of a “skin-condition” (I find it hilarious how the people of Earth’s past never react at all to aliens in Dr. Who or even The Doctor when he or his Companions are wearing entirely different styles of clothes from that time-frame: it just goes to show you how most humans are either oblivious, more open-minded, or simply do not give a damn than even we believe)–two women having a relationship and even having an arrangement not unlike marriage in Victorian times is not unheard of at all. It is pretty telling that for the past while and it seems especially now in 2012, same-sex marriage has been gaining a lot of acceptance and support in–or at least is now really challenging–the social consciousness of many places. But really, I just like how these two characters work together and understand one another: actually complementing each other’s strengths and actions.

These two confront Dr. Simeon about his activities and he doesn’t seem bothered by this (in fact he doesn’t seem to have much emotion at all), and he states that it doesn’t matter what they do because, get this:

Winter is coming.

Oh, Steve Moffat. That reference to A Song of Ice and Fire was hilarious. My Mom didn’t know why I was laughing so much.

So Vastra and Jenny eventually find Clara: whereupon they ask her why she is so interested in The Doctor. By this point in the game as it were, Clara has seen the TARDIS after climbing a spiralling ladder like Psyche chasing Cupid, or Jack going up the beanstalk, into a cloud where it is resting and she knows that there is some bad stuff about to happen at the house that she is a governess at: particularly with a pool that is frozen over after a previous governess died in it. One of her wards has been having dreams of this former governess coming back to punish her and her brother. She knows she needs The Doctor.

Vastra and Jenny force Clara to answer the former’s questions with one-word answers. At one point, Vastra flat-out asks Jenny why she thinks The Doctor should help her. Of all the words that she could have chosen, she spoke one word.

Pond.

Yeah. Of all the words. That one.

So this does get The Doctor’s attention. So he starts parodying Sherlock Holmes: figuratively and literally. He beats the giant snow globe with a stick. Then he later he does more sleuthing where, despite himself he goes up to the manor where Clara is staying after exchanging hand gestures at each other. After Clara and her wards are being confronted with a snow-version of the former governess that drowned, The Doctor pulls a Punch and Judy play by having the wee-little puppet man of Mr. Punch use his sonic driver on her.

Because, you know, “That’s the way to do it!”

Doctor PUNCH!

In fact, making another popular cultural reference, this whole episode was–like many of them but particularly this one–a Tragical Comedy, or a Comical Tragedy. Yes, I am a Neil Gaiman fan. It also doesn’t help that Mr. Punch is an enduring English symbol and archetype. Or maybe it does.

It turns out that Dr. Simeon and the Snow Globe want the Ice Governess: to use her as a prototype to make a race of ice people that will supplant humanity. Clara and The Doctor lure the Ice Governess away. This is not before The Doctor tells the children’s father that he is Clara’s “gentleman friend,” though far less eloquently and more abstract-awkwardly as he usually says things and Clara herself decides to take matters into her own hands and kiss him. Because she seems to have a special kind of impulsive streak tempered and complemented by daring and a strange form of intuition. Not deduction like Vastra: Clara is pure intuition with a devil-may-care attitude. Right: that is my last Punch and Judy reference for today.

Finally, in the TARDIS, after Clara surprises The Doctor by not being predictable about her first impressions of said TARDIS, The Doctor finally seems to give into something that he really wants and gives her a key. You know the key: the one to said TARDIS. You also know what that means. This is a big thing for him to do: after everything that has happened. I honestly don’t know how he survives losing everyone he cares for, and I can understand why he has periods where he wants nothing to do with anything.

I also understand how he can’t not stay away when events conspire to bring him and this strange Victorian girl: who speaks Cockney and free in her pub job, and “proper crisp English” with a hint of mischief as a governess for upper middle-class children … and who is also immensely beautiful. Yes. I said it.

Their relationship unfolds fast, but what is Time to a one thousand year old Time Lord and to a human being, who only lives, let’s face it, in a brief moment of said Time? It’s everything.

That is the point where the Ice Governess comes after them and drags Clara and herself to a death by falling off The Doctor’s cloud.

Because the Universe seems to be a bitch to The Doctor like that.

Of course, it’s not so simple as all that: Comical Tragedy or Tragical Comedy as it all may be. The Doctor ends up having his confrontation with Dr. Simeon and his Snow Globe. Dr. Simeon is the proprietor of the Great Intelligence Institute. There was something really ominous about the name “Great Intelligence”: as though it had more significance than being a one-off Dr. Who monster. The Doctor critiques his antagonists as stating that making a world of snow people is “Victorian values” incarnate: at least overt values.

See, that is the thing about Victorian times. There was how you were in public and how you were in private. Some people understood that you could be different in different spheres and there was an implicit understanding that what you did in private was your–and yours–own business. Of course, there is other side of it: in that some people chose–or felt forced–to embody stratified notions of gender and social interaction in all aspects of life.

The father of the two children that Clara cares for does not think it proper to show affection or even take of them himself, for instance. In addition, there were real laws in place that forbid overt or “discovered deviant behaviour”: otherwise known as displaying affection or sexuality in a non-sanctioned manner. Think of Vastra and Jenny’s relationship, or even the fact that Clara did not use her Cockney accent with the children often: to the point where they called it her “other voice” or the other voice of the lower class of Britain perhaps? Perhaps only in a society like this one can an accent be considered another voice.

Now consider that Dr. Walter Simeon grew up in this strange schizophrenic culture. The adults were sad and even considered it unhealthy that he wouldn’t interact with his peers at all. But while Clara flouted and manipulated the rules, and Vastra and Jenny were exceptions and lived as “an open secret”–with a great deal of geniality, politeness, honesty, and a whole lot of “none of your business,” Simeon dealt with it by deciding that human beings were “silly” and that he didn’t need anyone.

The Great Intelligence is a highly psychically-receptive being. It took all of these impulses from Dr. Simeon and anyone around it: shaping itself. Of course, it goes deeper than that. The Doctor talks about how the snow that is the extension of The Great Intelligence only mirrors living beings around it. But there are a lot of mirrors in this entire Episode: especially The Doctor and Dr. Simeon. Both–in a lot of ways–are scared and withdrawn little boys that do not want to interact with the Universe as it is. Dr. Simeon patterns the Great Intelligence with his need for order and an inner emptiness.

It actually reminds me of another mirror that The Doctor’s other mirror possesses:

His new Control Room desktop-theme is much different than the other recent ones. It is apparently reminiscent of the Fourth Doctor’s TARDIS room, but there is something more angular, far sharper in angle and just …. colder about that blue light in there. The inside of his TARDIS represents his past mood and mind after the loss of his Companions. Bear in mind, this is the first time we have seen this desktop of his and it is no coincidence that it looks as cold as the season of 1892. The fact is: Winter came to more than just Great Britain. If things hadn’t been challenged, The Doctor’s life would have been what the Great Intelligence wanted to make the world: a land of “always winter, but never Christmas.”

I also feel I need to make special note here: I do not say that Clara or any of The Doctor’s Companions are mere mirrors of him. Writing about mirrors reminds me of something that Virginia Woolf stated with regards to how women had–and are–perceived only entities in relation to men. This can be applied to Dr. Who and his trend of female Companions. All of them, especially Clara, are entities and fully actualized people in their own right: something that Dr. Who writers Davies and Moffat attempt to express. Whether or not this is successful is something that can be debated at length, but I personally think is something a very fine distinction that needs to be made: that just as The Doctor gives definition to them, they give definition to him as well. As it is, even though The Doctor’s desktop remains as it is so far, The Doctor himself is brought out of that mood by the warmth of another–exemplified by Clara already asking where the kitchen is in his TARDIS–prompting him to express his own and no longer deny what he is feeling.

Then you have Simeon, or the impulses that drive this otherwise emotionless man, that can only seem to function around extensions of himself … or hollow shells. Even the wrathful Ice Governess, the result of his and the Intelligence’s progress is just a mirror–a symbol–for the repressive aspect of the Age of Victoria. But as it turns out, it is Dr. Simeon who becomes the hollow shell when The Doctor’s attempt to destroy Simeon’s memory–as the thing that fuels the Great Intelligence as its mirror–backfires and the Intelligence possesses Simeon. However, as with most of The Doctor’s enemies, it made one miscalculation.

Ignoring the rest of the human emotional spectrum.

Remember Clara? Well, she is dying. And the Intelligence feeds from emotion and memory. So as Clara is dying, everyone in the manor–the children she cared for, their father that cared for her, and the others–grieve and their feelings manifest on the Snowmen and turn into water.

Or, as The Doctor put it, he can no longer stay on his cloud … because it has turned into rain.

So the Great Intelligence seems to dissipate and Clara dies.

Or do they?

In the end, there are some … interesting details about Clara. You know, even without knowing these things before hand, I knew–from her very interaction with The Doctor–that Clara would be special. Each of his Companions is special, but she will be more so.

We have essentially been watching The Doctor grow up from his first incarnation onward. Each Companion has been integral to this. It is strange to watch The Doctor interact with his future wife River Song in temporal-reverse and she will only associate with him so far because she has intimated that he has a long ways to go before he is the man she paradoxically will meet later.

I’m going to intimate some more and possibly be very, very wrong. Now we’ve seen how The Doctor acts with his other female Companions. We know he had a family on Gallifrey ages ago: though they may have all been artificially Loomed. I believe he has been married before and is no stranger to having a romantic relationship. But consider that his whole world was destroyed. He has struggled with survivor’s guilt and has a certain kind of detachment to cope with it. Even when he travels with others it just reinforces that safety protocol of distance.

I will say this now and possibly be wrong, but the only time I had seen him look at someone like he did with Clara was with Rose.

And that says a lot.

Just that one scene where they looked at each other as he gave her that silver key.

All right, I admit it. I am a romantic. But I want to express one main thought: Clara made this entire episode. Period.

So as this look at “The Snowmen” comes to a close, I just want to say a few more things. I looked up The Great Intelligence. It has in fact been in the Whoverse before and … has Lovecraftian origins even. That just makes me smile. And that is it. It is good to see The Doctor up and out again. I look forward to seeing him try to figure out the physical–if not the humanly unique and individual–mystery of Clara Oswin Oswald and where he might have … seen her before…

And where he might see her again.

Dreams and Dragons, Wolves, Wargs and Wights: Shamanism and Magic in A Song of Ice and Fire

So in my last post on this matter, I promised to talk about shamanism in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire: especially with regards to some particular characters. If you have not read the books yet or you have not finished reading the books in the series that exist so far, please stop reading this post now because there be spoilers here.

All right. So now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’m going to unpack some interesting characteristics that I’ve noticed in some of the Targaryens and the Starks. These two Houses are descended from the Valyrians and the First Men respectively: making them the potential heirs to various kinds of magic that manifest subtly at first and then become more overt later.

First, let’s deal with the blood of the dragon. We know from the novels and the novellas in particular that the Targaryens–a family descended from the mystically advanced and dragon-riding Valyrian Freehold–have members with Dragon dreams. These dreams are highly figurative and metaphorical but they can essentially tell the future or even I would imagine say something about the past. Aside from these dreams, however, and inbred family members that are either genii or insane with predilections towards greatness and fire, the current Targaryens do not seem to possess anything else in the way of magic.
Even with dragon eggs and some knowledge of the maegi–with that mystical group’s knowledge of blood magic–other Targaryens could not bring their dragons back from extinction.

With one very notable exception.

daenerys and dragon

While her brother Viserys seems to have inherited the insanity and pettiness of the family, and Maester Aemon has only the dreams and the genius, Daenerys Targaryen has “dragon dreams” and awoke her dragon eggs. But how? How did she, out of all her family,  properly “awaken the dragon” within her? How did she become immune to fire for just enough time to stay with her dragons on Khal Drogo’s and Mirri Maz Duur’s funeral pyre?

The thing to understand is that is how it all happened. The reader already knows that Daenerys has the dreams. But the dreams aren’t enough. They are the first step it seems. When the dragons died in Westeros, a lot of Valyrian lore and ritual about them was lost over the generations: with details such as how to hatch dragons, breed them, and tame them disappearing into the mists of time.

Now the easy answer to how Daenerys awoke her dragons is to say that she used blood sacrifice to awaken them in the flames and access the latent power inside of her. Then you also have to take into account Melisandre of Asshai’s assertion that dragons can only be awakened by royal blood and then consider that Daenerys’ unborn son Rhaego Targaryen died in Mirri Maz Duur’s ritual so that Khal Drogo could “live” again. This–combined with the maegi’s own death–could have awakened the dragons.

However, there is something else to consider. When Ser Jorah carried Daenerys into the tent where Mirri Maz Durr was performing a ritual to “save” Khal Drogo, she either almost died or something far worse threatened to swallow her spirit. She had a dream of running away from a great blackness and, as she did so, she passed several generations of Targaryens urging her onward to save herself: from the earliest to the last. If I recall properly, even her son was there. It is at that point, that I believe, after this experience that something wakes up in Daenerys: namely the power of the blood of the dragon.

I’m not sure if her immunity to fire was temporary, but it probably was as she has burned her hands after these events. But it seems, to me anyway, that Daenerys accessed the blood of her ancestors and maybe even their spirits to become whatever it is she is on the road to being in addition to the Mother of Dragons.

One important rite of the shaman is to die and be reborn. The flames from which Daenerys Targaryen came from seems to cover that in a very symbolic way. But as I said before, there are others aside from the Targaryens who follow something of a shamanic path.

The Starks are the others that I am thinking about: particularly Bran Stark.

We know now that the First Men and their descendants have the capacity to be wargs: to be able to send their spirits into animals and either control them or influence them through symbiosis. We also know that the “simple minded” can be influenced in this way as well by a warg. An interesting real-world parallel is when you look at people accused of being werewolves, it had sometimes been said that they were sorcerers that shed a wolf skin or put in on. It is metaphorically similar to how a warg works and it definitely has shamanic undertones.

Off-tangent, the mere fact that the Westerosi Houses adopt animals for their sigils and familial-identity is pretty totemic. I’d imagine their ancestors also adopted these traits as protective measures: having the belief that by linking these animals to them they would gain their abilities in some spiritual way. They may have even had shamans or wisemen among them. But some of the First Men’s descendants go further than that in taking “animal skins.” In addition, some tend to have “wolf-dreams”: not merely living through their adopted animals, but sometimes having visions as well.

Bran and most of the Stark children, including Jon Snow, have been having these to greater and lesser extents: though not Sansa because of the death of her direwolf Lady. But Bran and Jon are the most striking of the Starks to this regard. We know that wargs are born, but I strongly suspect that if what Bran’s teacher, the Three-Eyed Crow, says is true about a rarer few among the wargs being greenseers, then something must set off this trait.

Bran Stark’s powers as a warg and dreamer only truly manifest when he’s pushed out of the tower and left to die. He is physically crippled: as though he paid the price for this death which he came back from. The young Stark even has an older teacher to guide him. In some shamanic traditions, a shaman loses a physical part of them before gaining power. Usually, it is their eyes or sense of physical sight but not always. They also tend to have mentors or teachers.

While I do think Bran had the potential for being a greenseer in him, there needed to be a traumatic event or powerful catalyst to bring it out: as with some shamanic awakenings. I also imagine that if anyone else had gone through that fall, warg or no, they probably would not have woken up.

But then we have Jon Snow.

Jon has his direwolf Ghost and has been seen to go into the latter’s mind sometimes. He can’t go into multiple animals yet and he probably isn’t a greenseer. But he does have “wolf-dreams,” and one prominent dream he had at one time was being in the crypts of Winterfell where the dead of the Stark family were viewing him from oldest to the most immediate (if only in perceived disapproval because of his bastardy). Does this sound familiar at all to another person having another dream about their ancestors?

As for Jon’s future, I am just as much in the dark about it as everyone else, but I suspect that if he is as close to death as he is now and he somehow comes back he will not be the same … or maybe he will be even more of what he is supposed to be.

These speculations aside, I know there are problematic elements to consider. I mean, Theon Greyjoy has nightmares of the Winterfell crypt and he isn’t even a Stark: not remotely. And others have dreams too besides some of the Starks and the Targaryens. But there are a lot of really eerie parallels going on here that I just wanted to draw attention to and put in some kind of framework.

I guess in the end it comes down to a discussion of what magic in Westeros and Essos actually is. What is fascinating is that the children of the forest had greenseers before the First Men and we know the children taught the First Men about the land and their magic. It’s stated that children and perhaps even humans that are greenseers change eye-colour or have strange eye hue to begin with. Bran’s eyes seem normal, but there is also a rite in which he has to ingest weirwood seed paste to fully awaken his greenseeing abilities: specifically in sending his spirit in the weirwood trees all over the known world. As such, he has to be physically integrated into a tree to do so.

What is striking is Bran’s master. I suspect that the Three-Eyed Crow is the Targaryen bastard Bloodraven and if he is, and I’m sure he is, he is not only an older man than Maester Aemon was–if you can still venture to call him a man at this point–but he is of Targaryen blood and is a greenseer. We know that Bloodraven was an albino and had red eyes. Targaryens have always had different coloured eyes from everyone else. I wonder how a Targaryen can be a greenseer: if only perhaps through his mother’s First Men-descended Blackwood line?

But the Targaryens themselves, like I said, have different coloured eyes and hair from everyone else and they sometimes have strange abilities. I wonder if there is any relation somehow: at least in how some magic works.

It also makes me ponder another matter. The red priests of Rh’llor in Essos use fire to heal, look into the future and even in some cases resurrect the dead by breathing their fire into a body’s mouth. It makes me wonder if there is some relation to them and ancient Valyria: aside from the fact that the Westerosi Prince that Was Promised or the Essoi world saviour Azor Ahai reborn is supposed to come from the Targaryen line if all things are to be believed or be consistent. I also wonder if Rh’llor was one of the gods that the Valyrians worshipped as well before their Doom: though it is also likely that worship of him came from Asshai-by-the-Shadow. Then you also have to consider that Rh’llor’s great nemesis is supposed to be the Great Other and, according to Melisandre, the god or ruler of the Others beyond the Wall. Certainly, like the Others, the priests can reanimate a person yet they lose their short-term memories, they do not heal properly, and they become essentialized versions of their previous selves … or the animated echoes of their last task.

And this brings me to something else. Aside from the fact that I wonder if the order of the green men on the Isle of Faces have any relation to the greenseers, there is also the nature of a greenseer to consider. They link with the weirwood trees and they know how to presumably influence animals and simple-minded beings: even take control of them. They are apparently so potent that it is suggested that the gods of the First Men are actually greenseers: either still conscious or comatose and dreaming in their trees.

The Others apparently use necromancy to animate their wights. The wights seem to have no personality but they do have remnants of memory that allow them to serve their masters. Their eyes also change colour into an ice-blue: a hue matching that of their masters: the whitewalkers. It is also notable that when the warg Varamyr Sixskins abandons his body for his wolf after he unsuccessfully tries to transfer his spirit into a woman, that he only sees the woman later animated as a wight and not his original body with it. Perhaps the presence of warg blood keeps someone from being possessed or being reanimated in the same way: the character of Coldhands being a potential example for instance.

https://i2.wp.com/images4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20110411014304/gameofthrones/images/c/cb/White_Walker.jpg

We also don’t know what the Others–specifically the whitewalkers–actually are. They could be a people or maybe they are constructs? What disturbs me is that no one really knows about the lands they come from or like I said what they even are. There are hints of babies being sacrificed or being shaped into them. Certainly, the fact that they dissolve when exposed to dragonglass is a very strange phenomenon and may be indicative of the possibility that they are constructed, but a lot of that is just rumour and conjecture like a lot of this post.

But I wonder what lies beyond the Wall and the known wildling territories. I wonder if something else is lying in wait and also sleeping: but dreaming lucidly. I wonder if the whitewalkers really are the Others … or if the Others are something far more terrifying.

It’s fun to actually go through all of this. I know I don’t have thorough textual evidence or quotes to back up what I say, but I do see there being something of a pattern here. I just don’t know what it is. Ygritte once said, “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” and that makes at least two of us. I do look forward, however, as an avowed fanboy to learning more as the story continues to present itself.

What’s That Sound? It is the Sound of A Song of Ice and Fire … Singing

File:A Game of Thrones Novel Covers.png

I admit that last week I was not meeting my quota of a post on Monday and Thursday. But in my defense, I had a very good excuse: namely, finishing off reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.

I’ll tell you now: I didn’t originally anticipate writing an article on this series. In fact, it’s ironic because I never planned on reading the series in the first place. I know: that’s blasphemy and all that. So here I was at the turning point of finishing my Master’s Program, typing up and haphazardly organizing my notes on mythic world-building when my friend Noah messages me and asks me essentially where I’ve been for about a year now. I tell him I’ve been writing my paper for that time and more and as well going a little bit crazy.

So he tells me about A Song of Ice and Fire. Now, I only knew about it peripherally. I had friends who were–and are–still complaining that Martin is taking too long writing the books and they spend that time speculating about what happens next. You have to understand, I went through my epic fantasy reading phase where each book is a tome and a half long a while ago at this point. Not too long ago, I was reading and rereading books and articles for my Master’s Thesis. I’d also attempted to slog through all of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series and failed from lack of attention. In addition and I know this is really going to sound snobby, I sometimes have this inherent distrust for something that is that popular: though I’ve ignored that distrust multiple times in the past and this was no except.

But it was also more than that. I didn’t want to start reading something and investing myself into it. Because those kinds of books–if they are good ones which A Song of Ice and Fire is–they will do it to you and I was already becoming a master of procrastination. Moreover, I was afraid of letting more imaginary characters into my head space and investing in them if that makes any sense at all.

It turns out, though, it was exactly what I needed.

It was also very fitting. The irony that I had originally avoided reading a series of mythic world-building because of my mythic world-building project did not escape me and it was a problem that was rectified after letting myself table-top role-play again and hearing in tangent things about Westeros and that world in snippets. You know what I mean: your friends telling you little things about green men and fire priests and politics but not wanting to spoil anything for you because they believe that it is a crime that you of all people aren’t reading this story? Yeah, those kinds of snippets and previews that you read online as well.

So I will try not to go into any spoilers and just make a few writing observations about Martin’s ongoing masterpiece. The best way to start this is to talk about something that seemingly doesn’t relate to anything here but ultimately will.

I’m going to talk about Achilles’ shield.

When I was in Undergrad, I took a course called Interpretations of Homeric Epic where our professor told us about the shield of the Myrmidon hero Achilles in Homer’s Iliad. What is so special about this shield? Well, it is a shield that encapsulates the sun and moon, the world, the people farming it, warring in it, and serves as a microcosm of an entire world: the same world that Homer depicts in his narrative that he applies to our world when he writes or tells it. One possible literary term for the metaphor of the Shield, if you’d like to see it, is ekphrasis: which is essentially a method of describing and bring an experience to a reader or listener through the use of immense and multi-layered detail.

I will freely admit that I took some dilettante-like and potentially inaccurate liberties in defining ekphrasis as a literary device–which Achilles’ Shield represents–but I also think it really describes the intricate details inherent in A Song of Ice and Fire‘s narrative. The books themselves are a source of ekphrasis: along with the weirwood trees and other beings that find themselves becoming more immanent and saturated into their world.

Through a few perspectives, you will find yourself awash in a sea of beauty, sex, cruelty, filth, banality, mystery, hints, poetry, laughter, politicking, battle, subtle magic and death: lots and lots of death. And not just figurative character deaths, but brutal and literal character deaths. Through each chapter from a different person’s perspective, you will watch them interact with this finely woven world-tapestry of things right in front of them and inches away and either watch them change in the process … or wink out entirely. That is what A Song of Ice and Fire is: at least from my own understanding.

What amazes me, however, is not only how Martin can turn a phrase but also how he is able to keep so many details straight–large and small–and make his narrative more intricate, interlocking, and flexible than a Maester’s chain. I sometimes feel like I have to go to a Citadel of my own to get everything straight but his world stretches out so beautifully even with all the horror: and this is not counting the terrifying supernatural menace here either. It does make me despair of the humans in Westeros and that whole world sometimes: just as it sometimes intimidates me as a reader and especially as a writer. I wonder just how Martin is going to resolve all of this.

I could go on somewhat off-tangent to talk about the shamanic element in Daenerys Targaryen and Bran Stark’s journeys, but I might save that for another post. I will however say one thing. The real reason it took me so long to create another post on here was because I was reading George R.R. Martin’s Dunk and Egg novellas: stories that take place approximately a hundred years before his main saga.

I didn’t know if I would like them, but I did. A Song of Ice and Fire is full of intrigue, manipulation, treachery, and politicking–known fondly as “the game of thrones”–but the Dunk and Egg stories look at a hedge knight and his strange squire wandering Martin’s multi-layered world and bringing almost a … purity or simple wonderment to another otherwise dark yet beautiful place.

Now I think I will end this long post with a quote from one of the books. It encompasses everything I feel when I read good literature: especially from a genius like George R.R. Martin.

Martin states, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies … The man who never reads lives only once.” If you want to know the context of this quote or indeed of a lot of the things I just said, read the series. You will not be disappointed. I’ve already lived quite a few lives in various forms in the saga of Ice and Fire. I expect there will be more before this is all said and done.