The Symbolic Significance of Ebony & Persimmon in ASOIAF

This is the first essay I wrote for the ASOIAF Forum.

I was not then nor am I now convinced of the conclusions or speculation of this significance, but I still believe that both ebony wood and persimmon fruit are symbolic of … something.

I’ll get back to this topic at some point down the road, but it will be with respect to the meaning of the symbolism identified here.

ebony-tree

Introduction

Reading ASOIAF as a modern-day mythological epic, as Lucifer Means Lightbringer (among others) encourages us to do, has opened up an entirely rich and varied world that goes far beyond mere games of thrones, clashes of kings, storms of swords, etc. You can hardly get past a few pages before you are inundated with symbolic text linking the current events in the books to meteorological or mystical events of the past – and, possibly, the future.

Using this methodology, which has uncovered strong links between supposedly disparate symbols such as weirwoods, the Grey King and Azor Ahai, you start to look for other patterns hidden in plain view, invisible information which is easily brought to light if you know what you’re looking for.

Or, rather, if you know how to look for it.

In this essay, I will examine the elemental duality which GRRM seems to be expressing throughout the narrative in a number of ways. Then, I will propose that one symbolic aspect of this duality has been more apparent than the other, and so I will bring forth some evidence of the opposing aspect through a few examples taken from the text of the main series. Finally, I will briefly speculate on the ramifications of this elemental duality and how it could potentially impact future events in the ASOIAF saga.

While the speculation is a fun and creative exercise for yours truly, my primary objective is to correctly identify the symbolic representations of this elemental duality such as they exist. I hope to encourage the reader to challenge these findings and undergo their own search for meaning behind these and other symbols. In particular, as I haven’t examined TWOIAF, the Dunk & Egg novellas or the other in-universe writings in great detail, I welcome and encourage any contributions from those writings in particular.

Before moving on here, I strongly urge you to read or listen to the work by @LML and others with respect to mythical symbolism in ASIOAF. It would make understanding this essay a whole lot easier.

A World of Black & White

Even novice readers of the ASOIAF series may notice the several references of various forms of elemental duality. It’s right there in the title: Ice and Fire. But it goes far beyond this. Many different oppositional themes are presented to the reader. Fire is also brought up in association with shadow (and ice conjures images of the “pale shadows” of the Others). Geographically, you have North vs. South, and Westeros vs. Essos. You have your two weird-ass seasons – summer and winter – which seem to reflect each other in duration and intensity. You have the faith of the Red Priests which has the god R’hllor up against The Great Other. You have the two most significant and symbolically-rich characters in Jon and Dany, who seems to mirror each other with their associations with ice and fire, man and woman, north and south, west and east, cold/wet and hot/dry, black and silver-gold hair … dead and alive?

For the time being, however, I want to focus on the various ways the colors black and white complement and contrast each other in ASOIAF.

The most obvious example is the House of Black and White, which is the home temple for the Faceless Men. Their religious belief is that there is only one god – the Many-Faced God – which is found in all other representation of gods from around the world. Note that both the acolytes and the priests of this religion wear robes of black and white. Also, while inside their temple, they display icon representations from other Planetos religions; however, the temple entrance itself is two-toned: a weirwood door with an ebony face, and an ebony door with a weirwood face.

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This, of course, brings to mind the taijitu (i.e. “yin-and-yang” symbol), which is describes the duality of human nature, our light and darkness, goodness and evil, order and chaos, etc. and how these aspects are as complementary of each other as in opposition.

Bagua_Zhao_Huiqian

In AFFC, Arya thinks that “the look reminded her somehow of the heart tree in the godswood at Winterfell. The doors are watching me.” Notice that she doesn’t say this only of the weirwood-face-on-ebony door, but of both doors.

Why the equal parts black and white if they are worshipping one god? Perhaps this symbolizes life vs death. Yet, they only worship the god of the dead. Valar morghulis, and all that. Are they saying that death is part of life? That death is both sweet and sour? Are they denying the existence of the god of life itself?

Another example is the sigil of House Swann, as worn by Ser Balon Swann while in Dorne.

His snowy cloak was clasped at the throat by two swans on a silver brooch. One was ivory, the other onyx, and it seemed to Areo Hotah as if the two of them were fighting.

House_Swann

Black and white, in conflict.

Black and white are also the colors of the onyx and ivory cyvasse pieces used by Princess Myrcella and Prince Tristayne in Dorne. While these are not exactly the same make of all cyvasse pieces used in other games in ASOIAF, it may still symbolize black and white in conflict with each other.

Other examples are the black and white ravens of Oldtown, the white cloaks of the Kingsguard being modelled after the black crows of the Night’s Watch, the dark Valyrian-steel swords and the mystical pale white sword Dawn, and the black Starry Sept in Oldtown and the white Great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing. The double doors at Tobho Mott’s residence on the Street of Steel in King’s Landing also feature a hunting scene carved out of weirwood and ebony.

My favourite example is the twin weirwood-and-ebony doors Dany comes across while tripping in the House of the Undying:

Finally, the stair opened. To her right, a set of wide wooden doors had been thrown open. They were fashioned of ebony and weirwood, the black and white grains swirling and twisting in strange interwoven patterns. They were very beautiful, yet somehow frightening. The blood of the dragon must not be afraid. Dany said a quick prayer, begging the Warrior for courage and the Dothraki horse god for strength. She made herself walk forward.

Beyond the doors was a great hall and a splendor of wizards.

Drogon helpfully brings attention to these doors in his imitation of Poe’s Raven as he perches above them … before gnawing at the wood.

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A more subtle example is House Blackwood, formerly of the North, followers of the old gods, and possessor of a ginormous dead weirwood in their castle. Blackwood known for a white wood? Are they named for the ravens perched in the tree every night? Or is GRRM telling us something about the importance of black wood in his story by contrasting against the obviously more noticeable weirwood against the family name?

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(Also note here that Daenerys “Stormborn” Targaryen, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons is half Blackwood.)

Debate the significance of any or all of these symbols if you like, but for the purposes of this essay, we will assume elemental duality exists, that it is symbolized at least in part by constrasts of black and white, and that it exists for a purpose of some significance in ASOIAF.

Would a Woodchuck Chuck Black Wood?

There’s little need to elaborate on the ubiquity or significance of the weirwood when it comes to events in Westeros in general, and the North in particular:

  • The tree never dies unless meddled with (e.g. as Aemon says, “cold preserves”)
  • Dead weirwood never rots, but turns into stone after a thousand years
  • Symbolically, the tree and its white wood have been linked with bone, milk, milk glass and the moon, and is described as both white and pale as bone or milk
  • It’s linked to the First Men or the North in general and the Starks in particular
  • It is associated with godswoods
  • It provides a home for ravens
  • It supports underground caverns for creepy beings, such as the Children of the Forest or the Ghost of High Heart
  • It is made into thrones (specifically, at the Eyrie, and seats for Bloodraven, Bran and Beric Dondarrion under giant weirwoods)
  • It’s a repository or conduit of information and/or power of the old gods and their avatars, the greenseers, e.g. Bloodraven.

Because of this, the weirwood appears to have significant symbolic value toward the “Ice” aspect of the elemental duality of ASOIF.

Yet, outside a few instances of cut or carved weirwood, this very hardy and useful tree is found nowhere in Essos, where a significant portion of the story is set. So we ask ourselves whether there is a complementary form of tree or wood to the weirwood which is:

  • Associated with death or darkness
  • Represents consumption (e.g. by fire) rather than preservation
  • Black as opposed to white, and linked with black substances, objects or beings
  • Closer to the dragon heartland in Essos, such as Valyria, Asshai or the Great Empire of the Dawn
  • Associated with Daenerys, Targaryens and/or Valyrians
  • Associated with a fire god like R’hllor and corresponding avatars as opposed to the old gods
  • Associated with dragons
  • Associated with other creepy fire beings
  • Made into a throne
  • A repository or channel for power or information of the “anti-” old gods, such as R’hllor
  • Otherwise associated with the “Fire” aspect of the elemental duality of ASOIAF

There are a few candidates for such a type of tree or wood. In Westeros, you have ironwoods, which was devised in the mind of GRRM and doesn’t exist in our world. Ironwoods are described as being black and a source of useful hardwood. Ned executes Gared, the Night’s Watch deserter, on an ironwood stump. Ironwoods are prevalent in at least some Westerosi godswoods, the haunted forest north of the Wall and the wolfswood near Winterfell. It is likely the origin of the name of House Yronwood, and possibly also that of House Blackwood, which may have originated in or near the wolfswood. The doors to the crypts of Winterfell are made from ironwood, so there is a possible mystical connection here.

There doesn’t seem to be any connections between the ironwood and the forces of Fire and fire gods in the same manner as the weirwoods have with Ice and the old gods, and there don’t appear to be any in Essos. There might be something there, but I cannot find evidence as such at this point in the story, and as such its narrative or symbolic purpose remains ambiguous.

Another candidate are the unnamed black-barked trees found in Qarth near the House of the Undying. The inky-blue leaves of this tree are used to create the thick blue hallucinogenic wine called Shade of the Evening.

While Shade of the Evening certainly has associations with magic or psychosis with the Qartheen warlocks, the Undying and the eldritch-to-be Euron Crow’s Eye, there doesn’t seem much ubiquity of the tree or usefulness of its product outside of freaking people out. Therefore, these black-barked trees could be ruled out in terms of having a symbolic relationship in contrast to the weirwood.

Ebony is more prevalent in ASOIAF than either ironwood or the black-barked trees of the Undying, but the frequency of mentions of ebony remains far less than those of weirwoods. This could be because ebony has no significance whatsoever, but it could also be the result of fewer POV characters in Essos or that the ebony has less of a cultural influence to the peoples of the east as weirwoods do to the northern Westerosi.

Searching through the published ASOIAF, the majority of references to ebony are those with respect to the “ebon skin” of Summer Islanders, such as Jalabhar Xho, Quhuru Mo or Chataya.  Of the remainder, we have:

  • The weirwood and ebony carvings in the double doors at Tobho Mott’s residence
  • The ebony-and-gold palanquin (burdened on white and black oxen, no less) given to Daenerys by Xaro Xhoan Daxos in Qarth.
  • The wide wooden doors “fashioned of ebony and weirwood, the black and white grains swirling and twisting in strange interwoven patterns” as seen by Daenerys in the House of the Undying
  • Prince Doran Martell’s ebony-and-iron rolling chair
  • The simple polished ebony bench serving as Daenerys’s throne in the pyramid of Qarth
  • The weirwood door with ebony face and ebony door with a weirwood face at the House of Black and White
  • The carved ebony statue of a man with a lion’s head seated on a throne in the House of Black and White
  • The ebony chest with silver clasps and hinges supposedly encasing the white skull of Ser Gregor Clegane, and
  • Under the giant weirwood north of the Wall, “before them a pale lord in ebon finery sat dreaming in a tangled nest of roots, a woven weirwood throne that embraced his withered limbs as a mother does to a child”

These all seem to have more significance then either the black-barked trees of Qarth or the ironwoods of Westeros. To summarize, we have associations with:

  • Doors or passageways in conjunction with weirwood
  • A pair of conveyances (including one riding white and black oxen)
  • A chest constructed to transport a skull (symbolically linked to weirwood or moon)
  • Three thrones (Daenerys, Doran and Bloodraven), and
  • An idol in the House of Black and White, which seems to stand out from the rest

Ebony is said to be harvested in the Summer Isles, along with bloodwood, mahogany, purpleheart, blue mahoe, burl, tigerwood, goldenheart, and pink ivory. It doesn’t appear to grow anywhere else. We have no ebony trees actually appearing in the book.

ebony

Or do we?

The Ebon-Nexus and the Persimmon Tree

I admit, I’m an uncultured oaf and, as such, I had no idea that a fruit known as persimmon even existed until recently. Have you noticed the number of persimmon references in ASOIAF?

So what?

According to what I’ve read on the internets, persimmon trees are known to be quite resistant to pests and disease. They are one of the last trees to leaf out in the spring, preventing damage from late frosts, and the fruit hangs on well into the winter.

That in itself doesn’t mean anything.

You’re right. Persimmon fruit can be described as having a yellow-orange-red color, sometimes found in the shape of a heart.

bigstock-Persimmon-74168251-840x560

Wait … what? A fruit that could resemble a fiery heart? Okay, that’s odd, but nothing to get too excited about. What else can you tell me about it?

Well, the persimmon tree is a species of the genus Diospyros. Etymologically, this name was derived from the words Greek words dios and pyron, which is erroneously but popularly given rise to referencing it as “divine fruit” or “Jove’s fire”.

Whoa, hang on. You mean people mistakenly but commonly link persimmon to the mythological fire of the gods? Like, what Prometheus stole from heaven and brought down to Earth? Well, that’s still weird, but this could be quite the coincidence.

That’s right, it could be a coincidence. Also coincidentally, modern Greeks refer to the fruit as “lotos“, giving rise to the assumption that this was the lotus fruit eaten by the intrepid voyageurs of Homer’s Odyssey.

Is that what caused Odysseus and his fellow seafaring warriors to abandon their quest to return home and linger for an extended length of time?

Yep.

[pause] … Go on.

The genus Diospyros also includes those species of trees grown for ebony wood.

Get the hell out of my house.

While this all might be nothing, the coincidences found with the nature and popular references to persimmon in our own world are too interesting to ignore as they are applied to ASOIAF.

The persimmon tree and fruit are mentioned a several times throughout the series, mostly associated with Dany:

  • In Qarth, Dany sends the traditional persimmon to the Opener of the Door to curry favour with the Pureborn
  • After her destruction of the House of the Undying, she eats cold shrimp-and-persimmon soup as she dresses once again like a Dothraki before she is to leave Qarth
  • In Astapor, she sips tart persimmon wine from a tall silver flute while negotiating for the Unsullied
  • A persimmon tree grows beside the pool on the terrace at the top of the Great Pyramid of Meereen
  • Xaro Xhoan Daxos selects a persimmon from a fruit platter while treating with Dany in Meereen
  • In ADWD, Dany thinks of the persimmon tree shortly before she dreams of Quaithe while on the Dothraki Sea.

Yep, Dany, the girl who puts the “fire” in ASOIAF, loves her persimmon. Hardly anyone else does. In fact, there was only one other reference to persimmon in the entirety of ASOIAF associated with another character. Early in AGOT, Ned visits Pycelle in the grand maester’s solar:

“Lord Arryn’s death was a great sadness for all of us, my lord,” Grand Maester Pycelle said. “I would be more than happy to tell you what I can of the manner of his passing. Do be seated. Would you care for refreshments? Some dates, perhaps? I have some very fine persimmons as well. Wine no longer agrees with my digestion, I fear, but I can offer you a cup of iced milk, sweetened with honey. I find it most refreshing in this heat.”

There was no denying the heat; Ned could feel the silk tunic clinging to his chest. Thick, moist air covered the city like a damp woolen blanket, and the riverside had grown mostly unruly as the poor fled their hot, airless warrens to jostle for sleeping places near the water, where the only breath of wind was to be found. “That would be most kind,” Ned said, seating himself.

Pycelle lifted a tiny silver bell with thumb and forefinger and tinkled it gently. A slender young serving girl hurried into the solar. “Iced milk for the King’s Hand and myself, if you would be so kind, child. Well sweetened.”

Did you see that? Ned Stark, our symbolic King of Winter, was offered persimmon, the fire of the gods, but instead chose iced milk – and both ice and milk share symbolic resonance with weirwoods.

I propose that, for the purposes of this story, the persimmon fruit and tree and ebony wood are one and the same, and that they hold the same symbolic significance. With one or other or both, these elements appear to be more closely related to Dany’s arc than that of other characters, and in alignment with fire symbolism.

Black Clouds, Silver Linings

Among other potential symbolic linkages to ebony and persimmon that I’ve found is silver. Silver, of course, comes up all over ASOIAF and used in many contexts, but it is very often found in close proximity with ebony or persimmon objects:

  • The little silver bell rung by Pycelle when treating with Ned
  • Tobho Mott, the owner of the home with the weirwood and ebony carvings in King’s Landing, “wore a black velvet coat with hammers embroidered on the sleeves with silver thread. Around his neck was a heavy silver chain and a sapphire as large as a pigeon’s egg”
  • Dany wears a tight silver collar and silver sandals when presenting the traditional persimmon to the Opener of the Door in Qarth
  • Dany tosses off this silver collar after while on the ebony-and-gold palanquin with Xaro Xhoan Daxos, and then interacts with her bloodrider Jhogo, who holds a silver-handled whip.
  • In Qarth, Dany wears a small silver bell braided in her hair as she breaks her fast on a bowl of cold shrimp-and-persimmon soup, then she rides her silver horse out of the city to the waterfront
  • Dany sips persimmon wine from a tall silver flute in Astapor
  • In ASOS, Dany breaks fast under a persimmon tree, then dresses with a silver sash, goes down to the audience chamber and sits on the ebony bench, where “her bloodriders were waiting for her. Silver bells tinkled in their oiled braids.”
  • The ebony chest holding the Mountain’s skull has silver clasps and hinges

Don’t forget that Dany has silver-gold hair too.

There remain instances where silver is not mentioned in the text or otherwise apparent with relation to persimmon or ebony:

  • When Xaro Xhoan Daxos selects a persimmon from a fruit platter while treating with Dany in Meereen
  • When Dany thinks of the persimmon tree shortly before she dreams of Quaithe while on the Dothraki Sea.
  • The ebony-and-weirwood doors in the House of the Undying
  • The ebony-and-weirwood doors at the House of Black and White
  • The carved ebony statue of the Lion of Night in the House of Black and White
  • Prince Doran Martell’s ebony-and-iron rolling chair
  • Under Bloodraven’s giant weirwood

The black-and-silver motif reminds us of a black night sky filled with silver stars, such as Beric “The Symbol that Rides” Dondarrion’s starry cloak, or Dany’s vision of Quaithe and her starry eyes while tripping out on the Dothraki Sea in ADWD.

Speaking of Quaithe…

What the Seven Hells is up with Quaithe?

No one knows, really. What do we know?

  • She’s a shadowbinder
  • She speaks the Common Tongue with hardly a trace of an accent
  • She wears a dark-red lacquered wood mask
  • She has shiny eyes
  • She’s into voyeurism, probably

That’s it. We don’t know what she wears. There’s no comment on her skin color (or if any skin can be shown), and Dany makes no mention of clothing. She also speaks cryptically and never gives a straight answer, like that smug asshole you met in university who smirks and says “actually…” whenever you state a fact. It’s really annoying.

Quaithe_Amok

Outside of Dany recalling the shadowbinder’s cryptic prophecies, Quaithe only appears – in person or in visions – six times in the ASOIAF text. Four of these instances are tied with references to ebony, persimmon or silver:

  • Dany is riding her silver when Quaithe departs after escorting her khalasar to Qarth
  • Dany wears a silver collar and shoes while riding in a palanquin with Xaro Xhoan Daxos through Qarth. She leaves the palanquin along with her bloodrider Jhogo to see a firemage, and encounters Quaithe talking weird-ass shit. Quaithe touches Dany on the wrist, and Jhogo moves her hand away with his silver-handled whip
  • On the terrace of the Great Pyramid of Meereen, Dany encounters Quaithe at night under the persimmon tree, moonlight shining in her eyes
  • Dany recalls fondly of her persimmon tree on the Dothraki Sea. She finds herself under the night sky, with the moon rising and the black sky filled with stars. Seeing Quaithe in a vision, Dany thinks, “Her mask is made of starlight.”

During the other two meetings with Quaithe, we see symbolic references of a different sort. While sailing to Astapor, Dany encounters Quaithe in her darkened cabin with no signs of ebony, persimmon or silver in the text. Outside her room are her bloodriders Aggo, of the double-curved dragonbone bow, and Rakharo with his golden-handled arakh. She’s on the ship she renamed after Balerion, the Black Dread. “Balerion seemed to wake with her” just before Quaithe’s appearance. In this event, then, Quaithe can be linked to a giant black dragon.

Daenerys’s first encounter with Quaithe at Vaes Tolorro is even more interesting, as it’s packed chockful of symbolism. They have found refuge in the City of Bones, a white-walled city that is littered with bones, twisty mazes of streets, handles of stone flagons almost mistaken for white snakes, a tall marble plinth in one of the city squares, and cold, fresh water to drink from wells. Remind you of anything? It’s as if Bloodraven’s weirwood cavern was moved to the Red Waste.

Knowing that she didn’t want to stay, she sent out her three bloodriders to find someplace to go.  Rakharo returned after describing the black bones of a giant dragon with great black jaws. Aggo returned describing the ruins of two cities, one of which was warded by a ring of skulls mounted on rusted iron spears, and the other produced an uncut fire opal that was presented to Daenerys. If you are familiar with the symbolic representations highlighted by @LML, you’ll note that both dragons (and their black bones) as well as the iron spears represent the comet debris and the moon-meteor impact which caused the Long Night.

So again, returning to Dany at Vaes Tolorro, we have the symbols:

  • Black dragonbone
  • Skulls impaled on rusted spears, and
  • A red lacquered-masked shadowbinder who says “We come seeking dragons”

These three symbols (along with the uncut fire opal) are mentioned in succession when Daenerys is given the opportunity to leave her weirwood analogue home.

Maybe GRRM is trying to tell us something.

What We Do in the Shadows

Quaithe is a shadowbinder. So is Melissandre. What does that mean?

  • They, um, bind shadows
  • They live in or are associated with Asshai
  • They … like fire?

Shadowbinders are the most enigmatic of all institutions of known POV characters in ASOIAF. They are said to scare the bejeesus out of everyone in Planetos, including those who reside in Asshai of all places, and are the only people who venture up the Ash River to the deep dark Shadowlands.

Asshai_RENÉ_AIGNER

Melissandre is a priestess of the red god. Is Quaithe also a R’hllorean? Maybe, with her dark-red mask and all, but that’s all we have.

One thing we know both Mel and Quaithe have in common is that they hide their appearances. Melissandre uses a ruby-red glamour, similar to that which disguises Mance Rayder as he infiltrates Bolten-held Winterfell. Quaithe, as I mentioned, uses a wooden mask. Why is there absolutely no other description of Quaithe? Dany describes the jewelry, clothing, and other appearances of almost everyone she comes across, possibly because she’s a spoiled shallow teenage girl, but more likely because GRRM doesn’t want us to know more information about Quaithe just yet. Maybe Quaithe is just a pale-skinned Milk Men Qartheen and so she isn’t distinguishable from others in that city, but even if she did come across this way, I suspect that she is glamouring herself in some fashion.

A clue might be given with the black-skinned Moqorro, a seriously impressive priest of R’hllor. His complexion isn’t like the ebon-skinned Summer Islanders; it is “black as pitch, his hair white as snow.” This suggests that he isn’t merely from another human race, but has been transformed through magic.

Moqorro

Notice that in the chapter immediately following the introduction of Moqorro in ADWD, Bran sits on a weirwood throne in the north with Bloodraven, the last greenseer. Included in this crazy chapter full of kick-ass symbolism is another mention of “pitch” to describe the color black:

The great cavern that opened on the abyss was a black as pitch, black as tar, blacker the feathers of a crown. Light entered as a trespasser, unwanted and unwelcome, and soon was gone again; cookfires, candles, and rushes burned for a little while, then guttered out again, their brief lives at an end.

(If this passage was written by David Lynch, it would have included Special Agent Dale B Cooper’s immortal request for his cup of joe, “As black as midnight on a moonless night.” But I digress.)

Twin Peaks references aside, the text continues:

The singers made Bran a throne of his own, like the one Lord Brynden sat, white weirwood flecked with red, dead branches woven through living roots. They placed it in the great cavern by the abyss, where the black air echoed to the sound of running water far below … There he sat, listening to the hoarse whispers of his teacher. “Never fear the darkness, Bran … The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.”

That this chapter immediately follows the introduction of Moqorro was no accident. Undoubtedly, GRRM intended to juxtapose the pale white greenseer embracing the darkness against the pitch-black prophet embracing the light.

So this is where begin to speculate: Moqorro is a shadowbinder, a powerful sorcerer and worshipper of the fire light, in the same vein as Melissandre and Quaithe. Because of this, I also speculate that Mel and Quaithe are not only hiding their potentially advanced age from the non-magical beings of Planetos, but that they are hiding their pitch-black skin which would totally freak people out and make the story too obvious to the reader.

And I speculate that the dark-red lacquer mask worn by Quaithe is made from black ebony wood, which acts as a glamour source and hides her appearance. This is why Dany doesn’t describe Quaithe beyond the face; she doesn’t see any other part of Quaithe other than her mask and eyes, or else she completely disregards the rest as irrelevant and forgettable. The only thing that matters is the relationship between ebony and Quaithe.

Ebony and Weirwoody: A Song of Disharmony

To sum up, I believe the elemental duality in AOIAF is real and intentional, and that this duality is symbolized throughout the text with the inclusion of weirwood and persimmon ebony (which are one and the same) in the narrative.

I table it all here:

Associations Weirwood Persimmon Ebony
Mortality Preserves life Consumes life (maybe?)
Color White Black
Primary elements Ice Fire
Other related elements Bone, moon, milk Dragonbone, iron, night sky, persimmon, possibly dragonglass candles
Geography Northern Westeros Southern Essos
Characters Ned Stark, Jon Snow, the greenseers Bloodraven & Bran Stark Daenerys, the shadowbinders Quaithe & Melissandre
Religion Old gods R’hllor
Beasts Ravens Dragons
Thrones Eyrie, Bloodraven, Bran, Beric Dany (ebony throne placed under the persimmon tree at the top of the Great Pyramid)
Magic Communications medium for Bloodraven; repository for old-god knowledge Glamour for Quaithe; no evidence that it holds or transmits information

Yes, this isn’t an exact science, and I don’t expect the persimmon ebony tree to be an exact polar opposite of the weirwood. There is no evidence of a shadowbinder sitting under a persimmon tree (and Dany sitting on her ebony throne below the Great Pyramid’s persimmon tree doesn’t count – yet), for example, and I’m stretching the symbology in some aspects to make the connections.

Nevertheless, I think we have just enough information to believe that persimmon ebony is symbolically juxtaposed against weirwood to some degree in the published ASOIAF and, because of this, we can conjecture how this impacts some less prominent yet no less significant characters in Quaithe, Melissandre and Moqorro. Also because of this, I believe that symbols of white and black will continue to reflect and counter each other as the ASOIAF reaches its crescendo, and that, contrary to the adherents of R’hllorism, Euronism or any other religious prophecies, neither aspect of the elemental duality will end up victorious but forever in conflict.

This symbolism matters to GRRM and, as such, it should matter to the reader. By identifying the use of persimmon and ebony in the story, we can look for related symbols indicating what happened in Planetos’ past and what we could expect to see as the ASOIAF reaches its crescendo.

Am I onto something? Where have I gone wrong? What am I missing, particularly from the supplemental text such as TWOIAF? I open the floor to your discussion…

 

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1 Response to The Symbolic Significance of Ebony & Persimmon in ASOIAF

  1. Pingback: The extraordinary symbolism of Tobho Mott | Red Mice at Play

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