An Old Way of Reading A Song of Ice and Fire

I started reading the ASOIAF books in 2011, right after I saw the first episode of the Game  of Thrones series. After about five complete re-reads, as well as at least one go through each of the published literary canon, I remain fascinated by the world George RR Martin has created.

children of the forest

The HBO series is great viewing no doubt. Wonderful characters, varied storylines, smashing special effects, but it pales in comparison to the depth and complexity and human insight tackled in the written work.

With every re-read, I find more intrigue and subtext after subtext that I never found previously. This has been enhanced appreciably by the ASOIAF fandom, in the forums and social media and podcasts and YouTube channels.

Over the past year or so, I’ve been introduced to an entirely new subtext, that of the layers upon layers of mythological symbology that Martin has appropriated from various cultures from around the world.

What really brought this to light was the Great Empire of the Dawn video from History of Westerns podcast featuring Lucifer Means Lightbringer.

LmL explains his approach as such:

The central hypothesis of the mythical astronomy theory is that many of the ancient legends of Westeros and the rest of the “Planetos” are actually telling us about the global cataclysm which is known as the Long Night through the use of symbolism and metaphor. This would be consistent with mythology in real life, which is quite often based on observation of the heavens and the cycles and characteristics of nature and its forces…I’ll be comparing the various legends and myths of the story to the main characters and their symbolism, and to scenes which I think contain metaphorical references to the Long Night events. As you’ll quickly see, I do not think George chooses his descriptive language haphazardly, but rather with the utmost intention. The reoccurring turns of phrase that we find throughout the books create a tapestry of symbolism which is remarkably consistent, and I would suggest, meaningful.

Here’s LmL’s main thesis:

To LmL, to History of Westeros, and to all who have contributed to reveal this hidden symbolism in the writings and opened up a vast new perspective, you have my thanks.

Synchronicity is a bizarre and wondrous thing, and it so happens that at that same time I was learning about comparative symbology, I started becoming familiar with the online lectures of Jordan B Peterson. Dr Peterson is a clinical psychologist and a tenured professor out of the University of Toronto who lectures on the psychological significance of mythology and religion. His lectures have become incredibly popular online, and for good reason.

By following these lectures and reading material, including a study of some of Dr Peterson’s own influences, such as Karl Jung, Friedrich Nietzsche and Mercea Eliade, I quickly came to the conclusion that ASOIAF would be a gold mine for a similar approach to myth and religion.

You see, the work of LmL and others, while both prodigious and insightful, has missed this approach, at least to date. While LmL notes that this symbology is meaningful, so far the bulk of his effort has been toward exposing these symbols and metaphors, their sources and analogs, and how they are being applied to plot, character and theme.

But mythology is more than simply a means to understand material phenomenon. Yes, natural forces and cycles inspired many mythological stories, such as how the abduction of Persephone explains the cycle of the seasons. However, it’s much more complex than that. The reasons these stories and symbols endure is because they resonate to the very core of our being, of who we are as individuals, societies and even the cosmos. These symbols aren’t esoteric abstractions; they are us.

I don’t want to remake the wheel, which would be poorly constructed even with the blueprint provided by more observant folk than me. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. This approach is as old as the stories themselves. Ancient societies understood them implicitly. They weren’t simplistic, anachronistic pagans worshipping rocks that fall from the sky. They were people trying to figure out how to live with each other in the most successful way possible, just like we are.

I hope my efforts on these pages will be to take these uncovered representations and ascertain their underlying psychological meaning, as best to my ability.

Perhaps someone has already undertaken this approach. I’m not aware of them, but that’s not my concern. This is an exercise to develop my own ability to read and critique.

If I’m really lucky, I might gain a deeper understanding of myself.

And maybe survive the next Long Night.

– DM, August 20, 2017