Welcome to The Amber Compendium
Much has been said and written about George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire… hundreds or even thousands of essays, millions of posts on numerous forums and sites, entries on wikis in many languages, many YouTube videos, podcasts, blogs, analyses, theories… And indeed this awesome bookseries and World certainly deserve the attention and praise they got, get and will get over the passing years. Wide variety of themes, symbolism, metaphors, inspirations, characters, locations, plots and sub-plots, both heartbreaking and funny moments, scenes that make us like or hate the heroes and villains… they have all of it.
We can use many a term to describe ASOIAF… Personally I really like this interpretation by Sweetsunray, from introduction to her amazing series Mythological weave of ice and fire:
Reading George Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” can be like looking at a tapestry of the middle ages that features central figures in action, a few witnesses in the background, but also meticulous details of flora and fauna. Once you look beyond the main image, and concentrate on all the tiny details you notice the creator worked in some elves dueling with each other, and some dark figure hiding behind bushes, a fox catching a hare, seemingly all unrelated to the main figures and story in the forefront. We can dismiss these almost hidden scenes as unimportant, mere detail to build the background world. But it takes more hours to work in all those details than it does to weave the main scene. Then we notice the fox sigil embroidered on one of the main figures and start to consider that maybe it is not as unrelated as we first thought; that it actually may be telling us something more about the main figures. Once we understand and can make associations the tapestry gains layers of depth that sheds a new light on the whole. It does not change the story, but it makes it so much richer, renders clues, and interconnected.
Looking at the books from another perspective, looking deeper, re-reading and researching, analysing influences and symbolism is trurly worth it. GRRM masterfully weaves his threads of words, creating the picture we can appreciate and enjoy.
Every detail, every word, every scene matters, he’s able to hide clues and hints in both ancient legends and half-forgotten myths just as well as in scenes of the ‘main plot’ of the series.
Other novellas and books set in the World of Ice and Fire also contain such hidden precious gems… we just have to know how to look for them.
But now that we’ve heard one very good description of ASOIAF let’s take a look at what its author tells us:
I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows. And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.
GRRM speaks of himself as of an gardener – so we can look at the books as his garden.
Let’s quickly see some of the gardens and groves described in the series:
From A Game of Thrones:She had been born a Tully, at Riverrun far to the south, on the Red Fork of the Trident. The godswood there was a garden, bright and airy, where tall redwoods spread dappled shadows across tinkling streams, birds sang from hidden nests, and the air was spicy with the scent of flowers.The gods of Winterfell kept a different sort of wood. It was a dark, primal place, three acres of old forest untouched for ten thousand years as the gloomy castle rose around it. It smelled of moist earth and decay. No redwoods grew here. This was a wood of stubborn sentinel trees armored in grey-green needles, of mighty oaks, of ironwoods as old as the realm itself. Here thick black trunks crowded close together while twisted branches wove a dense canopy overhead and misshapen roots wrestled beneath the soil. This was a place of deep silence and brooding shadows, and the gods who lived here had no names.
At the center of the grove an ancient weirwood brooded over a small pool where the waters were black and cold. “The heart tree,” Ned called it. The weirwood’s bark was white as bone, its leaves dark red, like a thousand bloodstained hands. A face had been carved in the trunk of the great tree, its features long and melancholy, the deep-cut eyes red with dried sap and strangely watchful. They were old, those eyes; older than Winterfell itself. They had seen Brandon the Builder set the first stone, if the tales were true; they had watched the castle’s granite walls rise around them. It was said that the children of the forest had carved the faces in the trees during the dawn centuries before the coming of the First Men across the narrow sea.
Eddard Stark had taken the girls to the castle godswood, an acre of elm and alder and black cottonwood overlooking the river. The heart tree there was a great oak, its ancient limbs overgrown with smokeberry vines; they knelt before it to offer their thanksgiving, as if it had been a weirwood. Sansa drifted to sleep as the moon rose, Arya several hours later, curling up in the grass under Ned’s cloak. All through the dark hours he kept his vigil alone. When dawn broke over the city, the dark red blooms of dragon’s breath surrounded the girls where they lay. “I dreamed of Bran,” Sansa had whispered to him. “I saw him smiling.”
Lysa’s apartments opened over a small garden, a circle of dirt and grass planted with blue flowers and ringed on all sides by tall white towers. The builders had intended it as a godswood, but the Eyrie rested on the hard stone of the mountain, and no matter how much soil was hauled up from the Vale, they could not get a weirwood to take root here. So the Lords of the Eyrie planted grass and scattered statuary amidst low, flowering shrubs. It was there the two champions would meet to place their lives, and that of Tyrion Lannister, into the hands of the gods.
As we saw, there are many different gardens… and in each of them we can find different plants… trees, flowers, bushes, berries, vines…
Now, I beg your leave to take us on short digression.
Some time ago, Ravenous Reader, a Westeros.org forum user and huge contributor to The Amber Compendium, wrote the following sentence: Symbolically, reading is skinchanging!
This brings me to thinking about why I like and enjoy reading so much… Mayhaps it’s because it gives us a chance to look to the world with eyes and mind of another person, something we’ll never to otherwise (well… unless you’re immoral warg, like Varamyr Sixskins)… so in a sense, the books are trees… not just because they’re made from paper which is made from cellulose…
There are many kinds of trees… romantic rosewoods, creepy elms, weeping willows, bloodwoods, ironwoods of myth, apple trees and wormwoods, myrrhs, alders, almonds, hawthorns, yews and ashes, pomegrantes, mighty oaks, alien wroshyrs, ancient pines… and so many others…
Reading allows us to ‘skinchange’ them… to feel and suffer, cry and laugh, gain knowledge of days which are long gone, understand and come to love the world around us, see the wisdom of those we can not talk in person, learn and see… for skinchanging opens our third eye.
So when we read we can, at least for some time, become elms and willows, oaks and ironwoods… sometimes weirwoods… even mallorns.
Not each book fits everybody, just like lemon trees don’t grow in every climate and willows in every soil… but in that huge, ancient Wood certainly everybody will find a tree for himself.
From A Dance with Dragons:
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one. The singers of the forest had no books. No ink, no parchment, no written language. Instead they had the trees, and the weirwoods above all. When they died, they went into the wood, into leaf and limb and root, and the trees remembered. All their songs and spells, their histories and prayers, everything they knew about this world. Maesters will tell you that the weirwoods are sacred to the old gods. The singers believe they are the old gods. When singers die they become part of that godhood.”
Returning from this short trip into the woods (let’s hope no one got stuck there, tangled in treacherous vines, stabbed by thorns or poisoned by anemones), I can explain the purpose of this Compendium.
GRRM’s garden (maybe it should be called godswood or grove?) is full of various plants… they come from many regions and places… and here we’ll try to trace whence came the seeds from which it grew… There are pines and ashes of the cold Northern Europe, whithethorn of Ireland, mosses of Scotland, redwoods of America, cedars and corn, lemons and oranges, almonds and cherries… and sometimes we find seeds of mallorns buried deep underground, among ferns and ghost grasses. But George has created his own plants as well… some are quite similar to existing ones, yet different at the same time… smokeberries are cousins of blackberries and mulberries, but they’re not the same, weirwoods may look like mighty ash Yggdrasil, but they are hawthorns and Nimloth at the same time… and this is one of the reasons I love this series so much…
The Amber Compendium of Myth will explore and explain all those mythological inspirations, influences and references… from Norse, Celtic, Baltic, Slavic, Germanic, Irish, Scottish, Cornish, Arthurian, Anglo-Saxon, Welsh (as you see they’re all more or less connected to the regions close to Baltic and North Sea, hence ‘amber’ in the title) but from time to time we’ll look at others as well… Middle Eastern, Chinese, Mesoamerican, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Tolkienic (for he wanted and did write mythology), and at folklore and traditions from all around the world. For GRRM, as master gardener, can plant and cultivate so different plants in the very same grove – and it looks so beautifully!
So, if you’re fans of the esoteric symbolism and metaphorical writing (just like me) and you appreciate that GRRM keeps those ancient and important traditions alive…
The journey begins…
Welcome to The Amber Compendium of Myth in ASOIAF!