Today, on the first Sunday of Advent 2017, our calendar begins. It’s going to be… atypical – as in place of small toys, chocolates or other sweets, from the 3rd of December till the Christmas Eve, one post will be published on The Amber Compendium every day. I hope that I’ve chosen the lenght of those texts reasonably – I’ve decided that the posts published from Monday to Friday shouldn’t be long, but in those destined for Saturdays and the four Advent sundays, I’ve allowed myself to write something longer. The first post will appear today – it’s going to be one of those more comprehensive essays.
This plan, as it happens with nearly all plans, especially those in A Song of Ice and Fire, had to undergo certain changes – for example, because during Advent several holidays are celebrated – the liturgical ovservance of Saint Nicholas, commonly called ‘Santa Claus Day’ (PL Mikołajki) and the Winter Solstice (21st Dec.).
There are many foreigners (from the point of view of a citizen of Poland) among our readers, so please let me quickly explain one thing: in Poland, and many other countries, the day dedicated to St. Nicholas is the 6th of December. Although this varies from one region of Poland to another, usually Santa brings gifts to kids on the 6th, and on the Christmas Eve Baby Jesus plays the role of the gift-bringer.
On those two special days longer texts will be published.
How will a post from ‘The Calendar’ look like?
In each of them I’ll concentrate on one particular topic – for example, in today’s, which is going to appear shortly after this Introduction, I’ll explore similarities between a chracter from the A Song of Ice and Fire universe (Coldhands to be more precise), and merry Tom Bombadil from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium. I wouldn’t call those short essays ‘theories’, as I won’t be trying to convince you that I do possess some extraordinatry ability to tell you what will happen in the future ASOIAF novels, or to tell you whence came GRRM’s inspiration for this or that aspect of his Westeros…
I can merely share my remarks concerning the works of those two great authors – for example on various similarities (of motiffs, events, characters, places etc.) between them – and point out things which, in my opinion, are references to Tolkien in George R.R. Martin’s books. Obviously, some of those nods/references/homages/paralels between ASOIAF and Professor Tolkien’s works (and/or mythology from our world) are quite easy to notice and decipher, therefore it’s easy to agree that they are in fact intentional. But even then, a question remains: why George referenced this specific myth, character, history or symbol? Is it some kind of a hint about the future plot developments in ASOIAF, or maybe simply artistic tribute to his great predecessor?
Let us use Norse Mythology as an example. (We know that it heavily inspired both authors, as Tolkien wrote about it in his letters, and in GRRM’s RRetrospective we read that while in college, studying journalism, he has attented a course on Scandinavian history and culture: ‘We read Norse sagas, Icelandic eddas, and the poems of the Finnish patriotic poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg. I loved the sagas and the eddas, which reminded me of Tolkien and Howard‘).
It seems that the matter at hand is quite easy: GRRM knows Norse Mythology, so if we find a reference to (for example) Baldur, Odin or Freyr in ASOIAF, 2+2=4 – and magically, we know how ASOIAF will end. Many readers arrived at such conclusion – for example, the numerous theories claiming that ASOIAF will end just like Ragnarok. Of course, I’m not saying that it certainly won’t. On the other hand, when I look at George R.R. Martin’s previous works, I get the impression that he never copies something from mythology and literature 1:1.
For example, take a look at the way George uses classical motiffs from the mass culture – in ASOIAF, we find numerous motiffs from fairy tales, legends, history… but George doesn’t stop at mere duplicating ‘something from Tolkien’ (like the archetypal Dark Lord – Morgoth, Sauron etc.) in Westeros. Martin always makes changes, adjustments, adds something of his own. Sometimes he attempts to deconstruct a cliche or an archetpye, sometime he tries to make it better, show his own version. He does something c r e a t i v e… Many ASOIAF fans unfairly attack using archetypes and ‘cliches’ in literature. Alluding to Carl Jung’s research, all mankind share the same patterns in their collective unconscious. Archetypes, templates. They manifest as symbols, myths, metaphors, characters… George’s approach to them is creative and imgaginative, not simply reproductive. It apears to me that few modern authors are able to do so.
In my view, GRRM’s approach to myth is quite similar. Therefore, when we see a reference to Ragnarok in ASOIAF (some name, sigil etc.), we shouldn’t expect that exactly the same event will take place in Westeros….
… but this doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it to analyse and search for such references.
For this reason, in this Calendar I will limit myself to pointing out similarities between ASOIAF, Tolkien’s works and mythology. I’ll attempt to prove that some thing/character/event i s a reference – but the question what does it mean, I’ll leave open to You. Even if I share some personal remarks, I encourage you to think about this on your own (and, if you want, to share your finds).
To sum up, in ‘The Advent Calendar’, a new text will appear every day. In this post I’ll:
a) present and discuss some element from ASOIAF which (at least according to me) is a reference to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien,
b) point out some aspect of ASOIAF which might be inspired/based on mythology from our world,
c) explore some custom/tradition connected with Christmas
When talking about the real-world mythologies, I’ll mainly draw upon two books: The Golden Bough by Sir James George Frazer, and The White Goddess by Robert Graves. Why those two?
Because I believe that there is strong evidence that George R.R. Martin has read Frazer’s opus (for example the description of the custom from The Free City of Pentos, the prince of which is sacrificed in case of defeat or poor harvest). In ASOIAF we find things which might be allusions to Graves (I’m going to present one of them tomorrow). In case of J.R.R. Tolkien, there is no need to prove anything – C.S. Lewis mentioned that he discussed The Golden Bough with Tolkien). And he knew Robert Graves from the University of Oxford.
Both books cause some controversy, especially Graves’. However, whether the thesis and conclusions presented in them are correct and true in our world, I see no reason why George R.R. Martin couldn’t use them as source of inspiration when he created his own world. It’s similar to the problem of Atlantis – on which The Great Empire of the Dawn, and possibly Valyria, seem to be based. It does not matter that according to most scholars, Atlantis never existed. Nothing prevents a motiff of such advanced lost civilization from showing up in a fantasy novel. Likewise, even if Graves’ thesis about the tree alphabet supposedly used by the Celts are fanciful and inaccurate from the point of view of science, nothing prevents such an alphabet from showing up in a fictional universe.
Even if the things I took for references to Tolkien/mythology in ASOIAF, or the theories about ancient origins of Christmas traditions presented here are wrong, I still believe that I’m doing something worthwhile when I write about them and encourage you to begin your own research.
Once, when answering a comment made by a reader who believed that Mythical Astronomy is interesting but unrealistic, because it’s too great, I wrote that even if this was the case, it’d still be noteworthy, because it shows, that such the idea to use symbolism and metaphors in such way could be conceived in a human mind.
I encourage You to take part in this Advent quest, to admire the beauty and richness of the world we live in, of literature, art, symbolism, mythology, legends, traditions… of all those wondeful things a creative human mind can compose.