The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire: Minas Tirith and Osgiliath – The Hightower and Oldtown
The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.
Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?
We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.
They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.
– George R.R. Martin, On Fantasy
Minas Tirith, the marvellous City of Gondor, with its seven levels, High Court, the Citadel and the White Tower of Ecthelion piercing the sky like a spire, is the hallmark of high fantasy and certainly deserves its place among its most recognisable locations… Surely, this famous and significant place from one of George R.R. Martin’s favourite novels, The Lord of the Rings would have found its way into his own fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire?
Indeed, like so many ideas from Tolkien’s works, it has had a profound effect on some aspects of GRRM’s own worldbuilding. In this short essay, a standalone episode of my The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire, the series in which I explore how The Legendarium of Professor Tolkien influenced the world of ice and fire, I’ll present my theory that certain tower of remarkable height and the ancient city in which it stands are references to Minas Tirith and its Tower, and were also partially inspired by the another major city of Gondor and its former capital, Osgiliath.
When I initially set out to put down those ideas on paper, albeit the virtual one, my draft included a short section about the history of Gondor and my intent was to provide you with some context to Minas Tirith and Gondor in general, discussing the major events from its history, its most notable kings and stewards, fiefdoms and provinces, battles, plagues and so on… But as I was writing, I suddenly realised that I have written over two thousand words, and yet, I have only just began writing about actual Gondorian history, as thus far I was just detailing the origins of the Dúnedain, the people who founded Gondor (and its twin realm, Arnor, in the north), having survived the Downfall of Numenor. But still, I wrote on. By the time I finally finished the sections about the 33 Kings and 26 Ruling Stewards of Gondor, that short section was nearing eight thousand words.
Thus, I decided to cut it from this essay, as I wanted to keep it relatively short and easy to digest, focusing only on this one thread of LOTR parallels in ASOIAF. If you want to, you can read this section, which – supplemented with maps – became an essay of its own, dedicated only to Tolkien, The Brief History of Gondor, Its Rise, Zenith, Decline and Fall of Kingship. It summarises over three millennia of Gondorian history, explaining how this realm was founded, chronicling its territorial expansion and zenith followed by slow but steady decline and talking about the problems it faced (such as civil war over succession, conflict with the Corsairs of Umbar and the Haradrim, the looming threat of Sauron and his Ringwraiths). Furthermore, it discusses how Gondor came to be kingless and explains the origins of the Stewards who governed the realm for 969 years, until the king returned. From this extra episode, you can also find out how Arnor, the northern Dunedain realm, fell and whence comes Aragorn’s claim to the throne of Gondor. If you have the time, I wholeheartedly recommend checking it out.
And now, Minas Tirith.
As I’ve said, Gondorian history is very rich and described by Tolkien in some detail. Some periods, the most eventful ones, are discussed to a greater degree in the Appendix of LOTR, and we can learn much about the others from The History of Middle-earth, the monumental series edited by Professor Tolkien’s son Christopher, and stories such as Disaster of Gladden Fields (which describes the first years after the War of the Last Alliance, which is the opening scene of The Fellowship movie adaptation, and the valiant last stand of Isildur’s knights at Gladden) and Cirion and Eorl and the Friendship of Gondor and Rohan which is set during the reign of the 12th Ruling Steward and explain how Rohan, the realm of the horselords, was founded.
Those books and stories provided invaluable help for me while writing The Brief History of Gondor. Interesting and rich in detail as they might be, those texts are relatively unknown to most fantasy fans, and thus with this essay, I’ll stick with what the narrative of The Lord of the Rings tells us about Minas Tirith. I’ll refer to some information from the appendixes as well. Sadly, we can’t be sure to which of those less known Tolkien books GRRM has read, and which he knew at the time when he was writing his first Ice and Fire novels. What we know for sure is that he’s read LOTR and it’s one of his favourite fantasy books. I think it is safe assume that he knows The Silmarillion as well, since his own books contain many references to it, for example names like Beren, Berena, Meliana and Daeron.
But fortunately, all concepts from Tolkien’s world that have – at least in my view – inspired GRRM’s Oldtown, the Citadel and the Hightower, appear in LOTR and thus, they are things about which GRRM has surely read about, most likely several times, not some obscure details from little-known stories. The question is: are those parallels intentional or not. Well, I hope that after reading this episode, you’ll decide on your own.
When it was founded at the end of the Second Age, Minas Tirith wasn’t the capital city of Gondor. It wasn’t even named Minas Tirith.
Elendil the Faithful, son of Lord Amandil of Andúnië, fled from the Downfall of Númenor with his sons Isildur and Anarion, their families and trusted retainers. Numenor, also called Westernesse was the mighty advanced civilization of Arda that was destroyed because of Sauron’s intrigues, and manipulation of its arrogant 25th King Ar-Pharazôn the Golden. Ar-Pharazôn turned against the Valar (the angelic powers ruling Arda in the name of Eru Iluvatar the God) and the Elves, and his party, called the King’s Men, persecuted another group called the Faithful who wanted friendship with the Elves and peace.
Both groups founded colonies in Middle-earth, but where the Faithful shared their knowledge with the natives and sought peaceful coexistence, the King’s Men wanted to enslave and subjugate the nations they deemed lesser, conquering their lands. In the end, Ar-Pharazon sailed to the Undying Lands in the West with his Grand Armada and invaded the realm of the Valar, which led to Iluvatar’s intervention and the drowning of Numenor.
Elendil and his followers fled the doomed isle on nine ships and landed in Middle-earth, where they were reunited with Faithful colonists who accepted Elendil as their High King. He founded the Northern Kingdom of the Dunedain (which means Men of the West and refers to Numenoreans and their descendants) called Arnor, while his sons Isildur and Anarion founded Gondor where they ruled together, while Elendil reigned as High King of both Arnor and Gondor. But some of the King’s Men, who happened to be in their havens and cities in Middle-earth, survived the Downfall as well. And worst of all, Sauron managed to escape as well. He returned to Mordor and soon was ready to make war on the Dunedain.
Thus, to defend their capital city of Osgiliath, Elendil’s sons raised two great strongholds. Isildur built Minas Ithil (the Tower of the Moon) in the land of Ithilien east of the Great River Anduin. Osgiliath was built on its both shores, with a long bridge spanning the river. In its midst stood the Great Hall containing Isildur and Anarion’s thrones. On the western Anarion built Minas Anor (the Tower of the Sun) in the land of Anorien west of Anduin. It was Minas Anor that would become known as Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard.
When Sauron’s armies finally marched from Mordor, Minas Ithil was sacked and Isildur had to flee to Arnor, where he joined his father. Meanwhile, Anarion’s soldiers remained besieged in Osgiliath and Minas Anor for five years, until the host of the Last Alliance of Men and Elves came down from the north and relieved them.
In the war that followed the leaders of the Alliance, Elendil and Gil-galad, the last High King of the Noldor, both died in Mordor, but Sauron was defeated, though not forever as it was thought at the time. Since Anarion was slain during the siege of Barad-dûr, Sauron’s Dark Tower, Isildur became the sole ruler of Gondor and succeeded his father as High King of Two Realms.
But soon, Isildur was killed by orcs in an ambush as he was returning to Arnor with his knights, and the One Ring he cut off from Sauron’s hand proved his bane. In that battle, remembered as the Disaster of Gladden Fields, three sons of Isildur were killed as well. Thus, his only surviving son, Valandil (who was left at Rivendell with his mother when the Last Alliance army marched as he was still a babe) followed his father as King of Arnor. But not of King of Gondor, nor the High King, for Anarion’s son Meneldil who was left by Isildur in Gondor to govern in his name declared his realm independent.
Thus, the Dunedain realms separated and were not reunited until Aragorn’s coronation thousands of years later. You can read more about those events, and the reigns of the Kings of Gondor who followed Meneldil, in my essay I linked above. Here I’ll simply present the major events involving Minas Anor/Minas Tirith.
The seventh monarch, Ostoher, rebuilt Minas Anor, but Osgiliath was still the official seat of the Royal House and Gondorian capital. But since the days of Ostoher, the kings would move their courts to Minas Anor for summers. Osgiliath was badly damaged when it was besieged and then sacked by the forces of Castamir the Usurper, who claimed the crown as the 22nd king after forcing King Eldacar to flee the realm. It was then that the Great Hall of the city, known as the Dome of Stars, was broken. Tarondor, the 27th king, relocated the capital to Minas Anor permanently after Osgiliath was depopulated and deserted in the aftermath of the Great Plague of 1636, which killed the previous king, his children and tens of thousands of Gondorians.
During the reign of Eärnil II, the 32nd king, Minas Ithil was sacked and corrupted by the Witch-king of Angmar, Lord of the Nazgul, who took it for his seat. It became known as Minas Morgul, the Tower of Dark Sorcery. In defiance, Minas Anor was renamed Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard, as it defended the realm against raids from Morgul. Eärnur, the 33rd king, was challenged by the Witch-king to a duel, and rode to Minas Morgul with only few companions. He was never seen again, but his ultimate fate could not be confirmed. Thus, his Steward (basically the Hand of the King) Mardil Voronwë governed in his name for years, and later became the first Ruling Steward. Ruling Stewards ruled Gondor for 969, waiting for ‘the return of the king’, though in later centuries few believed in it.
Ecthelion I, the 17th Ruling Steward, rebuilt the White Tower of Minas Tirith which stood atop the Citadel, the city’s seventh level, and for this reason, it was widely known as the Tower of Ecthelion. (The construction of the first White Tower was ordered by Calimehtar, the 30th king, to house the palantir seeing-stone. The easiest way to explain the palantiri stones to ASOIAF fan is too liken it to the glass candles. Indeed, glass candles are among the most obvious references to Tolkien, as they’re basically palantiri stones, but shaped like candles, not orbs). Minas Tirith was famously besieged by the Witch-king of Angmar during the War of the Ring, and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields was fought beneath its walls. Later it became the seat of King Aragorn II Elessar, the first monarch of both Gondor and Arnor in centuries.
Minas Tirith was built upon the hill of Amon Tirith (the Hill of Guard), which was described as an ‘out-thrust knee’ of Mindolluin, with which the easternmost peak of the White Mountains of Gondor, also known as Ered Nimrais. Amon Tirith was connected with the main massif of the mountain by a narrow ‘shoulder’.
The city consisted of seven concentric levels, with the Citadel crowning the seventh. The Citadel contained the Court of the Fountain where the White Tree grew, barracks of the Guard, royal apartments and residence of the Steward, and of course the famed Tower of Ecthelion, which is described thusly when Pippin and Gandalf arrive at the city:
Even as Pippin gazed in wonder the walls passed from looming grey to white, blushing faintly in the dawn; and suddenly the sun climbed over the eastern shadow and sent forth a shaft that smote the face of the City. Then Pippin cried aloud, for the Tower of Ecthelion, standing high within the topmost walls shone out against the sky, glimmering like a spike of pearl and silver, tall and fair and shapely, and its pinnacle glittered as if it were wrought of crystals; and white banners broke and fluttered from the battlements in the morning breeze and high and far he heard a clear ringing as of silver trumpets.
Rath Celerdain, or the Lampwright’s Steet, was located on the first level, while the sixth contained the Houses of Healing, where Eowyn and Faramir were sent after the Battle of Pelennor Fields. Fen Hollen, the Closed Door, were embedded in the western wall of this level, and opened to Rath Dínen, the Silent Street, which led to the necropolis of Minas Tirith, the Hallows, where Kings and Stewards rested in their stone tombs.
But perhaps the most recognisable feature of Minas Tirith was its ship-like bastion, shaped like some giant keel. This is the description of the city from the opening chapter of Book V (The Return of the King contains Books V and VI):
For the fashion of Minas Tirith was such that it was built on seven levels, each delved into the hill, and about each was set a wall, and in each wall was a gate. But the gates were not set in a line: the Great Gate in the City Wall was at the east point of the circuit, but the next faced half south, and the third half north, and so to and fro upwards; so that the paved way that climbed towards the Citadel turned first this way and then that across the face of the hill. And each time that it passed the line of the Great Gate it went through an arched tunnel, piercing a vast pier of rock whose huge out-thrust bulk divided in two all the circles of the City save the first. For partly in the primeval shaping of the hill, partly by the mighty craft and labour of old, there stood up from the rear of the wide court behind the Gate a towering bastion of stone, its edge sharp as a ship-keel facing east. Up it rose, even to the level of the topmost circle, and there was crowned by a battlement; so that those in the Citadel might, like mariners in a mountainous ship, look from its peak sheer down upon the Gate seven hundred feet below. The entrance to the Citadel also looked eastward, but was delved in the heart of the rock; thence a long lamp-lit slope ran up to the seventh gate. Thus men reached at last the High Court, and the Place of the Fountain before the feet of the White Tower: tall and shapely, fifty fathoms from its base to the pinnacle, where the banner of the Stewards floated a thousand feet above the plain.
A strong citadel it was indeed, and not to be taken by a host of enemies, if there were any within that could hold weapons; unless some foe could come behind and scale the lower skirts of Mindolluin, and so come upon the narrow shoulder that joined the Hill of Guard to the mountain mass. But that shoulder, which rose to the height of the fifth wall, was hedged with great ramparts right up to the precipice that overhung its western end; and in that space stood the houses and domed tombs of bygone kings and lords, for ever silent between the mountain and the tower.
(The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Volume III: The Return of the King, Book V, Chapter I: Minas Tirith)
Outside the city’s Great Gate, the Pelennor Fields began, a vast area of orchards, fields, brooks and pastures. They were enclosed within the great wall of Rammas Echor. To the south, stood the haven of Harlond, Minas Tirith’s port built on the western banks of Anduin.
My drawing of Minas Tirith is obviously imperfect, but I hope it’ll help to visualise the layout of the city:
Now, there’s obviously no city with seven concentric levels built into a mountain in ASOIAF. But there are some places which show signs of being inspired by Minas Tirith. Like the Hightower of Oldtown.
The seat of House Hightower is described as a stepped structure, and that’s basically the same idea as with Minas Tirith, though on a smaller scale. Although we can’t be sure if GRRM decided that the Hightower has seven levels, it’s possible that this the case, because of the possibility that the current Hightower was built after the Faith of the Seven became the dominant religion in the Reach. There have been several wooden Hightowers, and supposedly King Uthor’s Hightower of stone was 200 feet high, thus it can’t be the same Hightower we see in ASOIAF. The Hightower at Oldtown artwork by Ted Nasmith in The World of Ice and Fire shows a tower with seven levels… and Ted Nasmith was famous for his Tolkienic illustrations, like those in The Silmarillion, long before he was commissioned to create ASOIAF art…
It might be a mere coincidence, but the Hightower is described as being higher than the 700-feet high Wall. Each of Minas Tirith’s levels towered 100 feet above the one below, and thus the seventh level rose 700 feet above Pelennor Fields. The Tower of Ecthelion which crowned the Citadel on this level was 300 feet high, and thus at its highest point, Minas Tirith was 1000 feet high.
Now, some more interesting connections. Although in the movie adaptation all seven walls are made of white stone, in the books, the first wall, also called the City Wall or Othram, was made of black stone. And not just any black stone…
This description comes to us in The Siege of Gondor chapter, where Minas Morgul army brings siege engines to the walls of the city, as first projectiles rain down upon Minas Tirith, its defenders are not impressed:
At first men laughed and did not greatly fear such devices. For the main wall of the City was of great height and marvellous thickness, built ere the power and craft of Númenor waned in exile; and its outward face was like to the Tower of Orthanc, hard and dark and smooth, unconquerable by steel or fire, unbreakable except by some convulsion that would rend the very earth on which it stood.
Minas Tirith’s base level is made of black stone… the same black stone that was used at Orthanc in Isengard. At the time of LOTR, that mighty fortress was held by Saruman. But it was originally built by the Dunedain after Gondor and Arnor have been founded by survivors of the Downfall of Numenor. The Tower of Orthanc is described in this manner in The Two Towers:
To the centre all the roads ran between their chains. There stood a tower of marvellous shape. It was fashioned by the builders of old, who smoothed the Ring of Isengard, and yet it seemed a thing not made by the craft of Men, but riven from the bones of the earth in the ancient torment of the hills. A peak and isle of rock it was, black and gleaming hard: four mighty piers of many-sided stone were welded into one, but near the summit they opened into gaping horns, their pinnacles sharp as the points of spears, keen-edged as knives. Between them was a narrow space, and there upon a floor of polished stone, written with strange signs, a man might stand five hundred feet above the plain. This was Orthanc, the citadel of Saruman, the name of which had (by design or chance) a twofold meaning; for in the Elvish speech orthanc signifies Mount Fang, but in the language of the Mark of old the Cunning Mind.
And in another chapter we read:
They came now to the foot of Orthanc. It was black, and the rock gleamed as if it were wet. The many faces of the stone had sharp edges as though they had been newly chiselled.
It seems that the Dunedain, survivors of an ancient lost civilization, have a curious habit of building megalithic structures of black stone… just like GRRM’s own lost ancient civilization seems to have, be it the Great Empire of the Dawn on some yet unnamed culture. The Known World is filled with structures made of oily black stone, and similar type of material was used at Moat Cailin and other mysterious strongholds whose origins are lost in the mist of time.
I agree that this black oily stone is most likely a reference to the works of H.P. Lovecraft… but so often, we see how GRRM combines many influences to create something new. Mayhaps this black stone, that gleams as if it were wet, partially inspired Moat Cailin, Asshai, the Five Ports and other places? Is it a hint that just like in LOTR black stone is the hallmark of Numenorean constructions, in ASOIAF black stone was the material some lost advanced culture used?
And now, here’s where it gets really interesting.
Just like with Minas Tirith, the foundations of the Hightower are made of black stone…
From The World of Ice and Fire section on Oldtown:
Even more enigmatic to scholars and historians is the great square fortress of black stone that dominates that isle. For most of recorded history, this monumental edifice has served as the foundation and lowest level of the Hightower, yet we know for a certainty that it predates the upper levels of the tower by thousands of years.
Who built it? When? Why? Most maesters accept the common wisdom that declares it to be of Valyrian construction, for its massive walls and labyrinthine interiors are all of solid rock, with no hint of joins or mortar, no chisel marks of any kind, a type of construction that is seen elsewhere, most notably in the dragonroads of the Freehold of Valyria, and the Black Walls that protect the heart of Old Volantis. The dragonlords of Valyria, as is well-known, possessed the art of turning stone to liquid with dragonflame, shaping it as they would, then fusing it harder than iron, steel, or granite.
If indeed this first fortress is Valyrian, it suggests that the dragonlords came to Westeros thousands of years before they carved out their outpost on Dragonstone, long before the coming of the Andals, or even the First Men. If so, did they come seeking trade? Were they slavers, mayhaps seeking after giants? Did they seek to learn the magic of the children of the forest, with their greenseers and their weirwoods? Or was there some darker purpose?
If I were to guess, they were refugees from the Great Empire of the Dawn, Numenor’s ASOIAF equivalent (as I explain in my other essays, there are numerous parallels between House Dayne and the Great Empire and the Dunedain and Numenor). Or perhaps exiles, loyal followers of the Amethyst Empress, the Faithful, whom evil Ar-Pharazon lookalike, the Bloodstone Emperor, forced to flee.
In fact, Minas Tirith (or rather, Minas Anor) was described as a ‘High-tower’ by Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring:
In the South the realm of Gondor long endured; and for a while its splendour grew, recalling somewhat of the might of Númenor, ere it fell. High towers that people built, and strong places. and havens of many ships; and the winged crown of the Kings of Men was held in awe by folk of many tongues. Their chief city was Osgiliath, Citadel of the Stars, through the midst of which the River flowed. And Minas Ithil they built, Tower of the Rising Moon, eastward upon a shoulder of the Mountains of Shadow; and westward at the feet of the White Mountains Minas Anor they made, Tower of the Setting Sun.
Oldtown is filled with references to Gondorian cities. We have the Citadel of Oldtown which lies on the River Honeywine and its towers and domes are connected with bridges. This is Pate, the point-of-view character from A Feast for Crows prologue, describing the city:
Oldtown was built in stone, and all its streets were cobbled, down to the meanest alley. The city was never more beautiful than at break of day. West of the Honeywine, the Guildhalls lined the bank like a row of palaces. Upriver, the domes and towers of the Citadel rose on both sides of the river, connected by stone bridges crowded with halls and houses. Downstream, below the black marble walls and arched windows of the Starry Sept, the manses of the pious clustered like children gathered round the feet of an old dowager.
Osgiliath means Citadel of the Stars or Citadel of the Starry Host. And just like the Citadel of Oldtown, and the city itself, it was built on both sides of a river, with a great bridge spanning Anduin’s midst. Although Osgiliath was located further upriver than Pelargir, the principal port of Gondor, seafaring ships arrived there as well, as the city was equipped with many quays. The famed Dome of Stars was built in the middle of the Great Bridge of Osgiliath, and there, the greatest of the palantiri seeing-stones was set. In ASOIAF we have the Citadel, also built upon the river, where glass candles are famously stored.
And note how GRRM goes out of his way to contrast Oldtown with King’s Landing, the city of wood and daub-and-wattle. Oldtown is made entirely of stone. Just like Minas Tirith. In fact, Stone-land, and names of this realm in tongues of various nations neighbouring Gondor reflected the fact that the Dunedain built mainly of stone, as their architecture was on a very high level. The Rohirrim called Gondor Stoningland, and the Drúedain, the Woses or the Wild Men of the Woods. They were not featured in the movies, but in the book they play a crucial role, as their chieftain Ghân-buri-Ghân shows secret paths to King Theoden, and thus the Riders of Rohan can arrive just in time to save Minas Tirith besieged by Sauron’s army.
When talking of Gondor, Ghân-buri-Ghân speaks of ‘Stone-houses’, ‘Stone-city’, ‘Stone-folk’. The path through the Druadan Forest that led to Minas Tirith was called ‘Stonewain Valley’, as it was once used by Gondorians to transport stone from their quarries in the White Mountains. The Chieftain notes how in older days so many wains filled with stone were sent to the city that some of his folk thought that ‘they ate stone for food’.
Now, let’s take a closer look at House Hightower. Their banner shows a white tower crowned with flame on smoke grey. This white tower might be a reference to the White Tower of Ecthelion in Minas Tirith, and the crown of some might be a nod to the famous Beacons of Gondor.
When Gondor was founded, its kings and lords had no need for messengers or beacons as they could easily communicate over long distances using the palantiri stones. But Elendil brought only seven of them to Middle-earth from Numenor. Three were kept in Arnor. One was kept in the White Tower of Elostirion west of the Shire, but this stone was unique in that Elendil used it to search for drowned Numenor, but he failed. One stone was kept at Amon Sûl (Weathertop) and another at Annúminas, Arnorian capital. Both were lost where Arvedui, the last King of Arnor, was in shipwreck.
In Gondor, one stone was held at Minas Ithil and it was captured by Sauron. Orthanc had its own palantir as well, and this one was used by Saruman after he was granted Isengard by one of the Stewards of Gondor who was unable to garrison it. The stone of Minas Anor was kept in a secret room atop the White Tower of Minas Tirith, and it was this palantir Denethor used. The stone of Osgiliath was the greatest of all seven, but it was lost during the civil war between Castamir the Usurper and Eldacar.
Here I’ll note that Lord Leyton Hightower, head of the house, is quite similar to Denethor, Lord of Minas Tirith, as he never leaves his tower and studies the heavens and perhaps other mysteries. Since Denethor used the palantir of Minas Anor, this makes me wonder if Lord Leyton hold one of the glass candles as well. But Lord Leyton has much in common with Saruman as well, and his title ‘the Voice of Oldtown’ might be a reference to the powerful ‘Voice of Saruman’, which the wizard used to influence and even manipulate others.
And when I look at yet another epithet of Lord Hightower, the Beacon of the South, I immediately think of the Beacons of Gondor, which was the Southern Kingdom of the Dunedain.
This is Pippin speaking to Gandalf, as they ride into Gondor:
‘Look! Fire, red fire! Are there dragons in this land? Look, there is another!’
For answer Gandalf cried aloud to his horse. ‘On, Shadowfax! We must hasten. Time is short. See! The beacons of Gondor are alight, calling for aid. War is kindled. See, there is the fire on Amon Dîn, and flame on Eilenach; and there they go speeding west: Nardol, Erelas, Min-Rimmon, Calenhad, and the Halifirien on the borders of Rohan.’ (…)
Pippin became drowsy again and paid little attention to Gandalf telling him of the customs of Gondor, and how the Lord of the City had beacons built on the tops of outlying hills along both borders of the great range, and maintained posts at these points where fresh horses were always in readiness to bear his errand-riders to Rohan in the North, or to Belfalas in the South. ‘It is long since the beacons of the North were lit,’ he said; ‘and in the ancient days of Gondor they were not needed, for they had the Seven Stones.’ Pippin stirred uneasily.
The Hightower is one giant Beacon of the South. And since one of its purposes is to warn against the coming of the Ironborn, to guard the Reach from its foes, I’m wondering if this theme of guarding connecting with House Hightower, whose ancestral Valyrian steel sword is called Vigilance, is a reference to Minas Tirith, the Tower of Guard.
What is the point of all those parallels and references? GRRM’s homage to one of his favourite fantasy locations? Or perhaps, a foreshadowing of future events in ASOIAF? Or, a hint about the past?
Was Oldtown founded by survivors or colonists from the Great Empire or some other ancient civilization? Was it attacked by Azor Ahai? After all, the first foe to ever to cut his way into Minas Tirith was none other than Lord of the Nazgul, the Witch-king of Angmar… Azor Ahai impersonator:
In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl. A great black shape against the fires beyond he loomed up, grown to a vast menace of despair. In rode the Lord of the Nazgûl, under the archway that no enemy ever yet had passed, and all fled before his face.
All save Gandalf, who stood his ground and defied the Ringwraith:
‘You cannot enter here,’ said Gandalf, and the huge shadow halted. ‘Go back to the abyss prepared for you! Go back! Fall into the nothingness that awaits you and your Master. Go!’
The Black Rider flung back his hood, and behold! he had a kingly crown; and yet upon no head visible was it set. The red fires shone between it and the mantled shoulders vast and dark. From a mouth unseen there came a deadly laughter.
‘Old fool!’ he said. ‘Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain!’ And with that he lifted high his sword and flames ran down the blade.
Gandalf did not move.
And in that very moment, away behind in some courtyard of the City, a cock crowed. Shrill and clear he crowed, recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn. And as if in answer there came from far away another note. Horns, horns, horns. In dark Mindolluin’s sides they dimly echoed. Great horns of the North wildly blowing. Rohan had come at last.
Do we see an echo of this scene in TWOIAF where Maester Yandel wonders who fought whom at the Battle Isle in what is now Oldtown? Was it invaded my some fellow with a flaming sword who was stopped by a wizard? A greenseer perhaps?
Or, is ASOIAF version of the Siege of Gondor yet to come, with Euron’s upcoming attack on Oldtown? After all, Euron’s sigil is basically the Eye of Sauron: ‘The remnants of a banner drooped from her stern, smoke-stained and ragged. The charge was one Sam had never seen before: a red eye with a black pupil, beneath a black iron crown supported by two crows’. Minas Tirith would have been assaulted by the Corsairs of Umbar fleet, but it was captured by Aragorn and his Grey Company and used to ferry his men to join the Battle of Pelennor Fields. (I’ll also note that Siege of Meereen might contain some nods to the Siege of Minas Tirith as well, since in LOTR orcs flung heads of Gondorian soldiers captured at Osgiliath over the walls to spread terror and lower the morale in the city, while in Meereen corpses are fired from trebuchets).
Maybe Oldtown will be saved by ‘returning king’ Aegon and his Golden Company, paralleling Aragorn and the Grey Company? Or will we have a twist, with Euron winning where Sauron lost? The Winds of Winter might answer some of those questions, but for now, we can only speculate and craft theories… but isn’t this possibility one of the things that make ASOIAF so great?
After all, what can be sweeter to us, fantasy fans, than immersing ourselves in those rich, beautiful words, that seem so real… or as George R.R. Martin said ‘alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake’.
Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith
Thanks for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed this piece, you might also like my other essays where I explore parallels between the worlds of Martin and Tolkien, and search for references to The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion in ASOIAF. So far I’ve published Episode I which talks about how, in my opinion, GRRM approaches Tolkien and lists references to his Legendarium in ASOIAF names, events and places. Episode II talks about Long Nights which appear in works of both authors, and among many other things, how Lightbringer might have been inspired by certain swords of Middle-earth. Sansa & Lúthien is a standalone episode which focuses on parallels between the two, and there’s also my The Brief History of Gondor, Its Rise, Zenith, Decline and Fall of Kingship.