The Jade Empire
a Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire essay by Bluetiger
The Advent Calendar 2018, Week Three
Another Advent week has passed and thus, on Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday, we meet once more. Welcome to the third instalment in our Advent Calendar 2018 series, where we explore parallels between A Song of Ice and Fire and various other literary works. Two weeks ago, in the first episode, we took a closer look at the return of the king motif in LOTR and The Silmarillion and tracked its origins to The Bible. Last week, in Eärendil, Bearer of Light, we’ve discussed symbolism based on the observation of planet Venus, the Morningstar and the Evenstar, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing and its likely impact on ASOIAF.
This time, our main focus won’t be on LOTR or The Silmarillion. We’ll be talking about another fantasy world altogether – about Narnia from the works of Tolkien’s great friend C.S. Lewis.
The parallels between Narnia and ASOIAF are numerous and there are many essays on this topic. The creation of some ‘grand unified theory of Narnia in ASOIAF’ is not my intent, and I can’t claim that I’ve identified every single reference to The Chronicles of Narnia. Instead, I’ll point out several parallels I’ve noticed myself and which are relevant to Mythical Astronomy. I believe most of you are already familiar with LML’s theories and analysis, and to those of you who aren’t that well-versed as far as Mythical Astronomy is concerned, I highly recommend reading those essays, especially recent Daenerys the Sea Dreamer episode and most of all, its section The Jade Empress Nissa Nissa.
In this essay, I’ll discuss several aspects of C.S. Lewis’ fantasy universe that might have inspired GRRM’s own worldbuilding and symbolism. This means there will be spoilers for several Narnia books, especially The Magician’s Nephew, The Silver Chair and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I’ll also refer to new content from GRRM’s Fire and Blood Targaryen history chronicle, as that’s where many of those Narnia parallels come from. And because this is Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire, I simply can’t restrain myself from mentioning some LOTR and The Silmarillion references in this wonderful new book.
With that said, let us proceed. Our destination is a dying city, once the capital of the king of kings, the wonder of all worlds, the greatest city that ever was or will be. Once, in the dawn of days, the seat of Emperors and Empresses of the mightiest civilization. Now, a crumbling ruin under a blazing red sun…
The Jade Empire
Low in the horizon hangs a red dying star that was once the sun of this world. In this eternal twilit, the sky is always dark blue, almost black. Once, thousands of stars illuminated this heaven, now only one companion to the sun remains, a lonely star, very big and very bright. Under this sullen sky, there stands a magnificent city of many palaces, towers, halls, pyramids and domed temples. One building dwarfs all the rest, once a royal palace, now only a silent mausoleum. In its great hall, rows of chairs can be seen. Hundreds of people in royal attire sit motionless on carved thrones. Their faces are still, forever showing the same emotion. Some faces are solemn, some seem to be happy, others are sad. Then there are the cruel ones. Upon the last throne, the last Empress keeps her silent vigil. She is the last of her line, the last monarch of this fallen empire. She waged war on her sibling who once tried to usurp her throne, and she proved triumphant, but at a terrible price. She reigns over rivers of dried blood, streets of ash, empty cities under this expiring sun. At first glance, she appears to be a waxwork, a faithful effigy, or a perfectly preserved body. The other Kings and Queens in this hall are just that.
Yet she is not dead. But she is not alive either. She sleeps, pondering on her past deeds, dreaming about revenge and former glory. Soon, she will wake, and traveling through a magical portal, a wood that is more than a wood, arrive at distant place. There she will make use of her magic and the power of the trees once again. Her hand will reach for the Tree of Life and she will touch and steal the fire of the gods. Thus, she will become immortal. But she will undergo a transformation of ice as well. As long as that tree lives, she will be exiled to the far north. But when it dies, she will return and unleash eternal winter against those who wronged her.
Who is she?
Amethyst Empress of the Great Empire of the Dawn, whose brother stole her throne. Amethyst Empress who may have been Nissa Nissa, who later turned into Night’s Queen?
Well… I’d suggest that this Empress is one of the major sources of inspiration behind the ASOIAF character (or characters) I’ve mentioned.
We’re talking about “Her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands”, more commonly known as the White Witch of Narnia. But before she came to Narnia, she ruled over another realm in a different universe. That’s where we have to travel first.
Now, it first occurred to me that Empress Jadis might have inspired GRRM’s Amethyst Empress/Nissa Nissa when I was reading LML’s essay Daenerys the Sea Dreamer, The Jade Empress Nissa Nissa section, where he points out that ‘The Jade Sea’ is an important metaphor for the weirnet aka ‘The Green Sea’ of the Greenseers (shout out to Ravenous Reader!). Thus, Nissa Nissa, Queen of the Green Sea, Empress of the Weirnet, can be named Jade Empress. Melisandre of Asshai (which is located on the shores of the Jade Sea) is another such figure, and as we’ll see, she has some parallels to Queen Jadis as well. Anyway, as I was reading that chapter, I realised that ‘Jade Empress’ is inverted ‘Empress Jadis’. Of course, no good theory could be built upon one possibly random connection like this. But having investigated the matter further, I concluded that there are more parallels between GRRM’s concept of the Jade Empress of the Weirnet and Lewis’ Jadis.
In The Magician’s Nephew, two children, Digory Kirke and his friend Polly Plummer, find out that Digory’s eccentric Uncle Andrew, an ameteur magician, has managed to forge magic rings made from the ashes of Atlantis (which “in the very dawn of time Atlantis was already a great city”). Polly touches one of the Rings and vanishes, and Uncle Andrew forces Digory to use the remaining Rings to follow her. The children awake in a in-between realm, the timeless dimension called The Wood between the Worlds.
The way in which Lewis describes his in-between realm reminds me of the weirnet, which bestows similar powers upon the person entering it.
Then, for a moment, everything became muddled. The next thing Digory knew was that there was a soft green light coming down on him from above, and darkness below. He didn’t seem to be standing on anything, or sitting, or lying. Nothing appeared to be touching him. “I believe I’m in water,” said Digory. “Or underwater.” This frightened him for a second, but almost at once he could feel that he was rushing upwards. Then his head suddenly came out into the air and he found himself scrambling ashore, out on to smooth grassy ground at the edge of a pool.
As he rose to his feet he noticed that he was neither dripping nor panting for breath as anyone would expect after being under water. His clothes were perfectly dry. He was standing by the edge of a small pool—not more than ten feet from side to side—in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others—a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots. This wood was very much alive.
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
This magical wood contains countless pools that are in fact portals to many different dimensions – our world and Narnia, for example. This reminds me of ASOIAF Green Sea, the Weirnet, that allows its users to glimpse events from the past and see over long distances. Also, crossing a portal being described as being submerged in a green pool is very suggestive of all ASOIAF passages where a character like Jon or Varamyr is ‘plunged into some icy lake’ as their symbolic passage from one dimension to another takes place.
Digory and Polly try to jump into one of the pools (and they fail, because that’s the empty pool that will one day become the portal to Narnia – The Magician’s Nephew details the events surrounding the creation of this world by Aslan, so at the beginning of the book, Narnia hasn’t been founded yet). Then they locate the portal that leads to London, but Digory decides that they should take advantage of the opportunity to see some alien worlds, and thus, they jump into another portal. That portal leads to Asshai-by-the-Shadow, if it was indeed the capital of the Great Empire of the Dawn… well, not exactly, but the parallels are strong.
This pool takes them to the dying world of Charn, to the very doorstep of what once was its capital most magnificent palace, the seat of the Emperors and Empresses of this realm. But all rivers are dry, and a great fountain shaped like “a great stone monster with wide-spread wings stood with its mouth open” pour no water. The streets and hallways are silent, and there are no living beings in sight.
When Digory and Polly enter the great hall of the royal palace, they behold hundreds of people sitting on thrones. But the people are motionless as waxwork – they are dead, and have been dead for centuries and millennia beyond count.
I can hardly describe the clothes. The figures were all robed and had crowns on their heads. Their robes were of crimson and silvery grey and deep purple and vivid green: and there were patterns, and pictures of flowers and strange beasts, in needlework all over them. Precious stones of astonishing size and brightness stared from their crowns and hung in chains round their necks and peeped out from all the places where anything was fastened.
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Yet the robes haven’t rotted away – Digory concludes that they were enchanted. The figures (or mummies, who knows what they were precisely) sat upon their thrones on each side of the room, and as the children were walking down this Hall of Images, they took note that figures closer to the door, the early the Kings and Queens of this world, had happy faces, that they looked kind and wise. But later monarchs had solemn expressions, then strong and prideful, and in the end, even cruel.
The last figure of all was the most interesting—a woman even more richly dressed than the others, very tall (but every figure in that room was taller than the people of our world), with a look of such fierceness and pride that it took your breath away. Yet she was beautiful too.
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
This woman, the last Empress of Charn, is Jadis.
As in any adventure story or Lovecraftian story, Digory can’t refrain from touching the artifact that just screams ‘don’t touch me’. In the middle of the Hall, there stood a square pillar with an arch beneath it. From that arch, a golden bell was hung, with golden hammer beneath it. Of course, Digory had to struck it, and of course, the final motionless statue moved, and Jadis came back to life,
Queen Jadis gives the children a history lesson – the city they’re in is Charn, the capital of Kings, the greatest city there was or ever will be, to paraphrase the Qartheen.
Low down and near the horizon hung a great, red sun, far bigger than our sun. Digory felt at once that it was also older than ours: a sun near the end of its life, weary of looking down upon that world. To the left of the sun, and higher up, there was a single star, big and bright. Those were the only two things to be seen in the dark sky; they made a dismal group. And on the earth, in every direction, as far as the eye could reach, there spread a vast city in which there was no living thing to be seen. And all the temples, towers, palaces, pyramids, and bridges cast long, disastrous-looking shadows in the light of that withered sun. Once a great river had flowed through the city, but the water had long since vanished, and it was now only a wide ditch of grey dust.
“Look well on that which no eyes will ever see again,” said the Queen. “Such was Charn, that great city, the city of the King of Kings, the wonder of the world, perhaps of all worlds.
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
GRRM loved stories about dying worlds and dying stars… as his stories like Dying of the Light, In the House of the Worm and the anthologies he’s edited clearly demonstrate. Charn sounds just like something he’d like and want to include in his own books.
This dying city with its river of grey dust is strikingly similar to Asshai-by-the-Shadow and its River Ash, and the decline of Charn sounds a lot like the downfall of the Great Empire. Qarth, another decadent city of Essos, also owes something to C.S. Lewis’ dying empire, it seems. (By the way, it seems this lonely star that is the only object visible in the sky besides the red sun is most likely that world’s Venus, the Morningstar and the Evenstar). I’ll also point out that it is implied that the nobles of Charn were dragonlords, because Empress Jadis demands “a well-trained dragon, or whatever is usual for royal and noble persons in your land” – when the children accidentally bring her to London upon their return. There she forces Uncle Andrew to become her servant and begins planning her conquest of Earth, but that’s not relevant to our topic today. Anyway, Emperors of Charn most likely were dragonlords, which is yet another parallel between that realm and GEOTD.
The Undying in their magnificent enchanted robes that conceal the truth – they they’ve been dead for ages, and the only thing they rule is a Palace of Dust – might have been inspired by the Kings and Queens of Charn in their Hall of Images (just like the stone kings in the crypts of Winterfell – there we have Lewis’ pattern of kind faces in the beginning and stern faces in the end reversed – the ancient Kings of Winter were cruel men, while the more recent Lords of Winterfell were kinder).
Please compare the description of the Undying Ones Dany sees in ACOK to the Hall of Images Digory and Polly visit:
Beyond the doors was a great hall and a splendor of wizards. Some wore sumptuous robes of ermine, ruby velvet, and cloth of gold. Others fancied elaborate armor studded with gemstones, or tall pointed hats speckled with stars. There were women among them, dressed in gowns of surpassing loveliness. Shafts of sunlight slanted through windows of stained glass, and the air was alive with the most beautiful music she had ever heard.
Or to the figures from Dany’s dream in AGOT, who may have been GEOTD rulers or nobles:
Ghosts lined the hallway, dressed in the faded raiment of kings. In their hands were swords of pale fire. They had hair of silver and hair of gold and hair of platinum white, and their eyes were opal and amethyst, tourmaline and jade. “Faster,” they cried, “faster, faster.”
Or to the Enthroned Pureborn of Qarth who receive Dany in their Hall of a Thousand Thrones:
Descendants of the ancient kings and queens of Qarth, the Pureborn commanded the Civic Guard and the fleet of ornate galleys that ruled the straits between the seas. (…)
The Pureborn heard her pleas from the great wooden seats of their ancestors, rising in curved tiers from a marble floor to a high-domed ceiling painted with scenes of Qarth’s vanished glory. The chairs were immense, fantastically carved, bright with goldwork and studded with amber, onyx, lapis, and jade, each one different from all the others, and each striving to be the most fabulous. Yet the men who sat in them seemed so listless and world-weary that they might have been asleep.
It’s the same motif over and over again – magnificent kings and queens sit in a hall of thrones, but their glory is merely an illusion and their cities crumble to dust. Only the Jade Empress is still alive.
We find another familiar theme when we turn to Ravenous Reader’s Killing Word idea. In ASOIAF, the Killing Word is a ‘prayer’ or ‘incantation’ uttered by dying Nissa Nissa, “a kind of magical invocation which has called down the fire of the gods” in LML’s words. In ASOIAF, Nissa Nissa’s cry breaks the moon, in Narnia, Jadis’ Deplorable World dooms her entire universe.
In The Magician’s Nephew Queen Jadis explains that the Deplorable Word was ‘the secret of secrets’, the ultimate magical weapon of the Emperors and Empresses of her house. That word, if spoken with the proper ceremonies, would kill all living beings with the exception of the speaker. Jadis claims that her ancestors were weak and soft-hearted, and thus made vows never to learn nor use this spell. But she learned it (though she paid a terrible price for it, just like Melisandre had to pay dearly for her magic, and just like all magic in ASOIAF comes at a cost).
Jadis warred with her sister for the throne of Charn, and both sides broke their oath to never use magical warfare (Jadis claims that her sister broke it first, but I guess she’s not the most reliable narrator). Aa great battle was fought in the streets of the capital, and in the end, Jadis’ hosts were decimated and people whom she calls ‘rebels’ (though it seems that it was Jadis who usurped the throne) led by her sister were climbing the stairs of the palace. Jadis confronted them standing at the terrace before the great gate. Then she spoke the Deplorable Word and one heartbeat later, Empress Jadis was the unchallenged, as there was no one left in the world.
Nissa Nissa’s Killing Word caused the Long Night, Jadis’ Deplorable World caused the end of her world, it’s a pretty similar concept, I’d say. Also, please note that sibling rivalry is an important aspect of Jadis’ story, just like in Amethyst Empress’ case, where her throne was stolen by her brother. Of course, the story of Ar-Pharazon the Golden and his cousin-wife Tar-Miriel of Numenor was also a major influence on GRRM, but we know that our author likes to weave many ideas from different works of literature into one ASOIAF concept.
In The Rogue Prince we might see another reference to Empress Jadis when Daemon Targaryen gives Rhaenyra a ‘jade tiara’ that once belonged to a Lengi Empress. Jadis’ tiara? Jadis is described as exceptionally tall, and the Lengii are the tallest humans in GRRM’s world. Just like Jadis’, Rhaenyra fought her sibling in a bloody civil war.
Princess Rhaenyra was a different matter. Daemon spent long hours in her company, enthralling her with tales of her journeys and battles. He gave her pearls and silks and books and a jade tiara said once to have belonged to the Empress of Leng…
The Tolkien fan inside me has to point out that Aegon the Elder’s dragon Sunfyre the Golden and his golden dragon on black field sigil are most likely references to Ar-Pharazon the Golden, the Numenorean king who stole his cousin’s throne, and to Glaurung the Golden, the most famous dragon from The Silmarillion. Well, Ancalagon the Black, the greatest winged dragon of Middle-earth was also famous, and indeed, it has found its way into ASOIAF as well, as Balerion the Black Dread.
What happens with Jadis after she leaves Charn with Digory and Polly is also quite similar to Nissa Nissa’s fate – she ends up in Narnia, where she witnesses its creation, and then, she picks one fruit from the Narnian Tree of Life. That makes her immortal and allows her to return centuries later and conquer all Narnia. The Hundred Years Winter begins and lasts until the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. But when she ate the apple, her skin turned as white and salt, and the was Empress Jadis no more, but turned into the White Witch.
This of course reminds me of Nissa Nissa’s transformation into Night’s Queen who ruled over the Long Night, the equivalent of Narnia’s Hundred Years Winter. In my view, all parallels between Narnia and ASOIAF I’ve mentioned strengthen the theory that Nissa Nissa and Amethyst Empress were the same person, and that she later turned into Night’s Queen.
Euron’s comments that “A new god shall be born from the graves and charnel pits.” might be a clue that GRRM was really thinking about Lewis’ Charn and Jadis when he was creating his own ancient fallen empire.
But that’s not all.
For more Narnia-ASOIAF parallels we have to look at another book in Lewis’ series, The Silver Chair. There we are introduced to the Lady in the Green Kirtle, another of the ‘northern witches’. Many fans speculate that she’s the same person as Jadis, or at the very least, that they’re related. Whatever the case, GRRM might have easily based his Jade Empress figures on both.
The Lady in the Green Kirtle was a powerful enchantress who could transform into an enormous green snake “as green as poison” (please remember that according to Mythical Astronomy the green serpent/dragon is an important symbol of the Jade Empress). In this form, she killed the wife of King Caspian X (the one from Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). Her son, Prince Rilian, would wander alone in the wilderness searching for the beast to exact his revenge, but instead, he met a mysterious woman in “tall and great, shining, and wrapped in a thin garment as green as poison”. The prince falls in love with her, and she lures him to her underworld realm (as she’s the Queen of the Underland and Queen of the Deep Realm), where she binds him to her will and convinces him that it is him who turns into a green serpent every night. To ‘help’ him, she devises the Silver Chair. Every night, the prince is bound to the chair that supposedly prevents him from turning into a beast (in reality, it enables the Green Lady to control him). The Witch wants to invade Narnia via an deep tunnel her minions are digging, and to use the Black Knight Rilian as her general. In the climax of the novel, Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole release him and the prince cuts the nefarious chair to pieces. The Lady in the Green Kirtle suddenly enters the chamber and attack him and the children in her green serpent form. Still, the prince and his companion manage to kill the monster and the Witch is defeated.
In ASOIAF terms, the weirwoods might play the role of the Silver Chair – Nissa Nissa (the Green Lady) uses it to entrap Azor Ahai the greenseer, and weirnet plays the role of the “Deep Realm”.
I’ll point out that in The Hedge Knight graphic novel, the puppeteers Dunk watches stage a play about ‘Ser Rilian’ who slays a serpent. That’s a clear reference to Prince Rilian of Narnia and the Lady in the Green Kirtle in her serpent form. Sadly, we don’t know who chose to include this detail – GRRM or the illustrator. Still, I hope the parallels I’ve demonstrated have convinced you that our author had Narnia in mind when creating his own symbolism.
We find another reference to The Chronicles in GRRM’s recently released Fire and Blood If you haven’t read this book yet and you would rather avoid all spoilers, even minor, please stop reading now, as the following paragraphs will be all about Fire and Blood. If this is the case, I hope you’ve enjoyed this essay and please come back next week for the final instalment in The Advent Calendar 2018 series, Aenar’s Aeneid. There will be spoilers in that episode as well, but I guess there’s a difference between spoiling a book that came out few weeks ago and spoiling a book that is over two thousand years old 😉 See you later!
For those of you who’ve already burned through GRRM’s Targaryen history book, here are several literary references I’ve noticed.
The voyage of Elissa Farman (aka Alys Westhill) across the Sunset Sea is most likely an homage to Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where King Caspian X attempts to reach the Uttermost East and find Seven Great Lords of Narnia. The Lost Lords were loyalists of the late King Caspian IX, who was secretly murdered by his brother Miraz. Miraz named himself Lord Protector and set about removing all lords who could oppose him. Lord Belisar (named after Belisarius, Emperor Justinian’s general) and Lord Uvilas were ‘accidentally’ shot with arrows during a hunting trip – after all, the forest is the abattoir of the gods, as Varys declares to Ned Stark. Lords from the House of Passarids were sent to battle giants in the borderlands, where they all died. Lords Arlian and Erimon, and ‘a dozen more’, were executed for treason on false charges. The final seven lords (Bern, Octesian, Restimar, Rhoop, Mavramorn, Revilian and Argoz) were sent on a mission to seek new lands beyond the Eastern Ocean. After his evil uncle was overthrown, as described in Prince Caspian, the young king sails eastward aboard his flagship, Dawn Treader, to find his father’s loyal friends.
Lady Elissa’s ship, Sun Chaser, is likely based on Caspian’s ship. It was built in Braavos, and ship built in that Free City have purple sails. Just like Dawn Treader.
It was a picture of a ship—a ship sailing nearly straight towards you. Her prow was gilded and shaped like the head of a dragon with wide open mouth. She had only one mast and one large, square sail which was a rich purple. The sides of the ship—what you could see of them where the gilded wings of the dragon ended—were green. She had just run up to the top of one glorious blue wave, and the nearer slope of that wave came down towards you, with streaks and bubbles on it. She was obviously running fast before a gay wind, listing over a little on her port side. (…) All the sunlight fell on her from that side, and the water on that side was full of greens and purples. On the other, it was darker blue from the shadow of the ship.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The names of both ships follow the same theme – chasing the sun. Dawn Treader sails towards the Uttermost East, Sun Chaser sails westward, but – if Corlys Velaryon the Sea Snake can be believed – it ends up in the Uttermost East, in Asshai-by-the-Shadow. (The Uttermost West from Elissa Farman’s story might be a reference to the Uttermost West, Valinor, from Tolkien’s writing.
Unlike Dawn Treader, Sun Chaser was accompanied by two other ships on her voyage – Ser Norman Hightower’s Autumn Moon and Ser Eustace Hightower’s Lady Meredith. It’s possible “Ser Norman” is a reference to the Vikings and their exploration of Greenland and perhaps North America hundreds of years before Columbus, while Lady Meredith might be named after Columbus’ flagship on his great voyage in 1492, Santa María. The admiral sailed with three ships, just like Elissa, it should be noted. Meanwhile, Ser Eustace seems to be named after Eustace Scrubb, one of King Caspian’s companions on his voyage east.
There is also another major literary reference in the story of Elissa Farman, which will we’ll explore in detail in the next episode.
Another reference I’ll point out comes from one of the chapters about the Regency of Aegon III. There, as the White Fever ravaged King’s Landing, young Aegon suddenly proved himself a hero…
To the horror of his Kingsguard, Aegon spent his days visiting the sick, and often sat with them for hours, sometimes holding their hands in his own, or soothing their fevered brows will cool, damp cloths. Though His Grace seldom spoke, he shared his silences with them, and listened as they told him stories of their lives, begged him for forgiveness, or boasted of conquests, kindness and children. Most of those he visited died, but those who lived would afterward attribute their survival to the touch of the king’s “healing hands”.
Yet if indeed there is some magic in a king’s touch, as many smallfolk believe, it failed when it was needed most. (…)
Fire and Blood, Under the Regents: The Hooded Hand by George R.R. Martin
This is almost certainly a reference to The Return of the King scene where Aragorn visits the wounded from the Battle of Pelennor Fields in the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith. Merry, Faramir and Eowyn of Rohan are among those suffering from a disease known as the Black Breath, which was spread by the Ringwraiths who used it as a weapon. One of the healers, Ioreth, remembered an old rhyme claiming that “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known”. Aragorn used a plant called athelas (Kingsfoil), which was considered to be but a useless weed. In reality, it was an extremely potent healing herb brought to Middle-earth by the Numenoreans. According to ancient herblore of Gondor, it was especially powerful when used by a rightful king:
When the black breath blows
and death’s shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king’s hand lying!
Aragorn succeeded in saving the wounded, and thus, the people of Minas Tirith were convinced that the king has truly returned. GRRM might be intending a wordplay when he writes that even the touch of the king’s healing hand was unable to save Ser Tyland Lannister, the Hand of the King.
The final reference we’ll discuss today is connected with cats, and not just any cats, but the infamous cats of Queen Berúthiel. In Fire and Blood we learn about some rumours about Lady Larra Rogare, the Lysene wife of Viserys Targaryen (the later King Viserys II), that were spreading during the Regency period. She was not a worshipper of the Seven, nor of the old gods. Instead, she prayed to ‘the manifold gods of Lys’: the cat goddess Pantera, Yndros of the Twilight, Bakkalon of the Sword and Saagael.
Her ladies, her servants, and her guards would all join Lady Larra at certain times in performing obeisances to these queer, ancient deities. Cats were seen coming and going from her chambers so often that men begun to say they were her spies, purring at her in soft voices of all the doings of the Red Keep. It was even said that Larra herself could transform into a cat, to prowl the gutters and rooftops of the city.
This appears to be a reference to Queen Berúthiel of Gondor, a historical figure briefly mentioned in LOTR by Aragorn (when the Fellowship travels through the Mines of Moria, Aragorn notes that Gandalf is “surer of finding the way home in a blind night than the cats of Queen Berúthiel”).
Berúthiel came from the nation of the Black Numenoreans. The Black Numenoreans were the descendants of Numenorean settlers who colonised the area south of the Great River Anduin – they came from the King’s Men faction, which was hostile towards the Elves, who still lived in the north-west (for example in Lothlorien and Grey Havens in Lindon), and thus they made built their ports and cities as far from the Elves as possible. Meanwhile, the Faithful (who were friends of the Elves and the Valar) settled north of the River – in Dol Amroth and the area that would later become Gondor and Arnor. When Elendil and his sons fled from Numenor shortly before its downfall, the Faithful colonists accepted Elendil as their High King, and thus the Dunedain Realms in Exile, Gondor and Arnor, were founded.
The colonists from the King’s Men faction also survived, but they fell under the influence of Sauron (who was one their king’s principal advisor). Their main city and haven was Umbar. From this might stronghold they troubled Gondor with raids and invasions for thousands of years. Even in the late Third Age, those Numenoreans saved Sauron – the Mouth of Sauron who treated with Gandalf and Aragorn before Morannon, the Black Gate of Mordor, was one of them. The Black Numenoreans of old were cruel conquerors who sought to subjugate and enslave the natives of Middle-earth, while the Dunedain often allied themselves with less developed nations, like the Rohirrim and other Northmen with whom they often intermarried. The Black Numenoreans were obsessed with blood purity (just like the Lysene, it should be noted).
King Tarannon Falastur of Gondor, the twelfth monarch of that realm, attempted to make peace with them, and thus, for political reasons, married a lady of that nation named Berúthiel. Their marriage was loveless and childless, and the queen was widely hated by her new subjects. In The Unfinished Tales it is said that:
She had nine black cats and one white, her slaves, with whom she conversed, or read their memories, setting them to discover all the dark secrets of Gondor, so that she knew those things ‘that men wish most to keep hidden’, setting the white cat to spy upon the black, and tormenting them. No man in Gondor dared touch them; all were afraid of them, and cursed when they saw them pass.
In the end, King Tarannon and his wife were estranged, and he sent her back to Umbar:
The ship was last seen flying past Umbar under a sickle moon, with a cat at the masthead and another as a figure-head on the prow.
Soon after King Tarannon’s death, a war broke out between Gondor and Umbar, and some fans speculate that its cause was the anger at how Berúthiel was treated by the Gondorians. You can read more about early history of Gondor in my essay A Brief History of Gondor.
Now, there are several parallels between Berúthiel and Larra Rogare:
- both were married to a king (Tarannon and Viserys II)
- both were hated by their subjects because of their foreign origin
- both had a connection with cats
- both were rumoured to be sorceresses who used cats as spies
- Berúthiel was a Black Numenorean and married a king from another nation, (Tarannon was a Gondorian and a Dunedain), but both the Dunedain and the Black Numenoreans were descendants of Numenoreans, Larra was a Lysene lady who married a Targaryen prince, House Rogare and House Targaryen were both of Valyrian descent.
The feline deity Larra supposedly worshipped might be a reference to one of the early version of Tolkien’s myths, where Sauron appeared in the form of a great black cat named Tevildo (Prince of Cats) – and Black Numenoreans worshipped the Dark Lord.
Of course, there are numerous other Tolkienic and literary references in Fire and Blood – for example, Ben Buttercakes, the innkeep of Bitterbridge, might be named after Barliman Butterbur, the innkeep of The Prancing Pony inn at Bree, Isembard Arryn of Gulltown might be named after Isembard Took, the seventh child of the famous Gerontius Took (aka The Old Took), the Thain of the Shire. Isembard was the father of Belladonna Took, the mother of Bilbo Baggins. It seems that GRRM enjoys making jokes about Tolkien’s detailed genealogies of the Hobbit families – for example, Khal Drogo shares his name with Drogo Baggins, Frodo’s dad. Archmaester Umbert is likely named after Umberto Eco, the author of The Name of the Rose. There’s a reference to this book and its central mystery in The Sons of the Dragon, but for now, I’ll not name it for the sake of spoilers.
That’s all I have for you today, but please join me next Sunday for the final episode of The Advent Calendar 2018. Have a nice week, thanks for visiting The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire today and see you next time, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent!