About Bluetiger, author of the Amber Compendium
My real name is Mateusz, the Polish equivalent of ‘Matthew’. I was born in Poland, where I have lived ever since. Honestly, I don’t remember a period in my life when I have not listened to books read by my parents or read them myself. But the first books that had some major impact on me were The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Last Battle were my favourites. Thanks to Lewis, I discovered the amazing world of Greek and Roman mythologies. I read the myths as retold by Polish classical antiquity scholar Jan Parandowski. During my primary school years, I even participated in several ‘knowledge mythology’ contests. But at that time, all mythologies I knew were the Classical ones. I was not aware of the timeless beauty of the Norse mythology, nor of Celtic tales. Concurrently, I became a fan of comic books, notably Calvin and Hobbes and Donald Duck (especially those by Carl Barks and Don Rosa). Strangely, it was a Scrooge McDuck comic borrowed from school library that first provided me with a glimpse of the northern tales (yes, Kalevala was written in the 19th century, but still, it is based on older legends from Finland). I enjoyed The Quest of Kalevala, but for some time, the references (often humorous) to the original Kalevala found in the comic were the full extent of my knowledge about any myths not Mediterranean.
Fortunately, that was about to change. The first Tolkien book I received was The Hobbit, but I simply put it inside my bookcase. For reasons that puzzle me to this day, I came to believe that the Middle-earth was supposed to lie under our own Earth’s crust, just like The Underland and Bism from The Silver Chair were under the continent upon which most of Narnia takes place. Well, when I was in kindergarten, I believed that Star Wars are about medieval-style kings who rule various Solar System planets and bombard one another other with cannons. I guess that the lesson to be remembered from this is ‘never judge a book by its cover’. Or rather, its description on the wrapper.
Honestly, I have no idea who writes those summaries for some books, but sometimes those ‘descriptions’ have little to do with the actual story the readers gets. For that matter, certain Polish edition of A Game of Thrones has a ‘summary’ on its back. According to that ‘brilliant’ advertisement, the evil tyrant king, Aerys, managed to escape from the rebels, but finally he was brought to justice by one of his guards. I’m glad GRRM’s story was so much better than the one on the wrapper.
Thankfully, in December 2010 my parents gave me another Tolkien book for Christmas. The Silmarillion. Many readers claim that this is not a book for children, that it’s dry, full of details impossible to remember… supposedly if you read it first, before The Hobbit and LOTR, you will surely lose your interest for Tolkien. Well… for me, it was quite the opposite. I absolutely loved the book. It was a mythology, just like the retellings of Greek myths I’d read… but it was better. It spoke to me, and for the first time, while reading, that fictional world seemed as real as my own. Sometimes even more real. In the following months and years, I’d go on to read all Tolkien texts I could get my hands on. I received my copy of LOTR (in Polish) for my birthday in 2012. On the 21st of December, where my peers were excited about ‘the end of the world’, supposedly foretold by the Maya Calendar, I was excited because I found out that my local library has bought The Children of Húrin. And after the ‘Class Christmas Eve Supper’ (it was the final day before holiday break from school), I went to borrow it. Oh, those sweet days…
After Tolkien’s novels, I eagerly sought out similar complexity, detail and worldbuilding but I struggled to find books that satisfied that appetite. After Tolkien’s novels, I eagerly sought out similar complexity, detail and worldbuilding but I struggled to find books that satisfied that appetite. For instance, when reading Harry Potter for another contest, I found some scenes or chapters interesting, but I struggled to immerse myself in that world; it just didn’t seem real to me. At the same time, I see why other readers would love it. Don’t misunderstand me, I have a deep respect for JK, although there are so many topics on which I disagree with her. As an aspiring author myself, I really admire all writers. Simply, I’m not a huge fan of those books.
So I searched for other authors, but apart from Sherlock Holmes stories, various Classical novels (by Mark Twain, Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas) and some Star Wars Expanded Universebooks, I spent most of my reading time re-reading Tolkien. At the same time, I noticed the following pattern about myself: first I’m totally ignorant when it comes to some universe, but if I read about it, often accidentally, and it turns out to be gripping, I often become its devout fan and expert of all trivia.
Still, few of those books were as to me absorbing as Tolkien’s. Thus came summer 2014. By pure chance I came across some articles and YouTube clips about Game of Thrones, the TV show, and the books it was based on. Well, I heard about ASOIAF before. But it was advertised as ‘new Tolkien’. Few slogans would prevent me from checking some new nobel as much as this one. But initially, I thought that GRRM was just one of those ‘Tolkien imitators’. So until July 2014, I had only a vague idea who is George R.R. Martin.
But this time, I decided to give this ‘GOT’ a try. And how would I know if I would like it ? From its Wiki of course! Here I should explain that since Star Wars Expanded Universe was so massive, it was quite impossible to know all planets, locations, historical events, characters… So I became used to checking Polish Star Wars Wiki and English Wookieepedia. And thus I spent some time skimming A Wiki of Ice and Fire… and this time, I found that the fictional world I was reading about me was convincing. The heraldry, the maps, the Houses… Oh, and the names, while not sounding Tolkienic, sounded ‘cool’. They were not generic fantasy names that sounded like gibberish. Tywin Lannister. Stannis Baratheon. Ser Kevan Lannister. Lord Eddard Stark… I decided that I should read this ASOIAF, at least the first volume. And so I did. Well, ever since, ASOIAF is as dear as Tolkien’s Legendarium to me… I finished the first four books in about one month (fortunately I had holidays back then). A Dance with Dragons took one month, but mainly because school began in September. And then, mere weeks after I finished ASOIAF book 5, The World of Ice and Fire was published! With illustrations by Ted Nasmith, one of my favourite artists, whose artwork in The Silmarillion I adored! And thus was born my passion for ASOIAF, lasting to this day.
Then I joined Westeros.org Forum, and via this board, I became familiar with LML’s The Mythical Astronomy of Ice and Fire series. I was amazed. Even before, ASOIAF seemed deep enough for me… but when I saw all those hidden symbolic meanings, complex metaphors, fractal patterns, the story within a story, the countless references to myths from all around the world! Finally, in June 2016, my friend convinced me to translate some essays by LML to Polish and publish them at Ogień i Lód (Polish ASOIAF forum). Later, as that project grew, I decided to set up this very blog, The Amber Compendium. And then I began noticing all those references to Tolkien in George R.R. Martin’s novels, and I felt even more sympathy towards him. So, inspired by LML’s project, I decided to write my own essay(s) about Tolkienic influences in ASOIAF. But at the same time, I noticed that some people in the Tolkien fandom did not value or appreciate the complexities of Martin’s work and vice versa; personally, I find it quite sad that, in some conversations about LOTR and ASOIAF, it becomes clear that certain bitterness has entered into the comparative analysis of these two works of fantasy and that people may then be missing out on some fantastic literature because they have been turned off it by that bitterness. And with my essays, I’ll try to show you GRRM’s true approach to Tolkien.