Mance, Tormund and Styr: On Royal Power in Westeros and Beyond the Wall

Mance, Tormund and Styr: On Royal Power in Westeros and Beyond the Wall

by Bluetiger

Originally published on March 7, 2020 at FSGK in Polish as Mance, Tormund i Styr. O władzy królewskiej w Westeros i za Murem.


Johannes Gehrts - Ragnarok

Johannes Gehrts (1855 – 1921), Ragnarök (Wikimedia Commons).


When we look back on Jon’s first chapter in A Storm of Swords, we can readily reach the conclusion that in terms of plot development, the most crucial event in this portion of the book is Jon’s meeting with Mance Rayder and a conversation in the course of which Snow has to convince the King Beyond the Wall that he has genuinely joined the Wildlings. That is how matters stand as far as the storyline is concerned. Plot-wise, this chapter can be seen as quite uncomplicated.

However, A Song of Ice and Fire can be read on other planes too. While discussing Jon I, DaeL drew attention to several instances of foreshadowing, hints concerning future events which the author has left for us. The theme of guest-right can also be discerned and it shall be featured not only in ASOS, but also in the subsequent volumes, gaining special significance following the Red Wedding and later attempts to exact revenge on those who had prepared it.

Here I would like to focus on yet another aspect of this chapter. I am not sure how best to define it – it seems terms such as “mythical dimension” or “philosophical dimension” have suffice for the time being. What do I mean by this? Well, I suggest that in the aforementioned chapter, a scene which on the first glance serves a purely humoristic purpose is of vital importance. And yet, when we consider its deeper sense, we may get the impression that any comic elements aside, it also introduces a mythological reference. This in turn leads us to one of the most substantial questions which A Song of Ice and Fire poses to its reader, the one about the essence of power.

***

Please, let us cast our minds back to the said chapter. Jon Snow arrives at the camp of the Wildlings, who name themselves the Free Folk. The slayer of Qhorin Halfhand and – as he claims – a renegade from the Night’s Watch – is to stand before the King Beyond the Wall. When he enters his tent, canopied by furs of white bears and ornamented with antlers, he finds six people inside. A young, fair-haired woman and a dark-haired man are regaling themselves with mead. A pregnant woman is standing by a brazier, roasting two hens. A grey-haired man in a tattered cloak is lying back on a pillow, singing The Dornishman’s Wife.

In the room, there are also two men to whom Jon Snow pays more attention. One is heavily-built, has a snow-white beard and wears golden armbands with runes graven upon them. The second one is taller and muscular, has somehow lost both his ears and wears a two-handed greatsword across his back. The first man is enjoying a hen, the second contemplates a map. Jon concludes that both look like warriors and wonders “which was Mance Rayder”.

His choice falls on the earless man, whom he addressed as king. It turns out, however, that his behaviour merely elicits a general amusement. The inconspicuous singer is the true King Beyond the Wall.

***

As I have already mentioned, this scene might be purely comical. Nevertheless, I began to wonder if there might be more to it. What deeper meaning might lie behind this situation: a hero stands before several men and must choose which one is the king?

I have concluded that the answer is partially in the names of our two potential kings. The first one is, as the reader learns a bit later in this chapter, Tormund Giantsbane. The earless warrior is Styr, the Magnar of Thenn, chieftain of a tribe which view consider themselves the last rightful scions of the First Men.

Tormund momentarily brings to mind Thor. His byname – Thunderfist – can be seen as a translation of a name made up of Þórr, which comes from a Proto-Germanic word for thunder, and mund, which is “protection”, but in poetry has also the meaning of “hand”. There exists a Faroese name Tormundur, with Tormund as its Assusative¹. Furthermore, Giantsbane also evokes Thor, slayer of the jötnar, that is of giants. Curiously, Tormund is also known as the Father of Hosts, which in Norse mythology was a cognomen of his father, Odin.

What is more, the word Styr is similar to a name of another Norse deity – Týr, the one-handed god associated with justice and judgement. It should be noted that just like the Norse Týr, the magnar of Thenn is attacked by an enormous wolf. Týr loses his hand in the jaws of Fenrir, and it is foretold that during ragnarök he is to be devoured by Garm. As it happens, Jon’s escape from Styr’s group is successful because the Magnar and his men are suddenly set upon by Bran’s direwolf. We also read that according to Jon’s observations Styr was treated by his followers more like a god than a lord.

John Bauer - Tyr and Fenrir

John Bauer (1882 – 1918), “Týr and Fenrir” (Wikimedia Commons). In ASOIAF, Styr might be Týr’s counterpart.

Therefore, in our scene we have characters alluding to two Norse deities. We also see in it Jarl and Val, two further characters whose names seem to refer to culture and beliefs of the early medieval Scandinavia. Jarls were one of the three social strata which according to one of the Eddaic poems have been established by Heimdall, and Val is probably meant to evoke the Valkyries, Odin’s female warriors who brought souls of heroes who fell in battle of Valhǫll (Valhalla)². Based on one detail from Val’s plotline in A Dance With Dragons – the fact that once in Castle Black she took up residence in a high tower – one might suspect that Val is based on a specific Valkyrie, Brynhild from the tale of Sigurð Völsung.

Thus, in Mance Rayder’s tent we have seen gathered at least four characters evoking the Norse myths. It is no great surprise that, accordingly, the King Beyond the Wall himself might correspond to one of the deities – Odin. Mance wears a helmet decorated with raven wings, and the very same birds are univocally associated with Odin. He is a singer, and Odin is a god of madness and poetic inspiration, who has won the Mead of Poetry for gods and humans, thus enabling the poets to compose. Just like Odin, Mance delights in hiding his identity and wandering around the world incognito – he journeys to Winterfell twice, disguised as a minstrel from Robert Baratheon’s retinue on the first occasion (in A Game of Thrones) and as Abel the bard on the second (in ADWD). The spearwives accompanying him on this later journey can be compared to the Valkyries. Finally, the surname Rayder might have something to do with Odin’s names such as Atriðr, attacking rider, and Reiðartyr, god of riders.

Jon stands in front “Thor” and “Týr” and has to make a decision which of the two is the King Beyond the Wall. He chooses “Týr”, but it turns out that the singer, “Odin”, was the true ruler. Is there any deeper meaning to this sequence? Is the author’s intention to tell us something, to convey some information about the essence of royal power in A Song of Ice and Fire?

***

In my view, it is highly likely that this is indeed the case.

The so-called trifunctional hypothesis will emerge as crucial. It refers to the original societal organization of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, a people speaking in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) language, which has later diverged into groups such as the Hellenic, the Romance, the Celtic, the Germanic, the Balto-Slavonic and others. This hypothesis was formulated by Georges Dumézil, an outstanding French philologist and scholar of mythology³.

Dumézil argued that the society of the PIE people was composed of three classes, with each associated with a specific function – a domain of human existence. The first of those groups were the ruler-priests who possessed “sovereignty”. Below them were those who wielded martial power – the warriors. Finally, there was the third class, governed by the remaining two, that is, the producers, who cultivated the land, herded the animals and engaged in craft.

The scholar proposed that such tripartite division had its reflection in the original religion of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and its traces can be discerned in later mythologies which descend from it. For instance, in the Norse mythology Odin would be the sovereign ruler, Thor the warrior and the producers would have their deities in the Vanir, figures associated with fertility such Frey or his father Njörð. The society was made up of three strata – the jarls, that is the nobles, the karls – the free farmers (who, if such need arose, would take up arms, and in some periods would participate in raids as vikings) and the thralls, the slaves. Of course, between those groups there were other classes, such as the freedmen or the húskarls (the monarch’s bodyguards). However, on the whole the society was based on the three main groups.

Arthur Rackham - Thor

Arthur Rackham (1867 – 1939), Donnar (German version of Thor’s name), illustration for “The Rhinegold” and “The Valkyrie” by Richard Wagner (Wikimedia Commons). In PLIO Tormund seems to parallel Thor.

***

At this moment one might reasonably point out that in the division I have just described there are featured Odin, Thor and the Vanir, but there is no Týr. Obviously, it would be a major, and indeed a devastating, blow to my theory, according to which Styr parallels Týr and the entire situation with him, Mance and Tormund is supposed to be based on Dúmezil’s model. If the ASOIAF pattern was to mirror the Proto-Indo-European one, as I have presented it above, instead of “Týr” beside Tormund there should stand some “Frey” or “Njörð”.

But in actuality, Týr perfectly fits the Dumézilian template, since Indo-European sovereignty has two aspects and that is why I have mentioned the ruler-priests. A priest is someone whose power associated with the supernatural, ecstasy, inspiration, prophesying. Thus, this figure can be seen as someone who represents chaos, unpredictability – just like Odin, who constantly changes shape, breaks promises and tries to escape his fate with the help of arcane knowledge.

To counterbalance this, the other member of the pair of sovereign rulers is the one who introduces order – the law-giver and judge, who organizes all aspects of earthly life. In Norse mythology, Týr plays such role. It is worth to mention that originally his importance may have been greater (his name is a cognate of the name Jupiter) than in the later period and, consequently, in the Eddas.

Furthermore, even though the producers have their own deities – in Norse mythology the Vanir are such a group – those gods are figures of lower status than deities of rulers and warriors. The Vanir are less powerful than the Aesir such as Odin, Týr and Thor, just like producers are subordinate to priests, kings and warriors (and primarily to those first two groups, as warriors heed their orders), The warriors’ domain is power, but this is purely physical might, governing is the realm of someone else.

This tripartite division – Odin, Týr and Thorª – perfectly fits the situation from the chapter about Jon’s meeting with Mance. Interestingly enough, Styr and Tormund’s associations with monarchical power are not limited to Jon’s belief that one of them is the King Beyond the Wall. As we read in another chapter:

“Are you a true king?” Jon asked suddenly.

“I’ve never had a crown on my head or say my arse on a bloody throne, if that’s what you’re asking,” Mance replied. “My birth is as low as a man’s can get, no septon’s ever smeared my head with oils, I don’t own any castles, and my queen wears furs and amber, not silk and sapphires. I am my own champion, my own fool, and my own harpist. You don’t become King-beyond-the-Wall because your father was. The free folk won’t follow a name, and they don’t care which brother was born first. They follow fighters. When I left the Shadow Tower there were five men making noises about how they might be the stuff of kings. Tormund was one, the Magnar another. The three other I slew, when they made it plain they’d sooner fight than follow.” —ASOS, Jon IX—

Now let us examine more closely the sources of power of our three “kings”. Tormund, the Mead-King of Ruddy Hall, is above all else a warrior. People follow him because of his physical strength, not his deep wisdom or great cunning – as he himself admits, Mance surpasses him in that later respect. Styr is also a warrior, but of another kind – his men are more disciplined, better armed and he himself is more of a general than a common yeoman. In the first scene in which we see him he is standing over a map, while Tormund is sitting on a stool, devouring a roast hen. Styr’s power comes primarily from the law. “You don’t become King-beyond-the-Wall because your father was” – that is true. Yet, the title of the Magnar of Thenn is hereditary, following Styr’s demise it will go on to his son, Sigorn (who bears another name with an Old Norse element – sigr, which means “victory”), who will later become a husband of Alys Karstark. The Thenns see themselves as last rightful heirs of the First Men and their society is significantly more orderly than other tribal communities of the Wildlings. Thus, we see that just like Týr, the Magnar is a figure whose power touches upon the field of law and introduction of order.

Arthur Rackham - Brynhildr

Arthur Rackham (1867 – 1939), Brünhilde (Brynhildr), illustration for “The Rhinegold” and “The Valkyrie” by Richard Wagner (Wikimeia Commons). In ASOIAF, the character of Val might be a reference to the Valkyries, and perhaps more specifically to Brynhildr.

What about Mance’s power? Well, in the symbolic sense he is the inspired bard, a seer and prophet who leads his people through a certain vision – the idea of crossing over the Wall. He is a warrior, but he is also characterized by cunning, captiousness and a kind of wisdom. Like Odin, he is filled with curiosity about the wider world and desires to know more. He seeks secret knowledge, excavating graves of giants in the Frostfangs in hope of finding the Horn of Joramun (another name which might be a Norse reference – to the Midgard-serpent Jörmungandr, king Jörmunrek – Gothic ruler Ermanaric, or both). Lastly, in A Dance With Dragons he changes shape – it is true that not through his own skills, but because of Melisandre’s art, but nevertheless, in he is still similar in this respect to the master skinchanger Odin.

Mance is not a priest of any religion, but as poet and singer he evokes a shaman or a seer, and as a counterpart of Odin – just like Bloodraven and Beric Dondarrion – in the symbolic sense he is connected with the Children of the Forest, the weirwood trees (which parallel Yggdrasil) and the greenseers.

George R.R. Martin might be alluding to Odin and the division of Norse society also through the lover of Val’s sister, Dalla – for whom he chose the name Jarl. According to the Elder Edda, jarls who fall in battle belong to Odin. We know that the author of ASOIAF has read this compendium of poems. Thus, we should not be surprised that it is Jarl who is so closely associated with Odin’s counterpart Mance. Moreover, from this perspective the significance of manner of his death is also easy to understand. While scaling the Wall, Jarl and his companions are swept off by an ice block detached from the cliff.

They found Jarl in a tree, impaled upon a splintered branch and still roped to the three men who lay broken beneath him. One was still alive, but his legs and spine were shattered, and most of his ribs as well. —ASOS, Jon IV—

In Norse mythology it was Odin who hung for nine long nights on a “windy tree”, pierced with a spear and sacrificed to himself – in this way he got to know the secret art of runecraft. It seems that GRRM is showing us here that he knows that it is Odin with whom the class of jarls is connected.

Now let us have a look on the following excerpt from a chapter in which Jon sets off with a band of Wildlings on a journey to south of the Wall:

Jarl was with the Magnar; Mance had given them joint command. Styr was none too pleased by that; Jon had noted early on. Mance Rayder had called the dark youthº a “pet” of Val, who was sister to Dalla, his own queen, which made Jarl a sort of good brother once removed to the King-beyond-the-Wall. The Magnar plainly resented sharing his authority. He had brought a hundred Thenns, five times as many men as Jarl, and often acted as if he had the sole command. But it would be the younger man who got them over the ice, Jon knew. —ASOS, Jon III—

Mance’s representative – Jarl – shares power with Styr. Meanwhile, Odin and Týr jointly occupy the same level, the one associated with sovereignty. Styr is not pleased about the prospect of having to co-rule – perhaps because it was Týr who might have been once the supreme god, but was dethroned by Odin.

Arthur Rackham - Odyn

Arthur Rackham (1867 – 1939), Wotan (German form of the name Odin), illustration for “The Rhinegold” and “The Valkyrie” by Richard Wagner (Wikimedia Commons). In ASOIAF, characters such as Bloodraven, Beric Dondarrion, Mance Rayder and Euron Greyjoy exhibit some characteristics of Odin.

***

Returning to Jon’s first chapter in ASOS, I suggest we can read it in the following way: Jon arrives at a meeting with the Kind Beyond the Wall and stands before two “candidates”. One symbolizes rule stemming from the law, the other power arising from physical might. Jon rightly (if we consider Dumézil’s tripartite division) concludes that Styr is the more important one of the two. After all, Norse Thor is placed below Týr, who occupies the highest level – the one of sovereignty. However, Jon is not aware that sovereignty has two aspects. He picks earthly power, but altogether ignores the supernatural – he does not even consider the inconspicuous singer. And yet, it is revealed that this very singer is the second member of a pair of rulers of the highest strata, Odin’s counterpart. Curiously, it is the case in both Norse mythology and in ASOIAF that the priest-king is placed a bit higher than the judge-king. There are no two equal King Beyond the Wall – Mance has defeated Styr, who ultimately submitted to him. Týr is also not equal to Odin, at least in those sources which are available to us (some scholars suggest that Týr may have once been a vastly more significant figure, perhaps more important to Odin, a supreme god, just like his etymological cousins Jupiter and Zeus).

A similar “choice” features elsewhere in A Song of Ice and Fire – in one of Tyrion’s chapters in A Clash of Kings. The issue of various kinds of power and their sources is directly brought up. Here is Varys’ famous riddle:

“May I leave you with a bit of a riddle, Lord Tyrion?” He did not wait for an answer. “In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the three great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours,’ So tell me – who lives and who dies?” —ACOK, Tyrion II—

When Varys leaves, Shae asks Tyrion if it will be the rich man who survives. To this, the Lannister responds that “Perhaps. Or not. That would depend on the sellsword, it seems.”

In another chapter Tyrion and Varys return to the topic:

“Power is a curious thing, my lord. Perchance you have considered the riddle I posed you that day in the inn?”

“It has crossed my mind a time or two,” Tyrion admitted. “The king, the priest, the rich man – who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? It’s a riddle without an answer, or rather, too many answers. All depends on the man with the sword. (…)

Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”

“So power is a mummer’s trick?”

“A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill. —ACOK, Tyrion III—

A King, a priest and a rich man… those two figures do not exactly correspond to Styr, Mance and Tormund, nor Týr, Odin and Thor. However, they can easily be placed within Dumézil’s pattern. Varys states clearly the source of the power of the king from the riddle – he is “lawful” – thus, he parallels the judge-king who represents one of the two aspects of sovereignty. The priest next to him stands for the supernatural power. The rich man might represent the producers, who in Norse mythology have their deities in the Vanir associated with fertility and abundance. The rich man does not belong to the same level as the other two “great ones”, he is more of a merchant, who boosted his status through financial prosperity. Theoretically, the rich man has no power, he is located at the bottom of the social ladder upon the highest spokes of which the king and the priest are located. And yet, Martin presents a world in which material commodities become equally, and perhaps even more important, than law and religion (or generally, everything that belongs in the sacrum). Finally, in Varys’s riddle there is also the sellsword, representative of physical and martial power. He is the one to make a choice. The power the king and the priests exercise over the producers, those who own material wealth, depends largely on whether they will have under their command those who enforce their will, that is, the warriors.

Yggdrasil

Part of “The Ash Yggdrasil” by Friedrich Wihelm Heine (1845 – 1921), (Wikimedia Commons).

Tyrion states, that everything depends on who the sellsword is. To this I would add that there is another equally important factor – when the choice is made. Let us examine the consecutive phases of plot development in A Song of Ice and Fire. On the onset of the War of the Five Kings, many pretenders allege that their right to rule stems from the law. Stannis declares that he is the sole rightful heir of Robert, Joffrey claims the Iron Throne is his by right, Robb Stark evokes the right of the Northerners to self-governance. Here the choice falls on “the king”. In contrast, Renly relies chiefly on military might – he is “the warrior”. (Interestingly enough, the number of the potential kings defeated by Mance was also five). Afterwards, the Lannisters allied with the Tyrells reign supreme for a time – that is “the rich man’s” triumph. However, following the death of Lord Tywin, the order forged by him begins to crumble and in many regions religious leaders rise in prominence – for instance, the High Sparrow and Melisandre. This is also the period of the ascendancy of Euron, a highly Odinic figure, who apparently bases his rule of magic, arcane forces and chaos, things associated with the Indo-European “priest”.

***

In this ASOS chapter, Jon becomes, in a sense, the sellsword from Varys’ riddle, the one who must “choose” the king. Curiously, by choosing Styr, Jon symbolically champions the cause of law – and Jon is the one who attempts to act justly and be guided by honour, thus defending the existing order, just like his “father” – Eddard Stark – who chose Stannis, “the rightful king”.

Yet, it turns out that Mance Rayder, “the seer” and “the priest”, is the true ruler. What does this mean? Perhaps George R.R. Martin is implicating that the spiritual and the supernatural have primacy over the material and the earthly. It is also possible that he is simply foreshadowing another “phase” of the game of thrones, in which religion will be brought to the forefront, just like magic, thus far marginalized. It might be the case that this is some clue as to the ultimate result of the conflict. I suppose this is closely connected with the weirwoods, which parallel the Norse World Tree, Yggdrasil, and the greenseers – symbolically associated with Odin, hanged on a tree, who through self-sacrifice won wisdom and arcane knowledge about runes. One can attempt to match various claimants to the Iron Throne and rulers of Westeros to the following four basic categories: kings (law), priests (religion and magic), warriors (military might) and “rich men” (material commodities). The group of three major deities, which represent two aspects of sovereignty and physical strength might also have some connection with GRRM’s idea of the three heads of the dragon.

At any rate, there is something deeply moving and beautiful in the fact that in A Storm of Swords, a book published on the threshold of the 21st century, we see a scene, which might recreate a tripartite division of the society and the deities which, according to scholars such as Georges Dumézil, existed among the primeval Indo-Europeans many millennia ago.

Thank you for your attention, I hope you have enjoyed this piece!

—Bluetiger

***

©2020 Bluetiger and The Tolkienic Song of Ice and Fire. Original Polish essay ©2020 Bluetiger and FSGK.PL

¹ Wiktionary: Tormundur

Having written this essay, in Tormund – Horned Lord of Winter by The Fattest Leech I came across information that there also existed the Old Norse name Þórmundr. Faroese Tormundur is apparently its descendant.

As for Styr, a character named Styrbjörn Sterki (the Strong in English, der Starke in German) is featured in several sagas and stories. However, I believe that even if GRRM is familiar with this figure, the name of his Styr is meant to evoke primarily Týr, who is much more prominent and well-known.

² Associations between Val’s name and the Valkyries have been noted before, for instance, they were discussed by The Fattest Leech in When was Val introduced into ASOIAF? – when an observation by Corvo the Crow is mentioned.

³ I was first acquainted with Dumézil’s theory in a book Wierzenia Prasłowian [Beliefs of the Proto-Slavs] by Jakub Zielina

ª It might be a coincidence, but I still find it interesting that we find the very same three deities – Týr, Odin and Thor – or rather, their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, in the names of weekdays in the English language (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). Wednesday being the day of Woden (Odin) might explain why in the first chapter of The Hobbit Bilbo invites Gandalf, the Odinic wanderer, for supper on Wednesday and writes down “Gandalf Tea Wednesday” in his engagement tablet. This also means that Thorin’s Company embarks on its journey on Thursday.

º Jarl being called “dark youth” reminds me of the so-called Fair Youth, a figure to whom many of Shakespeare’s sonnets are apparently addressed. “Dark youth” might be a play on two characters: the Fair Youth and the Dark Lady. (Perhaps in ASOIAF we should look for a “fair lady” to complement Jarl as the “dark youth”. Maybe Val is supposed to be that figure?)


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The Fate of Frey

The Fate of Frey by Bluetiger

Originally published in the Polish language at FSGK PL as Taniec z Mitami: Przeznaczenie Freya (https://fsgk.pl/wordpress/2019/09/taniec-z-mitami-przeznaczenie-freya/)



The last time we saw him, a blizzard forced Stannis Baratheon to halt his march on Winterfell and make camp in an abandoned crofters’ village by an ice-bound lake, some three days away from his destination. Against his army, made up of knights and men-at-arms who have accompanied the claimant from the South, and warriors of the mountain clans, two hosts have been dispatched by Roose Bolton. The first of those is led by Lord Wyman Manderly, while the second consists of Freys, aiding the Lord of Dreadfort in subjugating the North, in accordance with their alliance pact sealed before the Red Wedding.

The contingent from the Twins was led by Lord Walder’s third son, Ser Aenys Frey, until a clever trap set by Stannis’ ally Mors Umber caused his demise. In this situation, the command of the Frey detachment passed to Walder’s sixth son, Hosteen.

Although Ser Hosteen is a battle-hardened warrior, it would appear he finds following orders much easier than giving them. Stannis’ opinion about the knight’s abilities is rather unflattering, and he goes as far as to name him “Ser Stupid”. To make matters even worse (at least from the Frey point of view), Hosteen is an impulsive man and lacks the restraint (and calculatedness) which characterizes some of his kin.

When a series of suspicious deaths begins in Winterfell, Hosteen makes it no secret that he believes Manderly is the culprit. He has no doubts that lord Wyman was involved in the enigmatic disappearance of three Freys (Jared, Symond and Rhaehar) traveling from the White Harbor to Winterfell either. Following Little Walder’s murder, Hosteen publicly puts the blame on Manderly, who denies such allegations, but declares that perhaps the youth’s death was a blessing – “had he lived, he would have grown up to be a Frey”. Hearing those words, the future commander of an entire army can’t help but to allow himself to be provoked, and attacks the Lord of White Harbor, only to be stopped by Manderly’s knights.

House Frey coat-of-arms by Abjiklam

To prevent future disputes within Winterfell’s walls, and dispose of bothersome allies (at least one of whom can be strongly suspected of being disloyal), Roose Bolton sends the Freys and the Manderlys against Stannis. However, due to aforementioned animosity between the two houses, their forces set off separately (which is quite beneficial for Wyman, if he really has plans to switch sides, and also suspiciously convenient for Mors Umber, since only the Freys fall into his trap). Thus, Ser Hosteen and his men will have to face Stannis Baratheon on their own.

***

What will be the result of this engagement? Many a theory has been written about this incoming battle, known as the Battle of Ice, but this time, we will turn to Norse Mythology, where – as I believe – some hints about our Frey’s fate can be found.

Much can be said about the influence those tales had on George R.R. Martin’s works. From Dreamsongs we know that the writer has read the Eddas (the older Poetic Edda and the younger Prose Edda) and some of the Icelandic Sagas.

My major was journalism, but I took a minor in history. My sophomore year I signed up for the History of Scandinavia, thinking it would be cool to study Vikings. Professor Franklin D. Scott was an enthusiastic teacher who invited the class to his home for Scandinavian food and glug (a mulled wine with raisins and nuts floating in it). 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.
—George R.R. Martin, Dreamsongs

Today we fill focus on a certain event which takes place during the end of the world (at least as we know it) described in the Eddas, when the destiny of the gods will be fulfilled, and Asgard and all the other worlds, including Midgard, will be destroyed in fire. This final battle between the forces of good and evil will is known as Ragnarök, which means “the fate of the gods” or “the destiny of the gods”. Due to an error in translation of this Old Norse term, there exists a second term for this Doomsday – the Twilight of the Gods (Götterdämmerung), made well-known in a large part because of Richard Wagner’s music drama The Ring of the Nibelung.

File:Kampf der untergehenden Götter by F. W. Heine.jpg

Friedrich Wilhelm Heine, Battle of the Doomed Gods An artistic vision of Ragnarök (Wikimedia Commons)

In A Song of Ice and Fire we find many references to events heralding Ragnarök and taking place during it, such as: the terrible winter (Fimbulvinter) lasting for three years, the swallowing of the sun and the moon by the wolves named Sköll and Hati, the Iron-holt (Iron-wood) Járnviðr¹, the hound Garmr belonging to the goddess Hel, the horn-blowing Heimdall, the three crowing roosters, Valhalla, Tyr and Fenrir, Odyn and his ravens, the World Tree Yggdrasil, the Midgard Serpent Jörmungandr… influences from other myths can also be discerned (it is worth to mention, for instance, the valkyries, the undead draugr, Loki, Iðunn and her apples, the tale about Baldur’s death inadvertently causes by the blind Höðr).

¹ Simplifying,  ð is pronounced in a similar way to th in words like father and that.

All those connections are a fascinating topic, one to which we will surely return in the future. However, in this essay, I wany to primarily  bring to your attention one event and two heroes.

In order to do so, we have to reach out to the Poetic Edda, which begins with the poem Völuspá, which can be translated as The Prophecy of the Völva or The Prophecy of the Seeress. According to beliefs of the pre-Christain Indianina, a völva was a person whom we could also call a prophetess, a foretelling woman or a seeress (think of seer, on the basis of which GRRM has created his greenseer term). It is curious that another word for a völva is vala (in fact, Völuspá sometimes appears as The Prophecy of the Vala) – perhaps this is where GRRM got the name Val from. After all, the ASOIAF Val might be, in a way, a priestess of the old gods, and it also appears that the author intentionally contrasts her with Melisandre, a believer of the fire god.

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Christian Krohg, Snorri Sturluson – author of the Prose Edda (Wikimedia Commons)

In the poem Völuspá a certain völva is asked by Odin to present the history of the world, beginning with its creation and finishing with its end, Ragnarök. Here we are mainly interested in one event in the final battle between the gods (Æsir and Vanir) and the giants.

According to the seeress’ words, among portent revealing that the end is near will be the following events: a witch living in Járnviðr (Ironwood) will give birth to two offspring of Fenrir the wolf, Sköll and Hati, who shall steal the sun and snatch the moon from the firmament; three roosters shall crow – the golden Gillinkambi in Valhalla, the crimson Fjalar in Jotunheim, and the unnamed soot-red rooster in Hellheim; the infernal hound Garmr guarding the entrance to the realm of the dead will howl and fetters binding him shall burst.

There will come a time when:

Brothers shall fight and fell each other,
And sisters’ sons shall kinship stain;
Hard it is on earth, with mighty whoredom;
Axe-time, sword-time, shields are sundered
Wind-time, wolf-time², ere the world falls;
Nor ever shall men each other spare.
—From Henry Adam Bellows’ translation of Völuspá in The Poetic Edda

² Perhaps this is why GRRM originally wanted to name one of the ASOIAF novels A Time for Wolves.

Then Heimdall, guarding the rainbow bridge Bifrost, which connects Midgard (lands inhabited by humans) with Asgard (realm of the gods), shall blow his horn Gjallarhorn. When it sounds, the World Tree Yggdrasil will shiver. The giant Hrym will come from Jotunheim, bearing a shield. The serpent Jörmungandr, surrounding Midgard, will writhe, arousing enormous waves. The ship Naglfar will sail on this turbulent sea, carrying Loki and his host of monsters and giants.

Another enemy of the gods who will arrive is Surtr, a giant coming forth from Muspelheim (realm of fire) the south. His flaming sword will shine brighter than the sun.

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John Charles Dollman, The Giant with the Flaming Sword (Wikimedia Commons)

During Ragnarök the gods – and their allies, mortal warriors who were slain in earlier battles and whose souls were carried to Valhalla by the valkyries, to await this one last fight – will stand against the forces of evil. According to the Prose Edda, which was written by Snorri Sturluson (12th and 13th century Icelandic poet and historian descended from the influential Sturlung clan), the Rainbow Bridge Bifrost will collapse when giants from Muspelheim, led by Surtr, will cross it.

Odin will sally forth with warriors of Valhalla to face the monstrous wolf Fenrir, and will be devoured by him. Vidar will avenge his father’s death. The one-handed Tyr (who has sacrificed his limb so the gods could capture Fenrir) will fight goddess Hel’s dire hound Garmr – the adversaries will kill one another. The result of Heimdall’s duel with the treacherous Loki will be similar. Thor’s destiny will be to combat Jörmungandr, and he will manage to slay the beast, but won’t leave long enough to boast of it – he will perish, poisoned the Midgard Serpent’s venom. Freyr will stand in the way of the giant Surtr (brandishing the shining sword, as bright as the sun), but won’t manage to overcome him and will fall dead. At the very end, Surtr will use his weapon to engulf the entire world in flames. Thus the destiny of the gods will be fulfilled.

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John Bauer (1882 – 1918), Tyr and Fenrir (Wikimedia Commons)

***

I suspect that when George R.R. Martin created a scenario where, in the Battle of Ice, Stannis Baratheon and Hosteen Frey become adversaries, he has this very scene with Surtr and Freyr in mind.

The surname “Frey” is most likely a reference to “Freyr” (whose name is often anglicized as Frey). The mythical Frey was one of the Vanir, the elder group of Norse deities, which was supplanted by the Æsir led by Odin. As it was described in Philip Parker’s book  The Northmen’s Fury: A History of the Viking World, according to some researchers, the merger of two pantheons (Æsir & Vanir) might suggest that two distinct peoples, worshiping different gods, were united. There are also theories that the Scandinavians originally worshiped the Vanir, deities associated with fertility and prosperity, and only later did the Odinic cults develop (it seems this god rose to prominence in the Vendel Period – between roughly 550 and 790 AD – shortly before the Viking raids began).

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Johannes Gehrts, Freyr (Wikimedia Commons)

Be it as it may, Freyr was the god of fertility and virility. His twin sister was Freya, goddess of love. Their parents were Njörðr, protector of the sea, sailors and fishermen, but also god of winds; and (at least in some accounts) Skaði, goddess of skiing, mountains, winter and hunting.

Just like Freyr, House Frey (and especially its patriarch, Lord Walder) is famous because of its fertility. We may see another parallel if we look at the god’s steed, the golden boar Gullinbursti, whose bristle glowed in the dark. Actually, Ser Hosteen also has a connection with with animal. To find out how this parallel works, we have to simply look at the sigil of the house his mother Amarei Crakehall came from.

House Crakehall.svg

House Crakehall coat-of-arms by Abjiklam

***

As for Stannis and Surtr, the obvious similarity between the two is the flaming sword – Lightbringer is described in a way reminiscent of the fiery giant’s weapon. What is more, in some scenes George R.R. Martin appears to be using the same phrase as Snorri Sturluson in Prose Edda. Just like Surtr’s blade, Stannis’ sword is compared to the sun:

Stannis Baratheon drew Lightbringer. The sword glowed red and yellow and orange, alive with light. Jon had seen the show before … but not like this, never before like this. Lightbringer was the sun made steel. (…)

Lightbringer was brighter than I’d ever seen it. As bright as the sun.” Jon raised his cup. “To Stannis Baratheon and his magic sword.”

A Dance with Dragons, Jon III—

In Rasmus Björn Anderson’s translation of  Gylfaginning from the Prose Edda we read that:

In the midst of this clash and din the heavens are rent in twain, and the sons of Muspel come riding through the opening. Surt rides first, and before him and after him flames burning fire. He has a very good sword, which shines brighter than the sun. As they ride over Bifrost it breaks to pieces, as has before been stated.

Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Rasmus Björn Anderson—

Just like Surtr, Stannis came from the South, while his seat – the volcanic isle of Dragonstone – is a place which we can call a realm of fire, just like Muspelheim, the jötunn’s home. In Iceland, there exists a complex of lava caves, which must have reminded the locals of the fire giant’s domain, as they gave it the name of Surtshellir (Surt’s Cave). In the middle ages, outlaws used the cavern as their hideout, but according to long-persistent folk beliefs, in ancient times it was Surtr himself who lived there. I don’t know if George R.R. Martin heard about this place, but at the very least, its name demonstrates how Icelanders imagined the seat of the Lord of Múspell – and Dragonstone is quite similar to such a vision.

File:Surtur mit dem Flammenschwerte.jpg

Friedrich Wilhelm Engelhard, Surtur mit dem Flammenschwerte – Surtr with a flaming sword (Wikimedia Commons)

Is Stannis a giant? Well, the Baratheons are famous because of their height, and in A Game of Thrones Robert is described as a “veritable giant”. Is this enough to determine that his younger brother is another giant, which would strengthen a thesis about his connection with Surtr?

It just so happens that in A Dance with Dragons there is a scene where something curious happens to Stannis’ shadow, when the Wildlings who want to pass to the other side of the Wall are forced to burn weirwood branches:

They came on, clutching their scraps of wood until the time came to feed them to the flames. R’hllor was a jealous deity, ever hungry. So the new god devoured the corpse of the old, and cast gigantic shadows of Stannis and Melisandre upon the Wall, black against the ruddy red reflections on the ice.

A Dance with Dragons, Jon III—

This quote comes, funnily enough, from the very chapter where just after “Mance Rayder” is burned and just before the Wildlings cross to the southern side of the Wall, Lightbringer suddenly shone brighter than ever before, becoming “the sun made steel”. Jon’s third chapter in ADWD is a place where we find an unusual concentration of Norse Mythology references: Tormund (Thor), the Horn of Joramun (Jörmungandr), Ygritte (whose name most likely comes from Yggdrasil, and perhaps contains the word “rite” as well), Val (vala, or völva, a priestess and a seeress) and Sigorn (perhaps Sigurd, and even if this is not the case, the name still has a Norse ring). Perhaps Stannis (his shadow) as a giant is another of those, foreshadowing his future role as Surtr fighting the Freys.

To crown it all, the Wall itself can be seen as a symbol of the Rainbow Bridge. We can do so because of descriptions such as this, coming to us from Jon’s eleventh chapter in A Dance with Dragons:

Outside the day was bright and cloudless. The sun had returned to the sky after a fortnight’s absence, and to the south the Wall rose blue-white and glittering. There was a saying Jon had heard from the older men at Castle Black: the Wall has more moods than Mad King Aerys, they’d say, or sometimes, the Wall has more moods than a woman. On cloudy days it looked to be white rock. On moonless nights it was as black as coal. In snowstorms it seemed carved of snow. But on days like this, there was no mistaking it for anything but ice. On days like this the Wall shimmered bright as a septon’s crystal, every crack and crevasse limned by sunlight, as frozen rainbows danced and died behind translucent ripples. On days like this the Wall was beautiful.

A Dance with Dragons, Jon XI—

Considering that, as we have just established, Stannis symbolizes Surtr, and according to the Prose Edda a host led by the giant will cause Bifrost to collapse, the image we begin to see is sinister. Will Stannis play some role in the Wall’s downfall?

Since Ser Hosteen is Freyr’s counterpart, and Stannis is a Surtr analogue, we should suspect that the Baratheon and his men will succeed in defeating the Frey army in the battle of the crofters’ village. If the scenario DaeL has plotted out in one of his Wild Theories (Szalone Teorie), GRRM will recreate the myth quite thoroughly. If Hosteen leads his men in a charge over the frozen lake, and if the ice breaks under them, we will get out shattering Bifrost. And if Stannis makes use of the trick used by the pirates of the Three Sisters, luring the Freys onto the lake, while the king himself will be safely positioned on an isle, and in the crucial moment of the charge will use Lightbringer to blind his enemies – well, GRRM’s Freyr will die because of Surtr’s sword brighter than the sun, just like his mythical predecessor.

And even if the events of The Winds of Winter won’t unfold exactly in this way, when Stannis Baratheon and Hosteen Frey face one another in battle, the pattern established by Snorri in the Prose Edda will still be fulfilled. The Freys will live to see their own Ragnarök.


Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed this piece
Yours, Bluetiger

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Update – 27th February 2017

The Amber Compendium Update – 27th February 2017


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Meadows nearby Trzęsacz by the Baltic Sea (West Pomeranian Voivodeship,Poland), photo by Bluetiger (August 2016)


So, a month has passed since I’ve started this blog, and it’s been over three months since the last post. In case you wonder what’s going on, I decided to give this update:

As of now, the following things are planned:

The Amber Compendium Essays:

  • essay entitled The Edda of Ice and Fire – it’ll be an introduction to whole series about the Norse Mythology. It’ll explain most important things about Norse Mythology, a bit about its history and of course, how all of that relates to ASOIAF (and why I believe that GRRM poseses huge knowledge about it. This essay is my priority right now.
  • essay entitled The Amber Compendium Chapter I: Yggdrasil based on this thread from Westeros.org forum
  • more essays from Encyclopedia of Myth in ASOIAF, in similar style as the episode about House Wynch of Iron Holt

The Spring 2017 series:

  • episode about spring in mythology and fertility deities in both real world and The World of Ice and Fire – I’d like to publish this one before Palm Sunday (9th April)
  • episode about Easter customs and traditions – I’d like to publish this one during the Holy Week 2017

In the more distant future:

  •  Re-Read of ASOIAF: GOT Prologue
  • Amethyst Empress VS Golden King: The Princess and The Queen analysis
  • essay about ‘The Sons of the Dragon’ – when it comes out on 10th October 2017

Mythical Astronomy of Ice and Fire translations (tłumaczenia Mitycznej Astronomii Lodu i Ognia):

After consultation with LML, we’ve decided to translate and publish Mythical Astronomy essays in order of their original release, which you can see on LML’s WordPress page

More about Mythical Astronomy: Mythical Astronomy of Ice and Fire (translations to Polish)


Thanks for reading.

Yours, Bluetiger aka Matthew