George R. R. Martin’s novel-length venture into horror, Fevre Dream, originally published in 1982 and reissued in 2012, is a tale about vampires set in the mid-nineteenth century U.S. along the confines of the Mississippi River and its tributaries. It has several items that are common to most, if not all, of Martin’s work. Authors usually have issues, characters, themes, and plot patterns they use in all of their work. It is not hard to understand why that would be so. Regardless of the setting, genre, or plot of a particular work, the author is the same. What they write will always be a product of their imagination. Their imagination will be from a lifetime of experiences, exhibit their views, and share the qualities of its creators. Authors write about themselves. They write about what they know. Their work is a part of who they are. Therefore, it is worth considering the items in Fevre Dream for what they may reveal about “A Song of Ice and Fire”.
The most upfront common element is the use of dreams, particularly fever dreams, as plot devices, symbols, and motivations for the characters. The people and vampires in Fevre Dream have dreams, they live them, and they are also telepathic communications. The second is the presence of some recurring Martin characters: the grizzled warrior (in this case, a steamboat captain and one of our heroes); the noble/royal wannabe who wants to unite the two races and depose the dark leader; the dark leader who is formidable, eloquent, and ancient; women who are fully developed characters, but ultimately secondary to the plot and need rescuing; and a young woman who is a victim (not a survivor, she doesn’t make it). The third is the use of point of view storytelling. Our hero is once again the narrator of the tale, and our only perspective.
The fourth common element concerns the overall themes of the work including journeys of discovery, combat, chase, and exploration; two races of humanoids that have been enemies but can find peaceful coexistence; and the power of blood. It would also not be a Martin story without a deep, moral quandary. In this case, it is the question of what defines good and evil. For Martin the solution is: “without choice there can be no good or evil” (218). A carnivore, for example, is neither good nor evil because we cannot blame the carnivore for doing what nature has made it to do. But, humanoid creatures have free will. Therefore, they can be held accountable for their actions. In other words, there is always a choice.
This position is similar to the message of the movie “How to Train Your Dragon”. From the Viking perspective, dragons were pests, ravagers, and monsters. The only “good dragon is a dead dragon”. Hiccup discovered that dragons were also thinking, feeling creatures with motivations. In that particular case, they were serving a queen/master dragon. Having read Fevre Dream, one gets the same overall impression about vampires. Might we transpose the same overall message to “A Song of Ice and Fire”?
While some might say that message is told solely about Lannisters, Starks, and others, it is a much more impactful communication concerning the Others, aka White Walkers. From one perspective they are ruthless, eldritch, doom-bringers, the embodiment of death like climate change. But, Martin’s theme of “make love, not war”, the unreliability of master narratives, and deceptive appearances makes that perspective as the true one unlikely. What is much more likely is that the White Walkers have a different story to tell. While an Armageddon seems inevitable, that would be contrary to the theme of cultural exchange, resolving misunderstanding, and finding the middle path, between the two extremes, to peace that Martin placed in Fevre Dream. Or, is that just another dream? Or, if you prefer, a dream of spring?