False Histories: The Long Night in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”

There are a great many falsehoods that hold sway over the community of people who write about “Game of Thrones” and “A Song of Ice and Fire”. Some of them are matters of interpretation like the literary theorists who argue that Tyrion cannot be the biological son of Aerys II because “that would ruin the Tyrion/Tywin dynamic”, as if biological revelations affect the past. Others are simply due to a mistranslation that is repeated so often they become received wisdom. The Long Night is one of those topics. It is vital to correct the error because it has led to a key mistake in understanding the trajectory of “A Song of Ice and Fire” and “Game of Thrones”.

 

The error occurs in the Wiki of Ice and Fire, an open but moderated on-line reference source for show watchers and book readers alike. It states that, during the Long Night, joint Children of the Forest and First Men armies fell to the Others and their wights. It cites A Game of Thrones, Bran IV, for this information. (http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Long_Night#cite_note-Ragot24.7B.7B.7B3.7D.7D.7D-0) But, when you check Old Nan’s tale of the Long Night, it states NOTHING about joint Children of the Forest/First Men armies. (US PB, 240-1) This makes sense in the context of Old Nan’s story because Old Nan relates how the Last Hero and his companions searched for “years” to find the Children in their hidden cities. It would be bizarre it took so long to find this lost people when they had just been fighting together. Their absence would make the search a genuine difficulty. So why is there this vast discrepancy between what the text actually conveys and the wiki entry?

 

There are several possible explanations. Literary theorists who have been immersed in fantasy stories for years are preconditioned to see the same story repeated even if the new text does not contain those elements. The Lord of the Rings, for example, opens with an epic battle of men and elves against the evil Sauron and his army of hideous orcs. It is such a common story that Joseph Campbell was able to write books about the supposed “monomyth” – heroic journeys of discovery the use Jungian archetypes for personality development. Though George R. R. Martin is clearly writing in opposition to this with his “reply to Tolkien” and refutation of “Disneyland fantasy” (multiple interviews including Rolling Stone), it is understandable why people would see it even though it is not there.

 

Another possible reason is that people are projecting onto the Long Night the Great Pact and/or Bran’s encounters with Leaf and Bloodraven in the cave in the Far North. At least in part the readers’ incorporation of other fantasy tropes of the ancient, pacific peoples tutoring the protagonists, it is also the result of an uncritical look at the developments in the story thus far. Normally when reading fantasy or watching a television show, one has to suspend disbelief and trust the pacific, ancient peoples. Americans in particular have a tendency to romanticize the Native Americans seeing them as perpetual victims with ancient knowledge to teach us. The recent controversy over the Keystone Pipeline is a present day example. However, for George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”, making those assumptions about the Children of the Forest is a mistake. Dorian the Historian’s vengeance-seeking Children of the Forest is a great deal more consistent with the story thus far of human/Children enmity than amity.

 

The importance of the absence of a joint military effort between the First Men and the Children is fairly massive. Bloodraven’s cave indicates that the Children would have little to no difficulty against the White Walkers or their wights. The cave entrances to their underground habitations are magically warded against the wights. The Children’s weapons – obsidian or dragonglass bladed – are perfect for killing White Walkers. In point of fact, the Children are suspiciously well-prepared to repel any White Walker attack. While it is unlikely “A Song of Ice and Fire” is going to adopt the White-Walkers-are-a-weapon-gone-bad approach, the Children do appear to have significant knowledge about the White Walkers such that they would not particularly care about their rise over the earth. And, as the White Walkers do not seem to be destroyers of forests for any reason, the Children would get along better with them than with humanity.

 

Another aspect of the Children not waging a joint struggle with the First Men against the White Walkers is the Singers of the Earth’s commitment to balance as a way of life, perspective on the world, and general worldview. Take for example, Leaf’s description of how the gods make greenseers’ lives shorter because they are gifted. Then there is the need for the Singers to be less prolific because they live for hundreds of years. The Children are much more likely to be resigned to the White Walker conquest than to ally with the First Men – their inveterate opponents – to defeat them.

 

One also cannot discount Martin’s elevation of singers, songs, and storytellers like himself in all of his work. Singers have power. That the Children of the Forest are Singers of the Earth signals their prominence. It also proclaims their affiliation with one of the four elements that appear to represent the magical forces and peoples of planetos along with the merpeople and their sea serpents (water/Spring), fire peoples and dragons (fire/summer), and, therefore, the White Walkers and ice dragons (ice/winter). With their weirwoods having red leaves, the Singers and their trees are earth/autumn. The balance the Singers endorse suggests that restoring the seasons requires not the elimination of the White Walkers, but a respect for each element in its turn.

 

Thus, “A Song of Ice and Fire” is not likely to end with an apocalyptic second Battle for the Dawn, but rather a third Great Pact (with the Second Great Pact as the one that ended the Long Night).

 

 

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