Tuesday, September 4, 2012

[Re-read] Daenerys I: Nudity and Naïvety

Whoa, September already! Only a few months left until half the world will be in the grip of fear, awaiting the end of days according to the Mayan calendar. Kind of funny how we live in quite modern times - just think about all that is achieved day in and day out in modern hospitals - and yet people cling to superstitious mumbojumbo as if we were still in the Dark Ages. That being said (and perhaps I am being offensive here), I have read articles and books with arguments both for and against the whole Mayan calendar/end days thing, to come up with my own opinion. At first, when reading the alarmist stuff, it did get me worried but that's because it's written in such a way as to scare - then, reading more skeptical articles weighing against this fear-mongering, I made up my mind. Like so many other silly things still held in belief these days - things that have been proven not to work, like, say, astrology, prayer, tarot, Nostradamus - one has to keep one's head cool when dealing with topics such as this and try to really listen and understand what's being said and done, not just accept whatever without good sources or whatever. When discussing the matter I sometimes get the question, "What if you're wrong?" Yeah, what if? What if, by sheer coincidence, the world goes to hell on December, 21st? Was there anything I could have done about it? Not really. At least I wouldn't have spent the time beforehand being sucked into fear's clammy grip. I'll end this little paragraph (which I did not intend to write, but just came out anyway) with this lil' quote from Wikipedia (sources for the quote found there), which is good enough for me:
Professional Mayanist scholars state that predictions of impending doom are not found in any of the extant classic Maya accounts, and that the idea that the Long Count calendar "ends" in 2012 misrepresents Maya history and culture.
(Bolded text by yours truly)

Which brings us to Daenerys and the Doom of Valyria. See what I did there? I retroactively came up with a connection between the first and second paragraph. Only I'm not sure the Doom is mentioned in this first ASoS chapter at all. Better start reading...I seem to remember this chapter taking place on a ship...

Ah, yes, here we go with slow drumbeats and the swish of oars. Balerion is the name of the ship, and the dragons are chasing each other in the sky above it. That's quite an arresting image, I hope and believe we'll see this one next year on TV. We are reminded how the Dothraki feel about 'the poison water', before we close up on one of the three dragons - Drogon - as we're told he is larger and hungrier and bolder than the two other dragons; perhaps an obvious foreshadowing of Drogon becoming the badass "leader" of the dragon trio later in the story. If only this sea voyage was actually taking her to Westeros! Maybe the series could have / would have reached its end by now? There are two other ships present as well, easily forgotten perhaps, also named after dragons. Another possible foreshadowing comes when Ser Jorah mentions that dragons could grow so big as to pluck giant krakens out of the sea - will we see, say, Drogon shut his jaws around Victarion Greyjoy and lift him out of his warship? Is this foreshadowing the fall of House Greyjoy to House Targaryen? I think so. At least I like to think so. I want the story to reach a finale. Then, something's got to give, right? More important exposition on the dragons, this time from mysterious Whitebeard - as long as a dragon has freedom and food, it never stops growing. Well, I guess we can take that with a grain of salt otherwise we'd have dragons the size of a moon disturbing the orbit of Planet Westeros And Environs, but I think we're already seeing this coming to pass toward the end of A Dance with Dragons. A little history on the pit dragons of King's Landing. There's a hint there's more to Whitebeard, but I can honestly not remember whether I figured out who he was the first time I read this amazing book. 

The dragon skulls in the Red Keep are mentioned, fun how they kind of always lurk in the background, a symbol both for the fall of House Targaryen, the fact that the Targaryens are still not done with, and the Usurper's rise to the throne yet never being safe (the presence of the skulls symbolizes these things, I mean). Daenerys asks Whitebeard whether he knew her brother, Rhaegar, another entity lurking in the background of the series, a presence intangible yet very important to the overall story (which is why I am kind of surprised he isn't part of the TV series though I can see the difficulties in bringing Rhaegar across to that medium). The way Whitebeard answers Daenerys' questions should be more than enough to realize we're actually dealing with Ser Barristan Selmy here, it is pretty obvious on a re-read. I mean, dialogue like, "I make no such claim, ser. Myles Mooton was Prince Rhaegar's squire, and Richard Lonmouth after him. When they won their spurs, he knighted them himself, and they remained his close companions. Young Lord Connington was dear to the prince as well, but his oldest friend was Arthur Dayne."
The dialogue is exactly how Ser Barristan Selmy talks, and the way he has intimate knowledge of the knights of Westeros should seal the deal. Perhaps the most interesting part of these particular lines is the mention of Lord Connington - young at the time - who was dear to the prince - after all, we get to meet Connington later in the story and learn that he held the prince dear as well, seemingly as dear as Ser Loras held King Renly. Upon seeing this line, one must again admire Martin's ability to weave into the story these small details that will show up later; also, it seems to me then, that the whole Connington/Young Griff - plot, which came as a bolt of lightning for many readers in A Dance with Dragons, was something Martin had planned, if not in detail, all along. Yes, no matter how sorry I feel book five is, I have to admit that it seems Martin is still holding to an outline of sorts. Maybe I'll find more to like in book five once I get there for the second time. I hope so. I do not want to dislike A Dance with Dragons, you know. 

So while we have a "slow" chapter in one way - a few characters chatting to each other while on a ponderous sea voyage - it is also quite the interesting chapter, what with all the background information on the Targaryens we get hurled at us from Whitebeard. When Daenerys asks Whitebeard what her brother Rhaegar was truly like, I am sure all readers are right there with her, like a secret ghost just behind her shoulder, all eager to get some real information to help piece together the puzzle that is the background story of A Song of Ice and Fire. So what was Rhaegar really like?
"Able. That above all. Determined, deliberate, dutiful, single-minded (...)"
He was pretty much a good guy, wasn't he? A hero. Or is Ser Barristan - I mean, Whitebeard - projecting? He doesn't seem like the kind of man to not be honest about things. In fact, Rhaegar's personality seems to be a close match to only a few other characters in this world, most notably Lord Eddard Stark perhaps.
Whitebeard goes on to tell a tale about Rhaegar, thereby feeding us some more tidbits: As a boy, Rhaegar was bookish; he took no interest in playing with other children; was very smart; he found something in the scrolls that changed him, and made him decide to train as a warrior. At this point, Whitebeard excuses himself (conveniently) so that we don't get more, but still want more. More!
The excuse is Strong Belwas, who has risen, and is now bellowing, "Strong Belwas is hungry! Strong Belwas will eat now!" That is quite funny, actually. Gotta love Strong Belwas. Also, the humor here lifts us out of the introspective telling of old tales, taking us back to the now. Effective. 

When Whitebeard leaves them to help Strong Belwas get some food in his mighty belly, Ser Jorah warns Daenerys not to trust the old man too much. He tells her Whitebeard's too old to be a squire and too well spoken to be serving Strong Belwas. She admits that it is strange, and well it should be. Some catching up from A Clash of Kings follows, kind of annoying but I guess a wise move for the author so his readers don't have to, ahem, re-read the books to remember all the details. Again we are reminded of how priceless her three dragons really are; before we get the first real exterior action in this chapter after all this interesting talk - sailors shout that the wind has returned, which means it is time to get moving. 

"I am still half a world from Westeros, but every hour brings me closer." More like, every year. Trolls will be trolls.

That night, Ser Jorah comes to disturb her in the captain's cabin. We are reminded that she's naked except for a coverlet; the literary reason I suppose to keep that tempting carrot dangling before Ser Jorah's eyes. She shows him how she feeds the dragons, and again we see how Drogon is faster than the others, quickly roasting the pork Dany throws in the air and swallowing it. Drogon simply dominates the other two. Oh, Jhiqui is also naked, mind. So, Ser Jorah tells Dany what's troubling him: Strong Belwas, Whitebeard, and Ilyrio Mopatis (who sent them her way - in itself worthy of some speculation). Jorah reminds her of the warning she was given by the Warlocks of Qarth - the three betrayals, once for blood, once for gold and once for love. They have decided the first one - blood - was Mirri Maz Duur, and so two betrayers remain. Jorah insinuates that the next two could be Whitebeard and Strong Belwas. Daenerys doesn't want to hear it, though, even laughing at Ser Jorah for suggesting they could be working together against her. He fears that once in Pentos, Daenerys will be in Ilyrio's power. Which I think is a valid fear, to be honest, knowing just how slimy Mopatis is. Interestingly, Daenerys thinks to herself that while Ser Jorah is overreacting, he is doing this because he loves her - and didn't we just see mention of a betrayal for love? She gets angry because she feels Jorah treats her like a child (note: she is a child), and I love her counter-argument: "Strong Belwas couldn't scheme his way to breakfast." - perhaps Daenerys' funniest line in the saga? She's always so brooding and serious but here she shows a rare display of humor. When talk turns to Whitebeard (Jorah calling him a deceiver) we get a mention of "Lord Commander of the Kingsguard" quite close, linking the two in a way so obvious it hurts my feelings I didn't catch this the first time around. 

The point Jorah finally comes to, is that he advises her to turn the ships around and go for Slaver's Bay instead of Pentos. She doesn't like the thought, but asks why she should go there anyway. Jorah answers that she might get an army there, specifically the Unsullied of Astapor. Oops, the coverlet slips off Dany's shoulder for a moment there. We get a longish tale of the Unsullied's capabilities, which slowly makes Dany reconsider her first impulse. Much of the ensuing dialogue is Jorah trying to convince Daenerys to drop Ilyrio to get a bigger army; could this be the point where Ilyrio - when he finds out she's not coming his way after all - decides to gamble on a ... different scion? It is kind of insinuated that by changing course, Jorah believes this decision will force Belwas and Whitebeard to show their true colors. "Yes!" Daenerys suddenly decides, sounding like a giggling teenager (which, I must remind you once again, she is) "I'll do it!"
She throws back the coverlets and bends over the chest, and I can only imagine the author slobbering over his keyboard as he imagines Daenerys practically pushing her ass onto Ser Jorah's face, ... oh, Ser Jorah slides his arm around her. Now, I have the utmost disgust for rapists, and I understand that girls should be allowed to dress however they like without being harassed by old dirty men, but she is naked and bending over the chest and I can't help but think that Ser Jorah takes that as, you know, an invitation. They end up kissing, in fact, which is innocent enough, and while they kiss thoughts rummage through her (teenage) brain; when she finally disengages, she says he shouldn't have...he interrupts her, saying he should have kissed her a long time ago, his eyes firmly fixed on her nipples. Oh yes. The chapter ends with Ser Jorah proclaiming that the three dragons must have three heads meaning three dragons must have three riders meaning Daenerys must have two husbands meaning he should be one of them. 

So here we have Ser Jorah finally, and utterly, displaying his love for this kid, and perhaps Daenerys finally understands that she should wear clothes when engaging in debates with horny middle-aging men. The more important point here isn't Ser Jorah's love, however (even though the warning signal - the earlier talk of the three betrayals and one for love - is obvious now) but that the dragons must have three riders. This will affect the rest of Daenerys' story arc, all the way into A Dance with Dragons and beyond. 

Ser Jorah: Time for a /faceslap. You have screwed up. 

Does anyone else feel dirty at times reading about Daenerys and Ser Jorah? 

In other news, just a measly 50 pages left of Forge of Darkness! What a deep and somewhat confusing book, like most Erikson tales! But I love it. It is so different and ambitious. Like Erikson says, 

Ambition is not a dirty word. Piss on compromise. Go for the throat.

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