Thursday, January 9, 2014

[Re-read] Arya VI: The Honor of Dogs and the Undead

NINE days into January and I can confirm that I am older but still not wiser. During the Christmas holiday, I found myself back in the zany, colorful world of Everquest II, which, since it is free to play and yet doesn't limit you terribly despite of this, was to be a nice diversion and turned into a couple of hours every freaking day since. And I'm telling myself, I always complain about time, and then I go play this silly click-click-click game instead of doing the stuff I want to do. I think it's the role-playing itch that needs scratching and so I wander off into some digital other-world to get my fix. Well, last night I said 'no' (again) and did some more important chores. Okay, I didn't really. I re-arranged my music library on my smartphone. Yay. Anyway, I feel that I did read too little in '13 and that's something I have to remedy! I want to read through A Storm of Swords a little faster, and then follow Stefan Sasse's advise and read A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons simultaneously, following a proposed chapter chronology.
YOU see, me and mr. Sasse had a discussion the other day about the qualities of these two latest novels, the result of which I will publish soon, and that's when he suggested this to me in order to make me realize how good the two latter books of the saga are. It shalt be interesting to see/read!

Meanwhile I have read yet another short story in the Martin-edited Dangerous Women anthology, this time "Name the Beast" by Sam Sykes. {Spoilers, baby}It was a rather interesting take on, well, a lot of things, a kind of fantasy vision of settling the Americas, but it was dense and I felt it needed some more exposition to understand just what a shict is; a werewolf? an elf? The story was divided into two distinct halves which culminate with a tragedy which I kind of liked, as most stories in fantasy tend to end rather well for most participants involved. There was some beautiful prose in this text, where the author takes a sight or sound and transforms it almost into a poem the way he describes it, the way he conveys the feeling of that particular sight/sound. You have to read it to understand it, I suppose. Still, the story didn't grab me and I had to work in the beginning but all of a sudden, almost unnoticeable, the author has led you to a point where you understand what's going on, and why. Well-written, entertaining but lacking a certain drive - that's "Name the Beast" in a nutshell. While somewhat complex in its setup, the story's titular beast was rather predictable in its nature, I must say. {Spoilers, baby}

Which brings me, rather not-so-elegantly, to the matter at hand, which is Arya's fifth (already) A Storm of Swords chapter; Arya's story was unfortunately - and in my personal opinion - somewhat butchered in the TV series, I wish we could see more of the characters and events and experiences from the novel. There better be Extended Editions of all seasons filling in all the blanks. A man can dream. Let's read Arya before I dream myself away from the moment.

And what a start to this chapter! This is such a good example of what I mean when I talk about Martin's skill"Her eyes had grown accustomed to blackness." Yes, folks, Martin foreshadows Arya's blindness. Isn't it neat? It is neat, isn't it? Or am I easily impressed? The blackness is because she's got a hood on her head, but Harwin pulls it off right away, and, to make sure you feel you're inside Arya's head now, she blinks "like some stupid owl". That use of the word 'stupid' is one of the simpler tricks Martin uses to establish POV, but it works right away, at least for me. Once she thinks this, I am seeing Westeros through Arya's eyes, and not Sam's, or Jon's, or Tyrion's, know what I mean? Turns out Arya and Gendry have been brought to the inside of a hollow hill, lending the chapter an air of classic fantasy adventure. It's not the Underdark or anything, but still, hiding out below ground / inside hills feels so... adventurous. The spirit of Robin Hood is also very much present, what with the outlaws hiding from the authorities, Anguy being such a great archer (even winning the tournament in A Game of Thrones), and Lem Lemoncloak being reminiscent of Little John. The only character really missing from the comparison is Brother Tuck, but I have a suspicion the monk Brienne encounters in A Feast for Crows may end up joining this lot and thus fulfill that particular role (because it seems that Martin is deliberately echoing parts of the Robin Hood legend). You could argue that Thoros of Myr fulfills the role in his capacity as a priest, of course. He's also got a shade of Little John. And you could argue that I'm full of shit and the Robin Hood comparisons are superficial and that's that, of course. Anyway, less Robin Hood, more Arya Stark!
'Knights of the Hollow Hill' (c) Fantasy Flight Games
at interweaving details throughout the series like a complex tapestry. Unless it was luck, of course. I mean, the first time you read the series the opening line of this chapter won't do more than establish Arya's current situation, but once you have read through the next novel, the sentence gains an additional meaning - one of foreshadowing - lending depth and strength to the story.
(These scenes with the knights of the Hollow Hill do have a decidedly British flavor to them, though, don't you think? Landscapes,'s all very British; King Arthur (Edric Dayne?), Robin Hood (Lord Beric Dondarrion), Ivanhoe (uhm)...and I fricking love the atmosphere Martin establishes, almost as much as I don't love Essos). Anyway! Less Britain, more Westeros!

{Spoiler for A Dance with Dragons} Looking around in the hollow hill, Arya sees a huge firepit, and notices how the walls are stone and soil, with huge white roots twisting through them; I love this description, and I also wonder if these white roots belong(ed) to a Heart Tree? Mmmm... I scratch my chin as I ponder. There is another description to ponder as well: "The roots formed a kind of stairway up to a hollow in the earth where a man sat almost lost in the tangle of weirwood." Ah! It's weirwood, then - but still - read that description. Does this not sound quite like someone north of the Wall in Bran's A Dance with Dragons chapters? Is Martin actively creating similar images here, or is it a random similarity? Or does this description actively link Beric Dondarrion and his ability to defeat death, to the Old Gods of the North and the Children of the Forest (since the weirwood is mentioned as well) - and Bran Stark? A random thought perhaps but it just struck me; what if the Others are Children of the Forest, twisted and deformed by some evil? They are too tall, perhaps. Anyway, it seems to me that either Martin is trying to symbolically link Beric Dondarrion and Bran Stark, which might be a stretch I admit, or the Knights of the Hollow Hill have simply discovered a former Children of the Forest - outpost, and use it. That second one is rather simpler and more convincing, isn't it? Sometimes the simplest answer is the true answer, as they say in King's Landing.
Gendry is unhooded as well, and asks what kind of place he's in, and the fantasy vibe remains strong when Harwin replies (I assume it's Harwin, the text is unclear on the matter) that it's an old place, 'deep and secret'. As if Gandalf himself had instructed him to explain it thus! Doesn't help Gendry very much, though. Yeah, thanks now I am all satisfied and comfortable. That's precisely what I wanted to know.

Arya remembers a dream in which she tasted blood (it happens when you tear a man's arm off); nothing more is said of it, but Martin certainly didn't put in this little reminder for nothing. Will Arya eventually turn into a vampire, alternatively does this symbolize her increased bloodlust? Yeah I am not serious about the vampire suggestion. I remain in love with Martin's sneaky way of sneaking in sneaky passages like this, though, for later sneaky effects. Arya notices that the cave is huge and full of smallfolk. This is when we are finally introduced to Thoros of Myr, and Arya thinks that it can't be him because he's thin as a stick and she remembers the priest as fat. Another fantastic little detail that adds to the reality of the world. With war going on, it's no wonder that Thoros, who is living with an outlaw band, has lost weight. However, before we can get a closer look at this mysterious character, an even more mysterious character, the Mad Huntsman (you have to love that nickname), brings forth the prisoner - Sandor Clegane, the Hound. You can kind of feel that this will be an interesting chapter, no?
Paul Kaye as Thoros of Myr

Also nice how Martin can distribute his character descriptions - while the Mad Huntsman appeared in the previous Arya chapter we are only now getting a description of him. And I have to admit his nickname is the best part about him. Describing him also gives Martin the opportunity to tie up a few loose ends from the previous chapter (as in, "What happened next, before we got to this cave?") - turns out the Mad Huntsman didn't really want to go here and present his prisoner to Dondarrion, but here he is, convinced by Anguy's arrows. Arya listens to the conversation between Thoros and the Mad Huntsman, and it is hard for me to remember if I realized who the captive was, now that I've read it so many times and have been spoiled by a TV version of this scene as well. I don't think Arya is shocked either to learn, as the hood is pulled off his head, that the prisoner is Sandor Clegane. At least there is no immediate reaction from her; I mean, since we're inside her head, she would go What the fuck! right there, but she doesn't - she's calm, listening as Sandor recognizes Thoros, and Thoros admits that they've probably seen each other before, indeed.

Of more immediate interest is the fact that Thoros admits to having been a vain man, but now he has found the Lord of Light, which of course is the same god that Melisandre of Asshai venerates. It seems that Thoros, too, can see stuff in flames. The Hound isn't impressed, though, and delivers some very fine dialogue. Witness this exchange coated in awesome-sauce:
"Be careful how you bark, dog. We hold your life in our hands."
"Best wipe the shit off your fingers, then." The Hound laughed.
I love Sandor's dialogue. He's so bitter. So unafraid of anything (except fire, of course, which, oh so coincidentally, is the main medium of the Lord of Light).
This great banter is unfortunately soon turned into lengthy exposition; the Hound asks about them, and the cave-dwellers tell him so that we readers might get some insight into the community that has developed here inside this hollow hill. It's not bad stuff, by any means, but I prefer Sandor's snapping. Obviously, the exposition also works to remind the reader of Eddard Stark's decisions as Hand of the King all the way back in A Game of Thrones upon which this scene rests. Without Ned sending Dondarrion off to bring justice to Gregor Clegane, no Knights of the Hollow Hill. So delightfully intricate! The exposition gives us a rough look at Dondarrion's strength, another faction in the battles of Westeros.

Arya realizes that one of the cave-dwellers, a 'scarecrow of a man', is actually the handsome Lord Beric Dondarrion, the one who her friend Jeyne Poole had been enamored of, and Arya can't understand how Beric has turned from a handosme knight into this wreck of a fellow. Oh, another brilliant line from Sandor: "Robert is the king of the worms now. Is that why you're down in the earth, to keep his court for him?" It's both a great line poetically (in my opinion of course) and also full of snide and sarcasm. Perfect. Generally speaking, I love this scene. Dondarrion tells Clegane that even though Robert is dead, he continues to fight to defend the realm, to defend Westeros. A noble thing to do, and of course Sandor laughs at that. Here they are, opposites in some ways and similar in others, Sandor and Beric. Both physically damaged, one representing he chivalrous knight, the other the disillusioned knight. Sparks are flying, folks, lighting up the cave like never before! Lovely lovely stuff.
It also paints Martin's world so vividly and can be used to show the contrasts and deconstruction of tropes; when the knights stand up, almost comically pompous as they pronounce themselves "holy brothers, sworn to the realm, to our god, to each other; the brotherhood without banners, the knights of the hollow hill", we both see Martin's love for a chivalrous, idealized, romantic medieval age, yet throws Sandor's reply right back at them with a rude and hilarious "I shit better men than you." It perfectly captures what Martin is doing with fantasy and historical fiction. In my opinion, of course. Again. Martin's exploration of the themes of honor and duty are interesting, especially when we get conflicting views through characters like Sandor and Beric. Anyway, I am rambling again.
By the way, I also notice that the Hollow Hill knights represent a 'new order' kind of, in Westeros - they are rather progressive in their way of thinking, what with putting away their banners (their differences); if one thing typifies Westerosi culture, it's got to be the noble Houses and their banners; the distinctions made between families; and here we have Dondarrion & co. shedding away that skin to stand together against a common enemy. It's all kinds of interesting really; they are like a miniature example of how Westeros should be dealing with the upcoming threat of winter, right? Dondarrion is an almost religious figure in the way he says goodbye to his former lordly life (well at least for now, during the war) and mingles with the commonfolk; he's still  a leader, but not in the noble, entitled way. It should take some interesting thought processes for a noble lord of Westeros to end up like this. And a few deaths, of course.

The exchange between Sandor and Beric continues. Beric accuses House Clegane, and Sandor won't hear it; again we are exploring nobility, responsibility, the function of the House; when Beric asks, "Do you deny that House Clegane was built upon dead children?" we are looking at the distinction between individual responsibility and familial responsibilities, which were more important in medieval societies.
Sandor represents the individual in his case, stating that he cannot answer for his brother's crimes. However, this does not excuse him from the murders he has committed, and which his captors begin to list: Lord Lothar Mallery, Ser Gladden Wylde, Lister and Lennocks, Goodman Beck and Mudge the miller's son, Merriman's widow (who loved so sweet, lol, nice addendum there, Greenbeard), Ser Andrey Charlton, Lucas Roote, the septons at Sludgy Pond, Lord and Lady Deddings, Alyn of Wintterfell, Joth Quickbow, Little Matt and his sister Randa, Anvil Ryn, Ser Ormond, Ser Dudley, Pate of Mory, Pate of Lancewood, Old Pate, Pate of Shermer's Grove, Blind Wyl the Whittler, Goodwife Maerie, Maerie the Whore, Becca the Baker, Ser Raymun Darry, Lord Darry, young lord Darry, the Bastard of Bracken....Point being, Sandor has killed quite a few people in his life, brutally at that; Martin is playing with ideas here, and I do love it because this is stuff that makes you think. We're in the world of ethics now; is Beric right to demand Sandor's execution for all those deaths, when he has no evidence, and why is the accusation against Gregor leveled against Sandor? Many questions arise, and when you read Sandor saying, "Enough. You're making noise. Those names mean nothing. Who were they?" at least I feel my sympathy fall away abruptly - the names mean nothing to him, yet these are people (as Beric says) whose lives he himself denied. Though it seems that Dondarrion is laying all blame on Sandor's shoulders, even if some of these people were killed by nameless Lannisters. What Dondarrion is doing, then, is throwing Sandor in the "Lannister" category, and that's wrong too, right?
And then Sandor has a minor-epic speech about what it really means to be a knight, and I'm all like Yeah go Sandor again. He denies his guilt, at which point Arya leaps forward and tells them that Sandor did in fact kill Mycah, the butcher's boy. Again, Martin makes an event thousands of pages ago take effect, and it remains impressive. For now. Also, all these names. All these characters that could have potentially had something to say in this grand epic. Silenced forever. Sniff.

Sandor finally recognizes Arya Stark, and is honestly surprised to see her alive. Of course, everyone else in the world does believe she's dead. When Sandor mentions this, Arya snaps back, "No, you're dead," which is just perfect.
Eventually, since there's no hard evidence for Sandor's killings, Beric decides that only the Lord of Light can decide - and so we get yet another trial administered by a god. You'd think that the Lord of Light, being a foreign god and all, didn't have the exact same kind of ritual for resolving conflicts as have the gods old and new of Westeros. I'd imagine a trial by fire, instead. So that's a minus point, I guess.
Arya thinks it a stupid idea because she knows the Hound is spectacularly well suited to a duel, and Sandor thinks it too, laughing loud and contemptuously at the prospect.

Well, hello, awesome art. 

Well, I guess you know just as well as me how the rest of the chapter turns out. There's a quick, well-described duel, Lord Beric goes down, rises from the dead like some myth come true, we are given our first glimpse of 'Ned' (Edric Dayne) who squires for Beric, there's lots of description to paint the scene, important questions can be found ("Do dogs have honor?"), Sandor has some more juicy stuff to say, Dondarrion's sword burns with fire which just reinforces the idea that Sandor stands against the Lord of Light (which may be why he ends up on that island in Feast, you heard it here first - he'll lead the Seven against R'hllor); Arya hopes fervently that Sandor will be killed (after all, he's on her hitlist), but Sandor eventually slays Beric, and that means that the Lord of Light approves of Sandor's innocence, even though Arya knows he murdered Mycah (we never saw it though, did we...) and thus, as they are bound by the honor Sandor has freed himself from, they must set Sandor free.

I used to think that the whole bit with Sandor appearing here, then going off, then coming back later felt a bit tacked on; unnecessary, even. Now I see it differently, obviously. This confrontation seems poised to foreshadow a greater struggle between gods, well that's my opinion for now, at least; it also gave us insight into Sandor's way of thinking, as well as provide Arya with a few important lessons. Also, this was the chapter in which Martin finally began to use the name 'Pate' for way too many characters.

The chapter ends, predictably but effectively still, with Lord Beric Dondarrion standing in the shadows behind Arya like a ghost, having risen from the dead.

You know, at this point in the story I think it's pretty cool. Martin doesn't use this as a weak plot device; neither is coming back to life easy for Beric. It's described as something macabre and painful and Beric losing more of his humanity for every time (which foreshadows Lady Stoneheart, I suppose), and as long as Beric is the one character continually revived for whatever reason, I'm cool with it. Beric is a martyr-like character, fulfilling a role that no other characters does in the series at this point, but when more and more people begin to twist in their graves and want to get up, it loses its effect. I also wonder forever who or what is behind the resurrection powers of Thoros of Myr - is it just part of the "awakening magic in the world"? Dragons reborn, the dead rise, people climb rope ladders and disappear into thin air, people find themselves inside animal skins etc. Interestingly the power to raise the dead is the same power that the Others use to raise their wights. This could imply that Rh'llor is the Great Other, and that Melisandre is actually following the wrong god (it would be like a Christian suddenly realizing he/she had been following Satan all along - but how can they know they aren't? Muhaha. Yeah sorry about that. I try to keep religion out of this blog, except for Martin's invented ones. Or I would never get to do anything.)

So, that was one heck of an entertaining chapter if you ask anyone! Just two more stories left until I can read new material from A Song of Ice and Fire again in Dangerous Women. Still not excited about it or anything, because those Targaryens are really not what I think of as what makes the series so damn special (it's not like they are Lannisters, you know), but I am really ready for The Winds of Winter. Only a few more years...he sighed.

Until the next time!

Oh, by the way. My new book, Waiting for Winter: Re-reading A Clash of Kings Part I has been postponed and will hopefully be for sale toward the end of this month (January). It has shaped up to become a pretty great book, with better editing and writing and well everything is better this time.

1 comment:

  1. Arya isn't surprised because she already saw Sandor at the end of her previous chapter.