Sunday, November 3, 2013

[Re-read] Jaime IV: To Bravely not use a Hand Joke

I have to admit that I'm excited about finally getting my re-read of A Clash of Kings published in e-book format through Blue Buddha Press, mostly because I thought it would languish forever on my computer when I suddenly didn't have a publisher anymore. Because, you know, this second book I honestly believe is a worthwhile read for a fan of ice and fire. Waiting for Winter: Re-reading A Clash of Kings is scheduled for a December 22nd release (it was originally slated for April 2012, so it's been a while). There's a Q&A piece in Blue Buddha Press' Preview 2014 e-book where I talk a little bit about this stuff, and there are also two sample chapters from it, in addition to samples from other books they will be publishing in the near future including an, in my opinion, very interesting piece on ruthlessness versus honor in A Song of Ice and Fire, an essay that will see the light of day in one of the publisher's other Westeros-related books (these are the guys running Tower of the Hand so you should be expecting Westeros-related material from them, but there's also a book coming out about Nintendo gaming and gamers).
I love writing about stuff I love, so hey, here we go again. And now that whole preview e-book re-kindled my enthusiasm for Martin's work and what else is there to do then, but write a new re-read post? (Alternatively I could read posts like these, but I am not sure they keep the flame of Westeros alive in the same way...) Good thing I'm ahead of schedule with the annual NaNoWriMo contest, as you can see in my little screenshot. According to this overview, I'm scheduled to finish my 50,000 word novel in eleven days! Yeah right. I was lucky to have an opening yesterday (and this morning), I can't possibly keep up that pace. If I do, I'm going to buy myself a new pair of socks. That would mean that with enough determination I could produce a 100,000 word draft in a month! That's just crazy. But that's what they said in a mail I got from the organizers of NaNoWriMo; that you have to be a little crazy to do stuff like this. So there you go. It's official.

I am so happy I got off to a good start, and you know, last year I failed because I was kind of directionless but this year I have a complete outline, and that really does make it easier - and it makes me think of George R.R. Martin's comments about being a gardener, not outlining much, and it makes it easier to relate to his struggles with his bewilderingly complex tale (well, at least it's more complex than, say, Winnie the Pooh) if he doesn't have a real outline of scenes, characters arcs, plot points etc. NaNoWriMo helps me write better, but it also helps me understand George R.R. Martin better. It's a win-win situation. As is reading a Jaime Lannister chapter. Great character with great quips, suitably arrogant and with interesting challenges to face. Let's roll (and yes, if I recall correctly, Jaime's smart-ass arrogant style may not really come to the surface here).

This picture from HBO's series, to my mind, is a near-perfect impression of the book character, look-wise.
The chapter opens with three simple words that convey everything you need to know about what is occupying Jaime Lannister's thoughts at the moment: His hand burned. Well, actually, it's the stump that burns, because the hand isn't there anymore, is it? Martin is quick to point out that in Jaime's mind he still feels the hand as if it is there, can still feel his fingers twisting in the metaphorical flames of agony. To be honest I find the opening to this chapter written in a way that makes it a little confusing: At first you learn that they had used a torch to sear his bloody stump (so there is actual fire involved here) but then he could still feel his fingers twisting in the flames, which is kind of weird because those fingers were already off when they seared the stump (this is why I wrote 'metaphorical flames' before I began thinking about this in all its glory). So is the burning pain the pain of his stump being seared, or is it the agony of getting his hand cut off, or is Martin being deliberately obtuse because Jaime is having cognitive difficulties (I don't blame him)? 

It really hurts though. So much in fact, that Ser Jaime Lannister has never felt such pain before, and it's so bad he begins praying old prayers he learned as a child. This little detail makes me think of that saying I've seen flung about the web, there are no atheists in foxholes. I suppose in Westeros, they say there are no atheists with one hand. It also tells me that Ser Jaime is desperate, he wants to get rid of the hurt, the agony; in fact this bad boy actually weeps. That's not the Jaime we have come to know. No more badass? Well, he'll change, and the loss of his sword hand is the physical representation of his change, but he'll fortunately retain some of his badass qualities. When the Mummers laugh at his grief, though, he forces himself to stop crying, but he does continue to pray. Their derision makes him think that now he knows how Tyrion has felt when people laughed at him. It's a minor detail, but it's necessary because we'll see Jaime standing more up for his dwarf brother later, and thoughts like this support those decisions. Quite a horrible situation to be in, and Martin pulls it off magnificently. I love how this whole ordeal makes the reader (this reader at least) shift perception on the character. 

We're told how he has fallen off the saddle once, and the second time they bind him tight to Brienne of Tarth"The lovers," Shagwell sighed loudly, "and what a lovely sight they are. 'Twould be cruel to separate the good knight and his lady." There is definitely a good amount of cruel mockery in this series, with various characters being the target thereof (from the top of my head, Tyrion Lannister obviously, Brienne of Tarth, Jaime Lannister, Ser Barristan Selmy, Arya Stark, Daenerys Targaryen... they all face mockery to varying degrees). Could this be Martin's way of getting back at those who mocked him when he was young for being such a nerd? I don't know. I don't even know whether he was mocked as a child. Now that I'm thinking about it, there is a lot of mockery in this series, some of it truly depraved, and I wonder... It's an interesting thought at any rate; how is Martin able to come up with so many creative ways of mocking characters? In some scenes he takes it so far I get angry, like in this very scene where Jaime not only has lost his hand, but also has to endure this mockery from the Brave Companions (the most ironic name in the series?). Bah! Wait! It gets worse, of course. Just as Jaime consoles himself with the fact that at least Brienne's presence keeps him warm, she has a really bad breath to boot. Oh, and they have hung his rotting detached hand about his neck on a cord. Now, really. And it slaps Brienne's breasts. Man, I hate Shagwell and Urswyck so much for doing this. Are they even human? And then I realize that some people would actually do stuff like this, and I get even angrier. There is no dignity, no regard for human life, no compassion, no humanity. They enjoy the suffering of others. And yes, Ser Jaime Lannister pushed a ten-year old boy out of a tower window and I should be hating him for it, and yet here I am totally rooting for him in the face of this outrageous mockery. I wonder how it would feel to read it "the other way": What if this happened before he pushed Bran out of the window? How would it change my perception, if at all? It's an interesting thought experiment. Would I blame his maltreatment at the hands of the Companions when he tried to murder Bran?
on the same horse, face-to-face. Say one thing about Martin, say he knows how to mock.
Anyway, as you may have guessed, I find this a bit hard to read. Not in the "I'm offended" kind of way but in the "life is full of misery" way. NO, not the "Jets have lost, life is full of misery" way! "The world is cruel and unjust and there are no gods and we all die alone and there is so much needless suffering all over the globe and there's nothing I can do about it" kind of way, rather. Enough about the pain, already.

Slipping in and out of consciousness. Blood and pus seeping. Throbbing phantom hand. Throat too raw to eat. Quaffing down horse piss for the amusement of the Companions. Retching it all back up. Soils himself in the saddle. 
I get it, George. His dignity is gone, his pride is torn to shreds, they are breaking him and you are breaking me. Layer it on some more, if you can. 
Reaches for a sword, wrenches it from the scabbard, tries to fight, but trips and is kissed on the top of his head by Shagwell the fool. Now that kind of hurts in an entirely different way because what Jaime now experiences is the complete loss of his identity as the realm's greatest swordsman. Vargo Hoat in a fit of madness forgives Jaime this feeble attempt, but promises to hack of the other hand (or a foot, perhaps) the next time he tries. Great.

That night, Jaime stares at the night sky, trying not to think of the pain. The night was "strangely beautiful", and we realize that Jaime knows his astrology/astronomy; he sees the King's Crown, the Stallion, the Swan, the Moonmaid; I am not sure whether Martin is putting in some hidden message here (one could of course try to interpret these constellations as literary devices) but I think the point here is that Jaime, by gazing at the stars and thinking he's never seen so many, is looking at the world in a new manner; the whole bit smells of symbolism - now is the time for Jaime to find hope elsewhere; there is light in the world, but darkness between; Jaime must now open his eyes (and mind) to a new reality, a reality in which he no longer is what everybody else sees him to be. This is supported by the following exchange between Brienne and Jaime, where she asks him what he's doing, and he replies, "Dying", and she tells him to not be a craven and live instead (great little bit of overlooked dialogue by the way) - and then he thinks that no man had ever called him craven. He's been called an oathbreaker, a liar, a murderer; cruel, treacherous and reckless - all the bits of his identity gone with his hand. And a little later he comes to the realization that maybe he was just a "sword hand". In essence, he's thinking that he has nothing to live for anymore - it's quite sad, actually. Also, interesting how he doesn't factor in Cersei in his thinking. Two books ago, he would have Cersei to live for. She doesn't seem that important anymore now. Oh wait, see, sometimes I should stop writing and read on a little bit instead of blather-writing. Flipping the page, Jaime realizes he can't die just yet - Cersei is waiting for him; and Tyrion, too. Oh, and his enemies. Revenge is always a nice motivation. His list is short: Robb Stark, Edmure Tully, and the Brave Companions. Dear Mr. Martin, I won't mind at all a scene where the Companions get there comeuppance in some way. 

And so, the next morning, Jaime has decided to shoulder on (he can't hand on, can't he - oh wait, I promised myself no hand jokes..); he forces himself to eat (a mush of oats and horse food - yummy). He tells himself to live, live for Cersei and Tyrion, to live for vengeance. He decides that when he gets to King's Landing he'll have a new hand forged of gold, and that he's going to use it to rip out Vargo Hoat's throat. Or someone else's throat, valonquar? Who said that? It was not I, oh no it wasn't. When I read this the first time around, I remember thinking it was just some fever fantasy and that in no way would it be possible in this setting to have a hand forged of gold which you could attach to your body. Random thought incoming: I wish we could see Casterly Rock up-close before the series ends. Aaand back to Jaime's chapter.

Pain, pain, pain. Blurred. Haze. Stinking rotting hand. Hard ground. Waking nightmare. All bad bad bad. He thinks of Brienne as a big dead cow lying next to him. He thinks she has "built a fortress inside herself" and that she'll be raped sooner than later. Cheery thoughts for a cheery chapter. Jaime doesn't have any interior walls, though. He is nothing. He is whipped in the face. He is punched and kicked. They are going to Harrenhal which Jaime finds amusing in all its irony (he was never allowed to joust there at Whent's great tourney, but now he's going back there). Rorge slams a boot into his stump. Jaime faints. It's all horrid, but if you know Martin, you know he can always be trusted to pile more bad upon the pile of bad.

At night, three of the worst (worst of the worst, then) come skulking, bent on raping Brienne. Just for depravity Jaime overhears them discussing whether they will take her at the same time front and rear, and then they begin fighting over who gets the front and who gets the rear. It's a gratuitous moment for sure. Did we really need to overhear that? Did Jaime? Will it help him become a better man overhearing this? The sheer insolence of these characters talking so casually about another person. Really. It's both annoying me and at some level I am intrigued by the text as well (I suppose I wouldn't have bothered finishing the book if not), because Martin lays it so bare. It bothers me in one way that Martin adds these details, and in another way I think it adds to the story because it's brutal and the brutality adds a dimension of adversity that makes scenes like this more poignant, sharper .. I find it hard to express just what a scene like this does to me as a reader. But it does something, and most fantasy books don't do anything. So there's that.

All right, so if things aren't bad enough at this point, George threatens to give us a rape scene as well. I'm sure a lot of people turned their eyes away, then after a moment turned back because you just have to read on, don't you? Will they get out of this mess? If you think Indiana Jones was good at getting into trouble...Seems Jaime beats him severely in that department. Things are getting progressively worse here - when will their luck change (or come into existence)? Brienne is defiant, of course, and Jaime tells her to "go away inside", and we learn that this is precisely what he did back in the day, and as such it's an important character moment to notice. The Starks - Lord Rickard, Ned's father, and Brandon Stark - Ned's brother - murdered by the Mad King. We don't get her response to his suggestion as Rorge comes over telling her who she is the ugliest woman he's ever seen (he doesn't watch the TV series then - she doesn't look bad there at all) but by the old gods and news how despicable can you get, threatening a woman like that? Tolkien's orcs are faeries compared to Rorge. I mean, come on (here I go again). Rorge tells her he's going to pop out one of her eyes and make her eat it, and then pull out her teeth - to which Shagwell replies that it will make Brienne look like his mother, whom he always wanted to, ah, penetrate by the backdoor. Yes, this is certainly vile and filthy language, no doubt. In that regard, it's quite an achievement that so many people are reading this stuff now. I thought so much as a nipple on the screen was offensive, and here Martin just doles up the depravity. Anyway, before I start to over-anal-yze this stuff, Jaime interrupts, shouting as loud as he can, "Sapphires!"
Rorge kicks his stump in anger, Jaime howls, and faints in agony. His ploy worked though - Vargo Hoat heard him, and has come to stop Rorge and Shagwell (you think Martin got that name from Austin Powers? I'm not sure myself) from "damaging the goods" so to speak. Whew. The trick of course is that Hoat believes Brienne's father can cough up a big bag of sapphires to pay for her ransom, and that's what Jaime is counting on. I'm glad Martin stopped himself here, so to speak.

Two nights later, Brienne asks why Jaime shouted. What we get is the first small glimpse of their relationship developing, and it's great because you have to read it between the lines. He's still cocky in the way he talks her down - "You're hard enough to look at with a nose" - but underneath we realize that Jaime simply cared about Brienne enough to take a chance and interrupt Rorge and Shagwell's gruesome plans. Also, something of real honor comes forth; "A Lannister pays his debts. That was for the river, and those rocks you dropped on Robin Ryger." He wants to pay back. While he's not the most chivalrous man in Westeros yet, we're seeing a distinct change here.

Hoat wants to make a show of Jaime's capture, so he's forced to walk the last mile with a rope looped around his waist, the ends tied to Hoat's saddle; together with Brienne he stumbles along next to Hoat's zorse (while I maintain that Martin is a master of names, he kind of flunked this one didn't he). During this "walk of shame" (that might mirror his sister's walk of shame in A Dance with Dragons) he keeps telling himself he's strong, he's still a Kingsguard, he's alive, and he's going to get his vengeance. Reading between the lines (again) I am feeling that he is occupying his mind so he doesn't have to worry about what will happen once he enters Harrenhal's gates. That's my interpretation, though. Brienne senses hope when she sees that the walls of the castle fly the banner of House Bolton, who are bannermen to the Starks. Jaime remarks that the Boltons skin their enemies, and that's all he really remembers about this House of the North, but probably a thing worth remembering..

So, according to the text the "castleton outside the walls had been burned to ash", and excuse me while I go off to find out what a castleton is. The dictionary provided with Kindle certainly doesn't recognize a castleton. And I must know! And maybe I have checked it out before, and I have forgotten. I love how Martin puts in these archaic words.....What? Four places in England? Oh! Now I realize it, that's just stupidity on my part. The "-ton" ending gives it away of course. Castle-town. The town that once stood around the castle walls. It is burned to ash. Right. Let's move on. I envy the first-time reader this scene so much. You just don't know what the fuck is going to happen now. It's a pretty interesting moment. A little more background on Whent's tourney (not much though; he had knelt before the king here to say his vows, but he wasn't allowed to have any fun; it was duty, right away). Brienne turns back Jaime's attention to the banners, as she now also spies the twin towers of House Frey (and isn't that an interesting combination - great and very subtle foreshadowing of the two Houses' alliance, this). And the direwolf banner mentioned as an aside. Interesting.

Martin sure keeps us in suspense, detailing the thickness of Harrenhal's walls, how the outer ward is full of curious people...and then Hoat proclaims to have brought the Kingthlayer to Harrenhal, and someone jabs a spear in Jaime's back, sending him sprawling. Right, Indiana Jones would have hung up his hat a long time ago. Put his whip in a container. But Ser Jaime, who of course falls forward and tries to stop himself with his hands, realizing he has only one so he smashes the ground in blinding pain, somehow "managed to fight his way back on one knee." He's really going through hell, isn't he? Almost an inverted messiah, if you take my meaning. A sufferer, scorned. As he looks up, he notices he is being watched by five knights and a northman - Ser Danwell Frey, Ser Aenys Frey, Ser Hosteen Frey, three of Lord Walder's sons who Jaime knows by sight. Lannisters tells them Cleon is dead, immediately blaming Urswyck. He's a quick thinker, our Jaime; if he convinces them these bandits holding him captive killed Cleos Frey, well maybe they will have no mercy on Vargo Hoat and his band. His attempt is interrupted by Brienne, however, shouting "My lords!" to get their attention. When she tells them she is likewise sworn to House Stark, Aenys Frey spits at her feet, saying that they had once trusted Robb Stark and that he repaid their faith with betrayal. Now this is interesting, Jaime thinks, and of course it is. It's all so intricately detailed with the betrayals and intrigues and complexities of loyalty and fealty, once again I must commend Martin on his unique ability to keep a story running while at the same time keeping it so true to medieval realpolitik. Amazing.
So while Jaime tried to shift their focus onto the Brave Companions, Brienne tries to invoke their loyalty to House Stark - and both fail. 
Brienne tries to explain that she was sent by Lady Catelyn to bring Jaime to King's Landing (you could almost forget that's what they were up to, it's so long ago kind of - well at least with the speed I'm re-reading), and Urswyck comments that they found Brienne trying to drown Jaime, which is so annoying yet also entertaining because it's true. What a reader can glean from the discussion here on the wide stairs in the courtyard of Harrenhal is that one can no longer be certain of the Freys and the Boltons' loyalty to the Starks.

Hoat finally has enough of the banter and tells them that Jaime is his prisoner, "and not for the bear". And then, ladies and gentlemen, Roose Bolton. Roose Bolton spoke so softly that men quieted to hear him. Bolton smacks down on Hoat, telling him he is not the master of the castle before Bolton leaves. I kind of wish they had made Roose in the TV series a bit more like the Roose in the books. I mean, Bolton's silence was a hundred times more threatening than Vargo Hoat's slobbering malevolence. Pale as morning mist, his eyes concealed more than they told. This quick sketch says so much about Roose, doesn't it? And then we get a laugh-out-loud moment and for a moment we see the "good old" Jaime - when Roose tells him he's lost a hand, Jaime dryly replies, "No, I have it here, hanging around my neck." That's just awesome. Seriously, Indiana Jones, go do the dishes or something. Bolton snaps the cord and throws the rotting hand at Hoat, who says he's going to send it to Lord Tywin (and that Tywin will get the rest of Jaime for a mere 100 000 gold dragons). The Brave Companions find this amusing, but Roose is all calm and icy cold, saying it's a fine plan before giving Jaime and Brienne some needed information on the things that have changed since they left Riverrun. This is also called exposition. So they learn that Joffrey is going to wed a Tyrell instead of Sansa Stark; they learn that the Tyrells aided Tywin in destroying Stannis Baratheon's fleet; that Tyrion was wounded in said battle; and that Robb beheaded Rickard Karstark for treason. I know if I were Brienne at this point I'd feel pretty bad about my situation. Jaime, however, realizes that the Lannisters are once again in control. And he learns that Cersei is alive and well, and realizes that Bolton knows that he's Joffrey's father (and Cersei's lover). Bolton orders Hoat to untie Brienne and bring Jaime to Qyburn.
Brienne tells Roose that these men tried to rape her, I'm assuming in the hopes that Roose is a just northerner like the Starks and will punish them accordingly. "Did they?" Roose asks, turning his eyes on Hoat, and this is brilliant, because now Martin kind of twists our perception a bit on this Roose and I know the first time I read it I was unsure of this man, but this scene made me believe, if for a moment, that in Roose we had a character who was menacing but nice at the same time. He tells her, politely, that she will have no need for armor at Harrenhal, and tells Amabel (who kind of pops up from nowhere as we've had no mention of an Amabel hanging around, just the Freys and Roose) to find her "suitable rooms". A gracious host then, and we all love Roose for he's nice and displeased with Vargo Hoat. Surely this must be a man of honor and integrity, if a little bit spooky with those pale eyes and quiet voice of his.

Jaime is brought to Qyburn, a former Maester of the Citadel, and we get some fun dialogue. The maester cuts the linne from the stump, and by his reaction, Jaime has to ask if he's going to die. The corruption has spread, and Qyburn thinks it best to take off the whole arm. "Then you'll die," Jaime says, and I nod with approval at the coolness of Jaime Lannister. It's a good thing, then, that Qyburn has specialized in rot (although I technically can't know this yet - I believe it isn't revealed until the next book).

Qyburn was taken aback. "There will be pain."
"I'll scream."
"A great deal of pain."
"I'll scream very loudly."

Eminently quotable, as they say. And then we get into some detail and let's just say that I prefer modern surgery over Qyburn's administrations. Jaime passes out (again) and when he wakes Qyburn is sewing his arm, having left "a flap of skin to fold back over your wrist". Well, thank you. Eeew. Jaime understands that Qybyrn has done this kind of work before, and Qyburn replies that "any man who serves Vargo Hoat is no stranger to stumps." That Vargo Hoat guy, people. Ugh.

As with Roose, Martin strives to give us a perception of Qyburn that will soon be tested; Jaime thinks of him as a kind-looking old man. Oh, and here we get our first background on the character, with him explaining how his chain was taken away by the Citadel. Through the maester, Jaime gets some more information on the political situation in Westeros.

The chapter ends here in Qyburn's chambers, but not before turning to Brienne. Jaime asks for news of her, and Qyburn wonders what the woman means to him; "My protector," Jaime says, laughing. But it's another part of the puzzle that is the Jaime-Brienne relationship. Then, Qyburn tells him he's going to drain Jaime's bad blood with a leech, to which Qyburn says, "Lord Bolton is very fond of leeches", which is another authorial hint that there's more to Bolton than we know (yet). He kind of gives off a Draculian vibe, doesn't he? Kind of. Pale eyes, blood, flaying, leeches...

Whew, not the shortest post I've written. And I haven't even done my NaNoWriMo for today (the first part of this post was from yesterday). Still, I can afford to "lose" a day. Or I can sleep an hour less tonight. But Slynt loves his sleep. What to do, what to do...

...I think I'll start by stopping my blathering right here, right now :-D

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