and their world (audiobook)

4

Here’s my take on Dante and Ari, when they first met, and then, as they slowly grew into young men.

Whilst listening to the World of Ice and Fire audiobook today, I noticed something.

Sheepstealer was eventually tamed by Nettles—a plain, baseborn, disreputable girl who fed the dragon mutton day by day until it became used to her. The dragon and its rider played their part in the war, but Nettles’s loyalties were not so clear as brave Ser Addam’s. When she and Prince Daemon became lovers, it drove a final wedge between Rhaenyra and her lord husband. Nettles— whom the prince fondly called Netty—outlived her prince as well as his wife. Nettles and the Sheepstealer vanished before the war’s end, and none could say where they went until years after.

Hm.

Amongst the Burned Men, a youth must give some part of his body to the fire to prove his courage before he can be deemed a man. This practice might have originated in the years after the Dance of the Dragons, some maesters believe, when an offshoot clan of the Painted Dogs were said to have worshipped a fire-witch in the mountains, sending their boys to bring her gifts and risk the flames of the dragon she commanded to prove their manhood.

Hmmmmmmmmm.

Anna Lyndsey — a pseudonym — was once an enviably ordinary woman. She had a good career working for the British government, a loving partner, and most importantly, she could walk outside, under the sun, whenever she wanted to. But then she developed a rare disorder: even the faintest light causes an agonizing burning sensation in her skin, making her a virtual prisoner in darkened rooms and smothering clothes.

Lyndsey’s new memoir, Girl in the Dark, is a gorgeously written, occasionally snarky chronicle of her illness and the ways she’s coped with it — listening to endless audiobooks about the world outside (and a few military thrillers), devising games to play in the dark, and searching endlessly for a remedy that would help her tolerate even twilight. Check out our exclusive First Read here.

– Petra

Magical cataclysms are a fact of life and a force of nature

I’m listening to The World of Ice and Fire on audiobook for my second go-round with the text, and something jumped out at me: Cataclysms that are reasonably assumed to be magical in origin have played a major role in the development of human civilization in the world of Westeros and Essos time and time again. Entire populations have been extirpated and significant geographical changes have been wrought through the direct intervention of otherworldly powers. Some examples:

  • The Long Night, a period of prolonged darkness, cold, and privation, occurred worldwide. It happened long enough ago that it’s difficult to assess its exact consequences on human development, but they probably weren’t good, to say the least. Moreover it necessitated the construction of fortifications – the Wall, the Five Forts – so huge that they literally have limited the movement of certain populations for centuries.
  • The Children of the Forest called the waters to flood the neck and break the land bridge between Essos and Westeros. It didn’t stop the Andal Invasion, already in progress, but it gave them something to think about, and made the North invulnerable to invasion from the South.
  • The Freehold of Valyria used dragons to destroy not one but two major civilizations/empires, Old Ghis and the cities of the Rhoyne. The cataclysmic nature of the latter was further cemented through the alleged use of water magic to drown the capital city Valyria had conquered and spread the plague of greyscale to the conquerors. A surviving contingent of Rhoynar fled around the world, leaving scattered populations here and there before finally settling and intermarrying in Dorne.
  • The Doom of Valyria destroyed the largest empire the world had ever known, all but extinguished its bloodline, put dragons on the endangered species list, created a new sea, and rendered what was formerly the most fertile and civilized area of the planet completely uninhabitable. Centuries of war to fill the vacuum and establish new centers of power followed, culminating for our purposes in Aegon’s Conquest.
  • In the present day, the southward migration of the Others and their wights has driven the entire human population of the far North from their ancestral lands. While many have sought refuge by passing through the Wall to the South, many many more have died: in conflict with the Others and wights, in battle against the Night’s Watch and Stannis Baratheon, in some apparently horrendous bloodbath at Hardhome. Moreover, it appears likely that an entire humanoid species, the giants, will go extinct.
  • God knows what’s going on in Sothoryos, but the city of Yeen at least is apparently cursed on a serious enough level to cause entire migrant populations to vanish overnight. 
  • Yeen in turn appears to be the relic of an indescribably ancient race of fish-people of sufficient advancement to build massive monuments around the globe capable of surviving multiple millennia. They, y'know, ain’t around no more.

And that’s leaving out lesser magically based events, like Aegon’s Conquest itself (dramatic, but hardly the world-shaking, city-leveling defeats doled out to the Ghiscari or Rhoynar), or whatever the hell is the deal with Asshai (whatever’s going on there that keeps children, animals, and plants at bay can’t be good, but it’s unclear if it was ever cataclysmic). 

When you think about it, this is a major aspect of Martin’s work of worldbuilding, but with the exception of the Long Night and the Doom it’s subtle enough that you might not even spot it. For Tolkien, say, the breaking of Thangorodrim or the destruction of Númenor and the alteration of the world from flat to round are sufficiently unique to serve as “act breaks” for history. Martin just sort of bakes it right into how the world works, with magical cataclysms joining floods, droughts, plagues, seismic activity, genocides, barbarian invasions, and all the other events that can shake the Etch-A-Sketch of history in the real world. 

I love seeing people wearing headphones in public. You don’t know what world they are in. They might be listening to an audiobook for an assignment. They might be listening to a wonderful study playlist (like me right now!). They might be listening to old music that reminds them of the smell of apples or the sound of their friends laughing or the memory of summer two years ago. it’s a beautiful mystery.