Keep Your Nose in Your Books: Why the Ironborn Are Afraid of Lord Rodrick

Without a doubt Rodrick Harlaw of Harlaw is one of the most well-read people on Terros. He has one of the greatest libraries in the Seven Kingdoms, which he likely built wholly from scratch over the course of several decades. For this he gets no respect from his people, who find his love of reading both “unmanly and perverse” (FfC Asha). We’d like to explore the basis for this prejudice, what it reveals about him, and what it might foreshadow for the story to come.

The World Book indicates that the Ironborn’s suspicion of literacy has very deep roots, ultimately originating in the Iron Isle’s unique religious history. The ancient First Men had writing in the form of runes, but the early Ironborn were a completely oral culture. The Drowned God and the Grey King gave their people many things, but letters were not among them, and the Ironborn scorned to learn the ways of their impious enemies and despised slaves. Reading and writing only arrived with the steel wielding Andals and their septons, who tried very hard to convert the Islanders to worship of the Seven. Writing is therefore associated with deviation from the Old Ways, foreign invasions, foreign faiths, foreign brides and tainted Kings.

Lord Rodrick’s library would confirm every one of those hostile associations. The Harlaw of Harlaw acquired his books through the paying of the gold price. Between Balon’s Rebellion and the War of Five Kings he also supported a small group of septons at Ten Towers for the exclusive purpose of maintaining his vast library. Book Tower therefore vividly symbolizes every change that has come to the Iron Islands since the Andal invasion, and its owner is resented accordingly.

Bu the menace of literacy does not stop with cultural contamination, impiety and decadence. By the time the Hoare Kings brought the Iron Islands into the world system through iron trading and Stepstone raiding, the Valyrian empire was growing into the hegemonic power of Near and Central Essos. At some point, books of sorcery and sorcerers (real and pretended) would have begun trickling into the Iron Islands by Oldtown and Lannisport. This likely ensured that, soon after the introduction of Andal letters, the already dubious reputation of literacy was further blackened by an association with dangerous foreign magic. As a long term consequence of this, thoise Ironborn who become known for their skills with letters are “oft mocked as weaklings or feared as sorcerers” (World Book 177).

Weakling and sorcerer are not mutually exclusive designations. A sorcerer could be a weak warrior but truly fearsome enemy. The magical power potentially wielded by a physically weak but literate sorcerer would therefore be very threatening to a social order that ultimately rests on the mundane physical power of its warrior aristocracy. In Westerosi history, when magic works, powerful professional warriors are often among the losers. All of Renly’s swords did him little good against Melisandre’s shadow baby. Daemon Blackfyre fought like the Warrior himself, but this availed him not at all against Bloodraven’s enchanted arrows. Skinchanging abilities allowed the small, weak Lump to grow into the terrifying Varamyr Sixskins, killing many a better warrior in the process. And of course dragons allowed a single family of Valyrian dragonlords to conquer and rule nearly all of Westeros despite being badly outnumbered.

So the Ironborn have good reason to fear and despise those who use magic. As it happens, Rodrick the Reader has a well-known interest in supernatural subjects. Prior to the Kingsmoot Hotho Harlaw attempted to win Rodrick’s favor by gifting him a relatively new book by Marwyn, Archmaester of the Higher Mysteries. When Asha comes to the Ten Towers to meet her supporters and consult with her uncle she finds him reading said book in the library:

Archmaester Marwyn’s Book of Lost Books.” He lifted his gaze from the page to study her. “Hotho brought me a copy from Oldtown. He has a daughter he would have me wed.” Lord Rodrik tapped the book with a long nail. “See here? Marwyn claims to have found three pages of Signs and Portents, visions written down by the maiden daughter of Aenar Targaryen before the Doom came to Valyria.” (FfC Asha)

A marriage to the Harlaw of Harlaw is no small thing to ask, so Hotho must have purchased a book he was absolutely sure the Reader would value. Tellingly, Hotho picked Marwyn’s book. More tellingingly, when Asha pays Rodrick a visit she finds her uncle deep into it. Even more tellingly, when Asha challenges her uncle for not being at the feast table, he makes it clear that he considers the book to be urgent. And most tellingly of all, Rodrick is particularly focused on the section investigating one of the Ur-prophets of the series, Daenys the Dreamer. The possession of other magical texts can easily be inferred from this; if Rodrick enjoys reading about Marwyn’s discoveries and Valyrian prophecy, then he probably enjoys many similar subjects. As it happens, Asha also spies some extremely old scrolls that remind her of Valyria:

She found him hunched over a table by a window, surrounded by parchment scrolls that might have come from Valyria before its Doom, and heavy leather-bound books with bronze-and-iron hasps. (FfC Asha)

Valyrian scrolls are still circulating; Xaro Xhoan Daxos gave some to Dany while courting her (CoK Dany III). Rodrick’s scrolls could very well be Valyrian originals, Free City or Qartheen copies, or non-Valyrian scrolls that simply look Valyrian. However, it doesn’t seem like an accident that the Reader was hunched over Marwyn’s Book of Lost Books, reading about fragments of Signs and Portents, whilst surrounded by Valyrian-looking scrolls. It appears the Reader was in the midst of a long study of Valyrian prophecy and magic.

While obviously not a sorcerer himself, Rodrick is still clearly studying sorcery, and it’s doubtful that the suspicious and superstitious Ironborn would recognize any distinction between studying and practicing. Many Ironborn would likely be a little afraid of the Reader, but not wanting to admit the basis for this fear they would instead seek to take him down a peg by lashing out at his “weak” character, “unmanly” activities, and “perverse” interests.

Another thing to keep in mind — the difference between studying and practicing magic is diminishing. In a world where magic is becoming stronger by the day, a reader who studies magical texts and comprehends them is not far from becoming a wizard. Rodrick is reading Marwyn, and a Marwyn connection has so far gone hand in hand with magical happenings. The elusive and very literate mage has visited Asshai, instructed Mirri Maz Duur, encouraged Qyburn, and shown Samwell Tarly a burning glass candle. It’s unlikely that The Book of Lost Books will continue to be a mere side detail in a story increasingly heavy with ripening prophecies.

Realizing that many of the Ironborn would suspect Lord Rodrick of being a sorcerer, and that he actually has the potential to be a sorcerer, puts a whole new spin on the Reader’s later confrontation with Euron:

A smile played across Euron’s blue lips. “I am the storm, my lord. The first storm, and the last. I have taken the Silence on longer voyages than this, and ones far more hazardous. Have you forgotten? I have sailed the Smoking Sea and seen Valyria.”

Every man there knew that the Doom still ruled Valyria. The very sea there boiled and smoked, and the land was overrun with demons. It was said that any sailor who so much as glimpsed the fiery mountains of Valyria rising above the waves would soon die a dreadful death, yet the Crow’s Eye had been there, and returned.

“Have you?” the Reader asked, so softly.

Euron’s blue smile vanished. “Reader,” he said into the quiet, “you would do well to keep your nose in your books.”

Victarion could feel the unease in the hall. (FfC Victarion II)

Rodrick’s question visibly unsettles Euron because it plays into the Ironborn’s prejudice that readers are sorcerers. Rodrick the Reader is the one person in the Iron Islands who has actually studied lost Valyria and its magic. He is also one of the few people Euron cannot overawe with grandiose speeches, sensory overload and vague occultism. While we credit Rodrick’s realism and abundant common sense, the magically obsessed Euron might find a readier explanation in all those tomes of sorcery stashed away in Book Tower. And Euron might not be far wrong. Who knows what secrets and mysteries the Reader has uncovered or perused, what spells, prophecies, and ancient histories he has knowledge of. Thus, of all the Ironborn under the Crows Eye’s command, Lord Rodrick is the only one he truly has reason to fear. Hence why for one brief moment the Crow’s Eye’s mask slips just a little.

Did i ever tell you guys about my first play through of Origins?

  • I only got Leiliana because I got lost trying to find the Chantry and went into the bar by mistake.
  • I opened Stens cage thinking it was going to be some sort of catch-22 “haha sucker” secret fight you unlocked where you killed him and got something cool. No you just get a giant warrior that likes cookies.
  • I also didn’t know you had to give him weapons and armor at first so he spent like 45% of the game in common clothes, no shoes, and weaponless.
  • Leilianna was likewise in Chantry robes a good long time till i got armor for her and i gave her the most shit bow because i thought she got some magical matching the trailer bonus if it was that instead of daggers. [it was a simpler time.]
  • Alistair never changed armor. I trusted his judgement. I should not have.
  • I went to the Deep Roads first. This was ill-advised because I was a human mage/
  • I got through the Deep Roads barely alive because i didn’t realize how you were supposed to do it but i had health potions and spunk. Also compulsive saving. 
  • I literally cried doing Broken Circle.
    • I swore for 15 minuets at Cullen for being a creepy fuck and then remembered he couldn’t hear me
    • I literally had to save the game, drive 8 miles into town, pick up my friend who had played that part of the game before, drive 8 miles back out and ask her to play through the Fade because I had no idea what the fuck i was doing and she did. 
      • She said it was ok, she took forever on it too
      • I had been trying for 4 days before that
  • The “kill the werewolves” option was the only one that occurred to me at the time and then when i got to the Lady i screamed bc it occurred to me peace was a thing but i clicked the wrong button and my last save was too far back for me wanting to do it again.
  • Isolde died in Redcliff and i was totally ok with that till i realized conner would wake up and blame himself and i got sad
  • Orzammar got Harromont and i think i sent Dagna to the circle and set up a chantry down there bc i was in do everythign mode and didn’t think about it. 
  • The Archdemon fight was hell and i literally did not understand how people thought it was easy
    • Then i realized the ballistas existed. i hadn’t touched them. I had just sat there entropy spelling and basic attacking this dragon to death with Alistair. I died SO MUCH.

In summery: it was a fucking train wreck and it was beautiful

  • anders: i'll show you why mages are feared!
  • anders: *pulls out manifesto*
  • anders: fear of magic is unequivocally interwined with templar control. the chantry's main method of justification of the oppression of mages is, in fact, fear. by instilling a deep-seated revulsion and suspicion of magic and mages in the public, the chantry creates a system which relies on manipulation and deceit to further its own ends. in regards to mages, fear is less a genuine human reaction proportional to the supposed 'mage threat', and much more a tool wielded by those in power in an attempt to rationalise and condone systemic oppression.
  • hawke:

It was the nightmares again. Always the nightmares.

Since joining with Justice, the spirit had kept away the demons that usually plagued mages during their sleep, but even Justice could do nothing about the deep, pervading fear that haunted Anders in the dark of night. Blackness, smothering, suffocating, pressing in all around him. Alone, forgotten. He was going to die down here.

He would wake, thrashing, panting, sometimes falling out of bed. Not there, he wasn’t there anymore. He was safe. He was free

Hawke would rise without a word and stoke the fire, fill the room with a cheery blaze that chased even the smallest shadows away. They would sit beside him, their arms and legs touching, reminding him he wasn’t alone. When his heart ceased its racing and his breathing returned to normal, he would curl up against them, head in their lap. Their fingers would comb through his hair, soothing and comforting him.

“You’re safe, Anders." 

Sleep would find him again at last, knowing Hawke and Justice were watching over him. 

cullen and banter

I hope Cullen and Leliana have long, deep conversations about the female mage Warden and what a lovely person she is/was. I hope they also talk about the Chantry and their beliefs and Ferelden and gosh I just hope they are friends.

I hope Josephine and Cullen get into absolute screaming matches until finally Cullen just kind of kneels before her laughing and goes “I am sorry I have been so boorish my lady” and she just gets flustered and doesn’t know how to respond.

I hope Josephine and Leliana tease him something fierce over his crush on femquisitor.

I hope Varric and Cullen have lots of conversations about Hawke and Cullen can go “No, really, I had no idea Hawke/Anders was an apostate!” And Varric can just be all “…really?”

I hope his first line to the Inquisitor in a mage!Warden playthrough is “Please tell me your surname is not Amell, or related to the Amell family. I’ve had enough dealings with them in the past decade.”

I also hope Varric tries to convince him to read his erotic novels.


I hope Cassandra and Cullen are like such bros omg I bet they train with each other and then Cullen makes flower crowns for her and then when someone says something about the Inquisition Cassandra hands her flowers to Cullen like “BABE HOLD MY FLOWER” and Cullen is all “Kick his ass girl I got your flower.”

I also hope Cassandra and Cullen have a banter about what sounds like they’re talking about very classy literature until the very last line of it when the Inquisitor realizes they’re talking about Hard in Hightown 2.

I hope Dorian hits on him.


I hope Cullen and Vivienne have these long drawn out conversations about mage’s rights and freedoms and towers and also she compliments his hair a lot.

I hope he and Blackwall train together. Perhaps while naked and oiled up…

I hope he and Solas have long serious conversations about mages that are super respectful and also sweet.

idk how Cole and Cullen will interact but gosh I bet it will make me sad because Cole.


My hatred of Gnomes runs deep. Way back at the beginning of BC when I tried a Ten day free period, I loved the game. Though looking at it now, I was a complete idiot. I heard that the Barrens were under attack, and thought that my level 13 ass could do something. A 34 Gnome Wizard named Gristmar was attacking the guards at the crossroads, and a group of us formed a raid to try to take him down. He alone slaughtered us one by one, and When I died, He gave me my first Tbag. I still have nightmares


Kaariss: I will never understand why people are afraid of Kazaar. He is the good-nature in person. Of course, he is a mage and walks around like a muscle-mountain, but you need just one deep look in his eyes and you’ll realize, that you have to do a lot to him, before he’ll use his power against you. But mind my words: If his eyes lose that shimmering and warm glow and you are supposed to be his target… run. Just run. Because if you aren’t fast enough…well… there was a bridge, you know.. and the last time Kazaar was really angry everything simply.. exploded. But that’s another story. 

-Campfire talk with Kaariss,  member of the Valo-Kas Mercenaries

Confession: I don’t think anyone can blame Elthina for what happened in Kirkwall. Honestly, I pity her. She was a lone, neutral party in a war that was beginning right under her feet. She couldn’t just tap Meredith on the shoulder and ask nicely to stop hating mages. Meredith had a deep-set hatred of mages from a young age, and Elthina couldn’t have changed that. As a high-ranking member of the Chantry, she couldn’t be telling people to love mages or hate Templars. There was nothing she could do to stop it.


Quadrant Theory

A quick aside: I’ve been going deep on limited strategies recently, as I plan on playing in my first GP in Atlanta and want to give myself the best chance I can to do well. I figured, while I was at it, I’d dump my notebook of resources here for others to see!

Anyone who follows Marshall Sutcliffe’s articles on the Magic mothership or his podcast may have heard Quadrant Theory come up a time or two. Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably used it without even realizing it! It’s one of the many tools we have access to for card evaluation, and it’s important for forming ideas about playable cards in limited.

Quadrant Theory basically divides card evaluation into its relevance to the board at four stages in the game: developing, parity, behind, and ahead. Quadrant Theory focuses on a card’s immediate impact on the board state, and whether it moves you towards your ultimate goal of winning.

Developing: These are the first few turns of the game, where players are establishing their roles in the matchup (the beatdown deck or the control deck). Most cards that rank highly in this category are cheap creatures that can come down early and apply pressure. Bounce creatures, combat tricks, and other tempo plays are also good here, and you always want to make your lands drops early on.

Parity: Also commonly referred to as a “board stall,” this quadrant occurs when attacking is not profitable for either player, and turns are spent drawing cards and passing turns. The best cards here are your “bombs,” card advantage, and evasive threats. Removal to take care of your opponent’s best creatures is also handy.

Ahead: More often referred to as “winning,” this occurs when you’re on track to beat your opponent, if nothing changes. Here, you basically want any spell. You probably shouldn’t put any cards in your deck that you are not okay with drawing right now. The cards that are best here are the ones that will put the nail in your opponent’s coffin as quickly as possible. Probably the easiest category to succeed in.

Behind: Known as “losing” or “the place you don’t want to be,” this occurs when your opponent hits their parity-breaking cards before you and begins to beat down. Here, you want creatures that block well, board wipes, and any other source of 2-for-1′s you can muster that contribute to the board. You’re trying to draw into your threats to pull even with your opponent again, and you want anything that can stem the flow of blood.

The best role-players in your deck should probably fit into one, if not more, of these quadrants. Drafters and Sealed players alike can use this tool to make sure their decks are built to peak efficiency, and keep you from those feel-bad dead-draw moments.

While some prefer to just “keep this in mind” as an abstract thought, I actually prefer to write down an actual graph for this (when evaluating sets, of course; not ACTUALLY during a draft). With somewhat “vague” categories, I usually use a pass/fail/neutral system

+ goes to cards that perform well in this quadrant.

o goes to cards that are neutral here; they don’t help, but also don’t hurt.

- goes to cards that are actively bad in this quadrant

My graphs usually look something like this:

A quick breakdown:

- Developing: a 2/2 for 3 mana isn’t great, but it’s a threat you can play to the board that could be useful later.

- Parity: This has pseudo-evasion for the cost of a couple of mana, and is legitimately threatening at its pumped state. A 4/4 flyer is just what you want to push the game in your favor.

- Ahead: It’s a spell that can accelerate your clock, and quickly close the door on your opponent. A solid draw.

- Behind: I was tempted to fail it here, but decided against that since giving him flying and making him larger makes him a reasonable blocker, and can at least be a speed bump while you’re digging to your better things. So, neutral here.

Keep in mind, though, this isn’t the only tool for evaluation we have. Just because something fails in all categories doesn’t mean it’s useless (though it raises a red flag) and just because something succeeds everywhere doesn’t make it a format staple (though it’s definitely in its favor).

If you want to learn more about Quandrant Theory, you can check out Marshall Sutcliffe’s Article about it here, and another article where he talks about it in the context of Dragons of Tarkir here. Plus, keep an eye out right here for some Quad evaluations of BFZ new-comers.

Stay tuned!

***Edit: As rudydontstop pointed out here, this theory is the original brain child of Brian Wong, former cohost of Limited Resources.***

So, a few posts back, you said, “i wish people would stop being so damn literal with their tattoos”.

Does this help turn the bad tattoo frown upside down? :)

Last session to finish up the coloring is 4/4, so it’s a bit unfinished in the shot (taken after a 4 ½ hour coloring/shading session)

The tattoo itself is based on this bit from the book Serpent Mage (Weis & Hickman):

The dragon struck, pinioned the snake’s body. Claws sank deep into the scaled flesh.

The serpent writhed and twisted in fury. Its head coiled around, it snapped at the dragon, but the dragon was careful to keep just out of reach of the venomous jaws. […] The dragon, great wings straining, lifted the king snake from the ground, soard into the air. The serpent dangled from its claws. 

The king snake fought, lashing with its tail, striking out again and again with its head

Tattoo artist drew it up freehand on my leg, right off the top of his head the day we started the line work.

My big ol’ book-based tattoo is one of the many reasons I just cringe at literal text transcriptions.

A good tattoo artist can give you something so much better than just a reprint of text. That isn’t art, any idiot who can trace a stencil can put someone else's words on you.

The best part is people I know who have read that book, but hadn’t talked to me about that tattoo before seeing it had the first reaction of, “Is that from Serpent Mage?" 
Even though it isn’t an exact, literal translation of the above text, it’s done more than well enough to make it recognizable to people familiar with the book.
It’s a "show, don’t tell” literary tattoo.

you get twenty million gold stars