Thursday, May 29, 2014

Biblical and Literary drops in the popular series, "A Song of Ice and Fire"


George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire book series is probably the last series you'd ever find sitting on the shelf in a Christian book store. Its graphic sexual content, vulgar language, and brutal violence are too bohemian for the strict and sacred values of the church. Where you stand on this, I don't know. But I do know that these books are among the best literature that is being dished out today.
I have learned on my Christian walk that literature of all kinds is important to my growth in faith. In fact, literature was necessary for me because it taught me the art of seeing from anothers perspective, to sympathize, and to understand that people are not simply black and white and easy to explain, nor is the universe. Literature taught me to think outside the box and to expect the unexpected. I have learned that fiction is sometimes more truthful than the "truth."
My faith has taught me a lot too. For example, Jesus didn't hang out with the people who claimed to be perfect or have it all together. He hung out with the messy people and the people who needed saving. And literature is the same way. We are readers, hanging out with fictional characters who are just screwed up and yet we relate to them, sympathize with them, and route for them. And A Song of Ice and Fire contains some of the most screwed up characters in the history of fiction (this statement is being made from my experience with fiction. Perhaps you know of characters who are even more screwed up?). The books are filled with so much immorality and imperfection and suffering but at the same time it is poetic and redemptive. There is beauty to be found within suffering. These are people Jesus would have been hanging out with. George R. R. Martin reveals their goodness and humanity just as Jesus revealed it in those he came in contact with. In many regards, an author is the savior of his/her own story. As the character Tyrion states, "I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things."
There are many biblical connections throughout A Song of Ice and Fire that I have recently been alluded to and now have enough thoughts on the matter to write an entire blog entry!
I first want to start with characters and what better person to start off with than the beloved Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell - Ned. Ned is criticized many a time for not playing the game of thrones properly but that is why I love him. He values justice and what is right over power. His commitment to honor and doing what is right mixed with his calm, loving and collected demeanor outshine all of the other characters who seek their own happiness rather than that of the people around them and the realm.  Ned is an honest man who keeps his word. Right when we meet him we hear him ask his son Bran, after beheading a man for deserting his post at the Night's Watch, if Bran understands why he had to kill that man. Bran answers by stating the obvious - the man was a deserter. Ned restates the question and puts emphasis on the fact that he personally had to kill the man. He then explains that the man who passes the sentence must swing the sword. He continues, "If you would take a man's life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die." What Ned is explaining to his son is accountability and authenticity. You must live your words, not just speak them.
Ned's death very much mirrors the death of Christ. Ned has been wrongly accused and plans to give his life if it means being condemned for a crime he did not commit. The only reason he ends up falsely confessing is for the sake of his daughters. He is accused of crimes he didn't commit, just as Jesus was by Pontius Pilate. He is then killed unjustly even though he was a pure man - not exactly pure on the level of Christ but as a prodigal son type since no one is without sin as Jesus was.
My second favorite character in the series is Daenerys Targaryen. Her plot seems to mirror the Crucifixion of Christ in an Easter Sunday sense. She steps into the flames of death which should have killed her but is reborn from the ashes. But what stands out the most for me is her name. In Matthew 22:15-21, the Pharisees try to trick Jesus by inquiring of him if it is lawful to pay census tax to Caesar or not in which Jesus sees right through them and is mad. He tells them to show him the coin of the census tax and "they offered him a denarius". Upon reading this, you may not have picked up on the similarity to Dany's name. I'm sure I would not have. However, I heard this verse spoken out loud. I first heard this verse in Jeff Bethke's video on YouTube titled Whose image is on you. It is a really great video so be sure to check it out. Moving forward, Jesus takes the denarius and says to the Pharisees, "Whose image is this, and whose inscription?" They reply, "Caesar's." Then Jesus says, "So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Perhaps this is a prediction that Daenerys will rule...but she may become dictatorial rather than the fair Queen she was expecting herself to be originally.
Now let's move to the Lannister's. I want to discuss them as a whole rather than individually. Throughout the books, the Lannister colors of gold and crimson are listed hundreds of times. I wish someone would keep count of how many times the word crimson is mentioned throughout the entire series. But there is another medium which heavily emphasizes on the word crimson. Rapper and spoken word artist Propaganda recently released his sophomore album titled Crimson Cord and discussed the meaning behind the title song with the Relevant Podcast. He said he used crimson to symbolize Christ's blood. The phrase was a play on words of scarlet thread or a person's timeline or history being stained crimson or red with the blood of Christ. We are all stained with crimson on our timelines because each and every one of us killed Christ - yet we are redeemed. The Lannister's could be referred to as the ultimate sinners yet they are the color of crimson, symbolizing blood, and the color of gold which could represent alchemical gold or perfection. This points to George R. R. Martin using literary alchemy in his series. The definition of alchemy is transforming basic metals into pure gold. Literature does a similar things with characters in that they begin as flawed and sinning individuals who grow and become perfect, not in a conventional way but a authentic way. Alchemy is a very spiritual idea used throughout literature (very prevalent in Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame). Perhaps this points to the Lannister's all being redeemed by the end? So far we have Tyrion and Jaime redeemed, Tyrion from the start and Jaime from book 3 and I'd say Tywin and Joffery were redeemed in death. So is Cersei next?
Cersei herself shows her true colors when she orders Robert's bastards to be killed. This can easily be compared to King Herod who was threatened by Jesus just as Cersei is threatened by Robert's airs and tells his men to kill Jesus.
The final character I want to comment on is Jojen Reed. He guides Bran in the books and seems to have no concern for himseld. The show did a good job at portraying this when Jojen's hand caught fire, symbolizing his death yet he said Bran must keep going and live out his destiny and that he will be there no matter what. He is another Christ figure and possibly the ultimate Christ figure, laying down his life for his friends.
I next want to focus on locations in the series. First, the Vale. The Vale is where Lysa Arryn lives, high above everyone else which makes her and everyone living there very safe. A veil in reality is, as most know, something a bride wears over her face before her wedding This veil symbolizes her
innocence and that she is protected and safe. When her husband lifts the veil she is now entering into the unknown word of marriage and transforming into a woman. The Vale in this series is sort of the same way. It sits up high, safe and protected where no one can touch it. No one will be removing the Vale for quite some time which will keep it safe no matter what.
When Ned Stark is sent to the bottom of the dungeons in Kings Landing before he is executed, he sits in total darkness at the bottom and his experience can only be described like hell. I was listening to a Harry Potter book discussion and Dante's Inferno was mentioned and suddenly I realized that the dungeons of Kings Landing are a representation of descending deeper and deeper into hell. Ned is in the deepest circle where betrayers reside. Although Ned is innocent, he is accused of betraying the crown so it makes sense that George R. R. Martin placed him down there.
Finally, I would like to discuss the major religions of Westeros. The first, and most feared among readers, is the Lord of Lights. This religion seems to be mirroring modern day American Christianity and George R. R. Martin is poking fun at it. The religion fools people with miracles but is controlled by a malevolent god. It requires good works to be in the Lord of Light's favor and Melisandre seems to be their messiah, carrying out the Lord's work.
The Old Gods are a much more sacred form of religion and much older. Men and women who practice this form of folk religion by praying to the sacred heart tree. There are no holy texts or scriptures to follow. The only rituals they practice is prayer in front of the heart tree in the Godswood. Most Godswoods have been turned into secular gardens in the south, giving the old gods no power there. The heart trees, or Weirwood trees, have faces carved into them by the children of the forest and are considered sacred. The sap inside is red and runs out of the trees carved eyes, as if the tree is shedding tears of blood. The religion is very connected to nature and many say that the wind is a way the Old Gods speak to them.
The Drowned God is worshiped on the Iron Islands. While the iron borns are very harsh in what they believe, their practices are very similar to that of baptism. As babies, the iron born are drowned in water and brought back up cleansed and resurrected.
The faith, or the New Gods, is the most prominent religion in Westeros. There are 7 gods - 3 men, 3 women, and one ambiguous. They are as follows - the fathers, the mother, the warrior, the maiden, the smith, the crone, and the stranger. The number 7 is a very important number in the Bible. God created the world in 7 days. The Bible was originally split into 7 major divisions - the law, the prophets, the writings/psalms, the Gospels and Acts, the General Epistles, the Epistles of Paul, and the book of Revelation. In Matthew 13, Jesus is quoted as giving 7 parables. 7 psalms are ascribed to David in the New Testament. In scripture, 7 symbolizes completeness or perfection. There is also supposed to be 7 books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, similar to other great fantasies like the Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. Both of these series use literary alchemy and as I stated above, it seems this series is doing the same. It will be more obvious once all 7 books are published.
While A Song of Ice and Fire is a dark series, it shows its many biblical references just as other fantasies do. It is a mark of smart fiction and I can't wait to finish the series!
Do you see any biblical hints in the series? If so, comment with your thoughts! I would love to have a conversation with you!


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