Posted 08 July 2007 - 10:59 PM
Okay, we've already gotten a few posts about the reading, but I scribbled my little hand to death during the hour and got six pages of notes, so I'll post pretty much everything I wrote. It's funny because George talked about how hard the chapter has been to write because it has something like 5-6 flashbacks, many embedded into one another. I thought that I would try to organize my post into topics to make it more understandable, but since Trebs and Narish and Alex have already given reports, I'll post everything in the order that I wrote it (and therefore the order in which it was read). This should give you an idea of how terribly complicated the chapter is with its flashes to the past and back to the present. Disclaimer: I don't feel like going to get the books from downstairs so if I forget certain names or misspell them, then my bad. Oh, and it’s a real long post.
Before I begin (if you don't feel like reading below), I thought the chapter was interesting for the following reasons:
1) it describes the training of young skin-changers - they are taught by someone older than them and are steeped in the traditions of warging (a 'gift' of the old gods). It is assumed that they will experience death multiple times in the forms of their various animals, but eventually they will experience the 'True Death,' i.e. their body will die. Following this, however, comes the 'Second Life' in which the man has joined with his animal. Eventually the man part will fade and be forgotten, only the animal will remain. Although this was cool, I found it dismayingly similar to The Wit and the traditions of Witted Ones in Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy. Forgive me, George, for even thinking it, but it’s pretty much the same thing.
2) We actually do learn a bit more about the religion of the old gods amongst the Wildlings - they speak about it in a somewhat different way than the Starks do, e.g. about blending with all the trees and plants and earth when they die. More on this below.
3) The Others/Wights are practically the size of an army now. eep!
4) This prologue is indeed similar to ones in the past (e.g. Chp 1, Bk 1), but also similar in other ways to Stark chapters, such as Jon 1 from ADWD when Ghost is out hunting and then Jon wakes up. That is, it starts off in the mind of the wolf, then transitions to the human. It reveals a sharp contrast between the Stark kids and Varamyr. It also shows us why Bran is such a total Stark badass. I'll add some of my own comments below based on our discussions amongst ourselves and with George; they will be marked by an *asterisk*
Here it goes.
We start from the POV of a wolf, out hunting at night with his sister and One-Eye, his brother. He smells men (whom he hates), stags, smoke, blood, piss. They are following two men and a woman with a baby. He remembers hunting men many times in the past, the taste of their flesh. Some carry pointy sticks and are dangerous. They kill the two men, then the woman, and the babe, who tastes the sweetest.
We then move to the POV of a man, a league away, lying on the hard packed floor of a hut in an abandoned Wilding village. The man’s fire is going out, the hut is filled with smoke, but he is sick and feverish with an oozing wound in his side that burns to his touch. He is too weak to search for food or firewood. This is Varamyr, dying.
He thinks of the wolves eating humans, and that he could get them to bring them the meat, as they have in the past, but he refuses to bring himself to becoming a cannibal. The wolves can eat men, but he cannot (although he knows the taste of human flesh from warging in the wolves). He is starving to death as well as dying from the cold and his wound. He thinks of Hagen (sp?) who often said that “death is no stranger to our kind” but that there is also the Second Life after the True Death.
He thinks on experiencing death in the form of the eagle, as he flew above the wall. He’d driven Orell out of the eagle (*Eagle the Eagle, ha!*) and had been flying above the wall when he was struck by dark sorcery, and the burning was the worst death that he had ever felt. He went mad for a while because of it, and lost control of his various other animals.
Thistle had sewn up his wound but didn’t recognize him as Varamyr Six-Skins, because he wasn’t surrounded by his animals and had not been wearing the cloak that Mance gave him to show that he was one of Mance’s favorites. He’d stripped a cloak off a dead woman, but her young son had stabbed him and taken the cloak back. He’d told Thistle that his name was Lump, his boyhood name.
He had taken the name of Varamyr at ten years old, because he thought it was a name ‘fit for a king’ and he had wanted to be King Beyond the Wall. Before he had joined Mance he had lived in a moss and wood hut away from human kind, but when he felt the need for a woman, he would send his shadowcat to a woman’s bed. She would follow it back to his hut, even if she didn’t want to, was afraid, was crying. Sometimes young men would come to kill him and thus save their sisters, girlfriends, etc. ‘Them he killed.’ But he never mistreated the women. Some he sent back even ‘blessed’ with his seed. But none of his children had gotten his ‘gift,’ which he saw as a great disappointment.
Mance had come and convinced him to leave his hut and to join with him. Varamyr thinks of seeing the Wall as a child, trading there at Castle Black and EastWatch. He thought how the Watch members, even knowing that Hagen was a skin-changer, had been nice to him and considered him a ‘friend of the Watch.’ On his third visit to the wall, he’d seen his sister there, pregnant by a Crow, but she didn’t recognize him. He had dreamed of the green lands south of the Wall, longed to be there, which made him decide to go with Mance.
“Mance was their hope.”
He thinks of Thistle, a spear-wife with a “hard, ugly face.” She had promised to bring him food and help, but she was gone for several days and was probably not coming back, leaving him in the village to die like the other refugees had.
After the battle at the Wall, thousands had been fleeing. Some had followed a leader to search for the “dark path beneath the Wall”. Others went to find the Secret Valley of the Thenns. Others followed a Woods Witch who had a vision of a fleet of ships which would come to take the free-folk to a new land. Those that stayed were victims of ‘relentless enemies’ – many dying from the cold, hunger or ‘killed by desperate men.’ *George said that he was really trying to get across how the Wildlings hungered for the land south of the wall, how daunting the wall seemed to the ‘other side’ and how Mance had been the only one to hold them together, the ‘linchpin’; without him, they had scattered and were helpless.*
Thinking that Thistle abandoned him, he thinks on his mother who had also ‘abandoned’ him to Hagen because he was a skin-changer. Hagen would catch him every time he ran away and would beat him. But his ‘gift’ was stronger than Hagen’s.
He thinks about how easy it is to warg into dogs, because dogs are pack animals and humans live in packs too. Partnering with a wolf was like a marriage; cats are vain and cruel. Hagen would tell him that warging into certain animals would change you too much, such as birds, and to avoid them. He had taken Varamyr to a gathering of skin-changers where V. had seen the various partners people had chosen.
But Hagen had died 30 years before, and Varamyr had driven him out of his animal so that he could have no Second Life. The animal had died not long after. Varamyr could take any animal he chose. *Notice the language – ‘take’ any animal he wanted. George talked about this after, about it being like rape. Vhagar asked how Hoder fit into this schema. George didn’t really say anything, but it makes you realize how talented Bran, a mere boy, is. And the moral question behind warging.*
But Varamyr couldn’t take any animal he wanted anymore, ever since the bird had burnt up. He remembers the terrible pain. When the bird died he lost the bear, who had always hated him, and the shadowcat had run away. But his wolves stayed true. He thinks about how the wolves will eat his body when he dies, and thinks that this is appropriate because they had often fed him in the past.
When he was younger he had told Hagen that he would never die, and would take a passing hunter and thus continue living. Hagen had beaten him, saying that that was an abomination.
He tries to keep his fire going, but can’t. He stumbles out of the hut and eats the snow, but it just makes him more hungry. He collapses in the snow by the weirwood, whose red eyes stare down at him. This makes him think of the bad things he’d done in the past, eating human flesh. But then he thinks, no, that was the wolf, it wasn’t me.
He dreams of his mother’s home and his little brother Bump who had died early. His own name had been Lump, and he hadn’t been expected to live long because he had been born a month early. Thus he was scrawny and weak. Bump, however, had been strong and born right on time; his parents had loved him better.
But Bump had died at age two, when Lump (Varamyr) was aged six. The old Crone had told his mom, when she was crying over the baby’s death, that Bump was with the gods. He was in the trees, in the plants, in the earth, in the animals, that he is a god himself now. This bothers the hell out of Lump/Varamyr because that means his brother was always there, always watching him.
One of the family’s three dogs had killed Bump, so his Dad had killed all three dogs with an ax. Lump screamed out when the dogs died, so his parents had known he was a skin-changer and had given him to Hagen.
He thinks of Jon Snow and wishes he had ‘taken’ his direwolf, since that would be a worthy partner.
He drags himself back to the hut. The fire had gone out. Then Thistle comes in behind him. She is covered in hoarfrost, and her eyes are blue. His eyes and mouth frieze shut and he starts to die. He reaches out (as warg), searching for his wolves. He thinks to take the youngest one. He’d been in all three of them before, he’d even been in the female when she had been mounted which strangely excited him. But he figures the youngest male wolf is the best bet for the Second Life.
As he reaches out, he is no where and everywhere, in the trees, in the plants, in the earthworms, in the owls, the ravens. He sees a great elk with children on his back, a direwolf recognizes him. *We assume he can’t warg past the wall and that the only creatures to recognize his skin-changer spirit would be the Starks*
His True Death comes as a ‘shock of cold.’ He finds himself in the One-eyed wolf, with his brother and sister next to him.
He sees “blue-eyed shadows moving among the snow.” There are too many to count. They smell like dead flesh, they are wrong, they are not men, they are not prey, they have wrong smells, they are cold.
And they sense him. “One by one they raised their heads and turned their blue eyes to the three wolves on the hill.”