As the debate forced me to go back to the books and do more research, I found myself being more intrigued by Elia as a person, and my mental picture of her became much more complex and nuanced than before (I admit I was slightly dismissive of her, for which I apologize!) If possible, I want this thread to be an exploration of her character based on the limited information we are provided with in the series.
We never meet Elia as a character, since she is dead by the time ASoIaF begins, but we gradually learn about her through the recollections of other characters. In this respect she is extremely similar to Lyanna Stark, making the two characters interesting contrasts and parallels to each other.
A Game of Thrones
We first learn about Elia through Daenerys, as she imagines the fall of the Targaryen dynasty:
Yet sometimes Dany would picture the way it had been, so often had her brother told her the stories. The midnight flight to Dragonstone, moonlight shimmering on the ship’s black sails. Her brother Rhaegar battling the Usurper in the bloody waters of the Trident and dying for the woman he loved. The sack of King’s Landing by the ones Viserys called the Usurper’s dogs, the lords Lannister and Stark. Princess Elia of Dorne pleading for mercy as Rhaegar’s heir was ripped from her breast and murdered before her eyes. The polished skulls of the last dragons staring down sightlessly from the walls of the throne room while the Kingslayer opened Father’s throat with a golden sword.
This seems to be the most prevalent and consistent portrait of Elia that the characters of ASoIaF carry with them - Elia as a mother and victim, begging for mercy as her children are "murdered before her eyes." In a sense, this is the ghost of Elia - she haunts her brothers and Dorne in their quest to avenge her, she haunts the reputations of Gregor and the Lannisters, she haunts the righteousness of Robert's Rebellion, and she haunts the relationship between Ned and Robert. Despite everything Tywin and the Lannisters go on to do during the War of 5 Kings, it is Elia who remains the poster child of Lannister savagery. Yet, this tells us very little about Elia during her lifetime - what kind of woman was she? what kind of mother? wife? sister? There is a certain tragedy to this - the savagery of her death seems to overshadow the entirety of her life.
Perhaps the second most prevalent image of Elia is her presence at the tourney where Rhaegar crowns Lyanna the Queen of Love and Beauty. This event is first recalled by Ned in a dream:
Robert had been jesting with Jon and old Lord Hunter as the prince circled the field after unhorsing Ser Barristan in the final tilt to claim the champion’s crown. Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap. He could see it still: a crown of winter roses, blue as frost.
Ser Barristan also recalls this scene in his POVs in A Dance with Dragons:
Rhaegar had chosen Lyanna Stark of Winterfell. Barristan Selmy would have made a different
choice. Not the queen, who was not present. Nor Elia of Dorne, though she was good and gentle; had
she been chosen, much war and woe might have been avoided. His choice would have been a young
maiden not long at court, one of Elia’s companions … though compared to Ashara Dayne, the Dornish
princess was a kitchen drab.
The initial impressions of Elia that this scene gives are that (1) she was not exceptionally beautiful; (2) her marriage was not extremely happy - or at least, her husband did not love her. However, from Ser Barristan's recollections we also learn that Elia "was good and gentle." Is there more concrete proof of this aspect of Elia's personality? A quick reread shows that this is indeed the case.
Elia is not mentioned again in the series until the third book, A Storm of Swords.
A Storm of Swords
In A Storm of Swords, readers meet Oberyn Martell, Elia's brother, when he arrives at KL in order to take the Dornish seat on the small council. Through Oberyn's conversations with Tyrion, we see Elia brought to life for the first time as more than Prince Rhaegar's not-so-beloved wife and the ghost of Lannister cruelty.
During their conversation, Oberyn recalls a childhood visit to Casterly Rock, shortly after Tyrion's birth.
“Oh, many and many a year ago, when my mother ruled in Dorne and your lord father was Hand to a different king.”
Not so different as you might think, reflected Tyrion.
“It was when I visited Casterly Rock with my mother, her consort, and my sister Elia. I was, oh, fourteen, fifteen, thereabouts, Elia a year older. Your brother and sister were eight or nine, as I recall, and you had just been born.”
At Elia's request, the Dornish siblings are taken to see Tyrion by Cersei.
“Cersei even undid your swaddling clothes to give us a better look,” the Dornish prince continued. “You did have one evil eye, and some black fuzz on your scalp. Perhaps your head was larger than most... but there was no tail, no beard, neither teeth nor claws, and nothing between your legs but a tiny pink cock. After all the wonderful whispers, Lord Tywin’s Doom turned out to be just a hideous red infant with stunted legs. Elia even made the noise that young girls make at the sight of infants, I’m sure you’ve heard it. The same noise they make over cute kittens and playful puppies. I believe she wanted to nurse you herself, ugly as you were. "
This is the point at which Ser Barristan's description of Elia as "good and gentle" is brought to life for the reader. While Tyrion is reviled for his twisted appearance and named "Lord Tywin's Doom" by even the adults around him, sixteen year old Elia, when she sees him, reacts maternally as opposed to with disgust. The fact that she is able to overlook Tyrion's physical deformity and instinctively react to him as she would to any other infant speaks volumes towards her personality. (As opposed to Cersei, who tries to remove her little brother's male parts)
Through Oberyn, we also learn that Elia was very close with her brothers and had a sense of humor.
“Justice.” Yes, that is why he’s here, I should have seen that at once. “You were close to your sister?”
“As children Elia and I were inseparable, much like your own brother and sister.”
Elia found it all exciting. She was of that age, and her delicate health had never permitted her much travel. I preferred to amuse myself by mocking my sister’s suitors. There was Little Lord Lazyeye, Squire Squishlips, one I named the Whale That Walks, that sort of thing. The only one who was even halfway presentable was young Baelor Hightower. A pretty lad, and my sister was
half in love with him until he had the misfortune to fart once in our presence. I promptly named him Baelor Breakwind, and after that Elia couldn’t look at him without laughing. I was a monstrous young fellow, someone should have sliced out my vile tongue.
Elia's sense of humor and wit is confirmed by Ser Barristan in A Dance with Dragons:
The old knight hesitated. “Princess Elia was a good woman, Your Grace. She was kind and clever,with a gentle heart and a sweet wit. I know the prince was very fond of her.”
Fond, thought Dany. The word spoke volumes. I could become fond of Hizdahr zo Loraq, in time.
This description of Elia is perhaps the most apt one of her life in the traditional feminine roles of society - she was a gentle woman who inspired fondness, not passion. There is perhaps ironic in that, in the surviving men of her life, Doran and Oberyn, her death was what revealed the passionate love and devotion beneath the fondness.
It is perhaps also worthwhile to explore what Elia was not. This is juxtaposed very well by Ser Kevan at the end of A Dance with Dragons.
A Dance with Dragons
Ser Kevan remembered the girl she once had been, so full of life and mischief. And when she’d flowered, ahhhh … had there ever been a maid so sweet to look upon? If Aerys had agreed to marry her to Rhaegar, how many deathsmight have been avoided? Cersei could have given the prince the sons he wanted, lions with purple eyes
and silver manes … and with such a wife, Rhaegar might never have looked twice at Lyanna Stark. The
northern girl had a wild beauty, as he recalled, though however bright a torch might burn it could never
match the rising sun.
But it did no good to brood on lost battles and roads not taken. That was a vice of old done men.
Rhaegar had wed Elia of Dorne, Lyanna Stark had died, Robert Baratheon had taken Cersei to bride, and
here they were.
Ser Kevan indirectly juxtaposes Elia with Cersei, to Elia's disfavor, musing that if Rhaegar had married Cersei, he "might never have looked twice at Lyanna Stark." Kevan describes Cersei as having a beauty as "the rising sun," but if we extrapolate that he is also subconsciously considering Cersei's personality, we can gain an idea of what Elia was not, by considering what Cersei is. In a sense, Cersei is like "the rising sun" in more ways than appearance - Ser Kevan reminisces that she was "full of life and mischief," which can be interpreted as a more flattering way of saying that Cersei was willful. We also know, from the series, that Cersei is ambitious, proud, and domineering, traits which can easily be associated with a rising sun as it drives the darkness away. In contrast, we can assume that these were not traits associated with Elia - indeed, none of the characters ever describe Elia as "willful" or "proud."
Yet, it is Elia, not Cersei who is the true sun, a daughter of Dorne. But, further thought shows that, perhaps, Elia embodies the sigil of her house much more aptly than Cersei can ever hope to. While the sun can be fierce and blinding, it is also constant and warm, giving light and warmth to everything irregardless of appearance and origin. In this respect, Elia is much more similar to a sun than Cersei - her ability to smile and be affectionate towards infant Tyrion despite his deformity gives evidence of this.
Final thought: there is a certain similarity between Elia and Ellaria - both are essentially maternal figures first and foremost - and I think there are more clues to be found about Elia as a person in an examination of Ellaria, whom we do meet and are able to observe. It would make sense that Oberyn would be drawn to a woman who closely resembled his beloved sister.
Since a lot of the passages on Elia are slightly repetitive (I want to say at least 80% of the non-Oberyn passages are about her death at the hands of the Lannisters/Gregor while another 15% are about Lyanna being crowned Queen of Love and Beauty), I did not include a good number of them. If anyone finds a passage I missed that gives good insight to her character please share it with us!
/edit/ accidentally wrote The Hound instead of Gregor at one point - sorry! Edited to clear the name of Sansa's beloved I-am-no-ser
Edited by Lala, 14 July 2013 - 01:57 PM.