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Eddard in Wonderland

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Eddard in Wonderland: The Tower of Joy as a Celtic Otherworld.


Introduction.

This is not an argument for or against R+L=J, though the conclusions are compatible with R+L=J. It is an attempt to untangle the knot of what happened at the Tower of Joy, by reading the source material in the light of its mythic precedents. It's an analysis more of the literary hints than the narrative ones, and if you don't find that an interesting idea this might not be the essay for you. It doesn't claim any great revelation or unique theory but rather focuses on the light in which we should be reading Eddard Stark's dream.

I will discuss a little what directions this might take us at the end, but this is more about exploring the likely inspirations behind the text and the implication for reading it than promoting a particular "what really happened". I don't imagine this will be a terribly contentious theory, except possibly with people very determined on a literal reading of the ToJ dream dialogue, or possibly specialists in Arthurian and Insular Celtic mythology with a fundamentally different reading of certain fine points of the stories to my own.

Many have noted that "Tower of Joy" sounds a lot like the castle of the Joyous Gard in Arthurian Romance. Some have gone further, noting the links to a stratum of Arthurian myth dealing with the kidnapping of Guinevere. I recommend Lady Gwynhyfvar's thread for further reading.

My analysis moves away from the purely Arthurian influence to look at the origins of the story in Celtic myth. I contend that when we do this the parallels are so clear it would be a massive coincidence if it was not a major inspiration to GRRM. By following those parallels, we get the possibility of a much more symbolic interpretation of the ToJ events.

This long essay is broken up into several parts:
Part 1 discusses the parallels between the ToJ narrative and Celtic otherworld myths.
Part 2 extends this, comparing the showdown at the ToJ with a device in Celtic storytelling sometimes referred to as the Porter Scene.
Part 3 discusses how following these parallels allow us to break away from the more literal interpretation of Ned's dream.

Part 4 is the conclusion

Finally, because this is a massive post, I'll add a TL;DR version for those who want the ideas but not the details.


Part 1: The Tower of Joy as a Celtic Otherworld

The Tower of Joy is a mystery. We don't know why Rhaegar went there, how he knew about it, why he picked a location in Dorne when apparently abandoning his Dornish wife. Why didn't he go all the way to Starfall? Who else was there? Why were the Kingsguard apparently unwilling to negotiate with Eddard? How did Eddard find it? The list of questions goes on. We know little of the Tower of Joy itself other than that it is an old ruined tower that stands near the Prince's Pass between Nightsong and Kingsgrave. Perhaps this itself is a hint of something, as the names seem rather meaningful. If we accept the L+R=J formula, then it might be proposed that the grave of Jon's potential kingship is the song of the Night's Watch, that they take no part in politics. It's an intriguing thought, but little more than that. When we look beyond the text, we find more telling parallels.

The name of the Tower of Joy has an obvious literary precedent in le Château de Joyeuse Garde. This is the name commonly given to Sir Lancelot's castle in the French Arthurian romances. A direct translation of "Tower of Joy" would be tour de la joie but "Joyeuse Garde" translates directly as joyous watch. The castle of a watch is a watchtower. Thus "Tower of Joy" and "Joyeuse Garde" are directly equivalent1. When we consider that this castle is where Lancelot took Arthur's queen Guinevere and where Arthur besieged Lancelot to get her back, it's hard not to see a parallel.

The story of Guinevere's abduction is a complicated one in the development of Arthurian legend. Lancelot himself is a figure who is difficult to locate in earlier layers of the myth cycle. His dominant position in the later tales seems to owe a great deal to Chrétien de Troyes' Le Chevalier de la Charette (the Knight of the Cart). This tells the story of Guinevere's abduction by the knight Sir Meleagant, and Lancelot's rescue. In later versions, Meleagant is often replaced by Mordred, the son of King Arthur's sister and, thanks to a sneaky incestuous glamour, Arthur too. De Troyes' version is close to the oldest form of the Guinevere abduction story we have, from Caradoc of Llancarfan's Life of Gildas. In this there is a Meleagant (Melwas) but no Lancelot. Melwas kidnaps Guinevere and takes her to his tower at Glastonbury, where he is besieged by Arthur before St. Gildas negotiates her return.

In Caradoc's version of the story, it's plain to see the mythic antecedents. Glastonbury itself is quite probably a late interpolation; Melwas is described as being the king of the Summer Lands, which is interpreted as Somerset. His Ynys Witrin, the Isle of Glass, as Glastonbury. This all fits very nicely except that Caer Wydyr, the island fortress of glass, is found in other contexts as being a clearly otherworldly location. The "Summer Lands" are probably also mythic in nature, a place of eternal summer. This is reminiscent of Irish otherworlds2, such as Tír na nÓg, Land of Youth, where it's always summer. Note also the parallel with Emain Ablach / Avalon as an island paradise, Avalon being traditionally associated with Glastonbury. It's also interesting to note that while Melwas is described as the "king" of Somerset, his name appears to mean "young prince" (Maglo/Mael- gwas).

The origin of the Melwas story is obviously something older, shoe-horned into an Arthurian milieu, located by common assignation. Caradoc's contemporary William of Malmesbury claimed in his De Antiquitate Glastonie Ecclesie that the original native name for Glastonbury was Ineswitren. We know then that this was the standard correlation, but likely a false etymology based on the assumption that Glaston- indicates glass. It's far more likely either a personal name or possibly from the glasto- Celtic root meaning blue-green. Glastonbury is a real place, while Ynys Witrin is clearly mythical, a magical fortress of glass in the sea.

Folklorists generally associate abduction myths with the legend of Persephone in Hades, suggesting that there is an ancient abduction legend inspiring many of these. This would be a mythic narrative to explain the change of seasons. It's often pointed out that the abduction of Guinevere takes place in the spring whilst the queen is "a-maying", offering a nice parallel for Guinevere as Persephone, the corn maiden of spring. This is thematically problematical when we have a summer king, but it's interesting to note that Guinevere's name comes from Gwenhwyfar, which means something like "White spirit". That makes her a far better fit for a winter-figure. Thus in the Melwas tale, the abductor is summer and the abductee may be seen as winter3.

In ASOIAF, we have Prince Rhaegar ("Fire and Blood"), born in Summerhall and incest-child of the king. He abducts Lyanna Stark ("Winter is coming"), born in Winterfell, and takes her to the mysterious Tower Of Joy. Her betrothed raises the banners to rescue her. In the Arthurian form, we have Melwas the prince of summer, in some versions incest-child of the King. He abducts a winter-associated queen and takes her to his mysterious Joyeuse Gard. Her husband raises the banners to rescue her. In a work called A Song of Fire and Ice, it's hard to credit this not being an intentional and rather central parallel.

When we consider the Arthurian abduction myth, it's important to recognise that it is otherworldly in nature. In Celtic mythic thinking, towers appear to represent a "liminal place" that joins land and air. These liminal places are inherently otherworldly. Towers, islands, mounds, swamps; places that cross the border between water and land, land and sky, underworld and overworld hint that the story is leaving the mundane and entering the mystical. We quite often hear of people kept prisoner in these liminal places. According to the Welsh Triads, King Arthur was imprisoned for three nights in the extremely mysterious Caer Oeth and Anoeth, an otherworldly place associated with death. As in the most well-known of these journeys, Orpheus' decent into the underworld, there is a common theme of recovering a loved one, a revelation, or both.

Prince Melwas' "island of glass" can also be found in an old Welsh poem called Preiddiau Annwfn (The Spoils of Annwn). There we meet Caer Wydyr, the castle of glass. This poem survives in the 14th century Book of Taliesin, but is clearly much older. Usually dated to the 9th-10th centuries, it's possibly the oldest surviving Arthurian story, often considered a prototype of the grail quest. It's is an extremely difficult poem with cryptic bardic references and archaic language that defies definitive interpretation.

Preiddiau Annwfn tells the story of a voyage by Arthur and his men to a mysterious fortress (or seven; it's debatable whether it's one fort given seven names or seven different forts). The reason for the voyage may be to rescue a prisoner in the tower. There may be a cauldron of plenty (hints of the Holy Grail) recovered during the expedition. There appears to be some kind of failed dialogue at the castle walls due to Arthur's valour not being recognised. The voyage is considered a disaster, with most stanzas ending with a variant of "Three fullnesses of Prydwen (Arthur's ship) went with Arthur. Except seven, none returned from the castle..."

Thus we have a voyage to the mysterious otherworldly tower to rescue a prisoner. The hero attempts to talk to the sentinels at the tower, but it's hard to get through to them, and the results are disastrous. As a result most of the party that went to the tower never return. The peculiar reference to the difficulty of talking to the sentinels may be particularly relevant to the ToJ, as we will see in the next section.


1 In both the Arthurian and ASOIAF narratives, the Tower of Joy / Joyous gard are not originally named that. Rhaegar chose the name Tower of Joy, while Lancelot renamed the Dolorous Garde (tower of sadness) to the Joyous Garde.

2 It's interesting to note that one of the names given to the Celtic otherworld is Tír fo Thuinn, The Land Beneath the Waves. Presumably this is where Patchface returned from. "It is always summer under the sea," he tells us.

3 It may be a little more complicated than that. Mythologists are addicted to drawing parallels with Greek myth, but there's reason to believe the Celtic form differs somewhat. There the abducted maiden seems to be a fertility figure who is fought over by two rivals, one representing summer and the other winter. This is the form of the story of Gwyn ap Nudd (Ned?) and Gwythr ap Greidawl, who were fated to fight over Gwyn's sister every May Day. This parallels the Calan Mai (May day) folk-tradition of a mock battle between men representing summer and winter. It's hard to be sure which of the two represents which season. Notably Gwyn Ap Nudd was connected to Glastonbury, and according to several early sources, Gwythr was the father of Guinevere. Conversely, Gwyn Ap Nudd is a winter figure associated with Glastonbury, and the woman he fought with Gwythr over was his sister. Characters and roles get swapped around a lot.

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Part 2: Ned's dream; a Porter's tale.

Beyond the Glass Fortress they did not see the valour of Arthur.

Six thousand men stood upon the wall.

It was difficult to speak with their sentinel.

- Preiddiau Annwfn

There's no clear indication why it was difficult to speak with the sentinel, but the reference to Arthur's valour hints at another stock piece of Celtic storytelling that relates to people visiting towers. This is sometimes known as the Porter Scene. We see examples of this in Lugh's arrival at the court of Nuada in Cath Tánaiste Maige Tuired (The Second Battle of Moytura), in Culhwch's arrival at Arthur's court in Culhwch ac Olwen and the fragmentary Pa gur yv y porthaur? (What Man is the Porter) from the Black Book of Carmarthen.

The characteristic of these porter's scenes is that the protagonist is challenged on trying to enter a tower by the porter or door-keeper. Before the protagonist is allowed in, the porter demands that they prove their worth and valour. The response to the Porter's challenge is to boast. This seems a little odd to us but is common in Celtic storytelling, where a good old boast doesn't have a negative connotation, but is rather expected of a hero. This is well demonstrated in the Irish Scéla Muicce Meicc Da Thó (The Tale of Mac Da Thó's Pig) where Cet mac Mágach of Connact wins the right to carve the hero's portion at a feast by out-boasting all comers. We also have Hywel1 Ab Owain, prince of Gwyneth's Gorhoffedd Hywel ab Owain Gwynedd. Literally Hywel's boast-poem, this points to a bardic tradition of boasting.

Like so much in Celtic storytelling, we struggle to understand exactly what's going on in porter's scenes. Our surviving material is limited, late, often fragmentary, and generally very hard to interpret. The Welsh material particularly seems to contain a lot of obfuscation. Many scholars suspect that the later bardic tradition was a mystery tradition, and that interpretation was often intentionally challenging.

The idea that proving yourself is necessary to enter a castle seems a little odd. The fact that the porter who challenges Arthur in Pa gur yv y porthaur appears as Arthur's own gatekeeper in Culhwch ac Olwen adds to the mystery. In the context of the castle as an otherworldly attainment, it makes a lot more sense. These aren't simply a lord's feasting hall they are trying to enter; the hero is seeking entrance to an otherworld. In that context, the line above from Preiddiau Annwfn about Arthur's valour being unseen and the difficulty in talking to the sentinel makes a lot more sense.

When we look at Ned's dream narrative with this in mind it all starts to look very familiar if oddly inverted. Many people have commented on just how boastful the three King's Guards are being. It seems almost out of place, out of character for three such noble knights. In the context of a Celtic porter scene though, it's what you'd expect. The questions that Ned asks are equally challenges to the King's Guard to defend their valour. If they are worthy, why were they not at the Trident? Why were they not with the King? Let's break it down.

"I looked for you on the Trident,"

(Challenge: you did not fight at the trident)

"We were not there," Ser Gerold answered.

"Woe to the Usurper if we had been," said Ser Oswell.

(Boast: even three really good swordsmen would be unlikely to turn the tide of a massive battle)

"When King's Landing fell, Ser Jaime slew your king with a golden sword, and I wondered where you were."

(Challenge: You did not defend your king)

"Far away," Ser Gerold said, "or Aerys would yet sit the Iron Throne, and our false brother would burn in seven hells."

(Boast: Three men wouldn't have defeated Tywin's army)

"I came down on Storm's End to lift the siege," Ned told them, "and the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dipped their banners, and all their knights bent the knee to pledge us fealty. I was certain you would be among them."

(Challenge: I was certain you would have bent the knee rather than fighting just like everyone else)

"Our knees do not bend easily," said Ser Arthur Dayne.

(boast: even when everyone else surrendered, we wouldn't have)

"Ser Willem Darry is fled to Dragonstone, with your queen and Prince Viserys. I thought you might have sailed with him."

(Challenge: You did not help the royal family escape)

"Ser Willem is a good man and true," said Ser Oswell.

"But not of the Kingsguard," Ser Gerold pointed out. "The Kingsguard does not flee."

(Boast: Willem is good, we're better)

Thus the basic ingredients of this scene are all there. The hero seeks to enter a tower (an otherworldly place where he seeks the typical rewards of the katabasis, to return with a revelation or to rescue a loved one). There are guardians at the tower. There is an exchange of challenge and boast to prove worthiness and valour. There's an odd inversion in that it's Ned who challenges and the sentinels who boast, but the result is just what we have in the Preiddiau Annwfn account. The sentinels are unmoved, the outcome is disastrous. Even the numbers three and seven are echoed. Compare:

"They had been seven against three, yet only two had lived to ride away" - aGoT ch.39

"Three fullnesses of Prydwen, we went into it. Except seven, none returned from Caer Sidi" - Preiddiau Annwfn

1 If anyone read that name and thought of Howland, you're probably right. Dianna Wynne Jones' book Howl's Moving Castle is almost certainly given a nod in Howland Reed's moving castle Greywatch, and Howl in Jones' books is a pseudonym based on his real name Howell, an anglicisation of the Welsh name Hywel.

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Part 3. Breaking the Chains of a Dream




I might mention, though, that Ned's account, which you refer to, was in the context of a dream... and a fever dream at that. Our dreams are not always literal.
-GRRM


Of course, Ned did not really visit a Celtic otherworld when he went to the Tower of Joy. Rhaegar isn't really meant to be the god of summer and Lyanna the goddess of winter. The questions and answers weren't actually a mystic formula that allowed heroic attainment through a liminal transition to a worthy individual. Nor do I suggest that Martin necessary studied Celtic storytelling traditions to this extent. These are (if you accept my hypothesis) the literary precedents that informed Martin's ideas and his narration of Ned's dream.

Notice: dream.

The above statement by Martin has provoked a lot of disagreement. Nobody denies that Ned's dream is not entirely literal, but there's considerable difference in interpretation. How much of the dream we should consider evidence? We could take Martin's comment as warning that the dream is just a dream, but why have the dream if it's not meaningful? Some people dismiss GRRM's comment. They point out that the fever is irrelevant, as the dream is recurring (incorrect – it's an old dream, not necessarily a recurring one). Others accept GRRM's comment as dismissing the trustworthiness of the dream. To do either is to dismiss something that GRRM has told us. Neither position is a good one, so we must find a middle ground.

Some lines of the dream clearly belong to a dreamworld. Obviously his companions were not really “shadows, grey wraiths on horses made of mist”. Nor did they have “shadow swords in hand.” “A storm of rose-petals” didn't “blow across the blood-streaked sky, as blue as the eyes of death”. These are symbolic aspects of Ned's dream. It would be a mistake to assume that less obviously symbolic lines cannot also fall into that category. Analysis of the dream sequence frequently assumes that the dialogue is, if not word-for-word, at least a close echo. Does that make any sense? Consider:

"I looked for you on the Trident",
“...wondered where you were”,
“...was certain you would be among them",
“...thought you might have sailed with him”.

Do we really believe that these three were so much on Ned's mind? It would have crossed his mind to wonder where they were. However this phrasing, and this repetition suggests that the three missing king's guards were pre-eminent in his thoughts. This would only be true after he arrived at the Tower of Joy.

It makes no sense to dismiss the dream as being unrelated to what happened. From a storytelling viewpoint, it has to be highly meaningful. It does not, however, have to present what actually happened; it needs only symbolise it. The discussion between Ned and the King's Guard is not naturalistic. It's highly ritualised, entirely formulaic. It takes the role of the porter's scene, a symbolic challenge, and that's how it should be read, as symbol.

Ned's inversion of the porter scene casts himself as the sentinel, his wraith-like companions as symbols of death. The boasts of the King's guard answer his challenge with valour. Ned's memory of those King's guards is not of bitter enemies who slew five of his close friends, but of noble knights, the best of their kind. In Arthur's voyage to his otherworldly tower, despite his valour, something gets in the way and the end is tragedy. One of the tower names of Preiddiau Annwfn is Caer Rigor, the fort of intractability. Despite the honour of the Kingsguard, something gets in the way, some intractability between the two forces, and the result is the same.

Before the discussion even starts, we are told “Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, had a sad smile on his lips.” The discussion ends with '"No," Ned said with sadness in his voice. “Now it ends.”' That both parties to the debate are sad, and that the sadness bookends the dialogue is telling. We see a fatalism from both sides about the outcome. Neither wants to fight, but both realise it is inevitable.

While the form of the discussion between Ned and the King's Guards casts it as symbol, the substance isn't empty. The answers the King's Guard give all state one thing: that they continue to do their duty1. At no point do they actually answer Ned's implied question (“why weren't you there”), but we can draw a likely conclusion that they are there to guard Lyanna and Rhaegar's child.

That Ned keeps asking essentially the question implies that he knows the answer already. He's probing for an admission or a justification. The fact that the three King's Guards do not answer it is the intractability of Caer Rigor. There is an irreconcilable difference between Ned's position and theirs. They cannot resolve their difference in any way other than the tragic result, "They had been seven against three, yet only two had lived to ride away".

This is, very broadly speaking, the conclusion that most people who try to analyse the dialogue as if it was close to what actually was said come to. The important difference the Celtic otherworld parallel implies is that the story in Ned's dream symbolises what took place rather than illustrating it. If we accept this, it breaks the chains that tie us to a literal interpretation of Ned's dream. We are free to re-interpret the events of the Tower of Joy in a way that resolves many niggling problems with the standard interpretations.

1 Even casting the language of the dream as symbolic, it must still be assumed that the symbolism isn't random. Interpretation of the lines can hint at further meaning. For example, I find it interesting to contrast Whent's "Woe to the Usurper if we had been," with Hightower's “Aerys would yet sit the Iron Throne, and our false brother would burn in seven hells." Whent is talking about the Trident, where “the Usurper” fought and killed Rhaegar. It's only Hightower who speaks directly of preserving Aerys' reign. Whent and Dayne are Rhaegar's sworn swords, and we know from Jaime's recollections that Rhaegar was planning “changes” after the rebellion was put down. Hightower tells Jamie that the King's Guard do not question even a mad king. Hightower was not part of the original group at the ToJ, having been sent there by Aerys to fetch Rhaegar to fight at the Trident. We may have a hint here that while the three King's Guards were acting in unison here, they were not necessarily in agreement over the longer term.

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Part 4: Conclusion, at last.

I have shown that there is a very strong parallel between the Tower of Joy story and a tradition of Celtic storytelling involving abductions and towers. I have shown a link with a tradition of ritualised challenge-dialogues that closely mirror the dialogue in Ned's dream. I have discussed the impact this has on the interpretation of Ned's dream. While the dream contains the substance of an argument between Ned's men and the three King's Guards, it is told in a highly symbolic form that need have little correlation to the actual events as they took place.

Ned's dream takes the form of a traditional Celtic otherworld journey tale to symbolise his experience at the Tower of Joy, not to narrate it. There is at the heart of ASOIAF a story about the conflict between summer and winter, and it should be no surprise that such a central mystery as the Tower of Joy is, at heart, a retelling of an ancient symbolic myth of the conflict between summer and winter. Thus, just as we are not expected to believe that Ned's companions were wraiths or that rose-petals blew across a blood-streaked sky, we should not necessarily believe that the fight or the dialogue in the dream sequence bears any more than a symbolic link to what actually occurred.

This allows us to look at different answers to a lot of difficulties people have with the sequence. Why were the 3KG so unwilling to negotiate? Perhaps there was a negotiation. Why did they stand outside the tower rather than defending the tower? It's a symbolic dream, there's no reason to assume it happened that way at all. Why would they not even let Ned see Lyanna? Well perhaps they did let Ned in, and the fight happened later 1. The they who found Ned holding dead Lyanna might have included the Kingsguard, and perhaps the promises that Ned made to his dying sister were why Ned and the Kingsguard could not come to an agreement, and why they had to fight 2.

As well as offering potential answers, there are questions, too. If Lyanna's abduction and Ned's failed rescue can be seen as belonging to a tradition of seasonal myths, does this all relate rather more closely to the battle of summer and winter we're seeing in the books? Might the events at the ToJ have been some kind of sympathetic magic that helped trigger the coming conflict with the others? With the winter princess kidnapped by the summer prince, there should be a return, a rescue of one season from dominance by the other, for the seasons to turn. Yet Lyanna died at the tower, and stayed in the otherworld. If Rhaegar was trying to restore the seasons to balance, he and Ned failed.


1

The royal apartments were in Maegor's Holdfast, a massive square fortress that nestled in the heart of the Red Keep behind walls twelve feet thick and a dry moat lined with iron spikes, a castle-within-a-castle. Ser Boros Blount guarded the far end of the bridge, white steel armor ghostly in the moonlight. Within, Ned passed two other knights of the Kingsguard; Ser Preston Greenfield stood at the bottom of the steps, and Ser Barristan Selmy waited at the door of the king's bedchamber. Three men in white cloaks, he thought, remembering, and a strange chill went through him.

A Game of Thrones, chapter 47.

This is not the first time Ned has seen three Kingsguards together recently. There were three of them in the party accompanying King Robert to Winterfell Interestingly this fact is hidden from the reader in Bran's PoV where he specifically tells us two Kingsguard were there, only then adding that Jaime was also a Kingsguard but claiming he doesn't really count. Perhaps Martin is trying to draw attention to the fact that there are three there by this odd inaccuracy. Why, then, does this event cause a strange chill when the last time Ned saw three Kingsguards together it did not? It's very possible that it's simply because Ned had awoken from a dream of Lyanna that morning, but here we have Ned entering a tower guarded by three Kingsguards to see the someone he loved as a sibling dying (and a king). It's tempting to see that as being chilling to him because it was not the first time he'd walked past three Kingsguards to enter a tower and see a dying sibling (and possibly a king), and the last time, things did not go well. Ominous indeed.

2 The way that Ned remembers the kingsguards, and particularly Arthur, seems a little at odds with the idea that they obstinately refused to even let him in to see his dying sister. On the other hand, if the intractability is on both sides and the final decision to fight was his, it makes a lot more sense. The lines That was his curse. Robert would swear undying love and forget them before evenfall, but Ned Stark kept his vows. He thought of the promises he made to Lyanna as she lay dying, and the price he'd paid to keep them makes more sense if the price is more than just having to lie to Catelyn; killing men he had such huge respect for, for example. It's often forgotten in discussing the showdown that there were (at least) two sets of vows in play, which nicely connects to the theme of intractability. Ned's deep feelings of guilt, his relationship with the Daynes, and the way he thinks of the three Kingsguards make a lot of sense in this light.

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TL;DR version

It has been speculated that the name of the Tower of Joy is probably inspired by the Joyeuse Gard in Arthurian myth. If we examine the origins of this piece of Arthurian myth in Celtic storytelling, the parallels are so strong it's very unlikely it was not a primary inspiration for GRRM. Comparing the Tower of Joy narrative with the various versions of the Joyeuse Gard narrative and its predecessors , we have the following similarities (GoT for ASOIAF version, CN for Celtic Narrative, covering elements in the various Arthurian and Celtic versions):

  • GoT: Tower of Joy, CN: Joyouse Gard.
  • GoT: Kidnapper is the child of the king and the king's own sister, CN: Kidnapper is the child of the king and the king's own sister.
  • GoT: Kidnapper is a prince from Summerhall, CN: Kidnapper is a prince from the Summer country
  • Got: Rhaegar Targaryen (fire) kidnaps Lyanna Stark (ice), Eddard Stark (ice) fights to recover his sister. CN: Warriors representing summer and winter fight when one kidnaps the other's sister, and he fights to get her back.
  • GoT: Ned speaks to the Kingsguard at the tower, but their differences are intractable. CN: Arthur speaks to the sentinels at the tower, but their differences are intractable.
  • GoT: Debate involves a ritualised boast-dialogue. CN: Entry to the tower requires a ritualised boast-dialogue.
  • GoT: "They had been seven against three, yet only two had lived to ride away." CN: "Three fullnesses of Prydwen, we went into it. Except seven, none returned from Caer Sidi."

The main relevance of this observation is in understanding the oddities of the showdown between Ned and the three Kingsguard. The dialogue we have from the dream is far from naturalistic, appearing more like some kind of ritual challenge. That's exactly what you would expect from the parallel. In the original form the challenge is not intended to be a literal thing, but rather a test of worthiness, allowing entry into a tower that symbolises the otherworld, a type of journey known to mythologists as a katabasis.

The logical conclusion from this parallel is that Ned's dream of the showdown should not be considered a literal account of what took place at the Tower of Joy, but rather highly symbolic. The tragic consequences of Ned's journey to the tower result from an inability for the visitor and the guardians of the tower to come to an understanding, due to some irreconcilable difference in opinion. The important part of the symbolism is that difference of opinion. The unlikely aspects of the Tower of Joy story, such as the odd questions Ned asks and the lack of any attempt to find a middle ground cease to be a problem when we no longer think of that dialogue as being what actually happened. Indeed, this gives us no reason to assume there was not a long and relatively peaceful debate between Eddard and the 3KG before the fight, and even no great reason to assume that the fight took place before Lyanna had died. Ned may have been allowed into the tower at first, the fight only breaking out later.

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First off:



FINALLY. I think I've been harassing (in a nice way...) you about posting this for like 5 months.



Second:



It was worth the wait. Very well done.





Thus in the Melwas tale, the abductor is summer and the abductee may be seen as winter




Actual BQ reaction: "ooooooh"





When we consider the Arthurian abduction myth, it's important to recognise that it is otherworldly in nature. In Celtic mythic thinking, towers appear to represent a "liminal place" that joins land and air




That's pretty interesting. Looking at the house sigils of the Targaryens and Starks, I think you could make a case that we see the joining of air and land in this tower, this liminal place. The Targaryens, of course, are dragons, something that is definitely associated with the sky and air. The Starks, we know, are wolves and I would argue that they are more land creatures than anything else. Bran calls himself Prince of the Green world in Bran I in ASOS and obviously Bran-in-Summer has a very deep connection to land and earth, and Bran the Boy is now what somewhat literally connected to the literal earth, especially by the end of ADWD.





When we look at Ned's dream narrative with this in mind it all starts to look very familiar if oddly inverted. Many people have commented on just how boastful the three King's Guards are being. It seems almost out of place, out of character for three such noble knights. In the context of a Celtic porter scene though, it's what you'd expect. The questions that Ned asks are equally challenges to the King's Guard to defend their valour. If they are worthy, why were they not at the Trident? Why were they not with the King? Let's break it down.




That was a really interesting breakdown. Curious, though, in one regard. We talk a lot over in RLJ about how this is a dream (an old one) and one that Ned has had before and doesn't find strange. Do you think Ned in universe is aware of his challenge/boast conversation or is this GRRM writing Ned's subconscious to fall in line with traditional Celtic mythology without Ned having a deeper understanding?





It makes no sense to dismiss the dream as being unrelated to what happened. From a storytelling viewpoint, it has to be highly meaningful. It does not, however, have to present what actually happened; it needs only symbolise it. The discussion between Ned and the King's Guard is not naturalistic. It's highly ritualised, entirely formulaic. It takes the role of the porter's scene, a symbolic challenge, and that's how it should be read, as symbol.




I see I needed to keep reading in order to answer my own questions. :)





There is at the heart of ASOIAF a story about the conflict between summer and winter, and it should be no surprise that such a central mystery as the Tower of Joy is, at heart, a retelling of an ancient symbolic myth of the conflict between summer and winter.




Yes I agree but I also think that the true heart of the TOJ isn't the conflict of summer and winter, but its union. I think it looks like conflict : the Stark forces (winter) vs Targaryen forces (summer) but in reality, what they're fighting over, is the result of a literal union between those two, between summer and winter. And broadly, I think that's something GRRM wants us all to think about, that summer and winter need not be opposites and need not be in conflict. It would be one thing if there was no Baby Boy Jon in that tower, if Ned was the hero going to rescue his loved one from the clutches of the summer prince/king. But Baby Boy Jon adds another layer, one that overturns the "symbolic myth" of the conflict between summer and winter.





As well as offering potential answers, there are questions, too. If Lyanna's abduction and Ned's failed rescue can be seen as belonging to a tradition of seasonal myths, does this all relate rather more closely to the battle of summer and winter we're seeing in the books? Might the events at the ToJ have been some kind of sympathetic magic that helped trigger the coming conflict with the others? With the winter princess kidnapped by the summer prince, there should be a return, a rescue of one season from dominance by the other, for the seasons to turn. Yet Lyanna died at the tower, and stayed in the otherworld. If Rhaegar was trying to restore the seasons to balance, he and Ned failed.




Interesting questions. I'm not sure if Jon's birth and the events that happened after caused any sort of sympathetic magic (though I tend to believe that Rhaegar's birth at Summer and his "last dragon" status triggered something). And there's still Jon to consider. Is he a bit of a stopgap given his nature of the union of summer and winter? Is it the birth of Dany (the summer princess, nice inversion) and then a short time later Bran (the winter prince, again nice inversion) the real trigger? Curiouser and curiouser.



Once again, really nice job. I'm glad you posted this :)


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That's pretty interesting. Looking at the house sigils of the Targaryens and Starks, I think you could make a case that we see the joining of air and land in this tower, this liminal place. The Targaryens, of course, are dragons, something that is definitely associated with the sky and air. The Starks, we know, are wolves and I would argue that they are more land creatures than anything else. Bran calls himself Prince of the Green world in Bran I in ASOS and obviously Bran-in-Summer has a very deep connection to land and earth, and Bran the Boy is now what somewhat literally connected to the literal earth, especially by the end of ADWD.

There's definitely a strong thread of elementalism throughout ASOIAF. There are obvious elemental links with a number of the houses; obviously the Greyjoys (and the Ironborn) and House Manderly have strong water connections, less obviously the Arryns (and the Vale) are air-related (the eyrie, the winged knights, etc).

Interestingly, "places of power" in the series often match the Celtic idea of limnal spaces. The mysterious Reeds live in a swamp, while the God's Eye is an island in a lake -- places where water meets land, and classic Celtic limnal zones. The Fist of the First Men is a steep hill or tor, where land projects into sky (and you could say the same about the wall, with the addition of water). I hadn't really considered the specific type of limnal meeting inherent in a tower being so suited to Stark and Targaryen; good observation.

That was a really interesting breakdown. Curious, though, in one regard. We talk a lot over in RLJ about how this is a dream (an old one) and one that Ned has had before and doesn't find strange. Do you think Ned in universe is aware of his challenge/boast conversation or is this GRRM writing Ned's subconscious to fall in line with traditional Celtic mythology without Ned having a deeper understanding?

I'd imagine that in-world, Ned would feel that his dream recall of the dialogue was quite different from how it actually went down, but it certainly has to have given Ned a sense of what was important about the conversation. Primarily it's a literary device, but it needs to make sense in context. I don't question the idea that there is more meaning in the dialogue than the purely symbolic structure that I describe here, but I think the most important thing to take away from the dialogue is that idea of intractability -- that both sides are being honourable yet are bound by vows that keep them from finding a middle ground. The book-ending of the dialogue with Arthur's and Ned's sadness seems like a very important point to me.

Yes I agree but I also think that the true heart of the TOJ isn't the conflict of summer and winter, but its union. I think it looks like conflict : the Stark forces (winter) vs Targaryen forces (summer) but in reality, what they're fighting over, is the result of a literal union between those two, between summer and winter. And broadly, I think that's something GRRM wants us all to think about, that summer and winter need not be opposites and need not be in conflict. It would be one thing if there was no Baby Boy Jon in that tower, if Ned was the hero going to rescue his loved one from the clutches of the summer prince/king. But Baby Boy Jon adds another layer, one that overturns the "symbolic myth" of the conflict between summer and winter.

Interesting questions. I'm not sure if Jon's birth and the events that happened after caused any sort of sympathetic magic (though I tend to believe that Rhaegar's birth at Summer and his "last dragon" status triggered something). And there's still Jon to consider. Is he a bit of a stopgap given his nature of the union of summer and winter? Is it the birth of Dany (the summer princess, nice inversion) and then a short time later Bran (the winter prince, again nice inversion) the real trigger? Curiouser and curiouser.

The seasonal myth consists of an eternal battle and eternal return. With the Guinevere myth, we lose most of that seasonal context to the story, and I think it's a similar thing here. GRRM is using a storytelling device that has its origins in the summer / winter battle, but I don't think he's simply retelling ancient myth, he's using it as a device in telling his own story. There's a background event to the Guinevere kidnapping story which ties in with it to do with the land losing fertility when the fisher king is injured "in the thighs" as it's put in the more genteel chivalric retellings. If Summerhal has a role in messing things up, it may connect more closely to that - a disaster that befalls the king being reflected in the land the king rules, nature being put out of balance and that balance needing to be restored.

Jon's birth from fire and ice (and perhaps, following on from your observation of the limnality between air and land / Targ and Stark, in a tower) certainly makes him seem like a unifying force. Looked at as a seasonal myth, the ToJ story has an important change: the kidnapped princess is not returned from her kidnapping, and thus if we follow the mythic precedent, the change of seasons failed. If the ToJ is not a magical trigger for the events, it may be a literary one, symbolising the failure of the seasons that started long before. Jon was born out of death and that's a form of rebirth, so he represents the possibility for that failure of the seasons, the failure of the battle at the tower to go the way the myth has it, to be reinvigorated in his person. In that context I would expect him to be the conduit for the seasons, or at least the forces that represent those seasons, to be rebalanced.

It will be interesting to see if Bran and Dany end up in conflict, in some way. However, an interesting observation in the context of this discussion: the fisher king mentioned above appears to be inspired by the Celtic deity/king Bran the Blessed, and the tragedy that befalls him is having his legs injured. He is later interred under a hill where he remains as a guardian of the realm.

Once again, really nice job. I'm glad you posted this :)

It's about time, looking at the date on the doc I last edited it in December!

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There're more inversions than that, one of the KG's sentinel was an Arthur with a magic sword ;) ;). And it was Rhaegar who played the harp (hence the Orphe figure). But if only to give me those kind of perspectives, I can say you are onto something, and that was a very valuable post, thank you .


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It's a very good read, thank you.



Liminal Places being towers aren't specific to Celtic Mythology nor is the Sphinxical questioning and the Fight between the Noble Guards of a Mad King and the Hero before entering a Tower of great importance.


It's there in a couple of places in Mahabharata and The Ramayana, though there is no real incest involved here, abductions play a part in both, But I doubt Martin borrowed it from there.


Anyway, again, a very good read.


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It's a very good read, thank you.

Liminal Places being towers aren't specific to Celtic Mythology nor is the Sphinxical questioning and the Fight between the Noble Guards of a Mad King and the Hero before entering a Tower of great importance.

It's there in a couple of places in Mahabharata and The Ramayana, though there is no real incest involved here, abductions play a part in both, But I doubt Martin borrowed it from there.

Anyway, again, a very good read.

I don't know about this, Martin is fairly well read, and we all know he borrows from both True History and Mythology. It seems to me like he's more than capable and willing to put together these neat little puzzles for us to be driven crazy by.

The Others, for example, Martin has said are influenced by the Sindhe, another Celtic myth.

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The is a really neat topic, and I'm gonna read through it more thoroughly when I get a chance. Just wanna say thanks for putting it together.


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It's a very good read, thank you.

Liminal Places being towers aren't specific to Celtic Mythology nor is the Sphinxical questioning and the Fight between the Noble Guards of a Mad King and the Hero before entering a Tower of great importance.

It's there in a couple of places in Mahabharata and The Ramayana, though there is no real incest involved here, abductions play a part in both, But I doubt Martin borrowed it from there.

Anyway, again, a very good read.

A lot of these mythic ideas are widespread across the Indo-European world, and some elements clearly predate that. The Mahabarata, the Iliad, and the Táin Bó Cúailnge span thousands of years and miles in composition, but are full of shared cultural motifs. The Sanskrit and Celtic sources represent the goegraphical extremes, but also the longest survival as living myth.

The age of chivalry and the popularity of Arthuran legend which gives GRRM his most clear precedent was contemporary with and heavily influenced by the later Celtic material, to the extent that it's pretty much a continuation of it. There's a lot in common between the notions of chivalry in late medieval Europe and the dharma of the warrior in Bhagavad Gita, but that's a shared origin rather than a direct influence, and I'd suspect that given how common the Celtic/Arthurian hints are in GRRM, it's the same case there.

GRRM is widely read, so maybe there is a direct Vedic influence -- but there's most certainly a strong Celtic one.

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There're more inversions than that, one of the KG's sentinel was an Arthur with a magic sword ;) ;). And it was Rhaegar who played the harp (hence the Orphe figure). But if only to give me those kind of perspectives, I can say you are onto something, and that was a very valuable post, thank you .

I think GRRM loves to put these things in as a nod to his sources -- ASOIAF is full of it.

It struck me the other day that Brandon the Shipwright's attempt to cross the western ocean is another of these nods. The various Brandons of house Stark are very obviously inspired by the mythic figure of Bran, who similarly crops up in various guises who may or may not be the same person. The latest guise is as the Irish St.Brendan the navigator, who was famous for sailing across the western ocean in search of other lands.

The voyage of Brandon follows the Irish "Immram" tradition of voyage-quests, which like the voyage to the tower, is an Orphean journey to the otherworld. In one older form, the Immram Brain maic Febail, (The Voyage of Bran son of Febal) the mysterious otherworld island in the ocean he visits is named "The Isle of Joy". How about that?

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It's a very good read, thank you.

Liminal Places being towers aren't specific to Celtic Mythology nor is the Sphinxical questioning and the Fight between the Noble Guards of a Mad King and the Hero before entering a Tower of great importance.

It's there in a couple of places in Mahabharata and The Ramayana, though there is no real incest involved here, abductions play a part in both, But I doubt Martin borrowed it from there.

Anyway, again, a very good read.

That's not really surprising, considering the indo-european origin of both.

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snip

Great work putting this all together! I can't pretend I understood everything, because I'm sadly not very knowledgeable in Celtic mythology, but it's a very interesting read all the same :) the parallels do seem more than simple coincidence...that the fight happened after Lyanna died, makes a lot of sense, too. The KG and Ned both wanted Jon's safety, but couldn't agree on how the boy would be kept safe... and they each made a vow of their own, the KG to Rhaegar, Ned to Lyanna.

Keeping the promise to Lyanna, cost the life of five of Ned's companions and three KG.... a high price to pay, indeed.

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Great work putting this all together! I can't pretend I understood everything, because I'm sadly not very knowledgeable in Celtic mythology, but it's a very interesting read all the same :)

Glad you liked it! I'd love it if there's some scholar of Celtic mythology on the boards who can come and challenge me on the finer points of the Preiddiau Annwfn, but given how obscure it is (see my comment about how people disagree on something as fundamental as whether there's one tower with seven names or seven towers) that would probably get boring for most people pretty quickly. ;^) Hopefully I've given enough background for anyone to get a pretty good sense of the connections, but I'd be happy to clarify anything I can on the mythology.

the parallels do seem more than simple coincidence...that the fight happened after Lyanna died, makes a lot of sense, too. The KG and Ned both wanted Jon's safety, but couldn't agree on how the boy would be kept safe... and they each made a vow of their own, the KG to Rhaegar, Ned to Lyanna.

Keeping the promise to Lyanna, cost the life of five of Ned's companions and three KG.... a high price to pay, indeed.

I've been thinking about this idea for some time, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. Really the only reason we assume that the fight took place before Ned talked to Lyanna is that's how it happened in Ned's "fever dream". Just about any objection people come up with that starts "One thing that's never made sense to me about the ToJ story is.." can be resolved if you put that requirement aside. Perhaps most importantly, it really makes a lot more sense of the Dayne connections and the way Ned thinks of the 3KG if Ned views their deaths as a tragedy he feels guilty about yet honour-bound to have caused.

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Fantastic contribution, Kingmonkey. Just amazing. I don't necessarily agree with some of the conclusions about what this means for our understanding of Ned's dream, but that lessens none of my admiration of the work. Now I have to get that old dusty copy of the Mabinogion off my shelf and finish reading it.


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Say Have you some knowledge of the Nibelungen saga or the story of Sigurd. I know that it already served as bases notably for the Hobbit, but from the top of my head, I can remember the forging of a sword, to kill a dragon, bird talking, using the blood of the dragon, having a helm to become anybody, cursed gold, fighting maiden, a one eyed traitor, the fleeing of the blond princess that came back and destroyed everything with an army of Huns.


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Say Have you some knowledge of the Nibelungen saga or the story of Sigurd. I know that it already served as bases notably for the Hobbit, but from the top of my head, I can remember the forging of a sword, to kill a dragon, bird talking, using the blood of the dragon, having a helm to become anybody, cursed gold, fighting maiden, a one eyed traitor, the fleeing of the blond princess that came back and destroyed everything with an army of Huns.

Interesting thought, and you're quite right that there are plenty of similarities to consider there. On the other hand, there's obviously a lot of thematic similarity between the Celtic and Norse/Germanic traditions. Again we have that shared indo-European origin for the myths as discussed above in relation to the similarities between the Celtic and Vedic/Sanskrit traditions, but in this case the form a lot of this material comes down to us in is rather paralleled too. The Arthurian strands of the Celtic tradition and the Nibelungenleid have in common that they are an account of dark-ages history, heavily influenced by pre-Christian mythic themes, retold in the courtly tradition that developed out of the Crusader era. One of the major early Arthurian writers, Wolfram von Eschenbach, was a countryman and contemporary of the Bavarian author of the Nibelungenlied, and both were a major part of the minnesinger tradition.

There's a danger when looking into GRRMs influences of seeing primary influences where only secondary influences exist, though. As you say, the Nibelungsaga (though more the Norse material) was a major influence on Tolkien, and Tolkien was a major influence on GRRM. Modern fantasy fiction owes a vast debt to the various northern European traditions in their 11th-13th century retellings.

The Arthurian and proto-Arthurian influence on ASOIAF seems pretty clear, particularly in Bran, and we even have a famed knight called Arthur with a magic sword. I'm basing my suggestion of a direct influence on the ToJ scene on what I believe is sufficiently strong parallels to make it quite unlikely that GRRM did not have this source material in mind. It's obvious GRRM drew loosely from a lot of different literary and mythic source material, but he's not trying to retell any one particular mythology. I would be entirely unsurprised if there were specific ideas in ASOIAF that could be similarly linked to material in the Nibelungensagas, though equally unsurprised if it had only a secondary impact. I'm not an expert in the Germanic material though, so I'll leave that study to someone else.

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Well if I may defend the "primary" status of Nibelungenlieds for asoif, by saying that what I put in parallel doesn't really seem to appear in Tolkien's work. Also : The song of the people of the mist and the song of IaF (but well all northern mythos are songs).



Ok, ok, back at the celtic/arthurian stuff. and sorry if I put forth what I found on wikipedia, I can't quote the different versions of the legend like that. So I tip "pendragon", which it translates by "head dragon", and there are three people resulting (three heads has the dragon).


Ambrosius Aurelianus: "the uncle": of his article, I noticed : well he's supposed to be a descendant of the great empire (Valyria ;) ;) ), he's got prophetic gifts (Dragon dreams ?)and...in one account, he is even said he's Merlin (he is magic ? :p).


Uther Pendragon (the father): Took the name after he saw a comet in the shape of a dragon. It announced the end of his brother's (Ambroginus) reign( the end of a dynasty, a comet had been spotted at the birthday of Aegon). as he was in war against his vassal, he fell in love with the wife of the latter, and under magical disguise, had sex with her and had Arthur, the theme being Illegitimate conception.


King Arthur (the son) : The result. Too long a story to sum it up. The rightful king, not recognized because he is illegitimate, but he is the chosen one for the magic sword, so...


My gain with that, is that I'm convinced what I picked out indicate that Ambrosius Aurelius= Dany, Uther=Rhaegar and hence, Arthur=Jon, and maybe it's a nod tha Mormont (bear sigil) favors Jon as his "heir" and gives him the sword. what can it mean for the story ? Well nothing, since GRRMartin does whatever he likes, and my interpretation ofhis cherrypicking doesn't have any weight.


I'd say that could be used to justify a "Rhaegar is still alive" theory, and obviously "Jon=AA". But if "Dany=Merlin" that could give her a very peculiar and important support role. Also the comet and the dragon is pretty trending in the topics, I hope that will make this post as well.

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