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Jon in Motley

Sandy Clegg

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Continued from part two

Another essay continuing my thoughts on the odd ways in which GRRM has coded Jon according to the motif of his name (john meaning toilet in the US) and his status as a symbolic fool. This post pays special attention to the fool symbolism and where that may lead us. I should add that as fools are both wise and foolish in GRRM's world I'm not looking to insult Jon's intelligence. It's purely a symbolic link in a chain.

I use the word 'odd' above because frankly it just is strange that GRRM might embed wordplay based on Jon's name meaning 'toilet' in the books. But if you read parts one and two it seems that the privy is what we are meant to imagine when thinking of Jon. His name is the likely answer to Tyrion's 'where do whores go?' riddle, so that alone might tell us that we need to be on the lookout for trickiness surrounding Jon symbols. It's an elaborate game, and before we can understand the motives behind it we need to be sure that this is in fact what GRRM is doing. But we never can be sure, because it would require him to provide corroboration, and that's something he will surely never do. But I think our author does like to lay breadcrumbs and clues - in the spirit of playing fair - so let's start there. 

One question we might ask is this: if there is a 'game of johns' taking place in the text then who would be the Master of Games in such a scenario? The stories of Dunk & Egg may provide us with a symbolic clue, as they do with so many other themes. 

Masters of the Games

Dunk the Lunk, as he calls himself in moments of self-doubt, is one of GRRM's 'wise fool' figures, a lunk being a 'fool or a blockhead'. And if his name is in fact Duncan then we could say that a 'dun can' is also a 'brown privy'. So he already has enormous Jon symbolism in terms of his name + nickname. It is fitting, therefore, that when he enters the Ashford tourney the first thing he does is enrol his name with the master of the games.


When Dunk felt gooseflesh prickling his arms, he beat his tunic and breeches against the trunk of the elm to knock off the worst of the dirt, and donned them once again. On the morrow he could seek out the master of the games and enroll his name, but he had other matters he ought to look into tonight if he hoped to challenge. - The Hedge Knight

And who is this master of games?


 Dunk reined up in front of the short, bearded man he took for their captain and asked for the master of the games.

"It's Plummer you want, he's steward here. I'll show you." - The Hedge Knight

The games master is a Plummer. Well, who better to be in charge of the 'Game of Johns' than a plumber? Another stinky steward symbol, too, for those who recall the Selaesori Qhoran riddle from Tyrion's ADWD chapters. Although tourneys are featured several times in the main ASOIAF series of books, the only times we meet a 'master of games' are in Dunk & Egg's stories. Plummer is the first. Since The Sworn Sword contains no tourneys we must look to The Mystery Knight, and Lord Butterwell's tourney, for the other:


"Lord Butterwell's steward is the master of the games, a man named Cosgrove. Find him and enter my name for the lists. No, wait… hold back my name." With so many lords on hand, one of them might recall Ser Duncan the Tall from Ashford Meadow. "Enter me as the Gallows Knight." The smallfolk loved it when a Mystery Knight appeared at a tourney." 

- The Mystery Knight

This master of games is named Cosgrove. But what does he have to do with toilets or plumbing? The answer may be real-life writer J.J. Cosgrove.

In 1909, Jospeh Cosgrove was the first person to ever write a History of Sanitation. So he's not just any old expert on plumbing. He's basically the Herodotus of plumbing. A true master. The entire PDF of a History of Sanitation is available free to the public here.

From his own introduction:

Having succeeded in gathering together much of interest to sanitarians, and in view of the fact that no other history of sanitation was ever written, the work was deemed worthy of a more permanent place in literature, and it was decided to put it forth in more enduring form. 

It's actually a pretty good read, especially the bits about aqueducts - who doesn't love an aqueduct? He's also the author of "Principles and Practice of Plumbing," "Sewage Purification and Disposal," "Wrought Pipe Drainage Systems," and "Plumbing Plans and Specifications" for anyone who wants to explore further. Or if you've got a blocked drain, perhaps.

So, we have two masters of games, whose names somehow link to privies, with whom Dunk enters his names in the lists. Once as a hedge knight, then as a gallows knight. We are being ushered into a Game of Johns, and a cryptic old game it is.

Fool on the Hill

Aegon's High Hill that is, where we find the red keep and Aerys II Targaryen. From Jaime's memories of the Mad King's final moments we get some key fool/privy symbolism. 

But when he closed his eyes, it was Aerys Targaryen he saw, pacing alone in his throne room, picking at his scabbed and bleeding hands. The fool was always cutting himself on the blades and barbs of the Iron Throne ... When Aerys saw the blood on his blade, he demanded to know if it was Lord Tywin's ...

Those purple eyes grew huge then, and the royal mouth drooped open in shock. He lost control of his bowels, turned, and ran for the Iron Throne. Beneath the empty eyes of the skulls on the walls, Jaime hauled the last dragonking bodily off the steps, squealing like a pig and smelling like a privy. A single slash across his throat was all it took to end it.

- ASOS, Jaime II

This is a nice marriage of symbolism. Aerys, who is likely related to Jon through R+L=J, exhibits fool and privy imagery here, with the Throne itself already a privy symbol in the real world. In English to sit 'on the throne' is a fairly common toilet expression but I'd be interested to know if our non-English speaking forum members can confirm whether it's used elsewhere. There is also pig imagery, which relates to Jon through Pate the pig boy, as we saw in part two. Additionally, Jamie often bemoans that he has 'shit for honour'. Well, if killing Aerys was the most honourable thing he ever did (sparing the lives of those in King's Landing from death by wildfire) then this privy-invoking murder scene can be said to be the origin of that phrase.

Fool One: Moon Boy

Moon Boy is the first courtly fool we come across, back in book one, and we get only subtle hints that there might be something more to him. 


The king's own fool, the pie-faced simpleton called Moon Boy, danced about on stilts, all in motley, making mock of everyone with such deft cruelty that Sansa wondered if he was simple after all. Even Septa Mordane was helpless before him; when he sang his little song about the High Septon, she laughed so hard she spilled wine on herself. - AGOT, Sansa II

The only real clues worth noting about Moon Boy are that he is no idiot, despite his title. This is actually true of many 'course jesters' through history, who needed to be witty at a moment's notice. The other noteworthy connection is his name, Moon Boy, which has wolfish connotations perhaps. The moon is also the symbol often carved into outhouses, but ... overall we are left with very few clues connecting Moon Boy to privies. This is typical GRRM style when it comes to clues. They often come in threes, with the first being the most obscure. And we have two more fools to examine yet.

Actually, one small detail might be relevant regarding Moon Boy, though. In A Feast for Crows we learn that he carries a rattle, and it so happens that rattles were once a part of a night watchman's equipment in 19th century:


Before the invention of fire alarms, voluntary night watchmen patrolled streets for smoke or flames. To call volunteer firefighters to action, they swung a ratcheted wooden rattle that thundered sounds of alarm. https://emuseum.nyhistory.org/objects/36812/watchmans-rattle

A 'night's watch rattle' in the hands of a fool. A somewhat Jon Snow-like image.

Fool Two: Patchface

He knows, he knows ... oh, oh, oh. Let's look at this description of Dragonstone's resident fool:


At the top of the steps Davos heard a soft jingle of bells that could only herald Patchface. The princess's fool was waiting outside the maester's door for her like a faithful hound. Dough-soft and slump-shouldered, his broad face tattooed in a motley pattern of red and green squares, Patchface wore a helm made of a rack of deer antlers strapped to a tin bucket. - ASOS, Davos V

Let's break down this cryptic image. Here we have Patchface waiting like a hound, with a bucket on his head. This particular bucket has been adorned with deer antlers in a kind of mock Baratheon 'storm-lord' symbol. The antlers of the Baratheon stag often seem to recall forks of lightning, fitting with their stormy symbolism, so this particular helmet could well be described as a 'thunder-bucket'.

Well, thunder buckets or thunder pots (or, thunderboxes) were also names for chamber pots, presumably named after the sound people made when sitting on them? People still collect them as antiques.  And buckets and pails are often used in place of privies in ASOIAF:


"It is filthy here," Lord Alester said suddenly. "And that odor . . . what is that odor?"

"The pail," said Davos, gesturing. "We have no privy here. What terms?"

His lordship stared at the pail in horror.  - ASOS, Davos III

So a fool wearing a symbolic privy, who waits like a dog outside a princess's door. Melisandre also stumbles  upon connections between Jon and Patchface:


"That creature is dangerous. Many a time I have glimpsed him in my flames. Sometimes there are skulls about him, and his lips are red with blood."

"You see fools in your fire, but no hint of Stannis?"

"When I search for him all I see is snow.- ADWD, Jon X

Yet earlier, in her own chapter, Melisandre interpreted the skulls as surrounding a Jon figure:


The flames crackled softly, and in their crackling she heard the whispered name Jon Snow. His long face floated before her, limned in tongues of red and orange, appearing and disappearing again, a shadow half-seen behind a fluttering curtain. Now he was a man, now a wolf, now a man again. But the skulls were here as well, the skulls were all around him.  - ADWD, Melisandre 

This confluence of Jon and Patchface is further seen in one of the fool's last prophetic ramblings in the book:


"Do I look so foolish?"

Patchface jumped up. "I will lead it!" His bells rang merrily. "We will march into the sea and out again. Under the waves we will ride seahorses, and mermaidswill blow seashells to announce our coming, oh, oh, oh."

They all laughed ... Jon was less amused. "I will not ask my men to do what I would not do myself. I mean to lead the ranging." - ADWD, Jon XIII 

These prophetic skulls leads us to draw further parallels between Jon and fools. And this particular fool even wears a thunder bucket - a symbolic 'horned John'  - on his head.

Fool Three: Jinglebell

Walder Frey's grandson is the third major fool we are introduced to in the books, and here the privy connection is made clear by GRRM from his very first scene:

"Sire," Lord Walder said, "forgive my Aegon the noise. He has less wits than a crannogman, and he's never met a king before. One of Stevron's boys. We call him Jinglebell."

"Ser Stevron mentioned him, my lord." Robb smiled at the lackwit. "Well met, Aegon. Your father was a brave man."

Jinglebell jingled his bells. A thin line of spit ran from one corner of his mouth when he smiled.

"Save your royal breath. You'd do as well talking to a chamberpot." - ASOS, Catelyn VI 

A Targaryen-named fool who is a symbolic chamberpot. Note that nothing about this is overtly reminiscent of Jon Snow. It is only when we apply the privy-coding and understanding of R+L=J that the clues come into focus. And this fool wears bells not just on his head but on his collar ...


.. a stooped thin man of fifty whose costly garb of blue wool and grey satin was strangely accented by a crown and collar ornamented with tiny brass bells.

A fool wearing a crown, which brings us back to Aerys again. And bells jingling on his collar, like a dog as much as a king. 

Jon compares himself to a 'blushing maid' several times when feeling nervous, and indeed Ygritte even calls him one to his face, teasingly:

"There's been no one," he confessed. "Only you."

"A maid," she teased. "You were a maid.ASOS, Jon III

This makes the following Jinglebell moment all the more meaningful:

"My maiden girls. Here, have a look at them." When he waggled his fingers, a flurry of femininity left their places by the walls to line up beneath the dais. Jinglebell started to rise as well, his bells ringing merrily, but Lady Frey grabbed the lackwit's sleeve and tugged him back down. - ASOS, Catelyn VI 

As if all this weren't enough, Jinglebell meets his end at the hands of someone who had the strongest anti-Jon feelings in the whole series: Catelyn Stark. 

Edited by Sandy Clegg
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