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Ice and Fire animal project: Wolves


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Ghost is “marked” by the CotF as an agent, so I think in this way his red eyes are important because Ghost will be the conduit that will allow Jon to communicate with Bran through the weirwood – but only when Jon is in Ghost.

I like this, especially since there are reasons to suspect that Ghost is something more than common direwolf, and not just because he is warged by Jon... I am also extremly intruiged when Ghost seems "lost" when Melisandre touched him...

Although I have only read through page 5.....Props to the OP Mladen, and to the contributors as well. I look forward to finishing this read, as well as your thread re Lions. Wolves and lions were both used in Christian storytelling as representatives of human character (incontinence, greed, vengeance, etc) and behavior that the Church wished to eradicate. I'm sure these points will come up, as I haven't finished all of the reading on this thread. Great topic!

Welcome to the thread. Lady Beyond the Wall... I hope you will stay and share your insights with us...

Although I agee upon negative symbolism of the wolf, I am not so sure about lion. Lion, after all is, in Christianity, symbol of St. Mark, one of the four evangelists, symbol of God's eternal watchfulness and resurrection... But, I would like to read what you have found about it...

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Welcome to the thread. Lady Beyond the Wall... I hope you will stay and share your insights with us...

Although I agee upon negative symbolism of the wolf, I am not so sure about lion. Lion, after all is, in Christianity, symbol of St. Mark, one of the four evangelists, symbol of God's eternal watchfulness and resurrection... But, I would like to read what you have found about it...

I was initially referring to Dante's use of the lion as a representation of violence and ambition in Canto I of the inferno, i beleive also represents a circle. And stories such as Daniel in the Lion's Den (which read at face value doesn't lead much into Lions being representative of anything, but upon analysis--and I was catholic school educated, but am an atheist--depicts lions as evil, enemies , fearsome), and other fables. I can pull some reference for you. You are correct, the lion also has positive symbolism in Christianity. It is also symbol of resurrection. Lions were also sometime portrayed as naive. I.E. Aseops fable, The Lion, The Wolf, and The Fox. Also in one about a lion hosted by men. It is seen frequently where beasts are mention in Christian lit, so it is important in regards to symbolism, as is the wolf, stag, and lamb.

"Wherefore a lion out of the wood hath slain them, a wolf in the evening hath spoiled them, a leopard watcheth for their cities: every one that shall go out thence shall be taken, because their transgressions are multiplied, their rebellions strengthened" Jeremiah 5:6

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I found a wonderful source online entitled A DICTIONARY OF LITERARY SYMBOLS. In Michael Ferber’s reference book, he does not merely state the symbology associated with each symbol. He does an impressive bibliographical inclusion for each subject, with references to works of literature from cultures around the world.

I am quoting the entire section on WOLF because of the essays we are writing – someone may find a worthy tidbit in Ferber’s evidences.



The wolf seems to be the most feared and despised mammal in literature; a good wolf is extremely rare until recent times.


As early as Homer wolves are ferocious and warlike: the Myrmidons, for example, swarm ‘‘as wolves / who tear flesh raw, in whose hearts the battle fury is tireless, / who have brought down a great horned stag in the mountains, and then feed / on him, till the jowls of every wolf run blood’’ (

Iliad 16.156--59, trans. Lattimore).

In fact one of Homer’s terms for ‘‘battle fury’’ ( lussa ) is derived from the root of ‘‘wolf’’ (lukos); it is a rabid, wolfish rage, like that of the Norse berserkr ; it later came to mean ‘‘madness’’ and then ‘‘rabies.’’

In the Iliad wolves attack sheep when they are not attacking stags (16.352--55). ‘

In Ulysses’ great ‘‘degree’’ speech, ‘‘appetite’’ is called ‘‘an universal wolf’’ (TC 1.3.121).


Aeschylus calls wolves ‘‘hollow-bellied’’ (Seven 1036--37), and they have been hungry ever since.

Spenser and Shakespeare, for instance, routinely give them the epithets ‘‘greedy’’ and ‘‘ravenous’’; Shakespeare also calls them ‘‘hunger-starved’’ (3H61.4.5).

As an emblem of famine it lingers in our phrase ‘‘to keep the wolf from the door,’’ and when we devour our food we ‘‘wolf it down.’’

Aesop has thirty-seven fables in which the wolf is the chief actor, such as ‘‘The Shepherd and the Wolf,’’ where a na¨ıve shepherd trusts a wolf, which then devours the flock. Not surprisingly indeed in the literature of pastoral societies, the characteristic prey of wolves are sheep, especially lambs.

“Wood wolf to lamb’’ was a proverb when Plato used it (Phaedrus 241d), as was ‘‘To trust the wolf with the sheep’’ when Terence used it (The Eunuch 832).

Shakespeare’s Menenius asks, ‘‘who does the wolf love?’’ Sicinius replies,‘‘The lamb.’’ Menenius: ‘‘Ay, to devour him’’ (Cor 2.1.8--10).

It was inevitable that Jewish and especially Christian writers, for whom the symbolism of sheep, shepherds, and sacrificial lambs was central, would extend it to wolves. As the Christian faithful are the ‘‘flock,’’ Paul warns that ‘‘after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock’’ (Acts


These seem to be the same surreptitious wolves as those in the more famous passage from the Sermon on the Mount: ‘‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves’’ (Matt.7.15).

Dante changes ‘‘sheep’’ to ‘‘shepherd’’ in order to denounce the false leaders of the church.

Florence’s money perverts the sheep and the lamb, ‘‘and turns the shepherd into a wolf’’; through all the pastures ‘‘rapacious wolves are seen in shepherds’ clothing’’ ( Paradiso 9.132,27.55).

Milton decries those who ‘‘for their bellies’ sake, / Creep and intrude and climb into the fold’’ ( Lycidas 114--15);

Michael foretells that after the Apostles, ‘‘Wolves shall succeed for teachers, grievous wolves’’ ( PL12.508).

The wolf is one of three beasts of battle that frequently appear together in Old English poetry;

it is the companion of the Germanic battle-god Odin/Wotan as it is of Roman Mars.

The giant wolf Fenrir looms large in Norse myth.

The she-wolf (Latin lupa) is a symbol of Rome because of the legend that she suckled Romulus and Remus.

But lupa also came to mean ‘‘prostitute’’(Plautus, Epidicus 403, Martial1.34.8).

(Chaucer makes a she-wolf an exemplar of lust in Manciple’s Tale 183--86.)

Both these associations may lie behind Dante’s choice of the lupa

as the third and most dismaying of the beasts he encounters at the opening of the Inferno (1.49--60).

As the emblem of voracity it may stand for the category of ‘‘incontinent’’ sins (such as lust, greed, and wrath), those that Dante may have committed.

As an emblem of noble suffering, Byron asserts that ‘‘the wolf dies in silence’’

(Childe Harold 4.185). That line inspired Alfred de Vigny’s poem ‘‘The Death of the Wolf.’’

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:bowdown: LADY BEYOND THE WALL: YES! I just thought the way the author organized the references to literature, it might give someone a jumping off point.

I am not writing on the wolf in Greek literature, but I taught Honors English for 27 years, so both the Iliad and Odyssey was part of the yearly fare of classics. But I had forgotten that the “long-haired” Argives were compared to “wolves”. That was a sweet reminder!

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Well....wow, to everyone who wrote an essay! This was a great read, brilliant. You are all brilliant! Now....on to Stags!.... I see it was just posted.

Yes, it is... To all those who want to know, Animal project continues with Stag edition. I hope you'll all enjoy reading it.

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First of all, congrats on the very well written essays! You've made me very curious about wolves and their significance in different European cultures so I started searching deeper and found something very interesting on wikipedia, I'll put a link below.


I found this extremely interesting because it shows an unknown connection (at least for me) between wolves and dragons which are the most symbolic and mysterious animals in the world of ASoIaF.

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First of all, congrats on the very well written essays! You've made me very curious about wolves and their significance in different European cultures so I started searching deeper and found something very interesting on wikipedia, I'll put a link below.


I found this extremely interesting because it shows an unknown connection (at least for me) between wolves and dragons which are the most symbolic and mysterious animals in the world of ASoIaF.

First, welcome to the forum, and to the thread, Nagihiko. I hope you'll stay with us and share more insights like this great post.

Also, I would like to present several SSMs regarding direwolves that will certainly interest some of you:

March 01, 2001



I know you are busy, so you can give me a one word answer to my question, which is: when you were writing about the direwolves, did you intend for them to be like our grey wolves (but larger)? I ask because Shaggydog has a black coat, which would mean he is an alpha male if he were a grey wolf in North America.

Direwolves were an actual species of prehistoric wolf. They have long been extinct, of course, so there is much we can't know about them... but I have used much of what we do know for my own direwolves. Of course, I have also claimed a fantasist's prerogative to make everything bigger and more spectacular. Direwolves were larger than modern wolves, but not as large as my versions.

1) About the direwolves, I assume that, like in RL, a direwolf's main source of food is the larger animals (elk and such) that grey wolves can't catch as easily. The only place we see the really large animals, too, are beyond the Wall. Is this why direwolves live almost exclusively beyond the Wall, or is there something I'm missing?

There are large animals south of the Wall as well, especially in the wolfswood, the kingswood, and the rainwood, the three largest forests in the south. But I suspect that direwolves fled the advent of man, or were hunted out... they are far more dangerous to humans than ordinary wolves.

Shaw: What are we to make of the animal transformations so closely associated with Jon?

Martin: All of the Stark kids have certain links to the wolf. I think in Westeros there's a certain amount of identification of all of these great houses to their sigils, to the animal charges that they bear. The Lannisters are always likening themselves to lions, for example, and their motto "Hear me roar" speaks of a certain way of looking at life. But I think for the Starks it goes a little bit beyond that, especially in this generation, with these direwolves. It's more than just a handy metaphor with them.

Shaw: You mentioned how closely tied the Stark children are with the direwolves, but how about Sansa now that Lady's dead?

Martin: She lost hers, so it kind of leaves her a little adrift. Of course Arya has lost her's too, she's separated from Nymeria.

Shaw: At one point Greywind characterizes Ghost as the quiet one who was "one of them but not one of them." Since the direwolves seem to reflect the children, does this characterization of Ghost mean that Jon is somehow a part of but still separate from the people around him?

Martin: Oh yes, I think that's always been true. Even in Winterfell, as a kid before the wolves, Jon was the bastard. He was the odd one out. The rest of them are all brothers and sisters. He's only a half-brother, so he's not as closely tied to them. In some circumstances he could share everything with his brothers, he could train with Robb and all that, but then another circumstance would come up (like when the king came to the castle and they were choosing who could sit at the high table) and he's not welcome there. So he's of them, he's part of the family, he's part of the siblings, but he's a little bit apart too. Ghost is very similar to that. He's the albino, he's the one who makes no noise, so he's related to the other direwolves but one apart as well.

If any of you have any links with further information about GRRM's insights about wolves, please be free to post...

At the end, I would like to repost an essay of mine that was posted originally on Becoming No One: Rereading Arya thread. I believe we can use it as prelude to discuss she-wolf symbolism for coming Sansa essay.

Feminism in she-wolf’s symbolism of ASOIAF

It is often difficult for authors to write characters of opposite sex. It is not rare that it leads to discussion whether male authors are capable of writing female characters and vice versa. Due to history, tradition and the patriarchy of our world, male authors and their female characters are often criticized for lacking depth, falling into standardized roles of mothers, daughters and wives, and usually being just plot tool for main, usually male, hero. So, it is no wonder when the critics spoke about GRRM’s female characters that the words like “misogyny” appeared. But, strangely enough, GRRM definitely divided female readership into two opposite groups. The one criticized Martin’s world for being misogynist, and the other praised the depth of female characters, noticing some subtle feminist slogans. But, as it is often the case in Martin’s books, the truth lies somewhere between.

Besides proving outstanding knowledge of human psychology, GRRM proved he is more than capable of using symbolic imagery in his works. The colorful and vivid world of ASOIAF has become a canvas for a vast variety of symbols of all forms and shapes. The clothes characters wear, the food they have eaten in certain situation, coat of arms and banners of the Houses they belong to, all of that is carefully structured as symbols of the past, present or even the future of certain heroes. The underlined messages are sometimes so strong that they overpower the given situation, thus surpassing the meaning of what is said, and giving it another dimension. And some of the most powerfully used symbols are certainly animals.

Sublimating feminism with animal symbolism is no easy job. Especially when the given animal, in this case, the wolf has centuries-long tradition of being masculine symbol of savagery, viciousness and predatory nature. Traditional female characteristics were never used in comparison with wolves. Given the infamous status the wolf had as a symbol throughout the entire history of civilization, normally the imagery of the she-wolf would have been no better. Certainly the most popular and known she-wolf motif is the Capitoline Wolf, which depicts a she-wolf suckling infants Romulus and Remus, founders of the city of Rome. The origin and date of the statue is certainly debatable, with new data providing evidence that the Capitoline Wolf was made in 13th century AD, and not 5th century BC. But nevertheless the date or the importance of the origin, the Capitoline she-wolf is one of the most known depictions of feminine animals.

The statue is very simple. It depicts a she-wolf suckling 2 infants. The she-wolf is vigilant and intense. There is a certain forcefulness and awareness, with muscles clearly visible that contribute to the entire image of a powerful, predatory and protective creature. A distinct contrast is made between the predatory and nurturing nature of the wolf. The udders are full, thus indicating seen nurturing, or possible pregnancy. This dualism of she-wolf nature is extremely important due to the fact that the Capitoline she-wolf can also be interpreted as symbol of feminine strength and mother’s care. The Capitoline she-wolf has been, since its inception, seen as powerful symbol of belonging to all Romans.

With the uprising Christianity, came the negative symbolism of wolves with origins in Bible. Seen as a predatory animal, the wolf quickly became the symbol of the devil and the evil. Some of the superstitious beliefs of werewolves, and the connection between witches and wolves led to the wolf, and thus the she-wolf have become the negative metaphor for everything that is evil. Unlike traditional negative connotation of the wolf’s strength, the she-wolf was given another meaning – the hunger, lust and longing. The she-wolf is particularly important symbol of sin in Dante’s Divine Comedy:

And a she-wolf, that with all hungerings

Seemed to be laden in her meagreness,

And many folk has caused to live forlorn!

She brought upon me so much heaviness,

With the affright that from her aspect came,

That I the hope relinquished of the height.

Because this beast, at which thou criest out,

Suffers not any one to pass her way,

But so doth harass him, that she destroys him;

And has a nature so malign and ruthless,

That never doth she glut her greedy will,

And after food is hungrier than before.

Many the animals with whom she weds,

And more they shall be still, until the Greyhound

Comes, who shall make her perish in her pain.

The story is relatively known. Dante is lost in a dark forest, when three beasts blocked his way out – leopard, lion and she-wolf. Dante returns to the forest where he meets with the shade of Virgil who explains him that the road is impassable, and that the road to salvation leads through hell. In Dante’s Inferno, the she-wolf represents avarice, insatiable hunger and greed. Many believe that the she-wolf actually represents the Roman Empire and its decay to decadence. The she-wolf represents all that was bad in Roman Empire, and her seductive powers are what led the Romans into destruction. Opposite to the pagan symbol of she-wolf, stands Christian symbol of greyhound. And although it is unclear whom greyhound represents (candidates vary from Jesus, to Henry VII (of House Luxembourg) who held the title Holy Roman Emperor and Dante’s benefactor Cangrande della Scala), he is the one that will save Rome and Italy from its ruin.

Even though Romans identified their origin from the she-wolf, they also used the same word for both she-wolves and prostitutes. And once Christianity took roots with the negative symbolism of the wolves, the she-wolf became a symbol of hunger of any sort, ambition, cruelty, savage greed and lust. Calling someone a she-wolf never had positive connotation and one of the most offensive slurs to women (bitch) came from the same “tree” from which identification of prostitutes and she-wolves originated. The most famous she-wolf in history is certainly Isabella of France, wife of Edward II. Her “femme fatale” status derived from her adultery and high-treason, made of her quite unpopular historical figure.

When it comes to she-wolf in modern literature and its symbolism, it’s almost like looking at Jackson Pollock’s “She-wolf” and thinking of his famous “explanation” of the master-piece – She-wolf came into existence because I had to paint it. Any attempt on my part to say something about it, to attempt explanation of the inexplicable, could only destroy it. For the entire past century, women fought for their rights, doing an almost Sisyphean task that demanded the reconstruction of entire the view on women, and the reevaluation of everything we have been taught until then. And although we know that matriarchal societies actually existed in the past and are present even now in some parts of the world, by and large most societies have repressed women to one degree or another. Matriarchy, as a symbol of egalitarian society, doesn’t condone the dominance patriarchal system imposes. In egalitarian systems, the roles of men and women aren’t divided, and the world functions on the principle of equal partnerships. And just like the principles of French revolution, women in the past century relentlessly fought for freedom of choice, equality with men and strong understanding and partnership between two genders. Therefore, the need of abandoning traditional learning of what women’s duties and obligations are became necessary. And the she-wolf characteristically took important place in feminist literature by providing exceptional multi-layered aspect of womanhood, and embodying women of the world as something more than just wives and mothers.

One may wonder why the she-wolf, and not some other animal? Certainly the doe can be used for women’s gentleness, the lioness’ for their vigilance and protection of the children, but none of them, or at least, not like she-wolf embodies everything what woman is. Historically, the symbols have been divided into positive and negative, depending on the culture and status. But, she-wolf is the one animal that goes into the core of the women’s being. And, of course, the Capitoline she-wolf is often regarded in it. The Capitoline she-wolf served as the inspiration for expanding the meaning of the word “woman”, providing necessary aspects above just a domesticated being, and giving it important biological, social, psychological, and even political imperative. Wolf writing by women has produced several literary events, all regarding the wild/domestic schism. Two most important are the feminist psychology in woman-warrior mode, especially popularized by Clarissa Pinkola Estés and her novel “Women who run with the wolves”, and the rise of the woman wolf biologist who remythologized the wolf without sacrificing scientific rigor, with four prominent figures: Lois Crisler, Renée Askins, Diane Boyd and Jody Emel. Psychological appliance of the wolf myth in Pinkola Estés’ work has twisted conveniently wolf mythology into what it needs to be to empower women through some sort of psychotherapy, but nonetheless it provides significant insight into feminist view on wolf mythology and symbolism.

When women reassert their relationship with the wildish nature, they are gifted with a permanent and internal watcher, a knower, a visionary, an oracle, an inspiratrice, an intuitive, a maker, a creator, an inventor, and a listener who guide, suggest, and urge vibrant life in the inner and outer worlds. When women are close to this nature, the fact of that relationship glows through them. The wild teacher, wild mother, wild mentor supports their inner and outer lives, no matter what. – Women who run with the wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés

The connection between the Capitoline she-wolf and the feminist work on the field of wolf symbolism is apparent. The feminist totemization of the nurturing, but strong she-wolf is in archetypical incarnation of heroes descended from lupine bloodline, most notably embodied in the Capitoline she-wolf. But, unlike the patriarchal stories that go around the heroes, feminists became interested in the she-wolf mother. And the wild/domestic schism inspired poignant work such as the one of Carol J. Adams, who compared the oppressive mechanisms patriarchy enforced on both women and environment, or Marina Warner’s analyses of mythology, and feminist perspective on it. And when the conclusion of the fairytale analyses is that “fairy tales are about money, marriage, and men, and that they are the maps and manuals that are passed down from mothers and grandmothers to help them survive” you realize how important feminist work is in every sphere of our lives.

The first and most important task feminism had in front of it was to convince women they do have a choice in their lives, that they have a say in their lives, and that they are the sole masters of themselves. That needed to be done by widening the views, showing women that there is something more than just being housewife. The first task was to make women understand that they can choose, and that whether they would get married, have a children, and raise them while their husbands work, is strictly on them. Some feminists considered housewives as entrapped, bound by social norms, and in some sad cases, narrow-minded. And then in 1974, ecofeminism was born out of concern for both environment and women’s right, and oppression of the patriarchal culture. Although not a feminist per se, Renee Askins’ biology work in Yellowstone National Park, and her contribution to the work of David L. Mech, undoubtedly left strong impact on the perception of the wolves. As she once stated: “Caged animals are not wild, any more than a Hopi vase decorating a restaurant is sacred”, the issue of animal domestication in biology and women’s entrapment in the roles provided by patriarchal culture is something we should deeply think of. For as much as the wolf in the zoo isn’t natural, woman without a choice entrapped in given roles isn’t something we should ignore. And this unnatural order of things in which our beloved ones are entrapped due to their gender, can and must be changed with effort of all of us, regardless of age, nationality, whereabouts and most importantly gender. The fight for equality isn’t just on activists, politicians and celebrities, but on all of us who knowingly or even unknowingly participate in the system that desperately needs to change.

When it comes to domestication issues of she-wolves in ASOIAF, GRRM knows to step on a line, but interestingly never to cross it. His work on depicting she-wolves should be analyzed on two dimensions. First dimension are the real she-wolves – Lady and Nymeria, and the second one are the Stark ladies – Lyanna, Sansa and Arya. With Martin’s world being set in medieval time, the domesticity and female entrapment in the roles of wives and mothers is natural to expect. But, Martin surprises us with the rejection of the domestication in his she-wolves by refusing to transform wolves into something more than they are. The other side of the coin is that his anthropocentric view on the world and wolf metaphors are always in line with what we know of wolf’s behavior.

The story of Lady and Nymeria shows us that for Martin, direwolves simply aren’t puppies. Simply, they are not pets. The domestication of wild animal is comparable to Shakespearean rose (What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.). The core of an animal hasn’t changed, and direwolves would have never become domesticated, obedient dogs. For even the wildest dog is stricken by the wolf’s stare or howl. The magical component exists in their owners, not them. Unlike many fantasy genre authors and their animals, most notably C.S. Lewis’ Aslan, Martin knows when to stop in depicting animals. Unlike Aslan, who is anything but a lion, due to the anthropocentric nature of his depiction, Lady and Nymeria remained wolves. To be completely truthful Martin did play with the domestication with Lady, giving her a gentler nature than you would expect, and giving her characteristics more appropriate to a dog than to a wolf (“I’ve never seen an aurochs,” Sansa said, feeding a piece of bacon to Lady under the table. The direwolf took it from her hand, as delicate as a queen.). Lady’s nature and domestication reflects Sansa’s tame nature and naiveté. The wild/domesticated dualism in perception of both Sansa and Lady is complementary. The perception and the core of Sansa/Lady pairing are in opposition. While Sansa’s appearance is Lady’s gentle nature, Lady’s wild heart and strength are Sansa’s greatest qualities. For Sansa is Lady, a gentle, kind and caring she-wolf. This dualism served not only to describe Sansa better, but also to give us some important insights into the Westerosi world. Lady’s killing showed us what kind of justice is King’s word, her gentle nature and trust showed Sansa’s vulnerability, and theoretically, one could argue that Lady was domesticated to point out that once she is gone, there will be someone else to protect Sansa, someone who isn’t wolf, but certainly is wilder than a puppy. So, although both Nymeria and Lady were domesticated for some time, it didn’t last long. Nymeria, on the other hand, is simply an alpha female. Martin doesn’t even try to portray her other than what she is. For, there is no doubt, Nymeria is all wolf. And everything written about her, since the day Arya chased her, tells us that there can be no domestication for this wolf.

“Around the Gods Eye, the packs have grown bolder’n anyone can remember. Sheep, cows, dogs, makes no matter, they kill as they like, and they got no fear of men. It’s worth your life to go into those woods by night.”

“I heard the same thing from my cousin, and she’s not the sort to lie,” an old woman said. “She says there’s this great pack, hundreds of them, mankillers. The one that leads them is a she-wolf, a bitch from the seventh hell.”

She dreamed of wolves most every night. A great pack of wolves, with her at the head. She was bigger than any of them, stronger, swifter, faster. She could outrun horses and outfight lions. When she bared her teeth even men would run from her, her belly was never empty long, and her fur kept her warm even when the wind was blowing cold. And her brothers and sisters were with her, many and more of them, fierce and terrible and hers. They would never leave her.

They say the pack is led by a monstrous she-wolf, a stalking shadow grim and grey and huge. They will tell you that she has been known to bring aurochs down all by herself, that no trap nor snare can hold her, that she fears neither steel nor fire, slays any wolf that tries to mount her, and devours no other flesh but man.

As we heard from various sources throughout three books, Nymeria is described as she is. With a bit of lie in hunting stories, the truth about her actions seems undoubted. The true nature of the wolf shown in Nymeria has its literary purposes, especially in mirroring Arya’s psychological state, but it is also a depiction of a dangerous pack. Nymeria isn’t a person in wolf clothes, she is a wolf. So, the idea of domestication in the wolves in ASOIAF doesn’t hold, simply because Martin’s she-wolves are not just metaphors, they are characters with personalities, and behavior you would expect from wolves. Mirroring the Stark siblings, direwolves show us that different paths we take, different characteristics we have, they are the same. They care for each other, will fight for each other, even sacrifice. Differences in opinions, POVs, or even nature, all fades to the one fact – they belong to same pack.

The other dimension of wolf domestication and its use in ASOIAF certainly represents the Stark ladies – Lyanna, Sansa and Arya. The three ladies are different, representing different aspects of she-wolf symbolism. But, they all live in the world where the women are domesticated, where the roles have been given the day they were born, and where they have so little to say about their lives. So, in this medieval narrow-minded society, a women’s right to choose has been taken before she even knew she had it. So the use of she-wolf symbolism has to be extremely careful, not to make a stereotypical female role, and not to diminish vast metaphorical meaning of the used symbol. With all of that in mind, we should also remember that Martin’s characters are humans and that he is indeed writing about people with the issues and dilemmas any man or woman would have. And that’s where Martin excelled. His psychologically anthropocentric world is enriched with animal symbolism that isn’t contrived by what we know about wolves and history of the symbolism the she-wolf has. For Martin’s she-wolves are strong and vigilant yet caring and emotional; they are the epitome of every woman’s nobility and virtue.

Domesticity is something common for all three Stark ladies, or at least there is certain attempt of their surroundings to make them accept the roles they were born to play. And here, Martin’s progressive opinions united with his knowledge of she-wolves create a powerful dualism between their roles and their desires. Martin deconstructs the medieval roles women had, and gives us three amazing individuals ready to reject what they are supposed to be and fight for what they love and care.

The first Stark lady and the one where she-wolf metaphors are strongest, breaks the domesticity of being a nobleman’s wife. Lyanna’s fate is still unknown, so we’ll keep to what we do know

“Robert will never keep to one bed,” Lyanna had told him at Winterfell, on the night long ago when their father had promised her hand to the young Lord of Storm’s End. “I hear he has gotten a child on some girl in the Vale.” Ned had held the babe in his arms; he could scarcely deny her, nor would he lie to his sister, but he had assured her that what Robert did before their betrothal was of no matter, that he was a good man and true who would love her with all his heart. Lyanna had only smiled. “Love is sweet, dearest Ned, but it cannot change a man’s nature.”

Whether Lyanna escaped with Rhaegar or not, one thing is certain. She did not love Robert. She was bound by the rules of society, honor of her House, and word of her father. Entrapped in future loveless marriage, Lyanna saw things more clearly than Ned. She knew what she could have expected from Robert. Now, given the “she-wolf” nickname, behavioral patterns suggesting that she-wolves don’t engage in mating with the wolves they dislike, and importance of that pattern in symbolism, we can say that on some level Lyanna truly rejected Robert. This is important in drawing a parallel with her niece, whose refusal to kneel on her wedding day showed what she thought of that marriage, and there on her wedding, she is regarded by an outsider as she-wolf for the first time. But, her inner strength, endurance and perseverance, strong sense of belonging and loyalty shown in time of great sufferings proved us that Sansa was always a she-wolf, and that her exteriority was just a fur of different color.

Her relief was short-lived. No sooner had the music died than she heard Joffrey say, “It’s time to bed them! Let’s get the clothes off her, and have a look at what the she-wolf’s got to give my uncle!” Other men took up the cry, loudly.

Also, Sansa’s refusal in Tyrion’s mind is constantly connected with her roots:

He made certain not to look at Sansa, lest his bitterness show in his eyes. You might have knelt, damn you. Would it have been so bloody hard to bend those stiff Stark knees of yours and let me keep a little dignity?

So, connection with Starks and she-wolf metaphors are used to describe women’s reluctance to do what they are asked. Martin’s use of she-wolf metaphors with Lyanna and Sansa to depict detest of being “mounted” by those they dislike. And all of that has another dimension when we remember that Martin stated that no wolf can mount Nymeria.

When it comes to Arya, deconstruction of domesticity is done on almost every level. Her wild behavior clearly states that “she is no lady”. An entire deconstruction of the domesticity every noble-born girl should aspire to is done on every page of Arya’s POV. She is interested in “men’s businesses” like swordsmanship, riding, fighting, and all the interest, she as individual who happens to be female finds interesting, thus breaking the greatest stereotype that our gender defines our interests. Arya also provides us with a strong contrast to some other women, especially Cersei. Arya’s entire interest in man’s business doesn’t change the fact she is a woman, while on the other hand, Cersei’s greatest desire is to be a man, and she experiences power while satisfying other woman, “raping her like Robert”. Arya’s gender is never questioned. She is a female. It’s that simple. But, the problem Martin poses in front of us when Arya is in question is that by giving her manly interests, does he transform her gender. Is Arya’s gender changed by what she is interested in? And this is something where we can actually see Martin’s sheer brilliance and those subtle feminist slogans I mentioned at the beginning. GRRM’s Arya is an extraordinary girl, and although biologically and psychologically she hasn’t fully grown into a woman yet, that doesn’t mean she is not a female. And by not turning Arya in some hermaphrodite, Martin does an amazing job depicting Arya as a she-wolf, using all the aspects he can for 8 year-old child – fierce temper, predatory nature and wilderness.

Sansa is, for many, on the opposite side of Lyanna and Arya’s she-wolf metaphors. Simply, she is not wild; she doesn’t like riding or swordsmanship, she is no tomboy, but what difference does it make? She is kind, gentle, compassionate and caring. People usually forget that Sansa’s characteristics are also notable in she-wolves with pups. But, while Lyanna breaks domesticity of being a wife, Arya struggles with domesticity of being a lady, Sansa’s unfortunate life brought her to a moment when she almost rejected a notion of being a woman:

When she woke, the pale light of morning was slanting through her window, yet she felt as sick and achy as if she had not slept at all. There was something sticky on her thighs. When she threw back the blanket and saw the blood, all she could think was that her dream had somehow come true. She remembered the knives inside her, twisting and ripping. She squirmed away in horror, kicking at the sheets and falling to the floor, breathing raggedly, naked, bloodied, and afraid.

But as she crouched there, on her hands and knees, understanding came. “No, please,” Sansa whimpered, “please, no.” She didn’t want this happening to her, not now, not here, not now, not now, not now, not now.

It was as if her own body had betrayed her to Joffrey, unfurling a banner of Lannister crimson for all the world to see.

Normally, no one can say that Sansa doesn’t want to be a woman, but this moment of maturation for her was the fulfillment of the worst dreams. Martin here uses flowering as the worst thing that could happen to Sansa. It is not misogynistic at all; it serves the point to show how everyone in Westeros is entrapped in one way or another. Sansa’s rejection of herself as sexual being due to the situation she is in is something that continues with Tyrion when she doesn’t want to sleep with him. Sansa isn’t asexual, but for her, sexual intercourse meant something more than just that. Sansa’s view on this natural thing has been tainted by the malice and madness she endured. And what was for Lyanna her future marriage to Robert, what for Arya was represented by Lady Smallwood’s dress, was for Sansa sexual intercourse with those she found repugnant, for all three women were bound by the norms at some points, but their spirit didn’t break under the pressure and all three deconstructed the idea of the domesticated, entrapped life most women of that time had.

Another important aspect of she-wolf symbolism is nurture. The Capitoline she-wolf gave us part of that nature, and it is scientifically proven that she-wolves are great caregivers. To symbolize power, viciousness and strength, some political leaders claimed, what we would call today “raised by wolves”. The best example is certainly Benito Mussolini who claimed he is founder of “New Rome”. The idea of heroes having she-wolf blood in them isn’t new and it originates from Odysseus whose grandmother was a werewolf, and more notably Romulus and Remus. But, dualism between women’s strength and tender nature always returns us to the Capitoline wolf who sensed that Romulus and Remus have blood of the Gods in them and took care of them. That blood comes from Mars, god of war who was their father, and Vesta, goddess of family, since their mother was Vestal Virgin. The union of strength and motherhood in the Capitoline wolf made her a regarded symbol. But, modern society doesn’t accept woman as the Capitoline wolf, and therefore neither does literature. In the fantasy genre, it is quite common that female characters are stipulated on one of the roles – mother or warrior. There is an inability to see women in entirety and to portray them without all their nuances; this is a sad consequence of centuries-long patriarchal society.

That the she-wolf can be both a symbol of strength and tenderness, Martin proves in all three Stark ladies. The story about Knight of the Laughing tree gave us insight in Lyanna’s personality, Sansa’s composure when she saved Dontos’ life showed her compassionate, but also rebellious nature. And Arya’s newly companionship with HotPie and Gendry shows that she is, not just resourceful wolf girl but also in great need of belonging to a pack. The juxtaposition of Lyanna defending Howland and her crying over Rhaegar’s singing shows us that one scene doesn’t exclude the other. But, unlike many other female characters whom authors tried to deepen, Lyanna doesn’t have 2 faces. She is not a two-dimensional character where there are episodes of kindness and then episodes of strength. Lyanna’s strength originates from her emotions, her loyalty and care, and her emotions are stronger due to her strength. Exclusion of one side would inevitably affect the other, and that is where Martin shows us how deeply he can go in portrayal of female characters.

This union of strength and emotions continues on Stark girls. Arya’s love and devotion for her family transforms into overwhelming hatred towards those that harmed her and her family. Her death list is her prayer; her howl at the moon so she would one day be heard. Arya’s wildness is not just the predatory nature of a future killer, but it is also the deeply emotional freedom she aspires to. Sansa also finds the strength in her family. She repeatedly says to herself to be brave like Robb. Her moments of rage are rarer than Arya’s, but they are rooted in the emotions she feels. She was, after all, so close to kill Joffrey, madness over first bleeding overtook her and she almost burnt her room. Sansa’s internalized wildness should never be forgotten, as Arya’s deep emotions shouldn’t be disregarded. For no analysis, no prediction can be accurate without accepting that these girls are far more complex than their first impressions suggest.

The feminist notion of she-wolf symbolism in ASOIAF is of the most civilized, purest form. It empowers, equalizes, tenderly nurtures what’s good and rejects what is bad. The she-wolf in ASOIAF isn’t used as sign of domination, but as a beautiful motif of free-spirited women who can both fight and feel, who make choices and suffer the consequences. Martin’s she-wolf isn’t romanticized or transferred through million of interpretation. It is as noble as it can be, vicious as nature tells us it is. Infusion of she-wolf motif in ASOIAF’s anthropocentric world didn’t derogate the animal, but supplemented the people and given new perspective at how we should see both people and animals.

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  • 4 weeks later...


The animal project will continue this week with opening of Dragon project, and two essays on this one and on Stag project. Also, it is my pleasure to announce that Associate Maester has kindly offered us her help, and we are pleased to welcome her to our "flock" :). She will be regular contributor with Near-East influences on ASOIAF, and I know you will all enjoy as I in those essays...

So, this week we will have two essays and start of another Animal project... Hope you'll stay and enjoy...

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  • 6 months later...

Greatly detailed work, highlighting all aspects of Arya’s connection to Nymeria and the wolf identity. Congrats!

For me, Arya is this generation’s Wild Wolf.

Looking past gender, she displays amazingly many common traits with her uncle Brandon. But, as this generation of Starks is connected to the wolf in a more than symbolic way, Arya’s wilderness -the “wolf blood”- runs much deeper. Nature claims its priority over nurture, as it does with Nymeria.

Nymeria, just like Arya, was merely a pup when she was released in the Wild, as the aftermath of a tragedy. The effects of the domestication process are soon eclipsed and the Direwolf’s primal instincts prevail. As a result, Nymeria grows to become the leader of a huge pack, to reclaim the lands that Man took from the Wolf and to challenge the long established order of the food chain.

As Nymeria marks the return of the direwolf of old times, Arya embodies the spirit of the Starks of Old, “men hard as the land they ruled”.

Mladen, in the last part of his awesome OP, wrote:

I believe that throughout the story we are witnessing a turn of cycle. The harshest winter for millennia is about to come, and the reign of "men" is at peril. A time for Direwolves is coming again. In the Riverlands, it has already come.

All this leads me by association to the Wolf’s Den story:

Winterfell, the iconic den of the Starks, fell when “the old wolf’s dead and young one’s gone south to play the game of thrones”. The north was left undefended, its people enslaved by squids and flayed men.

But the long cruel winter will soon befall upon everyone, and the Wild Wolf, the third child of the Old Wolf, will go out to hunt. She will find them, hunt them, smell their fear, taste their blood. The North remembers, and so does Arya.

I agree entirely with your time for direwolves assessment. Interestingly enough the original title for the 7th book in the series was "A Time for Wolves"...

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Hello! I'm a bit late for this train, but catching on... I've spend the last couple of days reading this thread and now I'm finally finished. I can only wonder why I haven't been reading more of these re-read threads, as they seem to be the place for real discussion in this whole forum. I enjoyed reading through every essay and comment in this thread, and all I can say is brilliant job, everyone - not just the essayist but literally everyone here. Hopefully I'll have a chance to contribute to some of these projects later on. Maybe I'll leave the job of producing these amazing and insightful essays to those who master it better, but I'm definitely looking forward to sharing some of my own ideas, once I've been working on them myself. So far my personal rereads of ASoIaF haven't reached such a deep level, but I've been planning to spend my summer working on a very holistic re-read project as a personal curiosity. Naturally as a part of that I'll be studying what other people have come up with before, drawing inspiration and guidance from them.

So thanks and congratulations again for this amazing job you guys have done! I'll be moving on to the lion project now...

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Myths are the best sources to make literary analysis of the animals because they carry the knowledge of real first hand encounters with these animals. Homer knew very well about the habits of animals in his poems. Today we can only learn such things from documentaries.

Wolves are bloody animals. A shepherd will tell you that. When they attack a herd of sheep, they do not kill a couple of sheeps (which are enough to feed them) but they kill dozens.

Lykos means wolf in Greek and we have a Lycaon in Greek Myth. He was a bloody king and Zeus transformed him into a wolf for his gruesome deeds. We have so many of such myths. The gods transform a person into an animal or a plant which reflects his/her personality most.

Varamyr was a bloody skinchanger. Although his gift was strong, a significant part of his humanity was dissolved into his wild beasts and he imported too much violence to fill this hole.

The skinchanger was grey-faced, round-shouldered, and bald, a mouse of a man with a wolfling’s eyes.

Varamyr's taste for blood and wolfling eyes are observed in Arya too.

“Who are you?” plague face asked when they were alone.

“No one.”

“Not so. You are Arya of House Stark, who bites her lip and cannot tell a lie.”

“I was. I’m not now.”

“Why are you here, liar?”

“To serve. To learn. To change my face.”

“First change your heart. The gift of the Many-Faced God is not a child’s plaything. You would kill for your own purposes, for your own pleasures. Do you deny it?”

“I do deny it.”

“You lie. I can see the truth in your eyes. You have the eyes of a wolf and a taste for blood.”

Ser Gregor, she could not help but think. Dunsen, Raff the Sweetling. Ser Ilyn, Ser Meryn, Queen Cersei. If she spoke, she would need to lie, and he would know. She kept silent.

“Your heart is too soft to be one of us.”

“I have no heart. I only have a hole. I’ve killed lots of people. I could kill you if I wanted.”

“Would that taste sweet to you?”

She did not know the right answer. “Maybe.”

Even after so many warnings, she cannot give up killing for her own purposes.

Bran accepted his gift and frequently thought I am a wolf. He was comfortable with this because he is isolated from normal, “civilized” people. With his latest company, no one can “accuse” him to be “inhuman”.

Jon and Robb were plagued by other people and they were forced to let their wolf natures melt away. They struggled with their gifts and avoided embracing them.

Jon was accused of being a beast, warg, wildling among many things. Such accusations and the presence of an opposition to him forced him to freeze his gift and put it into hibernation. As Varamyr said,

The gift was strong in Snow, but the youth was untaught, still fighting his nature when he should have gloried in it.

Robb was a king fighting constantly with his men.

“A hall is no place for a wolf. He gets restless, you’ve seen. Growling and snapping. I should never have taken him into battle with me. He’s killed too many men to fear them now. Jeyne’s anxious around him, and he terrifies her mother.”

“He is part of you, Robb. To fear him is to fear you.”

I am not a wolf, no matter what they call me.” Robb sounded cross.

So he had troubles with his nature too.

Arya OTOH frequently said I am a wolf just like Bran. Her gift and wolf nature remained the only connection to her true self. She liked to be strong hunter in her dreams while she was running for her life all through the Riverlands.

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And so we come to this... One year...

Today, a year ago, after long research and extensive writing process, the Animal project came to life. It started as an idea for the discussion about simple wolf symbolism, but as I was writing the opening project, it became quite clear that it won't be enough. Thus, entire series of threads has been imagined to deal with one animal at the time. I have put quite a lot of effort in this project and I always find it absolutely amazing when I see that some ideas from this thread are being used all over the board. But for all the good things me and contributors of this project have done, we have been beaten by that pesky thing called real life. Unfortunately, this thread has gone on hiatus due to my preoccupation with many different issues, but as time will soon show, we are ready to continue with our mission.

In the weeks to come, I plan to resurrect this thread with the piece that is basically raison-d'etre of this thread - my analysis of Sansa's she-wolf characteristics. Firthermore, lion and stag project will get appropriate continuations, and new project will be opened very soon, after months of going back and forth with it. I truly hope that you will all enjoy this and that you will be kind enough to correct us where we make mistake and give us the insight...

With most sincere gratitude to all of you who made this thread so special, allow me to :cheers: to this thread and many to come in Animal project. Cheers!!!

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