Fluid Friday

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Beautiful and Terrible as an Army with Banners (Waiting for S8E4)

I’m sure I’m not the only one who keeps seeing the parallels between LOTR and GOT (the filmed versions). Episode 3 of the last GOT season, The Long Night, was, for example, heavily inspired by the three major LOTR battles. Aria’s “Not today” had happened long ago, on the eve of the Battle of the Black Gate.

King Aragorn: “A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day…”

The GOT variation:

Melisandre: “What do we say to the God of Death?” Arya: “Not today.”

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

And another memorable exchange from LOTR:

Nazgul: Grabbing Eowyn by the throat and lifting her up. “You fool. No man can kill me. Die now.” Eowyn, the moment before she sticks him with the pointy end, “I am no man!” 

has been reincarnated in GOT:

Missandei: “Valar morgulis.” Daenerys: “Yes, all men must die, but we’re not men.”

These are iconic LOTR quotes, and no matter how well they fit in GOT, they’re unoriginal. You can’t start a novel with, “It is a truth accepted worldwide, that a single man in possession of a good fortune needs a wife”. Oh, well. I loved S8E3, so I can be generous and understanding, and call it “intertextuality” — books talking about other books. Umberto Eco wrote The Name of the Rose on this premise.

Although occasionally I had a hard time seeing who was who and what they were doing, I still think S8E3 was epic, and the Long Night battle has found its place on my top-ten list.

Like in LOTR — another matching detail — the battle wasn’t won on the battlefield. In spite of  fearsome Dothraki, fearless Unsullied, two Boeing-797-sized dragons, and dubious help from the God of Light, the fragile balance between life and death rested in the firm hand of one girl and the pointy end of her dagger.

In spite of heavy losses, I hope the prince and the princess who were not promised have enough of their elite soldiers left for the next war.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Speaking of Daenerys and Jon’s army arrayed for the battle, they indeed looked beautiful and terrible. Until the White Walkers charged, that is. G.R.R. Martin, or better, the creators of the TV series, didn’t need to look far for inspiration for their super troopers, though. For thousands of years states have maintained highly trained troops for the most dangerous and specialized missions. So, who are the greatest ancient and medieval commandos?

Medjay were a sort of Egyptian rangers. They patrolled the distant fringes of the realm, served as paramilitary forces and guarded the royals and their palaces and tombs.

The Immortals, the permanent standing force of the 6th century BC Persia, comprised of 10,000 heavily armed infantrymen. Despite their fearsome reputation, the Immortals were decimated by the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae.

The Praetorians, the early Roman elite warriors. Although not numerous, they possessed significant social power and influence. They overthrew (killed) more than a few emperors, and raised some others to power.

In the 4th century AD, Emperor Constantine established Tagma, the 20,000-man strong professional backbone of the Byzantine army.

The Ottoman Janissaries, the elite infantry units of the Sultan’s personal troops and the first standing army in Europe. They began as devshirme, the blood tax the Christian subjects had to pay to Ottoman rulers. Young boys would be taken from their families and sent to Isanbul to be converted to Islam, educated and trained. Many of them rose to the highest military and civil ranks in the Ottoman Empire.

The Ninja of feudal Japan are probably the best equivalent of present-day special forces. The legendary fighters were masters of covert operations and specialized in infiltration, sabotage, camouflage and assassination.

Knights Templar — fierce warriors, the first bankers, the owners of a fleet of ships and an island (Cyprus), money-lenders to European monarchs and nobles. On October 13, 1307 — it was Friday — scores of French Templars were arrested and tortured, though the persecution in other countries wasn’t nearly as severe as in France. Many believe that they are still around.

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The Best Swords Have Names (Waiting for GOT S8E3)

Last Sunday we watched a rare episode of Game of Thrones in which no one died. It made the inevitability of many of them dying this Sunday even more heartbreaking.

My naïve reasoning about the Night King was wrong, of course. He wants something similar to what Sauron wanted – to destroy all humanity. And then what?

Who would Sauron rule over if he had won? Over the Orcs? The Night King is coming, bringing the endless winter darkness with him. He also wants to wipe out every trace of human society, even memories of it. Well, he already had darkness and winter on the other side of the wall, didn’t he? What’s so different in this side, especially in the darkness? Does he really want to rule over an army of zombies?

Photo by Ricardo Cruz on Unsplash

Or does he want to create something new, more alive than his mindless followers? Evil can be absolute, but if there’s no one to direct it toward, it doesn’t make sense.

Anyhow, many swords will be put into good (or bad) use tomorrow, and this post is not about the Night King’s intentions, but about blades with personal names and stories they inspired.

Besides the hundreds of swords that the Iron Throne is made of, there are several memorable blades in G.R.R. Martin’s series: Ned Stark’s Ice, Aria’s Needle, Jamie’s Oathkeeper, Jon Snow’s Longclaw, and the professed Lightbringer, in case it is a sword, and not a personification of it.

The story of Excalibur, maybe the most famous sword of the Western world, is well known, but there is a movie with the same name which is my favourite among the filmed Arthurian legends. It was directed by John Boorman in 1981.

Everything glows in this movie: the armor, the sword, Camelot, the forest, creating an otherworldly atmosphere in which very real, very human inner and outer conflicts occur. Not unlike Game of Thrones.

The Lord of the Rings also features some mighty swords – King Elessar’s Anduril, Gandalf’s Glamdring, Frodo’s Sting, the Harry Potter books as well (Gryffindor’s sword), but there are also other famous – and legendary – swords that belonged or “belonged” to historical people.

According to Islamic tradition, Zulfiqar was the swords of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, who married Prophet Muhammed’s daughter, Fatima, and later became the last of four “original” caliphs who succeeded the Prophet.

Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (“Grass Cutting Sword”) is linked to the ancient Japanese tales of gods and serpents, and is considered to be one of three imperial regalia.

Joyeuse – Charlemagne’s sword, lost in a battle but found by one of Charlemagne’s knights, to whom the king then granted an appanage named Joyeuse.

William Wallace’s Sword, allegedly used in the battle of Sterling in 1297 and a year later, at the battle of Falkirk. Experts believe that a man had to be 7 feet tall to handle this double-edged, colossal sword. It’s unknown how tall William Wallace was.

Durandal – the sword of Charlemagne’s paladin, Roland, according to the “Song of Roland”.

The strongest sword ever?

Honjo Masamune. It’s a historical sword, a symbol of Tokugawa shogunate, passed down form one Shogun to the next. It was forged by the master swordsmith Goro Nyudo Masamune, and is consider one of the finest swords ever made. Its whereabouts remains a mystery.

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Game of Chess (Waiting for Episode 2)

I’m bracing myself for Episode 2 of Game of Thrones and everything it may bring.

I think Episode 1 was brilliant. It’s like the beginning of a chess game between two invisible players. Almost all the pieces have been set up, and the game can start.

And not only that. I see the setting of Episode 1 as a metaphor for a chess board: a white queen and a black king, the knights.

The rooks – Winterfell, the remains of the Night’s Watch castles, the Wall.

The bishops that stand, like in chess, between the queen and her knights, and the king and his knights (Tyrion and Ser Davos). Plus a coupe of powerful extras, like Bran, Varys, Samwell.

The unknown pawns, who would die in the thousands.

The black, square formations of the Unsullied and the less orderly, but equally dark Dothraki marching over the snow-covered land to face the White Walkers.

Black and white, black and white… Everywhere. The absence of light and light itself, in which all other colours are contained.

I’m awaiting the Red Priestess’s arrival, to add some colour to this duality. Yes, there will be plenty of red, but I doubt there will be any more colours in this story except these three.

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

I watched dozens of Episode 1 breakdowns, some insightful, some downright stupid. Like concluding that Cersei is pregnant because she stopped drinking wine. Yeah, the dangerous effect of alcohol consumption was well known at the time Game of Thrones wanted to evoke. The other thing – Jon and Daenerys’s love. He might be repelled with the fact that he’s fallen in love with his aunt, but for her it shouldn’t be a big deal. Marrying within the family was a common practice among the Targaryen, as well as of many European royals, by the way, including Queen Elizabeth II and her close cousin, Prince Philip, who married in the 1950s. Not many people find this disgusting. (I do.)

My thoughts on what the hell the White Walkers want?

Well, life. They don’t want to be dead anymore. But don’t take me seriously; I’m a romance writer.

My favourite moments? Arya and Jon’s reunion. The self-confident Lady of Winterfell, who’d started her journey as a naive and self-centered girl who dreamed of marrying a prince. Jon riding Rhaegal. The look Drogon gave Jon when he kissed Daenerys by the waterfalls. Arya admitting that her sister was the smartest woman she ever knew.

And the unforgettable exchange between Eddison Tollett and Tormund.

“Stay back, he’s got blue eyes!” (Tollet)

“I’ve always had blue eyes!” (Tormund)

Absolutely priceless.

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The SaDisfying Ends (Waiting for Episode 1)

I’m waiting for this Sunday with mixed feelings of excitement and dread. Even if George R.R. Martin doesn’t kill them all, the ending will be, as the actor who plays Jamie Lannister says, sadisfying.

Photo by Alex on Unsplash

It wouldn’t be the first time that a work of fiction broke my heart. It started, I think, with Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and The Little Match Girl when I was about five, and has never stopped. Since then, I’ve hated Hans Christian Andersen — no author should do this to any child.

But that was only the beginning because adult writers love doing it to adult readers. My high school curriculum was heavy on literary classics, not to mention three years of studying literature. Save for Jane Austin and Charlotte Bronte, I can hardly remember any novel, or story, or play I had to read that didn’t have a sad/tragic end. Russians, French and Germans were definitely the worst. They couldn’t write a darn thing without killing the main character and a few others in the process.

So, from Prince Andrei Bolkonsky from War and Peace and Marguerite Gautier from The Lady of the Camellias, to (I’m now fast-forwarding through several decades) Jack Twist from Brokeback Mountain (the T-shirt scene was emotionally the most devastating ever. I couldn’t talk for hours) to Boromir, Severus Snape, Fred Weasley… I mourned them all.

It happens to you, doesn’t it? Or should I be worried?

Although I eventually get over the loss of fictional people I’ve grown to love, the damage is often irreparable – I’m not able to read those sad books or watch those sad movies ever again, particularly if something bad happens to the main characters. Or I find a way around it. I watch the LOTR trilogy right up to the moment when Frodo, Sam, Pippin and Merry return to Shire, and then I stop. Frodo’s departure depresses me. But to go and watch the movie in which Han Solo dies? Never! Maybe George Lucas doesn’t need him alive, but I’m afraid I do.

It will happen with A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones. I won’t go back to them. Too many people to care about: not only Jon and Daenerys, but also Aria, Bran, Tyrion, Jamie, Sam, Sir Davos, Varys, The Hound, Lianna Mormont, Sansa, the dragons… It’s open range on all remaining characters. G.R.R. Martin won’t resist. It will be a killing spree of epic proportions, equivalent to a medieval plague epidemic. Mark my words.

I almost want to skip the last season, and preserve in my mind the world I know and love, an open-ended story in which everyone is still alive and everything is possible, where the goals are yet to be reached, risks taken and dreams fulfilled.

Because life really doesn’t make any sense once you’re dead.

P. S. This post is dedicated to an unknown person (or persons) who keeps checking my FB page for new content.

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