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Friday, September 26, 2014

GRRM, Taoism, Ragnarok

One of George RR Martin's novellas has haunted me since I read it first. Well, actually, most of the novellas of his have haunted me with some specific ideas or an indefinable feeling.

I decided to re-read this novella, "And Seven Time Never Kill Man!" (title referencing the Law of the Jungle by Kipling). I was completely baffled by the mysterious events that seemed to end in no ending when I read it. Then I read an analysis of the novella online by cantuse, who compares some elements and themes with those in ASOIAF. He makes a lot of sense and I am glad it finally helps me get into the story, including the ending.

If cantuse is correct that the Old Gods and Children of the Forest are analogous to the forces like the Jaenshi and their pyramids in ASOIAF, it would then confirm another interpretation of ASOIAF (by Dorian the Historian) based on Ragnarok of the Norse mythology, which claims that the central struggle in ASOIAF is not the various noise of wars, kings, dragons, and politics, but rather between the giants/jotnar/old gods and the gods/men/modern world. And the endgame is Ragnarok, in which the world ends in ice and fire and sinks into the sea.

Also coincidentally, both cantuse and Dorian pointed out from two separate perspectives (Taoism and Norse mythology, respectively) that the struggle is not one of good versus evil in the conventional and Christian sense. Both Taoism and Norse mythology refuse to label one as desirable or good, and the opposite undesirable or bad. Rather, the struggle and the opposition between forces are what makes the world go around and change and maintain a dynamic balance. Yin and Yang. After nearly all gods and men die in the apocalypse, or rather Ragnarok, a new world subsequently emerge from the sea. In ASOIAF, the last book is titled, A Dream of Spring.

The Christian apocalypse is a close-ended conclusion. God arrives on earth from heaven. All dead are resurrected, and the last judgment is passed on everyone. Souls then go to their respective destinations for eternity. The Taoist and Norse apocalypse, however, are cyclical, not unlike Buddhism (although I don't know as much about it). Life must emerge from and coexist with death, and light with darkness. They are two sides of the same coin and cannot be separated from each other.

The Others are widely assumed to be "evil" by the fact that they invade and kill humans, but GRRM gave some hint that they may be no more than a natural phenomenon or another species of the old world. He also said that the frozen wilderness beyond the Wall is vast, bigger than Canada. Natural forces are not evil or good except in man's mind.

I highly doubt whether GRRM will make this ambivalence explicit in the ending of ASOIAF, but I am increasingly convinced that it is what he intends.

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