Seven Kingdoms Divided Cannot Stand Peace

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die,” Queen Cersei Lannister tells Ned Stark, hand and old friend to her husband King Robert Baratheon. This is just past the halfway point of  A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, and things have finally started to get rolling after hundreds of pages of painstaking setup. Ned has confronted Cersei with his suspicion that her twin brother Jaime Lannister is her lover and that Jaime is in fact the father of her three children, not Robert. But before he can go to King Robert with this information, Robert is killed by a boar while hunting drunk—after drinking wine likely dispensed by Lannister operatives. When Ned tries to declare that Cersei’s son Joffrey is not the true heir to the throne, swords are drawn, with Cersei’s faction emerging victorious and arresting Ned as a traitor. These being the days before DNA tests, Ned doesn’t have much recourse.

Ned’s perhaps misguided dedication to honor, which, in addition to inciting his challenge to Cersei, will lead to him confessing treason in an effort to save his family, ends up causing more problems for the rest of his family than it solves. His two daughters, Arya and Sansa, are with him at the king’s castle when the fighting breaks out; polar opposites, Arya the tomboy and budding warrior escapes, while Sansa, an aspiring lady who always remembers her courtesies, remains at the castle, betrothed to Joffrey and coerced by Cersei into writing her mother and brother at their home castle of Winterfell asking them to bend their knee to Joffrey. When Joffrey’s promise of mercy for her father Ned turns out to be chopping Ned’s head off as opposed to a more painful death, Sansa is trapped, betrothed to the man who killed her father.

Meanwhile, Ned’s son Rob masses forces to make war on the Lannisters, capturing Jaime and defeating his army thanks to clever battle strategies despite his youth (largely thanks to the advice of his mother Catelyn). In Jaime’s absence, Lord Tywin Lannister sends his next son, the less esteemed dwarf Tyrion, to oversee Joffrey’s rule, which is getting out of hand thanks to the young king’s immaturity and impetuousness.

Earlier in the narrative, Catelyn’s men took Tyrion the dwarf prisoner for a failed attempt to stab her middle son Bran; Tyrion’s distinctive dragon-bone dagger was found at the scene, but he insists he was framed. (It was Jaime, not Tyrion, who sent someone to kill Bran after Bran survived Jaime’s throwing him out a high window after he saw Jaime having sex with Cersei.) Catelyn takes Tyrion to her sister Lyssa’s castle—Tyrion managing to help save Catelyn from raping marauders along the way—but Tyrion talks his way into a trial by might, earning his freedom by paying a knight to stand for him. He’s back with his lord father by the time the war between the Starks and the Lannisters starts, making one wonder what the significance of this particular thread is; one imagines that Catelyn’s debt to Tyrion will come into play at some point, though it doesn’t in the first book. But from having been taken captive Tyrion winds up with several free fighters serving him that he trusts more than his family’s men, which could also become relevant.

Then there’s Jon Snow, Ned’s bastard son raised with the family at Winterfell, beloved by his half-siblings but despised by Catelyn, who takes the oath to join the Night’s Watch for life, where, guarding the Wall, he has an encounter with one of the Others, the inhuman creatures closing in from the surrounding woods. The book’s Prologue is a scene of the Others slaughtering a trio of apparently random riders, seeming to set up the main conflict as one between the Others and people, but this is the conflict that must be central to the larger narrative of the whole series rather than that of the first book, whose central conflict is the war between the Starks and the Lannisters for control of the Seven Kingdoms. Jon Snow attempts to flee the Watch to fight in the war against the Lannisters to avenge his father, but is detained by his Night’s Watch brothers and made to see he serves a more important function on the Wall, protecting against the Others.

The final narrative thread, and at this point the most disconnected from the rest, is that of Daenarys, the rightful heir to the throne of the Seven Kingdoms as the last of the line that’s “the blood of the dragon,” the Targaryens of the Old Dynasty, the line the throne was taken from in a war waged by the Lannisters and the Baratheons before the series started. Daenarys’ brother is killed by the same Dotharki warrior clan he’s married her into in an attempt to reconsolidate their family’s lost power. In the only intersection of this thread with the rest of the book, before King Rob is killed by the boar, he plots to have Daenarys killed upon hearing she’s pregnant with a son because he fears the son will challenge his right to the throne—but the plot fails. Daenarys is at first scared of the Dotharki and her warrior husband Carl Drogo, but soon adapts to her new role. When Drogo is on his deathbed from a battle wound, Daenarys resorts to a maegi’s blood magic to bring him back, losing their unborn son when she fails to understand the maegi’s edict that life can only be bought with death. The Drogo that’s brought back is a mere husk of Drogo, so she kills him and places the three dragon’s eggs that were her bridal gifts on his funeral pyre, which burns intensely until it cracks the eggs, and the book ends with Daenarys suckling baby dragons, which until then had been dead for hundreds of years.

The chapters are arranged around different character’s perspectives, showing that Martin values character as much as plot, which might well be what has made the series so wildly successful amid its sea of competitors in the fantasy genre. The point of view characters are Ned and Catelyn, parents of the Stark family, their middle son Bran, their daughters Arya and Sansa, Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, and Daenarys Targaryen. It’s often said about the show that you can’t get attached to characters because they’ll die, but only one of the POV characters, Ned, dies in the first book. Interestingly, Ned and Catelyn’s oldest son Rob, who plays a fairly critical role in battle, and at the end when he refuses to restore peace, does not get a point of view. And Tyrion is the only Lannister to get one, most likely because Cersei and Jaime are too purely evil. Tyrion is sympathetic because he’s not a flawless warrior—though he does hold his own in more than one intense battle scene—and likable due to his dark sense of humor; he complicates the Lannisters being unequivocal villains and is a wild card whose loyalty might not remain to his immediate family.

Despite some melodramatic scenes, like Catelyn saying goodbye to her dying father, the writing is undeniably good at both the sentence and character levels. Take this passage:

It seemed a thousand years ago that Catelyn Stark had carried her infant son out of Riverrun, crossing the Tumblestone in a small boat to begin their journey north to Winterfell. And it was across the Tumblestone that they came home now, though the boy wore plate and mail in place of swaddling clothes.

The action that’s necessary to convey at this point in the narrative is that they’re finally heading back toward Winterfell. This passage conveys that, but so much more: the character’s emotional state regarding this journey, and how the past and present occupy an almost permanent juxtaposition in her mind, as it’s apt to in a mother’s. This is the opening line of a chapter that will culminate in Catelyn’s attempting to convince a meeting of men to restore peace with the Lannisters despite what they’ve done to her husband, while Rob will take a stand independent of her influence to say he will never make peace with them, a contrast that’s perfectly symbolized and foreshadowed in that opening that juxtaposes swaddling clothes with plate and mail to highlight their simultaneous proximity and distance.

And in this male-centric fantasy world, kudos to Martin for managing to evenly distribute gender among his POV characters, four female, four male. And it seems that Martin is commenting on sexism in this ancient society rather than mindlessly perpetuating it in this exchange:

“You are a woman, my lady,” the Greatjon rumbled in his deep voice. “Women do not understand these things.”

“You are the gentle sex,” said Lord Karstark, with the lines of grief fresh on his face. “A man has a need for vengeance.”

“Give me Cersei Lannister, Lord Karstark, and you would see how gentle a woman can be,” Catelyn replied.

-SCR

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“When the Vampire King Went to South Carolina” Write Up by Ash Haq

In “When the Vampire King Went to South Carolina” by Grady Hendrix, three men named Hinckley, Gerry, and Chad are dissatisfied with their lives for various reasons and all of them stem from financial instability. As a coping mechanism, they blow up objects in their free time and upload videos to YouTube. One day, a man named Karl shows up on Chad’s property claiming to be a vampire and offers them $20,000 to kill him. They desperately need the money, so they agree despite the ludicrous situation. After a night of unsuccessful attempts, Karl admits he knew he was invincible in the first place and never actually wanted to die. He’s visited multiple people before, with the same offer, and none of them ever succeeded. However, Chad tricks him into opening his mouth, then tosses matches inside. He explains that the previous night he had gotten napalm into Karl’s system. Karl ends up dying, but the $20,000 is also incinerated. After a disappointed Hinckley and Gerry return to their respective homes, Chad realizes that there’s one thing he can get out of his situation. Karl’s skin is still pristine despite the explosion. In the last paragraphs it’s pretty heavily implied that Chad goes on to start a new life wearing Karl’s indestructible skin and potentially will become rich or famous.

Acute tension – Chad, Hinckley, and Gerry trying to kill Karl

Chronic tension – the men’s financial problems and/or Karl’s chronic ennui from being immortal

I thought this story was compelling because of its usage of radical juxtaposition. Specifically, the contrast between Karl and the men from South Carolina is extreme enough to be comedic, which is an interesting way to pull a reader into a story. Additionally, the juxtaposition almost makes up for several shortcomings within the piece, including a lack of imagery and a rushed quality to the dialogue. Another intriguing aspect of this story was the relationship between Chad and his two friends. Chad is characterized as the leader of the group, as throughout the story he is the only one of them to make suggestions and decisions. He also seems to have some kind of protective complex towards them, as towards the end he gets them drunk so they won’t suffer as much if Karl attacks them (it’s the thought that counts) while he faces the vampire alone.

In my own work, I’d like to imitate Hendrix’s ability to seamlessly juxtapose two completely different concepts. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever attempted to write with an omniscient narrator, but this story convinced me that it can be an effective mode of storytelling.

questions:

  • do you think Karl was actually a vampire?
  • did the events of this story mark the end of Chad, Gerry, and Hinckley’s friendship?
  • the three of them were tossing survival matches around in the opening scene, and then Chad killed Karl with a survival match. does this parallel have any significance?

“1947” Write Up by Edward Clarke

Summary-

In “1947” by Hari Kunzru, a young man named Shmidt moves out to the Californian deserts, and opens up an airstrip and café, where pilots can land to refuel, as well as stop for a drink. He hints at a greater purpose of the business, and it is soon realized; he is signaling aliens. Soon after he starts up the café, he meets a boy by the name of Clark Davis. Davis is rich and interested in Shmidt, giving him money for books and equipment, which Shmidt is quickly using to assemble quite the project. For two hours, every night, he sends out his message: WELCOME.

One night, Davis takes him to a brothel in Nevada, where he drinks for the first time in years and gets angry at the girl with him. He is thrown out of the brothel, and attempts to explain this to Davis with his backstory.

After leaving home, Shmidt had gotten a 14 year-old daughter or a big-shot pregnant, and been forced to marry her. He eventually grew to dislike her and began to beat her often. Especially when he was drunk. One night he drank too much and tied a noose around her neck and dragged her from the back of his truck for half a mile. Her father didn’t press charges, but told him that he must leave. So he went south. Eventually, the guilt became too much for him to bear, and he began to write down phrases that he found to be especially truthful. He began reading books on theology and philosophy, trying to gain an understanding of the world.

He decided he wanted to fly planes, but because of his eyesight could not, and so he went into technical school to become an engineer. In the military, he was assigned to a group designing and rushing out new bombers for use against the Japanese. He is content, believing himself to have atoned for what he did to his wife. Then one of his bombers is used to bomb Hiroshima, Japan. He quits the military and moves to the west, and starts his alien communication station to truly atone for all the things he has done. He continues to develop an understanding of the world and one night an alien ship lands outside his café and invites him in. He goes with them.

Analysis-

I chose this story for a variety of reasons. I admire the way that Kunzru is able to tell the entire life-story of a man without once losing the reader’s interest. He also makes Shmidt a character the reader supports at most points in the story, yet he is, in chronological order, a runaway, a pedophile, an abusive husband, and a pompous “prophet.” I would hope to be able to take such a terrible character and twist him in such a way to make him seem honorable at times to the reader. Despite the third-person narrator, the story felt like it was almost inside his head. I have never really written in such a long-term, close third-person before, and I’d greatly like to try it after reading this piece.

While highlighting, I looked for characterization or backstory, location, atonement, and miscellaneous things I found interesting.

I highlighted characterization because there was just so much of it and it was so important in this piece. It made the characters seem incredibly life-like and realistic.

I highlighted location because there was so many places listed in the story, I found it easier to fully comprehend the plot by keeping track of where Shmidt was.

I highlighted atonement because that is his driving force throughout most of the story, first to atone for Lizzie, then for Hiroshima.

Finally, I highlighted odd things I found in the plot, like the abscense of pants at various points. Many of these small details made the story come alive, and I would hope to be able to mimic the amount of authenticity in these.

Questions-

-Has Shmidt atoned for what he’s done? Is what he is doing atoning?

-Does he truly believe in his message?

-Do you think there is any metaphor in the pants?

-Will the aliens do what he hopes they will do?

 

“Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert and Playboi Carti, Oddball Rap’s Children, at Play” Write Up by Dante Rose

I’m glad that the New York Times had this article by Jon Caramanica and I highly appreciate it, I just wish it had been longer and better- gone more in depth and got down to the marrow of this new wave of hip hop and its impact and greater implications. Though I do like this article, and it is an example of some good and thorough journalism- they went to their concerts and took pictures and listened to their music and whatnot. I didn’t really enjoy some of the elevated diction used here, it struck me as forced and kind of lame in this specific context- I didn’t like it at all. Also what was the deal with the line “their children are, to a man, even stranger”? Don’t get me wrong- I’m glad this article exists and these three artists were written about with some goddamn respect and not just quickly mocked and dismissed. I’m glad the writer appreciates the music and realizes it’s effective and infectious than a motherfucker. Like these people aren’t stupid, there’s intentionality in everything LIL BOAT does, and listen to “Sauce” by Playboi Carti, go listen to that shit and tell me it’s not absolutely phenomenal, the beat is so goddamn skeletal and tasteful, it’s fucking heavenly. And Lil Uzi Vert is my personal favorite, mainly due to the fact that he’s one of the best dressed musicians ever (I saw him live and this motherfucker had on a diamond chain with a killer klowns from outer space t-shirt, balmain jeans and a black pair of yeezys) and his stage presence is from another fucking sphere of existence, shit is ridiculous. I highly appreciate the fact that this article was written without biases and these artists, these poets- weren’t just dismissed like I feel like they are by many people who write articles like these, my favorite thing about this article was how not-prestigious it was. I liked that the writer showed some goddamn respect for these youngsters who all came from absolutely nothing and found success in music, Lil Uzi just released a new mixtape recently and it’s great, there’s this one song that has this gorgeous accordion sample and his sense of melody is borderline-prodigious, so is yachty’s and carti’s they all have great senses of melody, which is good because melody is the single most important thing in music. And I predict that Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti and Lil Boat are all going to continue to get bigger and rise in popularity.

“How To Become A Writer” Write Up by Jeylan Jones

In “How to Become a Writer,” by Lorrie Moore, the main character is a girl (I googled it just to be sure) named Francie that she wants to be a writer and gradually learns how to become one. The story follows her misadventures through the world of writing using vignettes, from showing her mom a haiku when she is 15 to quitting college to write fulltime, and everything in between, such as when she wrote a short story in high school in English class about a couple that kills each other with one shotgun that is rejected by her teacher.

The acute tension is that she is trying to become a writer

The chronic tension is deciding what to do with her life, as seen when she says “First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/ missionary…Fail miserably”

The piece is very compelling, obviously because of the title, and the story does deliver on the promise of helping one to understand the writing world, or at least, give the audience a peek. What I simply love about it is the splendid accuracy, for example, referring to bad experiences that can fuel writing as “required pain and suffering,” and calling comedic writing “self-contempt giving rise to comic form”. Both, frankly, describe every piece of my writing. Also, the line “she has also brought the ‘Names for Babies’ encyclopedia you asked for; one of your characters…needs a new name”. This was probably the most relatable line I have ever read, other than calling humorous writing a channel for self-hatred, which felt almost as if I wrote it. I also loved the form. The series of vignettes fit perfectly with the pace. The amount of character development was well-matched vis-à-vis the snippets of “time frames.”

I found the settings and the characters really interesting. The settings were progressively more mature throughout the piece, following Francie from her youth to adulthood, and this clearly showed through the situations she was thrown in, for example, as a child, she would be in the kitchen, showing her mom a haiku, but the story grew to her college schedule putting her in a creative writing class, and then her majoring in it, etc. I liked how her age was well-corresponded with the settings she was in. I feel that the characters had the same impact. The first person a child is introduced to in the world is their mom, and parents care for their children, so it makes sense for the first outside character for us to be introduced to in this coming-of-age story is the mother. This changes, though, with her age. As she becomes her own person, she meets new people and becomes more involved with the world, resulting in the story bringing in high school teachers, and professors, and peers, etc.

The story is intriguing and is for these reasons, and also the fact that it was all in 2nd person, and didn’t eventually become boring, which was what I would’ve expected from a piece that constantly refers to the reader as the main character. I’d like to imitate this in my own writing. Not specifically using 2nd person, but using a technique that would seemingly grow dull as it dragged on, but somehow sustaining the reader’s interest throughout. One way I believe the author maintained interest is through pacing. The time elapsed with each stanza break was relatively long, some being a couple weeks and others being around a year or so, however, it was always clear how far ahead the jump was, keeping a fast pace without confusing anyone. This is what I’d like to see reflected in my writing.

“Effigy Nights” Write Up by Angelica Atkins

The summary of “Effigy Nights” by Yoon Ha Lee:

The city/moon of Imulai Mokarengen is invaded by the general Jaian of the Burning Orb, who wore a jewel on her breastplate for every world she destroyed. The city was strong in knowledge and wealth, and offered her any wealth she desired, but she mocked them by asking for their sacred books. Seran is a surgeon-priest who is in the city while it is attacked. He is summoned by a warden, who asks him to bring a schematic to life. He obliges, after warning the warden of his curse: he exacted vengeance on a man who killed a child, and is now cursed so that anything he makes burns up in about a week. The Saint of Guns, who he originally brought to life, kills the soldiers but kills civilians in the explosions. He is cut by a splinter in the Saint of Guns’s explosion. He drinks to forget how many civilians died. The warden has him cut out one of the city’s founders, then the Mechanical Soldier, who watches Seran and eventually leaves. The people leave offerings wherever the Mechanical soldier carves cartouches into the walls. Seran waits for the warden’s summons, but none come and the city suddenly has a lot of effigies. He visits a bookstore, but finds that all the books were blank. He then goes to the South Archive, which is locked but he hires a thief-errant and gets in. He opens one of the sacred books and realizes that they are empty too. He is then caught by Jaiain and forced to lead her to where the warden is. He finds the lair full of scissors with no one controlling them, and the warden is standing sideways on the table. Jaiain confronts her, but the warden splits down the middle, revealing that she has become an effigy. Seran concludes that the warden animated the scissors, which ran out of stories to cut out so turned on her and started cutting effigies out of people. Jaiain and her soldiers are attacked by the scissors, with the assumption that the scissors will never stop cutting effigies out of people.

Acute tension: General Jaian’s invasion of the city/moon Imulai Mokarengen.

Chronic tension: the city of Imulai Mokarengen, Seran’s past (killing the man who killed the boy).

I liked this story because it shows a world and a cohesive story in 12 pages, which is an accomplishment. I highlighted details of the world and characterization, because Yoon Ha Lee does these two things very well and I want to one day write a masterpiece such as this. The details of the world took ordinary things, like candles, and made them strange, like adding the detail that they had the face of a child. There was also the warden’s kiss and the Archives at the points of the compass, which made everything seem real. The small details about Imulai Mokarengen scattered throughout the piece made it almost like a living thing, which paralleled its effigies in that they both die in the end. I highlighted characterization as well because it was interesting to see Seran’s personality portrayed by the things he carries and his reactions to the death of Imulai Mokarengen’s citizens.

It is also a point of interest that Jaiain asked for their stories, and the people wouldn’t give them to her, but the stories ended up being destroyed anyway.

Questions:

Is it right for the warden to have the power to save/destroy an entire city?
Was Imulau Mokarengen right not to give Jaian its stories?
Do you think Jaian would have left if they gave her their stories?

 

“Zika Virus Traced Back to Venue Bathroom” Write Up by Catherine Anderson

The Hard Times never fails to make me giggle, so I recommend reading some of the other articles. Don’t stress, they’re super short. This is the longest one I could find. THT is an excellent teaching tool when comes to satire, because they take the three elements of what really makes writing funny; sarcasm, irony, and my third made up one which is making up quotes, or basically dialogue.

Sarcasm comes in right at the beginning of this article with a quote from the “NC Dept. Of Health and Human Services” drawing attention to the lack of toilet seats in the venue. Hah! Surely this would never happen in a real establishment. But this is satirical journalism, anything goes.

Right into the next paragraph, another quote! How absurd it is, to hear a health inspector say they usually just let the places pick their own score sort of as an honesty system. Or should I say ironic. How unrealistic! Or maybe I just feel so strongly because I work in bars. Each quote thereafter is just increasingly disgusting and over the top in sarcasm and conflicting irony. It’s obvious that this place can’t be real.

At the end, the very last line gives a nice punch. The whole time I hope you are thinking “how is a place like this even still standing?” or something like that. And I hope you were surprised at the end. How! How on earth did they get a B+? No toilet seats? Bloody, crusty, vomit plastered bathrooms? That’s probably the secret- dried puke is what they use to keep the place together.