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The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones Hardcover – October 28, 2014
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About the Author
George R. R. Martin is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of many novels, including the acclaimed series A Song of Ice and Fire—A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons—as well as Tuf Voyaging, Fevre Dream, The Armageddon Rag, Dying of the Light, Windhaven (with Lisa Tuttle), and Dreamsongs Volumes I and II. He is also the creator of The Lands of Ice and Fire, a collection of maps from A Song of Ice and Fire featuring original artwork from illustrator and cartographer Jonathan Roberts. As a writer-producer, Martin has worked on The Twilight Zone, Beauty and the Beast, and various feature films and pilots that were never made. He lives with the lovely Parris in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson founded and run the popular site Westeros.org, which is the definitive source for all things George R. R. Martin.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
THE DAWN AGE
THERE ARE NONE who can say with certain knowledge when the world began, yet this has not stopped many maesters and learned men from seeking the answer. Is it forty thousand years old, as some hold, or perhaps a number as large as five hundred thousand—or even more? It is not written in any book that we know, for in the first age of the world, the Dawn Age, men were not lettered.
We can be certain that the world was far more primitive, however—a barbarous place of tribes living directly from the land with no knowledge of the working of metal or the taming of beasts. What little is known to us of those days is contained in the oldest of texts: the tales written down by the Andals, by the Valyrians, and by the Ghiscari, and even by those distant people of fabled Asshai. Yet however ancient those lettered races, they were not even children during the Dawn Age. So what truths their tales contain are difficult to find, like seeds among chaff.
What can most accurately be told about the Dawn Age? The eastern lands were awash with many peoples—uncivilized, as all the world was uncivilized, but numerous. But on Westeros, from the Lands of Always Winter to the shores of the Summer Sea, only two peoples existed: the children of the forest and the race of creatures known as the giants.
Of the giants in the Dawn Age, little and less can be said, for no one has gathered their tales, their legends, their histories. Men of the Watch say the wildlings have tales of the giants living uneasily alongside the children, ranging where they would and taking what they wanted. All the accounts claim that they were huge and powerful creatures, but simple. Reliable accounts from the rangers of the Night’s Watch, who were the last men to see the giants while they still lived, state that they were covered in a thick fur rather than simply being very large men as the nursery tales hold.
There is considerable evidence of burials among the giants, as recorded in Maester Kennet’s Passages of the Dead—a study of the barrow fields and graves and tombs of the North in his time of service at Winterfell, during the long reign of Cregan Stark. From bones that have been found in the North and sent to the Citadel, some maesters estimate that the largest of the giants could reach fourteen feet, though others say twelve feet is nearer the truth. The tales of long-dead rangers written down by maesters of the Watch all agree that the giants did not make homes or garments, and knew of no better tools or weapons than branches pulled from trees.
The giants had no kings and no lords, made no homes save in caverns or beneath tall trees, and they worked neither metal nor fields. They remained creatures of the Dawn Age even as the ages passed them by, men grew ever more numerous, and the forests were tamed and dwindled. Now the giants are gone even in the lands beyond the Wall, and the last reports of them are more than a hundred years old. And even those are dubious—tales that rangers of the Watch might tell over a warm fire.
The children of the forest were, in many ways, the opposites of the giants. As small as children but dark and beautiful, they lived in a manner we might call crude today, yet they were still less barbarous than the giants. They worked no metal, but they had great art in working obsidian (what the smallfolk call dragonglass, while the Valyrians knew it by a word meaning “frozen fire”) to make tools and weapons for hunting. They wove no cloths but were skilled in making garments of leaves and bark. They learned to make bows of weirwood and to construct flying snares of grass, and both of the sexes hunted with these.
Their song and music was said to be as beautiful as they were, but what they sang of is not remembered save in small fragments handed down from ancient days. Maester Childer’s Winter’s Kings, or the Legends and Lineages of the Starks of Winterfell contains a part of a ballad alleged to tell of the time Brandon the Builder sought the aid of the children while raising the Wall. He was taken to a secret place to meet with them, but could not at first understand their speech, which was described as sounding like the song of stones in a brook, or the wind through leaves, or the rain upon the water. The manner in which Brandon learned to comprehend the speech of the children is a tale in itself, and not worth repeating here. But it seems clear that their speech originated, or drew inspiration from, the sounds they heard every day.
The gods the children worshipped were the nameless ones that would one day become the gods of the First Men—the innumerable gods of the streams and forests and stones. It was the children who carved the weirwoods with faces, perhaps to give eyes to their gods so that they might watch their worshippers at their devotions. Others, with little evidence, claim that the greenseers—the wise men of the children—were able to see through the eyes of the carved weirwoods. The supposed proof is the fact that the First Men themselves believed this; it was their fear of the weirwoods spying upon them that drove them to cut down many of the carved trees and weirwood groves, to deny the children such an advantage. Yet the First Men were less learned than we are now, and credited things that their descendants today do not; consider Maester Yorrick’s Wed to the Sea, Being an Account of the History of White Harbor from Its Earliest Days, which recounts the practice of blood sacrifice to the old gods. Such sacrifices persisted as recently as five centuries ago, according to accounts from Maester Yorrick’s predecessors at White Harbor.
This is not to say that the greenseers did not know lost arts that belong to the higher mysteries, such as seeing events at a great distance or communicating across half a realm (as the Valyrians, who came long after them, did). But mayhaps some of the feats of the greenseers have more to do with foolish tales than truth. They could not change their forms into those of beasts, as some would have it, but it seems true that they were capable of communicating with animals in a way that we cannot now achieve; it is from this that legends of skinchangers, or beastlings, arose.
In truth, the legends of the skinchangers are many, but the most common—brought from beyond the Wall by men of the Night’s Watch, and recorded at the Wall by septons and maesters of centuries past—hold that the skinchangers not only communicated with beasts, but could control them by having their spirits mingle. Even among the wildlings, these skinchangers were feared as unnatural men who could call on animals as allies. Some tales speak of skinchangers losing themselves in their beasts, and others say that the animals could speak with a human voice when a skinchanger controlled them. But all the tales agree that the most common skinchangers were men who controlled wolves—even direwolves—and these had a special name among the wildlings: wargs.
Legend further holds that the greenseers could also delve into the past and see far into the future. But as all our learning has shown us, the higher mysteries that claim this power also claim that their visions of the things to come are unclear and often misleading—a useful thing to say when seeking to fool the unwary with fortune-telling. Though the children had arts of their own, the truth must always be separated from superstition, and knowledge must be tested and made sure. The higher mysteries, the arts of magic, were and are beyond the boundaries of our mortal ability to examine.
Yet no matter the truths of their arts, the children were led by their greenseers, and there is no doubt that they could once be found from the Lands of Always Winter to the shores of the Summer Sea. They made their homes simply, constructing no holdfasts or castles or cities. Instead they resided in the woods, in crannogs, in bogs and marshes, and even in caverns and hollow hills. It is said that, in the woods, they made shelters of leaves and withes up in the branches of trees—secret tree “towns.”
It has long been held that they did this for protection from predators such as direwolves or shadowcats, which their simple stone weapons—and even their vaunted greenseers—were not proof against. But other sources dispute this, stating that their greatest foes were the giants, as hinted at in tales told in the North, and as possibly proved by Maester Kennet in the study of a barrow near the Long Lake—a giant’s burial with obsidian arrowheads found amidst the extant ribs. It brings to mind a transcription of a wildling song in Maester Herryk’s History of the Kings-Beyond-the-Wall, regarding the brothers Gendel and Gorne. They were called upon to mediate a dispute between a clan of children and a family of giants over the possession of a cavern. Gendel and Gorne, it is said, ultimately resolved the matter through trickery, making both sides disavow any desire for the cavern, after the brothers discovered it was a part of a greater chain of caverns that eventually passed beneath the Wall. But considering that the wildlings have no letters, their traditions must be looked at with a jaundiced eye.
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As far as the text, which many of the reviews here are quick to slam or to praise, I felt the truth was in the middle and uneven would be the best word to describe. Some of the narratives are very well done - the "short story" of the Conquest, the reign of King Jaehaerys, and the history of the Vale in particular stood out as well done; the narrative flowed well, and the characterizations were very satisfying, but most importantly gave itself identity and value. As far as a common identifier of the best pieces, the text is at its best and finds a nice rhythm when it becomes character-centric as opposed to purely event-centric. When Martin et. immerse you in the rich characterizations of Nymeria, Aegon, Robar Royce, and Tywin, and let the history flow around them is extremely enjoyable.
Other portions were frustrating - several histories of reigns and a couple of the Kingdoms really felt like obligated filler as opposed to a seized opportunity to provide rich lore, and all too often the "Untold History" teased on the cover produced only empty text containing no more than "going through the motions" summations of previously known information,providing no additional lore or color. It is understandable in areas where it's obvious that Martin isn't ready to show his cards; others such as the War of the Ninepenny Kings from a 10,000 foot view and the Greyjoy Rebellion being reduced to a couple paragraphs and passing on the opportunity to add color and depth as opposed to regurgitation due to necessity were a letdown.
The choice of the maester as a point of view was overall a sound decision. The additional layer adds richness: bias is introduced, sources are referenced, and the environment of the ASOIAF novels needs to be taken into account by the reader - a very Martin-esque move. The "cop outs", where the decision to use a maester as the writer leads to lack of expansion or evasion were an unfortunate consequence.
As far as the artwork, I expected the illustrations to be filler, almost an annoyance beside the lore. It was the exact opposite - the illustrations are impressive, most absolutely stunning. The amount of artwork, fantastic detail, and affording a quality template for the production really stood out. I'm not sold that AWOIAF will be a frequent reread or that the table of contents and index reference enough consistency in the text for it to serve as a reference, but there will definitely be portions worth a bookmark and others worth perusing at times, and the art is worth a complete page through anytime.
The rest is—well, if you (like me) enjoy history or are a hard-core R. R. Martin fan you will like this book. If not, you may not—though you will love the beautiful illustrations, the embossed dragons on the front cover and the parchment-like background designs. And you will love the way this book feels. It’s wonderfully constructed. The covers are padded and the pages are sewn to the book’s spine. And the pages themselves are not the cheap-feeling pages you normally get; they’re thick and slightly glossy. So the illustrations and the construction are superb.
The text is—history book like. I learned a lot. I discovered that there are dragons just about everywhere, what Valyrians call dragon glass, what the Dorne has against the iron Throne, how greyscale came into the world, some pretty horrific stories about the Others, and much more besides. I was particularly interested in the legends the Maester mentions again and again only to dismiss them as a learned man is taught to do. Anyone who has either read R. R. Martin’s novels will know that these fanciful stories are, in fact, all too true.
And let’s face it, we have a year and half to speculate about how the Game of Thrones will end. I can’t claim to know the ending but, if the writers are at all true to the books, the ending will be rooted in the history of Westeros. And this book--while written in the often dry tone I for one often associate with history books—most definitely provides that history.
So if you need some help speculating about what (say) an ice dragon might do (and yes, ice dragons do put in an appearance here), you might want to check out the Untold History of Westeros.
The book itself is also very appealing, with a somewhat "soft", padded feeling cover that reminds me of a very old, handcrafted book. I love this book and can't wait to delve even further with the forthcoming novels and season of the TV show.