Heroic Connections

I’ve had the Game of Thrones on my mind. It isn’t too hard to understand as I’ve been listening to the Game of Thrones on CD after reading a new to me “Dunk and Egg” adventure at the end of an anthology written by George R.R. Martin.

And so I’ve also been looking at clips of the HBO series, adding visual fodder to the audio that I’ve had running as I drive and of course the hedge knight reading I caught. I’m not sure why I like this stuff so much, but it might have something to do with heroism.

It was interesting as I began to listen to the first book of George R. R. Martin’s “Fire and Ice series” that Ned Stark and his son Bran have a conversation about the nature of heroism. “Can you be afraid and brave at the same time?” Bran asks. “That’s the only time you can be brave,” answers Ned. I think that is quite profound if not necessarily original.

In Irish Insular Literature we see the hero held up as a paragon of virtue, but in almost every case the center of their story, of their path, is a violation of their geasa and a recording of their inevitable destruction. It is heartbreakingly tragic to see honor bound Cuchulain kill his honor bound son, both locked in their pride and inevitably doomed.

George R. R. Martin strikes me as similar as I reread (listen) to the story of Fire and Ice again. Ned is a tragic fool, a paragon of honor, heroic, but ultimately doomed.  Is Martin echoing the bards of the Irish?  It is interesting as I listen again, what is Varys doing?  Does he intend to preserve Joffrey on the throne so that one of the potential Targaryen claimants will have an easier time tipping a Lannister bred of lies and incest off the throne?

Things to think about I suppose.  Things to wonder about as the new chapters of Fire and Ice sloooooowly dribble out.  Westeros is a wide world.  No, not that, it is narrow, but long.  One wonders, ultimately, what is the point?  At least I do.  I’ve got many examples I’d like to spill out here.  Spoilers for those who haven’t read, but are waiting for the TV series to tell them the full tale of the Game of Thrones.  I should not spoil the discovery for them and so I will restrain myself.

If the tales the bards told were intended to encourage their warriors to fight then it would seem they were ill designed to do that.  CuChulain died young, but at least he knew that when he took up weapons.  Finn MacCool lived for a very long time, but he saw his sons die, not to mention the kings he served.  Perhaps these tales are perfectly timed to appeal to a generation who value glory over anything else.  Too many seem willing to do anything for fame, even willing to be infamous as long as they are prominent.

Hero worship, like all misguided devotion, is a sort of idolatry.  Only a good God is worthy of human adoration, not fellow humans certainly.  We should know that we are but clay and to set up a legend to aspire to is just as misguided, is idolatry.  Martin spends a lot of time showing us that people are not perfect.  They aren’t perfectly good, nor are they perfectly bad.  Such moral relativism is popular (enjoyable to see Jamie Lannister’s arch, or the hound’s, or Tyrion’s, or Arya Stark) but is it good?

I struggle with this sort of thing.