Tuesday, June 26, 2012

15 Religion Quotes from George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire

Today is the launch date of Smart Pop BooksBeyond the Wall (Amazon, BN), a collection of essays  from a diverse set of authors and fans about George R. R. Martin's modern classic, the Song of Ice and Fire series ... known to most people from the HBO series Game of Thrones (Amazon, BN).

Authors from the anthology have joined together to create a sort of "Extras" sampling on their various blogs to help promote the book launch. In this "An Event of Ice and Fire." Smart Pop Books is doing their part by making available the wonderful introduction by editor James Lowder:

This blog post will get updated later in the day to include links to some of the other Event of Ice and Fire links, once they get posted. For now, on to my extra offering...

Martin's Religiosity

My contribution to the volume is the essay "Of Direwolves and Gods," in which I make the argument that the gods of Westeros are not the ones we usually expect in a fantasy series, but ... well, perhaps this quote from the essay best sums up the thesis:
"In fact, the religions portrayed in A Song of Ice and Fire are reflections of the religions in our own world. They require a leap of faith, because the effects of belief are so intangible. The religions of Westeros claim to dictate absolute, perfect truths through imprecise, flawed institutions and beings--just like the religions we encounter every day."
During the research for the essay, I was very pleased to stumble upon this great Entertainment Weekly interview with George R. R. Martin where he discussed his own religious views, or lack thereof. He identifies himself as a lapsed Catholic, an atheist or agnostic. Still, he says "I find religion and spirituality fascinating," and that fascination has surely manifested at the rich religious diversity that shows up in his series ... as well as the diversity of religious viewpoints that are presented.

Martin's Religion Quotes

In addition to the interview, I also read all 5 volumes of the series, specifically with an eye toward highlighting any reference to religion. As such, I feel fairly well qualified to present an authoritative list of the best religion quotes from the series. Perhaps ironically, most of them are made by Lannisters. Many of these quotes, with some swaps of nouns and titles, could well apply in our own world.

Here they are, in sequential order of how they appear in the series (so you can stop if you want to avoid spoilers from later books):
  1. Catelyn had more faith in a maester’s learning than a septon’s prayers. - A Game of Thrones

  2. "The Seven have never answered my prayers. Perhaps the old gods will." - Samwell Tarlys, A Game of Thrones

  3. “If I could pray with my cock, I’d be much more religious.” - Tyrion Lannister, A Game of Thrones

  4. Almost a prayer . . . but was it the god he was invoking, the Father Above whose towering gilded likeness glimmered in the candlelight across the sept? Or was he praying to the corpse that lay before him? Does it matter? They never listened, either one. - Jaime Lannister, A Feast for Crows

  5. "The septons sing of sweet surcease, of laying down our burdens and voyaging to a far sweet land where we may laugh and love and feast until the end of days . . . but what if there is no land of light and honey, only cold and dark and pain beyond the wall called death?" - Maester Aemon, A Feast for Crows

  6. Lancel Lannister: "Will you pray with me, Jaime?"
    Jaime Lannister: "If I pray nicely, will the Father give me a new hand?"
    Lancel: "No. But the Warrior will give you courage, the Smith will lend you strength, and the Crone will give you wisdom."
    Jaime: "It's a hand I need." - A Feast for Crows

  7. Lancel Lannister: “My faith is all the nourishment I need.”
    Jaime Lannister: “Faith is like porridge. Better with milk and honey.” - A Feast for Crows

  8. “Death should hold no fear for a man as old as me, but it does. Isn’t that silly? It is always dark where I am, so why should I fear the darkness? Yet I cannot help but wonder what will follow, when the last warmth leaves my body. Will I feast forever in the Father’s golden hall as the septons say? Will I talk with Egg again, find Dareon whole and happy, hear my sisters singing to their children? What if the horselords have the truth of it? Will I ride through the night sky forever on a stallion made of flame? Or must I return again to this vale of sorrow? Who can say, truly? Who has been beyond the wall of death to see? Only the wights, and we know what they are like. We know.” - Maester Aemon, A Feast for Crows

  9. "Gorghan of Old Ghis once wrote that a prophecy is like a treacherous woman. She takes your member in her mouth, and you moan with the pleasure of it and think, how sweet, how fine, how good this is . . . and then her teeth snap shut and your moans turn to screams. That is the nature of prophecy, said Gorghan. Prophecy will bite your prick off every time." - Marwyn, A Feast for Crows

  10. "My own gods are the old gods, the gods of the North, but you can keep the red god, or the Seven, or any other god who hears your prayers. It’s spears we need. Bows. Eyes along the Wall." - Jon Snow, A Dance with Dragons

  11. "Give me priests who are fat and corrupt and cynical., ... the sort who like to sit on soft satin cushions, nibble sweetmeats, and diddle little boys. It’s the ones who believe in gods who make the trouble." - Tyrion Lannister, A Dance with Dragons

  12. The gods are mad. - A Dance with Dragons

  13. "The gods are blind. And men see only what they wish." - Tyrion Lannister, A Dance with Dragons

  14. "Prophecy is like a half-trained mule.... It looks as though it might be useful, but the moment you trust in it, it kicks you in the head." - Tyrion Lannister, A Dance with Dragons

  15. The Drowned God did not answer. He seldom did. That was the trouble with gods. - A Dance with Dragons

Sunday, June 24, 2012

5 Lessons From Disney/Pixar's Brave

The new Disney/Pixar film Brave is a powerful film. The overall plotline has been masterfully unspoiled from the previews, though I was able to deduce much of it from the general marketing push (specifically some of the Subway restaurant tie-in materials), but the title alone indicates at least one theme that will be prevalent in the film. I've done a more comprehensive (though still spoiler-free) review of Brave over at Black Gate magazine, but I had some other thoughts that I decided were more appropriate to share here.

As I watched the film, I found myself wishing I had a daughter, so I could instill some of the values being shown in the movie into her. Alas, I have only the two sons, but still most of these values are important for them to understand as well.

1. A girl can be a hero

Disney has frequently had strong, courageous female characters over the years. Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana (The Princess and the Frog), and Rapunzel (Tangled) were all female leads, and certainly other films featured independent female characters who stood up to traditional gender stereotypes and roles, like Jasmine from Aladdin.

However, in all of these cases, these strong, independent women were tied closely to their male counterparts and romantic partners. (Mulan might be an exception, but I can't recall if there was a romantic subplot, because I haven't seen that film since it was in theaters.) The heroic climax is often one that is resolved primarily by the male character or, at best, jointly shared between the romantically-entangled couple. It is, after all, Prince Eric, not Ariel, who finally dispatches Ursula. It is the Beast, not Belle, who kills Gaston. (Belated spoiler alert ... but, honestly, if you haven't seen these movies, you shouldn't be reading this post.)

Brave completely throws that model out. The conflict that drives the entire film is that the princess Merida is supposed to get betrothed but doesn't want to. 

No, it's not just that she's unsatisfied with the suitors. 

No, she has not secretly fallen in love with a street rat peasant instead. 

She's just more interested in other things and wants to wait to find love later on in life. Basically, this is a girl who has more important shit to do than marry some guy ... like, you know, become a kick-ass archer and swordfighter!

The climax of the film rests squarely on Merida's shoulders. Well, okay, Merida does share some of the burden in the climax ... but it's with her mother, Queen Elinor, not with any of the male characters. In fact, Merida's father - the only significant male protagonist - is a major antagonist at that point in the film!

Hands down, it is Merida and Queen Elinor who are the heroes of Brave.

2. Legends are lessons that ring with truth

This is a line that gets repeated a couple of times throughout the film and I think has a lot of merit. It's not that legends are true, but that they have the ring of truth about them and they teach us something. For me, this resonates with my own view over the last few years, as I have begun to realize that spirituality contains certain valuable truths even though the legends surrounding spiritual traditions are not something I can lend any factual credibility to. Brave presents a third option, which is to respect the lesson of the legend without embracing it as fact.

Frankly, if the lesson is valid, then whether or not the original story is factual becomes somewhat unimportant.

Of course, the nice resonance of this quote is that it helps solidify Brave itself as a legend, since it is a lesson that rings with truth.

3. Loving parents are sometimes wrong

This is not to say that sometimes parents are evil or malicious. That lesson was taught in the stories of Snow White and Cinderella. (Yes, I know, they were step-parents, but still...)

No, in this film Queen Elinor (Merida's mother) loves Merida immensely, but she is also deeply wrong about the course upon which she believe her daughter should be travelling. She goes to great lengths to thwart and dismiss Merida's desires, to chastise her for even having desires in the first place, and really steps over the line by trying to destroy one of Merida's most prized possessions out of anger. As a parent, this is an extremely well-handled scene and resonates with frustration we've all felt, but it also sets Merida up for a very realistic rebellious response ... and another related lesson.

4. Rebellious teenagers are sometimes really wrong

In response to her mother, Merida seeks out a magical resolution to her problem ... and things go out of control. She acts out of anger and frustration without considering the consequences or getting a full understanding of the events that she's going to set in motion. She's a pissed off teenager looking to seize control of her own life and defy her mother by any means necessary. What could possibly go wrong with that plan? Well, I can't tell you without spoiling the film.

5. Reconciliation comes from setting aside pride, admitting your mistakes, and forgiving completely

The final lesson is general enough that I don't think I'm giving away anything about the plot by saying that this is the key lesson of the film. It is, in a sense, its own from of bravery, which ties it back into the film's title. The climactic scene, in which this lesson manifests, is entirely predictable from the moment you realize what's happening, but it's also incredibly emotional. The three adults in my group (including me) teared up during it, despite the fact that there really wasn't any question about how things were going to unfold! It was, in the words of my wife, a "classic."

It was, in short, a legend ... a tale of mothers and daughters, the battles they fight, both against each other and united together.

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