Dragonsilver: The True Nature and Purpose of Lightbringer

“I found one account of the Long Night that spoke of the last hero slaying Others with a blade of dragonsteel. Supposedly they could not stand against it.”
SAMWELL TARLY — JON II, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

“Sam, we tremble on the cusp of half-remembered prophecies, of wonders and terrors that no man now living could hope to comprehend . . . or . . .”
“Or?” said Sam.
“. . . or not.” Aemon chuckled softly.
AEMON TARGARYEN — SAMWELL IV, A FEAST FOR CROWS

What is dragonsteel? This has been a mystery ever since it was first mentioned in A Feast for Crows. Jon Snow and Sam both suggest that it is most likely a reference to Valyrian steel, but that is all it is – a suggestion, a hypothesis.

Can we actually determine what it is? If so, can we derive any compelling speculations on just what kind of weapon we’re looking for?

I believe the answer to both questions is a definitive and resounding YES. I believe in three ideas:

Dragonsteel is actually silver.

Lightbringer is not a weapon at all.

Yet it is the key to ending the conflict with the Others.

I respect that some readers don’t care for long-winded explanations. If you simply want the main conclusions of this essay (the TLDR version), click here.

This may be a long essay, jump around to what you need. It is broken into the following sections:

  1. Clues in Etymology: What the word dragonsteel tells us, especially when compared to other, similar words. Why the word dragonsteel is itself a misnomer.
  2. The Hypothesis: The initial hypothesis regarding the true nature of dragonsteel. Some basic supporting assertions.
  3. Science in Fantasy: How some cursory information from the real-world neatly substantiates the hypothesis.
  4. In Safe Keeping: A proposed location for dragonsteel. Supporting arguments for the same.
  5. The Logistics of Storytelling: A minor supporting argument regarding the relationship between the general arc of storytelling and the location of dragonsteel.
  6. Instruments of Destruction: What the described functions of dragonsteel indicates about the nature of the Last Hero’s weapon. Other devices of comparative power.
  7. More Deadly Than A Longsword: The culmination of this essay, providing a final proposal for the true weapon of the fabled last hero.
  8. The Language of Music: An assessment of the hypothesis’s applicability to the endgame of A Song of Ice and Fire, and how it affects the Others.
  9. Conclusions: A brief summary of what this essay is trying to argue.
  10. Addressing Criticism: Taking a look at likely rebuttals, and attempting to explain justifications or admit to weaknesses.

*   *   *

CLUES IN ETYMOLOGY


Dragonglass DaggerWhat can we learn about the nature of dragonsteel, based solely on the word itself? In my opinion, quite a bit.

The Relevance of Ralf Kenning

Actually he’s not relevant at all. I only bring him up because of his surname Kenning.

A kenning is a phrase that generally refers to any compound word that describes in figurative language something which could be expressed in a single-word. The principle derives from Old Norse epic traditions.

An example of such a kenning in A Song of Ice and Fire is the lizard-lion. On my first read of the series I was confounded by what a lizard-lion was, until one day it just dawned on me that it was a crocodile or alligator.

There are other kennings in the series as well: guest-right, Lightbringer, dragonglass, dragonsteel, etc.

*   *   *

Dragonsteel as a Kenning

Kennings are generally considered to consist of two words, a base word establishing the core feature of the object being described, and a determinant which qualifies and/or modifies the base word.

In the case of dragonsteel, we can make the fair assumption that the term is referring to some sort of metal. Thus, ‘steel’ is our base word, and ‘dragon’ is the determinant.

From this basic observation can we cull any further insights?

*   *   *

Dragonglass as a Reference

To begin lets apply the same exercise to the word dragonglass: our base word is ‘glass’ and ‘dragon’ is the determinant.

In this case we have the advantage of knowing what dragonglass really is: obsidian.

While we don’t initially know for sure why the word ‘dragon’ is used as a determinant, it seems all but certain that the word glass was chosen because it strongly represents the surface of obsidian. Obsidian is typically glassy and has a prominent reflective quality.

Thus its fair to say that the term glass was used because it represented the appearance of the base material.

This supports the conclusion that the word ‘steel’ in dragonsteel is a manifestation of how the material looks, not what it is. Obsidian is not really glass, therefore there is no guarantee that dragonsteel is actually steel.

*   *   *

Proof is in the Andals

An additional point that supports the conclusion that dragonsteel is not actually steel comes from the histories.

The Long Night and the fabled defeat of the Others by the last hero with dragonsteel supposedly occurred 8,000 years ago. At the time, only the First Men lived in Westeros; men who brought bronze with them.

“But some twelve thousand years ago, the First Men appeared from the east, crossing the Broken Arm of Dorne before it was broken. They came with bronze swords and great leathern shields, riding horses.”
— BRAN VI, A GAME OF THRONES

Later on the Andals arrived and with them steel and fire.

“The Andals were the first, a race of tall, fair-haired warriors who came with steel and fire and the seven-pointed star of the new gods painted on their chests.”
— BRAN VI, A GAME OF THRONES

If the Long Night predates the arrival of the Andals then clearly any metal that aided in the fight against the Others could not have been ‘steel’ in the normal sense of the word.

Sure, arguments could be made that a special exception was made for the dragonsteel blade, or that dragonsteel refers to a kind of metal that was unconventional yet available in Westeros during that time. But in the simplest sense, steel should not have been around during the Long Night.

What all of this means is that the base word ‘steel’ most likely indicates that the metal had the appearance of steel or a strong metal: a metallic luster, the heaviness, and reflective qualities one would associate with similar materials.

*   *   *

Dragon as a Determinant

Returning to the kennings (dragonsteel and dragonglass), we are now left to wonder what the use of dragon implies.

There are two possibilities that occur to me:

  • The word may imply an association with habitats associated with dragons. We know dragonglass/obsidian is generally the product of geothermal/volcanic activity. Thus if dragonsteel was using the determinant dragon in the same context, it might imply a metal that is also associated with similar areas of geothermal activity.
  • Alternatively, the word dragon may have been used for dragonglass because of the coloration. After all, from an abstract perspective the word glass implies transparency… the most direct way to modify that transparency to reflect obsidian’s color would be a determinant that implies a change in color. And after all, black is one of the colors strongly associated with dragons: Balerion the Black Dread, Drogon, the blood of dragons appearing black, the colors of House Targaryen. Thus the word dragon may be a part of the word dragonsteel to imply that the metal has a color strongly associated with dragons.

I’ve attempted to simplify the ideas in the following image:

Dragonglass as a kenning

Dragonglass as a kenning

Expanding on the latter thought, we need to ask ourselves “What are the colors associated with dragons?”

  • As noted Black is a prominent color, and already appears in the kenning for dragonglass.
  • Red would seem another prominent color for obvious reasons. Compared to Black, it appears less often in the history of dragons. Indeed it mostly symbolizes fire and the other component of the Targaryen colors and little else related to dragons.
  • Silver is another option. Valyrians and Targaryen especially are often referred to as “silver queen”, “silver lady”, “silver prince”, or Silverhair. There is the prominent mention of the dragon Silverwing in the history of Targaryens. There is the prominent mention of House Velaryon’s flagship Pride of Driftmark, which was regularly noted because of its silver hull.

So there are some interesting connections here:

  • Dragonsteel could be associated with (or sourced from) geothermal/volcanic regions…
  • …and/or it could be a metal that has a black, red or silvery coloration.

I’ve attempted to simplify it here:

Dragonsteel as a kenning

Dragonsteel as a kenning

Of course these ideas could all be wrong, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use them to form an initial hypothesis.

*   *   *

THE HYPOTHESIS


This will seem like jumping ahead, but I want to put the hypothesis forward now so that I can work towards establishing its validity in the remaining segments of this essay.

Specifically, I initially hypothesize that:

Dragonsteel is silver.

Drawing from the established idea of kennings, silver has the unique advantage of being a metal which can be procured from geothermal ‘hot spots’, and it has a coloration already associated with dragons and those who ride dragons.

There is one very strong excerpt from the books that definitively associates silver with both geothermal habitats and with dragons and those who control them (the Valyrians):

“…we first took root in Valyria, amongst the wretched slaves who toiled in the deep mines beneath the Fourteen Flames that lit the Freehold’s nights of old. Most mines are dank and chilly places, cut from cold dead stone, but the Fourteen Flames were living mountains with veins of molten rock and hearts of fire. So the mines of old Valyria were always hot, and they grew hotter as the shafts were driven deeper, ever deeper. The slaves toiled in an oven. The rocks around them were too hot to touch. The air stank of brimstone and would sear their lungs as they breathed it. The soles of their feet would burn and blister, even through the thickest sandals. Sometimes, when they broke through a wall in search of gold, they would find steam instead, or boiling water, or molten rock. Certain shafts were cut so low that the slaves could not stand upright, but had to crawl or bend. And there were wyrms in that red darkness too.”

“Earthworms?” she asked, frowning.

“Firewyrms. Some say they are akin to dragons, for wyrms breathe fire too. Instead of soaring through the sky, they bore through stone and soil. If the old tales can be believed, there were wyrms amongst the Fourteen Flames even before the dragons came. The young ones are no larger than that skinny arm of yours, but they can grow to monstrous size and have no love for men.” “Did they kill the slaves?” “Burnt and blackened corpses were oft found in shafts where the rocks were cracked or full of holes. Yet still the mines drove deeper. Slaves perished by the score, but their masters did not care. Red gold and yellow gold and silver were reckoned to be more precious than the lives of slaves, for slaves were cheap in the old Freehold…”
— ARYA II, A FEAST FOR CROWS

So we clearly see silver being dug out of the deep geothermally active volcanoes in Valyria. Furthermore these caves are associated with ‘firewyrms’.

It all fits, silver has the right coloration, has shown origins in geothermal regions (both in the books and in real life), and has been contextually associated with Valyria and dragons/fyrewyrms.

*   *   *

SCIENCE IN FANTASY


The Last HeroIt would be rather absurd to just assume that GRRM happened to do a ton of metallurgical research for A Song of Ice and FIre. However, it is fair to think that he had a cursory knowledge of metals when he introduced the idea of dragonsteel.

With this caution in mind, I want to point out just how readily silver accommodates the parameters outlined above. Feel free to disregard ideas that you think Martin would not have researched or known. In any case, what remains should be an interesting core suggesting the importance of silver.

Superior Qualities Among Metals

Silver is the most reflective metal on earth, and the most thermally conductive. Of course that only matters if you happen to think that the dragonsteel blade is also Lightbringer.

*   *   *

Naturally Occurring

One issue with processing silver is that it is often found in complex ores and can be difficult to extract. There are records in real history of people extracting silver from lead ores as early as the fourth millennium BC, however, so it’s not impossible.

That said, one of the most direct ways of obtaining pure silver is from hydrothermal springs, of which there are plenty in the north, on both sides of the Wall. These deposits are often pure silver veins, and are referred to as native silver.

An interesting further note is that when these native silver deposits appear, they most often presents as long strings of wires. The image at the beginning of this essay is an example of how native silver can often appear (and you thought it was just a fancy sculpture of a tree).

*   *   *

A Ward against Disease and the Supernatural

In A Clash of Kings, Arya overhears rumors that Tywin had sourced a huge amount of silver, to create weapons to defeat the Northern ‘wargs’.

We also see Daenerys wear a choker made of silver and set with an amethyst. It was provided by Xaro Xhoan Daxos, who promised it would protect her from poison.

Finally in A Dance with Dragons, Moqorro asks for a silver knife when he attempts to save Victarion’s life and rid the man of his gangrenous infection.

Whether or not any or all these instances are indicative of more than just superstition is unknown. However, it’s interesting to note that Martin has introduced silver on more than one occasion as a material associated with extraordinary attributes.

It’s also interesting to note that the common theme of these attributes is an association with preventative and restorative counters to death and disease, and vanquishing supernatural enemies.

*   *   *

IN SAFE KEEPING


Winterfell

So if we keep running with the hypothesis that dragonsteel is actually silver, can we establish a likely place where dragonsteel would come from? Where it would be stored?

Controlled Access

First and foremost, if you had control of a legendary weapon that you thought might be needed again, you probably wouldn’t want to put it where any idiot could get it. This implies a secure location, presumably one where access to the weapon is controlled.

*   *   *

Location, Location, Location!

If dragonsteel actually exists and was a weapon against the Others where would you store it?

After all, the legends and records have all indicated a belief that the Others would return one day and humanity would have to defeat them once more.

With that in mind, it makes sense that you’d want to store something as important as the dragonsteel sword nearer to where you expect the Others to resurface. This alone suggests somewhere in the North.

However, you’d also want it sufficiently distant from the Others so that they cannot steal the blade from you before you can react and retrieve it.

This suggests somewhere in the North, some distance south of the Wall where the dragonsteel could be retrieved.

*   *   *

Hot Springs

The north also has many regions of geothermal activity. In particular we are told about the hot springs in the Winterfell godswood, whose waters are pumped throughout the castle walls.

As noted above, hydrothermal springs are the most ideal location in which to find native silver. If you consider the possibility that the dragonsteel weapons may have been forged in Winterfell, storing them in the same place seems a likely choice.

*   *   *

An Abundance of Silver

It’s extremely noticeable that the chief precious metal used throughout the north is silver. Apart from the “Liddle” clasp (gold and bronze) and a few wildling relics (“old gold”), everything is silver. This is true from Benjen’s belt buckle all the way to Eddard Stark’s drinking cup.

In fact, one of the chief products in the north is silver and silversmith products, courtesy of the craftsmen in White Harbor and the lucrative mines that surround it.

*   *   *

Putting it Together – Winterfell

Collectively these details greatly substantiate the idea that northerners can indeed work silver and have access to silver deposits (to include the kind of hydrothermal areas that produce native silver).

What remains is finding a location that provides for the security of the dragonsteel and would have sufficient time to respond to a threat from the Others. It would also need to be somewhat centralized so that it could respond with equal haste to threats anywhere along the Wall.

Recall that both the Wall and Winterfell were supposedly built by Bran the Builder, whom afterwards took up residence in the castle. This strongly suggests that there may have been a relationship between the Wall and Winterfell, an abstract connection between the two structures.

Given these ideas, it seems entirely likely that if dragonsteel was indeed silver, it would be housed and/or sourced in the North, in Winterfell to be precise.

*   *   *

The Logistics of Storytelling


Hodor POVIn addition to the exploration of concrete reasons why silver is a viable candidate for dragonsteel, there are also some abstract details that bolster my beliefs. This may seem like an unnecessary tangent, but I think it’s important to explore factors that exist outside of the books themselves.

The Tedium of Remoteness

It would be a huge hassle if dragonsteel did exist (or needed to be made), but was quite far from where it would be needed. It would be rather cumbersome for readers to slog through the details of how a dragonsteel relic is transported to the Wall, from Starfall for example (for those who speculate that Dawn is actually the fabled blade).

Thus I believe that the location of our dragonsteel weapon will be somewhere geographically close and accessible to our story.

*   *   *

The Convenience of Fiction

There is also a common ‘trope’ in the mystery and fantasy genres: that the object of power they need to defeat the big bad evil was with them all along. So pervasive is this ideology that many people believe the cracked horn Sam took from the Fist of the First Men is the fabled Horn of Joramun, simply because he’s carried it with him all the way to Oldtown and yet it seems so innocuous.

The prevalence of this literary device is not due to a vast number of authors who regurgitate the same formula. In truth, this storytelling ‘shortcut’ exists because it preserves the narrative momentum. Keep in mind most of these fabled ‘quest items’ or ‘mystery objects’ are finally revealed in what would be considered Acts II or III of the general three-act plot arc. Breaking from that format to explain the nature of such a revealed object is essentially a leap backwards into expositional details: it’s a loss of excitement and forward progress.

This is why such mystery objects are often presented in the exposition (Act I) of a story. When the object or person is finally revealed as being the vital ‘quest item’, readers are already familiar with it’s nature. This is essentially the main literary logic behind what’s commonly called a ‘Chekhov’s gun’.

There are far too many examples of this in fiction so I’ll just cite two: Darth Vader and Dorothy’s ruby slippers. By introducing Darth in Star Wars, the revelation of his relationship to Luke did not need any explanation, the various implications and subtexts were immediately available to moviegoers. In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is stuck in Oz and never realizes until the very end that she had the means to escape all along, via the ruby slippers. Oh and also Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, particularly the cloak of invisibility which Harry had throughout the entire series.

*   *   *

So what I’m essentially asserting here is that –if dragonsteel truly exists and is vital to extinguishing the threat of the Others– it will be located somewhere that is narratively convenient to the story.

Thus this would seem a fair use of factors existing outside of the books to further cement the idea that the dragonsteel blade is located in the north, most likely at Winterfell. It also supports the idea that whatever dragonsteel might be, it will be something that requires little exposition, possibly something we are already familiar with.

*   *   *

INSTRUMENTS OF DESTRUCTION


Horn of JoramunThe story of Azor Ahai involves the creation of a unique blade (Lightbringer) that enabled the legendary figure to defeat the Others and end the Long Night.

Similarly, the last hero that Samwell Tarly reads about in the scrolls at Castle Black also wielded a unique blade of dragonsteel and vanquished the Others during the Long Night.

So which is the truth? Most likely neither is entirely accurate. What we’re seeing here is an example of what’s called a mytheme: a shared idea or truth that is observed in the mythologies of multiple cultures. It’s very likely that the stories of Azor Ahai and the ‘last hero’ derive from a single cultural myth, one that has progressively deviated over time.

Lightbringer – Made of Dragonsteel

What clearly emerges from this picture is that the dragonsteel blade would obviously also be the same weapon as Lightbringer –provided there is any truthful basis for the myth in the first place.

Keep in mind my previous observations about silver being the most reflective and thermally conductive metals on earth, it’s surprisingly convenient as an explanation of the name Lightbringer itself, especially if you consider that the word Lightbringer is also a kenning as previously discussed.

One reasonable interpretation of the name-as-kenning would be the suggestion that Lightbringer is merely a conveyance by which light is transported. In simplest and the most mundane of terms, this would mean something highly reflective, or possibly a portable light source like a lantern. If you add magic to the mix it also introduces the idea of a blade that emits its own light to be sure, but the mundane explanation requires fewer mental gymnastics.

Since the Others are indeed very real, there’s really no reason to doubt that a Long Night did in fact happen and certainly did end in a decisive end to the conflict with the Others.

*   *   *

The Flaw In the Story

The narratives of Azor Ahai and the last hero are heroic, enjoyable … fanciful. How does one man with an enchanted blade defeat an army of supernatural creatures, seemingly hellbent on destroying mankind? Even if the fabled sword existed, the hero can’t be everywhere at once. The idea that such a singular paragon could repeal such a massive onslaught does not make any sense.

These notions are inconsistent with Martin’s general appreciation for realism in warfare and related affairs. A one-man army that defeats an enemy force through melee combat is unprecedented in the series.

Regardless of what these tales might say about the future: it seems fair to say that they cannot be entirely accurate about the past. Perhaps there was no hero? Perhaps there was no sword? Perhaps the hero and/or the sword are merely symbolic or allegorical, representing something else entirely.

Put simply, the tales fail to adequately explain how the purported hero defeated an army of Others with a single weapon.

*   *   *

A Horn of Great Power

I think I’ve made a fair point that a single blade, even of dragonsteel, seems illogical. It would seem more appropriate to consider that the dragonsteel blade is in truth not a sword, but something else entirely, an object (or objects) that can in fact reasonably subdue an army of the Others.

If we continue with the our idea that dragonsteel is actually silver and the weapon against the Others, we are left with two real possibilities:

  • There were many dragonsteel weapons, utilized by a large force against the Others.
  • There was only one (or possibly a few) dragonsteel weapon(s), but it possessed immense power.

There is no historical or mythological basis for the former. If indeed there ever was an army of men armed with dragonsteel blades, it would be completely baseless speculation and invention on the part of readers.

There is however a record of one ‘weapon’ associated with the kind of power needed to defeat an entire enemy force.

The Horn of Joramun

The fabled horn has legendary powers, supposedly capable of ‘waking giants from the earth’ and toppling the Wall itself.

There are theories for and against the existence of any such horn.

Notice that the idea of the horn presents a logical dilemma:

  • If you believe that there really is a horn, you’ve implicitly acknowledged the existence of a musical instrument that is vastly more powerful than any sword.
  • Even if you don’t believe in the existence of such a horn, the presence of myths about such a relic establishes the notion as an apocryphal possibility… it provides context and mythic precedent.

So if instruments capable of toppling the Wall might exist, why not an instrument that defeats the Others as well?

*   *   *

MORE DEADLY THAN ANY LONGSWORD


Rhaegar's HarpExtrapolating from the ideas presented thus far, we arrive a set of observations:

  • There is no dragonsteel sword, it makes no sense and has no precedent.
  • Instead, existing precedent would seem to suggest a musical instrument.
  • This instrument would have been made of dragonsteel – silver.
  • This ‘weapon’ would have been stored in Winterfell, to be retrieved when needed to fight the Others.

Now whatever instrument might be consistent with these notions?

Here are some clues:

In his soft hands he held a twelve-stringed woodharp more deadly than a longsword.
— TYRION IV, A STORM OF SWORDS

“A harp can be as dangerous as a sword, in the right hands.”
— SANSA VI, A STORM OF SWORDS

By night the prince played his silver harp and made her weep.
— CERSEI V, A FEAST FOR CROWS

At the welcoming feast, the prince had taken up his silver-stringed harp and played for them.
— THE GRIFFIN REBORN, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Now recall my earlier observations about native silver: it most often manifests as strings of pure silver.

In case you were wondering what that image at the beginning of the essay is, it’s a bundle of such native silver wires that was found in Saxony.

*   *   *

The Song of the Prince Who Was Promised

Now before you discard the idea implied above, recall the legends of the prince that was promised. You’ll notice that his story was conspicuously absent from this essay until now. This was intentional.

First let us recognize that the promised prince also shares a great number of features with the myths of Azor Ahai and the last hero. Indeed, many readers speculate that the three heroes are one and the same, or are at least allegorical figures that symbolize a common heroic force. Thus the promised prince would be merely another example of the same mytheme already shared by the stories of the last hero and Azor Ahai.

Where the promised prince differs from the other two is that he has never been described as wielding a magical blade. While this may mean nothing at all, the text from Daenerys’s encounter with him in the House of the Undying has profound implications:

“He has a song,” the man replied. “He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.” He looked up when he said it and his eyes met Dany’s, and it seemed as if he saw her standing there beyond the door. “There must be one more,” he said, though whether he was speaking to her or the woman in the bed she could not say. “The dragon has three heads.” He went to the window seat, picked up a harp, and ran his fingers lightly over its silvery strings.
— DAENERYS IV, A CLASH OF KINGS

Quite literally, Rhaegar spells out that the child’s destiny is affiliated with music. Many readers of course take this as a metaphor for some other manifestation of destiny, but the point remains that Rhaegar described the child’s life as being intimately connected to some kind of music.

Furthermore, after declaring that the babe’s destiny concerns a song of some sort, he moves to the window and begins playing his harp. Couldn’t this quite simply be a manifestation of the very song that Rhaegar had just said already existed for the child? Wouldn’t it be more logical to assume that he’s playing this song than just speaking allegorically? Heck perhaps its both.

Lastly, if the prince that was promised is predicted to defeat the others, why is he never described as using a sword, as in the other versions of the myth?

Perhaps it’s because there never was a sword, and it was an invention added to the tale over the millennia. I explore this later in this essay.

Putting it bluntly in case I have failed to make it clear via context:

Lightbringer (aka the ‘dragonsteel blade’) is actually Rhaegar’s harp.

*   *   *

The Forging of Lightbringer

As I proposed earlier, there is considerable reason to believe that the dragonsteel blade is also Lightbringer. Most notably because of the following:

  • They derive from a common myth or mytheme, having very similar stories and definitely the same enemies.
  • If dragonsteel is indeed silver then the metallurgical qualities of silver make it an especially ideal candidate for a weapon purported to literally bring light, and/or set enemies afire.

These leads to a further speculation. Observe:

  • Rhaegar ostensibly had three children.
  • Each childbirth was increasingly deleterious for the mother, culminating in what’s believed to be Lyanna’s death after birthing Jon.

This three attempt pattern has a curious similarity to the tale of Azor Ahai. The legends say that Azor Ahai labored three times to craft the legendary sword Lightbringer. Each attempt required a larger sacrifice, ultimately requiring the life of his dear wife, love of his life, Nissa Nissa.

When you consider that Rhaegar says that there must be one more, and that the dragon must have three heads; his emphasis on the quantity of three seems noteworthy. If it is derived from the stories of the promised prince, then it may certainly be derived from that common mytheme and establish a relationship with Azor Ahai’s tale.

There is an important-but-controversial reason for discussing this topic.

*   *   *

Imbued with Spirit

According to the legend of Azor Ahai, Nissa Nissa’s spirit went into Lightbringer after she was sacrificed so that it could be created.

“A hundred days and a hundred nights he labored on the third blade, and as it glowed white-hot in the sacred fires, he summoned his wife. “Nissa Nissa,’ he said to her, for that was her name, “bare your breast, and know that I love you best of all that is in this world.’ She did this thing, why I cannot say, and Azor Ahai thrust the smoking sword through her living heart. It is said that her cry of anguish and ecstasy left a crack across the face of the moon, but her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel. Such is the tale of the forging of Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes.”
— DAVOS I, A CLASH OF KINGS

As I’ve strongly argued in other essays, I believe that Rhaegar’s harp was present at the tower of joy when Lyanna died.

As such, if you’ve managed to entertain my hypotheses thus far it would thematically appropriate (and consistent with the myth) if Lyanna’s spirit somehow went into the harp.

Now lets drift back to Winterfell. We know that Lyanna’s tomb is notable because she is the only female to have a statue. Additionally, all the other statues have (or had) swords across their laps, intended to restrain the spirits of the dead and keep them locked in their tombs.

If indeed Rhaegar’s harp was in Lyanna’s tomb, then it would seem contextually plausible that her spirit would be free to roam.

Perhaps this idea might explain some of the extremely eerie dreams that Ned has where he visits her tomb, and even Jon’s ominous nightmares about the crypts. After all Bran and Rickon both have a shared dream where Ned briefly appears before them in the crypts. It would seem that ‘dream visitation’ from ghosts is not without precedent.

This is indeed a controversial idea because the notion of ghosts seems poorly established in the text, particularly the idea of a spirit lingering in an object. However, that would be incorrect, as Jaime’s conversation with Qyburn in A Storm of Swords explicitly establishes the mystery of ghosts in the context of the world. Additionally, its rather silly to believe in shadow-spawn assassins, warging, dream visitation, the living dead, and visions in fire, yet declare the notion of ghosts absurd.

*   *   *

THE LANGUAGE OF MUSIC


OthersI have spent much of this essay talking about how the dragonsteel weapon, whether its a harp or a sword, would have ‘immense power’.

I should point out that such immense power is generally the kind of thing that Martin has been avoiding throughout the series. His instances of magic have almost always been intimate and apocryphal, confusing readers as to the nature of sorcery.

I think its more appropriate to say that that the dragonsteel weapon is more likely to have an ‘immense effect’ on the Others instead. The difference here is that it may imply a non-combative or more compelling method of ending the conflict.

I think that what will happen is related to an otherwise innocent passage from Sansa:

“I had a dream that Joffrey would be the one to take the white hart,” she said. It had been more of a wish, actually, but it sounded better to call it a dream. Everyone knew that dreams were prophetic. White harts were supposed to be very rare and magical, and in her heart she knew her gallant prince was worthier than his drunken father.

“A dream? Truly? Did Prince Joffrey just go up to it and touch it with his bare hand and do it no harm?”

“No,” Sansa said. “He shot it with a golden arrow and brought it back for me.” In the songs, the knights never killed magical beasts, they just went up to them and touched them and did them no harm, but she knew Joffrey liked hunting, especially the killing part.
— SANSA III, A GAME OF THRONES

So there exists the idea of a hero ‘defeating’ magic beasts through peace, not violence. Obviously you can’t trust everything from a song… or can you? After all, there are plenty of instances of songs in the books that have a curious importance to understanding the plot.

It’s actually sort of interesting that this non-violent idea is presented in a song at all, considering how combative most songs seem to be. Even the love songs often seem to involve slaying some beast or villain and saving some damsel.

In any case, if there was going to be such a peaceful means to resolving the conflict with the Others, a harp makes much more sense as a tool than a blade. After all, music can be heard by many at once, a blade can only kill one at a time.

Furthermore, an idea that occurs to me is that the Others are incapable of communicating with humans:

The Other said something in a language that Will did not know; his voice was like the cracking of ice on a winter lake, and the words were mocking.
— PROLOGUE, A GAME OF THRONES

I propose that the harp is not a weapon for defeating the Others, but a means for communicating with them.

How in seven hells would a harp assist with ‘speaking’ to the Others?

Have you ever seen the movie Close Encounter of the Third Kind? If you have then you know that (Close Encounters spoilers, highlight to reveal) … humans learn to communicate with aliens via the use of musical notes

What is the movie’s relevance to GRRM’s storytelling?

He has specifically cited it as one of his favorite movies!

In particular, he was most interesting in exploring the idea of ‘what happens after’ the aliens arrive.

This betrays his huge interest in the idea that aliens/outsiders/Others have more importance than just being villains, and that their introduction to the world is the beginning, not an end, to the tale. This is a literary motif that he has actually used before, in his novella And Seven Times Never Kill Man!

Finally, notice how profoundly compatible these observations are with one of the most popular ASOIAF theories ever written: The true nature and purpose of the Others.

Could there be any simpler explanation for why the Others and men have seemingly failed to reach an accord than the following passage?

His opinion of singers was well known; music was a lovely thing for girls, but he could not comprehend why any healthy boy would fill his hand with a harp when he might have had a sword.
— CATELYN V, A GAME OF THRONES

If men are taught to fight and steered away from music and dialogue, then it’s no wonder there is has been no accord with the Others. If you hold a hammer, every problem becomes a nail; hold a sword and every antagonist becomes an enemy combatant.

These ideas lend an incredible context to something Jojen Reed once said:

“If ice can burn,” said Jojen in his solemn voice, “then love and hate can mate. Mountain or marsh, it makes no matter. The land is one.”
— BRAN II, A STORM OF SWORDS

And after all, isn’t the promised prince’s destiny a song of ice and fire?

*   *   *

CONCLUSIONS


To recap, here is a brief list of the main assertions in this essay:

  1. Dragonsteel is silver.

  2. The ‘dragonsteel’ weapon is likely stored in the north, particularly Winterfell.

  3. Lightbringer and the dragonsteel weapon are the same object.

  4. The dragonsteel weapon was unconventional and possessed unrivaled immense power/effectiveness.

  5. The only known object to have such power is the Horn of Joramun, a musical instrument.

  6. Given known theories, Rhaegar’s harp is Lightbringer, also called the ‘dragonsteel’ weapon.

  7. Additional elements from the myths provide supporting context for these claims.

  8. Finally, the harp itself is a means for communicating with the Others, not destroying them.

*   *   *

ADDRESSING CRITICISM


I think the biggest criticism that people will have is that the harp was not always at Winterfell, if it was plausibly there at all. This would probably consist of the following concerns:

How could northern silver have been used for the harp if it was in the possession of the Targaryens?

Frankly I can’t really contest this without conjecture. Perhaps the harp was created long ago and stored in Winterfell and somehow the Targaryens got their hands on it at some point. We don’t really know the history of the harp so their could be some missing evidence that would explain this.

If it was forged during the Long Night, how and why was it ever removed from its secured location?

Perhaps the ‘original’ Lightbringer was never stored in Winterfell. Perhaps as the relic is used, it is consumed or left with the Others. This would mean that Lightbringer would need to be forged anew every time the Others reemerge. And actually, this would be more appropriate as its a bit of a cop-out to allow heroes to use fabled objects without having to sacrifice something important.

Further, I tend to believe (for no good reason really) that the effort to renew whatever pact existed between the Others and humanity is a one-way ticket.

I think that Lightbringer is not a weapon or a harp, but actually the Night’s Watch or something else.

Well then we’re at an impasse. The whole of this theory is predicated on the idea that a dragonsteel/Lightbringer object exists.

I have no desire to try and convince anyone or everyone that this theory is correct. I respect disagreement and feel that disagreement of something as fundamental as what Lightbringer is pretty much renders discussion of the finer points meaningless.


Revisions

  • 8/21 — Added firewyrm quote and details to Hypothesis section. Credit to /u/JXDB.

24 thoughts on “Dragonsilver: The True Nature and Purpose of Lightbringer

  1. tsantsa

    “How could northern silver have been used for the harp if it was in the possession of the Targaryens?

    Frankly I can’t really contest this without conjecture. Perhaps the harp was created long ago and stored in Winterfell and somehow the Targaryens got their hands on it at some point. We don’t really know the history of the harp so their could be some missing evidence that would explain this.”

    I would think that the harp BECAME Lightbringer through the 3 heads. Probably just as the Horn became a Lightbringer (or it’s cousin) in the same way.

    Reply
  2. Autobot248

    I’m not a big fan of Dany = TPWTP/AA, but wouldn’t dragons make more sense as Lightbringer? They produce light and heat, aka fire. The Last Hero might’ve been a Valyrian or a dragon tamer. Maybe he rode a dragon to victory?

    Reply
  3. ThreeEyedCrow

    Very interesting read. However, one thing struck me regarding the Lightbringer is a harp. Now, it’s been a while since I have read the books, but my recollection of Rhaegar is that he was a talented musician and great reader who then took up the sword when he became convinced that he was TPTWP, only to later realized that the prophecy was not, in fact, about him. Did Rhaegar simply misinterpret the prophecy as being about a warrior and not a musician? This seems odd if you are positing that he realized that the Song of Ice and Fire isn’t a metaphor, but is actual music based upon Dany’s dream sequence.

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      Quite simply, Rhaegar originally learned that he was the TPTWP because he was the first-born of Aerys II and Rhaella. The woods witch (aka the Ghost of High Heart) famously prophesied one of their descendents would be the promised prince.

      It’s certainly the easiest explanation for why he initially thought it was him. Note that he was always interested in the harp.

      What I posit (unmentioned here) is that Rhaegar eventually concluded that it was not him but one of his children. Somehow or other, he knew ‘some prophecy’ well enough that he knew he would need to be skilled enough a warrior to win at tourney. It certainly explains Rhaegar’s ambivalence at combat and indeed, he didn’t participate in most tourneys. But he did participate in probably one of those most significant tourneys of all time, right when he knew he needed to have a third child. Isn’t that just a bit eye-catching?

      Essentially I believe he only became a warrior because he knew he would need to in order to have his three “dragons-heads”.

      The reason that he transfers the belief about the promised prince from himself to his child is because (as stated) he just initially believed it because of the woods witch prophecy. However that changes after he visits Summerhall because he gets a new accounting of the prophecy – from none other than the same woods witch.

      This is an idea coming in a future essay.

      Reply
  4. Mike

    First off, I would like to commend you on this post and the great thought and effort that have gone into your theory. Pretty much all of what you’re saying makes a great deal of sense, or is at least plausible. I don’t hold the same objections to your theory that you proposed as issues with it in general, I do however have a fe issues I would like to address. First off, if your theory holds true then Dany and her dragons are more or less irrelevant, or are at least unconnected to the Others, and I find that to be unlikely. The Others and Dany’s dragons seem to be on opposite sides of the supernatural spectrum in ASOIAF and I highly doubt that the end of their respective stories is going to come as two separate events. I agree wholeheartedly with you that it seems rather unlikely that ‘Lightbringer’ ever was one individual sword, but Dragonsteel could easily be Valyrian steel and it is capable of destroying Others in much the same way that obsidian is. That being said there is a dire shortage of Valyrian steel available to the armies of Westeros at the moment… mind you, there doesn’t appear to be a surplus of weapons made of silver either. All of that being said, the main, and most crucial reason that I believe ‘Lightbringer’ to refer to dragon fire, or a dragon rider (or 3) as opposed to it being Rhaegar’s harp is that….. I find the idea of making nice with the Others via pretty music to be incredibly lame. I know that is a juvenile and short-sighted objection, and i’m sorry, but I would personally be quite disappointed if at some point I didn’t get to see Dany’s dragons take on the Others in an epic fire & ice showdown. Anyway, those are my main objections, but that being said, I really enjoyed the post and found it a fascinating read.

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      I can’t really refute the argument that you think it would be lame. That said, given how passionate the ASOIAF community is I’m pretty sure GRRM will piss off a huge contingent no matter how he ends it.

      The criticism (both in these comments and in the Reddit thread) really add to the discussion so thanks for taking the time to write. I have a 2yo son and a 4mo daughter to tend to or I’d write more. I’ll try again later tonight.

      Reply
  5. Cayla Sander

    my theory of how the harp wound up with the targs would be when Queen Alysanne Targaryen visited the wall on back of her dragon, was greatly inspired by the nights watch and what they did and extended the gift. It would make sense for the nights watch to be the ones guarding the harp as they are the furthest point north and the wall was built to help keep the others out. As a sign of gratitude the harp could have been gifted to her and passed down through the family

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      I think this is a very compelling speculation.

      The harp’s origins are a big unknown, and if it somehow originated in the North yet ended up in Targaryen hands we have to look closely at every Targaryen visit to the North.

      Alysanne’s visit is definitely one such opportunity.

      Reply
  6. Gale

    Cantuse, why do you think we have A Song of Ice and Fire, but The Game of Thrones?

    My take is that it is the clue to the prophecy and the lying game, A word dropped from a song makes it all wrong. Mind the wording of everything, seek hidden clues, exaggerations and omissions and decide for yourself.

    And The Game of Thrones, the only way to win the game is not to think about it and become an instrument of the gods that would guide you. Have a senechal that is not perfumed and who is devoted to you but will still advise you and oppose you if need be. The King and the Hand must go together, but they should work together as to not dominate but complement each other.

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      Interesting thoughts. I think it’s insightful noting that the we see the concepts of songs and games at such high levels. Much to think about.

      Reply
      1. Gale

        I see what you did. Thank you, I’ve been waiting for a long time but I might forget and hope you will remind me.

  7. Riusma

    Just some “food for thought”, but speaking about silver may I suggest that you look at “argyria” (on wikipedia for example), as there is some “similarities” with some peoples in Qarth. ^^

    Reply
  8. Brian

    Not sure how you left out everyone’s favorite bard-beyond-the-wall, Mance Rayder, from this theory! Could he have interacted with the Others through his lute?

    Reply
  9. Jennifer

    Your thoughts regarding kennings triggered something in my brain about the names of two very important castles: Dragonstone and Winterfell.

    There are multiple interpretations of the name “Dragonstone”. We can assume that the first Targaryens to settle there prior to the Doom of Valyria named it thusly. Perhaps it only refers to their house sigil and association with dragons. Perhaps it is a way to describe a volcano. Perhaps it alludes to a belief that it would make a good hatchery for dragons.

    Some may believe it is called Dragonstone because it was Aegon the Conqueror’s base in Westeros or simply for the dragons that have been carved out of stone all over the place. Then again, we also know that on Dragonstone one can mine obsidian.

    So what can be said for the name “Winterfell”? “Winter is pretty straightforward, but the addition of word “fell” provides a wide range of interpretations. It’s all in which definition you choose (and in where you stand).

    I don’t want to say much more at this time except to state that names are hugely important and almost magical in and of themselves. If you are correct in your the importance of silver in dealing with the Others and of Winterfell in obtaining silver, then the very name of the castle may be one more piece of evidence for a magical connection between it and the Wall.

    Reply
  10. TheMannis

    I think another noteworthy thing here (Don’t know if you’ll see this, the article is almost a year old.) is that GRRM stated in his interviews that he always liked magic much like Tolkien’s. Not as some kind of science, but as something mysterious. And what was the most powerful magic in Arda? It was music.

    Reply
    1. cantuse Post author

      I link to that article (well actually an archived version of it) in another of my essays—one regarding the hooded man in Winterfell.

      Reply
  11. The Old Tongue

    great article, though I always saw Jon himself being Lightbringer. LB’s forging is a bit evocative of sexual intercourse.
    I do hope the harp is in Lyanna’s tomb, but I don’t see Jon literally playing a song to the Others. And for TPWHP to sue for peace he/she/they would require an edge over their enemies in order to demonstrate benevolence (say weapons that can actually kill them or dragons that can desolate their armies). Perhaps the harp might serve as an offering.
    Love the Mannifesto, btw!

    Reply
  12. RANewton

    GOT SEASON 5 SPOILERS BELOW.

    How do you think this theory holds up following the events of Se5 Ep8 “Hardhome”? I know the show is the show and the books are the books and the show has changed quite a lot around but considering the wide held belief that Valyrian Steel is Dragonsteel and now the confirmation that Show!Valyrian Steel can hurt Others I think its quite likely that the same is true in the books.

    Reply
  13. F1END

    I totally get the Rhaegar’s Harp theory (and have read that in full) in the context of being proof that R+L=J, but I’m not convinced on this bit.

    The first thing that made me think that this was the case was when you talk of Kenning.

    Why would they call Silver (a metal that exists already in a natural form) “Dragonsteel”, when steel is a metal that is unknown to them??!

    Secondly as you, yourself, say, how did the Targaryens get the Harp if was at Winterfell?

    Thirdly, is it just coincidence that the Harp is now back in Winterfell? or did Rhaegar somehow know that it needed to be back there?

    Reply
  14. varys' swimsuit area

    I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you here, only mentioning precedent. While not a battle against “others” or wights, there is precedent for the slaying of the commander of a host bringing a halt to the proceedings (Maelys v. Barristan). So a jon weilding a sword (dawn, predates valyrian steel, dawn brings light, falling star yada yada) and slaying the nights king isn’t out of the question. I still like your version better….. More melancholy…….

    Who are the songs going to be written about, the flaming sword weilding hero, the queen with dragons, or the girl playing the harp?
    I don’t think all are mutually exclusive, and all may come to pass…….

    Reply
  15. varys' swimsuit area

    I was thinking on this and I guess I’ll expound on the last bit of my comment. You’ve given us many possible interpretations of various prophesies throughout the story, from Quaithe to Mel to Patchface, to different songs. Why wouldn’t this idea of various applications for a prophesy also apply here?
    Sure, the Night’s Watch will have to be reforged in some fashion before the tale ends, also Jon has had a vision of himself cloaked in ice welding a flaming sword, and Dany will most likely burn others and wights with her dragons. These could all retroactively be applied to the prophesy of lightbringer.
    You’ve mentioned that we as readers are the true beneficiaries of prophesy, but those who write and sing the histories of the realm are in somewhat the same position. They will be the ones deciding who or what fulfilled the prophesy.
    Some of the most heroic deeds may go unnoticed, or at the very least are open to interpretation.
    And I still like the harp version…..

    Reply
  16. Way2co0l

    Definitely a lot of interesting stuff here. The part I have to contest is your view that the word dragon as a determinant refers to the coloration of the object. I feel as if you’ve got a but of tunnel vision on this idea and ignore a much simpler explanation.

    The dragon determinant for dragonglass and dragonsteel may refer to its creation process.

    Obsidian being a product of volcanic activity, something that is often attributed to dragons with the Fourteen Flames, Dragonstone, and even the hotsprings beneath Winterfell rumored to be created by a dragon beneath the castle. There’s little surprise that dragonglass is known to be abundant in these locations as Stannis himself confirms to be the case on Dragonstone at least. Locations which also tend to prominently feature dragons as well. Not a coincidence.

    I feel the word is chosen to imply dragonglass was forged by dragons, or at least through something related to them. And the same is likely true of dragonsteel. It’s rumored that dragonglass and valyrian steel are one and the same, and that valyrian steel has been rumored to require dragon involvement in its creation. Obviously the exact specifics for its creation have been lost with the Doom, but I don’t think it’s too big a stretch to imagine someone might rediscover the process for its creation. Sam is possibly in the best place for it. Perhaps Bran in his time jumps might discover it. An old secret from the ruins of old Valyria itself perhaps. Or perhaps through some freak accident when Dany unleashing her dragons in some way where someone later makes a discovery from the resulting destruction. There’s even an argument that the Iron Throne itself may have turned the swords into Valyrian steel which is why the blades keep their edge and ensure that the king’s seat is never a comfortable one. That chair as you know was forged from the breath of Belarion the Black Dread himself.

    With Dany now on her way to Westeros, all that’s needed is for them to discover the secret to create more. She’ll have 3 available dragons and all the steel you can imagine, so once the secret is learned, they can create them in abundance.

    Reply

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