I have perhaps more drafted essays on ASOIAF than published ones at this point.
- Why is that?
I’m reminded of the cartoon shown at the beginning of this post. It’s an infamous strip from Gary Larson’s The Far Side, known as “Cow Tools”. You have to understand that the reason its infamous is all because of that one tool that vaguely resembles a wood saw.
The mere appearance of the ‘quasi-saw’ automatically compels the viewer to attempt to figure out what the other tools do. This is hilarious, because Larson later admitted that they were never meant to do anything, the appearance of functionality was entirely accidental. Subsequently, a cow tool is something that looks like it serves a function, but in reality does not. One might call it the opposite of a Chekhov’s gun.
As such, I constantly find myself stumbling across cow tools in my research and in my writing. A seemingly great bit of insight can be ruined when the facts don’t align enough to support a hypothesis. The realization that I’m dealing with cow tools can completely gut an entire essay.
One example would be my recent observation that Bran and Bloodraven are reminiscent of wendigos. It was an interesting observation, but critics are absolutely right to point out that wendigos are, according to most myths, mindless and voracious. So you see, its a cow tool… not all the details fit the narrative—in my haste to write an essay about wendigos I overlooked key details, I looked for functionality where there was none.
A more recent example of my own cow tool would be the discovery of the animated film The Flight of Dragons. It has a number of initially compelling observations:
- A psychic girl named Melisande
- A wolf that comes back from the dead after being killed by a giant squid
- A musical instrument that controls dragons
- An asshole that actually looks like GRRM who has a library of finished versions of half-finished books, including the eponymous The Flight of Dragons
But then you start to realize all of the things that don’t connect or make sense and realize you’ve really got nothing interesting to write about at all. There are tons of extraneous details in the film that don’t relate to anything in the books. It’s just more cow tools.
- How does this relate to prophecy?
I feel that cow tools manifest themselves all the time in prophecy because people will see one or two items that correspond to a prophecy and then do a lot of unnecessary work in an effort to make their vision of the prophecy work.
This is most obvious when it comes to ‘salt and smoke’ but it appears in other prophetic visions as well. You’ll see one half or more of the prophecy appear to be fulfilled, and then rush to fill in the second. I think this is a tempting, but dangerous mistake. Of course, if you can make a prediction that works without error, I’m all ears… but almost every theory out there has its ugly underbelly… the parts that don’t work… the cow tools that render them imperfect.
I guess what I’m saying is that I (and other people) need to realize when we writing something truly novel, and when we are working with cow tools.