Author Archives: cantuse

You Want to be …Fooled

I want to write a fun, explorative piece: more idea-fuel and moderate insights than it is ‘epic theory’—an essay full of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that reads like a series of magic tricks and less like rote historiography. So here’s an attempt.

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  • What would it take for you to distrust any prediction a character makes?

Obviously a mistaken interpretation or two will hurt someone’s belief. But what about an admission that they’re just guessing in the first place, something like this:

“Some may.” Could the skulls in her vision have signified this bridge? Somehow Melisandre did not think so. “If it comes, that attack will be no more than a diversion. I saw towers by the sea, submerged beneath a black and bloody tide. That is where the heaviest blow will fall.”

“Eastwatch?”

Was it? Melisandre had seen Eastwatch-by-the-Sea with King Stannis. That was where His Grace left Queen Selyse and their daughter Shireen when he assembled his knights for the march to Castle Black. The towers in her fire had been different, but that was oft the way with visions. “Yes. Eastwatch, my lord.”
MELISANDRE, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

In our haste to zip through Melisandre’s chapter and find the juicy details, we seem to have overlooked what I now think is perhaps the choicest morsel of all. Why?

It means that Melisandre often interprets her visions as applying to things other than literally what she sees.

This is hardly surprising though—we all know she makes mistakes. Even she admits it. But on the other hand, there’s really only one way to broadly interpret Melisandre’s statement:

Visions often show one thing, but are in truth about another.

If this is the case, then when Melisandre wrongly interprets a specific detail in a vision, she’s not only making mistakes, she is almost certainly misleading readers who trust her words or thoughts.

I know it sounds ridiculous: that her own thoughts would fool us. After all, if she saw Jon… she saw Jon. Why would the text in her own POV mislead us, the readers who are free from the supposed perils of bias that afflict the characters?

The assumption about what Melisandre sees being precisely what she thinks (or more accurately being what is on the page) is ignoring that we are reading words set out by an author who has no strict obligation to give us full, accurate information at all times. There have been several occasions where a character’s thoughts seem to omit details that readers could benefit from and have no real reason not to exist. Tyrion’s chain, Victarion’s ‘surgery’, and more, are all examples of when Martin’s words have deftly avoided the ‘whole truth’ in favor of a more compelling story. And as noted, Melisandre herself admitted that her visions may not apply to the exact objects, places or people she envisions… so even if you disagree and think her thoughts aren’t erroneous and that she actually saw Jon, the vision could still instead apply to someone else—by her own admission!

Anyways, It’s one thing to say this, its another to show you just how misleading a bad prediction can be. Like me, you almost certainly never realized that Melisandre’s first bad vision in A Dance with Dragons happens in Jon’s first chapter.

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  • Ready for a magic trick?

Continue reading

The Pink Letter: Finally Solved?

“You know somethin’, Utivich? I think this just might be my masterpiece.”


The end of Jon’s final chapter in A Dance with Dragons leaves readers mystified on several fronts. Obviously the mystery behind Jon’s death is foremost among them. However, let’s analyze one of the other conundrums introduced by this chapter:

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  • Why are the wildlings so eager to go to war for Jon Snow?

Some readers may have concluded that this topic was unimportant, unanswerable or some combination thereof. Others might have concluded that explanation is already known, and provided by the text, explicitly or otherwise.

I obviously wouldn’t be wasting your time with this inquiry if I thought the real answer was any of those things. This short essay is an effort to convince you of the following:

The wildlings rally to Jon’s cause because of readily recognizable wildling folklore found in both the Pink Letter and Jon’s statements at the Shieldhall; folklore that is only understood by wildlings.

Not only does Jon know this, but he himself knows who wrote the Pink Letter.

With that in mind, I want to start by proving as best as possible that the explanation behind why the wildlings rallied to Jon’s cause is of huge consequence. Continue reading

The Lost Mission of Mance Rayder

NOTE: This will probably be incorporated into the Mannifesto at some point but for now I’m posting as a mostly self-contained piece.

This essay serves one purpose and one only:

To reveal the secret mission that was Mance Rayder’s true goal in the north during the events of A Dance with Dragons.

Explain the relevance of that mission on other aspects of the plot.

Explore significant implications of its discovery.

Let’s get straight to business then.

Continue reading

Let’s Have Some Fun: Another Approach to Stannis

NOTE: I had wanted to finish work on my other non-Stannis essays, but just when I thought I was out, you guys pull me back in.

Today somebody remarked that they didn’t believe that Stannis could ever do something like the Night Lamp. As a rigorous man of science and obviously smart person, my reaction was predictable.
Specifically, I was told:

That is not how Martin writes or thinks. There is no character driven reason why this should happen, or any relevance to his story arc. Stannis solves his problems with intelligence and steadiness. But he is not someone who uses deception, thinks outside the box or “plays the player”. That is rather something I expect from someone like Tyrion.

I don’t take it personal. First of all, I can forgive people not knowing the greatness that is Stannis. I too resisted …until the evidence was insurmountable. Like, to the point where you have to go out of your way to be obstinate if you want to believe that Stannis isn’t a motherflippin’ genius. Seriously folks. Stannis is so smart he probably has two pairs of underwear on at all times.

But I’ve already written the Mannifesto, which worked for some people but obviously not for everyone. I need a new format that will connect with this younger harder-to-reach crowd of avocado-toast eating Millenials. I’d make a Youtube video but that only means I’d be tempted to start scraping other people’s ideas off of Reddit and hoping to become some sort of devil-worshipping ‘influencer’. Plus I’m not ready to have my face on video, I don’t need that kind of fan mail.

The obvious truth is that I can’t beat some of you over the head with Stannis’s brilliance: some readers want foreplay—a little tickling behind the knee, Wallflowers playing the background and a bottle of the cheap wine with the fancy label. Some people don’t care for the plain old-fashioned truth—they want to be seduced. Nobody wants Atticus Finch when Michael Clayton is available. Poor old man never had the courage to tell Scout that’s why he was a single father.

*   *   *

Sometimes greatness lives in dark, overlooked places—like an alleyway in Chinatown or the back seat of a Volkswagen. Or the mind of a king. Its a fungus that grows between your toes and one day takes over your brain, striking out of nowhere like the tequila in a line of Jell-O shots: a hazy dream of peaks and valleys that leaves you wondering what really happened when it departs. That means sometimes you have to approach greatness the way you approach a spider on the toilet seat: sneakily, in a bomb suit.

In light of this noble truth, let us try something different. I will toss out a couple of potent questions to direct today’s flirtation with the one true king, and then we’ll walk through a few chapters in the so-called life of Stannis Baratheon and see what shakes out. In particular, I want to focus on the first four Jon chapters from A Dance with Dragons:

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  • What is the earliest point in time that Stannis could have known about a plot to marry Arya Stark?
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  • What is the earliest point in time that Stannis could have known about the plot for the Karstarks to betray him?

You would think that Stannis only learned about the wedding from the letter he read while at Deepwood Motte, and that he only learned about the Karstark betrayal from Jon’s letter that arrived with Tycho Nestoris. After all that’s how it looks in the book.

ಠ_ಠ

But the book is straight-up lying to you. But in order to convince the more ambivalent reader, I feel the need to tackle this in a sort of chronological format—building naturally on smaller, earlier elements until they can be woven into the real answers to these questions. Continue reading

Cow Tools: On prophecy and writing new ASOIAF theories.

I have perhaps more drafted essays on ASOIAF than published ones at this point.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

My Own Private Hardhome

I regularly get inquiries about my health, especially since I haven’t posted an update since last August. I figure my latest correspondence with my headache specialist should suffice:

Hello Dr. Liu:

I am in agonizing pain. It seems that the second round of Botox has yet to have helped me at all. As of right now, I am hurting a great deal and have taken two sumatriptan and have taken all fourteen of my nightly pills (exedrin/ibuprofen, olanzapine, topamax, indomethacin, gabapentin, verapamil, prilosec, buproprion) and my head still hurts really bad.

Dr. David’s office says that my insurance will not cover the neurostimulator they wanted to consider, and that they have referred me back to your office for further care/treatment. I was desperate and asked how much it would cost me if I wanted to pay myself ($100,000)… I can’t afford that much.

I need to know if there are other providers that could help me out with more permanent/advanced options that might be covered because I’m in a living hell. The meds I’m on make me drowsy and stupid, they mess with my stomach and they probably aren’t good for my organs (at least not at the doses I’m taking). I haven’t slept the night through in almost a week because of head pain, it’s making me crazy. I’m terrified of trying to go to sleep tonight.

Please help me.

To put it simply… life with 100% never-ending excruciating head pain is so … so monstrously ruinous, it destroys all quality of life.