Mythology in Mann and George R. R. Martin
Long before sibling incest became a
fashionable plot twist
authors, Thomas Mann
wrote a masterpiece on the subject. “The Blood of the
Walsungs” (1905) does for
incest what Lolita
does for pedophilia:
It cushions the shock of the taboo through its nonjudgmental portrayal
of the perpetrators.
twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, know they
are violating mores. But their behavior is habitual, rather than the
culmination to a brewing plot. By contrast, the climax of Ian McEwan’s The
Garden (1978) seems like a telegraphed attempt to throw the taboo
face of the reader. So does the conclusion of Arundhati Roy’s
The God of Small Things (1997).
Dramatists have mined
incest for centuries. The prominent tale
there are examples aplenty in other ancient fables. Mann’s twins
are a direct
reference to Signy and Sigmund Volsung of Germanic mythology. In the
Volsungs are not twins; Sigmund is her youngest brother. Signy resorts
disguise to sleep with Sigmund; they wind up having a child together.
In Mann’s story,
there are no disguises and there is no
offspring. The drama concludes with the twins sharing a night of
intimacy – first in a box at the opera, then in Siegmund’s
room. All the while,
Sieglinde’s engagement to the 35-year-old bureaucrat Beckerath
looms in the
In contemporary literature,
the only match I’ve found for
Mann’s delicacy is George
R. R. Martin’s
superb A Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin’s twins, Jaime
Lannister, are marvels of character development. From their first
– witnessed from Bran
Stark’s point of view in the HBO-bound
A Game of Thrones
– the reader understands Jaime is smitten. Cersei, by contrast,
is leery of how
the affair will imperil her power brokering.
But their dynamic changes
by the end of A Feast for
Crows, the fourth and most recent release in Martin’s
epic. Jaime has
grown aware of their mismatched affections. He throws Cersei’s
letter for help –
which ends with a pleading anaphora of “I love you” –
in the fire.
Like Siegmund and
Sieglinde, Jaime and Cersei have an
in-depth relationship. The incest serves to impel and magnify the
than punctuate it (as it does for the aforementioned Booker winners).
constant tension over the discovery – and consequences – of
the couplings. It’s
like adultery on steroids. And when you have an incestuous pairing that
adulterous – as Mann and Martin do – you’re truly
playing with ice and fire.
There are faint traces of
the Lannisters in Norse mythology,
but the link isn’t nearly as direct as Mann’s Volsung
connection comes from the Germanic war god Tyr. In one myth, Tyr
hand in a wolf’s mouth as a sign of goodwill. The wolf bites off
his hand. Tyr
is in pain, but the other gods just laugh at him.
The root “Tyr”
is prevalent in Martin’s series. Jaime and
Cersei’s younger brother is the malformed Tyrion. Siblings
Margaery and Loras
Tyrell are key chess pieces in the Lannister-Stark-Baratheon family
addition to these associations through nomenclature, there is an
injury tie-in: A turning point for Jaime’s character comes when he loses his hand.
Wolves are rich symbols in
Martin’s story. The wolf is the
sigil of House Stark, mortal enemies to the Lannisters. Though Jaime
hand not to a Stark but to the sellsword Vargo Hoat, there remains a
Jaime’s injury is karmic revenge for his misdeeds to House Stark.
misdeed is the attempted murder of Bran Stark after Bran witnesses his
Cersei. In addition, Jaime is textually linked to the death of Robb
Stark. The anonymous
man who kills Robb at the infamous “Red Wedding” says:
“Jaime Lannister sends
his regards” (A Storm Of Swords,
Moreover, it is no
coincidence that the Red Wedding occurs
not long after Robb’s army has reached “The Twins.”
In writing about “The
Twins,” Martin is literally describing the region but
Jaime and Cersei: “Outside the rain still fell, but within the
Twins the air
was thick and hot” (ASOS, 693).
One final note on the Tyr
myth: Despite his severe injury,
the other gods laugh at Tyr. When Jaime loses his hand, he finally
sense of empathy with his malformed brother: “Now I know how
Tyrion has felt,
all those times they laughed at him,” (ASOS,
413). Jaime’s resistance to Cersei truly begins when she,
too, ridicules his deformity. “Was it your hand they hacked off
or your manhood?” she asks (ASOS,
1004). The comment is a death blow to their intimacy.
This chapter ends with Jaime
amending his life story in the White Book, a history of the
sworn-to-celibacy Kingsguard. "Defeated in the Whispering Wood by the
Young Wolf Robb Stark during the War of the Five Kings," he writes. He
holds the quill in his faltering left hand, sitting alone at a table
while shadows creep across the room.
Ilan Mochari's fiction has been published in Keyhole and honored by Glimmer Train.
In 2009, he received a Literature Artist Fellowship grant from the
Somerville Arts Council, a local agency supported by the Massachusetts
Cultural Council. He is a former staff writer for Inc, and he has also
written for Fortune Small Business and CFO. He has a B.A. in English from Yale University.