Note: The following contains “spoilers” for the novel A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Some of these spoilers are based on details that did not make it into the HBO television show (possible not yet, possibly not ever). However, there are no spoilers for Martin’s subsequent novels in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. There is also a lot of information about The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway, but that book came out a long time ago.
If you are not familiar with The Sun Also Rises, the narrator is Jake Barnes, an impotent American expatriate living in Paris in the 1920s. Jake Barnes is, for our purposes, both the Ned Stark and Jon Snow of his story. Like Ned Stark, he holds unfortunate secrets, and like Jon Snow, he is held back by forces beyond his power.
What Hemingway does in TSAR is something that Martin does in A Game of Thrones: he gives us unclear inner monologues, in which a truth is hinted but not revealed. In TSAR, we get it was a rotten way to be wounded and a flashback scene in which a commanding officer assures Jake that he gave more than his life, but without ever specifying what exactly it was that he gave. As the novel goes on, and if you read the Wikipedia page or discuss it in class (or, sometimes, if you just read the back cover), you realize that Jake suffered a wound that resulted in impotence. The details are unclear. Is he a eunuch? Is he simply impotent? What exactly happened? This stuff is never explained, but there is one thing everyone can agree on: there is no other explanation for the novel, and a bunch of those scenes, other than Jake not being at 100% as far as his genitalia is concerned. But that Hemingway decided to just allude to this as heavily as possible without every actually saying it.
In AGOT, we watch Ned fever-dream about his sister dying in “a bed of blood and roses” while not explaining how she died, why, or, really, anything, other than that she repeatedly said promise me, Ned, on her way out. I will not exhaustively explain the R+L=J theory, aka that Ned Stark’s supposed bastard son is actually his nephew, born of a love affair (and likely secret polygamous marriage) between Rhaegar Targaryen (the son of the Mad King, killed by Robert during Robert’s Rebellion) and Lyanna Stark, the sister of Ned. If you need more explanations of R+L=J, some good ones can be found here and here and here.
The evidence is not only abundant, but there is no other explanation. Sure, there are other explanations for Jon Snow’s mother, based on what we saw in the television series, and based on a very simplistic reading of A Game of Thrones. But read Ned’s chapters in AGOT: there is no other explanation for his confusing inner monologues, including why there were three King’s Guards at the Tower of Joy, what his sister died of, etc. And he has a promise me, Ned moment in every chapter, up until that part where he gets decapitated.
What did he promise? What could he have promised? The only answer is that he said yes, I promise, I will protect your infant son. I will raise him as my own.
Of course, nothing I had said so far is new. It’s been rehashed and repeated across the internet for nearly two decades.
What this comes down to is a question. The question is not who is the mother of Jon Snow but rather should we consider A Song of Ice and Fire to be literature? If the answer is yes, it is literature, then Martin should never “reveal” the true identity of Jon Snow’s mother. Why? Because he already has. He has to give his readers enough credit to read between the lines, to discuss his work, and to settle on the only possible (and obvious) explanation to Ned’s inner monologues, Jon’s lineage, and what was promised to Lyanna.
If the answer is no, it is not literature, then get ready for the crazy twist when all is revealed at the end of the sixth book. If Martin decides to go the route of The Chapter Where Exposition Finally Explains What the Deal is With Jon’s Mom, he is relegating his novels to the same territory as Dan Brown and The Sixth Sense.
Yes, R+L=J is a theory. That’s exactly what it is. A theory, in the same realm as the theories of gravity and evolution. It is a theory, but it is also canon. For it to be revealed within the text, (or without, as your current blogging author also believe strongly in Death of the Author), is to weaken every other aspect of Martin’s epic series.
If he chooses to take the high road, the road of Hemingway and Jake Barnes, then it is on him to never reveal Jon Snow’s parentage. Why? Because he already has, just as Hemingway revealed Jake Barnes’s impotency. Jon Snow’s parentage should as be like his name and his wolf: white, like a hill that looks like an elephant.
EDIT: One question that was asked by a friend (and fellow ASOIAF fan) was “what is your definition of literature”? In this case, the easiest way to explain it is that Literature: Books:: Film: Movies. If Martin decides to take path described above, the one he should not travel, he is taking a hacky, cheap, unfortunate route.
Final Note: This may become very relevant, as the news has it that season five will contain flashbacks. Let’s hope they keep the flashbacks tasteful and don’t go revealing any twists.
Interested in more thoughts on this? Try The Snow Also Rises 2: Jon Snows of Kilimanjaro