The Snow Also Rises: Thoughts Regarding Ned Stark, Jon Snow, and Jake Barnes

 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.

One of many cover's for this important novel.
One of many covers for this important novel.

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.

Jon's biological father (right) vs. Jon's king (left).   Artwork by Michael Kormack.
Jon’s biological father (right) vs. Jon’s king (left). Artwork by Michael Kormack.

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.

The Tower of Joy: An Adaptation, by Jeff McComsey.  Very relevant to this theory, and something that has not made it into the show... yet.
The Tower of Joy: An Adaptation, by Jeff McComsey. Very relevant to this theory, and something that has not made it into the show… yet.

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

Enjoy this?  Check out Hemingway Against the Oxford Comma or Why Bale Should Be in the Fast Five Sequel

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  1. I enjoyed your article, but I’m not sure if I agree that A Song of Ice and Fire is either as good as Hemingway or as bad as Dan Brown, based on the truth of Jon’s parentage.

    I do agree that it would be interesting if the matter was never resolved, and it ends up being something hanging around in the background. Especially if Westeros ends up with another less than stellar ruler on the Throne.

    Buf if Jon’s parentage is revealed, and it certainly should be if Martin’s resolution of the story depends on someone’s claim to rule being examined, there are still mysteries and possibilities that could go unresolved to fuel debate and term papers, like all good literature.

  2. Thanks Patrick! I certainly am exaggerating a little bit by saying that this alone determines whether or not ASOIAF is literature, but it is something that I would never like to see resolved, and something that I hope Martin decides to not include in the story. That said, I think the chances he will keep it to himself are low, and I would still like to consider this books series to be literature, considering how much I like it.

  3. The only problem with this argument is that it assumes that Jon Snow’s parentage is irrelevant to the plot. And in a world where dragons are a thing, and Targaryen blood relevant to dealing with dragons, that’s a hard claim to make.

    I fully expect Jon Snow’s parentage to be revealed. The stataus of ASOIAF as “literature” remains for later generations to decide.

  4. I found a fantastic article about the definition of literature vs. commercial fiction per se. Literary fiction has the plot unfolding beneath the surface as opposed to being blatant and bold. The argument could be made that any good debator could claim then that anything is literature, but like any claim, it wpuld obviously have to be supported and defended. I think it’s safe to state that ASOIAF is more about the story beneath what were told. It’s here if you’re so interested.

    Martin is a master weaver of words, teasing us with supposed obviousness in his subtlety. If he does decide to directly reveal Jon’s parentage, I’ve no doubt it will be performed skillfully.

    1. Nice comment! I’m gonna read through that. I’m planning on doing a third post in this “snow also rises” series about what exactly literature is

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