Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When Women Play the Game: The She-Bears

Dacey Mormont by Elia Fernández
While women in A Song of Ice and Fire often tend to be defined by motherhood, widowhood, grief, masculinity, vengeance, or power hunger, the Mormont women combine elements of all the women, save for the vindictive sides.  They tend to be elegant, powerful, smart, cunning, martial, bold, and resourceful.  Commander Mormont tells Jon that Maege “is a hoary old snark, stubborn, short-tempered, and willful” ("Jon", A Game of Thrones, Chapter 70).  As likely the only (at least noble) women in Robb’s company, Maege and Dacey understood and probably even sympathized with Catelyn’s plight in releasing Jaime in returning her daughters.  They were women after all, and they seemed to show self-worth but also exude worth to others.  


Lady Maege tells Catelyn on a ride, “We are stronger than we seem, my lady.” Catelyn notes, “The daughter was tall and lean, the mother short and stout, but they dressed alike in mail and leather, with the black bear of House Mormont on shield and surcoat. By Catelyn’s lights, that was queer garb for a lady, yet Dacey and Lady Maege seemed more comfortable, both as warriors and as women, than ever the girl from Tarth had been” ("Catelyn," A Storm of Swords, Chapter 45).  Not only in appearance did Dacey seem comfortable in both mail and dress, but at Edmure’s wedding, Dacey seems as excited to be dancing with single men (and Robb) as she was to be talking about fighting to Catelyn.  She didn’t have to turn herself off.  She is herself at all times, and both warrior and woman are part of her.  Dacey had, after all, “been given a morningstar at an age when most girls were given dolls ("Catelyn," A Game of Thrones, Chapter 71).

Maege Mormont by Emile Denis
Catelyn points out the evil rain that pours from the sky upon them, filling the army’s head with dread and danger, creating a sullen and broken lot.  She wants to be the Jeanne Forquet of Robb’s army, but her actions have led her to be a pariah and untrustworthy.  It would also have been highly uncharacteristic of Catelyn to be inciting war.  Dacey looks up and responds to Catelyn, “I would sooner have water raining down on me than arrows.”  If only she knew what that rain symbolized and how she had foreshadowed her own demise.  But Maggie the Frog or Lady of the Leaves she is not. 

Catelyn asks if all Bear Island women are as brave as they are.

“She-bears, aye,” said Lady Maege. “We have needed to be. In olden days the ironmen would come raiding in their longboats, or wildlings from the Frozen Shore. The men would be off fishing, like as not. The wives they left behind had to defend themselves and their children, or else be carried off.”

“There’s a carving on our gate,” said Dacey. “A woman in a bearskin, with a child in one arm suckling at her breast. In the other hand she holds a battleaxe. She’s no proper lady, that one, but I always loved her.”

“My nephew Jorah brought home a proper lady once,” said Lady Maege. “He won her in a tourney. How she hated that carving.”

“Aye, and all the rest,” said Dacey. “She had hair like spun gold, that Lynesse. Skin like cream. But her soft hands were never made for axes.”

("Catelyn," A Storm of Swords, Chapter 45.)

Dacey Mormont by Christine Griffin
Much like the Scots and Irish had to be when invaded by Scandinavians (AKA “ironmen” and “wildlings from the Frozen Shore” and “krakens rising from the sea”), the Mormonts, both men and women, had to be brave and battle-ready, while carrying on like normal.  When Jorah Mormont brought Lynesse Hightower home as a trophy wife, she would not fit in, not because she was a Hightower, but because she was a trophy wife and a soft-handed classy lady.  No woman on Bear Island is a man’s trophy.  Catelyn thought to herself of relating to Lynesse when she first arrived in Winterfell; but she relates more to the She-Bears more than she remembered being like Lynesse in Riverrun.  However, she sees herself otherwise, thinking, “Had there been too much of Lynesse Hightower in her after all, and too little of the Starks? Would that I had known how to wield an axe, perhaps I might have been able to protect [her family] better” ("Catelyn," A Storm of Swords, Chapter 45).

The Bears, as well as the Dornish, and the Wildlings have much in common; the women are fierce warriors with an abundant sex drive and femininity.  They own their womanhood, but they are not seen as masculine, like Brienne.  Just like the Picts, Scots, and Irish, the Bears received attacks from the Vikings.  But they had more in common than they thought.  The only problem is lack of understanding.  “However, the Scots seemed to have something in common with the Viking and after a while intermarriages, both common and noble, with established clans took place in north Scotland (Caithness and Sutherland) and extensively throughout the Western Isles of Scotland, called the Inner and Outer Hebrides” (Gunn).  The women of the Ancient Celtic societies were most definitely warriors, or at least trained in martial arts.  Female leaders led armies into battle, as evidenced by Greeks and Romans.  Even through Medieval Europe, women were left to defend castles with ragtag groups of villagers and servants, often successfully.

Mormont banner with Celtic knots by Karlo K
With Maege, lady of House Mormont, on her quest to the Wall to deliver to Jon that he is the succession to be King after Robb and her heir Dacey slain, Alysane is now first heir to House Mormont.  No men are immediate heirs, as all of Maege’s children are women.  It seems, though, that all the Mormont girls are sharing leadership, as ten-year-old Lyanna (named after Ned Stark’s sister) responds to Stannis’ demand for fealty: “Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is STARK. A girl often, you say, and she presumes to scold her lawful king.”  Stannis fears what this bold ten-year-old could do to him when he tells Jon Snow: “See that you keep these tidings to yourself, Lord Snow. Karhold is with me, that is all the men need know. I will not have your brothers trading tales of how this child spat on me” ("Jon," A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 3). 

However, after Stannis takes nearby Deepwood Motte with the help of Alysane Mormont, the Mormonts swear fealty to Stannis Baratheon, partly in order to take back Winterfell in their name and kill Theon Greyjoy for the turn cloak he is.  Alysane, as Asha’s guard, seems to take a liking to Asha, despite their being mortal enemies as kraken and bear.  Alysane, like the other Mormont women, does not want to kill or love bloodshed.  She cannot see Stannis’ sacrifice to R’hllor and leaves Asha unattended, but Asha does not run, partly because she would not get far and partly because of her trust in the She-Bear and the comfort of Aly’s presence (Aly…she even calls her Aly, not Alysane or She-Bear).  Alysane goes as far as to prevent Asha from being sacrificed…or at least attempt to do so.  They’ve gained a trust, further enhancing the relationship between the two (Scandinavians and Picts/Scots/Irish). 

Commander Jeor, Lady Maege, Ser Jorah, Dacey, Alysane, Lyanna by unknown
Whatever happens with the Mormonts, they are by far the best representations of free, independent women.  Like the Martells, they are sexually free and present themselves in various body shapes.  Alysane tells Asha Mormont women are skinchangers, turn into bears, and find a mate in the woods, bearing their children by actual bears.  Aly also holds no steady man with her children born out of wedlock.  They are not solely masculine; they are not solely feminine; they are not sexualized.  They go beyond gender role and were forced to do so.  It’s clear the women on Bear Island are in charge and cannot tolerate fools who betray them nor fit in with their lifestyle, which is likely why Aly and Asha take to each other so well and Lynesse did not.  Like Martha Glar and her family, both females and males from her at age sixty-four, her two daughters, and her three grand-daughters (the youngest being ten), the headstrong Mormonts, too, would fall on the battlefield fighting for their freedom.  Here’s to the joining of House Martell and House Mormont for a beautiful joint reign on the Iron Throne!

Martin, George R.R. “Jon.” A Game of Thrones, Chapters 70 and 71.

Martin, George R.R. “Catelyn.” A Storm of Swords, Chapters 45 and 51.

Martin, George R.R. “Jon.” A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 3.

Gunn, Robert M, Ed. “Scottish William Wallace: ChapterThree - The Viking invasions, and Scotland's Nationality.” Scotweb’s ScottishHistory Magazine. 

Salmonson, Jessica, Amanda. "Glar, Martha."  The Encyclopedia of Amazons, Doubleday, Anchor Books 1992 edition, pg 102.

Previous entries in When Women Play the Game:
Sansa Stark
Brienne Tarth
Daenerys Targaryen
Catelyn Tully Stark
Arya Stark
Lady Olenna Redwyne Tyrell and Margaery Tyrell

No comments:

Post a Comment