Arya’s Odyssey and Aragorn’s Actium: Rebirth of the Epic Hero in Modern Fantasy
[This post is shortened from a paper given at the Image of the Hero conference (Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery, Colorado Springs, CO 3/20/14). The paper was well-received and sparked an interesting discussion at the conference, and I hope others will enjoy it as well! – I took the above picture in 2011 in Essaouira, Morocco, the coastal city that served as Astapor in GoT season 3, where Daenerys acquired her Unsullied army.]
For a study on the representations of heroism in literature, one the most interesting genres is the epic. The words ‘epic’ and ‘hero’ have been found together since Renaissance Italians began studying the ‘heroic age’ in literature and dubbed its protagonists ‘heroes.’ Since then, one cannot conceptualize an epic without a hero. The word ‘hero’ has a wide range of connotations, as the very nature of this conference indicates, but in the context of the epic, its meaning falls within a specific set of parameters. In this paper, we will first define the epic hero as he is understood during the ages of epic, specifically the western classical world and the European Middle Ages. During the death throes of epic poetry during the Renaissance, the novel began to offer a different conception of narrative form, and both the epic and its hero disappeared. I argue that the fantasy genre has allowed the rebirth of the epic hero in ways not possible in other genres. We will focus specifically on two heroes from the major fantasy sagas of the century, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. The choice of Aragorn and Arya Stark allows me to address two distinct forms of epic poetry, the teleological epic of collectivity, and the wandering romance of individuality. By applying the work of epic theorists to these fantasy sagas, I present Aragorn as a new Aeneas, whose destined kingship will mark the beginning of a new age, and Arya as a gender-swapped Odysseus, a guileful hero motivated by revenge and the desire to return home.
What is epic? What is its hero?
To describe the epic hero, we must first define epic. The term is especially problematic due to its overuse in describing everything from ski passes to concerts to ‘fails’. Its ubiquitous contemporary usage as a synonym for ‘big’ or ‘impressive’ is logically derived from the word for the long narrative poem. Aristotle’s Poetics uses epikos a word already common in his day to distinguish the long narrative poem from other forms of writing. Later authors of the Renaissance called the style the ‘heroic poem’ or ‘heroic work’ or simply a ‘long poem’. The understanding was a versified narrative of heroic action in the style of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey or Virgil’s Aeneid. English began to use the word ‘epic’ to describe such works in the 16th century. The epic must treat themes of war, and its hero must be an exceptional figure generally of noble birth. As the epic is designed to represent a cultural collectivity, the hero must serve as an example to his people, both within the narrative and outside of it. He is the embodiment of the group’s cultural exceptionality. The epic hero is generally known for a particular quality that sets him above other men: cunning Odysseus, swift-footed Achilles, pious Aeneas, or Father Aeneas. These qualities are so essential to the character that these descriptions become an epithet in the poetry.
In the Middle Ages, where epic takes on a different form, the exceptionality of the hero is often expressed in Christian terms. As such, the hero’s status as hero is not called into question: there is no more ambiguity around the status of King Arthur than there is around Aeneas. As Roland famously cries at the battle of Roncesvalles, “Pagans are wrong and Christians are right!” This binary conceptualization of good and bad began to lose relevance in the Renaissance, especially in light of the Reformation, and genre theorist György Lukács cites this major change in world-view as a reason for the death of the epic and the birth of the novel, a form better-suited to expressing the complexity of the time. Even now such a lack of ambiguity in contemporary characters strikes us as odd, except in fantasy. In Tolkien, the heroes are easily distinguishable from the villains as world fights a supernatural tyrant, but Martin’s civil war narrated from multiple points of view breaks the tradition of moral clarity and gives us surprising and engaging fantasy. Let us now look more closely at our modern epic heroes, Aragorn and Arya.
For a discussion of the hero in a mythological context, it is impossible to ignore Joseph Campbell’s hugely influential 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces. His thesis of one essential monomyth is clearly applicable to this paper, but I demonstrate similarities beyond the archetypal stages of the hero’s journey. Arya is introduced in her ordinary world of family life at Winterfell, and Frodo meets Aragorn in his own world of travel as a ranger, though the hobbit is first to receive his own call to adventure. It is interesting to note that Arya is immediately presented as a failed Penelope, the longsuffering wife of Odysseus who holds her suitors at bay through the womanly art of weaving. The opening line of Arya’s first point-of-view chapter stands alone as a paragraph and states “Arya’s stitches were crooked again.” Martin immediately establishes that Arya will not play the role of the patient Penelope; despite her inability to refuse her call to adventure (her father’s execution) and being launched into events beyond her control, much of her quest consists of the development of her agency as a character.
In order to achieve the ultimate boon and complete the return stage, the hero must transform through the abyss, often involving a descent to the underworld. Aragorn fulfills this stage as he travels the Paths of the Dead to summon the Dead Men of Dunharrow in a moment essential to Aragorn’s identity as epic hero and founder of an empire. His journey to the underworld is much like that of Aeneas in book 6 of the Aeneid; this moment marks the acceptance of a destiny as king, a role both heroes are reluctant to play. Aeneas leaves the underworld ready to found a new Troy in Italy, and Aragorn claims his heritage for the first time, assuring the Men of Dunharrow, “I will hold the oath fulfilled, and ye shall have peace and depart forever. For I am Elessar, Isildur’s heir of Gondor.” The underworld journey forces him to assume his destined name and title just as Aeneas’ forces him to accept his role as founder of Rome.
Arya’s relationship with death is one of her most interesting features as this communion enables her progression towards agency. While Aeneas and Aragorn both travel physically through a world populated by the dead, Arya, like Odysseus, brings death to her. Odysseus’ journey to the underworld provided a model for Virgil, but it is important to note that the Greek never crosses into the other world. Odysseus performs a blood ceremony at the threshold of the underworld, and “the souls / of the perished dead gathered to the place, up out of Erebos.” The dead come at the hero’s call to provide essential information to complete his hero’s mission. Arya’s relationship with death begins with her first kill and later intensifies through her relationship with Jaqen H’ghar as he bestows upon her the power to kill three people in payment to the Red God. This ability to “kill… with a whisper” signals the beginning of Arya’s agency; she proclaims herself to be the ghost in Harrenhal, and for the first time, she becomes an agent of change. Arya’s time in Braavos at the House of Black and White (the sanctuary of Jaqen’s devout assassin order, the Faceless Men) defines her relationship with death; she is not merely a killer, but learns to bestow ‘the gift’ herself. Here, she claims to become “no one” just as Odysseus assumes the identity “nobody” for his interactions with the giant Polyphemus. As the series remains unfinished, we do not yet know the full implications of Arya’s journey to the abyss, but already the girl who left her home in Winterfell has been more transformed by death than anything else.
Larger Epic Contexts
Though Aragorn and Arya fit well into Campbell’s monomyth, this is about more than just the hero’s journey; it is also about the role he plays for his people, both in the context of the story and for the poem’s audience.
As essential as the conflict between hero and king is to the epic, its resolution is what allows the conclusion of the narrative action. In The Hero and the King, Jackson states that epics are born in periods of social unrest in which conflict between the hero and the king challenges old ideals; without this conflict, the epic cannot exist. Fantasy’s world-building allows its authors to create the necessary tension. The Lord of the Rings presents a conflict similar to Aeneas’ upon his arrival in Italy; Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, must be removed before Aragorn can assume his rightful throne. Denethor insists, “I will not step down to be the dotard chamberlain of an upstart… I will not bow to such a one, last of a ragged house long bereft of lordship and dignity.” Turnus similarly refuses to accept the foreigner who arrives to supplant him, and both representatives of the established dynasty die for this refusal. Aragorn himself is aware of the potential of a power struggle and he has “no mind for strife except with our Enemy.” Though he unfurls the banner of the kings during the battle of the Pelennor Fields, he remains outside the city until the war is won and the new Steward Faramir invites him in as king. King Latinus also recognizes the mutual benefit of union and marries his daughter to the Trojan.
Two major theorists on the socio-political circumstances required for epic will help us understand why fantasy is better suited than other contemporary genres to fulfill the terms of epic. In Epic and Empire, Quint distinguishes between epic and romance, describing the former as the teleological genre of the winners and the latter as the wandering journey of the losers. The Aeneid is an interesting example of both and is thus essential to both Quint’s study and ours; the first half narrates the romance wanderings of Aeneas after his loss at Troy, but the underworld journey transforms the work into a teleological epic of conquest. To understand the end-driven narrative, Quint highlights Aeneas’ prophetic shield that depicts the culmination of Roman as the battle of Actium, from which the Roman Empire is born. Thus the winner’s epic presents a vision of the world, told from the winner’s perspective, in which action is divinely-driven and their victory is immutable. This builds upon Lukács’ earlier description of the epic as a totalizing genre. In The Theory of the Novel, Lukács proffers the idea that the novel is born at the beginning of the 17th century because developments in the understanding of the world lead to a situation that can no longer support epic as the prevailing view of the world shifted from a base in totality to contingency. Lukács insists that the totalizing nature of epic is no longer suited to a more developed society, so the genre ceded its place to the novel.
If we look closely at modern fantasy, we can see that the creation of myth in a world built by the author once again allows a teleological narrative and a totalizing worldview. In a 1956 letter, Tolkien described his writing intent as “being precisely to restore to the English as epic tradition and present them with a mythology of their own.” His depiction of the time between the Elder Days and the Dominion of Men means the defeat of Sauron and subsequent founding of the Age of Man takes precedence over Frodo’s individual quest. Prophesy plays a large role in the founding of a New Age, as it does for Aeneas and his descendant Augustus; the famous prophesy about Aragorn ends with the line “The crownless again shall be king.” Aragorn himself acknowledges the teleological nature of his quest on the Paths of the Dead saying “I go on a path appointed.” Such teleology cannot function in a real world setting where outcomes are ruled by contingency. It is only through the creation of mythology in the realm of fantasy that Tolkien is able to restore the teleological aspect of ancient epic.
The loser’s romance, by contrast, does not see action as end-driven, but rather as a product of circumstance. Martin’s fantasy would does not offer a totalizing worldview; his narrative is based on contingency and thus more closely resembles Quint’s description of romance, whose characters are prone to fortune rather than fate. This is true of Arya as her journey mimics that of Odysseus, though both ‘romance heroes’ appear destined to return home (especially if we consider Arya’s direwolf, Nymeria). Eddard’s execution and Arya’s escape from Kings Landing align her with the losing side of conflict. Like Odysseus, her principal desire is to return home, but she is swept away by circumstance and repeatedly kept from her goal. Like Odysseus, she must continually adopt new identities in order to move forward and assume agency as a character. While Odysseus’ need for revenge begins later in his journey when he learns of Penelope’s suitors, Arya’s revenge-driven quest begins with her call to adventure. At this time, we cannot know if Arya will indeed return home as Odysseus does and likewise slaughter those responsible for her family’s strife.
Despite these ties to Odysseus, Arya breaks from tradition, notably through her gender and her age. Throughout this paper, I have referred to the epic hero with masculine pronouns because the epic hero is fundamentally male. Women play important roles in epic, as goddesses, wives, mothers, and witches, but whatever their importance, they are primarily defined by their relation to male characters. The female warrior is a common component of epic, and while these women may be very skilled in battle, they are usually defeated by a male warrior before being either married or killed. Even Tolkien’s Éowyn is married off after defeating the Witch-king of Angmar. Arya, however, breaks the mould; she is an epic hero in her own right, and it would be surprising to find her married before the end of the series. While Arya detests sewing and would rather be a knight than a lady, it is clear that she does not wish to be male. Her repeated insistence of “I’m not a boy” and “I’m a girl” show that she has no desire to pass for male. Her role may be that of a traditional male hero, but this frequent reminder of her femaleness has a profound implication for a gendered conception of the epic hero. Her role as hero is not because she is ‘acting like a man,’ but she is a hero in her own right by making her own choices. Similarly, her extreme youth is highly unusual for an epic hero (indeed, she is only 9 when the story begins). Her training with the Faceless Men sets her apart as the order rarely includes children. Throughout, neither her age nor her gender calls into question her status as hero; rather, these differences only add to her exceptionality.
To conclude, we can see that similarities exist between the epic hero of old and the hero of modern fantasy that go beyond surface-level plot comparisons of the monomyth. Arya’s status as wandering hero on the losing side of conflict fits into Quint’s analysis of the loser’s romance as a celebration of individualism; like the romance hero, her story is driven only by personal motive. Tolkien’s interest in creating a new epic for England culminating in the founding of the Age of Man allows a return to the teleological narrative of epic that was not possible in earlier forms of novel. Aragorn represents the collectivity described by Quint in the winner’s epic both within the story and without. Like Aeneas to the exiled Trojans, Aragorn founds a new empire for his people in uniting Gondor and Arnor. Since Aragorn belongs to the human race rather than another, the reader can relate to his bringing the race of men to the forefront of “history” just as Roman readers of the Aeneid shared the collective experience of their common ancestor. While genres have clearly evolved over the centuries, it is interesting to find new potential for reviving ancient literary forms like the epic hero.
 Song of Roland, trans. Glyn S. Burgess (New York: Penguin Classics, 1990), l.1015.
 The super quick version: ordinary world, call to adventure, departure, threshold guardians, helpers, abyss (death and rebirth), ultimate boon, transformation, return.
 George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones (New York: Bantam, 1996), 68.
 J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1994), 772.
 Homer, Odyssey, trans. Richmond Lattimore, (New York, Harper Perennial, 1965), 11.35-36.
 George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings (New York: Bantam, 1999), 469.
 Update 9/30/16: This paper was given after only three seasons of the show and five books had been released. The show has since moved on, confirming in episode 6.10 my belief in an Odysseus-like Arya who returns home to Westeros in disguise to begin fulfilling her quest for vengeance against those who wronged her family.
 W.T.H. Jackson, The Hero and the King: An Epic Theme (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 2.
 Tolkien, 835-836.
 Tolkien, 843.
 Tolkien, The Monsters and the Critics (and Other Essays), 180.
 Tolkien, 176.
 Tolkien, 766.
 Edit 9/30/16 – Since this paper, HBO’s Arya has now begun this quest for vengeance.
14 thoughts on “Arya’s Odyssey and Aragorn’s Actium”
I think it’s very interesting that Game of Thrones is a vast world in which there is more than enough room for many heroes. This is more realistic, as no one hero is the only hero who embodies every quality or aspect that people admire.
It’s quite astounding how well George RR Martin knows Medieval literature as well as classical era literature. It seems to me as if he channeled many of these stories with slight variations and much more depth and complexity as the originals. In that way, I believe he fundamental improved the expectations we as readers/critics should have for heroes and it humanizes them.
I see this clearly in newer movies for example: Lone Survivor or 13 Hours actually humanizes the heroes and let’s the viewer understand their mind-set, fears, pains and their vulnerabilities, as opposed to having one mighty ultimate hero who can do everything on his own as Rambo is depicted.
In the end I think grounding heroes in realism is very important, because it educates the viewer and just acknowledging that is a great way to expand your horizons of understanding. It is a disservice to heroes to be depicted in a light that is not only realistic, but not human as well. Turning them into “Gods” or people with such unrealistic power actually has an effect on how people view these heroes in reality, and quite frankly I can’t stand a lot of the crap Hollywood movies where one guy can do impossible feats while “maintaining” a very misleading representation of reality.
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I find Aragorn and Arya to be interesting character choices when comparing the epic hero of old and the hero of modern fantasy; because, as Diego mentions above, Game of Thrones and The Lord of the Rings have many heroes. The hero journey of the Odysseus is easier to follow than that of Arya because the Odyssey does not have the same character intricacies/stories as Game of Thrones does. The same can be said for Aeneas and Aragorn.
I enjoyed reading this analysis because as I mentioned, Arya and Aragorn are not the lead characters of their respective books. Your analysis shines a light on both of these characters, and encourages me to compare past and present epic stories.
Thank you for the insightful read!
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I really enjoyed reading this because it has made me realize how there are some authors out there who are trying to bring life back to Medieval Literature and the storytelling that epics (like the Odyssey, Aeneid, and Iliad) contain. Present-day authors may not write their stories in long ‘epic’ poems or poems in general, but as you have shown in this excerpt from your paper, present-day authors do include lessons people learned in the past and should learn now also. They may present it in different formats and in modernized ways, but they still teach similar lessons people have learned in the past.
I haven’t read the Lord of the Rings series or read the books for GoT, but I do watch GoT. I love the idea you have about Martin sort of remixing the monomyth and instead of having a man as the hero—he has a young girl, Arya. She is a proud to be the girl she is and does start to feel a sort of agency when her father is executed. I believe she has multiples abysses including the execution of Eddard (more like call to action), and when she tries to forget her name when she tries to become a part of the Faceless Men. One of her key transformations came from this abyss to because it gave her more of a sense of urgency to return to Winterfell and see her family again. This is why she is one of my favorite characters—she is her own hero and doesn’t really need anyone telling her what to do because she knows she’ll make the right decisions deep down. Arya is also a character that is more realistic, and doesn’t do crazy inhuman things like superheroes depicted in many hit movies.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my superhero movies but watching those kind of give me false hope. They make me want someone who can come save the day when evil monsters or people arise, but obviously that can’t happen because it’s all fiction made for our entertainment. I shouldn’t want to have to look up to these fictional characters as ‘gods.’ Having movies like GoT and such show that people who are in our daily lives or who don’t seem like that big of a deal can be our heroes, and we just can’t see it. Heroes don’t have to be some person with supernatural or out-of-this-world powers—I think heroes are people who have a sense of self, but also of the world and the people around them.
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This reading really made me question what a hero really is, and how they are portrayed in medieval literature as well as society today. I really like how you analyzed how a lot of the time using the words “epic hero” are very common, which takes away from the connotation that medievalist are trying to avoid. It is also really interesting how the term epic takes on a whole new meaning during the Middle Ages because of the Christian society that was so heavily enforced during that time.
The Monomyth also ties in perfectly with what a hero really is. I found it extremely interesting how you compared Arya’s journey from Game of Thrones to the cycle of the Monomyth. If there is only one thing that I’m going to take away from this class (which is not the case at all), but I would remember that all good stories follow the Monomyth cycle.
Overall, I love the idea that a hero goes below the surface level point, and has many other qualities. This is both true in Medieval literature, a well as Game of Thrones. This type of cycle and qualities add audience interest, and with out these qualities heroes would be boring and loose attention.
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The concept that heroes have an in-depth characterization is a very interesting thought. Heroes really wouldn’t be all too great unless their character traits had meaning towards the main ideas of the stories. They’re the good guys who are supposed to epically (interesting what happens with an epic itself, loved that idea Abby discussed) come into the picture and save the town from the monsters or rescue the beautiful princess from the tower. They’re supposed to be special, I’d watch Dodgeball if I wanted to see some Average Joe’s try to do heroic things (top five favorite movie but come on now).
The idea that modern authors and writers use the lessons captured in medieval writing I thought was interesting to see. I am a music geek and love everything about sound, and these modern authors are almost in a sense “remixing” the stories and teaching the lessons in a different format.
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I found this to be a really interesting read, and it made me think more about some of the topics we discussed throughout this past semester. What really intrigued me was the idea that Arya is “a gender swapped” Odysseus. As we discussed in class, it seems as if GRRM did similar things with other characters, in that they are based off of past medieval characters, but with a twist. (Like Cersei + Guinevere) In some cases, such as Arya’s, it’s a rather significant difference. The comparison really clicked for me when you mentioned how she claims to become “no one” similarly to how Odysseus became “nobody.” I haven’t read Homer’s Odyssey for a couple of years, so this bit had completely escaped me, but it makes an incredible amount of sense.
While I haven’t read Tolkien’s books yet, I found the point you made about the difference between Tolkien’s characters and Martin’s to be incredibly accurate. From what I know of the Tolkien stories, I could pick the good and the evil apart just from what I’ve heard from others. On the other hand, even with all my knowledge on GOT, I don’t think I could completely categorize every, single character into good or evil. Far too many of the characters in GOT are ambiguous for numerous reasons, Arya included. The line of good and evil is quite thin, and it’s difficult to deal with in a world full of death and violence, especially one as violent as the one created by Martin. After reading this, it’s abundantly clear how much modern authors draw from past epic heroes and the texts they live within. It allows me to appreciate their work, and past author’s work, even more, especially in cases such as Arya’s, when an author takes the time to put a twist on an ancient concept. Thank you for sharing this piece with us!
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The author’s writing style is very readable and clear. I would develop the ideas about Arya’s communion with death more and support that idea. I would suggest explaining further why the house of black and white can be associated with death, since not everyone might have seen Game of Thrones. Perhaps talking about Arya’s time cleaning dead bodies and learning to be an assassin could make this association clearer. Along those same lines, Nymeria was included briefly. However, it wasn’t clear why Nymeria would indicate that Arya might be destined to make it home.
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I was extremely interested in this article the entire time and made me think of a couple things.
First off I find it extremely interesting how although both Arya and Aragorn are humanized and we see there struggles to reach their respected transformations, I would argue we will see Arya’s completed within her first two chapters of book 6, they both have “supernatural” abilities that set them apart. Arya towards the end of book 5 starts to come into touch and accept the fact that she is a warg, although it is never stated directly, and Aragorn is a dunedain, an ancient race of men with abnormally long live spans. These differences in Aragorn and Arya are small yet set them apart, for Aragorn he has more time to find his path because he has the potential to live for a few hundred years and for Arya she is able to stay in touch with the happenings of Westeros even learning of her mothers death, and possibly knowing of her mothers resurrection.
Another comment I wanted to make was your distinction that the Battle of Good vs. Evil is set in stone in the Lord of the Rings series. I see the struggle of good vs evil a lot more faded as do many characters in the series. Elrond constantly calls the quest for the ring into question due to the temptations of Men. Although he believes Sauron needs to be destroyed he knows that the weakness of me, namely Boromir, can be the destruction of them all. Although Sauron is still the bad guy the fight for good vs evil I would argue isn’t as much men versus orcs or Sauron, but Men vs Men. The hobbits, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippen, all represent the good of men by helping each other or other characters stay on the correct path as they get lead astray by the powers of the ring (their story also continues to the Battle of the Shire which shouldn’t have been left out of the movies. I would have watched a 7 hour movie for that.). Boromir, Faramir and Denethor all represent the weakness of men, too varying degrees, with each of them having a book in which they play that role, Boromir in the fellowship, Faramir in the Two towers, and Denethor in Return of the King. With the exception of Denethor, they were able to redeem themselves, Faramir by sending Frodo on his way before the temptation took over, and Boromir by saving all the Hobbits by fighting off and distracting the Orcs. With this different take on the battle of good vs evil I would say that Aragorn still takes the same heroes journey that you laid forth. However as a character each step in his transformation shows different aspects of the battle of good vs evil within men. His refusal at the beginning to except his own fate outlined the same stubbornness to except change that killed Denethor and almost destroyed the kingdom of Gondor. And his transformation in the underworld was the moment when he showed this is what goodness in men can bring. However the shining point I would argue is the battle of the black gates where the greatly outnumbered men of the west marched on the black gates to distract Sauron. That is the moment where I believe the Battle of Good vs. Evil is won, not because the ring is destroyed, but because the dominion of men lead by Aragorn resists the ring and shows that they can be all good.
Those are my thoughts. Great article great read!
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Following Arya’s monomyth is quite interesting, even though she is not the main character. Her search for identity depicts the real life, I love how Martin is able to make the show/book somehow more realistic to the viewers, which is a hard thing to do especially when it’s about a different era.
The fact that Arya struggles to find herself, rather than finding the answers from her first abyss, this make the character more relatable.
I believe Martin’s depiction of “epicness” is more real and strong, having more than one hero, having a gray area between good and bad, and of course making characters pay for their mistakes (consequences do exist!). These are qualities you don’t find in a lot of literature these days.
In addition, the journey’s hero in GoT is way more complex than other epics, which is more realistic, everybody is going through a journey, whether villains or heroes (life does not revolve around one person/ or only good people).
I really enjoyed reading this paper, it relates to a lot of things that we study in medieval literature, and it sheds light on problems that we see on tv or books today.
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I found Lukacs theory regarding the development of the novel genre rather interesting. As addressed in the reading above Lukacs claims that a more developed society would grow to reject the epic genre and he uses this belief to explain the rise of novel genre, the popularity of which supposedly surpassed that of the epic genre. I disagree with this theory because I feel it is in direct contradiction with what we learned this semester, specifically though reading ‘Dunk n Egg’ and its connection to the monomyth. Examples of the monomyth cycle in hundreds of modern day films proves that even a well developed society like our own can still be entertained repeatedly by slight variations of the same series of events. The stories we covered this semester confirm how prevalent the monomyth cycle is in epic literature as well, the majority of which was written long ago when societies were surely less developed, proving its popularity within its respective audiences (back then and now) and essentially disproving Lukacs claims regarding epic poems being “unsuited” for advanced societies.
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The ever evolving nature of literature that was presented in this paper exemplifies how little we actually actually have changed. Throughout the paper the use of examples, from Tolkien’s universe and George R.R Martin’s universe, show that, despite changing times, the heroic elements presented in these series make it especially easy to see just how similar Arya and Odysseus are through your use of textual evidence. While there is more disagreement over what is an epic is and whether or not we still have epics in modern society, I found that the points presented illustrate how while we may have different standards from a medieval society, our core virtues have been pretty steady throughout the course of human history. Modern society tends to favor heroes that act in a more human manner rather than way that many medieval epics depict heroes similarly to idols. Both heroes, Aragorn and Arya have similar beliefs to what modern society perceives as ideal virtues. Arya in a medieval context (from an epic in the Middle Ages) would be depicted as requiring a man to be satisfied, which shows a difference in realism from George R.R Martin’s books compared to medieval authors. Medieval authors, as well as Tolkien mostly assign gender roles to the various characters, there is almost no main female protagonist that didn’t need a husband in medieval literature, “Song of Fire and Ice” breaks from this tradition while still showing much of the actual nature of medieval life with not so black-and-white characters.
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This was a very interesting read!
At the beginning of the article you discuss how the elimination of the binary opposition as the death of the epic, and a lot of the texts we have read this semester follow that trend of there being an absolute right and wrong, and that opposition declining with The Other. The concept of that being the birth of the novel was new to me, and I really appreciate it. As an avid book reader, I find that some of the most successful novels (in my opinion) start with that initial opposition and end with those lines becoming intertwined and blurred, i.e. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.
On to the main point of the article, I really appreciate the comparisons between Arya/Odysseus and Aragorn/Aeneus. Applying these concepts to such well known characters really brings a greater understanding to it for me as a reader. My favorite aspect that you point out in the article is the importance of the gender reversal in Arya’s character. Specifically when you point out that she repeats, “I’m not a boy,” and insisting that she is in fact a girl. This is important because it could be easy to overlook this, and generalize her character into a subset that rejects her gender as a women entirely. Clearly, as you previously stated, that is untrue, she completely identifies herself as feminine, however rejects the stereotypes of being a woman at the time. Rather than rejecting her femininity, she is redefining it.
I really love the concepts presented here, it gives me a new and interesting lense to see these charactes through.
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Prior to reading this, one thing I understood was that the process of humanizing a character leads to more emotional investment that the reader puts into the character. This is why I have loved George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the reader builds an emtional attachment to the characters very rapidly.
As opposed to epics such as Beowulf, the characters are almost never humanized and instead are intentionally represented as mythical heroes. His fantastical feats, such as swimming for two days straight, dehumanized him but this highlights his supernatural strength. Heres Martin clearly takes from Homer. He based Arya Stark off Odysseus’ character because he sees the redefined the greatness of the ancient character and put it into modern terms. I think our technology laden society will never be able to relate with these original epics, but I do believe we get a nice transition with A Song of Ice and Fire. I have not read or watched Lord of the Rings, so I cannot speak on that.
This was very insightful into the world of mythology, and its relations to A Song of Ice and Fire. Thank you for sharing why the fantasy genre allowed the rebirth of epic heros.
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This was a very interesting point of view!
The comparison between Aragorn and Aeneas as well as Arya and Odysseus is well-founded. Their similar stories are evidence to Tolkien’s goal of recreating the epics of the past. I think it’s interesting that both Tolkien and Martin have created entire worlds with rich histories, much like the epics in the past. The listeners of Homer’s epics can be compared to the readers of Tolkien and Martin’s fantasy stories. Epics of the past had the history and mythology of the Gods and heroes and modern fantasy has the history conjured up in the minds of the authors. I am always a fan of books that have a history prior to the main character’s journey.
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