Last night, as I was driving back from Phoenix, a BBC News report came on National Public Radio. At that time, I looked up at the Moon, and saw the crater shadow that looks like a giant in full stride. The account on BBC was of the life of Neil Armstrong- how apropos! I can remember, when we were in the midst of Basic Training, a drill instructor brought us all up into a room which had a TV. The instructor told us that today was a moment that would live in the memories of everyone alive at that time. The Apollo 11 Crew had made it to the Moon’s surface. As 45 green soldiers-in-training, and millions of other people, watched, Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of our planet’s natural satellite and uttered his famous words-minimizing his own act and placing emphasis on the collective: It was Mankind that had taken a bounding leap into the greater universe.
Neil Armstrong was too self-effacing a man to ever insert himself into continuous national prominence, afterward. In spite of that, or maybe BECAUSE of it, he will live for all posterity as one of the greatest American heroes- a fact acknowledged by President Obama, by his colleague Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and more privately by thousands of us around the globe. It was his wish to see us move on towards further lunar exploration and towards the exploration of Mars. Let’s do that, as a human race, and do so responsibly, as good stewards and as good neighbours in the Universe.
Long ago, a builder decided to erect a structure that he intended to last for several centuries. He planned it to house those of his family who had nowhere else to go. He drew long plans for the house, then set to work. Shortly afterward, there were twelve men and a woman who came to help. The builder looked around his neighbourhood, and saw that several of the older structures which had been originally built simply and well, had fallen into disrepair, and were overcrowded with objects. The people who lived in those buildings valued the objects more than the houses, or even their own lives. Animals, large and small, were allowed to live in the houses as well, and there were several competing landlords, even within one house.
The builder told his helpers: “If anything should happen to me, before the house is finished, Mr. Rock will lead the crew. Make sure that only one of you is the landlord.” The helpers were a bit puzzled by that comment, but kept on with their work, day by day- with the woman often encouraging the men. One day, the builder was set upon by some competing contractors, who had been cued in, as to his plans, by one of the crew members, who was not satisfied with his wage. The builder died of his injuries, three days later. Mr. Rock tried to carry on, after the builder was laid to rest, but several of the crew left to build houses of their own, saying they could do better than Mr. Rock.
Mr. Rock managed to finish his great house, but over time, his successors added rooms and overstocked the house with furniture and glittering objects. The poor were cast out, and found their way to several other houses, which various former crew members had built. The original house still stood, over several centuries, somewhat strong and sturdy, but a shadow of its former self.
In time, another builder, in a nearby neighbourhood, noticed the various homes that had been built centuries earlier. He determined to build a grand house, similar to the originals of the others. This would house the good-hearted of his family, and would be a place where learning and science were valued. He also gathered several helpers, all men. The builder had two crew leaders- one to help with the building itself and the other to organize the men. He said that, if anything happened to him, before the house was completed, that the crew leader responsible for the building itself would take his place. This did not set well with the supervisor of the men, who thought that he, alone, would build a house grand enough to dominate the whole city. He would do this by being hard and tough, and punishing those who disagreed with him.
As it happened, as the house was nearing completion, the builder took ill with a fever. As he was languishing in bed, his building supervisor came to him and asked, “Master, what would you have me do?” The builder responded, in a weak voice, “Carry on, as I have asked.” Just then, the supervisor of the men entered the room. “The master is weak and confused. He knows not what he is saying. I shall take charge now!” The men listened and by, force of numbers, banished the building supervisor and his small group of helpers to an outlying area of the city. No sooner had the builder died of his fever, than the two supervisors began to build houses of their own. The supervisor of the crew finished the original house, and grand it was! The original building supervisor built his own house, several blocks away, but encouraged his tenants to visit the original great house and always look to it as a model. As time went on, others built similar houses of their own, separately from the two former crew mates.
Many, many years thereafter, two builders appeared on the scene. The first builder constructed a small, but elegant cottage- which was finished at considerable peril to himself and many of his helpers. The residents of the last great house’s building supervisor’s domicile made many attempts to stop the completion of the little cottage. They even killed the new builder and many of his crew.
The second of the two new builders, however, was the one with a greater set of plans. The old home’s residents prevailed on the building inspector to chase this new architect from one neighbourhood to another. After several years, he and his crew landed in an old and decaying city, far from the place where he had grown and had worked with his colleague. His idea, however, was to build a great palace, where there was room for all who wished to live there. So, he set to work ,beginning the great palace- surviving attacks from several followers of the earlier builders, from his own former chief lieutenant and from the various building inspectors.
All this exhausted the Master Builder, and he left completion of the Palace to his eldest son and further descendants. He left a message, before leaving this world, that those who wished, should live there in peace and harmony, for at least a 1,000 years. Those who wished to leave the Palace could do so, but they would be on their own. The building of the Great Palace goes on, to this day, and will continue for some time to come. Occasionally, some crew members go off, to build their own “palaces”, but with no plans, is it any surprise that these turn out to be hovels? For without attention to the plans that work, how can a home be made to last?
If Tyrion Lannister were a time traveler, I can envision him on stage with Peggy Lee, doing a duet of “Is That All There Is?”.
I have just finished reading the five completed volumes of “A Song of Ice and Fire”. This is arguably the most complex and riveting series since Tolkien’s Ring Trilogy- yes, a cut above Harry Potter. Maybe it’s the unabridged realism of how the human animals treat one another, and the “no promises” twists and turns of George R.R. Martin’s imagined blend of pre-history, ancient Rome and China, medieval Europe and 20th Century American snarkiness that kept me going- and leave me waiting, eagerly, but patiently, for Volume 6.
There are characters I have come to love, and love to hate.
The aforementioned Tyrion swings like a pendulum between the former group and the latter- his finest moment, thus far, is his sensitivity in the wedding bedroom with the hapless Sansa Stark. His basest, the slaughter of his father, is balanced by the fact that Lord Tywin is such a hideous man of his times.
The girls, Daenerys Targaryen, Sansa (aka Alayne Stone), her sister, Arya (aka “Cat of the Canals”), Ygritte, Margaery, the two Jeynes and Myrcella are stunningly sympathetic beings- though never saccharine and always complete personalities, they are always supremely lovable. I found myself infuriated at the harshness that continually comes their way in the course of the story, but always cheering for their successes and ingenuity, while knowing that they will need to suffer the same ignominies as everyone else.
Besides Tyrion, the tale abounds with great characters: the insipid, but dangerous, Vargo Hoat; the ever-present shadow, Lord Varys; the good-hearted brute, Strong Belwas and the kindly giant, Wun Wun. I would have liked to have seen Ned Stark and his bastard son, Jon Snow, escape their cruel fates, at least for a time, but the story would have probably suffered.
The great villains, Tywin, his daughter Cersei, Roose Bolton, his bastard son Ramsay and the psychotic Walder Frey bring a near-blinding blackness to their corners of Martin’s undulating Eurasian prototype.
The great adventurers- Robb Stark, Drogo, Jaime Lannister, Stannis Baratheon, Jorah Mormont, Victarion Greyjoy, Jon Connington- and Tyrion, in his own way, show the destiny that so often awaits those who ride larger than life- and end up getting snagged by a combination of their own folly and the treachery of their petulant enemies.
The promise, and the threat, will continue for at least two more volumes, as Daenerys and her young nephew Aegon follow their destinies. My hope is that the vagaries of modern American television don’t thwart George R.R. Martin in HIS imaginative quest. Let’s wait for “The Winds of Winter”, “A Dream of Spring” and whatever else the denizens of Westeros and the eastern cities may care to bring us.