high-minded drivel

high-minded (adjective) - refined; cultured; particularly civilized. drivel (noun) - senseless talk; nonsense.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reading this post is a sign of true character

Much time of late has been spent engrossed in George R. R. Martin's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire.  As noted in prior posts, I read the series for the first time a few years ago, and upon the release of the newest book in the series, A Dance With Dragons, I decided to re-read all the books before getting to the most recent addition to the saga.  While Martin has been criticized for his snail's pace in releasing the books, much of the reason for fans' impatience is because of Martin's obvious talent in telling the story, which makes readers long for the next chapter in the tale to unfold.  Part of the appeal of Martin's writing in this series is that he combines classic fantasy elements (dragons, magic, knights) with a historically-grounded setting.  He paints a picture of lords and peasants, castles, and warfare that closely resembles the lifestyle in certain parts of the world in human history.

The direwolf, fearsome sigil of House Stark
The series is built around the concept of various "houses," or families, each going back many years and involving histories of both heroic and despised figures.  In keeping with the historical theme, each house has its own sigil, meant to represent the family in some way.  In a number of cases, the family is very mindful of building its identity around the sigil it has chosen.  For example, House Lannister has a lion as its sigil, so the members of the family think of themselves as having lion-like characteristics (ferocity, power, etc) and try to display those characteristics in life.  Lions don't necessarily have anything to do with the family or the area in which they live, but at some point a connection was made between lions and Lannisters, and so the Lannisters purposefully make an effort to enhance that image.

Think of it this way: Professional football teams have a mascot.  Some mascots are connected to the city in which the team plays.  For example, the San Francisco team is the 49ers, in reference to the gold rush that occurred in the area's history.  On the other hand, Chicago's team is the Bears.  The mascot has nothing to do with the city, and is simply chosen because it makes for a fearsome, intimidating image.  But the marketing folks for the Chicago Bears will eagerly try to make the players fearsome like bears and project the characteristics of bears onto the team.

My uncle once said that professional football is just modern-day tribal warfare, and I've oft thought that truer words were never spoken.

Anyway, it is kind of fun to see the different sigils in the books and to see how Martin weaves them into the story.  The houses are very proud of their chosen sigils, and in some cases blend two different sigils when a marriage between houses takes place or when some other change takes place in the house that causes it to revise its image.  The sigils are versatile like that, and end up appearing all over the place - on clothing, armor, weapons, banners, boats.  The list goes on and on.  I can even tell you that the Kraken of House Greyjoy makes a fine pumpkin carving for Halloween.

The kraken, fearsome sigil of House Greyjoy
Reading the books got me thinking about what sigil I might adopt for my "house."  Nate and I have the Welsh flag hanging on our living room wall, which depicts a pretty nice dragon, but the sigil for my house should not simply be a copy of the general Welsh sigil, no matter how much I like to identify myself with my bit of Welsh heritage.  There are a couple routes available here...

First, there is the possibility of taking an "aspirational" sigil.  This would be an image possessing characteristics that I wish to possess myself.  Following a logical progression, I first need to determine which characteristics I find most desirable.  Characteristics like bravery, charisma, and toughness quickly come to mind.  But seriously, let's not get too aspirational here.  I'm perfectly willing to settle for much more shallow, (but still desirable) characteristics.  I'm thinking of things like being relatively strong for my size, being well-liked, and retaining a reasonable amount of hair on my head well into my old age.

So what options exist for my aspirational sigil?  Something like an ant would meet the criteria of "relatively strong for its size," but ants aren't the most popular creatures on Earth, and have no hair, so they are out.  A bear is usually a good choice, and it is true that bears are viewed in a good light for the most part.  Furthermore, I've never seen a bald bear.  But while a bear is certainly a strong creature, you can't really say that it is strong relative to its size.  Probably the best choice for my aspirational sigil would be a monkey.  It is strong for its size, is generally a popular animal, and unlike its more evolved cousins, retains its hair late in life without fail.  And if someone wants to be so unwise as to focus on the negative characteristics of my monkey sigil, pointing out that monkeys can also be tricky and deceitful, then I'll have no choice but to educate them on some other characteristics of my sigil, such as my tendency to suddenly and unpredictably turn violent and dangerous, or perhaps pelt people with feces.

Another route to take with my choice of sigil would be to simply think of something awesome and go with it.  Rather than carefully reflecting on a set of characteristics that my sigil needs to possess, I'll just follow my natural inclinations by writing down the first few things that come to mind, picking one, and then building my life around it.  Okay, things that are awesome...go!

Spiked maces
Microwavable dinners
America's farmers
Kenyan runners
Komodo dragons

Hmm, let's assess this list.  I've got two food-related possibilities, three person-doing-something options, a weapon, an animal, and a piece of heavy machinery.  Although I guess you could reasonably lump the bulldozer under "weapons" for the sake of simplicity.

The rose of Highgarden, less than fearsome sigil of House Tyrell
Let's start to whittle this list down.  We can rule out the astronaut, because if I went around wearing an astronaut patch on my clothes I would probably be subjected to endless questions about whether or not I worked for NASA.  Microwavable dinners present the attractive prospect of including wavy "heat lines" on my sigil, but to avoid cognitive dissonance I'd feel it necessary to eat microwavable dinners every night, which I'm just not prepared to do.  The spiked mace is tempting.  In fact, it's a bit too tempting.  To use, that is.  I would be jailed quickly.  An American farmer is a fine choice, but there is the challenge of actually finalizing the image.  Should the farmer be wielding a scythe?  Sitting on a tractor?  Milking a cow?  That option suffers from having too many alternatives.  A bulldozer can't be discounted easily, but let's face it, land developers have gained a bad reputation, and you can't disassociate bulldozers from land developers.  Komodo dragons definitely caught my eye when looking back at the list I'd created, but honestly, I don't know exactly what a Komodo dragon looks like.  The Kenyan runner would be awesome....until the day I met a Kenyan runner with a Kenyan runner as his sigil.  Process of elimination has left the sushi.  Not bad, not bad.  In truth, you really couldn't go wrong with any of the options on this list, so I am well pleased with this choice.

A final route to go with the sigil would be to adopt an image that I feel represents me in my current state.  Extensive introspection over the course of my life allows me to rather quickly identify the following personal traits that most characterize my being: I am open to various points of view.  I am...uh...introspective.  And I greatly enjoy eating, particularly donuts.

So let's see...A mirror would be a good representation of introspectiveness.  And you know what?  I could capture the openness to multiple points of view by making it a three-sided mirror!  Yes!  But the donuts are troublesome.... Another option would be have a picture of three eyes, which clearly represents multiple points of view, and to tie in the introspection I could have each eye looking at another eye!  But again, the donuts.... Maybe I need to think more broadly about this.  Both introspection and looking at things from multiple points of view comes from thinking deeply about things, and thinking obviously occurs in the mind.  A classic representation of the mind is, of course, the brain, so I suppose I could go with that.  But how to give due homage to the donuts?

Ah! I have it...

Allow me to introduce the proud sigil of my house: A brain, covered in maple icing.

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