Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ted Nasmith's Valinor and Valyria

The illustrator Ted Nasmith once described the wonder and power of Fantasy in but a single sentence: 
"It opened up in me a dormant love of lost and misty times, myth and legend." 
Naturally, in regards to specifics, the quote refers to when his sister introduced him to The Lord of the Rings.

Minas Tirith at Dawn

To say that Ted Nasmith is a stellar artist is a cosmic understatement, and indeed his justified fame comes from his illustrations of J. R. R. Tolkien's works – The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. As such, I find it bitterly ironic that, after Middle-Earth, the next Fantasy author whose world Nasmith has brought to life should be that George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (i.e. the wretched realm of Westeros and the lands across the narrow sea).
Casterly Rock

I have said, and will again, that I have infinite respect for GRRM’s skill as a storyteller and worldbuilder. Still, it is hard for me to see the artist that so splendidly brought Minas Tirith to life perform the same courtesy to Casterly Rock; to see the topless towers of Old Valyria rendered as skillfully as the shores of Valinor.

Then again, I suppose Nasmith has covered his bases, doing Tolkien and Anti-Tolkien and all. Talking of which, the difference between Valinor and Valyria further exemplifies the difference between the two authors, Tolkien and GRRM, and why I hold the the latter to be a traitor to the High Fantasy. To quote GRRM and then his character Tyrion Lannister (the latter regarding the Doom of Valyria):

"At its apex Valyria was the greatest city in the known world, the center of civilization. Within its shining walls, twoscore rival houses vied for power and glory in court and council, rising and falling in an endless, subtle, oftsavage struggle for dominance."

"An empire built on blood and fire. The Valyrians reaped the seed they had sown."
The Towers of Valyria (originally Old Valyria)

Fire and blood...and slavery for, as I recall, the Valyrian dragonlords were extensive, brutal, and shameless slavers. Thousands captured during wars, thousands bred like cattle during peace, and tens of thousands dying scorching deaths in mines under volcanoes to state the Old Valyria's thirst for gold and silver. To say nothing of the many more brutally slain in the countless and futile slave revolts, nor the fact that these despotic Freeholders oft went to war for no other reason than to acquire slaves for as to keep the these blistering mines full.

So I ask now, why is the empire that committed these unfathomable atrocities viewed judged to be "the greatest city in the known world, the center of civilization"? Telling, is it not, that the majority of GRRM's characters speak of it with grave admiration and respect – as though it was an impossible dream one aspires to.

 White Ships From Valinor
Of course, Valinor is viewed in like fashion by the peoples of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-Earth, the difference being that the realm of the Valar is a place where all find safety and healing, and where war is judged abhorrent by every definition of the word. It the land of the Elves, a realm where bright and beautiful things are made for the joy and wonder of it, and where a select few mortals have peace. Call it not totally idyllic, as the events of the The Silmarillion prove that blood and shadow and jealously do occasionally break through, but even that is not the point.

The point is that Valinor, unlike Valyria, is truly a place worthy of admiration and aspiration, and the fact that GRRM employs the Valyrian Freehold as Tolkien does the Uttermost West proves yet again that their is naught but blood at the heart of A Song of Ice and Fire. Furthermore, the use of such old civilizations is not uncommon in the Fantasy genre, yet Old Valyra is unique in its cruelty.

Hence, in ending and understanding all of this, I think Ted Nasmith captured those rather marked differences quite well in his portrayal of the two lands.

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