Monthly Archives: August 2014

A Sketch of the System: Made in Myr

Part I

When reading a Song of Ice and Fire we come to know Myr primarily through its manufacture. Bit by bit, the city is defined by its vast and bewildering array of products, by the power of the “Myrish” brand to denote quality craftsmanship, and by the prices wealthy consumers are willing to pay to enjoy them. Myr is the world’s workshop, its goods bought and sold from the Iron Islands to Asshai by the Shadow. Here we are going to examine these products in detail, from the materials out of which they are made to the uses to which they are put.

Myr map

Above in black are the locations or given destinations of every explicitly identified Myrish manufacture. In gold are Myrish items owned and carried abroad by sailors and mercenary outfits. The most commonly encountered goods are textiles, primarily lace and carpets. Glasswork and weapons are close seconds, being more speciality items, followed by works of art and medicinal alchemy. Continue reading

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A Note on Sources and Methodology

In A Song of Ice and Fire each POV character has a very incomplete view of events and they often find themselves surprised, overtaken, or impacted by actions, intrigues and battles they have no knowledge of. Distance and secrecy are the two major limiting factors. Often events are far away and communicated only by hints and rumors. Just as often actions are close by but intentionally hidden by other actors. Then there are inequities in power, intelligence, and reliable sources information as well as dissimilarities in needs, desires, and ideology which can create mental distance in place of physical distance. The reader has greater knowledge of the political and magical events, but only up to a point, as this knowledge is based on a haphazard synthesis of incomplete (sometimes delusional) perspectives.

Similarly, every one of the POV characters of A Song of Ice and Fire has a very limited perception of the world system in which they live, what Illyrio Mopatis’s refers to as the “one great web.” All the factors that impede their knowledge of political and magical events also prevent them from seeing the disparities that exist between the different sections of the world in their economic relationships, political and technological development, and acquisition of knowledge. The Jade Sea, Southros, and Summer Isles are extremely far away. The Free Cities are only a short trip across the Narrow Sea, but the high lords, ladies, and learned of Westeros are largely ignorant of their inner workings and social complexity, which they generally perceive as far away and unimportant to their own society and its power struggles. Whenever they think of Near Essos they see only a ready source of mercenaries, ships, and capital, or a land of disgraced exiles and petty wars. The position these same lords and ladies occupy in world trade is principally limited to that of supplier, customer, and tax authority, with actual commerce left to lesser men. Most of the POVs are highborn Westerosi and hence on the periphery of the world system, physically and/or mentally. Consequently, the plans of those who reside at the center of the system or between the center and periphery, the merchant-bankers, corsair-kings, religious leaders, and spymasters of the Narrow Sea and East, are never discovered by the POVs, only revealed to them. And these revelations are fairly miserly ones at that, for it would not serve their purposes to fully confide the extent of their power or their ambitions to those they consider their instruments and victims (nor are they ones to normally confide in each other).

Readers are therefore largely informed about the East through Westerosi who have little understanding of Illyrio’s great web and consequently we see only the briefest of glimpses of the world system at work. Naturally these observations and interactions are very cursory in nature and often come off as relatively unimportant within the larger story: traders arguing in a marketplace, ships in a harbor, a list of goods, the citizenship of a lone sailor in a brothel, the ingredients of a dish, the outfits worn at court, the title of an office, the words chosen by an envoy, the offhand comment of a mercenary. But just as the reader gets a better sense of political and magical events as the story progresses, so the structures and movement of Illyrio’s occasionally glimpsed web come more and more into view as these fragmentary pieces of information accumulate. Picked out of the text and assembled together they form a mosaic of an underlying order upon which the events of the War of Five Kings and Daenerys’s Emancipation War play out. Continue reading

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Acknowledgements

In this undertaking we find ourselves indebted to the following authors, whose works and ideas have helped to crystallize our own: Janet Abu-Lughod (Before European Hegemony), Walter Benjamin (The Arcades Project), Fernand Braudel (The Mediterranean and Capitalism), William McNeill (Europe’s Steppe Frontier and Venice), Edward Said (Orientalism), Immanuel Wallerstein (many of his concepts), Eduardo Galeano (Memory of Fire), and Gabriel García Márquez (100 Years of Solitude and Autumn of the Patriarch).

Janet Abu-Lughod’s book on the non-hegemonic world system of the 13th and 14th centuries has been an invaluable means of recognizing the semi-invisible world of traders and merchant princes. Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project provided an excellent example of how the assembly of diverse quotations and examples can shed light on a much larger story. From Fernand Braudel we were inspired to look at the long term “structures” of Westeros and Essos (longstanding institutions, relationships, organized behaviors, attitudes, and so forth). William McNeill’s works have given us much appreciated insight into the history of Venice and the workings of the Ukrainian slave trade that existed between the Crimean Tartars and Istanbul. To Edward Said, Eduardo Galeano, and Gabriel García Marquez we owe our interest in the almost magical disparities of power and knowledge that arise between developed and underdeveloped societies. Immanuel Wallerstein’s tripartite division of the modern world into core, semi-periphery, and periphery we have fruitfully adapted for our own purposes.

We’d also like to thank Steven Attewell of Race for the Iron Throne and Adam Feldman at The Meereenese Blot, whose examples we decided to follow.

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Getting started

Our project began out of obsessive curiosity. We were intrigued by the bazaars of Vaes Dothrak, the great arcades and latticework markets of Qarth, the Iron Throne’s debt, the spices and silks and sorceries of the Jade Sea and the ubiquity of Myrish lace. One of us became so determined to find out more that she hunted down every mention of Myrish lace in all five books. In doing this she found the bare outline of a world spanning system of exchange. When she presented the rest of us with what she found the search expanded to every other item of Myrish manufacture, great and small. The outline became a little starker and was subsequently expanded by discussions about the Iron Bank, the slave trade in Essosi culture, Asshai by the Shadow, and the world church of Red R’hllor. We realized we were confronted by the portrait of a rich, changing, and extremely interconnected commercial world, one initially concealed from us by its very vastness; a world where Westeros, the center of the story, is peripheral, underdeveloped, and dependent upon a more ruthless and sophisticated civilization flowing out of the Narrow Sea. It is now our goal to uncover this world system as far as possible by piecing together the disparate clues of its workings.

Yet, although our ambitions now span the whole world of Ice and Fire, we recognize that if not for the exquisite lace and countless other manufactures nothing would have been set in motion. Hence our project too was Made in Myr. In recognition of that fact our website’s design has been inspired by Sansa Stark and Margaery Tyrell’s wedding dresses. Sansa’s a lovely work of “ivory samite and cloth-of-silver, and lined with silvery satin,” the deep vee of her bodice “covered over with a panel of ornate Myrish lace in dove-grey” (SoS, Sansa III). Margaery’s “an airy confection of sheer ivory silk [and] Myrish lace” with “skirts decorated with floral patterns picked out in seed pearls” (FfC Cersei III, SoS Tyrion VIII). Two of the loveliest gowns in the book, and made entirely from imported textiles.

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