Patchface – The Fool with many Voices
What’s up with Patchface and his riddles? Gibberish or meaningful, nonsense or prophecy? Well, this fool is telling us something special, I’m certain, and after many weeks of study, I can show that he serves as vehicle for the transmission of messages from different entities.
- He receives messages from an entity associated with the sea.
- He receives songs from the children of the forest.
- Patchface exhibits intelligence as well as a measure of free will.
- This may prove to be a game-changer in the future
This essay is divided into the ff. sections:
- Fools and Jesters – a historical overview
- Patchface, a fool with many ‘voices’ – messages from different sources
- Songs and Patterns – Importance of song / Classifying quotes
- Songs from the Singers
- Summary and Conclusion
The Encyclopaedia Britannica defines the fool thus:
Fool: also called jester, a comic entertainer whose madness or imbecility, real or pretended, made him a source of amusement and gave him license to abuse and poke fun at even the most exalted of his patrons.
Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1995 edition.
Shakespeare has this to say about jesters:
Jesters do oft prove prophets.” (V, iii, l. 73) King Lear
Fools and jesters graced the courts of kings as well as fairs and markets in medieval times. Clothed in their distinctive attire of motley, usually of patterned fabrics, they entertained the court with jokes, magic, storytelling, juggling, songs, music and acrobatics. A fool was unique because his status allowed him to speak truths that others would have been severely punished for. Speaking in jest and in parables, a jester could address political issues and poke fun at the nobility without fear of redress. As such, the fool was both a critic and a perpetuator of social change. The fool provided recreation and play but he also provided truth and balance and was a catalyst for change, creation and destruction.
In the middle ages, fools were classified thus:
Distinction was made between fools and clowns, or country bumpkins. The fool’s status was one of privilege within a royal or noble household. His folly could be regarded as the raving of a madman but was often deemed to be divinely inspired. The ‘natural’ fool was touched by God. [Source: Wikipedia ]
The fools we see in ASOIAF fulfil these different roles, each in his own way. Butterbumps provides a ‘noise screen’ when the Queen of Thorns invites Sansa to interview her on Joffery’s conduct. Moon Boy sings rude songs about the guests and Cersei often compares the nobles at court with him, thinking:
A fool he may be, but he wears his folly honestly
Patchface had many talents before his encounter with the sea; Lord Steffon described him as a splendid fool with many abilities:
Only a boy, yet nimble as a monkey and witty as a dozen courtiers. He juggles and does magic, and he can sing prettily in four tongues. ACoK, Prologue
Sounds good. In one of his ‘prophecies’ he declares ‘I will lead it’. Will the fool lead the way? I think he has the potential to do this.
Several things struck me when I first embarked on this Patchface Project. For one, he does not always sing, and secondly, he seems to respond in reaction to whatever is happening in his surroundings. Thirdly, some of his more cryptic sayings begin with “under the sea”, while others exclude this phrase and are more coherent in nature, making it easier for the reader to make sense of. This prompted me to create an Excel spreadsheet detailing his declarations to aid the sorting process. The result was revealing, to say the least. It made a classification possible.
The first noticeable features of Patchface’s ‘prophecies’ are:
- He sings only a few of them.
- His speaks most of them: those include the phrase ‘under the sea’.
- He often dances a step or two when he speaks rather than when he sings.
- An element of pantomime is discernible.
- His bells ring in different tones (or voices).
This leaves us with the impression that he receives ‘messages’ from different sources.
Is there evidence for this? Certainly.
Behind her, shuffling and hopping in that queer sideways walk of his, came her fool. On his head was a mock helm fashioned from an old tin bucket, with a rack of deer antlers strapped to the crown and hung with cowbells. With his every lurching step, the bells rang, each with a different voice, clang-dang bong-dong ring-a-ling clong clong clong.
Let’s deal with the bells in different voices first:
His rhymes form two distinct groups, differing in syntax and semantics. I am no linguist, but one does get the impression that the fool speaks with at least two different ‘voices’.
The riddles featuring underwater imagery appear to reflect his diminished intellectual capabilities and suggest he is incapable of using advanced language. Yet in other instances, he suddenly displays a much wider vocabulary, using words that the listener can put into meaningful context (e.g., shadows come to dance, fool’s blood, king’s blood, bridegroom, the dead…). These riddles tend to make more sense to us than the sea imagery.
Let’s look at “Fool’s blood, king’s blood, blood on the maiden’s thigh, but chains for the guests and chains for the bridegroom, aye, aye, aye,“ for example. The absence of sea imagery here makes it easier to discern the literal meaning of the sentence. If his pronouncements were associated with a single source, I would expect something along the lines of “crab’s soup, merman’s soup, soup on the mermaid’s tail…”. Interpreting this is infinitely more difficult.
Now, remember that Lord Steffon bought Patchface’s freedom from slavery in Volantis. He originally spoke four languages. He was a child, probably sold into slavery in his homeland, passing through a number of cities before ending up in Volantis. Perhaps Patchface originally came from Norvos. The World Book reveals interesting facts about the bells of Norvos, which Lomas Longstrider noted as one of the Nine Wonders made by Man.
No account of Great Norvos is complete without the mention of the city’s three bells, whose peals govern every aspect of city life, telling the Norvoshi when to rise, when to sleep, when to work, when to rest, when to take arms, when to pray (often), and even when they are permitted to have carnal relations (rather less often, if the tales be true). Each of the bells has its own distinctive ‘voice,’ whose sound is known to all true Norvoshi. The bells bear the names Noom, Narrah, and Nyel;
TWOIAF, The Free Cities
We have three named bells, each pealing out messages in a different tone, carrying meaning or orders, recognizable by the people. This establishes the notion of people hearing or responding to different ‘voices’ in reference to bells. Also interesting is that the bells govern every aspect of life. In fact, the people of Norvos are literally controlled by the ringing bells and are obviously expected to react according to the pealed commands. In relation to Patchface, this element of control is food for thought.
A rack of deer antlers
Patchface’s bells hang on a rack of deer antlers from which they clang and bong as he goes his way. Deer antlers put us in mind of the Baratheons and indeed, Patchface is part of Stannis Baratheon’s household. But antlers also are also associated with green men and greenseers, who have the ability to see into the past, present and future through the eyes of the trees:
The green men ride on elks, Old Nan used to say. Sometimes they have antlers too.” AGOT, Bran VII
He nodded. “You told me that the children of the forest had the greensight. I remember.” “Some claimed to have that power. Their wise men were called greenseers.”
“Was it magic?”
“Call it that for want of a better word, if you must. At heart it was only a different sort of knowledge.” ACOK, Bran IV
Magic, a different sort of knowledge, prophecy, greensight. Green men and greenseers are endowed with special prophetic ability. No, I am not saying that Patchface is a green man. He does not peer through weirwood trees. There is no evidence to support that. But because antlers grow upwards from the head, reaching toward the realm of heaven or spirit, antlers do symbolize spiritual authority in many indigenous cultures. They are also seen as spiritual antennae capable of tuning into and receiving messages from a higher authority. The bells hanging from these antlers that ring in different voices suggest that Patchface hears songs, transmitted via the antler antennae, and he repeats those songs to us readers and to the people around him.
The Importance of Singing
Enter the Children of the Forest, the Singers or ‘those who sing the songs of the earth’.
With so many books and further editions pending, it is easy to forget that the book series is titled ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. It is easy to overlook the importance of sound and singing and the potential influence this has on the story.
You have probably noticed that Sansa lives in a world of songs, that wolves sing to the moon and that Rhaegar had musical talent, composing songs for his harp, which he played exquisitely. We know the children ‘sing’ and that there seems to be a connection between the Starks and their direwolves, which goes beyond the normal relationship between an animal and man.
Wolfmaid7 has done an excellent job on the subject of singing and I suggest you visit her post on ‘Those Who Sing‘ in A Forum of Ice and Fire to familiarize yourself with this theme.
Here is one quote to illustrate what I mean:
Halfway across the bridge, Jon pulled up suddenly. “What is it, Jon?” their lord father asked.
“Can’t you hear it?” …….. Jon was listening to something else.
“There,” Jon said. He swung his horse around and galloped back across the bridge. They watched him dismount where the direwolf lay dead in the snow, watched him kneel. A moment later he was riding back to them, smiling. “He must have crawled away from the others,” Jon said. AGOT, Bran I
As we will later find out, Jon’s wolf pup, Ghost, is mute. He never howls or snarls audibly. He is silent. Yet Jon clearly hears him. He presumably hears Ghost whimpering, a sound none of the other members of the party is able to discern. Jon and Ghost communicate on a wavelength audible to themselves alone. As wolfmaid7 aptly describes it, these two are ‘sharing a note’ that nobody else can hear.
Patchface shares the songs he hears with us. He sometimes actually sings the notes he hears and at other times, he simply speaks them.
We will now have a look at a classification of his songs and pronouncements with a view to determining their sources.
Classification of songs and sayings:
Location of Patchface’s quotes in the books:
- ACOK, Prologue – eleven quotes (he sings “the shadows come to dance…” several times)
- ACOK – Davos (one chapter)
- ASoS – Davos (two different chapters)
- ADWD – Jon (six quotes in four different chapters)
1] Songs and Pronouncements
Patchface’s ‘prophecies’ comprise songs and pronouncements and are further categorized as:
- Underwater messages
- Coherent messages
- Personal messages / commands
Main features of songs:
- Words are sung, with a distinct tune
- Decipherable, coherent use of language
- No underwater imagery
Pronouncements / Underwater messages – “Under the sea”::
- Spoken messages – not sung; almost all involve underwater imagery
- Begin with or include ‘under the sea’
- Accompanied by a dance step / he appears to dance to music only he can hear
- Sometimes involves acting or pantomime
- Underwater messages are in the majority
“Under the sea, smoke rises in bubbles, and flames burn green and blue and black.
I know, I know, oh, oh, oh” (no water metaphors) – this exception is a song
- Usually feature songs accompanied by hopping or dancing
- Coherent, with a wider vocabulary; are easier to decipher.
Shadows come to dance …
Fool’s blood, king’s blood …
Under the sea, smoke rises in bubbles …
In the dark, the dead are dancing … * not clear if sung
Clever man, clever bird, clever fool … * not sung
Personal active messages / commands:
Patchface is considered a lackwit. We never hear him contributing to a conversation but he obviously understands what is being said around him. He plays games with Shireen which require an understanding of rules. He obeys commands and he also appears to intone his songs and messages in relation to events in his vicinity.
These three examples appear to contain elements of personal opinion or of actively playing a role he thinks he can fulfil.
Clever bird, clever man, clever clever fool. Clever, clever, clever fool. – Personal message
Away, away. Come with me beneath the sea, away, away, away. – (singing) – active
I will lead it! We will march into the sea and out again. Under the waves we will ride seahorses and mermaids will blow seashells to announce our coming, oh, oh, oh” (note he does not sing this) – active
I’ll get back to this further down.
Patchface often speaks in reference to events or conversations taking place in his vicinity. Even if we do not quite understand his sayings, it is sometimes obvious that he speaks in reaction to his environment. So an interpretation has to include an examination of background events occurring at the time he speaks or sings. Whatever he observes or hears triggers him off and compels him to make a statement.
One thing I’m quite sure of, but cannot 100% prove: I do not think imagery of heraldry is represented in any of Patchface’s quotes.
Conclusions regarding the classification process:
Overall, we can differentiate between spoken messages and sung messages and assign these to different sources. I propose that:
Patchface receives coherent songs from the CotF , which he sings loudly and clearly.
He possibly receives the spoken messages from an entity associated with the sea.
I propose that water acts as a barrier to sound transmission so that Patchface hears a garbled version of the message. His accompanying dance steps do suggest that he actually hears a tune to go with the words but cannot quite make out the words themselves. This is a major clue to the ‘Patchface Code’, which GRRM has imposed on the fool’s pronouncements and which I think he hopes we will recognize and solve.
We can tentatively conclude that Patchface possibly serves as a vehicle for opposing entities. Alternatively, these entities could also be ‘working together’.
A noteworthy exception to the rules
Worthy of note is the following message, which is coherent without underwater imagery and is a song, but begins with ‘under the sea’:
“Under the sea, smoke rises in bubbles, and flames burn green and blue and black.
I know, I know, oh, oh, oh”
This exception appears to come from two different sources.
I think he recognizes the tune and with the exception of ‘under the sea’ and ‘I know, I know, oh, oh, oh’, is able to insert the correct words that he hears clearly from the singers (children).
This then is an important discovery regarding the quotes classified as personal or active messages.
A. Away, away. Come with me beneath the sea, away, away, away. – (singing)
– from COtF
B. I will lead it! We will march into the sea and out again. Under the waves we will ride seahorses and mermaids will blow seashells to announce our coming, oh, oh, oh” (spoken)
– from Sea Entity
Patchface utters both at the Wall. Note that, as classified, quote A, which is sung, comes from the children of the forest, while quote B, which is spoken can be attributed to the mysterious sea entity. Both suggest going into the sea. It seems both parties pursue a similar purpose in respect of going beneath the sea. We can expect both sources to have some kind of control over him beyond using him as a messaging system.
What will Patchface do if it comes to choosing whose command to follow?
He seems to have ‘lost his wits’ but has he also lost his freedom to choose a course of action?
I do not think he has lost that ability. I think he is emphasising that he has not completely lost his wits when he declares the following:
Clever bird, clever man, clever clever fool. Clever, clever, clever fool.
He seems to be telling us that he may be a fool, but that compared to the bird and the man, he is very clever indeed.
He understands conversations, obeys commands given to him by Cressen, Pylos, Davos and Selyse and engages in complex games with Shireen and Edric. This is a very hopeful sign, and creepy as he appears, perhaps we can find some solace in the fact that he is not a complete zombie and may act of his own free will when the occasion arises. His friendship with Shireen may play a major role in influencing his decisions.
The next section deals with some evidence for the notion that Patchface is the recipient of messages from different sources.
Given that the CotF sing, I propose that Patchface hears the messages they impart because he shares their ‘sound frequency’ or transmission wavelength. I cannot tell you if he received the songs ‘in bulk’ at some point in time or if a song is granted to him when the time is right.
Children of the Forest or the Squirrel People
One major piece of circumstantial evidence comes from Leaf; she tells Bran that the giants refer to the CotF as the squirrel people:
“The First Men named us children,” the little woman said. “The giants called us woh dak nag gran, the squirrel people, because we were small and quick and fond of trees, but we are no squirrels, no children. Our name in the True Tongue means those who sing the song of earth. Before your Old Tongue was ever spoken, we had sung our songs ten thousand years.” ADWD, Bran II
No doubt the giants have their reasons for naming the children ‘the squirrel people’. There is a lot of further imagery surrounding squirrels/children not that relevant here, but this quote sets Patchface up as a recipient of songs via the children:
“In the dark the dead are dancing.” Patchface shuffled his feet in a grotesque dance step. “I know, I know, oh oh oh.” At Eastwatch someone had sewn him a motley cloak of beaver pelts, sheepskins, and rabbit fur. His hat sported antlers hung with bells and long brown flaps of squirrel fur that hung down over his ears. Every step he took set him to ringing.
ADWD, Part II, Jon I
How fitting. The squirrel fur hangs over his ears, a good place for it to be, if the fool is a recipient of messages from the CotF. You may now point out that he had no squirrel fur on his hat prior to coming to the Wall but my guess is he did not need this ‘hearing aid’ then. The Wall with its magical warding properties seems to prevent this kind of communication from taking place. Remember that Jon cannot sense Ghost, nor does he dream of the wolf while they are separated by the Wall. The squirrel fur appears to rectify this problem and enables the CofF to continue communicating with Patchface in spite of the magical wards.
Granted, this sounds odd, but if personal items serve to uphold and enforce Melisandre’s glamours, why shouldn’t squirrel fur serve as a booster for ‘wireless transmission’?
Could Bloodraven also communicate through Patchface?
If Patchface hears the CotF, could he also serve as a vessel for Bloodraven? I think so. Allow me to indulge in some more speculation:
- Patchface’s survival at sea shares elements with Bran’s survival after his fall.
- Both stay alive against all odds and persist in unconsciousness before spontaneously awakening.
- Both will suffer a disability for the rest of their lives.
- Both share the gift of ‘prophecy’
We cannot be sure if PF had a dream featuring the three-eyed-crow before reviving but Bloodraven may have had a hand in keeping Patchface alive on land, however. Consider the following: though it seemed the sensible thing to do at the time, Maester Cressen refused to give the boy the gift of mercy. He rejected suggestions by others who felt it was kinder to relieve the fool of his suffering. There was a godswood at Storm’s End when Patchface arrived there. In its midst stood a solemn-faced heart-tree. Did a whispering weirwood suggest to him that Patchface should live? Alternatively, did Maester Cressen’s ravens influence him to keep the child alive?
What does Bloodraven gain by using Patchface?
Bloodraven is isolated with only three score Children of the Forest in a cave beyond the wall, has become part of the weirwood and has not left the cave in a long time. Coldhands appears to be his only helper outside of the cave and the wight is restricted to the area north of the Wall. Coldhands has to pick the children up from the Black Gate and guide them to the cave. When they get there, we read that “it’s almost too late.” Bloodraven has been watching Bran since birth and Bran’s training begins immediately. Bran’s chapters in ADwD leave me with the impression that Bloodraven’s hands have been tied for quite a while. Bran is his only “heir” and I think it is reasonable to assume that whatever plan Bloodraven has forged, it cannot hurt to recruit additional suitable helpers.
Bloodraven may have manipulated the election that voted Jon Snow into office via Mormont’s raven. Ravens can be controlled by Bloodraven but the extent to which events can be influenced by ravens seems limited. Without a weirwood on site, BR has no way of knowing what exactly is going on. Right now, Patchface is at Castle Black, in the midst of all the action and in a perfect position to become a tool for Bloodraven, a tool that goes beyond being a messaging system.
I also wonder if Bran could skinchange into Patchface from a distance. Bran has no difficulty slipping into Hodor. Patchface is similar to Hodor because of his mental disability and might be as easy to possess. Bran and Bloodraven could influence events at the Wall via Patchface (and later at the Nightfort if Selyse ever moves to that location) if this scenario is feasible.
Is there any indication that Bloodraven might operate or communicate through Bloodraven?
- Melisandre’s vision of Patchface
Melisandre tells Jon Snow she has seen Patchface several times in her visions:
That creature is dangerous. Many a time I have glimpsed him in my flames. Sometimes there are skulls about him, and his lips are red with blood.
ADWD, Part 2 Jon II
The skulls surrounding Patchface are reminiscent of Bloodraven’s cave. His bloody lips may be an allusion to weirwood paste. Weirwood paste is then also suggestive of greenseeing or prophetic talents.
- The weirwood tree at the Crofter’s Village:
The bloody lips led me to the next passage, which describes an ancient weirwood tree (also associated with Bloodraven), at the Crofter’s Village. This is Stannis’ location when we last see him.
The crofter’s village stood between two lakes, the larger dotted with small wooded islands that punched up through the ice like the frozen fists of some drowned giant. From one such island rose a weirwood gnarled and ancient, its bole and branches as white as the surrounding snows. Eight days ago Asha had walked out with Aly Mormont to have a closer look at its slitted red eyes and bloody mouth.
ADwD, The Sacrifice
Asha is convinced that the sap is really frozen blood. This weirwood tree is odd because it stands in the wild, south of the wall. The only other wild weirwoods we see in the south are saplings, with all ancient trees outside of godswoods long cut down. The tree’s bloody mouth echos Patchface’s lips in Mel’s vision.
More thoughts on this:
This island, with its prominent tree, will be used by Stannis to lure the Frey army onto the hole-riddled lake.* The Frey army will be fooled into crossing and in doing so, will crash through the ice and drown. I cannot think of a better way for Stannis to decimate the Frey numbers marching towards the Crofter’s Village and drowning ties in nicely with Patchface as well.
Check out cantuse’s essay “The Night Lamp”, on Stannis’ probable strategy for the battle at the Crofter’s Village.
Mel notes that she sometimes sees skulls around the fool. Perhaps these represent the drowned Frey army.
- Who is “My Lord”?
The white raven provides a clue:
We know that the souls of deceased CotF inhabit black ravens and that Bloodraven probably speaks through them. I see no reason why this shouldn’t hold true for white ravens as well. Cressen’s white raven speaks words as well. In a scene involving Shireen and Maester Cressen, Patchface intones the ‘shadows song’ and sings it twice in a row:
“the shadows come to dance my lord, dance my lord, dance my lord. The shadows come to stay my lord, stay my lord, stay my lord.”
The white raven shrieks: “Lord, lord, lord, lord.”
Note that Patches is singing here and the song is “coherent” with no sea imagery. The raven picks up on the word ‘lord’ and repeats it four times, vehemently at that. In the absence of any other lord, I propose that the white raven is confirming its own, and Patchface’s lord – Lord Bloodraven.
This analysis of Patchface and the origin of his ‘prophecies’ shows that he does receive songs and messages from different entities. The children of the forest / Bloodraven and an entity from the sea both use him as a ‘transmitter’ in this regard. Conclusions drawn from the classification of his quotes also suggest he may receive commands from these entities in the future. The question is: who will he listen to and how will he respond? The good news is that he may not have lost his wits entirely. He may not be able to articulate his thoughts but he does exhibit enough intelligence to make his own choices. When it comes to the crunch, I believe he will make a decision based on who deserves his loyalty. Who more so than Shireen?
Whatever the case, Patchface has the potential to be a game changer for the faction he chooses to support. He embodies the true image of the historical fool, a person in the position to influence the course of events.
Acknowledgements and Credits:
Those Who Sing by wolfmaid7 on a Forum of Ice and Fire
The Night Lamp theory by cantuse from his blog, Meditations on a Song of Ice and Fire
Featured Image: Patchface imposed on the sea. Image of Patchface by sprrow on deviantart
More on Patchface