Symbolism of the Pearl in a Song of Ice and Fire
Silvery-white, lustrous and beautiful, the pearl has been a favourite ornamental accessory for centuries. Famous pearls have passed through royal dynasties of Europe and Asia and remain very much in vogue even today. Its symbolism is in rooted in its appearance – it requires no cutting or polishing to enhance its beauty – when it emerges from a shell, it is naturally flawless, a symbol of unblemished perfection! As you will see, the pearl is central to A Song of Ice and Fire.
We are inclined to regard the pearl as just another piece of jewely and to confine its symbolism to the obvious – an indication of wealth and on the part of its wearer, but it’s amazing what the pearl reveals and almost sinful to relegate it to the realm of adornment alone. George Martin even hints that the pearl represents so much more. We learn for instance that the wedding raiment Dany is required to wear during her marriage ceremony to Hizdahr zo Loraq is “fraught with meaning”. This gown, or rather, the tokar has a seemingly innocuous fringe of baby pearls:
The wedding garb is fraught with meaning too. The bride is dressed in dark red veils above a tokar of white silk, fringed with baby pearls. ADWD, Daenerys
Fraught with meaning, and indeed it is. Time to begin our journey of discovery.
The Pearl of Great Price
Notice that George uses the pearl metaphorically on one occasion, analogous to its symbolism in the Bible, where it fittingly stands for everything precious. After Hizdahr zo Loraq’s arrest, when Ser Barristan and the Green Grace discuss the latest killings perpetrated by the Sons of the Harpy, the Green Grace likens peace to a valuable pearl and asks the Queen’s Hand not to cast it away:
“In return he gave her peace. Do not cast it away, ser, I beg you. Peace is the pearl beyond price. Hizdahr is of Loraq. Never would he soil his hands with poison. He is innocent.” ADWD, The Queen’s Hand
This statement really calls our attention to this jewel and I felt it noteworthy enough to embark on a serious study of the pearl in the story. The Green Grace’s statement echoes two very significant passages from the Bible:
Matthew 13, verses 45 and 46 state:
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:
Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.
In Matthew 7: 13 we read:
Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
Peace is one of the most fundamental of human needs. The Green Grace is not wrong. Arresting Hizdahr contributes to ruining the fragile peace. In Barristan Selmy’s last chapter in aDwD, we see the Yunkai catapulting corpses into Meereen, presumably bodies contaminated by the “pale mare”. Often, settling a dispute by resorting to arms appears to be the more effective option; in addition to the “glory of war”, the winner takes all and gets to determine the aftermath. But the consequences of war are horrific. War wreaks devastation on infrastructure, the land and the people, claims the lives of thousands of soldiers and innocents alike, leaving destitution in its wake. In our world as in Westeros or Essos, ordinary citizens suffer the most. Currently, millions of people are on the move, fleeing war torn regions in search of countries where they can live in safety and in peace. Jorah Mormont’s words to Daenerys applies as much to them as to the smallfolk of George Martin’s world:
The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are. AGOT, Daenerys III
Truly, crafting a peace is a long and difficult process in which all parties must haggle like fishwives to reach a compromise. In Meereen, Daenerys realizes that simply conquering cities and freeing slaves is not enough. Chaos rules when there is no backup-plan designed to obtain a lasting peace. Despite her disaffection with Meereenese culture and traditions, she grits her teeth and makes concessions, including marrying the noble Hizdhar to calm the stormy waters and to stop killings by the Sons of the Harpy. No one leaves the negotiation table feeling completely happy, and those with vested interests in war continue to rock the boat. Maintaining the peace thus requires additional effort. However dissatisfactory and uncomfortable for the individuals involved, the price of a negotiated peace is worth the struggle it takes to achieve. The pearl beyond price is thus an excellent metaphor for peace but this is only one aspect of its symbolism in the narrative.
We shall see that the themes embodied by the pearl are central to the hidden backstory, reaching from the Great Empire into the current era. Before I continue with the pearl’s symbolism, let us have a quick look at how it is formed and note the properties that confer value upon it.
On a mundane level, the first thing of note about the pearl is its origin: unlike other gems which are mined from the depths of the earth, the pearl is a jewel specific to water, produced by marine or freshwater dwelling molluscs. Saltwater oysters and freshwater mussels farmed in aquaculture produce most of the pearls marketed today. Thus, by extension, the element in which they reside is also of interest to us. There’s the mystery of Azor Ahai who shall be born of “salt and smoke”, where the “salt” may allude to saltwater; the Dothraki refuse to cross the ocean because they fear the “poison water”; Patchface miraculously survives drowning in the ocean; the Ironborn, the Manderlys and the Velaryons have close ties to the sea and Arya’s journey takes her to Braavos where she sells oysters, mussels and clams. Finally, there are legends of “invaders from the sea”, an unknown people who exterminated the folk who lived in the labyrinths. Perhaps an examination of the pearl can bring us closer to resolving some of these mysteries.
CREATION OF AND PROPERTIES OF A PEARL
Natural wild pearls are very rare. In the ancient past, pearl hunters dived to the pearl beds of various oceans around the world to gather these jewels of the sea. Notable pearl fisheries included the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Pearl Islands off the coast of South America and the South China Sea. In the wild, natural pearls form when an irritant such as a parasite lodges within the mantle folds of the mollusc. Pearl-formation is thus a defence mechanism in response to potential infection or injury.
We speak of freshwater or saltwater pearls and of natural or cultured pearls to distinguish their origins. Ocean-dwelling pearl oysters produce saltwater pearls, while freshwater mussels (usually in flowing water bodies such as rivers and streams) produce freshwater pearls. The name “pearl” originated from the Latin word “perna”, meaning “leg”, thought to be due to the ham leg shape of the bivalve mollusc. Their two halves join by interlocking, hinged teeth fitted with a ligament that allows the organism to open and close it shells.
Natural pearls consist of mother-of-pearl (also called nacre) which is mostly aragonite (calcium carbonate) and conchiolin (complex proteins that form mollusc shells). Nowadays, most pearls are cultured by inserting a small mother-of-pearl bead into the oyster or mussel, inducing the animal to secrete calcium carbonate in concentric rings around the irritant. Over time, this grows into a pearl. This process of seeding is not a happy one for most candidates. Sadly, up to 50% of the molluscs die within days of the inoculation process. In the past, oysters harvested from the seabed were left to rot on the shore to facilitate removal of the pearls. This caused quite a stink! After harvesting, the pearls are sorted according to their physical properties, including shape, colour, lustre and iridescence.
- Lustre is the luminous brightness or radiance of the pearl. Its quality depends upon the reflection of light from the translucent layers of calcium carbonite. High quality pearls have a metallic mirror-like lustre.
- Iridescence is a rainbow-like play of colour caused by differential refraction of light waves. Soap bubbles, fish scales and oil slicks also display iridescence.
- Colour: pearls are classified according to body colour and overtone colour. Body colour can be white, pink, yellow, grey, bronze, green and black.
- Overtone is the iridescence effect emitting from a pearl. It consists of up to three transparent colours (usually blue, pink and green) and appears to float like a halo on the surface of the pearl. The most highly valued overtone combination is that of blue and pink, which tend to appear purple.
- Shape and interior: pearls can be round, irregular (baroque) or pear / tear shaped. Pearls are associated with tears across cultures and religions.
- Care: under no circumstances should pearls be immersed in vinegar or in any acidic liquid (such as wine) – this dissolves the calcium, destroying lustre and iridescence.
Lastly, only a very tiny percentage of pearls are of very high quality and value. Two and a half tons of shellfish yield only three to four pearls of excellent quality.
Pearl oysters belong to the genus Pinctada, in the family Pteriidae. All species in the genus Pinctada have the potential of producing large pearls of commercial value. The following species are exploited commercially:
- Pinctada radiata (Gulf-Pearl Oyster) produces silvery-white and cream pearls
- Pinctada maxima (White-lip and Gold-lip oyster) produces white and golden South Sea pearls
- Pinctada margaritifera (Black-lip oyster) produces black pearls
- Pinctada albina (Shark Bay Pearl) produces seed pearls used for culturing
- Pinctada fucata martensii produces Japanese cultured Akoya Pearls
Another pearl producing species, the Winged Oyster, occurs in the Western Atlantic, in waters up to a hundred feet deep. Their name derives from the wing-shaped shell. These oysters are often well hidden in their environment because they serve as hosts for algae and other organisms on their shells, which camouflage them.
Pearls of the Dawn Age
Because of their highly valued status, several cultures imposed rules on wearing pearls: in the Byzantine Empire for instance, only the emperor himself was allowed to wear pearls. The era of Queen Elizabeth I of England (the Virgin Queen) was termed the Pearl Age, synonymous with her love for this gem and the age of progress she presided over. In the portrait below, she wears several ropes of pearls over a gown embroidered with pearls. Her hair is decorated with many pearl-tipped hairpins.
Through the ages, pearls have thus become a metaphor for something rare, admirable and valuable. They symbolise innocence, chastity and modesty and many societies believed they were invested with magical powers. Additionally, both pearls and shells carry spiritual significance: as we have seen, they are compared to the Kingdom of Heaven and in many cultures, they signify immortality or the immortal part, the soul, of a person. They are associated with everything feminine, with the moon, with spiritual awareness and they represent wisdom (pearls of wisdom). George unifies much of this symbolism in his description of the first era of the Great Empire of the Dawn:
In the beginning, the priestly scribes of Yin declare, all the land between the Bones and the freezing desert called the Grey Waste, from the Shivering Sea to the Jade Sea (including even the great and holy isle of Leng), formed a single realm ruled by the God-on-Earth, the only begotten son of the Lion of Night and Maiden-Made of Light, who traveled about his domains in a palanquin carved from a single pearl and carried by a hundred queens, his wives. For ten thousand years the Great Empire of the Dawn flourished in peace and plenty under the God on earth, until at last he ascended to the stars to join his forbearers. TWOIAF
The feminine aspect of the pearl is embodied by the god-emperor’s one hundred wives and by his mother, the Maiden-made-of-Light, a luminous glowing orb, reminiscent of a lustrous pearl. His ten thousand year reign, and ascension to heaven to join his forbearers convey the idea of immortality.
During his reign, the empire also flourishes in peace and plenty. The first god-emperor sits on this metaphorical pearl, which defines his reign. His era recalls the mythic Golden Age of Man, presided over by the titan Cronus of Greek mythology (equivalent to the Roman Saturn) and by Astraea, a goddess whose themes encompass chastity, innocence, honour, integrity and justice.
The Golden Age is a mythological concept, imagined as an era of peace without bloodshed, where humans thrived in fertile lands, living long happy lives. Indeed, in relation to Hesoid’s Five Ages of Man, Cronus and Astraea find their equivalents in the Lion-of-Night and the Maiden-made-of-Light respectively. Each of these Ages of Man experience a progressive decline in morality and justice, culminating in an escalation of vices, finally causing the departure of the goddess Astraea, who leaves the earth in despair of the brutality and wickedness of men. This is exactly what happens during the Dawn Age:
Dominion over mankind then passed to his eldest son, who was known as the pearl Emperor and ruled for a thousand years. The Jade Emperor, the Tourmaline Emperor, the Onyx Emperor, the Topaz Emperor, and the Opal Emperor followed in turn, each reigning for centuries… Yet every reign was shorter and more troubled than the one preceding it, for wild man and baleful beasts pressed at the borders of the Great Empire, lesser kings grew prideful and rebellious, and the common people gave themselves over to avarice, envy, lust, murder, incest, gluttony, and sloth. TWOIAF
Conditions in the Empire deteriorate over the centuries, climaxing in the murder of the Amethyst Princess by her brother, the Bloodstone Emperor. The pearl beyond price is utterly destroyed as he gives himself over to the dark arts, sorcery and slavery. The evil he unleashes on the earth causes the Maiden-of-Light to turn her back on mankind, bringing forth the Lion-of-Night and the Long Night:
In the annals of the further east, it was the Blood Betrayal, as his usurpation is named, that ushered in the age of darkness called the Long Night. Despairing of the evil that had been unleashed on earth, the Maiden-Made-of-Light turned her back upon the world, and the Lion of Night came forth in all his wroth to punish the wickedness of men. TWOIAF
As we examine the pearl in the story, we will discover that everything this gem stood for gradually eroded; as the pearl suffers abuse, it loses lustre and radiance to become a darker version of its former self.
The Pearl Emperor
With the exception of his name and of how long he lived, we know nothing about the Pearl Emperor himself. In my opinion, he bears that name because he incorporated all the properties of a high quality pearl (radiance, lustre and perfect shape), but in spite of his magnificence, his realm is troubled and his reign is much shorter than his father’s. This is in line with GRRM’s manner of handling things – things come at a cost: death pays for life, Davos has four fingertips removed to pay for his smuggling sins and magic is a sword without a hilt etc.
It is no different with the pearl.
Despite the peace and plenty established during his father’s reign, the Pearl Emperor and his successors face numerous challenges, both from within the realm and from external sources. According to the World Book,
… The Five Forts are very old, older than the Golden Empire itself; some claim they were raised by the Pearl Emperor during the morning of the Great Empire to keep the Lion of Night and his demons from the realms of men. TWOIAF
I’m not going to discuss the truth of this statement here. However, if this information is reliable and the Pearl Emperor felt the need to erect five massive forts to defend the realm, then our pearl was clearly in trouble. Peaceful conditions appear to have given way to stirfe. The quote also suggests that the “Lion of Night” may have been active way before the Bloodstone Emperor murdered his sister, the Amethyst Princess. Indeed, the rot may have set in very early in the history of the empire but before we investigate that aspect, we need to take a closer look at the symbolism surrounding the pearl in general.
So far, we’ve seen that the pearl represents:
- Immortality (longevity)
- Everything feminine
We shall now consider its further significance.
Fertility and Children
Appearances of the pearl within the story seem unrelated until you list them up, so let us have a look at some relevant quotes:
Sansa’s wedding cloak: “… a long cloak of white velvet heavy with pearls.”
Margery’s wedding (to Joffery and Tommen) gown is decorated with seed pearls: „… The bride was lovely in ivory silk and Myrish lace, her skirts decorated with floral patterns picked out in seed pearls. “
Jeyne Poole’s wedding dress is sewn with pearls: “…Her sleeves and bodice were sewn with freshwater pearls”
Daenerys’ wedding tokar is fringed with baby pearls: “… The bride is dressed in dark red veils above a tokar of white silk, fringed with baby pearls.”
Arya is made to wear a dress decorated with pearls: “…Lady Smallwood insisted that Arya take another bath, and cut and comb her hair besides; the dress she put her in this time was sort of lilac-colored, and decorated with little baby pearls.”
The pearl direwolf figure on the chalice given to Joffery as a wedding gift by Mace Tyrell: “… He showed them how each face bore the sigil of one of the great houses: ruby lion, emerald rose, onyx stag, silver trout, blue jade falcon, opal sun, and pearl direwolf”.
The Black Pearl (Bellegere Otherys) is a famous courtesan in Bravos who stems from a line originating from Aegon the IV Unworthy and the pirate Queen, the first Black Pearl.
Various Astapori and Yunkishmen as well as Hizdahr zo Loraq, Fourteenth of That Noble Name, wear pearl-fringed tokars.
Among the jewels adorning Illyrio’s fingers is a green pearl: “… Jewels danced when he moved his hands; onyx and opal, tiger’s eye and tourmaline, ruby, amethyst, sapphire, emerald, jet and jade, a black diamond, and a green pearl”.
The official raiment of current emperors of Yi Ti are cloth-of-gold, jade and green pearls.
The most striking observation here is that pearls often occur in relation to weddings, or at the very least, in connection with the sexual union of man and woman. Sansa, Margery, Dany and Jeyne Poole all wear wedding raiment decorated with pearls. Joffery receives the chalice bearing a pearl direwolf (amongst other sigils) on his wedding day. The Black Pearl is a Braavosi courtesan stemming from a union of Aegon the Unworthy and a Pirate Queen. Tyrion notices the green pearl on Illyrio’s fingers while they discuss a whore sent to Tyrion by Illyrio; meanwhile Tyrion is thinking of Tysha, his first wife and love, who is lost to him. Even Arya gets to wear a pearl embroidered dress, given to her by Lady Smallwood, after Tom o’ Sevens sings a song about a lord who professes his love for a maiden.
A HUNDRED CHILDREN
Dany has to wear a special tokar fringed with baby pearls during her wedding to Hizdahr; here we find out what the pearls mean to the Meereenese:
“The pearls symbolize fertility. The more pearls Your Worship wears, the more healthy children she will bear.”
“Why would I want a hundred children?” Dany turned to the Green Grace. “If we should wed by Westerosi rites …” ADWD, Daenerys
Since several quotes describe pearls in terms of seeds and babies we can rightly assign fertility to the symbolism of pearls in general. Moreover, the quote quantifies the biological fitness of expected babies – the chance of bearing healthy children increases with the number of pearls worn. The stress on healthy children is significant, especially in view of Dany’s heritage as a Targaryen. History shows that Targaryen women (or women married to Targaryens) are prone to suffer difficult pregnancies and childbirth, often bearing stillborn babies or dying in the process. Mortality in mothers and children is extraordinarily high. Since noble families generally have access to the best medical care offered by the maesters, this is a statistical oddity even in a medieval setting. As we have seen, high mortality rates also occur in culture oysters. A good 50% do not survive the seeding process, dying within a few weeks.
The idea of fertility extends to first god-emperor as well, represented by his hundred queens, his wives. We can expect a man with so many wives to have sired a great many children. In this context, Dany’s question as to why she should want a hundred children suddenly appears to hold deeper meaning and is further confounded by Mirri Maz Durr’s prophecy to Dany in which she states that Drogo will only return when Dany bears a living child. (I personally believe that MMD is referring to the rebirth of Drogo’s spirit in a living child born to Dany.)
Secondly, Dany only interprets the baby pearls in relation to children born of her own body, forgetting that her freed slaves regard her as their mother and that she is herself the “mother of dragons”. She refers to both freed slaves and dragons as her children, so we are perhaps right to assign baby pearls to her freed slaves and her dragons as well. In Chinese tradition, pearls are intimately associated with dragons, so that is another aspect worth examining later on.
The fruit of the land and the green pearl
There’s still more to the theme of fertility in connection with the pearl: the first god-emperor’s rule was a time of peace and plenty, encompassing the fertility of the land itself. We envisage green fields of ripe corn, orchards bursting with fruit and fields of sweet green grass for herds of cattle, sheep and horses. The extraordinary fertility of the land may be the link to the green pearls worn by current rulers of the Golden Empire of Yi Ti. In fact, a current map shows that the terrain occupied by the GEotD originally boasted at least two great lakes, since dried up. The Great Sand Sea was a water body of considerable size, reaching from the Howling Hills at the northern end of the Bones to Bayasabhad in the south. The Shrinking Sea occupied quite a large area of the plains in the middle of the former empire. Desertification came about during a period known as the Dry Times and these lands have not recovered since. Essos has clearly experienced desertification and an accompanying decline in fertility since the Dawn Age. The conditions here suggest the land here is no longer under the influence of the fertile pearl.
In contrast, the Golden Empire of Yi Ti (with its green-pearl wearing emperors) remains a green land of jungles and forests, and appears to have retained its ability to sustain fauna and fauna.
Garth the Green, though not mentioned in connection with the pearl is nevertheless associated with its symbolism. Possibly the first man to set foot in Westeros, he instructed the First Men in agriculture, carrying a bag of seeds to fertilize the earth wherever he went. He too was extraordinarily fertile, fathering numerous children, even inducing maidens to ‘flower’ in his presence. This theme of fertility, represented by the pearl is also a convincing piece of evidence regarding Garth Greenhand’s origins from the GEotD. From what we know about the history of the GEotD and of the Golden Empire of Yi Ti, it appears that both white and green pearls symbolize fertility. I will explore the green pearl in more detail later in this series of essays.
Daenerys’ wedding tokar
Notice that when Dany objects to wearing the wedding tokar fringed with baby pearls, it is the Green Grace who instructs her in the traditions of the Meereenese. Her role as an advisor is that of a person who imparts wisdom to others while the colour green corresponds to the theme of fertility as seen above. The Green Grace tells her that if she refuses to wear the tokar, her children will be considered bastards:
In the eyes of the city you would be the noble Hizdahr’s concubine, not his lawful wedded wife. Your children would be bastards. ADWD, Daenerys
- the combination red (the veil) and white (the tokar) + baby pearls (the fringe) are associated with a child’s legitimacy
The aspect of legitimacy is intriguing, especially because Ghiscari culture predates that of the Valyrians. Both civilizations have roots going back to the Great Empire, methinks, and it seems to me that the Ghiscari have possibly conserved more of the authentic traditions of the former Empire than the Valyrians. The white tokar, like its counterpart the white wedding dress, stands for innocence and purity. It defines a woman as a legitimate wife. In ancient Rome, the red veil distinguished newly-wed women from the unmarried. It signified love, fertility and the bond between husband and wife. Baby pearls thus also encompas the idea of legitimate children. Let’s compare these colours to sigils worn by various Targaryens.
The Targaryen sigil depicts a red dragon on a black field. The Blackfrye cadet branch has these colours reversed. Bloodraven, a legitimized bastard, chose a white dragon with red eyes breathing red flame on a black field. Jon Snow’s ‘colours’, by inference, are the same as Bloodraven’s – white with red represented by his direwolf Ghost, and black, represented by the Night’s Watch. The difference is obvious – Ghost does not breathe flame. The colour black is missing from the equation in Dany’s wedding gear and as far as I know, pearls do not openly appear in Bloodraven’s arc, while Jon is associated with the pearl direwolf. So what’s the deal here? The only concrete thing I propose at this moment is that red and white may stand for the original specification of legitimacy as seen from the perspective of the lost empire. Both Jon and Bloodraven are bastard born, a status which may be denoted by the colour black. As we see, the pearl leads us down a multitude of paths, each of which throw up questions worth investigating.
Before we continue, a summary of the symbolism of the white pearl:
- The Maiden-made-of-Light and her associated virtues including
- innocence, integrity, honour and justice
- Union of man and woman (marriage and casual)
- Babies and healthy children
- Fertility of women
- Fertility of the land
- Baby pearls denote legitimacy to the Ghiscari (possibly also during the GEotD)
- Baby pearls represent Dany’s children – her freed slaves and dragons
Casting Pearls Before the Swine
As we progress through the story, our female pearl wearers experience varying degrees of suffering, misfortune and abuse. They are “cast before the swine” and “trampled underfoot” or “given to the dogs”, as expressed so eloquently by the biblical passage:
Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
In biblical times, dogs and swine qualified as unclean animals and were highly repulsive to the people of the Orient and the East.
The Bible verse warns against offering the doctrine of the gospel to violent and abusive dogs, who would only swear and growl at you, neither to those who, unable to perceive the priceless value of the pearls of wisdom offered by the gospel, would trample (swine) them underfoot. Dogs were on a par with immoral persons, murderers, idolaters, sorcerers and all who indulged in obscenities and lies. The swine represent the ignorant, who expecting acorns, would trample upon precious pearls in rage, fury and disappointment.
Sansa, Margaery and Jeyne Poole are married off to “demons”; Sansa is betrothed to and tormented by Joffery, an evil, sadistic little shit who enjoys inflicting pain on those less powerful that himself. Later, she is wedded to Tyrion who is derogatorily termed an imp, a “twisted monkey demon”, gargoyle or halfman. Jeyne Poole marries Ramsay Bolton, a “beast in human skin”, infamous for his hunting hounds, who tear women apart. Margaery weds the very unsavoury Joffery and because of Cersei’s treachery, is currently awaiting trial in the dungeons of the Great Sept of Balor. Arya is caught up in an arduous survival adventure and is now training under the auspices of the Many Faced God, God of Death. Dany was married off to the fearsome Khal Drogo in exchange for an army. She was thrown in at the deep, forced to come to grips with a culture and language completely alien to her.
The abuse of the pearl is also illustrated by the downfall of House Stark.
HOUSE STARK AND THE PEARL DIREWOLF
There is no need to quote from the text to prove the virtues of the direwolf relevant to the symbolism of the pearl. We know the direwolves are loyal to their respective owners, guarding them, protecting them and warning them of impending danger. They also reinforce the values of House Stark itself, personified in particular by Ned Stark, a man of honour and integrity.
When Joffery receives the gifted chalice from Mace Tyrell, the first thing he suggests is to replace the pearl direwolf with the Greyjoy kraken. His desire to replace the direwolf, sigil of the Starks with that of the kraken, the very House from which Theon who betrays the Stark’s trust comes, speaks volumes. Bran is the first of the current generation of Starks to suffer misfortune. Ned, Rob and Catelyn are betrayed and killed. The House of the Pearl Direwolf experiences disaster, its remaining members scattered, Winterfell a ruin.
Pearls on the Bodice
Let’s take a closer look at the pearls cast before the swine:
We’ve seen our female pearl wearers frequently involved in unwanted marriages or subject to other adverse conditions. Two aspects require more attention: captivity and the “pearls on the bodice” phenomenon. Regarding the former, Sansa, Arya, Jeyne Poole, Margery and Dany all experience some form of curtailment to their personal freedom, and all become pawns in someone else’s game.
Sansa is a crown hostage, forced to marry Tyrion against her (and his) wishes. The heavily beaded wedding cloak represents her own House but under the circumstances, she would rather tear if off because exchanging it for the Lannister cloak dashes any hopes of escaping her captors via a marriage to Willas Tyrell.
“The cloak,” she commanded, and the women brought it out: a long cloak of white velvet heavy with pearls. A fierce direwolf was embroidered upon it in silver thread. Sansa looked at it with sudden dread. “Your father’s colors,” said Cersei, as they fastened it about her neck with a slender silver chain. ASOS, Sansa
The pearled maiden’s cloak heralds what comes next – a forced marriage and continued captivity. Sansa eventually escapes King’s Landing after the Purple Wedding with the help of Dontos. Dontos advises her to wear something warm and dark. This is what she chooses:
Dress warmly, Ser Dontos had told her, and dress dark. She had no blacks, so she chose a dress of thick brown wool. The bodice was decorated with freshwater pearls, though. The cloak will cover them. The cloak was a deep green, with a large hood. ASOS, Sansa
Freshwater pearls, presumably white and shiny, are not suited to a clandestine escape, but Sansa covers them up with her dark green cloak. She escapes King’s Landing but ends up with Lord Baelish who has plans of his own for her, including another marriage, to Harry the Heir.
Jeyne Poole, not only had no choice in the matter of her wedding to Ramsay Bolton, she is also his captive, locked up in their bedroom chamber to endure his abuse. Prior to her marriage, she was a captive in one of Littlefinger’s brothels. She also wears freshwater pearls on the bodice of her gown:
Her sleeves and bodice were sewn with freshwater pearls, and on her feet were white doeskin slippers—pretty, but not warm. Her face was pale, bloodless. ADWD, The Prince of Winterfell
Margaery wears the same gown embroidered with seed pearls during the wedding ceremonies to Joffery and later to Tommen. On the day she is arrested for adultery and treason however, she wears a gown with freshwater pearls on the bodice.
Cersei found Margaery barefoot and shivering, clad in the roughspun shift of a novice sister. Her locks were all a tangle, and her feet were filthy. “They took my clothes from me,” the little queen told her once they were alone. “I wore a gown of ivory lace, with freshwater pearls on the bodice, but the septas laid their hands on me and stripped me to the skin. AFFC, Cersei
Freshwater pearls on the bodice appear to be an ominous sign. Not only do they foreshadow captivity, their location also suggests a marker, rather like a target, but let’s have another look at Daenerys’ pearls before making any assumptions.
Dany is no longer a captive but we must remember that she was given to Khal Drogo in exchange for an army. She will later say she was sold. Indeed, her wedding jewellery includes a heavy golden collar, which though extravagant and costly is reminiscent of the collars traditionally worn by slaves. The motif of the golden collar as a mark of slavery occurs several times in the narrative. Her handmaids tell her that “… Drogo is so rich that even his slaves wear golden collars.” Similarly, as Yezzan’s slave, Tyrion wears a golden collar:
We need to flee as well, thought Tyrion. He was a slave in a golden collar, with little bells
that tinkled cheerfully with every step he took.
The golden collar and freshwater pearls belong to a set of symbols pertaining to treasures. Freshwater pearls are included in the treasures given up by the wildlings who choose to cross the Wall: “a green jade comb, a necklace of freshwater pearls … all yielded up and noted down by Bowen Marsh”. The status of being a treasure is a dubious honour at best. Captive Tyrion and Penny are treasures in Yezzan’s grotesquery. Tyrion finds out what would have happened to this treasure:
“Slaves,” she (Penny) said, flushing. “We were his special slaves, though. Just like Sweets. His treasures.”
His pets, thought Tyrion. And he loved us so much that he sent us to the pit, to be devoured by lions. ADWD, Tyrion
At the beginning of their captivity, Tyrion also notes: “One of Yezzan’s special treasures. An honor indistinguishable from a death warrant.”
Every time I read those lines, I’m reminded of John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
God sacrificed his son Jesus, his ‘treasure’, to save mankind from sin.
Are treasures and thus freshwater pearls a death warrant? The certainly appear to be. Indeed, the subject of treasures is most intriguing because those who give up all their treasures but opt to keep their treasured weapons generally have greater mastery of their destiny. This includes Arya, who keeps Needle, and Dany, who keeps Khal Drogo’s arakh as well as his mighty dragonbow instead of giving them to the funeral pyre.
While Dany dutifully wears the golden collar, she seems to have a problem with pearled clothing. She either declines wearing pearl-embroidered clothes or dons the garment when necessary, only to take it off at some point. Apart from the pearl-fringed wedding tokar, she also receives a pair of green-pearled sandals from Cleon the Great. True to the symbolism, the latter are associated with a request for her hand in marriage. She wears them for a while, even admiring them but takes them off because they pinch her feet.
“Cleon the Great sends these slippers as a token of his love for Daenerys Stormborn, the Mother of Dragons.”
Irri slid the slippers onto Dany’s feet. They were gilded leather, decorated with green freshwater pearls. Does the butcher king believe a pair of pretty slippers will win my hand? ADWD, Daenerys I
She has no use for the Qartheen gown patterned with seed pearls either, preferring Dothraki gear for her visit to the docks.
She was breaking her fast on a bowl of cold shrimp-and-persimmon soup when Irri brought her a Qartheen gown, an airy confection of ivory samite patterned with seed pearls. “Take it away,” Dany said. “The docks are no place for lady’s finery.” ACOK, Daenerys
But there is one occasion on which she actually asks for a gown embroidered with pearls on the bodice. It’s the day Daario returns to her. She wants to be beautiful for him, first wishing for a gown that leaves her breast bare…
What does Your Grace wish to wear?” asked Missandei.
Starlight and seafoam, Dany thought, a wisp of silk that leaves my left breast bare for Daario’s delight. Oh, and flowers for my hair. When first they met, the captain brought her flowers every day, all the way from Yunkai to Meereen. “Bring the grey linen gown with the pearls on the bodice. Oh, and my white lion’s pelt.” She always felt safer wrapped in Drogo’s lionskin.. ADWD, Daenerys IV
The Qartheen fashion of leaving a left breast bare always reminds me of Nissa Nissa who bared her breast to receive Azor Ahai’s smoking sword and I personally believe that this is exactly what the gown signifies. In the absence of such a gown, Dany opts for one with pearl embroidery on the bodice, the pearls marking the same place for the thrust of a Lightbringer sword. Strangely, even though she can hardly wait to see Daario, she asks for her white lionskin, in which she always feels safer. Does she have subconscious fears regarding Daario? No, I am not suggesting that Daario will do the deed. This is a set of clues to deciphering the meaning behind the ‘pearls on bodice’ phenomenon. Dany desires Daario but she also fears what he represents. The Tyroshi sellsword is violent and ruthless. He advocates war, often suggesting treacherous schemes, preferring the sword to resolving matters via diplomatic means. Indeed, Daario is counterproductive to securing the ‘pearl beyond price’. Dany herself says, “… he would make a monster of me”, ultimately sending him away on a mission to preserve herself from her own desire and from his influence.
Additionally, there are two hints associating ‘pearls on the bodice’ with a broken sword, which parallels the first attempt to forge Lightbringer in the Azor Ahai legend: Sansa still wears the pearled dress she escaped in when she reaches Lord Baelish’s abode on the Fingers. He takes her on a tour of his little realm, showing her the broken sword and battered shield with the Titan head sigil hanging in his hall.
And when the wildlings pass through the Wall, giving up their treasures as they go, we get a mention of freshwater pearls followed by a broken sword with three sapphires in the hilt.
a green jade comb, a necklace of freshwater pearls … all yielded up and noted down by Bowen Marsh. One man surrendered a shirt of silver scales that had surely been made for some great lord. Another produced a broken sword with three sapphires in the hilt.
Both swords represent the first phase in the forging of Lightbringer, while the slaying of the white lion by Drogo may represent the second attempt. Whatever the case, “pearls on the bodice” are an ominous sign, suggesting the wearer is a potential candidate for the forging of Lightbringer or at the very least, earmarked for sacrifice or death. To underscore this imagery, they appear as an omen of death as part of Lysa Tully’s clothing. Here we find a direct association between pearls on the bodice and death:
The Lady Lysa wore black silk, with the moon-and-falcon sewn on her breast in pearls. Since she did not look the sort to join the Night’s Watch, Tyrion could only imagine that she had decided mourning clothes were appropriate garb for a confession. AGOT, Tyrion V
Tyrion associates Lysa’s garment with mourning, with death. She will eventually meet her end through the moon door (another pearl symbol), pushed by Littlefinger. Remember Tyrion also associates treasures, which include freshwater pearls, with a death warrant. Let’s not forget the whores of Mole’s Town, commonly referred to as “buried treasure”, murdered by wildlings. Having the status of a treasure is clearly not a good thing!
In relation to the backstory, we can conclude that white pearls, which symbolize innocence, purity, integrity, peace and maidenhood, are synonymous with sacrificial pawns in terms of the overall plot of the narrative. The pearl moon and falcon carry similar meaning in the above scene, the moon encompassing the symbolism of the pearl and the falcon signifying liberty and freedom, both of which are dashed to pieces together with Lysa Tully 600 feet below the Eyrie.
Like Daenerys, Arya also gets to wear baby-pearls, making them unique amongst pearl wearers. Like Daenerys, she does not want to wear the dress bearing them. She is captured by several different factions, including the Hound, his brother Gregor Clegane and the Brotherhood without Banners, during her odyssey through the Riverlands.
I’d like to point out that Arya’s arc reflects the symbolism of the Bible verse perfectly. She is a prime example of a pearl that has been “cast before the swine”, Arya’s nickname – Arya Underfoot, apparently given to her because she was always getting under other people’s feet, reflects this as well.
Additionally, Arya is also captured by two ‘dogs’, represented by Gregor and Sandor Clegane. Interestingly, she also has a recurring nightmare involving a monstrous dog:
It was always raining in that dream, and she could hear her mother screaming, but a monster with a dog’s head would not let her go save her. In that dream, she was always weeping, like a frightened little girl. AFFC, Cat of the Canals
She is a pearl of ancient lineage, an extraordinary child from a noble pearl house, captured and trampled underfoot by various parties. Noteworthy in this context is that all who know her identity also know her real value and want to ransom her for profit.
Arya’s arc reveals the ultimate transformation of the abused baby-pearl: it indicates that the original bright lustrous pearl gradually transformed into something else, no less valuable but infinitely darker. Neither Arya nor Dany want to remain vulnerable white baby-pearls.
The white pearl becomes a black pearl, independent-minded, capable of defending herself and vengeful, seeking righteous justice in retaliation to wrongs suffered.
The Queen of Cockles and the Black Pearl
ARYA AND THE BLACK PEARL
Arya is uncompromising in her quest for righteous justice. Her prayer is a list of people she wants dead and she will not hesitate to murder those she has earmarked.
Arya’s association with the black pearl is much more apparent than Dany’s. Firstly, though there are many courtesans to choose from, the kindly man suggests sending her to the Black Pearl or to the Daughter of the Dusk (whom I believe is represented by the black diamond):
Or would you sooner be a courtesan, and have songs sung of your beauty? Speak the word, and we will send you to the Black Pearl or the Daughter of the Dusk. AFFC, Arya
Later, Arya personally meets the Black Pearl, who buys some cockles from her:
“Which one was this, now? The Queen o’ Cockles, was it?”
“The Black Pearl,” she told them. Merry claimed the Black Pearl was the most famous courtesan of all. “She’s descended from the dragons, that one,” the woman had told Cat. “The first Black Pearl was a pirate queen. A Westerosi prince took her for a lover and got a daughter on her, who grew up to be a courtesan. Her own daughter followed her, and her daughter after her, until you get to this one. What did she say to you, Cat?”
AFFC, Cat of the Canals
I don’t have to expand on the implications of the first Black Pearl’s occupation as a pirate or its relationship to Arya’s profile in the narrative. The Westerosi prince who took the first Black Pearl for a lover happened to be Aegon the Unworthy, a man on a par with Henry the Eighth of England. Aegon IV went down in history as the king who was vile towards his sister-wife, kept numerous mistresses and who legitimized his bastards, ultimately giving rise to six Blackfyre rebellions in a struggle for the Iron Throne.
The first Black Pearl’s daughter did not follow in her mother’s footsteps, becoming a courtesan instead. Note that her daughter and her daughter’s daughters also inherit the title the “Black Pearl”. If the pearl is considered in terms of inheritance, then this indicates that the “pearl trait” is passed down through the female line. By way of Aegon the IV, the quote also establishes a link between the black pearl and Targaryens. According to the World Book, the Black Pearls are also the “most storied and most infamous” of the courtesans. We are not told why. Perhaps the reference to “the Queen of Cockles” can shed more light on the secret behind the Black Pearl.
THE QUEEN OF COCKLES
Like the oyster, the cockle is a marine bivalve mollusc, a clam. In life, when its two shells are joined it resembles a heart and is thus known as a heart-shell in some languages. The Latin scientific name of the genus to which the cockle belongs is Cardium, meaning heart.
Is the Queen of Cockles really the Queen of Hearts?
I think she is, with a twist. Since the Queen of Hearts is part of the suit of hearts in playing cards, it is worth looking at what she represents.
In playing card tradition, historical or biblical figures are assigned to all the court cards of a deck. The English Queen of Hearts is represented either by Elizabeth of York, mother of King Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. Elizabeth of York’s political marriage to Henry VII formally ended the War of the Roses. She is the ancestor of all following British and Scottish monarchs. This is significant because George has stated that he was inspired by the War of the Roses and that Aegon IV reflects Henry the Eighth. Anne Boleyn was known for her intelligence and independent spirit. She was a well-educated woman who had difficulty playing the submissive role expected of women at the time. Weary of her tiresome unconventionality and disappointed that she had not given him an heir, Henry accused her of adultery and treason and sentenced her to death. She was beheaded. Her daughter, Elizabeth I of England eventually ascended to the throne. She ruled for 46 years and is remembered as the Virgin Queen and ruler over Golden Age of progress. Remember that her reign was also termed the Pearl Age.
In French playing cards, Judith, the heroine of the Hebrew text The Book of Judith represents the Queen of Hearts. Judith is a beautiful courageous woman who saves the Israelites by ingratiating herself to the enemy general, Holofernes, a commander of the Assyrian army. She gains his trust and one night, when he’s ‘in his cups’, she decapitates him and carries his head home. By this infamous act, the Assyrians are rendered leaderless and her fellow citizens are saved.
The historical women representing the Queen of Hearts reflect the progression of our pearls from pawn to player, beginning with Elizabeth of York, whom we can view as a pawn used to secure the peace (a white pearl), followed by Anne Boleyn, put to death also because of her spirited nature (intermediate – perhaps a green pearl?), through to Judith, a woman who successfully combines wiles and wit to save her nation (black pearl).
Judith’s story pretty much sums up the capabilities of a Black Pearl. All the courtesans of Braavos are beautiful and much sought after, so much so that Braavos duel over them and ‘merchant princes pay royal ransoms to have them on their arms at balls and feasts and mummer shows’; the Black Pearl is the most famous of them all. Who better to infiltrate an enemy than the most skilled courtesan of all? Arya has all the makings of a Black Pearl but she is still a scruffy little girl with no desire to make herself pretty. Yet as we see in the sample chapter from TWOW, she has already used womanly wiles to claim her latest victim. It would not surprise me to see her sent to the Black Pearl for training in how to employ her ‘female weapons’ as well as to enhance her appearance. She will need to work on the latter, especially if her plot includes infiltrating the courts of kings and noblemen to fulfil a mission.
The above motif of the Queen of Hearts is complemented by her counterpart in the tarot, the Queen of Cups, or more precisely, by the connotations of the cup in relation to Arya’s role as a cupbearer. In Norse mythology, the Valkyrie are beautiful women who are cupbearers and ‘choosers of the slain’. They determine who will die in battle and who will live. I highly recommend sweetsunray’s essay, The Valkyrie of the FM – theory about the First and the First Reborn, in which she shows how Arya’s profile sets her up as a cupbearer and chooser of the slain. She marks certain people for death and carries out the sentence herself. Actually, this should also remind us of Ned Stark’s maxim: “the judge who called for death should wield the sword”. This is one of the roles of the black pearl.
THE CHESS QUEEN
In Lewis Carroll’s two novels, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen also remind me of the Black Pearl motif crystalizing out here. The Queen of Hearts is characterized as strict, with a passionate fury, settling disputes via a death sentence, her favourite phrase being “Off with their heads”, (think Judith and Arya here as well) while the Red Queen is strict and formal but acts with cold calm passion. Carroll pictured both Queens as Furies, those chthonic deities of vengeance who punished whoever had sworn a false oath. Perhaps the ‘Black Pearl’ is an amalgam of these two queens, incorporating a bit of both. Notably, the Red Queen is a chess piece, meaning she can go anywhere on the board. Those of you who play chess also know that a mere pawn can become a Queen if the game is played with skill.
Melisandre, also referred to as the ‘red queen’ in the narrative, shows all the characteristics of a black pearl. She was sold to the red god’s temple as a child. Her career must have included service as a temple prostitute. She manages her own destiny and determines the fate of others. As Davos watches her birth the shadow in the darkness of the cave under Storm’s End, he sees that Melisandre’s body shines, much as the moon or a lustrous pearl does.
“Gods preserve us,” he whispered, and heard her answering laugh, deep and throaty. Her eyes were hot coals, and the sweat that dappled her skin seemed to glow with a light of its own. Melisandre shone. ACOK, Davos
She begins life as a pawn, bought and sold as a slave. She persevers and like the chess queen, she manoeuvres the board by all means at her disposal – seduction, sorcery, prophecy – to manipulate Stannis and in pursuit of her ultimate goal.
Dany and Arya have progressed in their individual chess-games and the analogy applies particularly well to Dany, who has literally evolved from pawn to queen. The analogy becomes even more relevant in her case because cyvasse is a game comparable to chess and we know Tyrion, an above average cyvasse-player, is on her way to her.
DAENERYS, THE BLACK PEARL
Daenerys is very much a traditional Queen of Hearts, at least to her slaves, who call her mother, and to the men who love her and are prepared to fight for her: the Unsullied, Ser Jorah, Barristan Selmy, Daario Naharis and Khal Drogo, for whom she was “the moon of my life.” Later, as queen of Meereen, she will also be addressed as ‘Your Radiance’, again evoking a radiant pearl.
Daenerys, after her soul-searching experience in the Dothraki Sea, will draw on her ‘black pearl’ nature, seeking to destroy those she perceives as having betrayed her family and to reclaim what she sees as her birthright. Robert Baratheon is dead, but like Arya, she will go after the swine and the dogs who tore the white pearl apart and trampled it underfoot.
Robert the Usurper is twice associated with swine – via the pig because of his weight as well as the boar that killed him. Before we go on, consider this passage, which illustrates Robert Baratheon’s less obvious association with swine:
“Look at these oafs, Ned. My wife insisted I take these two to squire for me, and they’re worse than useless. Can’t even put a man’s armor on him properly. Squires, they say. I say they’re swineherds dressed up in silk.”
Ned only needed a glance to understand the difficulty. “The boys are not at fault,” he told the king. “You’re too fat for your armor, Robert.” AGOT, Eddard
It’s interesting that Robert describes his squires as swineherds. Squires attend to and ‘look after’ the lords and knights they serve, while swineherds look after swine. While Robert’s use of the term is meant to insult, he is essentially equating himself with the swine that the swineherd looks after. Cersei is quite clear on what she thinks of Robert’s style of lovemaking – she compares him to a grunting boar:
Those had been the worst nights, lying helpless underneath him as he took his pleasure, stinking of wine and grunting like a boar. AFFC, Cersei
Note that Robert’s behaviour towards Cersei reflects the biblical interpretation of casting pearls before the swine rather well. He rejects her, ‘tramples her underfoot’, in his disappointment and grief over losing Lyanna.
Besides Robert’s derogatroy swineherd comment about the Lannister boys, the Lannisters themselves appear to be associated with swine. Cersei cannot get enough of wild boar dishes, which she eats with relish after Robert’s death. Tyrion rides Penny’s pig in their show and Jamie squired for Lord Crakehall, whose sigil is a brindled boar.
The Usurper’s Dogs are easy to define – we know Dany believes them to include the Lannisters (very clear here due to their vassals, the Cleganes), and the Starks. Like the biblical dogs, both Cleganes have been known to “tear their victims apart”, the Hound literally hunting Micah the butcher’s boy down and cutting him into two and Gregor, who has indulged in all manner of atrocities including the horrific murder of Elia of Dorne and her son Aegon. Even though Barristan Selmy informs her of Ned Stark’s refusal to do her harm, Daenerys in intent on including him in her list of “dogs”:
“Have you forgotten Princess Rhaenys and Prince Aegon?” “Never. That was Lannister work, Your Grace.”
“Lannister or Stark, what difference? Viserys used to call them the Usurper’s dogs. If a child is set upon by a pack of hounds, does it matter which one tears out his throat? All the dogs are just as guilty. ADWD, Daenerys II
Well, perhaps her feelings are justified in terms of the hidden backstory – dogs and wolves differ mainly in respect of domestication. So Dany hates the “Usurper’s dogs”, and she has no love for the Ghiscari, who on a close look, love dogs, at least in the form of food, for dog dishes are a delicacy from Astapor to Meereen.
“Good Master Kraznys would be most pleased to show you Astapor while you ponder, Your Grace,” the translator said.
“I will feed her jellied dog brains, and a fine rich stew of red octopus and unborn puppy.
Gourmet dog dishes, most unappetizing to us, are fit for a feast as far as the Ghiscari are concerned. Interesting also is their growling language, again reminding us of dogs:
Kraznys’s High Valyrian was twisted and thickened by the characteristic growl of Ghis
The tall Grazdan with the spiked beard spoke in the Common Tongue, though not so well as the slave girl. “Your Grace,” he growled, “Westeros is being wealthy, yes, but you are not being queen now.
Neither dogs nor swine feature positively in Dany’s subconscious memory or cultural inheritance. Though more subtle than Arya, she also keeps an internal list of people she wants to destroy.
While Dany and Arya both undergo transformations to black pearls, the paths George defines for them are different. Daenerys unleashed her dragons against Astapor, has given in to vengeful feelings, practicing the doctrine of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth by condemning the masters of Meereen to the same treatment to which they subjected the slave children. On the other hand, Daenerys also succumbs to introspection and internal dialogue and tries to supress her less conciliatory impulses. Thoughts of her father make her wonder if she is afflicted with madness; she worries about becoming a monster; she locked up her dragons; she has haggled both with her conscience and with her enemies in an effort to bring about peace; and she marries a man she does not desire to secure this peace. This quote adequately sums up her internal struggle:
To rule Meereen I must win the Meereenese, however much I may despise them.
In relation to the white pearl of peace and the black pearl of vengeance, George once again uses clothing to symbolize the dual nature of her conflict:
Xaro had warned her that the Enthroned would never listen to a Dothraki, so she had taken care to go before them in flowing green samite with one breast bared, silvered sandals on her feet, with a belt of black-and-white pearls about her waist. ACOK, Daenerys
Nevertheless, I believe Daenerys will give up the peace she has worked for in favour of “blood and fire.”
At this stage, I shall risk a prediction: we’ve seen Daenerys reject both the green pearls and the white pearl of peace. Her transformation into a black pearl on a path of vengeance appears complete. Consider Dany’s last chapter in ADWD, which describes the metamorphosis she undergoes. She even forgets Hazzea’s name, the little girl killed by Drogon. The last scene we witness appears to indicate that she will take command of the Dothraki facing her. I doubt Khal Jhaqo and his warriors would dare approach her knowing that Drogon is at her side, if they intend to harm her.
That was how Khal Jhaqo found her, when half a hundred mounted warriors emerged from the drifting smoke. ADWD, Daenerys
I expect her to be accepted by them, as “the Stallion who Mounts the World”, which is foreshadowed by one of her visions in the House of the Undying:
Beneath the Mother of Mountains, a line of naked crones crept from a great lake and knelt shivering before her, their grey heads bowed. ACOK, Daenerys
Prophecies are notoriously unreliable. It is known. A last little tit-bit foreshadowing the end of her peace plans is offered by Episode 9 of Season 5: as the Dothraki begin to surround her, she takes off her ring, set with white pearls, letting it fall to the ground.
WHAT CAN WE INFER FROM THIS STUDY OF THE PEARL?
From its symbolism so far, my understanding is that pearl women embody an intrinsic magical property, something special that was known to the ancients in the backstory. The most likely feature is that of immortality or longevity because everything the pearl represents propagates and fosters a long life. Think about it – peaceful periods mean humans can go about their daily lives without worrying about losing their homes and livelihoods, or worse, being killed. Fertility of the land guarantees bountiful harvests with enough food for all citizens, while the fecundity of men and women ensures survival of the race. Knowledge and wisdom promote progress in all fields of art, science and culture, contributing towards better technologies that increase the standard of living. On a purely realistic level, all of these factors contribute to lower mortality rates within a population while at the same time increasing the average life expectancy of all individuals. Of course, the pearl itself symbolizes both immortality and the immortal portion of a person’s soul and its qualities in the narrative must also be seen in the context of magic. Oysters, clams and cockles thus represent the women who harbour this magical inheritance and George even equates these organisms with magic:
“Oysters, clams, and cockles” were Cat’s magic words, and like all good magic words they could take her almost anywhere. AFFC, Cat of the Canals
The irregular seasons of the planet are related to this idea as well. As long as there is a balance between rain and sunshine, long summers promise abundant food for man and beast, as well as the warmth without which life cannot exist. Long harsh winters are a time of no growth, no food and freezing temperatures for which all must adequately prepare in order to survive. In Westeros there is the added worry of the Others, those mysterious beings of ice who apparently seek to destroy every living thing. The imbalance of seasons can therefore also be seen in terms of a corruption of the properties of the pearl.
The pearl represents women possessed of its magic, perhaps a genetic trait handed down through time from the original ‘pearl-mothers’. In the context of the hidden back-story, it reduces them to sought-after pawns, renders them vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment and marks them as potential sacrificial victims. Their best defence requires shedding all notions of chivalrous, virtuous behaviour. They need to attain independence for themselves, learn to play the game of lies and deceit, be willing to take risks and adopt an active and aggressive outlook on life. In short, they must become black pearls.
PLENTY TO THINK ABOUT
At this point, I shall indulge in a bit of speculation brought on through my study of the pearl.
All our valuable pearl wearers undergo exploitation and abuse. Most are married off to men regarded as monsters. Even Jeyne Poole, the daughter of a steward qualifies, because she also harbours these traits. Her name is actually also a clue – pronounce it a bit differently and you find yourself saying “Gene Pool”. If it was the ability to prolong life that made the original “pearl women” of the past so sought after, how they did they accomplish this? Let’s just say it involved magic. Whatever the case, conditions must have deteriorated considerably for these women somewhere along the line. With such a demand for their inherent life-giving qualities, we can imagine men circumventing tradition and instead of wooing a woman or asking for her hand in marriage, simply resorting to stealing her instead. This scenario offers an explanation for the custom of stealing women seen in the wildlings as well as the taking of “saltwives”, who are thralls, by the Ironborn.
The slaves of Essos are customarily marked with a tattoo denoting their status. Interesting in this regard are the tears tattooed beneath the cheeks of slave prostitutes and their implication in terms of the theme of maltreated women. As it happens, tears are also intimately associated with pearls in many cultures, where they are conceived of as the tears of the moon. Our pearl-wearers have every reason to weep. Sansa is even beaten, the scars on Jeyne’s back indicate whipping and of course she suffers sexual abuse. Then, via the ‘pearls on the bodice’ phenomenon, we have indications that they may be sacrificial victims. As far as the latter is concerned, the symbolism is pretty consistent. Consider also the burning of the Seven, carried out by Melisandre:
They were all afire now, Maid and Mother, Warrior and Smith, the Crone with her pearl eyes and the Father with his gilded beard; even the Stranger, carved to look more animal than human …
The Mother seemed almost to shudder as the flames came licking up her face. A longsword had been thrust through her heart, and its leather grip was alive with flame.. ACOK, Davos I
Fittingly, the Crone, the wise face of the Seven, who shows the way with her lantern, has pearl eyes and is sacrificed to the Red God, as is the Mother, who serves as a re-enactment of the forging of Lightbringer in the ritual burning of the Seven. The mother is very significant in terms of the magical heritage of pearl women. According to the Lightbringer legend, “her blood and her soul and her strength and her courage all went into the steel”. She is the victim of a blood sacrifice which causes her inner magic to flow into the sword, infusing it with warmth and with special powers, rendering it “alive with light”. The sword is thrust through her living heart, and in fact, we have another parallel to real oysters here, which are best eaten alive. This brings to mind Biter and Rorge, who brutalise female victims, literally eating them alive. Biter inflicts this horror on Brienne, while Rorge savages a girl at Saltpans, chewing off her breasts. Let’s not forget Arya’s recollection of the Titan of Braavos, who according to Old Nan, feeds on the juicy pink flesh of maidens. This imagery is also manifest in Old Nan’s tales of the Others, who “smell the hot blood” of the living and hunt down maidens on giant ice spiders. In fact, the unnatural origin of the Others is probably linked to the abuse and rape of pearl women. That Daenerys chooses to save the Lamb Women from rape is also ‘fraught with meaning’. Note also that the Others are thought to sleep and wake thousands of years later, indicating that they enjoy great longevity or even immortality, if they are not vanquished. I’ll be discussing this idea in more detail in a future essay.
Given this scenario, it is not too far-fetched to presume that the remaining descendants of original pearl-women chose to fight back rather than endure exploitation in the ways described above. I doubt the ancient “pearls” simply gave up their secrets to their aggressors. Remember that real oysters only produce pearls in self-defence to an “attack” by microbes and other irritants, which we can interpret as an abuse of the pearl. It is highly possible that the ancestry of various warrior-women of Essos (including Nymeria of the Rhoynar) is traceable to the ancient pearl oysters. Arya’s arc certainly reflects this development. However, fighting back was not the only mechanism of defence. The one mechanism relevant to the story is that of camouflage, of going into hiding in a really unique way. It finds its equivalent in the real world in the form of the Winged Oyster (described above), more familiarly known to us as:
- warging into animals, including wolves (Bran is the Winged Wolf)
- becoming one with or “waking the dragon”
Pearls and the subject matter are encompasses is complex and dynamic. My original intention to write a single essay quickly mutated into a mammoth project to be explored in a number of essays.
The next point of interest are the ancestral pearl mothers possessed of this inner magic. Who were they? There’s only one answer to this question: they were the Fisher Queens of the Silver Sea. I’ve already touched on the link between Daenerys and the Fisher Queens in this essay. Since then, much more evidence has surfaced.
Thanks for reading. Comments are always welcome!
- The Pearl of Great Price
- Gems from the Element of Water
- Pearls of the Dawn
- Fertility and Children
- Casting Pearls before the Swine
- The Queen of Cockles and the Black Pearl