As I continue my journey through the epic fantasy that is George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones series it has become increasingly aware that the descriptors of sound within the scene setting used within his world, that extends from the Summer Isles to the frozen wastes beyond the wall, provides a rich backdrop to what is already a visually fantastic place. I hadn’t noticed this in other literature to the same effect, perhaps it is my acoustic interest that has pricked my ears to several scenes within the books that make me feel as if George R R Martin has more than a little understanding of sound, acoustics and its relationship within the landscape.
You may consider that this is down to good writing but when I notice such gems as characters berating each other to keep quite noting that their voices will travel further over the surface of a lake and give away their hiding place (alas I have searched and searched but I cant recall where in the 1000’s of pages that this scene occurred) then I consider that Mr Martin knows more about acoustics than he is letting on.
For example, a fantastic scene occurs in the first book, where Catelyn Stark watches her son Robb lead his men of Winterfell against Jaime Lannister. Maege Mormont’s warhorn sounds the start of the battle, the direwolf, Grey Wind, howls a response as the Greatjon respond with warhorns and the trumpets of the Mallisters and Freys blew vengeance. Rather than explain, I feel it best just to quote Mr Martin’s text:
‘The whispering wood let out its breath all at once, as the bowmen Robb had hidden in the branches of the trees let fly their arrows and the night erupted with the screams of men and horses’
The battle is later described through Catelyn Stark’s hearing…
‘When she realised there was no more to see, she closed her eyes and listened. The battle came alive around her. She heard hoofbeats, iron boots splashing in shallow water, the woody sound of swords on oaken shields and the scrape of steel against steel, the hiss of arrows, the thunder of drums, the terrified screaming of a thousand horses. Men shouted curses and begged for mercy, and got it (or not), and lived (or died). The ridges seem to play queer tricks with sound. Once, she heard Robb’s voice, as clear as if he’d been standing at her side, calling, “To me! To me!” And she heard his direwolf, snarling and growling, heard the snap of those long teeth, the tearing of flesh, shrieks of fear and pain from man and horse alike. Was there only one wolf? it was hard to be certain. Little by little, the sounds dwindled and died, until at last there was only the wolf.’
What a fantastic scene, completely described by only sound to provide the reader with a complete visual idea of the battle. We could explain the acoustic phenomenon of why Catelyn could hear her sons voice so clearly within the chaos of the battle but we couldn’t make it sound as great as George R R Martin, so for this time, it is better left unsaid.