Purple Prose in Green and Red

Ser Alliser Thorne walked from the room so stiffly it looked as though he had a dagger up his butt.

A Game of Thrones

In ASOIAF, the tone can be very casual and very purple.

It was never far, though. From up here Tyrion could see it, the dark trees looming beyond the stretch of open ground, like a second wall built parallel to the first, a wall of night. Few axes had ever swung in that black wood, where even the moonlight could not penetrate the ancient tangle of root and thorn and grasping limb. Out there the trees grew huge, and the rangers said they seemed to brood and knew not men. It was small wonder the Night’s Watch named it the haunted forest.

Martin shifts into antiquated diction: “tangle of root and thorn and grasping limb”; “Knew not”; “small wonder”. He doesn’t tell us who is swinging these few axes, they seem to swing themselves, as though enchanted.

I mention in the essay on psychic distance how purple narration can be distracting. Here I’d like to point out Martin’s reasons for using it: as an ecstatic response to nature and violence.

He sprang to his feet and drove at her, the longsword alive in his hands. Brienne jumped back, parrying, but he followed, pressing the attack. No sooner did she turn one cut than the next was upon her. The swords kissed and sprang apart and kissed again. Jaime’s blood was singing. This was what he was meant for; he never felt so alive as when he was fighting, with death balanced on every stroke. […] His cousin’s sword was long enough to write an end to this Brienne of Tarth.

High, low, overhand, he rained down steel upon her. […]

Jaime could not have said how long he pressed the attack. It might have been minutes or it might have been hours; time slept when swords woke.

It’s about the green and the red, for Martin. Presented with the overpowering and wordless sensations of nature and violence, his writing can leap into a high register to capture the experience or distance the reader from it.

It was blood the crowds came for: death, dismemberment, and shrieks of agony, the music of the scarlet sands.

The white knight raised his blade, too slowly. Hotah’s longaxe took his right arm off at the shoulder, spun away spraying blood, and came flashing back again in a terrible two-handed slash that removed the head of Arys Oakheart and sent it spinning through the air. It landed amongst the reeds, and the Greenblood swallowed the red with a soft splash.

Dany slowed to a trot and rode out onto the plain, losing herself in the green, blessedly alone.

They heard the faint sound of soft feet on wet leaves. The undergrowth parted, low-hanging branches giving up their accumulation of snow, and Grey Wind and Summer emerged from the green.

A heartbeat, two, four, and suddenly it was as if she and her protectors were alone in the wood. The rest were melted away into the green.

Jaime Lannister poked at Ned’s chest with the gilded sword that had sipped the blood of the last of the Dragonkings

This one is just odd.

The pockmarks on Ser Ilyn’s face were black holes in the torchlight, as dark as Jaime’s soul. He made that clacking sound.

Return to table of contents