*This post may contain spoilers for those who have not read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
I’ve been racking my brains for the last few weeks for some interesting topics to talk about here on the blog between book releases, and one topic I’ve been wanting to tackle for a while is some of my imaginary, literary heroes, characters in books I’ve read over the years that really resonated with me as a reader even long after I’ve put the book down.
To launch the first of many to come, I want to talk about one of my all-time favorite literary geniuses: Tyrion Lannister from George R.R. Martin’s epic saga, A Song of Ice and Fire.
Also sometimes known as The Imp or The Half-man, Tyrion Lannister is the youngest of the Lannister children, who is often berated by his older sister, Cersei and his father, Tywin, for killing his mother as she bore him. He is a dwarf, and in George R.R. Martin’s world, dwarfs are often abused, beaten down and used for ridiculous entertainment purposes, and Tyrion often makes a mockery of this, especially in the face of his father. To Jon Snow, who snarkily asked him what he knew about being a bastard, Tyrion replied, “All dwarfs are bastards in their father’s eyes,” (Martin, A Game of Thrones, Chapter 5,) and it is no small secret that Tywin Lannister looks upon his youngest son this way.
To make up for his small stature, Tyrion spent his life developing his intelligence, wit and humor, very rarely allowing those who scorn him for his size to get under his skin. His older brother Jaime seems to be the only one in his direct family who has any love for Tyrion at all, and it is because of this kindness that during the first half of the series Tyrion believes Jaime could do just about anything and he would forgive him for it.
But there is a dark story in Tyrion’s past that is often referred to when his love of whores and drink become the focal point for his character. As a young man Tyrion fell in love with a girl named Tysha, and though she was labeled a whore who only wanted him for his money, Tysha seemed to genuinely love him too. They were married without his father’s consent, and lived happily for only a matter of days before Tywin Lannister marched in with his men, tore them apart and forced his son to watch while his men raped and paid her for her services to convince young Tyrion that she was a whore who only wanted him for his money.
This awful story haunts Tyrion, because he believed Tysha loved him, and to avoid allowing himself to ever endure that kind of pain again he frequents whorehouses with an underlying hope that somehow he will find her again and discover the truth. After Joffrey is murdered at his wedding feast, and Tyrion is imprisoned for the crime, Jaime Lannister confesses to Tyrion that Tysha was not a whore, shattering the brothers’ bond between them and forcing Tyrion to angrily declare to Jaime that their sister Cersei, who had been Jaime’s lover all his life, had slept with dozens of men and that he did murder Joffrey, even though he had no hand Joffrey’s death. You know what they say… A Lannister always pays his debts, and though the brothers had always been close, that single act of betrayal was enough to tear them apart.
One of the things I love most about Tyrion Lannister is that circumstances made him more than just a mere survivor. His intelligence and wit make him a formidable adversary and his kind heart, though he often denies even having one, cast him in a sympathetic light, despite many of his shortcomings. On the eve of his marriage to Sansa Stark, he told her, “I am malformed, scarred, and small, but… abed, when the candles are blown out, I am made no worse than other men. In the dark, I am the Knight of Flowers. I am generous. Loyal to those who are loyal to me. I’ve proven I’m no craven. And I am cleverer than most, surely wits count for something. I can even be kind. Kindness is not a habit with us Lannisters, I fear, but I know I have some somewhere. I could be… I could be good to you.” (Martin, A Storm of Swords, Chapter 68.)
And for me that is one of his most admirable qualities. Tyrion wants to be good, even though he often hides behind a veil of bitter cunning and snark; in the end he wants the same thing we all want: to be loved, to be accepted for who he is. This longing for love and acceptance tends to get him into more trouble than its worth enduring, but he continues to search and secretly hope for it even though he knows it’s doubtful he will ever truly know it.
Tyrion takes great pride in showing those who doubt him the error of their ways, constantly rising above his own limitations to come out on top of the game. He’s had to work incredibly hard to be the man he is, and the fact that he’s seen so much hardship, despite being a part of one of the most prosperous and influential families in the realm makes him a dynamic source for inspirational quotes. The bit of wisdom he passed onto Jon Snow, for example, when the latter asked him why he read so much in A Game of Thrones, “My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer and I have my mind… and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.” (Martin, A Game of Thrones, Chapter 5.)
There are so many lessons to be learned from The Imp, words of wisdom that speak to all our hearts if we listen closely. We must work with what we have, instead of trying to be something we are not. If we are not strong of body, we must be strong of mind if we want to survive. There are no small parts in this life, in some way we are all larger than life, we just don’t know it yet. Sometimes we do things that make us doubt ourselves, and sometimes the world does things to us that we can’t do much about, but we never stop being what we truly are at our very core, and if we choose to be good that goodness will find ways of shining through.
I think Maester Aemon said it best while Tyrion was visiting the Night’s Watch in the North: “Oh, I think Lord Tyrion is quite a large man. I think he is a giant come among us, here at the end of the world.” (Martin, A Game of Thrones, Chapter 21). A man doesn’t have to be large in stature to be a true giant, and whether you love him or hate him, there is no doubt in my mind that Tyrion Lannister is, as Maester Aemon noted, a giant among imaginary men.