The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. A pale sun rose and set and rose again. Red leaves whispered in the wind. Dark clouds filled the skies and turned to storms.
—Bran III, A Dance with Dragons; volume five in A Song of Ice and Fire.
Author George R. R. Martin, in one of his strongest, and most rhythmic chapters in A Song of Ice and Fire brings the reader into long, uninterrupted passage of time. Written with exacting precision, we, along with the moon and the characters therein, cycle through time as Bran trains with the Three-Eyed Raven. “The moon was fat and full… The moon was a black hole in the sky… The moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife.” The cycle repeats no fewer than three times as readers work through Bran’s journey. Cold and lonely in a cave unseeing yet aware of the cold, cruel world outside. We endure the passage of time with our protagonist. Aware of both repetition, effort and duration. This takes peculiar significance with Bran who himself is able to take over the minds of others, man and beast. As readers, Martin is imploring us to do the same through his language. We become Bran in that cave.
Recalling how I felt when I first read through this chapter I marvel at what Martin had done. His use of language, tone, rhythm and repetition stirring my imagination. I saw the moon. I experienced the time. I was with our hero feeling the burden of the work and paralyzed with the task ahead. I am not a prodigious reader, nor am I schooled in language, grammar or creative writing. Yet this chapter left a mark as though made from a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. It took the habit of reading, and thereby the art of writing, to a new level of appreciation. For the first time I perceived how exacting words can move mind, body and soul. It was tangible evidence that reading is essential to better writing. It is the key to better storytelling. The key to better understanding of our world and our audience.
Standing out on the marsh last week, watching a sunset fade, I saw the moon was a crescent, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife. Immediately transported I saw all the sickled moon blades I’d witnessed over the years. In the same moment I was Bran. At the same moment still I was reading Martin’s words, seeing again all the sickled moon blades I’d witnessed over the years. Sharp as a knife, black as a hole, fat and full. Anything… everything happening at once, thin and sharp as the blade of a knife.
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