I decided to break this song out in to its own page because I tend to refer back to it often and realized I needed an unobstructed resource page. I did cover this song in the Jon the Bear essay, as well as all of the Jon and Val details from the main Jon page. Or, you can read a little more about the literary origins of Val across time in Martinworld.
To begin, you’ve certainly seen the iconic Grateful Dead “dancing bears” a time or two. Initially designed by artist Bob Thomas to appear on the back cover of the band’s 1973 release, The History of the Grateful Dead, Volume 1 (Bear’s Choice), the bears have become deeply ingrained in the culture surrounding the Grateful Dead, and have taken on layers of symbolic meaning over the years.
Before you understand the full meaning behind the Grateful Dead bears, you have to look at the man who they were designed for: Owsley “Bear” Stanley. In addition to being the band’s sound engineer in the early days, Stanley was also the chemist behind the creation and distribution of a large proportion of the LSD that was being consumed in the United States in the 1960s and beyond.
In a 2015 interview at New York’s 92nd St. Y, Martin explained, “I’m certainly a fan of the Grateful Dead, I’ve attended Grateful Dead concerts… My wife Paris is perhaps more of a fan of the Grateful Dead than I am.” In the same interview, he noted, “I do have Grateful Dead lyrics always rattling around in my head…‘Ripple’ is one of my favorite songs of all time…’There is a road, no simple highway.”
Now, to pull from A Song of Ice and Fire, we have some examples of alchemy going on throughout. A something into something exchange. Well, there is a notion that honey is sunlight changed into gold. Royalty. If Val inherited Dalla’s “royal” clothes, then Val could have inherited Dalla’s royal jewels, amber. Both honey and amber have similar royal healing qualities. As is salt. The idea that to be “above the salt” is a sign of high social rank or royalty. We will have to keep our eyes open in The Winds of Winter for the amber to pop back into the story.
A Dance with Dragons – Jon III
and I’ve tasted the Dornishman’s wife!
Val stood on the platform as still as if she had been carved of salt. She will not weep nor look away. Jon wondered what Ygritte would have done in her place. The women are the strong ones.
Second, and perhaps more humorously, from the main series we have the song of The Bear and the Maiden Fair. A stanza analysis shows the start of Jon’s relationship to Val, the three mutineers at the “for the watch” moment, the goat that follows them to the “fair” could be a form of R’hllor (also called the Black goat), the honey hair, and the courtship ritual of the free folk that Jon and Val follow. Now, I personally do not think this song hints at the entire Jon+Val relationship, just a few key points to the body of the relationship. This song also plays in to some of the secondary story-lines like Jaime and Brienne in a similar, but personalized way. There is more to come:
A bear there was, a bear, a bear!
all black and brown, and covered with hair.
The bear! The bear!
• This black bear is Jon all covered in his NW black furs.
Oh come they said, oh come to the fair!
• This is the trick in the taboo bear hunt, as described here. You cannot let the bear know he is to be killed. The word “Fair” also means judgement (to be fair), and this is what it seems like Marsh and Co are doing, passing judgement on Jon.
Three boys, a goat and a dancing bear!
They danced and spun, all the way to the fair!
The fair! The fair!
• Three boys = Marsh, Wick Whittlestick, and the third knife in the back.
• The goat could be Val, a woman of the free folk, the reason why Jon was stabbed. Jon’s first glimpse of Val from his spyglass while atop the wall, Val is milking a goat. However, Bowen Marsh could be the scape-goat, a puppet used by the fiery hand to thrust the knife.
• The fourth knife Jon “never felt” = Melisandre, the fiery hand of R’hllor. The “dancing” bear is Jon fighting (for his life?), because in ASOIAF, to dance means to fight.
Oh, sweet she was, and pure and fair!
The maid with honey in her hair!
• This is Val, for sure. Honey hair.
• Jon refers to Val’s honey-colored hair three times; ASOS/ Jon X, ADWD/Jon III, ADWD/ Jon XI.
The bear smelled the scent on the summer air.
• This is the scent of desire to mate.
He sniffed and roared and smelled it there!
Honey on the summer air!
Oh, I’m a maid, and I’m pure and fair!
I’ll never dance with a hairy bear!
A bear! A bear!
I’ll never dance with a hairy bear!
The bear, the bear!
Lifted her high into the air!
• Jon puts Val up in Hardin’s tower to be guarded by Wun Wun. This impresses Val. Also, the free folk tradition of “stealing” is their version of courtship. The rumors of those south of the wall twist it into something bad, when it is not. In stealing, the woman is supposed to put up a fight and to “dance” is synonymous with “fight”. There are “rules” to free folk marriage/ stealing.
The bear! The bear!
I called for a knight, but you’re a bear!
• Ser Patrek tries to steal Val but gets killed himself. When Jon hears the screams of Ser Patrek, his first thought is of Val (ADWD/ Jon XIII).
A bear, a bear!
All black and brown and covered with hair
She kicked and wailed, the maid so fair.
• This is the wilding tradition of stealing your bride, and the bride putting up a fight as a sign of her independence and strength. The maid makes the final decision in “stealing.” We will have to wait and see how far the author will take this analogy in the main story.
But he licked the honey from her hair.
• Reminiscent of the “lord’s kiss” Jon gives to Ygritte while down in the cave.
Her hair! Her hair!
He licked the honey from her hair!
Then she sighed and squealed and kicked the air!
• Ok, this should be fairly self-explanatory. The honey licking, the squealing, etc… yes, the maid accepts the bear and this is consummation.
My bear! She sang. My bear so fair!
And off they went, from here to there,
• This verse possibly follows certain theories that Val will be used to lure Jon out of Castle Black and will chase her across the north to either Winterfell or Dreadfort, or even to re-take Queencrown from the destruction “Good” Queen Alysanne brought down on the area. Also, I believe this “chasing Val” theory will link to the tale of Night’s King, HOWEVER, the tale we know of a sinister Night’s King is tainted, exaggerated and not true as told.
The bear, the bear, and the maiden fair.
• And, they are paired off together. The honeymoon. Jon also describes Val like a moon. This units the two.
Want more GRRMspreading?
I have started a book club re-read for the older works of George R.R. Martin for purposes such as research, scholarship, and teaching. I own all copies of material that is used for this book club. If you have not yet read a story listed, please check with your local bookstore for your own reading material to purchase (Indie Bookstore Finder or Bookshop.org). The full list of GRRM stories outside of the A Song of Ice and Fire series that I have read can be found on this page here.
It takes a while to transcribe and then note each story for research purposes, even the really short ones, so the main Book Club Page will be updated as each re-read is added. Make sure you subscribe for updates.
If there is a story in particular you would like to ask about, feel free to do so in comments below.
If you prefer to listen to a podcast that gives synopsis and analysis of stories written by George R.R. Martin, please consider the new group A Thousand Casts to accompany your ears. Twitter or Podbean.
- Nightflyers– Nightflyers is about a haunted ship in outerspace. This story is everything a reader would want from a GRRM story; high body count, psi-link mind control, whisperjewels, corpse handling, dragon-mother ships, the Night’s Watch ‘naval’ institution in space, and Jon and Val.
- Sandkings– Welcome to the disturbing tale of Simon Kress and his Sandkings. Early origins of Unsullied, Dothraki, Aerea Targaryen, and Dragon who mounts the world, set among a leader with a god complex. One of the “must read” George R.R. Martin stories.
- Bitterblooms– In the dead of deep winter, a young girl named Shawn has to find the mental courage to escape a red fiery witch. Prototyping Val, Stannis, and Arya along with the red witch Melisandre.
- The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr – Discarded Knights guards the gates as Sharra feels the Seven while searching for lost love. Many Sansa and Ashara Dayne prototyping here as well.
- …And Seven Times Never Kill Man– A look into a proto-Andal+Targaryen fiery world as the Jaenshi way of life is erased. But who is controlling these events? Black & Red Pyramids who merge with Bakkalon are on full display in this story.
- The Last Super Bowl– Football meets SciFi tech with plenty of ASOIAF carryover battle elements.
- Nobody Leaves New Pittsburg– first in the Corpse Handler trio, and sets a lot of tone for future ASOIAF thematics.
- Closing Time– A short story that shows many precursor themes for future GRRM stories, including skinchanging, Sneaky Pete’s, catastrophic long nights…
- The Glass Flower– a tale of how the drive for perfection creates mindlords and mental slavery.
- Run to Starlight– A tale of coexistence and morality set to a high stakes game of football.
- Remembering Melody– A ghost tale written by GRRM in 1981 that tells of long nights, bloodbaths, and pancakes.
- Fast-Friend transcribed and noted. Written in December 1973, this story is a precursor to skinchanging, Bran, Euron, Daenerys, and ways to scheme to reclaim lost love.
- The Steel Andal Invasion– A re-read of a partial section of The World of Ice and Fire text compared to the story …And Seven Times Never Kill Man. This has to do with both fire and ice Others in ASOIAF.
- A Song for Lya– A novella about a psi-link couple investigating a fiery ‘god’. Very much a trees vs fire motif, and one of GRRM’s best stories out there.
- For A Single Yesterday– A short story about learning from the past to rebuild the future.
- This Tower of Ashes– A story of how lost love, mother’s milk, and spiders don’t mix all too well.
- A Peripheral Affair (1973)– When a Terran scout ship on a routine patrol through the Periphery suddenly disappears, a battle-hungry admiral prepares to renew the border war.
- The Stone City– a have-not surviving while stranded on a corporate planet. Practically a GRRM autobiography in itself.
- Slide Show– a story of putting the stars before the children.
- Only Kids are Afraid of the Dark– rubies, fire, blood sacrifice, and Saagael- oh my!
- A Night at the Tarn House– a magical game of life and death played at an inn at a crossroads.
- Men of Greywater Station– Is it the trees, the fungus, or is the real danger humans?
- The Computer Cried Charge!– what are we fighting for and is it worth it?
- The Needle Men– the fiery hand wields itself again, only, why are we looking for men?
- Black and White and Red All Over– a partial take on a partial story.
- Fire & Blood excerpt; Alysanne in the north– not a full story, but transcribed and noted section of the book Fire & Blood, volume 1.
If you want to browse my own thoughts and speculations on the ASOIAF world using GRRM’s own work history, use the drop-down menu above for the most content, or click on the page that just shows recent posts -> Recent Posts Page.
Thank you for reading the jambles and jumbles of the Fattest Leech of Ice and Fire, by Gumbo!
Feature picture courtesy of Fantasy Flight games.