Friday, August 22, 2014

Crossover Combat: World's Best Dad: Stark versus Atreides

I like Frank Herbert's Dune Universe. Not to the extent that I like Roger Zelazny's work, but I return to the original books (I even like Heretics and Chapterhouse!) every year or two. (However, I share Penny Arcade's opinion on Brian Herbert's unnecessary prequels.)

Likewise, I enjoy A Game of Thrones/ASOIAF, as my posts on the topic will show.

Two Houses, both alike in dignity...

Two Houses enter, one House leaves!

This started out as a Father's Day post, but I didn't have it completed on time, and felt no particular rush to finish it once I had missed that deadline.

There are a number of similarities between Ned Stark and Leto Atreides.

They each find themselves in very similar situations in the beginning of their respective stories, being pressured to accept an ostensible boon that is also clearly a danger (rulership of Arrakis/the position of the King's Hand), underestimating their opposition, dying relatively early in their respective sagas, but survived by their wife and children. Heck, they each even apprenticed their kids to dancing masters. (Paul gave the short bow his dancing master had taught—the one used “when in doubt of another's station.”) and after death, their heads wind up taking on special significance.

 How did each man comport himself?

1.) The Call to Adventure:

This one is a gimmee. Have you ever played a Choose Your Own Adventure book? I have the vague recollection of a few that give you a choice like

If you want to serve as King's Hand, turn to page 81.
If you choose to stay in the North, turn to page 17.

And page 17 wasn't even necessarily a bad end. Sure, in the early CYOA stories, they were more likely to kill you arbitrarily for making the reasonable but wrong choice.

Page 17

You stay in the North, and rule there happily and well for the next two weeks, until you slip on a wet cobblestone and crack your head open.

Later books in the series might be

Page 17

You stay in the North, and rule there happily and well for the next seventy years. Occasionally, you wonder what would have happened had you relocated to King's Landing, but these thoughts trouble you less and less as you age into your dottage. You die at home in your bed at the age of 107, surrounded by a great brood of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
 but still end the story right there, which is, of course, unsatisfying.

Verdict: Tie. There is some discussions of rejecting the call by allies of each man, but none of it serious. Each of them made the choice that was best for his kids. 

 2.) Judging the Threat: 

 The circumstances are somewhat different here. Arrakis was, specifically a trap, whereas the position of the Hand, while containing its own dangers, was not. Each recognizes that he will be taking his family into danger, but underestimates the magnitude of this danger.


Verdict: Advantage to Leto. He has a clearer understanding of the forces opposing him, whereas Ned tends to judge things in the context of their relationship to the Lannisters. Leto is crushed by the overwhelming legions of Imperial Sardaukar. It's the equivalent of your GM saying, "Rocks fall. Everybody dies." Ned could have survived, but he bungled three judgment calls in quick succession (Telling Cersei, rebuffing Renly, trusting Littlefinger) and basically doomed himself.

 3.) The Betrayal:

Each man was betrayed from with, Leto by his doctor, Wellington Yueh,

"My liege, I'm not sure if I trust this guy! Look at his porn star, mustache!" "Relax, Thufir. He's Al from Quantum Leap!"
and Ned by Petyr Baelish.

Littlefinger is often held up in geek circles as a good example of long term planning, and I think he deserves a lot of that credit. He plays to his strengths, keeps things as simple as possible, and he's there to take personal involvement to shepherd his plans to the next stage or react to unanticipated events.

Yueh would have been the obvious subject, save that he was conditioned with a pyretic conscience, the specifics of which were vague, but presumably prevented him from betraying a patient rather than merely preventing physical harm, as a betrayal of secrets would be equally devastating for someone in the Duke's position.

Verdict: Yueh was the first and only Suk doctor whose conditioning was compromised, in a galactic civilization containing trillions of people. Littlefinger is the most weaselly character imaginable, he practically humps Catelyn's leg whenever they're in a scene together, and repeatedly cautions Ned not to trust him. Advantage: Leto.

 4.) Rulership:

I think it's pretty much settled fact that Robert was not an especially good king. I don't think Ned would have been, either. The position requires too much compromise. I do think, however, that Ned was suited for the Lordship at Winterfell, where beheading petty criminals is a skill one places prominently on one's resume. His common sense solutions work for moderating disputes between semi-autonomous vassals, but once there are more than two degrees of separation, loyalty and charisma only go so far.

Leto had all of Ned's personal charisma, plus he understood what made for good spectacle, and good politics. I was thinking of Leto during the Rains of Castamere episode. Leto never married Jessica, only took her as his ducal consort, because that allowed the possibility of an alliance through marriage. Being a good ruler means sometimes having to do something that contradicts your personal wants, needs, or values.

Verdict: Leto

5.) Training of the Children:

Ned loved his kids, certainly, but he did a shitty job of teaching them the skills that would keep them alive. Paul and Arya each had a dancing master. Well, presumably, Paul had a dancing master and Arya had "dancing master". Syrio Forel was pretty awesome in the series.

Pall had a shitty childhood in a lot of ways. He was trained by a Mentat-assasssin, and in modern and ancient combat, and in all manner of Bene Gesserit skullduggery by his mom.  He was taught anything that would keep him alive.

That's the kind of childhood the Starks should have had. You put them all together, and they actually have a half decent education, but damn, if Winter really is coming, Ned dropped the ball. Again.

Verdict: Leto

6.) Disposition of the head:

This is a tough one to quantify.  Ned's head is stuck on a pike in the keep, and it gives rise to a Joffrey really is a bastard moment. ("How long to I have to look?" "As long as it pleases me.") Leto's skull is in some weird shrine on Dune, and essentially becomes a symbol of Paul's jihad.

Verdict: Ned. Nobody committed interstellar genocide after praying to his head.

Bottom Line: Tom Hardy used the phrase "destructive integrity" in a recent interview, and I think it applies to Ned. It's possible to be a good loving parent and still mess up your kid. His parenting left his children unprepared to deal with the challenges they would face.

Go, ahead, Leto. You've earned it.

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