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A Couple of Rocks

December 23, 2022

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So… about Casterly Rock…

The seat of House Lannister has been mentioned hundreds of times in the five published novels of A SONG OF ICE & FIRE, but the story has never actually gone there… yet.   Oh, from time to time Tyrion or Jaime or Cersei have thought back to something or other that happened at the Rock in years past, but aside from those memories and quasi-flashbacks we have never actually seen the Rock… or Lannisport, the city that has grown up near its feet.

This seems to have led to a certain amount of confusion as to what Casterly Rock looks like.

Let me put that to rest.

Here is Casterly Rock, as painted by Ted Nasmith for the Ice & Fire calendar for 2011, the “castle” calendar.  The same images were also used in the worldbook/ concordance THE WORLD OF ICE & FIRE.  Nobody does castles better than Nasmith.   He and I consulted frequently when he was doing the art.   There are a few of the images that are not quite as I imagined them… but he absolutely NAILED Casterly Rock.

Take a look.   (And if you’d like to see a larger, crisper image, it’s there in the worldbook).

Lannisport is not in the image, you will note.   If this were a photograph rather than a painting, one could say that the picture was likely taken from the docks and/or city walls of Lannisport; the angle is correct.   This is just the Rock itself.

Ted got all the little details right.  The great stone stairway on the south face, in the shadow, leading up the Rock’s main entrance.   The sea gates at the base, large enough for galleys and cogs to sail into the caverns under the stone, where the Lannisters have their own (protected) docks.   The two rocky protrusions jutting out into the sea on either side of the caves; looked at from the south, they evoke a lion’s paws, and the Rock itself resembles a crouching lion, one of the inspirations for the heraldic imagery of the Lannisters and the Casterlys before them.  There’s also the watchtower on top of the Rock… and if you look very closely, here and there scattered up and down the face of the mount, you can see windows and arrow slits.   They seem small, but that is part illusion.   The Rock itself is very large.   Massive.

As I have mentioned in half a hundred interviews over the years, when I am doing my worldbuilding, I often start with some real world event or location, and “turn it up to 11.”   That’s a SPINAL TAP reference, of course, and maybe not precise.  In some cases I turn it up to 111, or 11,000.   The Wall, for instance.   Inspired by my visit to Hadrian’s Wall, but three times as long and way way taller, made of ice and magic.

The origins of Casterly Rock are somewhat similar.  This time my inspiration was the Rock of Gibraltar.

A depressing number of people only seem to know Gibraltar as the trademark for Prudential Insurance.

I grew up with that image myself.   But believe it or not, the Rock of Gibraltar is not just a stony version of the Geico Gekko.  It is a real place, a unique place, with thousands of years of history.  To the ancients it was one of the Pillars of Hercules (the other pillar is far less impressive), the gateway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic.   Today it is a British outpost at the bottom of Spain, one of the last remnants of an empire that once spanned the globe.   I visited there some years ago, on one of my tours through Spain and Portugal, and found the place just as fascinating in person as I had in print.   It’s the home of the Barbary apes, who will hop on your back and steal your hat and eyeglasses if you let them.   There are British pubs and fish-and-chip shops all over the town at the Rock’s foot, as well as some amazing Spanish restaurants.  And INSIDE the Rock… it’s not just a big hunk of stone, y’see… are 34 miles of tunnels, more than 150 halls, chambers, and caves, Napoleonic gunports and cannons looking out over land and sea, stalagmites and stalactites, World War II bunkers,  a concert hall/ ampitheatre, a hospital (WWII era), and ancient mines.

The Rock of Gibraltar is three miles long, seven-tenths of a mile wide, and almost 1400 feet high at its highest point.  (That’s twice as tall as the Wall, for those who want a Westerosi reference).

Casterly Rock is larger.   Two leagues long from west to east… that’s approximately six miles, compared to three for Gibraltar.  Its peak is about 2100 feet high, or about 700 feet higher than Gibraltar.   I am not certain I have ever given the width of Casterly Rock, but I’d venture to say that number is greater too, say around two miles north to south.   And inside?  Yes, the Lannister stronghold has all the passages, halls, stairs, caves, mines, galleries, tunnels, chutes, and wells that Gibraltar has… and more, and more, and more.   It is thousands of years older, after all.

Turned up to 11.   Or 11,000.

Here’s the most important part.  See that little watchtower on the Nasmith painting, up on top of the Rock?   That’s the only thing on top of the Rock.  And that’s as it should be.   (The maesters  keep their rookery up there).

The Lannister castle is not ON TOP of the Rock.  It is INSIDE the Rock.   All of it.   Barracks, armories, bedchambers, grand halls, servant’s quarters, dungeons, sept, everything.  That’s what makes the Rock the strongest and most impregnable seat in all of Westeros.   The Eyrie, Winterfell, Storm’s End, they all have formidable defenses… but none of them can match Casterly Rock.   When Harren the Black built Harrenhal, he thought his immense new castle could defy even dragons.   Stone does not burn, he reasoned.   But stone does melt, and dragons fly, and… well, you know the rest.   And Balerion’s flames proved hot enough to turn Harren’s massive towers molten.

But Casterly Rock is a mountain, and its chambers and halls are buried deep inside, under tons of solid stone.   No curtain wall in Westeros, however thick, can even come close.

What does this all mean?

Maybe nothing.   I just wanted to set the record straight.   Give you all something to think about.

(And maybe put an end to all these pictures of a little rock with a castle on top).

Casterly Rock will not remain forever offstage, I hope.   I have two more novels to go, and my plan is to have one or more of my viewpoint characters visit the Rock in THE WINDS OF WINTER or A DREAM OF SPRING, so I can show you all the wonders and terrors and treasures of House Lannister first hand.   Meanwhile, feel free to ponder… could Casterly Rock stand against dragons?

We know it can be taken by apes.

Current Mood: geeky geeky

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