This short story is part of the two volume collection Dreamsongs by GRR Martin, a sort of writing journey illustrated through single stories: the first time I became aware of With Morning Comes Mistfall was by listening to its audio version read by Australian actress Claudia Black – it was an incredible experience, both for Ms. Black’s amazing performance and for my discovery of the lyrical side of George Martin’s writing.
Until that moment I had only read his A Song of Ice and Fire novels: a new (for me) way to present the fantasy genre, gritty and uncompromising in its depiction of violence, cruelty and bloody political schemes. Even though the ASOIAF books do contain vivid descriptions, because Martin is indeed a masterful storyteller, I was not prepared for the emotional impact in his portrayal of Wraithworld: the author’s skill in bringing these images into sharp focus is seamlessly matched by Ms. Black’s rendition, enhancing the story’s a magical quality that is perfect for the theme being developed here.
Wraithworld is a place where mists rule the lower depths by day and rise to cover most of the mountain peaks by night, and those mists are said to be a shield for the Wraiths – dangerous creatures, as unsubstantial as fog, that prey on unwary travelers. Much of the mystique of the planet comes from this mystery that also fuels a steady influx of tourists who lodge at Castle Cloud, an eagle’s nest over the tallest peak dominating the sea of mists below. Through the eyes of the narrator – a journalist who’s come to Wraithworld to cover the scientific expedition bent on disproving the Wraiths’ existence – we soon learn that what really matters is not that evidence but rather the beauty of the planet, something that catches the journalist by surprise as he starts exploring the place and lets himself be fascinated by its savage charms.
As I re-acquainted myself with the tale I saw how it fits the never-ending argument about speculative fiction: does it really matter whether a story is “true”, meaning based on real, everyday facts, as long as it’s entertaining and enriching? Over the years I’ve had to defend my reading preferences against this kind of argument: many people, some of them close friends, have commented with amused bafflement – or thinly veiled mockery – my penchant for reading science fiction and fantasy. Their claim being that it’s silly to lose oneself in stories about worlds, peoples and creatures that don’t exist.
These skeptics’ attitude is embodied, in the story, by the scientist Dubowski: he comes to Wraithworld with a plethora of scientific instrumentation that should help him vanquish the figurative mists clouding tourists’ perceptions. Proving that the Wraiths don’t exist will – in Dubowski’s eyes – shine the light of truth on the planet, freeing it from what he perceives as foolish superstition. The scientist is so driven by his goal, so fixed in his attachment to reality, that he never sees the natural beauty of Wraithworld, never wastes his precious time in watching the mists rise at night from the depths of the forests, or being vanquished at dawn when the sun rises revealing the mountain peaks.
I believe that as Dubowski willfully blinds himself to such beauty, so do those who are unable to accept the wider horizons of imagination, restricting their path to what’s known and tangible and closing their eyes to what could be only because they can’t touch, measure or weigh it. There is a deep vein of melancholy running through this story, the sense of something precious being ignored and abandoned by the wayside: to me it means that when we forgo our sense of wonder, our willingness to ask ourselves “what if…?”, we deprive ourselves of something vital that could only enrich us.
In a way, it hardly matters if “magic” exists or not: what matters is that we believe in the possibility of it….