The Giants is the mythological creature we can be most sure of its existence, way above the Children and The Others and yet, always relegated to a footnote in Westerosi tales. During my visit to The North I didn’t see any living Giants but I had the chance to see and touch bones that could only have been those of a giant. Truly human-like in appearance but much heavier, denser and of course, bigger.
Most of the information I obtained was through the Free Folk, always willing to tell a story if there is coin to be had. According to some of them Giants never existed while others claim to know some of them. They say their voices are deep and slow, sometimes too low to pick up clearly by our ears, and that when they growl their words (in the Old Tongue) at a close range it makes one’s body shake like the head of a drum. Unfortunately, the descriptions of the Free Folk and the vague anecdotes from the Night’s Watch’s rangers are all I have to reconstruct this music.
I couldn’t convince any member of the Free Folk to even attempt to sing to me the music they have heard the Giants make, for as they say it is impossible for humans to produce sounds so low and to hit wood as hard as they do. My hopes to listen to such music was as barren as the lands I was dwelling when the largest man I ever saw (to this day I must say) sat up close to be fire and without any warning let out the lowest grumble. So began the song called “The Last of the Giants” (fig. a).
Ooooooh, I am the last of the giants,
my people are gone from the earth.
The last of the great mountain giants,
who ruled all the world at my birth.
Oh the smallfolk have stolen my forests,
they’ve stolen my rivers and hills.
And the’ve built a great wall through my valleys,
and fished all the fish from my rills.
In stone halls they burn their great fires,
in stone halls they forge their sharp spears.
Whilst I walk alone in the mountains,
with no true companion but tears.
They hunt me with dogs in the daylight,
they hunt me with torches by night.
For these men who are small can never stand tall,
whilst giants still walk in the light.
Oooooooh, I am the last of the giants,
so learn well the words of my song.
For when I am gone the singing will fade,
and the silence shall last long and long.
Lyrics by George R R Martin
Whether the Giants might have made any music at all, there is something unique about this Freefolk song precisely because I have concluded it is not of Freefolk origin, at least not entirely. The key here is that all scales used by the Freefolk are all First Men in origin but “The last of the Giants” uses a scale that is not of First Men origin (fig. b (transposed here a fifth higher)).
This is a scale that can never be obtained if one follows the construction of the scale in the First Men tradition of stacking thirds upon a root. The Freefolk I had the pleasure of listening to while they performed the song couldn’t be more adamant that the song was in deed of First Men origin. Not willing to gainsay a member of the Freefolk I put the argument to rest, but it was clear to me right then and there that if the Freefolk sing a song with the Common Tongue lyrics then the song is clearly not as ancient as they claim it to be. It stands to reason that the lyrics dates from after the First Men adopted the common tongue from the Andals. I don’t see it prudent to rule out the possibility that the current version is a translation from perhaps an original song written in the Old Tongue, but this is perhaps due to the Old Tongue being increasingly forgotten even among the Freefolk. There are many conjectures we could make but I will present what to me seem the most likely scenarios: the song is originally by the Giants and the Freefolk translated the lyrics into the Common Tongue; the song was only a tune sung by the Giants to which the Freefolk added lyrics in the common tongue; the song is entirely of Freefolk origin in an attempt to capture the melodies sung by the Giants. Whichever may be closest to the truth we can’t say for sure, but one thing holds true in all three: the tune is either of Giant origin or it is inspired by their music.
Looking at the scale it seems to be a pentatonic scale based on the stacking of fifths one upon another, with all the possible arrangements resulting in five pentatonic scales (fig. b).
So-called giants’ bones are a rare enough that a Freefolk trading at Eastwatch-by-the-sea don’t need to dicker much with the Essosi merchants coming by boat. The rangers snicker among themselves, as they are probably aware these are but white bear bones, or so they told me. These bones can reach a high price in the Free Cities and beyond, and whether the Freefolk are swindling these merchants is not clear to me. For one of the merchants had a peculiar item in the tent where he had set up his shop, or perhaps I should say the tent he had set up was peculiar. One pole, the central one stood out to me. It was thicker than any pole needed to be to support the rigging of the tent, and the wood was carved in a rough but intricate pattern. Tapping the pole revealed it was hollowed which explained the exaggerated thickness, as wide as a handspan gets. When I asked the Freefolk about the pole he muttered something in the Old Tongue, but my face must had showed him that I couldn’t comprehend any word. I insisted, making a butchery of the little Old Tongue I possessed in the process until the exasperated vendor gave up and bringing his hands up to his mouth he pantomimed a trunk-flute player. My perplexity wasn’t as well received as the coin coming from actual traders and merchantmen at the shop so I was quickly ignored and forgotten. The pole must have been twice the size of the tallest man I have ever seen, making it twice the length of the trunk-flutes I had heard the Freefolk play at night. I am firmly convinced there isn’t any man capable of blowing enough air through that hollow log to get a single sound out of it, so was it really a trunk-flute? If after all the Freefolk aren’t just selling white bear bones, my adventurous side tells me there is a chance this was really a trunk-flute made by giants. What fundamental tone it could have produced I can’t tell for I couldn’t measure the size of the bore inside, but it must have been at least twice as deep as the trunk-flutes of human size. The surface carvings had runes in the Old Tongue, none of which I could read, but lacking the finished and polished aspect with which the Freefolk decorate their trunk-flutes. If I could go back now I would have been more daring at trying to buy this seemingly ordinary tent pole from the trader, but I was too indecisive at the time. A regret that I was sure to learn from when I set foot in Essos.
Most people I spoke to in the North found the idea of singing giants laughable, but not all. Rangers of the Night’s Watch told me about what they could only describe as the deepest of rumbling, so deep they seemed to be coming from under the ground. Especially at night, these rumblings seemed to be easier to hear when one’s ear was in contact with the ground via a tree or a rock. Apparently, these rumblings could reach several leagues, as Rangers having spent the night far apart from each other would rally in the morning and share the same tale: a sound they first would think an avalanche had begun or perhaps the cracking of a glacier that didn’t end but would go on for hours on end, and every once in a while a huge growl would shake the earth, like the pounding of a mountain on the ground. The Free Folk I talked shared the same stories, so it is fair to say there is some truth to it, as I reckon Rangers and Free Folk don’t sit around campfires to share stories of the noises they hear in the night.
According to the Free Folk, the giants only sing at night, always alone, and always accompany themselves by hitting whatever it is they have around; usually thee trees or rocks. They say the landscape changes in the morning after one of these rituals, for the trees are more splinters and pulp than wood and the rocks are turned to gravel. Surely there is some exaggeration to these accounts but it seems natural to conclude that the music of the Giants consists largely of long notes deep in the sub-bass range accompanied by low percussive sounds. Since giants sing alone it seems logical to conclude that there is no harmony involved, but after my voyages at sea I wonder if the giants use these songs to communicate with one another across the vast expanse of the lands beyond the Wall just as whales seem to sing to each other across the endless waters of the sea.