“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.”
– Excerpt of “The Last of the Giants
By George R. R. Martin
This poem/song is about the tragedy of an entire race being rendered extinct. The giants are, of course, large and intimidating and physically strong, yet they have long since been overcome by men, who are more plentiful and better armed.
It’s a long chronicle, centuries and eons in the telling, of mankind’s ruthless ambition driving them forward, carving the world in their own image, and driving all who oppose them into oblivion, grinding them underfoot into the dusts of history. They reach for the light, for heights and glory and power, and step on any creature in their way. Not that the giants were completely innocent of violent atrocities, but they were definitely on the losing end, and it was, in fact, their land the humans stole.
Why these lyrics, in particular, spoke so strongly to me is both simple and complex.
I’ve found that there are two primary kinds of ambition, and they stand opposite one another.
The first is to rise, to grow, to climb, to stand above others, to stand at the very top, with all others beneath you. While that is not always a bad thing, to seek to improve one’s station, I find that trying stand above our fellow humans, instead of standing beside them, is foolish at best, and often leads one down dark paths towards reprehensible deeds. One who walks this path will eventually find it barren of all things joyful, and all that will be left is envy, greed, and spite.
These are the sorts of people who look at other men and see naught but competition.
The second form of ambition is simply to improve oneself, and the first is very much a corruption of this. At the start, this is the goal most of us are following, but then we lose our way. Those who can hold to it, however, or return to it after having gone astray, can have everything or nothing the world has to offer, and care not one bit. They have something within which is far more precious, and with it, they are able to be men and women of true stature and dignity. These people may be mighty emperors or homeless bums, but they will carry themselves with an air of respect for themselves and others. They have light within them, the sort that cannot simply be extinguished.
These are people who look at other people and see… people.
One ambitions makes you petty and small inside, while the other makes you a veritable giant. And it’s not easy to be the giant, because other men, lesser men, will want to tear you down. It’s the only way they know to exist anymore, to try and step on others, and when they see someone who can’t simply be stepped on… well, it galls them.
They are small men, standing in the shadows of giants.
So the rage, and tear the better man down, and do their best to make his kind extinct.
But you know what?
I’d prefer to be the giant anyway.
After all… in our version of the story, the one you and I craft together, the giants don’t have to die out.