Monday, November 30, 2015

A Memory of Light Read-Through #4: Chapter 1— Eastward the Wind Blew

By Linda

Rand POVs

This is the second last time that the wind rises in the books—the last is in the epilogue. The chapter title emphasises the poignant moment. The wind represents chi or prana, the breath of the world, and brings the story to life. Most symbolically, this time it rises in the Mountains of Mist. The winds have risen in a variety of locations on the mainland—and also once in Seanchan (Towers of Midnight) and on a Sea Folk island (The Path of Daggers)—but it rose in two places more than once: Braem Wood (twice, The Fires of Heaven, A Crown of Swords) and the Mountains of Mist (three times, The Eye of the World, The Dragon Reborn and A Memory of Light). By having the wind rise in the same place in the first and last books of the series, the story comes full circle. The wind blew most of the directions of the compass, and even down; it blew south three times and east four times.

Refugees are also heading east as though dispersed by the wind. Carried along with them, the reader witnesses the extensively diseased and infertile land, and abandoned villages. The world is dying, consumed, as the fires at Merrilor consume wood. It is the end times for this Age, but hopefully an ending rather than the ending for the Wheel. The sun is blotted out, leaving a perpetual dim light which is neither day nor night. We are in limbo, on the verge of the Underworld. The Dark One, Lord of the Underworld, gains power from death—including that of the day or night as Liandrin explained so long ago:

At dawn the day was born, just as twilight gave birth to night, but at dawn, night died, and at twilight, day. The Dark One's power was rooted in death; he gained power from death, and at those times she thought she could feel his power stirring.

The Great Hunt, The Shadow in Shienar

Therefore his power is gaining at a fast rate from this, the prolonged death throes of day and night, and he is flexing that power to crush all things.

With such impending doom, it seems shocking that the Dragon Reborn laughs, exhibiting normal, even positive, behaviour, as he delights in Perrin’s tale of the events leading to the Battle of Emond’s Field. Rand wants to hear about the people, not just the deeds. He needs to care about them now and during his trials, so that he remembers what these are for.

The Dragon is stunned that he is going to be a father, and realises why Elayne didn’t tell him before—he was too dark and unstable to approach. Even now, Perrin insists on talking to Rand when he is genuine and open. Rand is reassured that Perrin’s core is still the same. His own core should be too. Rand thinks he hasn’t changed, just accepted and adopted the role, but that in itself was a huge change.

By measuring and feeling reassured at how much his friends are unchanged, Rand rather overlooks their achievements. He is surprised at the accomplishments of his friends – the size of Perrin’s army and its loyalty, for instance, and how Perrin is a very approachable king. Rand has to be a remote ruler, above humanity, and a symbol without being a figurehead. He is worn down by this physically and mentally. Rand doesn’t think that Perrin might have forged his hammer. Familiarity leads to under estimation from both Rand and Egwene. Another good characteristic of Perrin that is often overlooked is that he shares the credit with others who helped, and actively promotes them to Rand. In turn, Rand compliments Perrin on how well he leads—looks after his people.

When Rand likens his past life/ancestral memories to a clear recollection of a dream, he received understanding from Perrin, who likewise has memories to draw upon—wolf ones—and is a Dreamer besides.

Rand is concerned about being distracted when he should be focussed on the Merrilor meeting to unify the world. He is sure that the Shadow wants to prevent unity and realises that this is why Mierin is trying to disturb his balance and manipulate him. Likewise, the attack on Caemlyn is another attempt. In fact, this has been a tactic of the Shadow since the series began: the Shaido, the White Tower schism, the Whitecloaks, the Seanchan Return, and more; it’s just that finally Rand has the clarity to see it.

As an influential ruler, Rand thinks that Elayne would help his planned alliance. Anything drawing her away from this would weaken it and undermine the meeting of nations. Perrin demurs because Elayne is on the “other side”. Rand says there is disagreement, but not an “other” side. (This is not true in the case of the Seanchan, who are being set up to be a third side.) Rand declares that Elayne must stay, to join the Coalition. Perrin points out that she should try to protect or salvage her homeland (as he did for the Two Rivers in The Shadow Rising). Rand says it is too late for anything except evacuation, although he is tempted to use the Asha’man. They will check to see if the city really is lost, but won’t fight anything until the coalition signed.

Perrin is displeased when Rand pragmatically wonders if the attack will backfire on the Shadow and make Elayne more accepting of Rand’s ideas. (She already did agree with them until Egwene dissuaded her). He quickly realises that the Trollocs probably entered through the Caemlyn Waygate. Perrin says they can try and disrupt that point of entry, and Rand teases him about knowing stuff he should not. The upshot is that Rand will send help for evacuating city, though.

Rand thinks Demandred is behind the attack because he was the first to discover the art of war, perhaps even writings derived from the real world book of that title, or even Sun Tzu’s actual book. This is not necessarily so, however, since the other Forsaken also learned how to wage war. It is a red herring for us, as we see when Demandred finally reveals himself.

Rand thinks how, as Lews Therin, he inspired Demandred’s betrayal by competing with him. Contrast this with Mat’s and Perrin’s camaraderie and Rand’s more generous acknowledgement. Mat’s competition with Rand in front of the Empress is a teasing one and ends with Rand laughing.

The common people express their fear to Rand, who comforts them by reminding them of the prophecies. The major function of prophecy is to give guidance and hope, and, therefore, comfort. Rand warns people that there will be earthquakes and storms as the Dark One Breaks the world. It helps people control their fear if they expect danger.

Rand warns Balwer that Elayne will have spies amongst Balwer’s clerks. He is not concerned about what they find out because he will be announcing everything tomorrow. Taking a leaf out of Perrin’s book, he then praises Balwer, showing consideration and encouragement.

While Perrin is apologetic of Faile’s wariness of Rand, Rand privately thinks Faile is right not to trust him and also to think that Rand will hurt those close to him.

Perrin warns Rand that the Merrilor meeting could end in battle, and also that the cuendillar Seals are the Amyrlin’s responsibility. Rand agrees. He persuades Perrin of the value of breaking the Seals to reforge the seal on the Dark One’s prison anew, rather than make a patch. Perrin thinks this is very reasonable and should convince Egwene. Rand is doubtful because Egwene is not a craftsperson. Perrin says that she is very clever and will understand their argument. Egwene represents the conservative faction, though.

Rand wonders if sealing the Dark One away is the answer, when perhaps something more permanent, like killing him, might serve better. “I’m coming for you,” he thinks of the Dark One. In a few chapters he will tell Moridin to say this very phrase to Shaitan. The Dragon doesn’t feel ready for the end, but it has come. He is not afraid, though.

Rand’s madness took the form of his Lews Therin personality trying to take over. Yet the memories from Lews Therin had a good purpose: they showed him the mistake of pride leading to arrogance, by trying to do everything himself. Lews Therin’s parallel, Lucifer, fell because of pride:

Pride fills me. I am sick with the pride that destroyed me!
Lord of Chaos, A Saying in the Borderlands

Soul of fire, heart of stone, in pride he conquers, forcing the proud to yield.

A Crown of Swords , Opening epigram

How many have died for my pride? Lews Therin moaned. How many have died for my mistakes?

The Path of Daggers, Answering the Summons

The taint both sent Rand mad and enabled him to understand/know his past lives and where he went wrong. The way evil undoes itself—the irony of it—scares him. It is also a sign that he can redeem himself by the very thing that damned him, as Christ undid Adam’s sin.

Perrin will support Rand so long as there is no fighting among themselves. This is fine for Rand, who intends to unite the people. They must have unity this time.

Egwene POV

Egwene uses Travelling to avoid notice and speculation. She wonders what Siuan would have gotten up to with the weave, but the way the Tower was at that time, it is more likely that people would have gated in to kill her. As Tuon’s guard recognised, Travelling is a potential security risk without a dreamspike or other guardian. The knowledge of Travelling also means that the Hall can’t enforce the law against the Amyrlin leaving the Tower without permission. Unless martial law is operating, the Amyrlin has to inform the Hall of any intended travel, so they can establish there is no danger, since it is against the law for her to deliberately endanger herself without the Hall’s agreement:

The Amyrlin Seat being valued with the White Tower itself, as the very heart of the White Tower, she must not be endangered without dire necessity, therefore unless the White Tower be at war by declaration of the Hall of the Tower, the Amyrlin Seat shall seek the lesser consensus of the Hall of the Tower before deliberately placing herself in the way of any danger, and she shall abide by the consensus that stands.

- A Crown of Swords, A Pair of Silverpike

Most Amyrlins would protest: where is the danger in quickly ducking out and back by gateway?

When Elayne suggests that they let Rand break Seals, Egwene is shocked and appalled. In her opinion, Elayne is so besotted with Rand that her judgement has been affected. In keeping with the undercurrent of underestimation the young Emond’s Fielders have for each other, Egwene also assumes that Rand’s scheme is reckless and foolish. The situation is a potential replay of the standoff between Latra Posae and Lews Therin in the Age of Legends when Latra Posae gathered the agreement of all powerful female Aes Sedai in the Fateful Concord to not participate in Lews Therin’s strike on Shayol Ghul. This time it would be the refusal to agree to the treaty and is the potential disaster that Moiraine averts as Min’s viewings foresaw:

She had not really lied when he asked her what viewings she had kept back. Not really. What good to tell him he would almost certainly fail without a woman who was dead and gone?

- A Crown Of Swords, Into The Woods

Min sighed regretfully, but it was not as if she had really expected Moiraine to turn up alive. Moiraine was the only viewing of hers that had ever failed.

- A Crown Of Swords, Into The Woods

Egwene believes that the Light can’t risk having the Bore open for too long – and that’s how events played out. Considering that Rand was mistakenly planning on killing the Dark One right up until this time, this was providential. The Shadow’s theft of the Seals prevented them being broken earlier, and so the Bore was not opened until the last possible moment. So Egwene is, or was, right.

However, currently Egwene is not convinced that the Bore needs to be opened at all. The phrase “Wait upon the Light”, a critical bit added by the Dreamer Amyrlin, gives her pause, because of the weight of a Dreamer’s (potentially prophetic) words.

The young Emond’s Fielders tend not to underestimate Nynaeve—just each other—but a telling mirror of this occurs when Nynaeve remarks that she is impressed that Moiraine (with whom she competed and who is weaker in the power than she) Healed Tam of a Thakan’dar blade with an angreal. This while Nynaeve herself Heals a patient as desperately ill as any Semirhage Healed.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Memory of Light Read-Through #3: Prologue— Androl and Moghedien POVs

By Linda

Androl POV

Androl and Pevara deal with their nervousness in different ways: he is making something to keep his mind occupied, while she is chattering and questioning. Androl lets Pevara know that he is aware of her questioning others about him and that he finds it under-handed. He also shows her he knows why she is doing it: to find out why a man would choose to learn to channel—or see if he could. To his surprise she replies honestly. She is a better person than he thought. While talking to her, Androl is trying to force himself to be calm, like a woman wanting to channel saidar.

Pevara suggests that they try to link. This technique is something Androl didn’t know existed. When she patronises him about his lack of knowledge, he says no man may know everything, implying that anyone, including women, who claims to know all are wrong.

Androl assures Pevara that he is weak in the Power, even though he is a leader. This is not something an Aes Sedai would expect, since it is the opposite of Aes Sedai custom. Perhaps she thinks he is trying to fob her off, but she will soon find out he is being truthful.

The Red tries to flatter Emarin at the expense of the other Asha’man present and he insults her politely—or at least, mocks her. Androl thinks she missed his sarcasm, but sarcasm doesn’t work if it is ignored. So they came off about equal.

Emarin and Pevara are working out ways to escape, but Androl wants to bring everyone out who isn’t a Darkfriend. Moreover, the Asha’man will not abandon the families that they brought to the Tower. Events ensure that Androl ends up having his way.

Emarin notices Androl’s slip when he speaks of the Knoks rebellion. He is observant, but so is Androl, who has deduced that Emarin is using his brother’s name and is Lord Algarin of House Pendaloan. Like Androl’s family, the Pendaloans have the genes for channelling in their family. While the reader might assume that there are also female channellers as well as male ones in such a family, we often don’t see both genders of channellers in the one family. The inheritance is therefore probably separate and sex-linked (which makes sense, considering the two Powers are gender specific.) Halima/Arangar, the only woman able to channel saidin, is an unnatural creation of the Dark One, and an example of Wrongness. Algarin/Emarin is very unusual in judging people by merit and not background, and (mostly) respecting Aes Sedai—especially for a Tairen High Lord.

Androl sees this time as a test for the Asha’man to prove their fitness for self-governance and independence. They can’t run to others and yet demand to be their own people. Most of Logain's faction are resentful that Rand has not come to the Black Tower but not Androl. Rand has got other things to do, but the Black Tower was a very important thing and Rand was blind on this and distracted by the Shadow.

Pevara explains that people are being Turned to the Shadow. She sees the Black Tower as fallen under the Shadow’s influence. (Little does she know the degree to which the White Tower was run by the Shadow.) Androl wants to overthrow that influence and make the Black Tower a refuge, a positive place for male channellers—something that Pevara hasn’t really considered should happen.

Androl points out that evil people don’t inspire loyalty only self-interested allies, which gives them an advantage. He is a reluctant leader and looks on his role as temporary until Logain returns. In his opinion, the Asha’man all belong to the Black Tower, not any one person.

Regarding forcibly freeing the Black Tower from the Shadow, Androl doubts that Aes Sedai can fight well due to lack of experience. This is a reasonable inference, although the Reds and Greens do practise. The White Tower has not been that peaceable in the last years—although Pevara will not admit to any fighting among Aes Sedai. However, the sisters have battled Darkfriends and Shadowspawn less than they might. Androl also points out that Asha’man will ally with Taim to fight off Aes Sedai if sisters try to play a large part.

Moghedien POV

The final scene of the Prologue is the Forsaken meeting in a locale controlled by the Nae’blis. Moridin likes to confound as well as intimidate, and so his little world has floating stone, a breeze that doesn’t ripple the water surface, and burning water. The dream shard is attached to Tel’aran’rhiod, yet is unaffected by it. This is consistent with Ishamael’s books on reality and meaning (Analysis of Perceived Meaning, Reality and the Absence of Meaning, and The Disassembly of Reason) and also with his strategy of distracting the other Forsaken with his ‘crazy’ and alarming ideas.

Moghedien is subtle in her use of motifs and symbolism but still emphasises that she is not wearing livery. The wind with screams on it seems designed to disturb Moghedien by reminding her of her punishment. However, she is not fearful when Moridin threatens to give her mindtrap to Demandred and instead opportunistically tries to lower Demandred’s standing—but it doesn’t work. Demandred is strongly favoured currently.

The Spider thinks she wasn’t careful enough if she got mind-trapped. But doing nothing is also a move that results in disaster as often as success. Just a few moments ago, she was bolder, but Moridin’s warning of a return to captivity makes her fearful; fearful of losing her mindtrap that she holds. Does this foreshadow what happens when she is collared?

It turns out that Moghedien kept information back from Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne. Knowledge in all its forms—correct, partial and corrupt—is an important theme of the books—see Knowledge essay.

The scene shows that both Demandred and Moridin are unbalanced now that the finale is upon them. Moridin is withdrawn and brooding – uncaring in evil. His efforts to destroy Rand’s soul have backfired and he is despairing and tired of his greatly prolonged life. Demandred is obsessed with achieving personal triumph and “satisfaction” over Rand.

However, obsessed or no, Demandred is more observant than Moghedien, who also has changed. She is crushed, and overwhelmed to a degree, and missing things. It was only through Demandred that she noticed the sea is full of people—souls—being tortured. Moridin/Ishamael is always surrounded by such torture and pain. Moghedien is glad to see someone worse off than her. Is that why the Forsaken surround themselves with suffering? Blinded by ambition to be higher than everyone else, and yet they gloat over seeing people in the worst states. So petty and vulnerable to punishment.

No one knows what Demandred is up to—except Moridin probably. In turn, Demandred is probing Moridin, watching for weakness. Moridin killed Lanfear to free her from Sindhol (which is the name of a world, not of the creatures who live there).

As Hessalam, Graendal is hideous. Literally a monster, Graendal the man-eating bewitcher has now become Grendel the monster of legend, (see Graendal article). Moghedien gloats over this, but envies Hessalam’s strength in the Power. She recognises Graendal by her tone and body language and enjoys the irony of Graendal’s ugly state. She feels Graendal got her just desserts and that Graendal, despite her power and abilities, is no longer above her:

Moghedien almost chortled with glee. Graendal had always used her looks as a bludgeon. Well, now they were a bludgeon of a different type. How perfect! The woman must be positively writhing inside. What had she done to earn such a punishment? Graendal's stature—her authority, the myths told about her—were all linked to her beauty. What now? Would she have to start searching for the most horrid people alive to keep as pets, the only ones who could compete with her ugliness?

This time, Moghedien did laugh. A quiet laugh, but Graendal heard. The woman shot her a glare that could have set a section of the ocean aflame all on its own.

Moghedien returned a calm gaze, feeling more confident now. She resisted the urge to stroke the cour'souvra. Bring what you will, Graendal, she thought. We are on level footing now. We shall see who ends this race ahead.

A Memory of Light, Prologue

It is hard to say who ended the race ahead. Graendal would be the happier of the two, although as mindless as all those she enslaved, while Moghedien has her mind, but is unfree. Who is better off? For Graendal, ignorance is bliss. Moghedien has hope of escape, but maybe not much chance. The point is that neither won.

Finally we get to the ostensible point of this meeting: Taim has been raised to Chosen. He will be known by his self-adopted title of M’Hael, which means leader and is a reference to Hitler’s title of Der Fuhrer and also to St Michael who leads a host against the Dragon at Armageddon (see Names of the Shadow). Moridin introduces him formally to force the other Forsaken to accept M’Hael’s rise and status and also to point out his successes and their failures.

Speaking of failures, Moghedien is resentful that Moridin has not been punished for his failures and his need to be rescued. The difference is that Ishamael died serving the Dark One, though, not serving himself.

Moghedien feels insulted at having to assist Demandred by watching over one of the armies (Seanchan) and even more when she is threatened by Moridin in front of the others.

Fun in the Last Days. Moridin’s meeting parallels Rand’s meeting in a couple of chapters’ time. Both are having unity problems.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A Memory of Light Read-Through #2: Prologue— Talmanes, Egeanin and Aviendha POVs

By Linda

Talmanes POVS 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12

Talmanes has a series of POVs interspersed among the other Prologue POVs to maintain suspense. They are glimpses of the trials Talmanes and the Band went through to save the dragons—and also many Andorans. At first they coerced mercenaries to help them secure a corridor to the western city gate through which the refugees could leave the city, but when this was cut off by the Trollocs, as expected, Talmanes persuaded Guybon to order his troops to leave the Palace and help them protect the southern gate for refugees.

Once Talmanes might not have shown concern for the ordinary folk—peasants or labourers—but Mat has had a positive influence on him: he is more socially responsible and caring, and less arrogant. Talmanes admires Mat for caring as well as being a brilliant general:

There was a softness to the man equal to his genius—an odd, but inspiring, combination.

A Memory of Light, Prologue

Mat the trickster is a social anomaly, refusing to be pigeonholed or have his behaviour limited, which is why Talmanes:

still didn't rightly know whether to think of Mat as a lord or not.

A Memory of Light, Prologue

Despite having the worst sort of Thakandar blade wound, Talmanes remained focussed on saving the dragons, and kills a second a second Myrddraal that was complacent—not knowing that Talmanes had nothing left to lose. His action saved his troops because they would never have been able to eliminate all the Trollocs it was linked to.

The Band overcame tremendous odds to reach the dragons but Aludra criticised them for taking so long to help her. She is sarcastic to Talmanes, so he returns the favour:

"This, it is a new revelation to you?" Aludra asked. "As if I haven't been trying to do that very thing. Your face, what is wrong with it?"

"I once ate a rather sharp cheese, and it has never quite sat right with me."… "What about my face?" Talmanes raised a hand to his cheek. Blood. The Myrddraal. Right. "Just a cut."…

"More Trollocs, my Lord. Lots of them! They're filling in behind us."

"Lovely. Set the table. I hope we have enough dinnerware. I knew we should have sent the maid for that five thousand seven hundred and thirty-first set."

"Are you . . . feeling all right?" Aludra asked.

"Blood and bloody ashes, woman, do I look like I'm feeling well? Guybon! Retreat is cut off. How far from the east gates are we?"

A Memory of Light, Prologue

It turns out that he likes being cryptically sarcastic and ironic; he has a subtle, dry humour.

Maybe if I smiled more when I made jokes, he thought idly, leaning against the side of the barricade. Then they'd understand what I meant. That, of course, raised the question: Did he want people to understand? It was often more amusing the other way. Besides, smiling was so garish. Where was the subtlety?

A Memory of Light, Prologue

Talmanes laughed hysterically at the irony of the situation, to the surprise of the others, who see no graveyard humour, only tragedy. He laughs up his sleeve at people, enjoying fooling them, showing that he is an ideal companion for a trickster. It’s a sign of his dire straits that he is more open than usual, and our opinion of him changes as a result. These are his first POV in the series. Disconcerted by this, Aludra starts stating the obvious, after she criticised Talmanes for it, so Talmanes got his own back.

It was a mercy in more ways than one that Talmanes refused the offer of a mercy killing because he then thinks of a way to escape the Trollocs while the others are defeatist. A further step in his “nothing left to lose” situation is that the pain is no longer growing because the taint has consumed him already. With the Trollocs waiting to rush in and seize the dragons, Aludra offers to destroy them. Talmanes realises that they can use most of the dragons to kill the Trollocs and the rest to blast a hole in the wall on the other side of the square to escape.

Egeanin POV

Egeanin intends Bayle to stick to the law, to reform him. Bayle wants to go off away from the conflict, but she is going to give information and help—offer herself—to Nynaeve and Elayne to stave off depression and loss of identity and redeem her honour after being demoted. She has not explained this even to Bayle until now.

She might be Shipless, but she would not let herself slip into the depths and drown.

A Memory of Light, Prologue

Egeanin is also very distressed about sul’dam being able to learn to channel, and that Seanchan power is therefore built on a lie. The Seanchan Empire has lost honour in Egeanin’s eyes; but the Empress rationalises this away by emphasising the difference between innate ability and usage, and learned ability—the power of choice. Yet events can force even a sul’dam into channelling despite her previous intentions, as Bethamin shows in Knife of Dreams, A Cold Medallion. It’s a very thin line. (The Aiel also live a lie: as to their origins and the oaths they forsook.)

Now, months after she had discovered the truth, her mind could not encompass all of the implications. Another might have been more interested in the political advantage; another might have returned to Seanchan and used this to gain power. Almost, Leilwin wished she had done that. Almost.

But the pleas of the sul'dam . . . growing to know those Aes Sedai, who were nothing like what she'd been taught . . .

A Memory of Light, Prologue

While Egeanin has spent a lot of time worrying about this, she has been oblivious to the consequences of her surrender of the male a’dam to the Seanchan. Nynaeve’s chastisement is a rude awakening. She determines that with this extreme loss of honour further penance is warranted: she must be da’covale to the Amyrlin. Killing herself would be too easy a way out.

"Yes," Leilwin said softly. She understood now. "I regret breaking my oath, but—"

"You regret it, Egeanin?" Nynaeve said, standing, knocking her chair back. "'Regret' is not a word I would use for endangering the world itself, bringing us to the brink of darkness and all but shoving us over the edge! She had copies of that device made, woman. One ended up around the neck of the Dragon Reborn. The Dragon Reborn himself, controlled by one of the Forsaken!"

Nynaeve flung her hands into the air. "Light! We were heartbeats from the end, because of you. The end of everything. No more Pattern, no more world, nothing. Millions of lives could have winked out because of your carelessness."

"I . . ." Leilwin's failures seemed monumental, suddenly. Her life, lost. Her very name, lost. Her ship, stripped from her by the Daughter of the Nine Moons herself. All were immaterial in light of this.

A Memory of Light, Prologue

Aviendha POV

Aviendha is not reprimanded for breaking the taboo of the glass columns ter’angreal and entering it twice. Instead, the Wise Ones steel themselves for the added burden of the Aiel being at risk of degenerating and being ruined.

Bair has faith that the columns work to help the Aiel and that the future they show must therefore be able to be changed. She thinks the visions are a warning rather than irrevocable fate. Sorilea says this is irrelevant because they must try to change it regardless. Nor does the vision mean that the Last Battle will be won, because if it is lost, the Dark One breaks the Pattern and all prophecy is void.

Aviendha realises that the Merrilor meeting, where Rand will make demands of the other allied nations, but not the Aiel, is pivotal to the Aiel’s future. Also that regardless of whether Rand did or did not include the Aiel in his Bargain, the Wise Ones would feel insulted.

To give the Aiel an exemption from his price—if, indeed, that was what he intended—was an act of honor. If he had made a demand of them with the others, these very Wise Ones might have taken offense at being lumped with the wetlanders.

A Memory of Light, Prologue

Aviendha rightly thinks the most important task she will ever do is prevent the Aiel’s road to ruin. But this depends on seeing her children raised better. These are things she would never have known if she had not attempted to ‘read’ the glass columns ter’angreal.

The Wise Ones are pleased that Rand accepts his destiny—has embraced death—and believe that his sacrifice should not be undervalued by the Wetlanders; that it is acceptable for him to demand the nations to follow his wishes in exchange. The Aiel have truly followed Rand—even when they thought his commands or plans foolish—but most of the other nations, on the whole, have not, due to division or scheming or distraction.

Bair takes it upon herself to validate Aviendha’s vision. She feels that she is more expendable because she is not a channeller, and yet also very experienced and strong.

Aviendha asks Bair if she knows of a Nakomi. Bair says Nakomi is an ancient name (see Character Names N). It is a reference to the Song of Hiawatha, and so is part of Jordan’s premise that our history becomes the Wheel of Time world myth and vice versa.

Regarding names, Bair recommends that Aviendha change one of her children’s names and never speak of the former name to anyone as a way to change the vision the glass columns showed. (Aviendha is not even pregnant yet, but no one doubts the prophetic visions—and nor does the reader.) Bair is determined to change the Aiel’s future and Aviendha sees this is a good and meaningful way to do it. This scene refers to the traditional belief in the power of names.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Memory of Light Read-Through #1: Prologue— Bayrd and Isam POVs.

By Linda

Bayrd POV

Bayrd is the first of many fans’ names in A Memory of Light. There had been a few in earlier books: as a fundraiser for charity, or to acknowledge contributions such as those of the beta readers. This article details them: Character Names Derived from Readers' Names.

The scene follows on from When Iron Melts of The Gathering Storm showing the escalation of wrongness in the world due to the Dark One’s touch and his efforts to overturn the proper and natural order of things.

The night smelled wrong.

A Memory of Light, Prologue

Food is rotten; stone abides, however. The men thought that sunrise would return all to normality as it regularly does to the village of Hinderstap.

Ironically Jarid Sarand blames the wrongness on the Aes Sedai but they were the ones adversely affected in The Gathering Storm. Jarid’s forces are badly affected because Jarid is distracted with his own concerns and is not fighting the Shadow, as were the Aes Sedai under Elaida. Belief and order give strength, as Herid Fel said, and what Jarid believes is wrong, and his commitment to the Light and the Dragon is weak. He disbelieves the Last Battle is upon them, and, hence he becomes a focus of wrongness.

All of the army command have a rethink about Jarid:

“He wasn't always this bad, was he? Bayrd thought. He wanted the throne for his wife, but what lord wouldn't want that, given the chance? It was hard to look past the name. Bayrd's family had followed the Sarand family with reverence for generations.

A Memory of Light, Prologue

Devoted retainers turn against Jarid—ones whose families have served for decades. They become insubordinate and disrespectful, which is against the proper social order. All abandon Jarid because his plans and interpretation of information are comprehensively wrong, as Elaida’s were. However, Elaida did not have the same amount of overt insubordination due to the Tower’s tenacious administrative and political structure. Elaida had lost support, but she was taken before the Aes Sedai deserted her. The Tower did not pursue her release from the Seanchan, however.

Bayrd is making a weapon from the Land for the Last Battle—a stone spearhead as made in ancient times. This seems right and undoes at least some of the wrongness:

There was something powerful about crafting the spearhead. The simple act seemed to push back the gloom. There had been a shadow on Bayrd, and the rest of the camp, lately. As if . . . as if he couldn't stand in the light no matter how he tried. The darkness was always there, weighing him down. He woke each morning feeling as if someone he'd loved had died the day before.

It could crush you, that despair. Why would making a spearhead change that? You're being a fool, Bayrd. It just seemed to him that the mere act of creating something—anything—fought back. That was one way to challenge . . . him. The one none of them spoke of. The one that they all knew was behind it, no matter what Lord Jarid said.

A Memory of Light, Prologue

There is great power in creating, especially in making something with which to defend the Land against the Shadow.

On the other hand, note that Bayrd could not even think of the euphemism “Dark One” in his mind, an extreme version of not naming the Dark One. This makes focussing on the fight against the Shadow that much harder, even if it keeps Bayrd from attracting the Dark One’s attention.

The Dragon is reborn, old bonds are broken, old oaths done away with . . . and I'll be hanged before I let Andor march to the Last Battle without me.

A Memory of Light, Prologue

Bayrd speaks strongly but he could be killed for desertion. Desertion is punished severely in normal times. In this scene Jarid threatens and then tries to kill his mutinous guards.

Bayrd and the soldiers abandon Jarid and affirm their strong commitment to the Dragon and the Land. While their success in making weapons against the Shadow strengthened their resolve, looking at it the other way, their determination to fight enabled them to overcome the Dark One’s touch and make weapons. They were not using their metal weapons to fight the Shadow and these weakened and melted.

This scene ties to some earlier scenes:

  • The Gathering Storm, When Iron Melts, when Egwene promises to free Leane and expresses confidence that Elaida’s tyranny will soon be over and the bars of Leane’s cell promptly melt, then the cell floor, and the ceiling. It’s almost as though Egwene’s vow triggered the change. The Yellows were slow to react to the ‘attack’ on reality. Once Leane was free, everything solidified again.

  • Knife of Dreams, The Importance of Dyelin, when Ellorien is challenged about whether she would contribute to the Last Battle:

    "Tarmon Gai'don is coming soon, Ellorien," Elayne said. "You won't be able to remain on your estates then." Ellorien paused, looking over her shoulder. "When Tarmon Gai'don comes, Traemane rides for the Last Battle, and we ride behind the Lion of Andor."

  • Towers of Midnight, A Terrible Feeling, when all the weapons in Perrin’s camp attack their owners, except Perrin’s hammer, and are deactivated by soil, and A Making, when Perrin makes a power-wrought hammer and affirms that he will take their oaths and lead them at the Last Battle, and

  • The Gathering Storm prologue, where humble Borderlanders are the first to react and go north to fight at the Last Days. Their dedication and courage contrasts with the reckless actions and ambitions of nobles. They are turning their best tools into weapons to fight the Shadow so that there is a chance for them to be able to plant crops again. The people could all starve, but if they don’t fight they will all die anyway.

  • Baryd believes in the Dragon as well as the onset of the Last Battle:

    I have an oath older than the one to your family, anyway. An oath the Dragon himself couldn't undo. It was an oath to the land. The stones were in his blood, and his blood in the stones of this Andor.

    A Memory of Light, Prologue

    Bayrd has an oath to the Land but the Dragon is one with the Land.

    Isam POV

    The nameless town in the Blight is a previously unknown shanty town or ghetto of the Shadow. It is a corruption of a real town, just as the Eye Blinders are a corruption of real Aiel, as Isam observes:

    After Moridin passed, Isam finally took a sip of his dark drink. The locals just called it "fire." It lived up to its name. It was supposedly related to some drink from the Waste. Like everything else in the Town, it was a corrupt version of the original.

    A Memory of Light, Prologue

    It is consistent with the view of the devil as the ape of god.

    The scene explains some of Isam’s background and motivation. We know Isam was brought up by someone not allied to the Shadow:


    Was Isam raised by the Shadow directly, by his mother, or by someone else?

    Robert Jordan

    By someone else. Read and find out.

    Robert Jordan at DragonCon

    Isam only feels safe when he is physically in Tel’aran’rhiod, in the dream. In contrast, channellers protect their dreams when they sleep. Isam has the ability and confidence to spy on the Forsaken in the dream. There, he is as skilled as the most skilled of the Forsaken and better than them at not being seen. (Or else he would not have survived.)

    Isam is more interested in killing Perrin than Rand—he’s not really interested in Rand. Either he has convinced himself that Rand wouldn’t be much of a challenge or else he unconsciously feels that Rand is out of his league and is avoiding thinking about it. It’s academic, since although he was ordered multiple times to kill Rand, he was always pulled away by others before he completed the task. Competition and disunity have prevented the Shadow’s success.

    Luc was in charge of the Shadow’s Two Rivers campaign. Both Luc and Isam wondered if Isam was sent there to be kept away from important events – such as Rand going to Rhuidean or perhaps the derailing of the Black Ajah’s plans in Tanchico.

    He hates what the Town did to him and is conscious of how he might otherwise have turned out, if not for his capture. He feels empathy for a feral child.

    Isam openly sweats while worrying about which Forsaken is meeting him in the Town. Perrin thought that Isam lacked composure in the Two Rivers when they were staking each other:

    The slanting light illuminated it clearly. Dark hair and blue eyes, a face all hard planes and angles, so reminiscent of Lan's face. Except that in that brief glimpse Slayer licked his lips twice; his forehead was creased, and his eyes darted as they searched. Lan would not have let his worry show if he stood alone against a thousand Trollocs.

    The Shadow Rising, The Price of a Departure

    And Slayer was in the dream where he was far more skilled than Perrin at this stage.

    In contrast, as Perrin would have predicted, Lan showed no worry while actually fighting Demandred. Lan is far above Isam in courage and determination. Both men had traumatic upbringings, but Isam didn’t have care, though.

    The term “Eye Blinders” refers to spitting in Dark One’s eye, which is what the Aiel male channellers who are sent to the Blight say they will do. Instead, once there they are Turned into, or voluntarily become, Darkfriends—or accept death or stilling as Cyndane indirectly explains:

    “Is there . . . Is there really no way to resist being Turned? Nothing they can do?"

    "A person can resist for a short time," she said. "A short time only. The strongest will fail eventually. If you are a man facing women, they will beat you quickly."

    "It shouldn't be possible," Perrin said, kneeling. "Nobody should be able to force a man to turn to the Shadow. When all else is taken from us, this choice should remain."

    "Oh, they have the choice," Lanfear said, idly nudging one with her foot. "They could have chosen to be gentled. That would have removed the weakness from them, and they could never have been Turned."

    A Memory of Light, Doses of Forkroot

    The Eye Blinders are apparently constrained to only kill those who cannot channel—something that Moridin is not bound by. Isam knows they like to kill the Talentless, even him, who is fairly high up the Darkfriend hierarchy, and uniquely skilled besides, but they are not allowed to kill each other, because that would be wasteful.

    Perhaps the Aiel lowered their veils in anticipation of killing the Dragon Reborn.

    It appears that another Aiel male channeller has been caught—one that has been sent to the Blight to fight Dark One. This is what Isam means by thinking:

    Isam would have assumed that the practice had ended, once the taint was cleansed.

    A Memory of Light, Prologue

    There is no need to send male channellers to the Blight now, but some are continuing the custom. They are more likely to be from remnants of the Brotherless or Shaido, but could still be from other clans, despite Rand’s intention to change the custom, because Aiel are reluctant to change.

    Isam encountered Aiel channellers—even Turned ones—in his childhood, so there have been Black sisters in the town in the past to Turn Aiel channellers; perhaps there have been for centuries. Once there is a large number of Eye Blinders, they can do the Turning (these rings can all be male), but women will Turn men far more easily. At least in the Blight there would not be the difficulty of gathering 13 Myrddraal together.

    Isam respects Moridin and Cyndane, although he doesn’t recognise the latter’s real identity. Cyndane is not in disguise as Isam thinks, but has a new body. She is desperate for Rand’s death. Lanfear has changed; she is not a spoiled child anymore, but a vengeful woman scorned. Cyndane says the other Forsaken have renounced their claim on Isam. This may not be true.

    Cyndane orders two Turned Aiel to accompany Isam, but did not command them to follow his orders. She appears to be revolted by the Turned Aiel:

    "They will accompany you," the Chosen said. "You shall have a handful of the Talentless as well to help deal with al'Thor's guards." She turned to him and, for the first time, she met his eyes. She seemed . . . revolted.

    A Memory of Light, Prologue

    As she explains to Perrin,

    "They've been Turned," she said. "I've always found that to be a wasteful business. You lose something in the transformation—they will never serve as well as if they'd come willingly. Oh, they'll be loyal, but the light is gone. The self-motivation, the spark of ingenuity that makes people into people."

    "Be quiet," Perrin said. "Turned? What do you mean? Is that . . ."

    "Thirteen Myrddraal and thirteen Dreadlords." Lanfear sneered. "Such crudeness. Such a waste."

    A Memory of Light, Doses of Forkroot

    She is also unimpressed if she has to use Compulsion to manipulate someone—it is cheating, and therefore beneath her. Turning is the ultimate in Compulsion.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2015

    Wheel of Time Music - Performance and Instruments

    By Linda

    Much detailed world-building lies in the music: the songs and dances, instruments and national and ethnic styles. While the world is busy developing technology of a similar standard to the 16th to 18th centuries of our world, the music, like the weaponry, lags behind. Folk music is the most widespread musical genre, played on traditional instruments such as hammered dulcimer, zither or flute and tabor. Western music progressed greatly from the liturgical demands of the Church, but the Wheel of Time world has no formal church. The courts of the nobility are a partial substitute at best, being under considerable pressure. Written music is unknown, or perhaps known by a few at this time, unlike in earlier eras of the Third Age. The oral (or aural!) tradition is king in the performance arts in the books, and (Celtic) bards and gleemen/ troubadours are its major performers, keeping and disseminating knowledge. This is somewhat incongruous considering that a fair portion of the population is literate. Yet there is a struggle to maintain knowledge and order at the end of the Age, let alone improve it.

    Court Music and Bards—now with Opera!

    Court music ranges from a solo bard declaiming ballads in High Chant, to a variety of instrumental groups. However, the massed hired performers at Barthanes’ manor was excessive and atypical; it was for display rather than appreciation.

    Music may be provided outdoors as well as indoors:

    Figures mounted and afoot filled the long pasture of dried brown grass, though they did not crowd it. A cluster of musicians in white-embroidered blue tabards, with flutes and bitterns and tambours, produced a light tune suitable for an afternoon over chilled wine.

    Lord of Chaos, Plans

    In some nations, it is popular for nobles to play an instrument:

    The talk ranged from music and the best musicians among the nobles at court to the rigours of travel, from whether rumours of a man who could channel might be true to why so many Aes Sedai seemed to be about, and Moiraine found it difficult to maintain the expected light wittiness. She cared little for music and less for whoever played the instruments; in Cairhien, musicians were hired and forgotten.

    New Spring, An Answer

    Worked gold chased with silver, the instrument looked the sort a lord might play, if lords anywhere pla`yed the flute…

    The Great Hunt, The Nine Rings

    In the Borderlands, at least, they do. Faile plays the bittern, a stringed instrument.

    Ironically the court under the most prolonged pressure and with the least regard for musicians has made the most contribution to the evolution of music: Cairhien. In fact, the progress came as a result of the king’s efforts to keep the populace from rioting over famine and poor social conditions by providing large-scale entertainment. The competition among the many performers to gain audiences resulted in first, the development of theatric performances by a group of players, and then combining these with music into early operas.

    From Rand’s thoughts, the only difference between the entertainers at Barthane’s manor and that of an inn was the quantity of performers:

    There were many other rooms, all filled with lords and ladies, all with entertainers: three different gleemen in their cloaks, more jugglers and tumblers, and musicians playing flutes, bitterns, dulcimers, and lutes, plus five different sizes of fiddle, six kinds of horn, straight or curved or curled, and ten sizes of drum from tambour to kettle. He gave some of the horn players a second look, those with curled horns, but the instruments were all plain brass…
    There was even a bard in silver-worked Taren boots and a yellow coat, strolling through the rooms plucking his harp and sometimes stopping to declaim in High Chant. He glared contemptuously at the gleemen and did not linger in the rooms where they were, but Rand saw little difference between him and them except for their clothes.

    The Great Hunt, Dangerous Words

    If the fiddles are playing together, they may be a consort, which is typical of the 16th-17th centuries in the real world. The bard may have subconsciously feared that there was too little difference and tried to keep himself apart.


    In Celtic culture, a bard was a poet employed by a lord to remember the family histories of the aristocracy and the deeds of the clan’s warriors, and to commemorate the lord’s activities. Bards were chroniclers as well as entertainers, composers and poets. They committed oral history to memory for an illiterate society. The term has changed over time to refer to an epic poet/singer or storywriter and teller.

    Bards and gleemen perform the same function as Celtic bards:

    Perhaps no one would think it too odd if a gleeman asked to perform a song for the Lord Dragon, a song especially composed. He knew a deservedly obscure Kandori tune, praising some unnamed lord for his greatness and courage in grandiose terms that never quite managed to name deeds or places. It had probably been bought by some lord who had no deeds worth naming.

    The Shadow Rising, Strings

    The Wheel of Time society is not illiterate, and Jordan combines both meanings of the term ‘bard’ in his bards and gleemen. The Andoran great families, or Houses, have house bards—Thom was the Trakand house bard.

    Rand observed that bards and gleemen perform in the same style. Typically they eschew plain speech and sing or half-sing their tales:

    As for Common, Plain Chant, and High Chant: Common is ordinary speech, of course; telling a story as one man in the street might tell another. Plain Chant adds a rhythmic half-singing to poetic imagery; nothing is ever described plainly; conveying emotion is as important as conveying description. High Chant is sung, really, as though Benedictine monks had been brought up in a tradition of Chinese music; the rhythms are more precise, and emotional content is more important than mere description. High Chant can be all but unintelligible to those who are not used to it; it is a form used only by court bards and the like. I should point out that Common, Plain and High are not language names, but names used by bards for different forms of recitation.

    Robert Jordan in a 1994 letter on the Old Tongue

    The Great Hunt of the Horn is a long cycle of legends of heroes, and can be likened to the Welsh Mabinogion, or the Arthurian tales, the Matter of Britain. (Robert Jordan drew on the Arthurian tales as a source of events and characters in the books to illustrate the effect of tie on history and legend.) Illian’s competition for tellings of The Great Hunt has a parallel in the Welsh Eisteddfods, where Welsh bards compete. Thom may be an analogue of legendary Welsh bards such as Aneirin and Taliesin.

    Mostly there would be a difference in standard between bards and gleemen; and less talented gleemen would not use High Chant. Rand is used to Thom, who is outstanding, even among bards.

    A handful of bards strolled playing through the crowd, picked out as much by a loftier air than any noble as by the carved and gilded harps they carried.

    A Crown of Swords, Into the Woods

    They are the film or rock stars of their time. There is also a preference for bards to play the harp and not the flute (or presumably some other instrument, although this possibility isn’t even mentioned) because, as Mat remarks, the nobles think the harp is more ‘elevated’:

    He had heard gleemen, performers and bards. Thom made the entire lot seem like children with sticks, banging on pots.
    The flute was a simple instrument. A lot of nobles would rather hear the harp instead; one man in Ebou Dar had told Mat the harp was more "elevated." Mat figured he would have gone slack-jawed and saucer-eyed if he had heard Thom play. The gleeman made the flute sound like an extension of his own soul. Soft trills, minor scales and powerfully bold long holds. Such a lamenting melody.

    Towers of Midnight, The Seven Striped Lass

    Mat’s tribute to Thom is an indication of his great skill.

    Operatic Interlude

    No doubt Thom is not the only bard who dislikes the evolution of theatre and players. Very likely, he would dislike the recently “invented” opera even more. Some of the audience also do not appreciate it:

    This particular story was a retelling of the tragic marriage and death of the Princess Walishen, slain by beasts of the Shadow. Birgitte was familiar with the ballad that the players had adapted to form their story. In fact, they sang parts of it during the performance. It was remarkable how little that song had changed over the years.
    Some different names, a few different notes, but the same overall…
    "Stop complaining," Birgitte said, suppressing a wince as the diva—so the players called her—began a particularly shrill aria—so they called a song by yourself. Why did the players need so many new names for things?

    Towers of Midnight, The End of a Legend

    The songmistress of the Lucky Man's Theater Troop continued her song. It was beautiful, pure and high. Elayne sat on a cushioned chair on the right side of the hall, which had been repurposed with a raised area at the front for the players…She had often listened to "The Death of Princess Walishen" as a ballad, and didn't really see the point of adding words to it and different players, instead of just having one bard do the entire thing…The song finished, the final, high-pitched note dwindling like a candle running out of wick. The end of the play came shortly afterward, men in white masks jumping out of the darkness. A brilliant light flashed, something thrown into one of the lanterns, and when it faded again, Walishen lay dead on the stage, the bell of her red dress splayed around her like spilled blood.

    Towers of Midnight, Foxheads

    The stage, lights and special effects, as well as the music—which Elayne conceded was beautifully sung—show why operas will gain popularity. In the real world, opera was developed in Italy at the end of the 16th century as an attempt to revive ancient Greek drama, but soon had a wider scope. (Theatre was restored late to the Wheel of Time world due to the lack of a Church sponsoring morality and biblical plays).

    The bardic system lasted until the mid-17th century in Ireland and the early 18th century in Scotland—about the time of the late New Era. The opera scene looks forward to changes in the new Age, where theatre, opera, and books from writers like Loial may become at least as popular and more widespread than ballads from bards like Thom.


    Thom is the pre-eminent bard in the Wheel of Time world: composer, performer, acrobat, juggler, prestidigitator, advisor and chronicler. He mesmerises his audience:

    Thom was performing again, standing on a table against the far wall, his gestures grand enough to fill the big room. It was The Great Hunt of the Horn again, but no one complained, of course. There were so many tales to be told about each of the Hunters, and so many Hunters to tell of, that no two tellings were ever the same. The whole of it in one telling would have taken a week or more. The only sound competing with the gleeman's voice and harp was the crackling of the fires in the fireplaces…
    Kitchen smells drifting into the room reminded him that he was hungry, but even the people who had food in front of them gave it little attention. The maids who should have been serving stood entranced, clutching their aprons and looking at the gleeman, and nobody seemed to mind at all. Listening was better than eating, no matter how good the food.

    The Eye of the World, Watchers and Hunters

    Flourishing his cloak to set the multihued patches fluttering, Thom told stories—“Mara and the Three Foolish Kings," and several tales about Anla, the Wise Counselor—and recited a long stretch of The Great Hunt of the Horn, reciting it so that horses seemed to prance and trumpets blare in the common room, and men and women fought and loved and died. On into the night he sang and recited, only pausing now and then to wet his throat with a sip of wine as the patrons eagerly clamored for more.

    The Shadow Rising, A Cup of Wine

    Like Loial, Thom aimed to witness history—and legend—being made, but found he had to participate:

    If I really can free Moiraine . . . well, we'll see. Besides, somebody needs to be here to watch, then put this all to song, someday. There will be more than one ballad that comes from all of this."

    The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding

    In the scenes of Moiraine’s rescue, Thom was like Orpheus in the Underworld. In A Memory of Light, Thom whiled away the time outside Shayol Ghul, another underworld, by composing a ballad.


    As Demandred was to Lews Therin—and perhaps Mat—so Asmodean was to Thom: almost, but not quite, as good.

    Natael did a fair job of it; nothing like Thom's sonorous recitals, of course, but the rolling words drew a crowd of Aiel thick around the edge of the fire's light.

    The Shadow Rising, Imre Stand

    "She still wouldn't suspect." Settling back onto the cushions, the other man took up the harp again, strumming a line of music that had a devious sound…Mournful music began to flow from the harp, speaking of loss and tears. "The March of Death," Asmodean said over the music, "the final movement of The Grand Passions Cycle, composed some three hundred years before the War of Power by-"…"Earth, Fire, Air, Water, and Spirit." Natael strummed a chord for each…”What Moiraine believes to be truth, she tells as truth whether or not it is; one of a thousand weaknesses in those fool Oaths." He played a bit of something that did indeed sound foolish.

    The Fires of Heaven, Pale Shadows

    Asmodean was lured to the Shadow by a desire for immortality and the opportunity for endless days of composing and performing. A very talented musician, he could play a wide range of instruments very well: the harp, several sorts of flute, the shama, the corea, the balfone, and the obaen (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time).

    The first two instruments, the harp and flute, are directly comparable to modern instruments and are discussed below.

    Corea probably pays homage to Chick Corea, the famous jazz musician, while also alluding to ‘cor’, which is French for ‘horn’ and to the kora, which is a harp-lute from West Africa, see picture right (an example of Jordan’s practice of suggesting multiple parallels with one name).

    Shama probably refers to the shawm or shalm, a traditional instrument related to the oboe, see illustration left, although a shama is a South East Asian bird noted for its melodious song (multiple parallels in one name, again).

    Balfone is derived from the balafone or balophone, a West African percussion instrument like a xylophone, but with gourds as resonators attached to the wooden keys, see photo right.

    Obaen probably refers to the oboe. In short, Asmodean could play well on wind, percussion, brass and plucked string instruments.

    Asmodean was a child prodigy in both performance and composing. Prodigies in performance are common, but not in composing. (See Asmodean essay).

    As good as Asmodean was, he is probably exceeded in performance by Thom. For one thing, Asmodean was a musician rather than a storyteller. One gets the feeling that Asmodean would certainly have killed Thom if he had met him.

    Gleemen and Troubadours

    Gleemen wander the Wheel of Time mainland, performing at inns and peoples’ homes, perhaps even in palaces if they are good enough to come to the notice of the rich and powerful. Jordan likened Thom’s recitals to troubadour music:

    Thom chanting the tales is quite like troubadour music of the Middle Ages in continental Europe.

    Robert Jordan at a 2003 booksigning

    The troubadours were originally medieval poets in 11th-13th century Europe who composed songs and poems. The class originated in southern France.

    A troubadour often stayed with a wealthy noble patron of his own for a considerable period of time and entertained his court with his songs and so had a similar role to a bard. Many did travel extensively, however, spending time at one court and then another.

    Their songs were not only used as entertainment but also as propaganda, praising the patron’s deeds and causes, flattering his allies, encouraging or justifying wars, and as education. Thom helped his patron, Morgase, gain the throne, and helped Rand, and later, Elayne and Nynaeve, by spreading propaganda.

    Troubadours performed their own songs. Jongleurs (performers) and cantaires (singers) also performed troubadours' songs. The court was not the only venue for troubadour performance; competitions were held from an early date. Similarly in The Wheel of Time, Illian held competitions for tellings of The Great Hunt of the Horn.

    Over time, the term ‘troubadour’ came to mean any wandering singer or minstrel, and likewise, in Scotland, a bard became a derogatory term for an itinerant musician. Jordan’s gleemen are socially a considerable step below bards.

    Gleemen and bards are all male. One of the many tragedies of the series is that a very promising bardic student is killed for being a bystander in the Great Game:

    "She'll be a bard one day," Thom said with a note of pride after she was gone. "She listens to a tale once - once only, mind! - and she has it right, not just the words, but every nuance, every rhythm. She has a fine hand on the harp, and she played the flute better the first time she picked it up than you ever did."

    The Great Hunt, Discord

    Dena would have been the first female bard in some centuries. I expect that there were female poets/composers in earlier centuries.


    Inns are major venues for entertainment and are perhaps the most important maintainers of a regional, if not continental, music style. They often have a raised, semi-stage area at one end of the common room for performing. Failing this, performers sit or stand on a table. Their budgets seem to run to one or two performers in any one night. It is uncommon to see an inn with a larger group of performers. (The second-best inn at Maerone had five when Mat was there.) The music played is in the style of folk music of Western Europe and the Appalachians. Some acts are treated as background music:

    Inside, a greying woman, tall and handsome, presided over a crowded common room where talk and laughter almost drowned out the slender girl singing to the music of her zither.

    Canluum, New Spring

    in contrast to the attention Thom, or even Rand and Mat, commands.

    Inns hold dances on some occasions, and the jigs and reels are analogues of the Irish and Scots dances of the same names still danced in Europe and also the US where they were taken by immigrants in the 18th-19th centuries.


    Hammered dulcimer

    One of the most commonly played instruments in the series is the hammered dulcimer. It is found in all nations on the main continent, both solo and as part of a band of mixed instruments (also called a broken consort in the 17th century), but does not often accompany singing.

    A knot of musicians played on a small dais at the back, two perspiring men in their shirtsleeves with keening flutes, a pair plucking nine-string bitterns, and a red-faced woman in a blue-striped dress working tiny wooden hammers across a dulcimer on thin legs.

    Lord of Chaos, A Different Dance

    The hammered dulcimer is a very ancient Eurasian stringed instrument consisting of strings stretched over a trapezoidal sounding board set in a frame. In the series it stands on legs on a table. The strings are in pairs—two strings tuned to the same note, two per course—or sometimes even three or four per course, and are struck with small hammers held in each hand. The hammers are traditionally wooden; they can be covered with leather or fabric for a more muted sound. Typically dulcimers are tuned to the diatonic scale but in some modern dulcimers short bridges are added at the top and bottom of the sounding board for extra strings tuned to the missing notes.

    The hammered dulcimer led to the development of the pianoforte around 1700. It is interesting that while the Wheel of Time is set in roughly this time period, there are no keyboard instruments. Yet in the real world the harpsichord and organ—even portable organ—existed by this time.


    The zither is another common stringed instrument played in all main continent nations:

    Inside, a greying woman, tall and handsome, presided over a crowded common room where talk and laughter almost drowned out the slender girl singing to the music of her zither.

    New Spring, Canluum

    There were musicians inside, their zither and drum almost drowned in coarse laughter and drunken shouting.

    The Eye of the World, Four Kings in Shadow

    It accompanies singing or is part of an instrumental group.

    The zither is a stringed instrument from central and eastern Europe and east Asia. It is related to the hammered dulcimer but, unlike the dulcimer, it is not in a frame, but laid flat on a table, which acts as a resonator to amplify the sound.

    Typically, the zither has five fretboard strings which are stopped with one hand like on guitar, while plucked with a plectrum on the thumb of the opposite hand. The remaining fingers of this hand play chords on the open strings. The ope strings are tuned in fifths. There may also be from two to thirteen chromatically tuned contrabass strings.


    The bittern is a Wheel of Time instrument with nine or twelve strings that are plucked or strummed. In the real world, a bittern is a bird of the heron family with a deep fog-horn call. This implies an instrument that is loud—consistent with the number of strings, which would be three or four courses of three strings.

    It is common in inns and at court:

    A plump man in red and white played the flute while a lean woman in livery played the twelve string bittern, producing lively, joyous tunes.

    Knife of Dreams, The Importance of Dyelin

    Turning away from the musicians on the street corner, a perspiring woman puffing at a long flute and a red-faced man plucking a nine-string bittern,

    Lord of Chaos, An Embassy

    The similarly named gittern (see photo above right) is a gut-stringed round-backed instrument carved from a single piece of wood with body and neck joined in a smooth curve or straight line (unlike the lute, which was bent at this period). Dating from the 13th century, and originating in Western Europe, it had three, usually four, courses of two strings. A flat-backed version appeared in the 16th century which gradually displaced the original round-backed instrument and evolved into the guitar.

    Yet another similarly named stringed instrument, the cittern (see photo right), a flat-backed and metal-strung instrument also carved from a single piece of wood, was developed in the Renaissance. It usually has four courses of one to three metal strings, which give it a bright timbre. With a flat back, it was easier and cheaper to construct and hold, and hence was a popular instrument for informal music-making. In my view its louder sound is more consistent with a deep, loud bird-call. There was a bass version of the cittern, the bandora, which may be exactly what Jordan had in mind.


    The lute does not feature prominently in the inns or informal music, but was played at Barthanes’ manor:

    There were many other rooms, all filled with lords and ladies, all with entertainers: three different gleemen in their cloaks, more jugglers and tumblers, and musicians playing flutes, bitterns, dulcimers, and lutes...

    The Great Hunt, Dangerous Words

    The lute is a plucked string instrument with a deep round back. With a shell made from thin strips of hardwood glued edge to edge, the instrument was braced internally. It was large, but light, due to this construction. The soundboard is a tear-dropped thin piece of wood with a decorative knot-shaped sound hole carved out of the wood of the soundboard. Lutes were popular from the Medieval to the Baroque eras, especially the Renaissance. Prior to the Baroque, the pegbox was angled back from the neck at a sharp angle. The gut strings were in varying numbers of strings and courses. Most courses had two strings, but the highest pitched course was of a single string, the chanterelle.


    Fiddles are played in inns and in noblemen’s manors:

    A fiddle began to play, and after a moment a flute joined in.

    The Eye of the World, The Road to Taren Ferry

    There were many other rooms, all filled with lords and ladies, all with entertainers: three different gleemen in their cloaks, more jugglers and tumblers, and musicians playing flutes, bitterns, dulcimers, and lutes, plus five different sizes of fiddle, six kinds of horn, straight or curved or curled, and ten sizes of drum from tambour to kettle.

    The Great Hunt, Dangerous Words

    The five different sizes of fiddle would perhaps include a treble, alto-tenor and bass. They may have played together as a consort. Some of the fiddles may have been played resting on the arm as they were in Renaissance times, rather than under the neck.

    The fiddle/violin has four strings tuned in fifths and no frets marking the finger stops for different notes. The strings were traiditionally made of gut and are usually played with a horse-hair bow. The difference between a fiddle and a violin is that the fiddle is more humble than a violin and is played in a different style – used to play folk and traditional music. The violin family developed at the end of the fifteenth century.

    In the US fiddle music refers Irish-Scottish-French traditional music and Appalachian, bluegrass, etc styles of music. The Appalachian style has droning and double stops as well as syncopation.


    The harp is a very ancient stringed musical instrument consisting of strings spanning a frame to a sounding board. The strings were traditionally made of gut and are plucked by the fingers. The Wheel of Time harps are all portable, or lap, harps; there are no large harps that are set on the floor.

    The harp is a high status instrument in the Wheel of Time world, as it was in ancient and medieval times.

    The flute was a simple instrument. A lot of nobles would rather hear the harp instead; one man in Ebou Dar had told Mat the harp was more "elevated."

    Towers of Midnight, The Seven-Striped Lass

    The Ancient Greek goddess Athena rejected the aulos, a wind instrument, because when playing it her cheeks puffed out and made her look less pretty. This prejudice lasted centuries: woodwind and, especially, brass were looked on as 'inelegant' to play in early modern times. In constrast, the harp and lute were regarded as much more suitable for the upper classes.

    The pre-eminent harpist is Thom, but there are many others from Asmodean to anonymous players on street corners.

    Street musicians played flute or harp or pipes, sometimes accompanying a juggler or an acrobat, always with a cap set out for coins.

    The Dragon Reborn, Tar Valon

    A bard-harp played softly in the room behind him…Jasin Natael, as he called himself here, lay half sprawled on cushions against one of the windowless walls, softly playing the harp perched on his knee, its upper arm carved and gilded to resemble the creatures on Rand's forearms.

    The Fires of Heaven, Rhuidean

    Asmodean and Thom played very high status instruments with guilding and carving; most would be far humbler.

    The Sharans played a different style of harp:

    The slender pair played oddly elongated harps, with chimes that resonated to the plucked strings in crystalline echoes. "My newest acquisitions, from the lands beyond the Aiel Waste”… The very dark man and woman had come to the foot of the dais with their peculiar harps. Sammael supposed the chimes added something to their playing; what, he could not say…Shaofan and Chiape played their strange atonal music, full of complex harmonies and odd dissonances, quite beautifully;

    Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow

    This description resembles that of the ancient Chinese Konghou (see illustration,right), and Shara—home of silk—has similarities with China. While the ancient konghou is more elongated than the modern version, the modern konghou has each string supported by its own bridge, so that the player is able to bend the strings to create vibrato and sliding effects, possibly equivalent to the Sharan harp’s chimes.



    The most popular woodwind instrument in the Wheel of Time world is the flute. Thom's is silver and gold:

    To keep himself company, he unwrapped Thom Merrilin's cloak, exposing the harp and flute in their hard leather cases atop the many-colored patches. He took the gold-and-silver flute from its case, remembering the gleeman teaching him as he fingered it, and played a few notes of "The Wind That Shakes the Willow," softly so as not to wake the others. Even soft, the sad sound was too loud in that place, too real.

    The Great Hunt, Kinslayer

    but many others would be made from the more traditional wood and have a softer timbre:

    The woman with her hammered dulcimer was being accompanied by a thin man playing a flute that sounded as reedy as he was.

    The Shadow Rising, Veils

    A reedy sound would come from a wooden flute.

    Thom’s flute is most likely transverse (held horizontally), but there may also be end-blown (and therefore vertical) flutes (see photo below left):

    Turning away from the musicians on the street corner, a perspiring woman puffing at a long flute and a red-faced man plucking a nine-string bittern,

    Lord of Chaos, An Embassy

    The puffing suggests this instrument may even be a recorder, although Cairhien, with its Japanese influences, is perhaps more likely to have an end-blown flute like the Japanese shakuhachi (see photo above right).

    A recorder (see photo below) has a different mouthpiece to an endbown flute; it is a whistle-like mouthpiece which directs the air through an internal duct over the tone hole. It makes the recorder easier to play, but reduces the musician’s control of the air flow.

    Shepherds are associated with flutes and panpipes and Rand, as the good shepherd, plays the flute:

    I even hear that you play the flute. Can it be true?"
    "I play the flute." How did she . . . ? Caldevwin. Light, everybody does hear everything in Cairhien. "If you will excuse - "
    "I have heard that some outland lords play music, but I never believed it.”

    The Great Hunt, Dangerous Words

    Panpipes are a type of end-blown flute.


    Pipes (plural) are flutes with multiple tubes with end-holes that are usually blown one at a time—for example, panpipes. In the series, they are played by shepherds and some street musicians:

    Street musicians played flute or harp or pipes, sometimes accompanying a juggler or an acrobat, always with a cap set out for coins.

    The Dragon Reborn, Tar Valon

    a shepherd less than half as large, playing the pipes with his crook on his shoulder and a sheep at his feet,

    The Shadow Rising, Need

    The Aiel play pipes as they go into battle and also as celebration afterwards:

    For another circle of onlookers, near a ten-foot pole stuck in the ground - Mat hastily averted his eyes - as many Aielmen were doing some kicking of their own. Mat assumed it was a dance; another Aiel was playing the pipes for them.

    The Fires of Heaven, After the Storm


    The tabor pipe consists of a wooden or metal pipe played with one hand, while the other hand beats a small drum. The tabor (drum) is slung from the player’s neck or shoulder. The pipe has a whistle mouthpiece and has three finger holes, two in front and one in back.

    The pipe and tabor were traditionally played at dances, ceremonies, processions and street entertainment, whereas the fife and drum were developed later (from the eighteenth century) and were associated with military marching. The fife is a small transverse flute requiring two hands, and so the drummer was a separate player.

    Tin Whistle

    The tin whistle is a small metal flute with a whistle mouthpiece (see photo right) and is more closely related to the recorder than to the flute. Many were played by the Band of the Red Hand soldiers:

    Without stirring, he could count ten flutes, not to mention twice as many tin whistles.

    The Fires of Heaven, After the Storm

    Semseer/ Shawm

    In Tear, a shrill woodwind instrument was played:

    The babble of voices fought with the musicians’ offerings on three assorted drums, two hammered dulcimers, and a bulbous semseer that produced whining trills.

    The Shadow Rising, Rumours

    It is perhaps a kind of oboe, which has a bulbous body. The shawm (see photo right) was a forerunner of the oboe, and has a brilliant piercing sound like the semseer, but is flared or conical rather than bulbous. The shawm is much played in the Middle East and Tear has Moorish influences.


    There was also a large woodwind instrument of dark wood in Altara:

    They all had a few feathers in their hair, as did the capering musicians playing in front of the small palace at the far corner, a woman with a flute, another blowing on a tall, twisted black tube covered with levers, and a fellow beating a tambour for all he was worth.

    A Crown of Swords, The Festival of Birds

    This may be a bassoon.

    Clarinet or Saxophone?

    Another unusual instrument is described by Mat as part flute and part horn:

    a skinny Cairhienin in a ragged coat was blowing something that looked part flute and part horn with some odd bits tossed in.

    The Fires of Heaven, After the Storm

    If it is wooden, but has a bell-shaped opening and a horn-like sound at times, it may be a type of clarinet (developed in the 18th century) or if it is all metal with a woodwind-like mouthpiece it may be like a saxophone (invented a century later). A saxophone is rather later than the typical 16th-18th century setting of the series. The bass clarinet (see photo, right) is in between the two instruments. The tenor clarinet is also called the basset horn.



    Trumpets are used in high-status processions:

    Twenty ranks of trumpeters came first, splitting the air with peal after triumphant peal, a fanfare of victory.
    Behind them, as many drummers thundered.

    The Eye of the World, Weaving of the Web

    The drummers appeared first from the trees, a dozen of them, drums lifting as they stepped to their own beat, mallets whirling. Next came trumpeters, long, shining horns raised, still calling the flourish.

    The Great Hunt, The Flame of Tar Valon

    These massed displays emphasise the large resources of the Aes Sedai. With many musicians, the show is grand, expensive and broadcast to a large audience.

    The long shining horns of the trumpets are straight, not coiled. The straight trumpet was also made of wood in earlier times. With their loud, carrying sound, they are also used to signal in war:

    "Forward!" Lan called as the trumpets sounded in the air, accompanied by thunder from above.

    A Memory of Light, To Ignore the Omens

    We don’t see any brass bands or solo trumpeters playing to entertain.


    The horn was used for entertainment as well as military functions:

    There were many other rooms, all filled with lords and ladies, all with entertainers: three different gleemen in their cloaks, more jugglers and tumblers, and musicians playing flutes, bitterns, dulcimers, and lutes, plus five different sizes of fiddle, six kinds of horn, straight or curved or curled, and ten sizes of drum from tambour to kettle. He gave some of the horn players a second look, those with curled horns, but the instruments were all plain brass…

    The Great Hunt, Dangerous Words

    Horns are curled (see photo above), curved (see photo right) or straight in the series.

    Presumably the Horn of Valere is not brass, but literally gold:

    Mat's hand shook as he raised the Horn of Valere to his lips. It was a clear note, golden as the Horn was golden. The trees around them seemed to resonate with it, and the ground under their feet, the sky overhead. That one long sound encompassed everything…
    Trumpeter, will you give us music on the Horn? Fitting that the Horn of Valere should sing us into battle. Bannerman, will you advance?"

    The Great Hunt, The Grave Is No Bar To My Call

    No wonder Mat was surprised it wasn’t damaged by being tossed over the wall. Gold is soft (and heavy—yet the Horn is not, by all accounts). The Horn of Valere of is “metamorphosed” gold – an alchemical marvel. Hawkwing calls Mat “trumpeter" because the last trump was played on the Horn of Valere.

    The Seanchan and Aiel use horns in battle:

    A distant Aiel horn blew; a signal from one of the scouts. The Trollocs had entered the pass.

    A Memory of Light, To Ignore the Omens

    The blaring Seanchan horns behind were giving the call to charge, each horn pitched slightly differently from the next, producing a grating, dissonant sound meant to be heard at great distances.

    A Memory of Light, The Loss of a Hill

    Over the battle, Mat heard sounds that must have made the enemy's blood run cold: hundreds, maybe thousands of animal horns blared out in the night their call to war; a thunderstorm of drums began to beat out a unified cadence that became louder and louder; and a rumble of footfalls made by an advancing army, man and animal alike, slowly approaching Polov Heights in the dark. No one could see them in the pre-dawn blackness, but everyone on the battlefield knew who they were.

    A Memory of Light, Wolfbrother

    The Seanchan horns, at least, are animal horns, which horns originally were, so the Seanchan have not developed them further. The horns the Trollocs play may literally be of horn, or even actual Trolloc horns…

    Which of them was blowing those horns? Those were Trolloc horns.

    Elayne searched through the Shadowspawn, but could not find the ones sounding the horns.

    A Memory of Light, Considerations



    Drums consist of skins stretched over a shell. The skins may be nailed, or they may be laced with tags to adjust the tension and, therefore, tone.

    In Barthanes’ manor, there were:

    ten sizes of drum from tambour to kettle.

    The Great Hunt, Dangerous Words

    Aes Sedai use drummers in processions:

    The drummers appeared first from the trees, a dozen of them, drums lifting as they stepped to their own beat, mallets whirling. Next came trumpeters, long, shining horns raised, still calling the flourish.

    The Great Hunt, The Flame of Tar Valon

    These are large military drums, either kettle or side drums. The kettledrum is a larger tunable drum with a metal or wooden bowl-shaped body and a skin drum head. The head is tightened with screw tension. Two mallets are used to strike the drum. The diameter of the drum is from 50-85cm (20-33 inches). The side drum is tightened by rope tension and also struck with two drum sticks.

    The most commonly mentioned drum is the tambor, a cylindrical wooden drum shell with a skin head at either end of the drum tightened by rope tension and a gut snare. The snare rattles when the head is struck. The tambour has a pitch range of about an octave and is played one-handed, with the single stick. The other hand can play a pipe or another small drum. Tambour is the French name; the English name is tabor. The tabour drum was originally developed to accompany the flute:

    A cluster of musicians in white-embroidered blue tabards, with flutes and bitterns and tambours, produced a light tune suitable for an afternoon over chilled wine.

    Lord of Chaos, Plans

    Two lean fellows with their dark hair in braids and swords on their backs—Hunters for the Horn, Rand expected—stood chatting with a number of Saldaeans—as they listened to a woman playing the flute and a man the tambour on a street corner.

    Lord of Chaos, A Saying in the Borderlands

    Hand drums were preferred for the journey to the *Finn’s world because of their small size:

    "I got us a variety," Thom said. "I'll bring my harp and flute, but I found us some hand drums and hand cymbals. They can be strapped to the side of your leg and hit with one hand."

    Towers of Midnight, The End of a Legend

    Hand drums are struck with the hand rather than a stick, eg frame drum, tambourine. A frame drum (see photo right) has a single head and is wider than it is deep.

    Drums were also improvised:

    And there were countless drums, most of them pots being banged with spoons.

    The Fires of Heaven, After the Storm

    Cymbals and gong

    Cymbals are metal disks that can be played singly by hitting with a stick, or clashed together. Thom found some small cymbals to smuggle into the *Finns’ world:

    Noal began to play the little cymbals he had tied to the legs of his trousers, tapping them in time with Thom's music.

    Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

    The instruments tied to legs is reminiscent of one-man bands, but Thom and Noal have to be able to fight and move freely.

    Gongs are large metal discs suspended in a frame that are struck with a mallet. They are used to get people’s attention. The Aiel use them as an alarm:

    "If you know how to sound the alarm, do it."
    "The gong by the door-"

    Even as Rand snatched the leather-padded mallet hanging beside the square bronze gong, pandemonium erupted from the canyon mouth, human shouts and Trolloc howls, the clash of steel, screams. He sounded the gong hard, a sonorous toll that echoed down the canyon; almost immediately another gong sounded, then more, and from dozens of mouths the cry, "Up spears!"

    The Shadow Rising, Traps

    Music Players

    Elayne is familiar with mechanical musical players:

    After all, a fine music box might have cylinders for as many as a hundred tunes and some could play quite long pieces on one cylinder after another without changing them.

    Knife of Dreams, A Different Skill

    This is indicative of fairly advanced clockwork techniques. Musical watches and snuff boxes appeared in the 18th century. Cylinders appeared after 1815 (which is about the most recent of Wheel of Time technology). Changing cylinders were invented in 1862 and cylinders were obsolete before the end of the century.

    Sammael had a ter’angreal music player:

    A small music box sat on the marble mantelpiece, producing from its memory the soft strains of a sound-sculpture that very likely had not been heard outside this room in well over three thousand years.

    Lord of Chaos, To Understand a Message

    From Graendal’s observations, the player held one composition. In contrast, Aviendha identified a ter’angreal music player which contained hundreds of musical pieces:

    She thought a small hinged box, apparently ivory and covered with rippling red and green stripes, held music, hundreds of tunes, perhaps thousands. With a ter'angreal, that might be possible.

    Knife of Dreams, A Different Skill

    Robert Jordan tells us that music can be made with the One Power:

    Question: “Can you make music using just the One Power?” Robert Jordan: “Yes you could.”

    DragonCon Report

    So the ter’angreal don’t necessarily reproduce music mechanically or electronically, nor do they rely on the standing waves.

    Written by Linda, September 2015