WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR A MEMORY OF LIGHT
By MJJ Sedai and Linda
This is the second of two essays on the extensive Arthurian parallels in The Wheel of Time series and it contains some of the more significant individual character parallels between Arthurian myth and The Wheel of Time. The first essay discusses the important themes and symbols that the two works have in common, and the parallels of the “Pendragon” men.
Now that Part 1 laid a bit of serious groundwork and then some, it’s time for a little fun in Part 2. And to couch it in terms that Sir Thomas Malory himself might understand: Let us be quit our hard labours and fain blow to lodgings anon, and once happily ensconced in our sieges round a table afore a fire well laid, take our fill of fine meat and drink giveneth us by our hostess, the damosel of this castle, the whych there is no mo fair and seemly in all the land, and then maugre our sleepiness to make a jape or two and mickle merry at the expense everych of our beloved Wheel of Time characters afore we hie to take our full rest of the day ;)
Translation: In this section, we shall take a look at some of the more significant individual character parallels betwixt Arthurian myth and The Wheel of Time, taking them each in turn, in alphabetical order. And as mentioned earlier, for more information on minor and less significant character parallels, as well as a little additional and complementary information on some of the significant ones herein, please reference the Character Names articles and Names of the Shadow article. It’s also worthy to note that those Wheel of Time characters with the most significant Arthurian parallels either hail from Andor or are closely associated with characters that do, and that Jordan has identified Andor as a parallel for Britain.
Aviendha of the Nine Valleys Sept of the Taardad Aiel is one of Rand’s Lady Guineveres. As discussed earlier, she also possesses aspects of a Lady of the Lake in her gifting Rand with Laman’s sword. And it would also seem that she may be our Queen of the Waste Lands, or “dedicated spear”, one of the “three in the boat” in Nicola’s foretelling. Her Goddess aspects are that of Flower or Spring Maiden as one of Rand’s young lady loves; transitional Warrior Woman as a Maiden of the Spear; and Wise Woman or Dark Woman of Knowledge as an Aiel Wise One apprentice who can read ter’angreal and the residues of weaves. Interestingly, as the “dedicated spear” in Nicola’s foretelling, she may be the symbolic embodiment of a hallows object, gifted to Rand by the Goddess to aid him in his endeavors, and she did her best to do just that, especially against the “monster” Graendal at Thakan’dar. She appears to have been the ultimate user of the glass columns ter’angreal in more ways than one. Its most important destiny may have been to be “read” by her.
Demandred is as complex and important an Arthurian figure as any Wheel of Time character, taking on the roles of villainous knight, errant brother in arms, grail achiever, dragonslayer, and rival saviour king. Like Rand, he rose from the lowest stratum of society at the end of the Third Age and fulfilled the prophecies of a continent. Demandred wanted to be the Dragon, equivalent of King Arthur – even claimed to be him - but he wanted to win the role by virtue of slaying the Dragon. Probably the most important difference between the Wheel of Time Arthurian themes and real world Arthurian myth is that in Jordan’s world the King Arthur analogues achieve the San Greal, and undergo a rebirth through the hallowed object, whereas in Arthurian myth King Arthur was not in the running for the Grail. Rand’s link to the San Greal is through his parallel with the Fisher King, and equating King Arthur and the Fisher King is an innovation of Jordan’s. Demandred’s San Greal was won by killing a jumara and a former Nym and was used in a solely destructive way.
Demandred is a “wrong” or dark Arthur, in part because he also has so much in common with King Arthur’s son/nephew, Modred, who usurped Arthur’s kingdom while the King was away fighting on the European continent, and claimed Guinevere as his wife. It is why part of Demandred’s name is similar to Modred; he is Demon-Modred, Lews Therin’s treacherous brother-in-arms and the dark example of Modred. In contrast, Galad Damodred, Galad Da-Modred, Rand’s half-brother, is a positive Modred, fighting the dark version of King Arthur on behalf of both his half-brothers. This speech by the Forsaken general summarises his role as Arthur wannabe and usurper:
“Just as the people here awaited him with prophecy, just as they showered him with glory, the people of my land awaited me. I have fulfilled their prophecies. He is false, and I am true. Tell him I will finally have satisfaction. He is to come to me, so that we may face one another. If he does not, I will slaughter and destroy. I will seize his people. I will enslave his children, I will take his women for my own. One by one, I will break, destroy, or dominate everything he has loved. The only way for him to avoid this is for him to come and face me.”In the Morte Arthure, King Arthur described Modred and his forces as the “pagans which destroyed my people”. Modred’s name is synonymous with treachery in Arthurian myth. The Shadow are apostate rather than pagan, and Demandred’s betrayal late in the War of Power was a great blow to the Light.
A Memory of Light, The Wyld
At the Last Battle, when Demandred demanded a duel with the Dragon, Rand was in the north, not the east as King Arthur was. Modred knew all too well where Arthur was, and took advantage of his absence, whereas Demandred doesn’t know where Rand is, but wants to see him because he is obsessed with duelling him. Modred was reluctant to battle Arthur’s forces if Lancelot was part of them and was relieved when he stayed away. Ironically Demandred wasn’t aware of Lan, Sir Lancelot’s main parallel, and his considerable prowess, until he learned the hard way, being solely focussed on Arthur/Rand:
Demandred blocked Lan's attack, but he breathed hoarsely. "Who are you?" Demandred whispered again. "No one of this Age has such skill.”Tragically Sir Gawain rushed on ahead of King Arthur’s attacking army in a frenzied solo charge on Modred and fell to the usurper. Gawyn did likewise, and with the same result, but his efforts spurred those of Galad and then Lan, so they were not in vain.
A Memory of Light, The Last Battle
King Arthur received a fatal wound from Modred, but was able to slash off Modred’s hand and run him through. Demandred, dark Arthur and Modred, ran Gawyn through, and slashed off Galad’s arm before being killed by Lan.
One of the duties of a knight is to protect others from tyranny and villainy, and King Arthur’s knights were tested regularly in this regard. At the castle of Dolorous Gard, Brandin of the Isles, also called the Copper Knight, challenged every knight who entered his domain. However, before fighting him, a knight must singlehandedly defeat ten knights at the first wall of the castle and another ten at the second wall. Lancelot heard about this from a maiden sorrowing over the death of her knight and purposed to conquer the castle and lift the curse of the Lord of Dolorous Gard. Since the Copper Knight fought unfairly, the Lady of the Lake sent aid to Lancelot in the form of three shields each of which greatly increased his strength. Once Lancelot defeated the Lord of Dolorous Gard the castle became Lancelot’s and was renamed Joyous Gard.
Our Wheel of Time knights fought endless forces of Shadowpawn at the Last Battle. A wall of them guarded Demandred, just as twenty knights “prevented” the challenger knights from fighting Brandin in single combat, but Tam and the Two Rivers longbowmen cut a way through them for Lan. Appropriate, because the English/Welsh longbow was the weapon that first showed the medieval knight would become obsolete. Demandred killed his first two challengers, much to the sorrow of their ladies. Gawyn was protected from Demandred by his three bloodknives rings (and his Warder bond); Galad and Lan were given a ter’angreal to protect them from direct weaves (and Lan also had his Warder bond). Dolorous Gard is an apt name for the Blight, and Lan’s own land of Malkier was consumed therein. Lan’s victory over Demandred was crucial to the war against the Shadow, and once Rand Sealed the Dark One away the Blight dissipated and Malkier could become Joyous once more.
Sir Lancelot fought three rounds of duels to defeat the Copper Knight, and in the Vulgate Cycle he also fought the knightly villain Meleagant, who resented the renown of other knights and desired King Arthur’s wife Guinevere, three times, killing him on the third. Sir Kay (a parallel of Gawyn) believed he could defeat Meleagant, but instead he put Guinevere in danger from him, as did Gawyn Egwene. Demandred desired Ilyena, the Age of Legends parallel of Guinevere, and resented Lews Therin’s achievements. Instead of fighting one knight three times, Demandred fought a duel with each of three different Arthurian champions, starting with Gawyn, Egwene al’Vere’s champion, who was one of the first to realise that Demandred must be killed as soon as possible for the war to be won:
Once, perhaps, he would have done this for the pride of the battle and the chance to pit himself against Demandred.Meleagant’s island castle was accessed by a sword bridge, a single span of a bare blade, which other knights balked at crossing. Sir Lancelot had the courage to cross it barefoot so he would not slip and fall into the churning water belowl, even though it bloodied him. Lan was prepared to make a suicidal charge into Demandred’s protective ring of Shadowspawn in his effort to kill Demandred, but Tam’s archers cut a narrow path through it for him. Mat also felt like he was crossing the sword bridge when desperately matching military tactics with Demandred:
That was not his heart now. His heart was the need. Someone had to fight this creature, someone had to kill him or they would lose this battle. They could all see it. Risking Egwene or Logain would be too great a gamble.
Gawyn could be risked. No one would send him to do this—no one would dare—but it was necessary. He had a chance to change things, to really matter. He did it for Andor, for Egwene, for the world itself.
A Memory of Light, The Last Battle
The man leading the Shadow was good. Very good. It's Demandred, Mat thought. I'm fighting one of the bloody Forsaken.
Together, Mat and Demandred were composing a grand painting. Each responded to the other's moves with subtle care. Mat was trying to use just a little too much red in one of his paints. He wanted to paint the wrong picture, but still a reasonable one.
It was hard. He had to be capable enough to keep Demandred back, but weak enough to invite aggression. A feint, ever so subtle. It was dangerous, possibly disastrous. He had to walk on a razor edge. There was no way to avoid cutting his feet. The question was not whether he would be bloodied, but whether he would reach the other side or not.
A Memory of Light, The Last Battle
As her full name clearly implies, Egwene is a Guinevere parallel – Rand’s very first Guinevere in fact, in Sovereignty’s guise of Spring Maiden or Flower Bride. From the time they were small children it was assumed that Rand and Egwene would marry. But as Min tells Rand in The Eye of the World, Strangers and Friends, “She loves you too, but she’s not for you, or you for her. Not the way you both want.” Merlin tells Arthur something to the same effect about Guinevere, warning him of what the future will bring if he marries her (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book III, Chapter I). But Merlin knows, just as Min knows, that Fate and the Pattern cannot be circumvented. While Fate brings Arthur and Guinevere together only to pull them apart again in the end, the Pattern pulls Rand and Egwene apart to eventually bring them together again in another way, and finally to sunder them for his life.
And while Egwene’s abduction and captivity experiences may be tiresome to some readers, there is a precedent for them. Sovereignty representatives, by their very nature as empowering figures, are often center points of contention and targets for abduction. In the Arthurian stories, Queen Guinevere, as the embodiment of Sovereignty herself, is abducted at least twice, as well as confined against her will a time or two (once by Arthur himself after he learns of her infidelity with Lancelot, when she is rescued in dramatic circumstances by her knight champion, see painting right). The villainous knight Meleagant was one of Guinevere’s abductors, and Demandred, his darker parallel, ordered Taim to destroy Egwene al’Vere and dark Asha’man to kill Elayne, another Guinevere figure. It is Gawyn who is Egwene’s beloved champion, not Lancelot, and he proved his worthiness even to sceptics like Silviana by rescuing her from execution as her body lay abed while she projected her mind into the dream, before his ill-fated duel with Demandred.
After the battle of Camlann, rather than going back to Lancelot, Guinevere finishes out her life in a convent, becoming a nun and eventually becoming the convent’s Abbess. Early in her life Egwene chooses to enter the White Tower to become Aes Sedai, and eventually becomes Amyrlin herself. (Jordan has stated that Aes Sedai organization is based on convents from the medieval period onward). In doing this Egwene is literally transformed from Spring Maiden, to Queen and Mother, just as Guinevere transforms herself from eternal Spring Maiden and Queen, to that of Mother.
In Towers of Midnight, Rand and Egwene were widely separated in their opinions regarding Rand breaking the remaining Seals, just as Arthur and Guinevere were apart. Egwene doubts Rand’s sanity, Arthur had doubts about Guinevere’s fidelity.
Egwene’s fate diverges from that of Guinevere because Egwene has ability and training in magic, and did not have to solely rely on her consort of champion to rescue her. (Although most Aes Sedai find their Warder and Champions a great comfort).
Several Elaines appear in the Arthurian stories (including the famous Lady of Shalott), but the most notable of these as Elayne Trakand parallels are Elaine daughter of Pelles (the Grail or Fisher King), mother of Galahad whose father is Lancelot; and Elaine daughter of Igraine and Gorlois, sister to Morgan Le Fay and Morgause of Orkney and thus half-sister to Arthur.
In the Arthurian legend, Elaine daughter of Pelles is in love with Lancelot, and with her father’s and the enchantress Dame Brisen’s help conspires to sleep with Lancelot. Dame Brisen creates a glamour via a cup of special wine that Lancelot drinks that makes Elaine appear as Guinevere to him. He cannot resist laying with Elaine/Guinevere, and in this way Galahad is conceived (Le Morte D’Arthur Book XI, Chapter II).
In The Wheel of Time, Rand creates a “mask of mirrors” glamour around himself in order to enter the Andoran palace anonymously to find Nynaeve and Mat, with Min’s help. Mat is of course not there, but Nynaeve is, and Rand visits her. Elayne, however, conspires with Aviendha and Min to get Rand together with them. They are successful, and before Rand leaves he is not only Bonded to all three but has slept with Elayne as well. In this way are Elayne and Rand’s yet-to-be-born twins conceived (Winter’s Heart, Ideas of Importance and A Lily in Winter).
There are also shades of two of Arthur’s sisters in Elayne. Arthur’s sister Elaine only gets a passing mention in the stories, but Morgause is traditionally the sister or half-sister (his aunt in some of the later renditions) with whom Arthur conceives Mordred/Modred. Rand was very concerned for a time about the possibility that he and Elayne might be too closely related (Lord of Chaos, Tellings of the Wheel). He continued to be concerned until he learned that Morgase (Elayne’s mother) and Tigraine (his mother) were not closely related at all (Lord of Chaos, Connecting Lines). In a very nice Jordanesque twist, the closest family connection between the two turns out to be their shared half-brother Galadedrid, who was the firstborn son of Rand’s mother Tigraine Mantear and Elayne’s father Taringail Damodred (Da-Modred).
Elayne may also be a partial parallel to Iseult (or Isolde), with Rand as her lover Tristan (Tristram in Malory). Tristan and Iseult are the other great pair of doomed lovers in Arthurian tradition (Lancelot and Guinevere being the first). One tale among the Tristan and Iseult stories that is particularly compelling involves Tristan disguising himself as a beggar while Iseult’s fidelity to her husband King Mark is tested on red-hot iron. It’s impossible not to think about Min’s viewing of Elayne involving a red-hot iron (The Great Hunt, A Plan), along with her viewing of Rand with a beggar’s staff and Perrin’s Wolf Dream of Rand as a beggar.
The tale comes from an anonymous medieval fragment and is retold by Joseph Bedier in The Romance of Tristan & Iseult, Chapter XII, The Ordeal by Iron. In this tale Queen Iseult must swear on holy relics in the presence of King Mark, King Arthur and several other nobles that she has never committed adultery with Sir Tristan against her husband King Mark. She must then take hold of a red-hot iron as a test of this oath. If she comes away from it unmarked, her oath is deemed true by God. By prior secret arrangement, however, Tristan is also present at this event, disguised as a pilgrim beggar. When Iseult must cross through muddy shoal waters to get to the appointed place of the testing, Tristan comes forward to help her, “and as he touched shore, he stumbled, holding the Queen in his arms”. When the time comes for the oath, Iseult says, “I swear that no man born of woman has held me in his arms saving King Mark, my lord, and that poor pilgrim who only now took a fall, as you saw.” She then takes hold of the red-hot iron and walks nine paces with it, casts it away and then stretches out her arms and hands to show that they are still “fresh and clean and cold”.
Jordan did not, of course, play this parallel out identically in The Wheel of Time. In fact, Rand wandered dressed like a beggar in Ebou Dar in The Gathering Storm and this had nothing to do with either of Rand’s Guinevere figures (Elayne or Egwene) or of a red-hot iron (yet to be fulfilled).
And Elayne is of course one of Rand’s Guinevere figures - the closest thing in The Wheel of Time to Guinevere incarnate in fact; the eternally perceived Spring Maiden and Flower Bride as she develops into Queen and Mother. With her golden-red hair, blue eyes, fair skin coloring, overall beauty and noble birth, she is what the medievalists considered the ideal image of the most desirable woman. By contrast, the Celtic image of the ideal woman was one with dark hair, dark eyes, very fair skin and rosy-red cheeks. And yes; it is not insignificant that the three sacred colors of the Goddess are all found in this description. Egwene, Rand’s first Guinevere, fits it quite aptly. As does Moiraine…as does Lanfear, interestingly enough.
And as the “lion sword” in Nicola’s foretelling, as with Aviendha, Elayne may be the symbolic embodiment of a hallows object, gifted to Rand by the Goddess in order to aide him in his endeavors. Her task at the Last Battle was to oversee the armies of the Light until Mat Cauthon returned and took over.
Not only does Galad’s first name clearly speak of his main Arthurian parallel, but the very nature of his character does as well. Sir Galahad The Pure, The Good Knight, The Best Knight in the World. He wins this last title from his father Sir Lancelot de Lake (or du Lac) not just because of his unparalleled knightly prowess - which only ever equals his father’s - but because of his completely unstained virtuous nature, which his father never possesses. The Wheel of Time’s Galadedrid the Pure, however, is more realistically portrayed than the idealized Galahad of Arthurian legend. The unfortunate consequences that sometimes result from “right” actions are clearly illustrated by Jordan through Galad:
He [Galad] started a war to keep a promise – Elayne was right about that; it would be a war, if it was not already – yet, with his men holding Neres’ ship, he would not demand a better price. It was Neres’ ship, and Neres could charge as he chose. As long as he took Elayne and Nynaeve. It was true: Galad never counted the cost of doing right, not to himself or anyone else.
- The Fires of Heaven, Leavetakings
Galad’s unwavering sense of duty and righteousness, insufferable at times to some characters, along with his disappointment and frustration in the manipulative and dissembling ways of the White Tower, particularly with regards to his sister Elayne and her friends Egwene and Nynaeve, is what draws him into the Children of the Light, “a society holding strict ascetic beliefs, dedicated to the defeat of the Dark One and the destruction of all Darkfriends….they evolved during the war [of the Hundred Years] into a completely military organization, extremely rigid in their beliefs, and completely certain that only they know the truth and the right” (The Great Hunt, Glossary, Children of the Light).
As mentioned earlier, Galad is the first born son of Tigraine Mantear and thus Rand’s half-brother. Elaida do Avriny a’Roihan, one of The Wheel of Time’s Seer/Poets, had a foretelling when she was an Accepted in the White Tower, most likely while House Mantear still held the throne of Andor, that the royal line of Andor would somehow be the key to defeating the Dark One and winning the Last Battle. This most particularly referred to Rand, but it also involved Galad, as he, along with Luc are Rand’s only living close blood kin, at least that we know of, from House Mantear. Bloodlines are very important in Arthurian legend, which is why Elaine, daughter of the Fisher King, needed to conceive Galahad with Lancelot in order to provide the world a son with the right heritage to become the Grail Achiever (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XI Chapter II, Book XIII, Chapters VII and VIII). Lancelot introduces his son, Galahad, to the court, and Galahad takes the Siege Perilous, the seat at the Round Table that no knight has been worthy enough to fill. Galahad also draws the sword from the floating stone, establishing him as the best knight in the world, but also accepting the sword's curse — that it will later cause a grievous wound. Galad’s surname refers to Damocles, another ‘floating sword’ (see Character Names G) and to Modred, Arthur’s son/nephew rather than half-brother. Lancelot learns that he had a half-brother, fathered by King Ban and that his mother had become a nun. Galad found out that he had another half-brother in the Dragon Reborn. While his mother received some Tower training, it was his sister who has become a full Aes Sedai/nun, something neither of her brothers appreciated at first. Galad accepted the danger of fighting Demandred and did receive a grievous sword wound during his quest to kill the Forsaken.
On the quest for the Holy Grail, Lancelot and Galahad go to Castle Corbenic, where Lancelot is shown to be unworthy of the Quest. Galahad, accompanied by fellow Grail quester Peredur, saw the Holy Grail in the city of Sarras. Galad accompanied Perrin to Merrilor, having sworn to accept him as military commander until the Last Battle is done. He is very taken with Berelain, whose name contains “Elaine”, and she with him.
Sir Galadedrid of The Wheel of Time played a crucial role in the redemption of the Land from the Shadow, namely the quest to kill Demandred, user of the dark San Greal, indeed almost making the Ultimate Sacrifice of his earthly life in order to help achieve that end, much as Sir Galahad The Good Knight did in Arthurian tradition. This was foreshadowed in a Dream Egwene had of “Galad wrapping himself in white as though putting on his own shroud” (The Shadow Rising, What Lies Hidden). Sir Galahad in Arthurian tradition is quite literally depicted as a knight in shining white armour, right down to the shield he bears, the whole being a symbol of his worthiness to break free of his earthly bonds and ascend to Heaven.
Galad contains some aspects of his Sir Lancelot, his ‘father’ in Arthurian myth, who was loved by (Ber)Elain and fought Brandin, lord of Dolorous Gard, in the guise of White Knight, and Meleagant, both parallels of Demandred, as we saw above.
Lord Gareth of Andor and Sir Gareth of Orkney have more in common than just their identical first names; their characters and general dispositions are very similar as well.
Sir Gareth is a Knight of the Round table and the youngest son of King Lot and Queen Morgause of Lothian and Orkney. Lord Gareth was Captain-General of the Andoran Queen’s Guards, also serving as First Prince of the Sword to Queen Morgase, who as her name implies, is our Arthurian Morgause. Rather than Morgase’s son, however, Lord Gareth is (or was) her paramour and unofficial consort. Both Gareths were noble born with the requisite noble’s upbringing and education. They are, however, practical, straightforward men with a distaste for dissembling who often surprise and disarm their “opponents” by being exactly who they are. They are intelligent, affable and likeable, and both their stories point up in particular the parallels between their immense determination, and - rather amusingly in both cases - the fact that they both possess the patience of Job, particularly with regards to the women in their lives.
Book VII of Le Morte D’Arthur is essentially Gareth’s book, and may be the one part that is almost wholly Malory’s own invention. One possible source for his inspiration, however, is the English medieval romance Libeaus Desconus written in the mid 14th century, itself a variation of an earlier tale, Le Bel Inconnu (The Fair Unknown). The basic premise for Malory’s Gareth tale is essentially the same: A young unknown hero comes to Arthur’s court and takes up a quest to rescue the mistress of a young damosel. The damosel comes to court seeking help from an experienced knight, and is thus not pleased with who she ends up with. The young hero proves himself and prevails in the end, however, rescuing the mistress and eventually marrying her.
We first meet our Wheel of Time Gareth long after he has proven himself and won a position of high rank. We meet the Arthurian Gareth as an untried, unknighted young man coming to King Arthur’s court for the first time. Gareth meets a young lady there, the damosel Linet, who is seeking help from Arthur’s knights to rescue her sister, the Lady Lionesse, who has been trapped and besieged in her Castle Perilous beside the Isle of Avilion (Avalon, parallel of Tar Valon) by the infamous Red Knight of the Red Launds (see any parallels there?). Gareth pledges to take up this “adventure” of freeing the Lady Lionesse and prepares to follow Linet. Gareth, however, was the last person Linet wanted or expected to receive help from, and she makes her displeasure known in no uncertain terms, berating Gareth openly with her ever-sharp tongue (can you see where this parallel is going now?)
Gareth is determined to keep his pledge though, and follows after Linet. As they journey towards the besieged Castle Perilous, with Linet all the while trying to rid herself of Gareth, they encounter various knights with whom, for various reasons, Gareth must fight. Gareth proves himself time and again against these knights, killing some when unavoidable, but more often forcing them to yield and then showing them mercy, whereupon they do him homage and swear fealty, pledging themselves and all their men to him. Linet continues to criticize Gareth through all this, refusing to admit his worthiness. Gareth continues to suffer Linet patiently, stubbornly determined to keep his pledge, to stay the course, to see Linet’s sister freed, or to die trying. Eventually, Linet begins to warm to him, although she never completely stops berating him.
Gareth does battle with the Red Knight of the Red Launds, defeats him (but grants him mercy and spares his life) and thus frees the Lady Lionesse. Gareth and the Lady Lionesse then fall madly in love, and find themselves for a time frustrated and thwarted at every turn in their efforts to have an affair. They do eventually marry, however.
While Linet and Lionesse are two distinct characters in Malory (and Linet on her own seems a good parallel for The Wheel of Time’s Lini, the Trakand family’s old nurse), one can easily imagine how Jordan might have combined the two into The Wheel of Time’s Siuan. Linet initially conceals her true identity from Gareth, much as Siuan did with our Gareth when she first encounters him after fleeing the White Tower. Lord Gareth doggedly follows Siuan, determined to catch her up and make her keep her oath – or so he keeps telling himself. Sir Gareth doggedly follows Linet, determined to keep his own oath. Lord Gareth ends up pledging an oath of his own to oust Elaida, the Wheel of Time Red Knight, from the Tower, not only because he himself believes it to be a good cause, but because it is Siuan’s cause and he would see her vindicated, and for the simplest and most foolish of reasons (as he would see it): Love. And Siuan has returned the compliment and Bonded Gareth as her Warder, her Champion.
In the more fantastical Libeaus Desconus, the entrapped mistress of the damosel first appears to the hero as a monstrous winged worm sporting a tail and the head of a woman. As is traditional in medieval romance transformation stories, in order for the hero to complete his rescue, he must give this dragon lady a kiss, known as the fier baise, or daring kiss. When he does this, unbeknownst to him, the monstrous creature in Sovereignty’s guise of Loathly Lady will be transformed into a beautiful woman, Sovereignty’s guise of Spring Maiden. This is a traditional testing by Sovereignty for worthiness in a potential champion/consort. The damosel of the entrapped mistress is the Dark Woman of Knowledge acting as messenger who calls the hero to action and sets him on a path for his testing. Linet and Lionesse act these parts out for the young Sir Gareth in Malory’s story. And while Egwene as the rebels’ Amyrlin may carry some aspects of the Lady Lionesse in The Wheel of Time, it is Siuan who actually acts out all of these parts for Gareth. For it is Siuan - not Egwene - who is Gareth’s true motivation.
Gareth and Siuan exchanged a transformative fier baise in A Memory of Light, The Last Battle, a public affirmation of their love that Egwene was surprised to see, evidence in itself of Siuan’s transformation; and sadly their last kiss, as they went to their deaths.
The death of Sir Gareth much affected Sir Gawain, and the Compulsion of Gareth Bryne did the same to Gawyn.
The Arthurian Sir Gawain of Orkney is the eldest son of King Lot and Queen Morgause of Lothian and Orkney and brother to Gareth, Gaheris, Agravaine and half-brother to Mordred. He is one of Arthur's best knights and one of his most loyal and staunchest supporters. In The Wheel of Time, Gawyn of Andor is Queen Morgase's only son by Taringail, and Taringail's second son. Gawyn is brother to Elayne and half-brother to Galad. Jordan kept the colouring of the family consistent with that of their Arthurian parallels; for instance, Galahad, like his father Lancelot, is “dark and splendid beside the gold of Gawain” (Fall of Arthur, JRR Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien). Gawyn has never been a staunch supporter - to say the least - of our Wheel of Time’s Arthur, and in fact held almost the opposite position for a long time because of envy of Rand’s deeds, and his own ill-conceived belief that Rand killed his mother, despite his true love Egwene’s contention to the contrary. Brandon Sanderson sees Gawyn as a ‘fallen prince’. In the Arthurian myth, it is Gawain's brother Gaheris who kills their mother after he catches her in bed with her lover Sir Lamorak. Sir Lamorak is the son of King Pellinore who killed their father Lot during a battle waged against Arthur by Lot and ten other rebellious minor kings. Despite their father's treachery against Arthur, the Orkney boys carry on a blood feud against Pellinore's family to avenge their father's death. Gaheris is enraged by his mother's disloyalty to the family in taking Lamorak as a lover and lops off her head as a result. He spares Lamorak, however, because he is unarmed, which enrages Gawain as much as his mother's death does when he learns of it.
In the earliest Arthurian tales, Gawain is depicted as the ideal knight and a likeable hero. In the later medieval romances, while he continues to be one of Arthur's most loyal and skilled knights, his character deteriorates somewhat, and he becomes darker, more treacherous and at times brutal towards women. (The painting right shows Sir Gawain swearing to be merciful and never take against ladies. The fact that he feels he should do this - mend his ways? - is telling.) He is thus supplanted by Perceval and later Galahad as an ideal Grail knight and hero.
Jordan included characteristics and actions of Sir Kay as well as Sir Gawain in developing Gawyn. Kay was King Arthur’s seneschal prone to behaving arrogantly to those he considered below him. This is reminiscent of Gawyn’s overweening behaviour upon arrival at Gareth Bryne’s camp outside Tar Valon. Just as Sir Kay in his ambition to be Guinevere’s Champion mistakenly believed he could defeat Meleagant, and thus free Meleagant’s captives, but instead was responsible for the queen’s capture, so Gawyn, Egwene’s seneschal as well as her Champion, went off to fight Demandred, and caused Egwene’s and his own death.
Sir Gawain berated King Arthur for placing Guinevere in Sir Kay’s care, and then he and Lancelot set out to rescue her. A damsel guided them into Meleagant’s lands, taking them to the fork in the road from which two possible paths ran to the castle; one road led to the Underwater Bridge, and the other, more perilous road, to the Sword Bridge. Gawain chose the Underwater Bridge, and, as we know, Lancelot took the Sword Bridge and was victorious in freeing Guinevere and ultimately killed Meleagant.
Demandred, as Meleagant, ordered Egwene’s death (although at one point she thought that he would capture her (A Memory of Light, The Wyld)). Gawyn rightly recognised that Demandred should be killed, and determined to attempt it. Min and Egwene both foretold that Gawyn had a huge fork in his life’s road, and that one road led to his early death, the other to his long life. Both women’s actions influenced Gawyn’s choice.
Gawain wanted revenge on Lancelot for accidentally killing his brothers Gareth and Gaheris in a battle frenzy while rescuing Guinevere from the stake. Besides his enmity towards Rand, which he finally abandons after a supportive chat with Elayne, Gawyn also holds a great deal of enmity towards Siuan Sanche, whom he blames for manipulating his sister Elayne and his beloved Egwene into dangerous situations beyond his protective influence. His personal prejudices towards both Rand and Siuan as well as other Aes Sedai have clearly influenced his choices since the Tower coup. But like the Arthurian Gawain, Gawyn possesses some very admirable qualities including great loyalty to his family and country, as well as great skills as a fighter and leader of men. He is also, unfortunately, just as proud and hard headed as the Arthurian Gawain, and thus no more willing to take advice or be dissuaded from the paths he's chosen, however wrongheaded they might prove be.
Gawyn’s poisoning has parallels in the Vulgate Cycle: Sir Gawain was captured by Caradoc, Lord of Dolorous Tower, and wounded by Caradoc’s guards. Adding to his pain, Caradoc's mother applied poisonous ointment to his wounds because Gawain killed her brother treacherously. Gawain’s health deteriorated, but a damsel restored him to health and then Lancelot freed him.
Unlike the Arthurian Gawain, Gawyn applied his poisonous rings himself in an effort to gain an edge. The poisoning by bloodknives perhaps indicates his wrongness, his unworthiness, to achieve the quest of killing Demandred. His recklessness resulted in his own death and Egwene’s. In the alliterative Morte Arthure, Gawain rushed on ahead of King Arthur’s landing forces and singled out Modred and attacked him madly: “he fell in a frenzy for fierceness of heart”, “mad as a wild beast”. Gawain was killed by Modred. Arthur hurried ashore and searched for Gawain; he found his body face down on the grass. Gawyn was less frenzied than Gawain, but no less reckless. It was his brother Galad who found Gawyn lying on the grass.
al'Lan Mandragoran, Lord of the Lakes and the Seven Towers, is our Wheel of Time's Lancelot de Lake, Preeminent Knight of the Round Table, The Best Knight in the World:
If you must enter the Blight, and with only a few, there is no man better to take you there, nor to bring you safely out again. He is the best of the Warders, and that means the best of the best.
- The Eye of the World, More Tales of the Wheel
There are many events in Lan's life that are paralleled to one degree or another in Lancelot's, on an archetypal level as well as on a more specific Arthurian level. Both Lan and Lancelot are of high noble birth; Lan the son of King al'Akir and Queen el'Leanna of Malkier, Lancelot the son of King Ban and Queen Elaine of Benoic. As babes, they were both carried off to be fostered by others. Lancelot's father died of sorrow after he lost his lands and castles to the King of the Wastelands due to his seneschal betraying him. Lancelot’s uncle died of grief after King Ban died, and Lancelot’s cousins were taken hostage by the King of the Wastelands. In Lan's case both his parents and his nation were lost to the Shadow when Darkfriends betrayed them. Malkier became part of the Blight, the wasteland surrounding the Dark One’s access point to the world. Lan’s cousin Isam was taken to the Town in the Blight. Lancelot is said to have been raised in Avalon by the Lady of the Lake (whom Tennyson among others names Vivien, and still others name Nimue) and she kept his identity secret even from him; he was known only as King’s Son. Lan was raised in the royal palace of Fal Moran in Shienar and he denied his royal title for many years. And of course Lan and Lancelot are both unparalleled fighting men. At the Last Battle, Lan’s forces and Lan himself, saw more fighting than anyone else.
Both men have had ladies almost literally throw themselves at their feet, though Lan is ironically described as ugly rather than handsome like Lancelot. They both, however, fall deeply in love with women they believe themselves to be unworthy of and have no rights to; Lan because he believes he is already married to his personal war against the Shadow and would thus only cause his lady Nynaeve pain and grief; Lancelot because his lady Queen Guinevere is already married to another man, his King Arthur no less, and only pain and grief could result from their being together. They are unable to deny or resist for long the depth and force of their feelings, however, particularly in light of the wishes and desires of their ladies, which they must inevitably submit to as true knights in the classic chivalric fashion. Guinevere gives Lancelot her ring, Lan gives Nynaeve his ring. In fact, Malkieri chivalric tradition is very evocative of medieval chivalric tradition and is probably where Jordan at least partially derived the concept for The Wheel of Time (the Japanese samurai code of conduct known as Bushido is another source, since Shienar, where Lan spent his childhood, is so evocative of feudal Japan).
In the Arthurian tales, Lancelot goes through a period of madness and wilderness wandering with an associated disregard for his own life when Guinevere sends him away, supposedly for good, after she catches him with Elaine upon whom he had earlier fathered Galahad (Le Morte D'Arthur, Book XI, Chapter II). Lan goes through a similar semi-mad period with an associated disregard for his own life after he loses Moiraine, particularly during the time he journeys towards his new mistress Myrelle (Lord of Chaos, Weaves of the Power). In Celto-Arthurian tradition, this is a fairly classic reaction from the hero to shock and deep loss. Owain for instance (in The Lady of the Fountain, one of The Three Romances in The Mabinogion) and Merlin (in several different versions of the Merlin tales but most famously in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Vita Merlini) both fall into a wild-man-in-the-woods mode for a time. Lancelot is eventually healed of his madness by the Holy Grail and thereafter spends some time recovering physically with King Pelles and Elaine. Later on he is severely wounded again and is subsequently ministered to by Elaine Le Blanc, the Fair Maid of Astolat (more famously known as the Lady of Shalott thanks to Tennyson) who falls hopelessly in love with him during his stay with her. Just as Elaine Le Blanc is able to heal Lancelot physically, so Myrelle is able to heal Lan physically. But Myrelle is unable to heal Lan mentally, even using a combination of proven techniques, including sexual ministration. Elaine Le Blanc was likewise unable to get Lancelot to respond to her sexually, offering everything short of deception, and in fact deception is what Elaine daughter of King Pelles had to use in order to lure Lancelot to lie with her and conceive Galahad. So just as Lancelot is only fully responsive to his one true love Guinevere, so Lan is now only fully responsive to his life's love Nynaeve. As Lan's Guinevere she is a very powerful and empowering Sovereignty figure.
Lan and Lancelot also both have an occasion to rescue their lady loves from certain death: Lan when he pulls Nynaeve out of the river after Moghedien balefires the boat she's on (A Crown of Swords, Mashiara); and Lancelot when he pulls Guinevere from the stake to which she's been sentenced to burn after their adulterous affair (considered treason against the king) is finally revealed publicly (Le Morte D'Arthur Book XX, Chapter VIII).
Lancelot also rescues Guinevere from Meleagant, who abducts her while she is out "a-Maying" (Le Morte D'Arthur Book XIX, Chapters IV-V), risking the dangerous crossing of the Sword Bridge to do so. The Wheel of Time’s Meleagant, Demandred, did not capture Nynaeve, Lan’s Guinevere, but he did order two other Guinevere figures, Egwene al’Vere and Elayne, to be killed. Lancelot fought Meleagant three times before killing him, and this is paralleled by the three “Arthurian” knights who attempted to kill Demandred. For Lan, the Sword Bridge to Meleagant’s castle is represented by the ring of Shadowspawn surrounding Demandred’s command post – so many blades to dodge. Lan crashed through the gap in the Trolloc wall that the Two Rivers arrows of fire made to reach Demandred and kill him.
Meleagant knew very well who he was fighting, but Demandred did not. This has its parallel in Lancelot’s quest to kill another villainous knight, the Copper Knight Brandin of Dolorous Gard, early in his career when Lancelot did not know his own true identity. As recounted in the Demandred section Brandin felt that he was invincible since any challengers had to singlehandedly defeat ten nights at the first wall and ten at the second before they duelled with Brandin. Such unfair tactics spurred the Lady of the Lake to send a damsel with aid in the form of three shields, each of which gave increased strength. With these magic devices, Lancelot was able to defeat the knights at both walls and free Dolorous Gard from the Copper Knight. The castle was renamed Joyous Gard and claimed by Lancelot. Lan was sent a ter’angreal via Berelain that protected him from direct weaves, and his Warder Bond to Nynaeve, Lady of the Thousand Lakes, increased his strength and endurance. The immense losses inflicted at the Field of Merrilor and the Heights upon the Light’s armies by Demandred’s forces qualify the area as the Dolorous Gard, but the Blight is even more dolorous. Lan’s victory over Demandred gave Rand the heart to battle on against the Dark One, and, just as important, insight into the true nature of that fight. This had the immediate effect of easing the Blighting of the Land around Shayol Ghul. Lan’s own nation was consumed by the Blight when he was a baby, but after the Dark One was sealed away he could live joyously with Nynaeve in the restored Malkier.
As the Arthurian world’s premier knight champion/consort, Lancelot himself is a very desirable captive, as evidenced by the various Elaines and other ladies who try to capture his attention and affections. Morgan Le Fay captures him quite literally, holding him in her Castle Chariot for a time until a damosel helps him escape (Le Morte D'Arthur, Book VI, Chapters III-IV). Her ransom to free him is the ring he wears, but he refuses to give it to her because it is a gift from Guinevere. Moiraine, as our primary Wheel of Time Morgan Le Fay, held Lan as her own knight champion/protector for quite some time as well, although they both chose to forego the consort aspect of the relationship. Aes Sedai and their Warders are one of The Wheel of Time's prime examples of the union of Sovereignty with a chosen champion/protector. And while most forego sexual union, the relationship is still very much a physical one, as well as mental, by virtue of the actual union of their minds and flesh through the Aes Sedai bond. Moiraine never asked for Lan’s ring, which he later gave to, rather than received from, his beloved lady Nynaeve, but she held Lan to his oath despite knowing his feelings until she went into the redstone doorway ter’angreal and then his bond passed to Myrelle. When Lan was told that his bond would be transferred to another without his agreement should Moiraine fall, he felt tricked and betrayed by Moiraine, just as Lancelot is tricked into sleeping with Elaine. Moiraine’s motives were for the best, but it was still unethical, and Myrelle was looked on as a rapist, although she kept Lan alive.
While Guinevere still loves Lancelot very much, in the end she rejects him, too deeply regretful and penitent of the tragic events their relationship as wrought to continue on with it. Lan and Nynaeve, thankfully, have no need for such concerns.
Sir Mat is one of The Wheel of Time’s premier knight/champions. This role, however, is one that our Sir Mat, within a coarse whisker’s breadth of an Aes Sedai, would almost be willing to trade his soul to the Dark One to be rid of. Almost. The fact that he would never do so is what makes him one of the preeminent champions of the Light, one of the true Grail achievers, and one of the favored consorts of the Goddess herself ;)
While Mat’s most significant parallels lie in places other than the Arthurian legends (and for these, please reference the Mat essay), there is one Knight Errant within Arthurian tradition that is somewhat evocative of Mat, and that a Wheel of Time reader cannot help but smile at and feel at least some irreverent fondness for: the humorous and forever complaining Sir Dinadan, one of Sir Tristan’s closest companions and fellow Knights Errant.
Sir Dinadan is one of the Knights of the Round Table, and a very good knight indeed. However, he complains mightily and constantly about the labours and dangers of knighthood, particularly to those fellow knights whom he deems responsible more often than not - because of their constant urging and prodding - for the literal blood, sweat and tears that he spills and the bruises and broken bones that he suffers in his never-ending knightly endeavours. To wit:
Then Sir Tristram unlaced Sir Dinadan’s helm, and prayed him to help him. I will not, said Sir Dinadan, for I am sore wounded of the thirty knights that we had but late ago to do withal. But ye fare, said Sir Dinadan unto Sir Tristram, as a madman and as a man that is out of his mind that would cast himself away, and I may curse the time that ever I saw you, for in all the world are not two such knights that be so wood [mad] as is Sir Lancelot and ye Sir Tristram; for once I fell in the fellowship of Sir Lancelot as I have done now with you, and he set me a work that a quarter of a year I kept my bed. Jesu defend me, said Sir Dinadan, from such two knights, and specially from your fellowship.
- Le Morte D’Arthur, Book IX, Chapter XXIV
One can easily imagine a medieval Mat moaning away about Rand and Perrin (not to mention Lan) in this same manner. With both Sir Dinadan and Sir Mat, however, all that wailing and complaining is usually couched in a good sense of humor, with japes and jests given at their own expense more often than anyone else’s. Sirs Dinadan and Mat would much rather spend their days feasting and making merry, but for all their feigned reluctance to do so, whenever the need arises, they demonstrate time and again their willingness to put their lives on the line in adherence to the principles of knightly chivalry. Mat is far more willing, however, to adhere to the knightly principles of fin’amor, serious courtly love, than Dinadan ever is:
Madam, said Dinadan, I marvel of Sir Tristram and mo other lovers, what aileth them to be so mad and so sotted upon women. Why, said La Beale Isoud [Iseult or Isolde], are ye a knight and be no lover? It is shame to you: wherefore ye may not be called a good knight but if ye make a quarrel for a lady. God defend me, said Dinadan, for the joy of love is too short, and the sorrow thereof, and what cometh thereof, dureth over long.
- Le Morte D’Arthur, Book X, Chapter LVI
In the past, Mat may well have agreed with Dinadan’s conclusions about serious love, but unlike Dinadan, he couldn’t resist the company and pleasures offered by the ladies - so long as there were no real strings attached. That slowly changed, however, once Mat began his serious courtship of Tuon and they were married. Mat was repeatedly tested for his worthiness to be her consort and champion. The Seanchan symbol of a da’covale - one who is owned - is the raven. Mat’s ashandarei is marked with two ravens, and his signet ring is marked with ravens as well. The raven also happens to be one of the ancient symbols of the Goddess in her darkest guise, and ravens along with roses are a part of Tuon’s personal symbol as the Daughter of the Nine Moons. So it seems fate or Fortuna had already marked Mat out as her own regardless. Our ever reluctant knight/champion Sir Mat, however, came through his testing period with a relatively whole skin, albeit something the worse for wear and, after a harrowing trip to the *elfinn’s world, minus one eye, and ever complaining, but nonetheless with a relatively good grace, just like our dear Sir Dinadan ;)
Elmindreda Farshaw, as her surname implies, is one of our primary Seer/Poet figures by virtue of her inborn ability to predict the future through the images and auras she sometimes sees around others. As already mentioned, she also augmented her skills by continuing on with Herid Fel’s philosophical studies, and she puzzled out how Rand could win his battle against the Dark One. And Min is, of course, one of Rand’s primary Guinevere figures.
Min learns early on that having the ability to know what will happen in the future does not include having the ability to change it, and in fact may actually serve as a catalyst for it, as Min herself proves to be in the White Tower rebellion and split (The Shadow Rising, Seeds of Shadow). In Arthurian myth, Merlin is also very much aware of this, and says as much to Arthur, after he has prophesied for himself that Nimue will be the instrument of his demise:
So on a time he told King Arthur that he [Merlin] should not dure long, but for all his crafts he should be put in the earth quick….Ah, said the king, since ye know of your adventure, purvey for it, and put away by your crafts that misadventure. Nay, said Merlin, it will not be.
Le Morte D’Arthur, Book IV, Chapter I
For Min and Merlin, as well as our other Seer/Poets in The Wheel of Time, knowing what will happen, or what may happen, is as much a burden as it is a boon. And sharing what they’ve seen never changes it, and ironically may actually serve to bring it about in some cases:
She had told him [Perrin]; she had tried warning people about bad things when, at six or seven, she had first realized not everyone could see what she saw. She would not say more, but he had the impression that her warnings had only made matters worse, when they were believed at all.As Min herself would say, her “gift”, as the Aes Sedai call it, is one gift she would rather not have.
The Dragon Reborn, Saidin
As one of Rand’s Guineveres, Min is as much a figure of Sovereignty as Egwene, Elayne and Aviendha, and is therefore just as subject to classic episodes of abduction. She has in fact been abducted and held twice; once by the Seanchan with Egwene at Falme, and once by the Tower embassy with Rand at Cairhien. And because of her gift as a Seer/Poet, those that know about it have tended to hold her close - if not exactly captive – because of the knowledge it might bring them, as Moiraine, Siuan, Rand, and now, the Empress have all done.
And Min is “she who sees beyond” in Nicola’s foretelling of three on the boat, as paralleled in Arthurian myth by Arthur’s funeral barge and the three queens who take him away to the Otherworld.
The Lady Moiraine Damodred is our Wheel of Time’s Morgan Le Fay (the Fairy), half-sister to Arthur through Igraine and sister to Elaine and Morgause through Igraine and the Duke of Gorlois. Malory also says that she is wife and queen to King Urien of Gore, and by him mother of Sir Owain, one of the Knights of the Round Table. Morgan has always been one of the more clearly identifiable Arthurian characters with regards to her Celtic origins, despite the later medieval romancers’ denigrating reassessment of her. She is the great mother goddess Modron of Celtic mythology, with shades of the Irish battle goddess the Morrighan as well. Modron was the daughter of Afallach, the king of the Celtic Otherworld known as Avalon. Both of these goddesses carry the traditional triple aspect, and even in Malory we can still see an echo of their triadic nature through Morgan’s close association with the Queens of Northgalis and the Waste Lands, an association which culminates in all three taking Arthur away to Avalon in the funeral barge.
Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Vita Merlini names Morgan as the chief priestess of a sisterhood of nine presiding over the Isle of Avalon. She is depicted as a benevolent healer and enchantress with magical abilities to fly and shape shift. The medieval romancers, particularly the Cistercian monks who wrote the collection of Arthurian stories known as the Vulgate Cycle, had difficulty reconciling Morgan’s strong, independent and sexually free Celtic nature with their medieval Christian ethical structure and beliefs. As a result of their misconceptions and misinterpretations, the benevolent Morgan becomes increasingly malevolent, resulting in the evil enchantress, wicked witch figure that we are so familiar with today. And yet it is still Morgan who comes to Arthur’s aid in the end, to take him to Avalon to care for and heal him. True to her Celtic nature, she is the Goddess of Sovereignty come to withdraw her chosen champion from the earthly realm into the otherworldly realm upon the completion of his endeavors and effectiveness on her behalf.
Moiraine of The Wheel of Time as our Arthurian Morgan certainly possesses and exhibits aspects closer to the Celtic original. But that of necessity must include the darker aspects of the Goddess as well: Dark Woman of Knowledge as messenger who comes to Emond’s Field and turns the lives of our young heroes upside down to set them into motion and call them to action; Loathly Lady who vows to see them dead before she will allow the Shadow to have them; Dark Maiden or Warrior Woman who will battle to the bitter end in order to see balance and health restored to the Land.
Malory tells us that after her father Gorlois is killed and Uther has married her mother Igraine, Morgan was “put to school in a nunnery, and there she learned so much that she was a great clerk of necromancy” (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book I, Chapter II). This education involved the black arts, and it’s interesting that the medievalists used a nunnery as the setting for Morgan’s initial corruption. Moiraine went to the White Tower to learn the necromancy of channeling, and considering that so many in the Westlands view Aes Sedai and the White Tower with suspicion and mistrust, the parallel between Moiraine and Morgan here seems quite apt.
While Moiraine certainly doesn’t possess the magical ability to fly as Geoffrey said Morgan did (which is probably a corrupted memory of the Goddess in her raven form), she does, through her use of the One Power, have the ability to shape shift of sorts, such as when she transforms into a huge menacing version of herself at the gates of Baerlon (The Eye of The World, Watchers and Hunters), and when she makes herself, Lan, Loial and the Edmond’s Fielders “disappear” by setting an invisibility ward around them (The Eye of The World, The Blight). Malory gives us a display or two of Morgan Le Fay’s similar abilities:
Then she rode into a valley where many great stones were, and when she saw she must be overtaken, she shaped herself, horse and man, by enchantment unto a great marble stone….So when Arthur was gone she turned all into the likeliness as she and they were before, and said, Sirs, now may we go where we will.
- Le Morte D’Arthur, Book IV, Chapter XIV
This passage comes at the end of the episode in which Morgan has enchanted and enticed her current lover Accolon into battling Arthur to the death after she has stolen Excalibur and its empowering scabbard and armed Accolon with them, thereby hoping to ensure his victory over Arthur. The current Lady of the Lake Nimue aids Arthur in recovering them, however, and in the end he is victorious, although sorely wounded. Later, Morgan again steals the scabbard, and Arthur and his men give chase, prompting Morgan to turn herself and her entourage into stone to escape them. Morgan's intention here was to kill Arthur and win the throne for Accolon, setting herself up as queen. What she does not tell Accolon, however, is that she intends to hold the reins of power herself. This is one of the stories intended to illustrate Morgan's immense ambition along with her jealousy and hatred of Arthur, which she also fully extends to Guinevere. Morgan is battling for Sovereignty here, through the use of one of her chosen champion/consorts. This is where Moiraine and the medievally conceived Morgan diverge. Moiraine is of course far more likely to take on the role of Nimue in this episode. There is, however, a parallel in The Wheel of Time for this hateful, manipulative, power-grabbing version of Morgan: Lanfear.
Lanfear attempts to use and manipulate our young Light knight champions Mat, Perrin, and of course Rand in particular, just as Morgan does with a number of Arthur’s knights, and as she does with Arthur himself. Morgan is Arthur’s most beloved sister; but just as Lanfear eventually showed her true colors to her lover Lews Therin back in the Age of Legends, so Morgan eventually betrays her true nature to her brother Arthur. Lanfear makes false promises to Asmodean (her Accolon although not her lover), using him as a tool to either possess or destroy Rand, with their battle over the male Choedan Kal access key a parallel to Arthur's battle with Accolon. An even closer parallel to Morgan and Accolon is Lanfear’s Compulsion of Perrin to help her save the Dark One from Rand so that she would be rewarded:
If we strike quickly, there will still be time to seize control of Moridin while he holds that blade. With that, I can force Lews Therin to bow." She narrowed her eyes. "He holds the Dark One between his fingers, needing only one squeeze to pinch the life—if it can be called that—away. Only one hand can save the Great Lord. In this moment, I earn my reward. In this moment, I become highest of the high."Lanfear regretted that she did not win Perrin ‘fairly’, and remarkably Perrin broke free of her enchantment, and killed her. Lanfear is jealous of and hateful to Rand’s Guineveres, just as Morgan is of Arthur’s. And Lanfear is outwardly a very beautiful woman, just as the false Morgan is; inwardly, however, they are both very loathly indeed.
A Memory of Light, Light and Shadow
Our antithetical Wheel of Time Morgans, Lanfear and Moiraine, eventually have a head-to-head confrontation, quite literally, which results in their both taking a tumble into the Land of the Eelfinn and Aelfinn - the Celtic Land of Faerie – which according to some of the later Arthurian stories Morgan is said to have been the queen of, or at least to have spent some time in (an example of the reduction of Morgan from her original goddess incarnation to that of a faerie creature). That visit ended in Lanfear’s death at Moridin’s hands, so the Dark One could reincarnate her as the much shorter Cyndane. In Arthurian legend, when Morgan disappears into Faerie she is assumed thereafter to be dead. She returns after a long absence, however, and is subsequently reconciled with Arthur. Immediately after her rescue Moiraine stated that she intended to meet Rand next (Towers of Midnight, A Rabbit For Supper) and she was not only reconciled with him, but she reconciled the reluctant parties at Merrilor to his treaty.
In some versions of the Arthurian stories, particularly the more contemporary ones, Morgan is either conflated with her sister Morgause, or she simply takes Morgause’s place as the half-sister with whom Arthur conceives Mordred. Jordan may actually be giving a nod to this sister switch via the possible futures Moiraine sees for herself in the Rhuidean rings. One of those possible futures shows her taking Rand into her bed, and that doing so “would bring ruination on everything.” She can no longer remember how or why, “only the simple fact of calamity remained in her mind” (The Fires of Heaven, A Departure). We know Arthur’s bedding of his half-sister, whether Morgan or Morgause, quite literally planted the seed for the final ruination of his kingdom and himself through Mordred. It would seem that Rand’s bedding of Moiraine would have brought about his ruination in some way as well, which would certainly have been calamitous for the entire world with him.
Finally, as already mentioned, Moiraine also carries aspects of Merlin as advisor/guide to Rand and the other Emond’s Fielders before her disappearance, just as Merlin was for Arthur and his associates before his untimely disappearance. Moiraine is not a Seer/Poet figure like Merlin, but instead obtains information of a prophetic nature from others, such as Min, the Prophecies of the Dragon, the ter’angreal rings in Rhuidean, the Aelfinn and now the Eelfinn. Moiraine’s relationship to our other significant Merlin figure, Thom Merrilin, will be discussed a little later in Thom’s section. And Moiraine does of course possess an empowering Lady of the Lake aspect as well, although it is her closest friend Siuan who is chief among those of The Wheel of Time’s priestesses of Avalon, rather than herself.
As her name so clearly implies, Morgase is our Wheel of Time’s Queen Morgause of Orkney (or Margawse, or Anna Morgause, as in Anna of the Orkneys, derived from Morchades which is a variant of Morgause and Orcades, which is Latin for the Orkneys). The Arthurian Morgause is the wife/widow of Lot of Lothian and Orkney and mother to Gawain, Agravaine, Gaheris, Gareth and Modred/Mordred. She is sister to Morgan Le Fay and Elaine through Igraine and Gorlois, and half-sister to Arthur through Igraine. In The Wheel of Time, Morgase of House Trakand is Queen of Andor, wife/widow of Taringail of Cairhien and Andor, mother to Gawyn and Elayne and stepmother to Galad. Rather than sister to our Morgan Le Fay Moiraine, she is sister-in-law (Taringail being Moiraine’s half-brother), and rather than sister to our Elaine Elayne, she becomes her mother. Morgase remains mother to our Gawain Gawyn, but becomes lover to our Gareth Gareth, and is not associated at all with our dark Wheel of Time Modred Demandred. She instead becomes stepmother to our Galahad Galadedrid Damodred (and lightside Modred figure), whose real mother is not our Elaine Elayne, but rather our Igraine Tigraine, who is also our Arthur al’Thor’s real mother, who is sister to Luc, who is now combined quite literally with Isam, who was Lan’s cousin, and is now known as Slayer, and where (if anywhere) Agravaine and Gaheris come into all this, this humble writer hasn’t a clue (comment suggestions welcome). In any case, quite a convoluted family tree!
Getting back to serious matters, in the Arthurian stories, King Lot was opposed to Arthur from the outset of his reign and wanted the High Kingship for himself. Arthur sleeping with his wife Morgause only aggravated the situation. Lot was killed as a result of his opposition to Arthur, during a rebellion fomented by himself and ten other minor kings. While it was King Pellinore who actually killed Lot, Merlin was the behind-the-scenes orchestrator of his death (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book II, Chapter X). In The Wheel of Time, Taringail wanted the throne of Andor for himself, and it is strongly implied, if never directly stated, that Thom Merrilin (our Wheel of Time Merlin) was the behind-the-scenes orchestrator of his death (The Shadow Rising, Deceptions). Thom became Morgase’s lover for a time after Taringail’s death. The Arthurian Morgause is said to have had at least one lover after Lot’s death (aside from her one-night-stand with her half-brother Arthur while Lot was still alive). Morgause’s lover was Sir Lamorak de Galis, the son of King Pellinore. Unfortunately for poor Morgause, her sons became the sworn enemies of Pellinore and his family, bent on avenging their father’s death at any cost. Tragically, this blood feud cost them their mother’s life as well, at the very hands of Gaheris, who in a fit of rage lopped off his mother’s head after catching her and Lamorak in flagrante delicto. Gaheris allows Lamorak to go free because he is unarmed, but later the brothers (minus Gareth who - true to his nature - refuses to have any part in this blood feud) fall upon Lamorak and slay him in a decidedly unfair fight (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book X, Chapter LVIII).
While our Wheel of Time Morgause did not literally lose her head, she lost her throne along with just about everything else, including her true identity for a time, after “losing her head” over Rahvin due to Compulsion. One of the Dark One’s champions, Rahvin, forced her to put aside her own champion/consort Gareth and take Rahvin in his stead. And since then, she has been abducted and held twice (once by the Whitecloaks and then by the Shaido), in true classic fashion for a significant figure of Sovereignty who finds herself in a very vulnerable position. She was enslaved as a servant, or gai’shain, by the Shaido Aiel. This immediately brings to mind a parallel for her that is a significant precursor to the Arthurian legend: that of the Celtic Branwen, or White Raven, who could rightly be described as the grandmother of all grandmothers of Sovereignty.
In Branwen Daughter of Llyr, one of the Four Branches of the Mabinogi in The Mabinogion, Branwen, sister to Bran the Blessed, King of the Isle of the Mighty (Britain), is given to Matholwch, King of Ireland, as wife and queen to seal an alliance between the two lands. All goes well for a time until an outrage wrought upon Ireland by Branwen’s half-brother Efnissien is made known to the Irish people, who in retribution make Branwen a servant of the kitchens, where a butcher regularly boxes her ears. This servitude and abuse continues for three years, but while it is going on:
she [Branwen] reared a starling on the end of her kneading-trough and taught it words and instructed the bird what manner of man her brother was. And she brought a letter of her woes and the dishonour that were upon her. And the letter was fastened under the root of the bird’s wings and sent towards Wales. And the bird came to this Island. The place where it found Bendigeidfran [Bran] was at Caer Seint in Arfon, at an assembly of his one day.
- The Mabinogion, Branwen Daughter of Llyr
The starling, while not a raven, is still a symbol of Sovereignty as dark messenger for Branwen in her present circumstances, and could also be a symbol for the Shaido in The Wheel of Time as dark messenger for Morgase. Branwen as a white raven of Sovereignty represents Morgase as an Aiel white-clothed gai’shain. There is a promise of freedom for Morgase from the Shaido in all this. Perrin is clearly our Bran here, and just as Bran assembled a host to invade Ireland and free his sister, so Perrin assembled a host to free not only Morgase, but to free more specifically his particular Branwen – Faile - his wife here rather than his sister, and his personal Sovereignty representative whom he will defend to the death, as Bran ultimately did his sister. Which leaves Martyn Tallanvor, former Guardsman-Lieutenant of the Queen’s Guard, who is our Sir Lamorak de Galis, to act as personal champion and consort to Morgase.
Sir Lamorak de Galis was considered to be one of the three greatest knights of the Round Table, along with Sir Lancelot de Lake and Sir Tristan de Liones. So perhaps our Morgase of Andor is in good hands after all. Unlike Branwen, who died of a broken heart, Morgase recovered from her heartsickness at Rahvin’s Compulsion, followed her heart and married Tallanvor, and was reunited with her children.
In keeping with his philosophy of balance, Jordan shows two sides – the Light and the Dark - of many archetypal and mythological figures in the series: the Fool, the Joker, Arthur, Modred – and also Merlin. The preeminent dark Merlin figure in the Wheel of Time series is Moridin/Ishamael.
The Arthurian Merlin was modelled in part on the historic Myrddin Wyllt (Merlin the Wild – Demandred’s alias is a nod to this), a sixth century Welsh bard driven mad by post-traumatic stress disorder caused by war. He rejected civilisation and moved into the woods, where he began to prophesy. One of his predictions was that he would die a triple death of simultaneous falling, stabbing and drowning. This is mirrored in one version of the Merlin legend, where it is Arthur who inflicts such a multiple death on Merlin, rather like the multiple fatal injuries and mutilations given to those believed to be witches in early modern times. The name Moridin is similar to Myrddin. The other Forsaken considered him mad, both because he used the True Power frequently and as a result of using it. Ishamael was originally a nihilist, someone who wanted society to be destroyed and rebuilt. In his efforts to exacerbate Rand’s post-traumatic stress disorder and break his spirit, Moridin increased his own existential angst that resulted from being partly sealed in the Bore until he despaired at the endless cycle of reincarnation and craved oblivion. For Moridin (Death), death has been complicated: Ishamael was killed by Rand, transmigrated to another body, and after the Bore was resealed, his soul died but his body lived on with Rand’s soul in it. The third part of Moridin’s death will occur when Rand finally dies. So Rand/Arthur alone has been closely involved in Moridin’s/Merlin’s complicated deaths. He burned Ishamael badly at the Eye and also stabbed him in the heart at Falme, but Ishamael survived; only Callandor used simultaneously as both sword and sa’angreal killed him. And again after Rand and Moridin used Callandor together, they each lost half of themselves – Rand the physical half, Moridin the spiritual. Moridin’s connection with the the sa’angreal Callandor in all this mirrors Merlin’s association with the San Greal.
The sources agree that Merlin was conceived unnaturally, but they don't agree on how: he was either fathered by a devil on a virgin as an intended antichrist, or sired by an incubus upon a sleeping woman as a cambion. A cambion is alive but has no breath or pulse until they reach about seven years old. Usually evil due to their demonic father, they are very beautiful and cunning and can bend anyone to their will. According to the Lancelot-Grail, which depicts Merlin as particularly dark, Merlin was never baptised and did only evil deeds. So there is a precedent for Jordan’s dark Merlin figure. Moridin’s rebirth wasn’t natural either; he was transmigrated into his body by the Dark One. He leads the Forsaken, who are antichrists and very few characters don’t bend to his will. Graendal finds Moridin very attractive physically, and she has high standards.
Merlin had the gift of prophecy and also was good at shape-shifting and glamour/illusion. Moridin is a very powerful and skilled channeller and has the ability to read Tel’aran’rhiod and the Pattern. He is associated with prophecy, having secretly commissioned a large book of prophecies for the Shadow (Towers of Midnight, Writings), and engineered Luthair’s expedition to Seanchan, Ishamael’s ‘doom yet to come’ (The Eye of the World, The Stag and Lion), where an alternative version of the Prophecies of the Dragon evolved. Moridin may also have been a dreamer.
While Ishamael/Moridin does not appear to have arranged Rand’s birth as Merlin did Arthur’s, since there was certainly no advantage for him in that, he tried to intimidate Rand by misrepresenting it:
”The strings that move you have been centuries weaving. Your father was chosen by the White Tower, like a stallion roped and led to his business. Your mother was no more than a brood mare to their plans. And those plans lead to your death.”In later versions of the legend, Merlin tutored and advised Arthur. Ishamael/Moridin advised two King Arthur figures: Rand and Artur Hawkwing. As Jalwyn Moerad, Ishamael fed the High King's hatred of Aes Sedai and hastened his death.
The Eye of the World, The Stag and Lion
He offered to teach Rand channelling in a manipulative way:
"I can teach you to control that power so that it does not destroy you. No one else lives who can teach you that. The Great Lord of the Dark can shelter you from the madness. The power can be yours, and you can live forever. Forever! All you must do in return is serve.”Moridin has given useful advice to Rand about killing the Forsaken in The Gathering Storm and at the end of A Crown of Swords.
The Great Hunt, Kinslayer
As prophesied, Merlin was trapped in a cave or rock or tomb by Nimue, or in some versions of the legend, the Lady of the Lake, from which he could not escape despite his magical powers. In Jordan’s world, Nimue and the Lady of the Lake are the same woman. At the end of the Age of Legends, Ishamael was bound, as all the Forsaken were, in the Bore in Shayol Ghul, although this was Lews Therin’s deed. (In this sense all the Forsaken are dark Merlin figures, as is the Dark One.) Over three thousand years later, Moridin was trapped by Nynaeve/Nimue/Lady of the Lake and Moiraine/Morgan at the Pit of Doom to help Rand seal the Dark One away. He was not sealed up in that cavern as the Bore closed, but carried out by Rand. His presence in the cave was foretold by Min (and might even be in the Karaethon Cycle for all we know). Since his body ‘vanished’ during Rand’s funeral service, all sorts of stories will arise, and Arthurian legends hint that one of them will be that Moridin was sealed in the Bore.
As mentioned earlier, Nynaeve is our Wheel of Time’s Nimue (also spelled Niniane, Viviane, Nyneve and a few other variants depending on which text you read). In the Arthurian tales, Nimue is a young damosel of the lake who takes on the role of Lady of the Lake at Avalon sometime after her predecessor is slain at the hands of Sir Balin le Savage. While it is unlikely that Nynaeve will ever become The Wheel of Time’s Lady of the Lake at Tar Valon (Avalon’s Merlin, The Amyrlin), she does progress from young Wisdom of her village to young initiate of the White Tower and finally to Aes Sedai. And as Lan’s wife, one of her titles is Lady of the Thousand Lakes.
In the Arthurian stories, Merlin falls hopelessly in love with the young damosel of the lake Nimue after their first meeting (something he had prophesied would happen). She becomes his companion and pupil for a time, learning all his arts of magic and enchantment, but never consenting to become his mistress despite all of his urgings. She finally grows weary of his unrelenting attentions, and using the very magic he has taught her, tricks him into entering a wondrous cave from which “he came never out for all the craft he could do” (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book IV, Chapter I). In The Wheel of Time, our most significant Merlin figure, Thom Merrilin, has certainly never shown any romantic interest in Nynaeve (although he did act as one of her advisor-knight protectors for a time, as well as Elayne’s, during their Tanchico-Valan Luca-Ebou Dar adventures), and Nynaeve has certainly never shown any interest in sealing Thom away in a cave, although she has shown a strong desire to thoroughly box his ears on a few occasions. There was a time, however, when Nynaeve would have considered it a very appealing notion indeed to stuff away in a cave our Wheel of Time’s other significant Merlin figure…Moiraine. It is not Moiraine as Merlin, however, that Nynaeve takes an exception to, but Moiraine as Morgan Le Fay.
In Arthurian legend, from the very beginning Nimue seems to be aware of Morgan Le Fay’s nefarious intentions, even while others continue to be fooled by her false good nature. Nimue is therefore always on her guard, always suspicious and mistrustful of her, always looking to expose Morgan’s tricks. In the beginning, Nynaeve was very suspicious and mistrustful of Moiraine, always on her guard, always looking to expose her tricks and forever blaming Moiraine for the hardships, sorrows and dangerous circumstances in which the Edmond’s Fielders found themselves after being forced to leave their village with her. With time, experience and knowledge acquired on her own, Nynaeve eventually comes to understand, if not fully agree with, the necessity of Moiraine’s actions and to appreciate, even if reluctantly, what she was trying to accomplish. Nynaeve even berates herself over a momentary callous thought about how she can now have Lan to herself with Moiraine dead and out of the way. Above all though, Nynaeve admires Moiraine her example of self-sacrifice for Rand’s sake and publicly embraced her, to Moiraine’s surprise, at Merrilor when Moiraine “returned from the dead”. For in Nynaeve’s mind, Rand’s care and protection is and always will be paramount, just as it remains paramount in her mind for the other young people of her village.
And Nynaeve and Moiraine together enter the dark cavern of Shayol Ghul with Rand, leaving the Merlin figure Thom Merrilin to guard the entrance, and find a dark Merlin, Moridin/Myrddin already within.
The Nimue of Arthurian legend carries the same feelings for Arthur and his companions that Nynaeve does for Rand and his. While Nimue never feels regretful enough for what she did to Merlin to ever undo it, she does thereafter only use her powers of enchantment for good, and in particular to aid Arthur and his knights. In fact Nimue intervenes to save Arthur’s life on three different occasions, once from the sorceress Annowre (Annoura in The Wheel of Time, and for more on this, please reference the Character Names A article, as well as Le Morte D’Arthur, Book IX, Chapter XVI), and twice from his sister Morgan Le Fay (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book IV, Chapter X; Book IV, Chapter XVI). Nynaeve only directly intervened on Rand’s behalf during his battle with Rahvin in Caemlyn, although her partnering with Rand to cleanse saidin could reasonably be considered a life-saving intervention as well, so perhaps that could be counted as a second time. The third time was at Shayol Ghul, where Nynaeve kept Alanna alive to stop Rand from going mad when his Warder bond broke. Three times makes a charm.
There is one final Arthurian parallel of interest between Nynaeve and Nimue, an episode involving Nimue, the Lady Ettard, and Sir Pelleas.
Sir Pelleas, who later becomes a Knight of the Round Table, loves the Lady Ettard almost beyond reason, but the Lady Ettard does not return his feelings, and in fact hates him almost beyond reason and treats him horribly, despite the fact that Sir Pelleas is a good and honorable knight and deserves far better from her. When Nimue learns of Sir Pelleas’ plight, she throws an enchantment upon the Lady Ettard while she sleeps which causes her to awaken loving Sir Pelleas as deeply as he did her. She also throws an enchantment upon Sir Pelleas while he sleeps which causes him to awaken hating the Lady Ettard as much as she did him. In the end, the Lady Ettard gets a full taste of her own medicine and eventually dies of a broken heart, and Nimue gets Sir Pelleas as her knight champion/consort.
While this works for Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Lan only on a very superficial level as a parallel for Nimue and Nynaeve both winning a champion/consort from another woman, it works a little better if we substitute Myrelle for Moiraine as the Lady Ettard. Myrelle, who held Lan’s bond for a time, wanted to keep him as her own, even though Lan has absolutely no interest in her whatsoever. Unlike the Lady Ettard, however, Myrelle has not been enchanted into entertaining any unrealistic notions about her Sir Pelleas Lan, and is thus able to reconcile herself to his loving another woman and to giving him up to her. Just as well, since the moment Nyaneve passed her test for the shawl she confronted Myrelle outside the Black Tower and insisted on having Lan’s bond passed to her (Towers of Midnight, A Choice). Our Wheel of Time Nimue and her Sir Pelleas are together now and will most likely remain together, bond or no bond, just as our Arthurian pair did.
As with Mat, Perrin’s most important character parallels lie outside of the Arthurian tales (and for these, please reference the Perrin essay), but there are a couple within it that fit Perrin and certain aspects of his particular thread in the Pattern quite aptly: Sir Kay and more significantly Sir Perceval. Going back farther to The Mabinogian and the tale of Gereint Son of Erbin (better known as the tale of Gereint and Enid), we can also find a significant precedent for Perrin’s all encompassing obsession with his wife Faile to the complete neglect of his duties to Rand until Towers of Midnight, something which many readers of the Wheel of Time have roundly criticized Perrin’s character for. Well, Gereint was just as roundly criticized for his obsession with his wife Enid, to the complete neglect of everything else including his knightly duties!
Sir Kay is Arthur’s foster brother and his Seneschal, or Steward. Perrin grew up with Rand, as Kay did Arthur, and is as close to a brother, along with Mat, as Rand has ever known. While Perrin does not share Kay’s somewhat rude and uncouth disposition, or his habit of unmerciful taunting, especially of young inexperienced knights such as Gareth and Perceval (with whom Perrin has a great deal in common in any case), he does share Kay’s role as caretaker of hearth and home when he returns to the Two Rivers to defend it from Whitecloaks and Shadowspawn when Rand cannot, becoming not just the region’s steward but its lord as well. Perrin is not particularly comfortable in the role of a lord, seeing himself as a plain, simple, honest country fellow as he does, but he has accepted the role, and was fittingly granted the title of Steward of the Two Rivers. Which is where some of his commonalities with Sir Perceval come in. Sir Perceval, just like Perrin, was raised in relative isolation and ignorance, so rustic as to be almost a wild man figure (and Perrin is King of the Wild), and left his home as a callow youth destined to become something greater than he ever believed himself worthy of.
Perceval is best known as one of the three greatest questing knights in the Grail stories, along with Sir Bors and Sir Galahad. In Malory, Sir Gawain has a prophetic dream in which he sees the three knights as white bulls (one is spotted-Sir Bors) amidst a herd of all black, signifying their greater purity and worthiness as Grail achievers (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XVI, Chapter III). In the Wheel of Time, one can imagine Galad, as both Galahad and a Whitecloak, as one of the white bulls, and the Shadow-aligned Whitecloak Jaichim Carridin who calls himself Bors as the spotted one, and our Perceval Perrin as the third white bull, known as he is to the wolves, of course, as Young Bull. This is perhaps stretching the parallel a bit, but it works nonetheless, especially considering that the two white bulls, Galad and Perrin, have formed an alliance. Perceval and Perrin also share an affinity and friendship with a particular wild beast, a lion in Perceval’s case, and a wolf, Hopper, in Perrin’s case.
Perceval is usually depicted as somewhat childlike and ingenuous, with a faith in God that surpasses those around him. He is a possessor of great integrity and a believer in doing right and in championing the cause of justice. He is a good fighter because of his great strength and youthful fervor rather than any great skill or finesse. In his efforts to do what is right and remain faithful to God, he struggles mightily with the temptations put before him (such as that in the painting, right), to the point of punishing himself by thrusting his sword through his own thigh after he lays with a temptress, even though he stopped himself before surrendering his virginity to her (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XIV, Chapters IX, X). (The thigh injury is paralleled in the leg injury Perrin sustained as he fought against Isam in Tel’aran’rhiod to free his people and the Whitecloaks from the Shadow’s trap). Perrin’s nature and fighting skills, while not precisely Perceval’s, are certainly very similar. And while one of Perrin’s temptresses, Berelain, did not succeed in even getting him to lay down with her, she did manage a night spent alone with him after Faile’s abduction, and Perrin struggled with the weight of his people’s unvoiced questions regarding his faithfulness for quite a while afterwards. Perrin managed to free himself from the Compulsion of his other temptress, Lanfear, by focussing on his love for his wife, and so prevented Lanfear from killing Rand. He also struggled with the temptations associated with carrying his axe rather than his hammer. Like Perceval, and like his ally Galad, Perrin always wants to do what is right and remain faithful to the Light, and thus constantly questions himself when he feels he’s not measuring up. It is not surprising that the two men took to each other so well, despite such an unpromising beginning to their relationship.
In the early Arthurian Grail stories, beginning with Cretien de Troyes’ narrative poem Le Conte du Graal and the Welsh romance Peredur Son of Efrawg in The Mabinogion, Perceval was the central Grail quester and achiever, and was only much later supplanted by Galahad. In these first stories, Perceval in his innocence fails to ask the Grail question when he first views the mysterious Grail procession (“For whom does the Grail serve?”, or “Who is served with the Grail?”) which not only prevents the healing of the maimed Fisher King, but causes the King’s lands and people to suffer even greater miseries than they already have. In other versions of the story, Perceval must accomplish some other deed in order to heal the King and the land, such as slaying an evil knight who is responsible for the murder of a relative or for the original maiming of the King. Perrin killed Lanfear, who drilled into the Bore in the Age of Legends and let loose the Dark One, who in turn maimed all the male channellers by tainting saidin, and Blighted the Land. Other versions have Peredur accompanying Galahad to the holy city of Sarras where they view the Grail. Galad has sworn to accept Perrin as his military commander and accompanies him to the end of their quest against the Shadow.
In Cretien de Troyes’ Le Conte du Graal, a Loathly Lady (Dark Woman of Knowledge as messenger) comes to Arthur’s court and berates Perceval for his failure to ask the Grail question, saying that he is responsible for the worsening conditions and greater misfortunes in the land because of this. She also tells the court of a besieged damosel, and how a knight might achieve “the supreme glory of the world” by rescuing her. While Sir Gawain and other knights vow to take up the quest of rescuing the damosel, Perceval vows to take up the Grail quest and to never give it up until he has asked the right question, healed the king, and achieved the Grail, no matter what the cost to himself or others. Had Perrin not been able to free himself from Lanfear's loathly Compulsion weave and kill her, she would have brought about the Dark One’s victory and achieved “the supreme glory” that she craved and urged Perrin to aspire for. Perrin was reproached by Lanfear for not aspiring to glory (as she does) and again for not being skilled enough or ruthless enough.
Another literally loathly lady, Graendal/Hessalam, abused Perrin for ruining her cunning plan to worsen the condition of the Land. Instead of rescuing her, Perrin saved people by warning them that she was corrupting the Great Captains. Graendal was a dark woman of knowledge; she corrupted knowledge in people’s minds.
Earlier, Perrin chose what seemed the less noble quest of the deliverance of the damosel. Since Faile’s capture by the Shaido, Perrin has vowed to rescue her no matter what the cost and has determined that nothing, not even the Last Battle or Rand is more important than that (Crossroads of Twilight, The Forging of a Hammer). And yet his “blacksmith’s puzzle” seems analogous to Perceval’s silent puzzling over the mysterious Grail Procession, the meaning of which Percival fails to ask. Perrin thinks at one point that he is asking too many questions for which he can find no answers in his efforts to achieve the rescue of Faile and those captured with her. And his rescue of Faile resulted in the Horn of Valere being kept out of the Shadow’s hands, and in Perrin freeing himself of Lanfear’s evil influence.
In the Arthurian legends, after years on the Grail quest, Perceval begins to lose himself and thus begins to lose sight of God. Perrin too seemed to be in danger of losing himself and losing sight of what is truly important as his quest to free Faile continued to draw out, especially with all the obstacles that kept piling up in his path. Perrin put aside his championship of the Land, causing Rand and the Land to suffer even more deeply because Perrin abandoned his championship of them, but his rescue of Faile was crucial to him realising his leadership potential and saving himself, the Wheel of Time’s Fisher King and the Land from the Shadow.
In the tale of Gereint and Enid, Gereint an accomplished knight of the Round Table wins the hand of the beautiful Enid and eventually becomes so obsessed with her that nothing and no one else matters to him anymore. He, like Perrin, essentially loses himself in his wife and is severely criticized for it, with his worthiness as a champion of the land and its people called into serious question. What brings him out of this is a misunderstanding between himself and Enid which leads him to believe that she has been unfaithful to him. He treats her horribly for a time because of this, and she suffers through it in all faithfulness, until Gereint finally sees the error of ways after rescuing her from the brute earl Limwris, and learns to become both a good and loving husband and a faithful and worthy knight champion.
Perrin as we know does finally succeed in freeing Faile, a result of managing to forge a critical link with the Seanchan, but unlike Gereint whose belief in his wife’s infidelity caused him to take up his knightly duties again, Perrin’s rescue of Faile ends with a question in his mind of Faile’s fidelity, something which, like Gereint, he misunderstands, but unlike Gereint is willing to forgive, especially considering the circumstances (Knife of Dreams, Outside the Gates). All that matters, however, is that he has Faile, and like Gereint he can once more become a good and loving husband, as well as a faithful and worthy knight champion.
Siuan is the first Wheel of Time Lady of the Lake that we meet, the Amyrlin Seat, Avalon’s Merlin, who resides at Tar Valon. The Lady of The Lake is a very powerful and empowering figure of Sovereignty in the guise of Mother and Queen who not only acts as a guardian and bestower of the Hallows of the Land, but as both maker and breaker of the Land’s champions and rulers. The Wheel of Time’s Amyrlin is certainly all of these things; but she is not infallible, anymore than the Arthurian myth’s Lady of the Lake proves to be.
In the Arthurian legends, the first Lady of the Lake we are introduced to loses her head, quite literally, only shortly thereafter. Sir Balin le Savage lops it off in avengement of his mother’s death, which he believes the Lady is responsible for. He does this in the middle of Arthur’s court, right in front of Arthur, who is none too pleased (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book II, Chapter III). Siuan comes very close to losing her head quite literally also, but at the hands of The Wheel of Time’s Sir Gawain, Gawyn Trakand, rather than Sir Balin, and for the loss of his sister Elayne and his love Egwene, rather than his mother (The Shadow Rising, The Truth of a Viewing). Luckily for Siuan, Gawyn decides she is more valuable to him alive than dead for the knowledge she has of Elayne’s and Egwene’s whereabouts.
Siuan at this point has literally lost everything except her life, toppling from the position of most powerful woman in the Westlands one day, to not knowing whether she might be sleeping under a bush the next night. Her story is very evocative of Branwen in Branwen Daughter of Llyr in The Mabinogion, as is Morgase’s. Her intention was to gain back some measure of what she had lost using her own wits and whatever else might be available to her, including working through her young, hand-picked successor Egwene. The last thing she wanted was help from a potential champion/consort, which is exactly what she got in Gareth Bryne.
We discussed in Gareth’s section how Siuan is a conflated parallel to the sisters Linet and Lionesse, and also how Egwene is a partial parallel to Lionesse as well with her close association to Siuan, and especially regarding her capture and confinement in the White Tower in the besieged city of Tar Valon. It is not our Red Knight of the Red Launds, Elaida, however, who is doing the besieging here, but our Linet-Siuan and Gareth with his assembled army and the rebel Sisters with them who would see our Red Knight “thrown down over her horse’s croup” and our young Lady Lionesse freed.
It is Siuan as Linet with whom Gareth falls in love rather than Lionesse, and Siuan’s struggle with loving him in return that is the cause of her particular “testing” of him, rather than the youthful inexperience which is the source of Linet’s testing of the Arthurian Gareth. Siuan’s struggles with Gareth are directly associated with her precipitous fall from Mother and Queen to Spring Maiden and Flower Bride with all its related loss in power and effectiveness. But Spring Maidens and Flower Brides can be just as powerful and effective in their own way, and with Siuan’s ability to channel restored, even if more weakly, she indeed regained some measure of what she lost, just as she was determined to do. And that includes a new champion-protector to replace the loss of her longtime warder, as well as her first consort thrown into the bargain to truly complete the union, all in the person of Lord Gareth bloody Bryne ;)
As The Wheel of Time’s most significant Merlin figure, not only does Thom’s surname clearly evoke the well-known wizard, but his age and physical appearance does as well, at least in how Merlin is most famously depicted anyway. About the only difference that Jordan has chosen to make is that rather than a long flowing white beard with moustaches, our Wheel of Time Merlin contents himself with just the long flowing white moustaches, which he regularly blows out, particularly when he’s exasperated or in a huff. Of all the various Arthurian author’s depictions of Merlin, T. H. White’s depiction in The Once and Future King and The Book of Merlyn probably comes closest in character to our Wheel of Time’s deceptively dear old Master Merrilin.
While there is no indication that Thom possesses any otherworldly aptitude for enchantment or prophecy as Merlin does, he is still very much a Seer/Poet figure and does possess his own particular brand of self-made magic as a gifted storyteller, musician and illusionist. And he is of course a very gifted player of that great political game Daes Dae’mar. He also augments his natural skills with accoutrements, such as those “special” knives of his. While he may choose to masquerade as a simple old gleeman, much as Merlin sometimes masqueraded as a simple old commoner or beggar, he is in fact a master Bard of great intelligence , knowledge and wit, deceptively harmless, and therefore twice as dangerous to those who do not know him. Thom is of course The Wheel of Time’s equivalent to a Taliesin, someone who is more than just a wise old master storyteller, just as Merlin was certainly more than just a wise old master teacher.
Thom has also been an invaluable teacher and guide to Rand and his companions, particularly in the beginning when they were so vulnerable, much as Merlin was for a young Arthur and his companions. Thom and Merlin also have one other significant thing in common. They both fall in love with much younger women who possess special powers, and with whom, if given a choice, they would have had nothing to do with.
As we discussed in Nynaeve’s section, Merlin falls hopelessly in love with the young damosel of the lake Nimue and teaches her all of his arts of magic and enchantment in exchange for her love, which she is never willing to fully give. Finally fed up with his constant and unrelenting attentions, she imprisons him with the very magic that he has taught her and leaves him there, ensuring that he will never be able to escape on his own. Malory describes Merlin’s prison as a wondrous cave: “in a rock whereas was a great wonder, and wrought by enchantment, that went under a great stone” (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book IV, Chapter I). In other Arthurian texts, Merlin’s prison is variously referred to as a tomb, a cave, a crystal cave, a glass cave, or a tower of crystal and glass. Significantly, the Celtic Otherworld is sometimes represented as a glass or crystal spiral tower where Seer/Poets spend a requisite period of time learning the mysteries of the universe. To a Wheel of Time reader, this immediately brings to mind the Tower of Ghenjei - an entrance to the Otherworld of Finnland, The Wheel of Time’s Land of Fairie – as well as the spiraling path on the game board of Snakes and Foxes, a game which is a remembrance of dealings with the denizens of Fairie, the Eelfinn and Aelfinn. While the Tower of Ghenjei is not made of crystal or glass, the people of the present Third Age of The Wheel of Time can only describe the material, which is totally unknown to them, as something otherworldly and indefinably timeless. As a comparison, the bridge at Whitebridge, which does appear to be made of crystal and glass, also retains an otherworldly aura about it, although still vaguely definable as dating from the Age of Legends.
While Thom did undergo a classic episode of dangerous encounter, disappearance, presumed death and miraculous reappearance (The Eye of The World, Whitebridge; The Great Hunt, Cairhien), it is our other most significant Merlin figure, Moiraine, who retains the closest parallel to the Arthurian Merlin in this. In fact, Moiraine, just like Merlin, is very much aware beforehand of what her fate will be. And it is Moiraine, not Nynaeve, with whom Thom is falling hopelessly in love:
Pushing open the door to his room, he stopped in his tracks. Moiraine straightened as if she had a perfect right to be going through the papers scattered on his table and calmly arranged her skirts as she sat on the stool. Now there was a beautiful woman, with every grace a man could want, including laughing at his quips. Fool! Old fool! She’s Aes Sedai, and you’re too tired to think straight.
- The Shadow Rising, Deceptions
Before Merlin even met Nimue, he had prophesied that he would fall in love with her and that she would be the instrument of his demise. In The Wheel of Time, it is strongly implied that Moiraine was also told through Min’s viewings that she and Thom would become romantically involved, even though Moiraine, like Nimue, does not seem to be particularly receptive to the idea. Thom in fact also seems to be trying very hard to deny his feelings for Moiraine, for the most part because she is Aes Sedai, and it was Aes Sedai who were responsible for the deaths of Thom’s only living kin, his beloved nephew Owyn and his wife.
Interestingly enough, Owyn has a parallel in the Arthurian legends. Owain, or Uwain as Malory spells it, is the son of Morgan Le Fay and Uriens of Gore. Going back even farther, in The Mabinogion, Owain is a central figure in The Dream of Rhonabwy, one of the Four Independent Native Tales, and in The Lady of the Fountain, one of The Three Romances. Owain is the son of Urien and Modron. Modron is the great Celtic Mother Goddess from whom the character of Morgan was derived. And Morgan is, of course, one of Jordan’s main inspirations for the character of Moiraine. Is Thom then perhaps a parallel for Urien as well as Merlin, with Owyn as his nephew rather than his son?
There is another wondrous Otherworldly cave that features large in the Wheel of Time story; Shayol Ghul, the Pit of Doom, of which Thom guarded the entrance while his wife Merlin/Morgan Moiraine accompanied King Arthur Rand and Nimue Nynaeve to battle evil. Upon the completion of their trial, wherein the Dark One was Sealed away, the cave sealed itself, but the trio made it out alive.
In Knife of Dreams Mat finally asked Thom about all his brooding and obsessing over the letter that Moiraine left him and, once told of its contents, reluctantly agreed to accompany Thom and Noal to go on a quest to rescue her. In the *elfinns’ world where Moiraine was held, Thom did not use magic, just his musicianship, his knives and the courage to bear being burned while pulling her from their ‘magical’ trap. It is a typical Jordanesque twist to have our Merlin rescue his true love Morgan from a spiraling tower prison in the Land of Fairie, rather than being entrapped there himself by Nimue. Of course some would consider love to be its own particular form of entrapment ;)
The Once and Future…
Robert Jordan has said that the Arthurian parallels within The Wheel of Time were never meant to carry any more weight than any of the other legendary or mythological world parallels that he has woven within it. They only seem to carry more weight for us because they are so much more identifiable through our familiarity with the Arthurian legend. But that familiarity in and of itself is what makes the Arthurian myths particularly significant to so many Wheel of Time readers, despite the author’s contention that this is a misperception on our part. So perhaps in this, we as readers have become an unintentional real world illustration of one of Jordan’s central themes: The mutability of truth and knowledge through time, distance - and in particular - our own perceptions.
And so with that said, let’s end this essay with one final passage from Malory:
Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead, but had by the will of our Lord Jesu into another place; and men say that he shall come again, and he shall win the holy cross. I will not say it shall be so, but rather I will say: here in this world he changed his life. But many men say that there is written upon his tomb this verse: Hic facet Arthurus, Rex quondam, Rexque futurus.“The Prophecies will be fulfilled,” the Aes Sedai whispered. “The Dragon is Reborn” (The Eye of The World, The Wheel Turns…).
- Le Morte D’Arthur, Book XXI, Chapter VII
Written by MJJ Sedai and Linda, July 2005 and updated September 2013