Thursday, March 21, 2002

The Fool and the Joker in the Wheel of Time

By Linda

Mat Cauthon and Padan Fain are two rogue characters who alter chance in the Pattern—change the luck of the game, as it were. Two playing cards which perform a similar function in various card games are the Fool and the Joker. Both are the most striking cards in their respective decks; the Fool from the six-hundred-year-old Tarot deck and the much younger Joker from the standard playing card deck. Jordan was a card player, a history buff and a Freemason (see Freemasonry essay); he would hardly have failed to have looked into the history and symbolism of playing cards, be they the international deck or the Tarot deck. Symbolism is important to Freemasons and certainly permeates The Wheel of Time (for instance, see Animal Symbolism and Number Symbolism essays).

The Fool and Joker cards are low rank yet influential:

Neither the Fool nor the Joker has a rank or a value of its own: Jokers do not belong to any suit, while the Fool, although part of a group of trumps, is the only one of them which has no number, at least in most patterns and editions.

- The Fool and the Joker, Andy Pollett

As a ta‘veren, Mat was born to twist chance and change the course of events back to that ordained in the Pattern. Fain/Mordeth, however, is something else again, something completely unplanned. For such lowborn characters in a highly stratified society, they have wielded tremendous influence over events. This essay explores the symbolism of the Fool and the Joker in the makeup of these two wild-card characters.

Firstly, I will discuss the more venerable of the two characters: the Fool.


The Fool is the (usually) unnumbered card in the trumps of the Tarot deck, which has been used for playing the Tarot family of card games for about six hundred years. He is variously depicted as a ragged vagabond, a jester or an idiot in motley (see the three Fool cards below: Lo Scarabeo ancient Italian tarot, Editions Dusserre Marseille tarot and US Games Waite-Smith tarot). Toting a bundle on his shoulder and/or a stick, he strolls toward a precipice, often with a dog biting at his pants, but he is oblivious to both.

The Fool card is titled Il Matto in Italian decks, the lunatic or madman; a reference to the Fool’s reckless disregard for the consequences of his actions. In modern Italian ‘matto’ means mad, eccentric, wild, and is also the word used for checkmate in chess. So the name is associated with winning battle games as well as with idiocy. In French, the Fool card is often titled Le Mat—it is no coincidence that this is Mat’s name too, as we shall see—and meant depressed or beaten in renaissance French. This ties in with the name of the card in Sicilian decks—the Fugitive—and refers to the Fool as a reject or outsider from society wandering in search of a place to feel at home. One is reminded of Mat, feeling beaten down on the journey with Elayne and Nynaeve to Ebou Dar, exclaiming to Setalle Anan that he feels like he has come home when he entered her inn The Wandering Woman. Later, Le Mat came to be associated with deprivation of light, just as Padan Fain is a very dark character, and Mat is described frequently as blind, half blind, light deprived or blinded by the sun in The Eye of the World while he is a fugitive on the road to Caemlyn. In Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World, upon voluntarily giving up “half the light of the world,” as he was fated to do, he moans:

Burn me for a fool. A bloody, goat-headed fool. He could barely think through the agony.

French tarot game players refer to the card as l‘Excuse, because its traditional role in the game is to excuse, for one time only, whoever plays it from the obligation to follow suit or to play a trump, thus saving an important card from being captured or wasted (Michael Dummett and John McLeod, A History of Games Played With the Tarot Pack).

The Fool or Matto does not count as a trump and it cannot win a trick to which it is played. (A trick occurs when each player in turn plays a card face up and the one who plays the highest ranked card captures all the others (David Parlett, Penguin Book of Card Games), and a game consists of a sequence of these.) Having been saved by the Fool from losing a useful card, the player of the Fool takes it back and adds it to the cards s/he has won in tricks, usually giving another card in exchange. The Fool is a great card to be dealt: it has high points value and better still, while it can’t win a trick, it can’t be lost either, unless its player wins no tricks in the game (Ronald Decker, Thierry Depaulis and Michael Dummett, A Wicked Pack of Cards)—in which case the player would have lost the game anyway!

In Central European tarot games, the Fool was transformed in the 18th century into the highest trump, although it was, and is, still unnumbered, and its name evolved to a Germanicised form of the word ‘excuse’, variously spelt Skus, Skys, etc (see Skus card right, Piatnik tarock). Despite this total change in its role in the game, the Skus retains its status as a card with a high point value (Michael Dummett and John McLeod, A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack). In some games, there is a prohibition against playing the Fool, Excuse or Skus in the last trick or the last three tricks of a game.

In renaissance times, a raggedly dressed man bearing a club was used fairly frequently as a symbol of madness or folly (Stuart Kaplan, Encyclopaedia of Tarot). By the 17th century the pathetic, tattered figure had become dressed in motley. A fool is one who has lost his memory (Anon, The Wandering Fool), and Mat lost most of his when corrupted by the evil of Shadar Logoth. After being given dead men’s memories by the Eelfinn, Mat tellingly said, “I am lost in my own mind” (The Shadow Rising, Imre Stand).

The Fool has no number, and functions outside the regular sequence of trumps and suits to indicate the freedom to roam (Emily E. Auger, Tarot and Other Meditation Decks: History, Theory, Aesthetics, Typology). He has a licence to say and do whatever he pleases. In medieval and renaissance times fools had the right to speak to the monarch in ways no one else was allowed to:

In older times, when freedom of speech was yet to come, lunatics had always been entitled to express themselves freely, to say things which others could not, simply because their crazy words would not be given credit, although sometimes they were true: their insanity acted almost as a sort of intellectual shield or privilege.

- The Fool and the Joker, Andy Pollett

The Fool gives in to his impulses: he is the image of the state to which unresisted passion will reduce a man (GĂ©rard Encausse, Tarot of the Bohemians), be that innocent or evil. Mordeth/Fain gave in to evil impulses due to greed, hatred and fear, and Mat’s impulses are those of curiosity, greed and fun. Despite what he went through, Mat foolishly still lusts after the ruby on the Shadar Logoth dagger at times (The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding).

Fain the Fool

Fain became a mad vagabond and gained his Fool’s powers of manipulating, disrupting and escaping the powerful once he went to Shadar Logoth and blended with Mordeth, who was a counsellor, quite accustomed to and skilled in gaining the ears of the mighty. Fain spoke as he wished to Lords Agelmar and Turak, even though commoners are not allowed to do so in this Age. Ingtar spoke of Fain’s madness as though this made him touched by the Light, special in some way:

"He is a madman, Lord." Awe touched Ingtar's voice. "The Light shields madmen. Perhaps the Light cloaked the tower watch's eyes and allowed him to reach the walls. Surely one poor madman can do no harm."

- The Eye of the World, Fal Dara

Here is the attitude of disregard as well as license that was given to fools in earlier times. Fain is quite insane and this plus his dark powers gained from the blending of the Dark One and Mordeth have made him something outside the Pattern:

I'm not certain he'd be able to function at all if he were any madder than he already is. But being insane doesn't make him any less dangerous, only less predictable. He no longer responds to situations or events in any sort of sane, logical manner.

- TOR Question of the Week

According to Jordan, Fain is:

A very unique fellow, indeed. In some ways, you might say he has unwittingly side-stepped the Pattern.

- Wotmania/Dragonmount Q&A - 9 December 2002

At a booksigning in 1998, Jordan said that Fain is essentially his wild card, a character that is outside the structure of the work and can therefore act totally unpredictably.

Likewise, the Fool has an unpredictable effect on the Tarot game. Only the holder of the Fool card knows who has the Fool and decides when they will play it. It is unexpected to the other players, and disrupts their strategy for the course of the game. While Fain seeks for persons of power to manipulate (equivalent to trumps) he usually ends up moving on to save himself (the Fool is weak compared to trumps). For all his attempts, Fain did not win a game, just as the Fool can’t win a trick, but he didn’t lose a trick completely either, surviving quite successfully despite having to rely largely his own resources, until he came up against the Light’s Fool at the end of the Last Battle.

Fain disrupts the game but cannot have major victories; however, his capture is worth a great deal to any player. His awareness of this is shown by his belief that he is dead the moment one of the Forsaken gets their hands on him (Lord of Chaos, Letters). Moridin says in Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News, that he has set Isam to find and kill Fain, but Isam was unsuccessful. Was Moridin lying? Or was it difficult to detect Fain? Did he want Fain dead? The Fool is almost impossible to capture. Players want the Fool though, because he is worth big points, as much as the most powerful trump and suit cards, when points are tallied at the end of the game. Interestingly, only if the player holding the Fool has won all the tricks can s/he win with the Fool on the last trick. Fain the Fool tried to win the last trick at Shayol Ghul by killing Rand and the Dark One and taking the Dark One’s place as Shaisam. That was a very risky strategy, since, unless you’ve won every trick of the game, playing the Fool in the last trick is proscribed and usually results in defeat.

Fool Mat

The Fool’s greatest trick is creating one (and consequently everything else) out of nothing. If we want to personify the irrational concept of something coming out of nothing, what better mascot could we choose than that of an idiot who makes no sense—a fool?

- Lon Milo Duquette, Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot

We see roguish Mat take apparently simple, sometimes frivolous, steps which lead to something huge. He complains bitterly of this very occurrence in Cairhien:

It had all started so simply. Just give warning and go. Each step after had seemed so small, so necessary. And now he had waded waist deep into the mud, and no choice but to keep on.

- The Fires of Heaven, This Place This Day

Yet Mat ends up with his own army and devises the mode of use for gunpowder weapons, all without quite knowing how it came to be—an innocent abroad, a Fool.

Mat is first introduced to us as a jokester whose tricks somehow go wrong—the poor Fool who is unable to win a trick. At this time, he is ridiculed by Perrin for believing what a merchant’s guard said about the Prophecies of the Dragon:

“Well, he was a fool to believe that,” Perrin said firmly. “And you were a fool to listen. I suppose he claimed we’d all live in a new Age of Legends afterwards, too. The Dragon’s going to save us? Sounds like Coplin talk to me.”

- The Eye of the World, The Peddler

“Coplin talk” is a local metaphor for idiocy. Yet Mat the Fool (and he is promptly labelled as such early in the first book) is right, and Perrin the wise isn’t. This is the first association between Mat and the Fool card of the Tarot in its role of the wise fool, but a yokel dismissed as a vagabond, outlaw or trickster. And Mat the Fool gains knowledge from a fighting man, just as he will do in the future until he excels at battle so much he starts out-trumping everyone, and winning any tricks, as the Skus does. Interestingly, this exchange occurs in the chapter in which Padan Fain is introduced, linking the Light and Dark versions of the Fool.

Mat’s luck changes after Shadar Logoth and his contact with Mordeth and the dagger, but between Shadar Logoth and his cleansing and rebirth in the White Tower, Mat is too mentally ill with paranoia and partial amnesia (and fools often were mentally ill) to be conscious he is a Fool. Although he has enough insight to say:

“I may be a fool, but I intend to be a live fool.”

- The Great Hunt, Glimmers of the Pattern

It is his status as a fool that keeps him relatively safe until he gains other abilities—through his foolish actions. Interestingly, Fain the Fool didn’t kill Mat in Fal Dara, and nor did that reverer of Fools, Fain’s releaser, Ingtar.

The Fool symbolism becomes stronger when Mat escapes from the Tower, because he is conscious of his status for the first time. Mat leaves the Tower with the quarterstaff as a walking stick and a bundle and scrip hanging from his shoulder (The Dragon Reborn, The First Toss). He only needs a dog pawing his legs to look just like the Fool of the Tarot cards shown above. Hardly surprising then, that the Fool card in French is named ‘Le Mat’. This is further supported when Mat thinks in this scene:

“If you can’t hide what you are going to do, do it so everybody thinks you are a fool.”

- The Dragon Reborn, The First Toss

The Fool is an innocent abroad. He begins the journey to discover himself and his place in the world, just like Fool Mat, who only begins to enter adulthood in The Dragon Reborn. In some decks, the Fool is shown stepping blithely over a precipice, and in this chapter Mat even hurls himself off a bridge with a Grey Man.

Mat refers to the Tower guards he is eluding as hounds; they represent the dog trying to pull the Fool back. He is also hunted by Darkfriends, hounds of the Shadow as they were referred to by Ishamael in The Eye of the World, The Dark Waits. Mat has had dogs chasing him away before: on the long walk to Caemlyn Mat and Rand were chased by farm dogs for two miles after Mat stole a couple of eggs (The Eye of the World, Play for your Supper)—run out of town like fools and vagabonds were in earlier times.

Of all the characters, Mat is the only one who always considers his luck, and whether events and chance are in his favour. In Tar Valon Mat’s extreme luck took the form of escaping considerable danger while simultaneously acquiring resources (for his other role as God of wealth, see Mat essay). Mat is horrified when someone says Mat has the Dark One’s own luck:

Burn me, not the Dark One’s luck. Not that! Oh, Light, did that bloody dagger really do something to me?...He knew he was lucky. He could remember always being lucky. But somehow, his memories from Emond’s Field did not show him as lucky as he had been since leaving. Certainly he had gotten away with a great deal, but he could remember also being caught in pranks he had been sure would succeed… But it was not just since leaving the Two Rivers that he had become lucky. The luck had come once he took the dagger from Shadar Logoth. He remembered playing at dice back home, with a sharp-eyed, skinny man who worked for a merchant come down from Baerlon to buy tabac. He remembered the strapping his father had given him, too, on learning Mat owed the man a silver mark and four pence.

- The Dragon Reborn, The First Toss

Mat’s luck changes after he had contact with Mordeth and Mordeth’s evil in the form of the Shadar Logoth dagger. Fain’s luck too changes after he merges with Mordeth. With his negative attitude to the One Power, Mat persuades himself that his luck is all the Aes Sedai’s fault.

In Andor, Mat tells Thom he will only help people who can give him something in return:

“I’ll help anyone who can pay,” Mat said firmly. “Only fools in stories do something for nothing.”

- The Dragon Reborn, A Hero in the Night

It’s true that Mat does his best to avoid doing something for nothing. This includes his share of the unpaid work. However, Fools aren’t consistent either, so Mat immediately takes pity on a lone lost woman and her three crying children and berates himself afterward:

Fool gleeman will probably expect me to give gold away to every waif that comes along, now. Fool! For an uncomfortable moment, he was not certain whether the last had been meant for Thom or himself.

- The Dragon Reborn, A Hero in the Night

Thom himself, the fool gleeman as he is often called, who wanders telling tall tales and performing sleight of hand, has aspects of the Fool as fugitive and figure of wisdom; but he also has aspects of the next Tarot trump card, the Magician. That's why he taught both Rand (Magician) and Mat (Fool). The Magician card was originally Le Bagatelle, an itinerant performer or worker at the fairs, one step above the fool, not the magus the occultists later made him. It's why Thom fitted so easily into Luca’s menagerie.

When Mat receives fireworks from Aludra (who also later joins the menagerie) as a reward for rescuing her, he is foolishly reckless with them, as he was as a child:

When he was ten, he had tried to cut one open to see what was inside, and had caused an uproar.

- The Dragon Reborn, A Hero in the Night

Even his close friends, Perrin and Rand, told Mat he was a fool. Repeatedly. Fool Mat is innocent but destructive.

While Mat started out as an innocent fool, he has developed into something more, a winner of battles, trumping everyone like the Skus, and also the Joker, do.


The Joker is an extra card in the standard playing card pack depicting a court jester (see two Joker cards right and below: 500 playing card pack, King Cards poker pack). It was first used in the Unites States, during the second half of the 19th century, for playing the game of Euchre, a game brought to America by German or Dutch settlers. (Interestingly, Mat is from the Two Rivers, an area with an early American flavour.) The name "Euchre" and its distinctive card Joker were both derived from the old German Juker, meaning "Jack, Knave” (David Parlett, A History of Card Games).

In Euchre the highest ranked cards are two Jacks (the Jack of the trump suit, and the Jack of the other suit of the same colour), known respectively as Right Bower and Left Bower, a corruption of the German Bauer, meaning ‘farmer’, ‘foot soldier’ or ‘Jack/Knave’. Some versions of Euchre use a third Bower, called the Best Bower: this is the Joker.

Euchre is a subversive game because the cards rank: Jack of trumps, Jack of other same-coloured suit, Ace, King, Queen, 10, 9, 8, 7. This is against the ‘proper’ ranking of the medieval/renaissance social order of King, Queen, Jack, 10…Ace, and was considered anarchical in medieval times, when such bolshie games were banned in some areas. They were abhorred as representing ‘the world turned upside down’; with a risk of chaos ruling (!). After being sexually harassed by Tylin, Mat exclaims “The world was standing on its head!” (A Crown of Swords, The Festival of Birds). Mat, with his dislike of the nobility, is also against inherited rank in society. He is proud to be a commoner and would prefer to stay one, but he now has a new role in the game.

Mat the Jack/Knave

The Jack card was both peasant farmer and foot-soldier. The promotion of the Jack above the King and Queen in Euchre reflects the change in warfare which occurred at the end of the medieval age when the longbow and then gunpowder weapons wielded by commoners reduced the effectiveness and status of the nobly born Knights in battle (see two red Jacks right, the two top trumps of a red suit in the game of Euchre). It’s no coincidence that Mat comes from an area renowned for the longbow, and was the main one of the Emond’s Fielders using it early in the series, and then introduced gunpowder weapons into warfare. Moreover he promoted Daerid, a commoner leader of foot soldiers, to the same rank as the noble leaders of the cavalry in his army (Knife of Dreams, As If The World Were Fog). The Jack is directly connected with soldiering: in medieval times, the multi-layered cloth armour that served to protect the wearer from arrows and sword cuts was called a jack. This type of armour was common among the archers and foot soldiers of the time.

After he takes on the responsibility of rescuing the girls in The Dragon Reborn, Mat gains skills in fighting—he becomes a Jack—but not until he goes to Rhuidean and gains ancestral memories does he become a full Joker. Mat accidentally asked the trickster Eelfinn for knowledge to fill his ‘blank slate’ fool’s mind, and a way to be free of the One Power and of the tricksters themselves—to elude capture, like the Fool. Of all the souls at their disposal, they chose to fill Mat’s mind with the memories of military men, leading to his extreme prowess in battle. They made him into the Joker.

The Joker wins any trick in Euchre and its derivative game Five Hundred. As can be seen from the name derivation, the Joker is a promoted Jack/Knave, and the Jack has always been regarded as a knave—the thieving Knave of Hearts of the nursery rhyme, for instance!

Of all the Jacks, the Jack of Diamonds is most comparable to the Joker, since it is a wild figure in many traditional card games, such as Boston. Moreover, the Jack of Diamonds and the Queen of Spades (or Swords in the Latin or Tarot decks) is a high-scoring, potentially winning combination in the Bezique/Pinochle family of card games (David Parlett, A History of Card Games). It is an unconventional, almost 'illicit', union; a more 'proper' marriage for the Queen of Spades would be with the King of Spades. As well as being ‘Black Maria’ in the Hearts family of card games, the card unlucky or very expensive to capture, the Queen of Spades has a rather sinister reputation in cartomancy. Empress Tuon, with her severity, her combat skills (using any weapon), her leashed damane and alien beasts, and her sinister former Truthspeaker Semirhage, makes an appropriate Queen of Spades/Swords. It is not only unlucky to capture her, it is death to even lay a hand on her, as Egeanin says:

"You madman! It's death by slow torture to lay hands on the Daughter of the Nine Moons!"

- Winter's Heart, What the Aelfinn Said

And what does that crazy Mat say to this? He claims the Queen of Spades as his wife! Mat the Fool and god of wealth is surely an extreme Jack of Diamonds, although Mat is more likely to eye rubies than diamonds—but then, the diamond suit is red in colour. The marriage of the Jack of Diamonds and the Queen of Spades being such a high points-scoring union or potentially winning combination, it is not surprising that the Pattern has gone to a great deal of trouble to arrange it (here they are paired, above right).

The Fool too is linked to a feminine card:

Justice is the feminine complement of the Fool.

- Lon Milo Duquette, Understanding Aleister Crowley's Thoth Tarot

The Justice card of the Tarot holds a sword as well as scales (see Justice card right: US Games Waite-Smith tarot), the Tarot trump version of the Queen of Spades/Swords! Mat has frequently likened Tuon to a judge and described her as a hanging magistrate in Knife of Dreams, Under an Oak. His description is apt: she continually thinks of the Law and pronounced sentence on the dead Renna:

“She earned death by betraying the Empire, and she would have betrayed you as easily. She was trying to betray you. What you did was justice, and I name it so.”
Her tone said that if she named a thing, then it was well and truly named.

- Crossroads of Twilight, Something Flickers

Mat the Joker

The foot-soldier Jack is promoted above the King in Euchre due to his skills in battle—the Jack is ennobled, if you like. The Joker goes one step higher again, he wins any battle and, as jester, is a regular part of the court, able to speak to the King as he pleases:

In most renaissance households the jester, often a hunchback or a dwarf, though being the least member of the court as for social rank, was also the only subject officially entitled to play with the king (or prince, or duke), to tease him, to tell him things which others could have barely been able to without enduring serious consequences. The same glamorous clothes worn by the jester made him clearly identifiable among all other members of the court: a personage who, at the same time, was ridiculous though outstanding, deformed though witty.

- The Fool and the Joker, Andy Pollett

In Ebou Dar Queen Tylin forcibly adopted Mat as her pretty—dressed him in fairly extreme style with pink ribbons, lace, embroidery and all. She made him a joke in the eyes of the Seanchan, who thought of him as a queen’s plaything (one traditional role of the jester) and called him Tylin’s Toy (Winter’s Heart, News In A Cloth Sack).

Not surprisingly it took Tuon quite a while to take Mat seriously:

Toy commanding an army seemed very odd. He was charming at times, even witty and amusing, but often a buffoon and always a rapscallion. He had seemed very much in his element as Tylin's pet. Yet he had seemed in his element among the show's performers, too, and with the marath'damane and the two escaped damane, and in the hell…

- Knife of Dreams, As If the World Were Fog

Nor is it surprising that Mat fitted in with the menagerie since it is full of misfits: tricksters and tale-spinners like Luca, Thom and Jain/Noal Charin (all of whom have been described as foolish); fugitives like Domon and Thera; those who are the opposite of what they’ve been named like Juilin the thieving thief-taker, Egeanin/Leilwyn Shipless, 'Empress without an Empire' Tuon the thieving servant, Seleucia the deadly assassin lady's maid, General Thom the gleeman; to say nothing of the foolish Aes Sedai, the former Aes Sedai and Wandering Woman Martine Janata, and Aludra the weapon maker/little match girl. This caravanserai is not a ship of the sands but one of fools and fugitives and it has both the comical and the dangerously deranged aspects of Carnival.

Those members of the menagerie who are close to Mat are invariably described as fools: Aludra, Mat’s armaments maker, was described as a very large fool by Tammuz in The Dragon Reborn, A Hero in the Night, and she in turn despairingly called all the Illuminators “great blind fools” for fighting the Seanchan who tried to search their Tanchico chapterhouse; Noal Charin makes himself seem a clumsy buffoon when he relates his and Mat’s adventures with the gholam (Winter’s Heart,Pink Ribbons) and describes his alter ego Jain Farstrider as a fool in Knife of Dreams, A Stave and a Razor; Mat considers Juilin to be making a fool of himself over Thera ( Winter’s Heart, An Offer); and Thom’s schemes against the Seanchan with Beslan were described by Mat himself as foolishness ( Winter’s Heart, Pink Ribbons). Most important of all, the first thing we hear Anath say to Tuon is that Tuon is a fool:

"I suppose this idiocy is over having the damane caned. You are a fool to think your eyes are downcast by a little thing like that.”… Anath laughed rudely and began telling her again what a fool she was, in greater detail this time. Much greater detail.

- Winter’s Heart, What A Veil Hides

She repeatedly tells Tuon she is a fool; had she but known it, linking Tuon with Mat. Birds of a feather…The menagerie is aptly named.

However, when Mat is reunited with his army, Tuon suddenly sees him in a new light:

Tuon looked at him, squatting there by the map moving his fingers over its surface, and suddenly she saw him in a new light. A buffoon? No. A lion stuffed into a horse-stall might look like a peculiar joke, but a lion on the high plains was something very different. Toy was loose on the high plains, now. She felt a chill.

- Knife of Dreams, As If the World Were Fog

Mat is a winner of battles like the Joker in Euchre, yet he is able to make the most of wherever he is, like the Joker in another card game, Poker.

Adopted in Poker in the 1870s, the Joker is a wild card, counted as any natural card the holder wishes for the purpose of improving the value of his hand (David Parlett, A History of Card Games). The Joker can turn three of a kind into four, or become the missing card of a straight (see poker hand right). He alters chance in the holder's favour. Just like Mat.

As he has matured, Mat has moved from the role of innocent Fool to soldier Jack (of Diamonds) to a true Joker, the best bower of Euchre, and with the wild-card, chance-altering powers the Joker has in Poker. He is not innocent now, and now Tuon, Justice/Queen of Spades, has married him. The Jack was ennobled into the Joker, just like Mat is now Prince of the Ravens and has his place in the Seanchan court. In his new position Mat insists on taking the licence that fools were traditionally granted by European monarchs, much to the discomfort of the Seanchan and Fortuona in particular, they being quite non-European in influence. The Empress already has someone filling this role in a more serious way—her Truthspeaker/Doomseer Min—and does not want Mat to be another. Moreover, he is no longer a Toy in her eyes:

She reached up and touched his face, surprisingly tender.
"I would not have said the words I did if I had found in you only a toy. A man missing an eye is no toy anyway. You have known battle; everyone who sees you now will know that. They will not mistake you for a fool, and I have no use for a toy. I shall have a prince instead."

- A Memory of Light, Your Neck In A Chord

Even if that former Toy foolishly insists on playing the Fool at times, as he said in the aptly warning chapter title A Memory of Light, Your Neck In A Chord, right after demanding his Empress wife not regard him as a plaything. Along with his battle-winning skills, his impertinent unpredictability gives Mat the edge over his wife, and earns her respect. This is how he keeps a check on her: he engenders enough disorder to undo her plans when they are wrong for the Pattern.

Comparing the Two

Of course, Mat should be associated with figures from playing card decks—he is the most enthusiastic gambler and card player of the main characters (see the Chop article). Both he and his evil twin Padan Fain are introduced at almost the same time and undergo similar trials: Fain was transformed by Ba'alzamon in the underworld of the Pit of Doom then possessed by Mordeth, and Mat was corrupted by Mordeth and then “possessed” in the underworld of the *Finns. Mat says he is a fool, but he agreed to go and rescue Moiraine (Knife of Dreams, A Village in Shiota). His acceptance of another quest, his third trip to the underworld of the *Finns, was a dark initiation indeed. Something said or done three times in the Wheel of Time series world gains a greatly enhanced potency and has the power of a magic spell (see Number Symbolism essay). The rescue cost Mat his eye and the life of Jain Farstrider.

Where Mat represents the Fool on the quest for self-development—successful, since he has developed into the battle-winning Skus and Joker—Fain has the more asocial, even sociopathic aspects of the Fool and is undoubtedly the dark trickster of the series (see Tricksters essay). Fain has been invaded by Mordeth, an anachronism, a dark soul left over from the past. Mat also has ancestral memories, yet he holds onto his own personality; he hasn’t embraced past personalities as Fain has. The Joker is more modern than the Fool—and saner. Despite Fain/Mordeth’s remarkable and alarming powers—equivalent to those of a Skus, the highest yet unnumbered trump—and his decision to side-step the carnage and chaos of the nations and sneak ahead to Shayol Ghul, the site of the end-game, he did not win his aim to transform into the dark Joker deity Shaisam. Mat Cauthon won the final trick for the Light.

In Fain, the evil of Shadar Logoth, which developed a monstrous way of defeating Shadow, and the evil of the Dark One combined into something insanely lethal. He could subvert monsters to his bidding and kill Myrddraal with a touch (Towers of Midnight, Prologue). For Mat, his memories have helped him see the potential of using a new technology in war—gunpowder—with likely horrific consequences now that anyone (not just the one or two percent of the population who can channel) with a little training and equipment will be able to kill en masse.

The Fool and Joker cards developed independently, but on the whole have grown somewhat more alike in their function in their respective games, with the important difference that the Fool does not win any hand in the card game directly; it only wins the game by contributing points and preserving an important card (such as Rand) that can take a trick. Mat understood strategy in card-playing very well:

“Here’s the thing about cards,” Mat said, holding up a finger. “Cards aren’t like dice. In dice, you want to win as many throws as possible. Lots of throws, lots of wins. It’s random, see? But not cards. In cards, you need to make the other fellows start betting. Betting well. You do that by letting them win a little. Or a lot. That’s not so hard here, since we’re outnumbered and overwhelmed. The only way to win is to bet everything on the right hand. In cards, you can lose ninety-nine times but come out ahead if you win that right hand. So long as the enemy starts gambling recklessly. So long as you can ride the losses.”

- A Memory of Light, The Last Battle

and consciously used it in the Last Battle. Fool Mat had to ride the losses until Demandred was killed, allowing his troops to wipe out the Shadowspawn armies, and Rand sealed the Dark One away. Which happened; and justified Fortuona's own judgment that she would bet upon Mat (A Memory of Light, To Ignore the Omens).

Besides some exterior similarities (both the Fool and the Joker wear patched clothes, feature funny faces and show informal attitudes), a more important element relates these two subjects. What both subjects share is a sharp contrast between their mortal and intellectual condition: the same imperfect human nature due to which primitive societies alienated the Fool and the Joker, paradoxically raised them to a level of metaphysical authority unreached by others, whose metaphor in games is the winning power credited to the two cards in their respective decks.

- The Fool and the Joker, Andy Pollett

Or at least, the ability to stay alive and ahead of the game.

The Joker and Fool cards alone appear to belong nowhere and to be worth nothing, but paradoxically if played right they can win you the game. And that's a great deal.


Written by Linda, April 2009 and updated December 2013

Contributor: Dominic


Yvves said...

Brilliant essay. I love reading your posts.

Linda said...

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoy them.

t ball said...

These essays and deep connections you point out are what keep me coming back here again and again.

Linda said...

Thanks tball.

This one is one of my best, I think.

Patrick K said...

I realize that no one has commented on this for awhile but I just read the article/essay and find it to be incredibly revealing and deep. You truly have an amazing insight. I intend to read much more of your work.

Linda said...

Thank you very much, Patrick. I'm glad you enjoyed this essay. It's one of my favourites.