Friday, April 10, 2009

The Male Forsaken and their Strength in the Power : A debate

The relative strength in the One Power of the male Forsaken remains a subject of debate even at this late stage of the series. The author has admitted that he knows where they stand relative to one another in strength, but he’s also disappointingly stated that he prefers to keep that aspect of the series vague. There are several reasons for the difficulty in extrapolating the strengths of the male Forsaken…

1. As mentioned above, the author prefers to keep this aspect of the series vague.

2. The author has told us directly that the Forsaken lie frequently to one another and themselves. It is therefore very difficult to decipher their relative strengths and weaknesses when self-delusion and fallacy are a major part of their characters. When Rahvin states that he could overwhelm Graendal or Lanfear, or when Mesaana claims that she matches up well with Semirhage – how much credibility could one place on these statements? According to the author, they would not admit their fallibility in any area.

3. Character interaction is much more than strength in the One Power. Weaker personalities bend to the will of stronger ones, and they extend even beyond the realm of channeling. There are also unique skills that are inherent to each channeler, which may shift the balance of any potential duel. In fact, some of the Forsaken are so skilled in certain areas e.g. Graendal will Compulsion, that they may rely on these skills to overwhelm almost any opponent. While strength is an essential part in at least standing against your opponent, it is important to realize that a quote comparing two channelers may be loaded with more than one factor.

Therefore, any list is admittedly vague, and open to even the most amateur criticism. However, let me start by stating what I believe to be the most likely list of their strengths…

- Ishamael
- Demandred / Aginor
- Sammael
- Rahvin
- Be’lal / Aran’gar
- Asmodean

Ishamael is most assuredly the strongest of all the Forsaken. Of all of the Forsaken, Ishamael’s position is probably the easiest to defend. The two quotes, which introduce his strength, include…

Guide – “… he was assuredly the Dark One’s top captain-general despite the fact that he never held a direct field command… and the most powerful of the Chosen in the One Power, he was equaled by none but Lews Therin Telamon himself.”

TDR (The Hammer) – “… No one knows the strength of the Forsaken, except that Ishamael and Lanfear were the strongest.”

There is no evidence to contest this opinion, and not even the Forsaken have disputed his power, though his sanity is a constant subject of debate. Other evidence which supports his strength in the power include the following...

1. Ishamael has always been held in the highest regard by the Dark One. In ACoS (Mindtrap), he tells Moghedien that his Chosen are always the strongest, and he places particular emphasis on this. During the War of Power, he actively encouraged the Forsaken to destroy one another until the most powerful remained. As the Dark One’s top captain-general in the War, and as the Nae’blis in the third Age, it strains credibility to think that he would choose anyone but the most powerful of his dark servants to lead them.

2. His dark polarity to Lews Therin has been well established. In the War of Power, he battled Lews Therin at the gates of Paaren Disen, arguably one of only a handful of legendary battles during the entire war. During the third age, he is most certainly on a collision course with Rand for the Final Battle.

3. He inspires fear in the other Forsaken, which is relatively uncommon. In WH (with the Choedan Kal) we see that Osan’gar has always been terrified of him. In TDR (Shadows Sleeping) we see that Rahvin and Be’lal become sheepish when he confronts them. There is an element of bias here, because everyone is terrified of a madman who can channel. Many of the Forsaken may believe that he cannot be reasoned with, and even Demandred feels unsettled when he sees how freely Moridin channels the True Power.

Demandred and Aginor probably have similar strength in the One Power.

Demandred was quoted in the Guide as being "almost as strong and almost as skilled as Lews Therin" which leaves very little room for argument. Symbolically he is second to Lews Therin in almost every area, and it stands to reason that he falls just short of him in strength in the Power. As for Aginor...

Guide – “The second most powerful man, known by the Forsaken name Aginor, came close to rivaling Lews Therin and Ishamael in strength.”

EoTW (There is neither beginning nor end) – “Aginor was surprised and angry I held him as long as I did, but fortunately he had no time to spare for me. I am surprised that I held him so long. In the Age of Legends, Aginor was close behind the Kinslayer and Ishamael in power.”

Aginor’s power is actually not in dispute. He is clearly named as second only to Lews Therin and Ishamael in strength. Apart from the specific quotes mentioned above, we have other evidence of his strength…

1. In EoTW (there is neither beginning not end), Moiraine states that only the most powerful channelers in the Age of Legends could have wielded the power of the Eye. By implication, he must possess close to the highest strength in the Power if Moiraine is correct.

2. In ACoS (A Crown of Swords), Rand says that Dashiva holds close to his amount of saidin. Curiously we see in the same chapter that Adley estimates Sammael’s strength to equal Rand’s. This is often seen as evidence that Sammael is stronger than Aginor in strength, but there are several points to be argued here. Firstly, Adley estimated Sammael’s strength by the strength of his attacks, not by the amount of saidin he was holding. There is almost certainly an element of inaccuracy in this. Secondly, we don’t know if Osan’gar has been holding back. If his full strength made him more powerful than Rand in ACoS (due to Rand not at his full potential), it seems likely that he would hold back to prevent trouble for himself.

3. Osan’gar makes a very large gateway in ACoS (Hill of the Golden Dawn). Gateway strength is proportional to strength in the Power, and his gateway is considerably large.

The problem with Aginor is that he has a weak personality. He admits to himself that he is terrified of Ishamael, and always has been. We see in WH (Wonderful News) that Demandred openly mocks him, but he doesn’t counter the challenge, perhaps scared of open conflict with Demandred. Now to illustrate a previous point, Graendal openly mocks Demandred in the same chapter, and we know that she is weaker than him. Therefore, personality plays a large role in these quotes. Aginor, unfortunately, is a weak little man who is easily cowed, but still strong in the Power. While he has no problem boasting about his prowess to an untrained man like Rand in EoTW, he is mocked and jibed by several Forsaken in WH, without a rebuttal.

Sammael is probably weaker than Aginor and Demandred in the Power, and for the sole reason that nothing has been made of his strength according to legend. While Ishamael, Lanfear, Demandred and Aginor have specific quotes surrounding their profound natural strength, there is nothing to suggest such with Sammael. Logically, however, his strength is close to the higher echelons, due to his status as one of the Forsaken always present at the top of the Forsaken hierarchy (there were six others according to RJ). Other points to back up Sammael’s strength include…

1. Adley’s estimation that Sammael is as strong as Rand in ACoS (A crown of swords).

2. Sammael’s ability to duel Rand at the end of ACoS, even if not openly. This makes him at least as strong as Rahvin, whom Rand estimated was a strong as him in FoH.

3. Rahvin’s estimation that he and Sammael could defeat Lanfear if they needed to. This statement is open to all forms of criticism, but it at least means that Rahvin considers Sammael to be a top level channeler. It’s as close to admitting a strength as one would ever see from another Forsaken.

4. Sammael can make a gateway that is not much smaller than Rand’s. (ACoS – Spears).

Sammael is the opposite to Aginor – his strength is amplified by his warrior personality and his aggressive tendencies. Sammael is openly aggressive towards Demandred, Graendal, Lanfear and anyone who challenges him.

Rahvin probably sits slightly below Sammael in strength.

TFoH (Prologue) – “Snatching at saidin, he filled himself with the Power… Linked to saidin as tightly as Rahvin… this close Rahvin could feel it dimly – Sammael eyed him warily… Then he sensed Sammael gathering the Power…”

This statement suggests that Sammael was holding a great deal of saidin when he met with the other three Forsaken – probably as much as Rahvin could hold. Later he senses Sammael drawing further on saidin. We also know from his earlier boast that he could defeat Lanfear that he considers Sammael to be at least as strong as he is.

We also have the following from when Rand duels Rahvin – TFoH (The Threads burn) – “Rahvin was strong, perhaps as strong as Rand, and more knowledgeable, but Rand had the fat-little-man angreal, and Rahvin had none.”

We know that in TSR Rand was about as strong as Asmodean, and in ACoS he was as strong as Sammael and Osan’gar. Rahvin is thus the middle point between these Forsaken. Probably the best evidence for Rahvin’s strength is Rand’s own comparative PoV – since he believes Rahvin to be relatively equal to him in book 5, but after gaining some strength, he was a match for Sammael in book 7.

Be’lal is an area of contention. Initially he was presented as one of the most formidable of all of the Forsaken.

Guide – “… he combined and surpassed the strengths of both Rahvin and Sammael, being both a patient and cunning planner and a capable fighter wiling to do battle with the foe.”

It’s difficult to ignore a statement such as the one above. While it may seem that it merely refers to him being a better planner than Rahvin, and a better fighter than Sammael, it also makes one wonder why Jordan excluded him from the list of the six Forsaken who were always near to the top of the Shadow’s hierarchy during the War of Power (these were Ishamael, Demandred, Sammael, Lanfear, Graendal and Semirhage).

In my opinion, Be’lal was probably one of the weaker male Forsaken in the Power, though mentally superior to many. The best evidence for this comes from Moiraine.

TDR (The Hammer) – “… he was called the Envious, and he forsook the Light because he envied Lews Therin, and that he envied Ishamael and Lanfear, too… Or that he envied the Dragon as well as his companions in the Shadow. That strengthens my belief that he wants Callandor.”

Be’lal seems to be a man who envies the most powerful people in the world – Lews Therin, Ishamael and Lanfear. Moiraine directly links his envious nature to his desire to gain a sa’angreal. Once again, that is a hint that he needs a powerful weapon like Callandor to stand alongside, or defeat, those he envies. There are several problems here. Firstly, we know that even Moridin, Demandred, Sammael, Asmodean and Aginor have all actively expressed a desire to wield an angreal or sa’angreal if they could get it, and it does not denote weakness in the Power. To add to this, his envious nature may be centered on other aspects and not strength in the Power – namely fame, or physical attractiveness. Really, anyone can decide exactly how strong he or she thinks Be’lal is. He may well be as strong as Demandred, and one could back this up merely by citing the quote in the Guide that suggests his superiority to Rahvin and Sammael. Be’lal’s part in the series is the smallest of all the Forsaken’s. We have very little to work with, and while I believe Moiraine’s quote points to a deficiency he is trying to cover with envy and with a sa’angreal, I may be completely wrong.

Balthamel’s strength is rarely discussed, and in the Guide it is vaguely referred to as “quite strong in the Power”. Other vague hints of Balthamel’s strength include…

1. Aran’gar’s ability to duel a circle of two Aes Sedai and an Ash’aman at least indicates that he’s not too much weaker than Demandred, who pretty much did the same. It shows that he has great strength in the Power, but what else is new.

2. In LoC (When Battle Begins), Aran’gar becomes wild with anger when Delana asks why she is afraid of Logain. It seems like an overreaction to a simple question, but Balthamel was known for his horrendous temper. Likewise, this could merely mean she is afraid of detection by Logain, and not his power.

3. Robert Jordan in his Question of the Week said that if Aginor had obtained a power source not detectable by the Dark One i.e. the Eye, he would have killed Balthamel. In the author’s mind, Balthamel is no contest for Aginor, implying a reasonable gap in ability.

Finally, Asmodean, who is possibly the weakest of the male Forsaken.

In TSR (The traps of Rhuidean), Rand and Asmodean draw exactly half of the male Choedan Kal into themselves. Considering a sa’angreal grants amplification relative to your strength in the Power, it implies that they shared equal strength in the Power at this stage of the series. Rand undergoes a strength increase on further occasions after this, which implies that he stands very far above Asmodean. Further evidence of his strength includes…

1. Lanfear’s statement placing him on a parallel with Moghedien – TSR (Traps) – “You fear risk as much as Moghedien, don’t you? You would creep about like the Spider herself. Had I not hauled you out of your hole, you’d still be hiding, and waiting to catch a few scraps.” Either Asmodean is weak and cowardly, or just cowardly – it is difficult to say.

2. TFoH (Prologue) – “But now he has Asmodean, weak ally as he is. And even before Asmodean, four of the Chosen have died confronting him.” Rahvin and the other Forsaken don’t doubt her statement about his cowardly and weak ways, but whether Asmodean is truly the weakest of them is debatable. Lanfear certainly doesn't use him as a hallmark of the greatest obstacles Rand has to face, naming the other Chosen who have fallen. Lanfear may merely be trying to push her own agenda on the other hand.

3. LoC (Prologue) – “Who betrays me shall die the final death. Asmodean, twisted by his weakness, Rahvin dead in his pride.” The Dark One may be referring to Asmodean’s weak personality and the ease with which he turned away from the Shadow, or he may be referring to Asmodean’s weakness in the Power, and how it drove him to seek out the Choedan Kal, which ultimately led to his downfall.

In summary, I’m sure most readers will realize how tenuous the evidence can be. One could easily challenge the majority of the evidence, thus in keeping with RJ’s need to keep it vague. You could easily suggest that Asmodean is one of the strongest of the male Forsaken. Your evidence would be his ability to stand up to Lanfear in the real and the dream world, and his ability to survive among the other Forsaken despite being a coward.

Alas, I’ve done my best to make a reasonable list that can at least defend its position. The rest is up to the readers to make up their own minds.


Linda said...

Nice pics!

I think that Sammael, Rahvin, Be'lal and Aran'gar may spread across two levels, not three. I agree Sam should be on a lievel below Demandred (Mr Almost) and Aginor, but I'm not sure about the order of the other three. We never saw much of Be'lal, he was offed in a rather lame fashion meant to serve him right. Aran'gar I think might actually be stronger than you suggest. I think Aran'gar's only talent (small t) is strength in the Power, otherwise s/he is a dill. The only reason the legal forces of the AOL didn't sever Balthamel was his strength in the Power, therefore it must have been impressive for a male. I am assuming that Asmo is strong for a male, but not very strong, ie not that impressive, so I'd bump Aran'gar up a level.

Terez said...

I agree with Linda about Aran'gar - her weakness seems to center on her lack of any real talent (who cares about primitive cultures anyway?); the differences between the Forsaken in Power is obviously subtle, though, since they're all among the strongest. I've sort of assumed since the guide came out that they were listed in order of strength, since it's implied, and I suppose that's always been good enough for me. But next time the relative strength of the Forsaken becomes important in a discussion, I know where to refer for the facts. :)

Anonymous said...

Nice job!
I more or less agree with this list, though I think I would place Be'lal and Sammael together and Rhavin and Aran'gar together. Otherwise, this list is exactly as I view the male forsaken.
How about the women, though?
Here's a possible list (and I'm one of those who tends to place them on the higher side):
- Ishamael (Lanfear)
- Demandred / Aginor (Cyndane)
- Sammael, Be'lal (Graendal)
- Rahvin, Aran'gar (Semirhage, Mesaana)
- Asmodean
- (Moghedien)


Dr Saidin said...

It's difficult to say regarding Aran'gar and other lesser Forsaken like Asmodean. While it is true that all of them survived the War of Power, we now know that only six of the thirteen were among the top. Those who were sealed away were coincidentally at some sort of regional or specific gathering and just happened to be snared by Lews Therin and the Companions.

Therefore they could have been very weak. Moghedien, for instance, is quite weak compared to the other women. Aran'gar may be unskilled and weak, or skilled and strong. We don't really know much about him to be honest, though his display at the Cleansing technically made him as proficient as Demandred or any of his peers.

Once again, Be'lal, who knows? He's been set up as a close personal friend of Lews Therin and a 'great' man in general, but there is some evidence against him. No one really calls Sammael or Demandred a fool even if they are disliked, yet Rahvin considers him to be one, and says he always was one. It doesn't fit the picture. Rahvin does seem to be correct though - Be'lal was impulsive and not a very good Netweaver at all.

The women, we'll do next month. :)

Anonymous said...

You're going to "do" the women?:P

As for the rest, I more or less agree. Though I do think that even the weakest Forsaken are not pushovers for the others. Anyone of the can be a threat to the others, IMO.

Dominic said...

"Aran'gar may be unskilled and weak, or skilled and strong. We don't really know much about him to be honest, though his display at the Cleansing technically made him as proficient as Demandred or any of his peers."

The problem judging Balthamel is that he is by character some sort of a lazy slacker. He seems to be the type who trained as Aes Sedai to get the status or because with his potential it seemed easy, became a scholar, perhaps against for the status, but never invested himself serious in his work, preferring his pleasures.

He gives the impression to be someone with probably a fairly high strenght and who had it easy, and most likely has a great amount of underdevelopped skills. In short, a great deal of wasted potential, because he was too lazy.

I wouldn't be surprised he's the Forsaken with the worse strength to skills ratio, that for someone of his strenght he's pretty much a disgrace.

Linda said...

I agree Dom. That's exactly what I had in mind. He was very strong, but did little that was useful with his ability.

Dr Saidin said...

Agreed - there's a whole theme of corrupted or unfulfilled Talents. I would almost say that Balthamel is the personification of sloth, and certainly of lust.

Of all the Forsaken, I think he's one of only a few without a skill or talent in some area. It's probably because we don't know enough about him, but it's also possibly he has no skills or developed talents. Even Tel'aran'rhiod seems to be a great effort for Aran'gar, and she's only interested in mastering the minimum required to trace Egwene. She's not interested in bettering her skills.

Fanatic-Templar said...

1. In EoTW (there is neither beginning not end), Moiraine states that only the most powerful channelers in the Age of Legends could have wielded the power of the Eye. By implication, he must possess close to the highest strength in the Power if Moiraine is correct.See, I think this is evidence to the contrary. If Moiraine is right (not that I'd wager my pocket change on that) and only the most powerful channellers can wield the power of the Eye, that would mean channellers more powerful than Aginor - after all, he died from failing to master the power of the Eye. And if he's second in strength only to Lews Therin Telamon and Ishamael, that means that 'most powerful' is a pretty restricted group indeed!

Shannow said...

OK, a few comments to start with:

1. Graendal mocked Demandred in Winter's Heart, yes, but that cannot be seen as an indication of her relative strength to his. Why do I say that? Simple. Because at that point she already had the ring angreal she found in Sammael's stasis box in Illian.

This means that her confidence would have been greatly boosted by the fact that she was now anything from 50%-100% stronger than normal.

2. Arangar faced a weaker circle than Demandred at the Cleansing.

Demandred faced a circle lead by Flinn who is the strongest of the Ashaman as of PoD, according to Rand himself. Furthermore, Flinn is also the most skilled Ashaman we know of when it comes to the weaving of complex webs, partly due to his training by Aginor, and partly due to his natural ability.

Flinn is also leading his circle, meaning he is well suited to fighting a male channeler.

In contrast, Arangar faces a circle which contains Dagian = the weakest Aes Sedai in the Tower. Dagian is so weak that she is not even a third as strong as Moiraine or Siuan. That means you could have 3 Dagian's in the circle, and they would not even add up to one Moiraine, for example. We know this because the post stilling Siuan is significantly less than half her original strength, and yet she is STILL stronger than Dagian. This is according to a quot from Siuan herself, in Cos.

Dagian's circle also contains Eben, who is weaker than Flinn.

So the bottomline is that Demandred faces a much stronger circle at Shadar Logoth than Aginor does.

I believe the order of strength among the male Forsaken goes like this:


We can continue the debate so that I can demonstrate in more depth why I strongly believe this to be the case, but this comment will do for now.

Anonymous said...

1. ishamael (only rand and LTT is/are stronger than him..and maybe ishamael was equalled by one or two male aes sedai from the age of legends..i dont know, just speculation)
2. aginor/demandred/sammael/rahvin..i believe these forsaken are equally strong. that is the clear impression i have gotten when reading the series. (i also think that taim and logain are as strong as the above mentioned forsaken..and you could also include guaire amalasan at this strength level)
3. bel'al and balthamel
..and i think lanfear is just slightly weaker than asmodean (but she can't rival the strongest male channelers in brute strength)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, Lanfear is not weaker than Asmodean, in fact, the series states serveral times that she equals Ishamael in the One Power.

Anonymous said...

which is wrong. lanfear is not as strong as ishamael ..that is made clear if you read the series. lanfear who is the strongest female channeler isnt as strong as the strongest male channelers. its just something that for example moraine believes. but not correct.

Neil said...

It is firmly established throughout the series that men are naturally stronger in the Power than women. Just one example that I can think of, off the top of my head, is that Taim and his Asha'man don't consider an equal number of Aes Sedai to be any threat whatsoever. Not to mention the fact that men caused the Breaking of the World, while Moiraine exhausted herself making temporary ripples in the ground. (Don't get me wrong though, I love Moiraine!)

That said, the idea that Lanfear was as strong as Ishamael is just not true. I would guess that she was stronger than Asmo, just based on their interactions, but certainly Rand, LTT, Ish/Moridin, and Demandred are or were all much stronger.

Anonymous said...

Neil is correct about the assertion that male channelers are much stronger. Another example is when Rand wraps up Elayne and Egwene rather easily.

One thing to note though, the men might be stronger, but the women are more dexterous, able to weave many more things at once.

Anonymous said...

there was a blog post by RJ himself, confirming that the strongest male channelers are stronger in the amount of raw power they can handle than the strongest female channelers, but women are more dextrous in their weaving. because of this, RJ concluded that, overall, the strongest man and strongest woman were about equal in terms of how *effective* they were at using the power.

in KoD, we see an example of egwene splitting her flows 14 ways (in a novice class), even while under the effect of forkroot. there isn't anything even close to this for a male channeler in the series so far.

Anonymous said...

Actually Egwene estimates that Rand is wielding at LEAST 12 weaves at once when he wraps her and Elayne up and he had no idea what he was doing back then.

Anonymous said...

I think that some of the female channelers are strong as male channelers. When Graendal saw Cindane she thought that in the age of legend a few male channelers were stronger than her and it was very uncommon among the wemen.

Anonymous said...

Totally sexist to say women are weaker than men. Women are just as strong or stronger than men in every aspect. stop being such chauvinist pigs!!!!

Anonymous said...

Lanfear could fit in anywhere from right after LTT/Moridin all the way down below Asmodean. I would guess a spot right after Demandred would make the most sense to me though.

Men are naturally stronger in the Power than women, at least on average. I would assume it runs the same way with the Forsaken, even though all of the women are almost certainly stronger than the vast majority of men.

The books mention Lanfear several times as being one of the top two strongest Forsaken along with Ishamael. I'm guessing "strong" in this context really means or has been twisted over time to describe her overall fighting ability rather than raw strength. While I believe someone such as Demandred is stronger, I have no doubt Lanfear could easily match up with him and maybe even be favored due to her dexterity.

Gifted Designs said...

Keep in mind also that just because men are stronger in the power that doesn't mean a woman cannot be stronger. It's rather silly to think that the strongest woman would still be weaker than the weakest man.

I'm sure their relative strengths would cross each other at some point somewhere in the middle of the list with men and women overlapping. That would be where dexterity comes to play and why a women could rate near Ishy and Deman. She's weaker than them, but more dexterous which makes her equal.

Even with dexterity, if men were ALWAYS stronger than women, then women would never be able to stand against them. No matter what women could weave, all the men would have to do was overwhelm them with powerful, hard weaves.

TrueCrew said...

Two comments on the whole men v. women Forsaken.

I do not believe Lanfear is anywhere near #2. The evidence for that is Moiraine's statement. How would she know?

When Lanfear comes to give her little plan to Rahvin, and Sammael and Graendal, Rahvin thinks to himself that either he or Sammael could overhwhelm Lanfear if it came to it. But worries that the women would then link. (tFoH, The First Sparks Fall).

From this, I believe both Rahvin and Sammael are stronger than Lanfear in terms of the amount of Power than can channel.

However, being the strongest, or most feared, or most dangerous Forsaken doesn't necessarily correlate with the maximum amount of Power one can draw.

As we've seen, dexterity of weaves and precision can be just as important. If you can draw more, but are slow and can't get your defenses up in time, you are done.

Furthermore, special skills or talents in a particular area (or a weakness) could be decisive in a duel. Asmodean can't break through shields, but that member of the Kin who can barely channel is able to hold Nynaeve.

Lastly, being the most powerful/feared Forsaken may not equate with OP strength. If the channelers talents exploit a certain area well (Granedal/Moggy in Compulsion) it could make up for a lack of strength to make them more effective/feared/powerful. Or they could have talents/skills that are unrelated to OP usage (Lanfear/Ishy/Mesaana seem to be best in T'A'R). Or you could have a strong channeler with no talents or skills (Balthamel).

Manetheren said...

It would appear that gateway strength is no longer an indicator of strength in the power. I forget his name, but there is the one Black Tower soldier in Rand's group (The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight) who can barely take in enough power to shave a chip of rock off a boulder, but can make a gateway large enough for a wagon.