Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Shadow Rising Read-through #4 - Whirlpools in Perrin's Life

Whirlpools in Perrin's Life

by Dominic

The Wheel of Time series is heavily theme-driven, as much as it is character driven and plot driven. Jordan was an highly intelligent man, who - perhaps like Perrin, the character he thought he resembled the most at the same age - to whom he gave this mode of thinking. The series is built of patterns of all kinds, mirrors and parallels, dozens of shades and variations. Jordan worked his themes, great and small, that way. A writer could develop only a few characters, give them a lot of shades and ambiguities, go in depth with them to explore a few ideas that are the themes of his work. Jordan preferred more simple, more iconic characters - and to multiply similar patterns with variations with a huge cast. Wheel of Time is a series with few answers but a lot of questions - it's no coincidence it often sparks heated or passionate debates about the characters, their decisions or actions - it was built that way. There is not a single important theme in the series that Jordan explored from a single angle. To begin with, there is none which he doesn't explore from the male as well as the female perspectives, in turn in opposition and in turn in combination, reproducing the dynamic of the One Power. And even then, he liked to multiply the POVs and variations on the same themes as much as the story left him the opportunity to. Of course, he rarely ever used a character to explore a single theme - most are involved with a multitude of main and sub-themes, especially the main cast and his large secondary cast. It's often only with the tertiary cast (playing sometimes the part of 'extras' in a movie) the characters have only a few facets to explore, one or a few themes they reflect. At the same time he created all these variations and intricacies that turned the series into this vast tapestry, he liked to bring things down to their simplest essence - much like all these intricate weaves are made of all these flows used in tons of different ways, but in the end they are either of the one or many of the five flows of saidar or saidin,they are either male or female and both come from the unique True Source. It is this way that Jordan could encapsulate the spectrum of human emotional experience into a simple, iconic expression like 'Laughters and Tears', before inverting the movement and offer this theme to us in a myriad of variations, laughters of every sort in opposition to tears, and the two combining into many ways.

Long before he coined the expression in Rand's story line (he gave it to Sorilea, one of his few figures of true wisdom and strength) Jordan started developing the theme with Perrin. Perrin is a character who thinks a lot, and who internalize a lot. He is a characters who has been for many years very conscious of his physical strength, of the dangers he might get into if he lost control of his temper. And Perrin has learned to master this, and found a way to channel his strength and violence into an occupation both extremely useful and extremely harmless: blacksmithing. Reliable, dutiful, thoughtful and responsible, Perrin's fear of his size and strength has made a quiet and gentle man, a bit too quiet, a bit too prone to let others, often less intelligent, careful or appropriate to deal with a situation than he would be, take the lead. Right from the middle of The Eye of the World, Perrin had to put apart what the life and principles he had built over the years. The Wheel needed his physical strength and his violence, needed to show him a time for wolves had come, a time when men would face the most dangerous of predators in Shai'tan, and would face a battle where only one adversary would be left standing - Shai'tan, or humanity. Death, or Life. Perrin needed to go deep in to bring out of himself and unleash the demons he had so well managed to tame and render harmless yet useful. He knows how to shut them off or channel them into a creative purpose, he doesn't know much about using them, controlling them, shaping them to a purpose of destruction.

A very dark, worrying path for Perrin, made all the harder for the isolation he felt, for his introvert personality. For Perrin, there is no normal life anymore. He sees himself as unfit for one, tries to convince himself his duty is to become a predator to the Shadow. And that is a whole lot of 'no fun'. Even early on in the Tinkers episode of TEOTW, Perrin was so caught up with his inner demons he needed to stay focused on the fight, the responsibilities, on keeping his demons under control. Egwene, on the other hand, needed to abandon herself into this oasis of peaceful simple pleasures of the Tuatha'an, both to recharge her batteries by leaving her worries behind, and also to shield herself from all these worries that were beginning to eat her up. When Perrin shattered the illusion and reproach her her attitude and Laughters, all the horrors she had managed to keep at bay returned. Extrovert, Egwene exploded in tears - which didn't really know how to deal with, anymore than he could understand she was trying to grab the little joys she could find while she still could, before she had to return to all the worries and darkness she knew lay ahead of them both. Jordan doesn't judge there. He leaves the reader decide to side with Egwene or Perrin, or to decide there's truth in both their views and attitudes.

By TDR, things have become much worse for Perrin. On the one hand, he has learned to find the inner wolf and unleash it. He has become a terrific berserker figure - a bane for Trollocs, Myddraal and Grey Men. On the other hand, Perrin is more and more aware of the growing bloodlust he feels, and he is shown his perils, with Noam who has lost himself and became a wolf. As it becomes an obsession for Perrin to find a way not to lose himself, he first shuts the wolves off - turn his back on them. And that won't do. He needs to learn to call the wolf at need and hang to his humanity at the same time. And that struggle is symbolized by RJ as Perrin's Axe and Hammer. Perrin first needed to learn to let his violence and strength loose - learn to become a weapon. This was the path of the Axe. He left his old life behind for the time being and took and learned to use the weapon made by his blacksmith master. The Axe is no wood axe, it has a single purpose: to harm, to kill. When Perrin had become the berserker he had to learn to be and became terrified where it would lead him, the Pattern showed him the path - it gave him back the symbol of the man he is, to what represents his humanity: the hammer of the blacksmith. The Hammer is Perrin's hope, Perrin's salvation. It reminds him of who he is and shows him the light at the end of the tunnel: he is still the shaper, the builder, the gentle and thoughtful Perrin. It showed him that when he has learned to master the part of himself he needs to use to face the Shadow, when he reached the crossroads of danger to lose himself into a wolfish bloodlust, it would be time to pick the reminder of his humanity, and to use it to shape and builder when he has to, and transform it into a formidable weapon when he has to.

Perrin reached this point only in Knife of Dreams, but it came with a reminder that wielding the Hammer is not enough, that he must learn control of himself and control of his instincts to know how to wield the Hammer properly - when to destroy with it, and when to use it to shape and build. He ended up killing in warrior frenzy a man who had contributed to saving Faile's life.

Much of the groundwork for these themes was done in The Shadow Rising. While taking the Axe in Emond's Field brought him into the Wilderness ((of Shadar Logoth, the Black Hills, The Blight, the Woods of Shienar and Cairhien, the Mountains of Mist) his path to getting the Hammer marked a return to human civilization and an increased control at keeping the Wolves were they belong - soldiers to help him fight his battles, not brothers to live amongst - which culminates in the smithy in Tear, and his stay at the Stone. Perrin is now about to begin learning his real worth as a man - not only to be a blacksmith or a berserker, but to be a man who would lead and inspire, help shape others into the soldiers of the Light necessity force them to become. His very peculiarity, his connection to the wolves and his eyes, become a source of inspiration through his peers in this book.

In 'Whirlpools of the Pattern' , his first scene in the book, Perrin stands at a crossroads. Afraid of losing his humanity in TDR, he experiences the counterpart here. He has fallen in love with Faile and is afraid of letting himself be a man again, because he can't forget the wolf. He longs for Faile, he longs for the relationship, for the laughter and tears it would bring him (and that he would much need, like everybody) - but he is now afraid to lose the wolf his duty forces him to be, afraid of the kind of future there is for him, and afraid of the harm the wolf might bring Faile - directly, or by letting her be his side and sharing his fight, when he knows he is surrounded by dangers. Much like Lan (whose 'I have only widow's clothes to give my bride on our wedding day' theme is developed this time for Perrin in this book), much like Rand who fears he is some sort of monster, Perrin sees himself as a man unsuitable for any woman, especially for one he loves. He sees rejecting a relationship, sending Faile to safety, as a proof of his love for her. She of course doesn't see things quite this way. Largely for the women in The Wheel of Time, it's a matter that the Shadow is as much their enemy as men, that they have to see their loved ones face perils, and face losses, and they're not about to let men that fear their emotions make the decision for women just to spare themselves the pain of losses, the fears of loved ones in danger. And it's never black and white, Jordan preferred to multiply the perspectives and let the reader judge.

At The Shadow Rising begins, Faile has realised her infatuation with Perrin has turned into love - but she is afraid of committing herself without being sure he loves her back - which of course he's not about to admit, considering his thoughts to send her away. Faile is no fool. She has realised by that point in how much danger she stands being near Rand, and that the price of loving Perrin might be high, the risks to herself great. She isn't yet ready to embrace his cause and tests the waters to convince him to come away with her, but once he will open up about his duty to stay and play his part(a concept she respects, culturally), she will weigh the pros and cons and make her decision that she will stand at his side no matter what - and there will start all the problems, as for the same reasons Faile opts to stay at his side, Perrin wants to send her away.

At first, he wants her safe, and then he will want to spare her pain when he decides to go to the Two Rivers to give himself up for his crimes, sparing retribution to his people. There is no place in Perrin's views for a woman to share his fight at his side. Perrin has put aside 'laughters and tears' - he has hardened himself, started defining himself by his duty alone - and to distance himself from 'normal life'. A lot of men in WOT see things like Perrin and Rand: they are what they are, and their mission is to fight and protect. They see as futile and dangerous pretenses the attempts at living a normal life through all that - dangerous because they fear they may not be able to leave normalcy behind again when they have to if they return to it before it's over. Most of Jordan's women disagree. They do not see the point of all those sacrifices if it's not to be able to live fully what little is left to them of 'normal life' - the joys and the pains. For a Saldaean woman like Faile, there is no 'normal life' to have if you don't take all these little moments of peace to build yourself one, normal life is to fight the Shadow, to go on living with the Shadow as a permanent threat - it's part of her puzzlement and sadness with Perrin, that he can't seem to see these moments may be the only moments of a normal life they could ever have. For Perrin the price of enjoying it and risk losing it - and to risk bringing pain and sadness to a widow, is perceived as too high. For Faile, it's the price of missing out on laughters and joys to avoid loss and tears which is too high.

Interestingly and unsurprisingly, the characters who manage the best to balance their duty and 'Laughters and Tears' are the warrior cultures with great experience of war and loss: the Aiel, the Shienarans, the Basheres etc. For the others, especially the peaceful Two Rivers people, such issues come as a shock they struggle to cope with as they can, especially the men. Jordan will also introduce one of his most balanced and serene love relationship in this book, with Amys, Rhuarc and Lian.

The Bubble of Evil must have fed on Perrin's ongoing thoughts : it enacts all his fears - for himself, for those he loves, and it ends inches from killing Faile... because Perrin had decided to push her away from the fight and where he thought her safe - and that is when the axe nearly got her. That's only the beginning of this storyline, and a pattern that will culminate (for now) in the events of the Battle of Malden, where Perrin's plans (that is, his fateful decision to trust Galina) will be what almost causes Faile's death.

There are also seeds for interesting mirrors introduced in this chapter. To go along the Faile vs. Berelain story line that will soon begin, Jordan put with Perrin and Faile Bain, Chiad, and Gaul who longs for one and not the other, and their insistence that if he wants one, he will have to love them both. And this is a very good example of what I mean by RJ repeating the same motifs in variations. It is present everywhere in TSR: Lanfear and Ilyena, Elayne and Egwene and how they meet Rand together, Elayne and Aviendha who sees her feelings for Rand as a betrayal of Elayne's friendship because she's convinced Elayne wouldn't accept to share Rand with her the Aiel way - we even get a fairly different version in Elayne's flirt with her mother's old flame Thom. And of course there's also Moiraine and Nynaeve and their little duelling over Lan, and Egwene that both Galad and Gawyn love.


Anonymous said...

I guess one of the results of TG must be cultural changes.

Throughout the book, the 2R folks have held on to their cultural beliefs so strongly, that some of these believes have harmed them greatly. However, because so many of the essential characters (the Big 5) come from the 2R area, they see this as a reason not to change any of their believes.

I guess it is much easier to change your belief, if you see other people you admire who have different cultural backgrounds. It gets you to think maybe you can learn something from them.

The protecting woman stuff, for the boys, for example. If they see enough people they admire, or at least respecct, who allow women to protect and choose themselves, maybe they will change their views.

In Cairhien, after the two Aiel wars, people just figured out that their culture is not working, and were adapting the Aiel ones. That is fairly typical in our world. Africa adapting soccer, Japan and South Korea adapting baseball. It is often hard to tell what people should or should not adapt into their culture. So I guess I can't blame the boys if them did not realize what part of their culture they need to adapt to the TG world.

Dominic said...

The trait of being protective of women and children is far more widespread than the Two Rivers. At the root, it's part of male behaviour - even the male wolves are like this.

The boys are not the only ones to be burdened by guilt for having harmed women, or who carry an emotional baggage of guilt over a woman's death or harm that came to them. Lan is like this - the WO warn Nynaeve he would die the day she will. Thom is also like this (and one of those who feels guilty). Juilin is like this, and so is Galad. In Shienar, it's pushed to an extreme.

I don't think RJ intends to show this as a weakness as such. It is foolish and dangerous to let your instincts dominate over rational thought (for example Rand's incapacity to surmount his instinct not to harm women, even if the women is pure evil and killing her would save many lives) but I think Jordan is also showing how the characters are noble and principled.

A lot of people think RJ intends to 'break his block' about harming women. Personally I doubt it's where it is going. I think he may have to kill an evil woman, but I don't think this will 'free him' in any way - he's gonna suffer emotionally from it, a lot - like Mat suffered when he had to kill the sul'dam, no matter that Tuon scold him for mourning her. It's also quite possible Rand can't bring himself to kill evil women, that to the end it remains something he needs to trust others around him to do, and an example why he needs allies and can't do everything by himself. In the grand scheme of things, with all the chaos and destruction Rand has to bring in order to save the world, all the innocents that become collateral damages etc. it may be a balance that the Dragon's ultimate 'soft spot' is always women and children, that he cares so deeply for them. That trait may not be a 'weakness' at all, it may be the inner strength, the safeguard that prevents this Hero from turning from saviour to pyschopath, to stop caring at all who he has to kill. What sort of a saviour the Dragon would be if he could kill women or children without a second thought. That's not the sort of man who would accept to sacrifice himself so humanity could survive. This is a classical trait of the Hero- George Lucas used exactly the same for Anakin in SW. When he turned around and became able to kill women and children, he had become Darth Vader.

For Perrin it's a bit different. All his instincts are 'touched' by the wolf nature. For him letting his instincts dominate is letting the wolf overcome the man. He has come to love Faile and live though Faile like Hopper cared for his mate. The way Perrin deals with Faile and the possibility to lose her has fall into obsession and instincts, it's no longer love. Perrin has to overcome this before the end, because that could drive him to lose himself and become wolf. The antithesis of Perrin and Faile's couple is Nynaeve and Lan. Nynaeve has true love for Lan. She loves him enough that she let him go, took the risk to lose him because she truly respect what he is and what he feels he needs to do. Perrin needs to get closer to this attitude. But with Perrin too it isn't black and white. His instincts, and his pain to see young ones and women die, is also a safeguard. He is a wolf protecting his pack, he needs to keep his care for the pack - otherwise he'll lose himself and become a rabid predator...

With Jordan, it's almost always a matter of the finding the balance, walking the fine line between too much and not enough. Letting all women and children fight on the frontline, die left and right in front of their husbands or sons, would be pointless if it destroys the men, who fight so fiercely largely out of their instincts and desire to protect their loved ones...