Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Shadow Rising Read-through #17 - A Few keys to Symbolism in the Wheel of Time

A Few keys to Symbolism in the Wheel of Time

by Dominic

The use of symbolism in novels serves a variety of purposes - from being a device to reinforce themes obviously or subconsciously or to create clear associations that help the reader to define and narrow down certain issues or characters (in its most basic form, we have characters like Luke and Leia wearing white in Star Wars, opposed to Vader wearing black), to being a "cypher" to unlock hidden/deeper meanings (as James Joyce is notoriously famous for from Ulysses to Finnegan's Wake, Lewis Carroll - in a whole different way - is another) and it is often enough pure literary mannerism, occasionally of the pedantic vein. Several writers have used Jungian or Freudian symbolism, or mythologic/archetypal elements. Classics like Le Morte D'Arthur are steeped in christian symbolism, the earlier version of the legends by the writer Chrestien de Troye (who lived in what is today southern France) even more so. It is dominant in the works of some Fantasy writers, for instance in Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun - and deciphering parts of his symbolic elements is near essential to fully understand and appreciate the story. Some have pushed the suse of symbolism to the extreme: Alfred Jarry, for instance, has written a whole novel using almost solely the language and symbolism of heraldry - and even his most famous and accessible works (for instance the plays from the Ubu cycle) feature some of that - the way characters will use accessories referring to positions in blazon, for instance. Others like the playful French novelist Boris Vian have turned it upside down, including all sort of symbolism placed out of context, destroying all signification and turning the symbols into absurd false trails (his novel Autumn in Peking is a good example. Of course, it has nothing to with Peking, nor autumn).

Most uses of symbolism are very dependant on cultural references - a good knowledge of Japanese culture, or plenty of footnotes, are necessary to non-Japanese to grasp subtle symbolic meanings of colour or fauna/flora associations in a work like the Genji Monogatari. Similarly, reading without critical texts or notes renaissance and early modern works full of symbolism, like Gulliver's Travels or Rabelais's Pantagruel, can be daunting for all their cultural and scholarly elements that escape modern readers.

With Robert Jordan, I more than suspect symbolism's primary (but not only) purpose was to help him create giant quilt-like 'patterns' which reinforced his central concept of reality and daily life as a woven Pattern, repeating, with everything being variations of something else, everything being unique while having arisen from a few basic core elements, the essence. A simple example of creating these patterns (one of the most easily discernable one - all to noticeable some readers would say) is RJ's use of typical body language. All his women are different, some widely different, but he will also emphasize what they have in common, their 'pattern' by making most of them share typical reactions (which a lot of readers alas take to be a lack of imagination on his part, failing to see all these repetitions are intentional). Another way he created patterns is through including several repetitive elements in types of scenes, and mix them up differently as he brings them back :

Taren Ferry, in EOTW : We have Moiraine, the character associated to the moon (Egwene), a dangerous gleeman, the Borderman, a mean to cross a barrier (here the ferry and the river), the shore, a shield of some kind to hide the light of the Moon and prying eyes, some cheating/a deception, a character with fox-like or snake-like associations, some red stone (here, the first level of the high houses of the area is made of red stone - Lan is the one to climb the steps and knock to wake the foxy like 'Master Hightower') - and to pay for the passage. And we have Mat, making snide remarks about the foxy character being dishonest - an early evocation of his dealings with the Snakes and Foxes, just like Master Hightower and his red stone house is an evocation of the Tower of Ghenjei.

Several of these elements return in The Fire of Heavens, at the docks of Cairhien, mixed in a completely different way, creating a whole new scene: Lanfear is the moon character, and the idea isn't to hide from her but to lure her into a trap. The dangerous gleeman isn't Thom but Asmodean. Lanfear is the one shielding the area. The steps to the door become those of the wagon, leading not to a door but to the Red Stone Doorway - the Eelfinn behind. Rand's anxiety for Egwene early in The Eye of the World greatly expands to several more women: Aviendha, Egwene, the Maidens. Again, Moiraine lures with the price of passage and again it's a deception (in Taren Ferry, it was the promise of more gold, here the lure is an angreal). This time again, Moiraine destroys the mean of passage - but this time she 'sinks' with it. The Borderman is still Lan - and there's Mat. The Fox-like character is useless - they stand behind the doorway, though much like there was associations to the ToG earlier, we have here a connection: Kadere pays his bad bargain with Lanfear with his own skin.

Similar devices to create patterns involve symbolism specifically.

Jordan's use of symbolism is very occasionally obscure, but most often fairly simple. This is not Joyce, not even Wolfe. Jordan made many efforts to place most of his symbolic elements within the reach of the reader, their multiplication making this easier. A reader will miss colour associations, yet catch on Arthurian parallels, for instance. Symbolism in WOT abounds, it permeates many elements of the series: animal symbolism, colour symbolism, number symbolism, objects symbolism are everywhere. You'll find them in RJ's 'pet numbers' like one, two, three and thirteen, the colours are used for metaphors, for clothes, in the heraldry, often for objects in mundane descriptions - Jordan even developped his own 'in story' system of meaning and cultural associations for colours - most of which are based in rela world symbolism, but he accentuated some meanings, and shifted or circumscribed others. He dug into folkloric, cultural, psychological and mythological animal symbolism and associated groups of characters to each animal: falcons, hawks, ravens, dragons, serpents, bulls, wolves, boars and foxes are only some of the most common. Very rarely a single character will be associated to a unique animal - most often RJ had many, creating thematic links, introducing variations, using only some aspects and sometimes playing on similarities and oppositions, the a 'good' fox like Thom (the Grey Fox) - a cunning schemer, spy and sometimes assassin; and far more dangerous foxes, for instance the foxy featured Mili Skane. And we have dragon and serpent associated to Rand... and to Forsaken. Or one just has to think that Rand isn't the only dragon - there are two false Dragons, Lews Therin and the Dragon Reborn - as well as weapons by that name now.

While Jordan's habit of using symbolism and creating patterns is present since the very beginning, The Shadow Rising debatedly marks the point where Jordan really expanded its use - a lot - which will remain fairly constant after that (when not increasing). From here onward, colours will become omnipresent, heraldry will be used a lot more frequently, animal symbolism will expand massively, way beyond the main cast.

Here are a few keys to help notice Jordan's symbolism, and a few pointers to help decipher them. Some readers are annoyed by this sort of things, and they are welcome to ignore Jordan's symbolism - to each his own - and there are dozens of valid ways to enjoy Jordan's series. Some find paying attention to these elements intrusive, or that it destroys the magic of the story for them - and I can't blame them for ignoring all of this then. I admit candidly that I make a point of ignoring all these more analytical elements (unless they jump at me) the first time I read a new WOT book, and the second too. On third read, however, I start paying more attention. I still do re reads purely to enjoy the story as well.

Jordan's use of symbolism holds no earth-shattering secrets (or we haven't found them yet, anyway) but many small ones, often funny ones. For those who like to explore works at this level like we do, however, the symbolic elements very often help getting a deeper understanding of Jordan's themes, great and small: it's much easier to define Perrin as a character, his issues, his strengths, when you consider the duality of the wolf as predator and as a pack creature, very protective of his own kind - or the symbolism of the axe and the hammer. Another motive to explore the symbolism in The Wheel of Time, perhaps the best one, is that Jordan was both an extremely clever man who liked puzzles (he put in the series quite a few subtle ones, the kind he has Siuan be good at unravelling), and he was a guy with one hell of a sense of humour. He amused himself creating all sort of little puzzles for us, some easy to decipher, some far less so. And very often his use of symbolism is extremely amusing, sometime hilarious.

It is of course very useful to consult dictionnaries and encyclopedias of symbolism, even though they often give too wide a range of culturally-based interpretations, a great many of which Jordan did not use at all for his series. A few false trails to avoid in those, then.

I called Jordan's symbolism 'simple' earlier on, and one of the reasons for this is that repeatedly he includes all the necessary keys to circumscribe and understand his symbols in the series itself: no need to look very deep into the symbolism of the colour white through the ages and civilizations: look first of all at all the metaphors Jordan created using the colour white (or any of the others). A bit of research in the books and you will notice he associates it almost systematically to two concepts: everything having to do with winter: cold, cool, snow - and in a related way to death. 'Pure white' can also be the colour of destruction: balefire, too much saidar or saidin burning you out, white hot iron. Jordan was always cautious to circumscribe his use of colours to a few concepts and metaphors like this, not to dilute their symbolism. You will very rarely see Jordan compare his whites to anything but snow, or brown to something other than earth-tones and earth related matters. The characters won't say 'white as a sheep, milk, an egg' - they will almost always compare it to snow and wintery stuff. White in The Wheel of Time is associated to the blanket pure snow of winter, covering everything, obliterating/hiding all the details underneath - leaving the viewer to grasp the essence, the bigger picture: the global shape of a landscape or a pattern, free of all the distractions created by all those touches of bright greens, reds, yellows and brown. A further metaphor links the theme of winter to death, but to a certain form of death specifically - a positive death, if you wish: in the seasonal cycle (which turns, like the Ages - we were told by Thom there are indeed Ages with the world covered with snow and ice) winter marks the time when nature goes to sleeps/dies - but this death doesn't last forever. Underneath the protective snow mantle, life takes a necessary rest and regenerates its forces, preparing for the rebirth all the more in spring. The flora will explode again with Spring, the sheep will give their wool and animals in general will have their youngs. This period of rest exists for each soul - the beginning of winter associated to death, the end of it to imminent rebirth, a time of regeneration and rests before a glorious rebirth, with a blank slate, a new life, no baggage of old memories to hinder or help (It is Rand's blessing but also his curse to be different in this). This is the origin and symbolism of white as the colour of mourning in the series: not the black of the final death (associated to Ishamael), not the red and black of blood, ash and fire, of the burned soul - but a death that holds a promise of rebirth. Mourning is born in the series with the characters wishing for the soul's salvation and rebirth. For souls like the Heroes (and perhaps for all others, for all we know), this rests is also a wait, and a period where they have all their memories of all their lives to ponder on. The association to the White Ajah comes from all this - their desire to distance themselves for 'all the colours of life', they symbolic rejection of the 'mundane world' to observe it from afar (as if dead), to take a step back from life itself to observe - also their desire to make abstraction of all the distracting details to be able to see the asbract or the essence of things. Notice RJ underlined all this by describing systematically his White Sisters as cool, cold, icy, much like he describes his Greens as vibrant, hot tempered, full of life, his Yellows as flamboyant, his Blues as secretive - their eyes deep pools, devious and hard to catch as running water. To get back to white similar ideas are associated to the novices: the white of their dresses are a blank slate - and they adopt it only after a symbolic regenerative death of their old self (their clothes are burned to make the end of their old life) - but they have many years in full white ahead before being fully reborn, as a full sisters. With the Accepted, the blanket of snow is retracting a bit, with the bands of colours at the cuffs and hem showing. At the full term of this 'winter', they will be reborn as full sisters, having found their true colour, which they will most often wear daily until they die, physically.

All the keys are in the series, though I won't lie and claim it's always easy to find them. Once you start seing some of them, however, it's like a boulder coming downhill, it becomes more and more easy to spot others.

Water is usually associated to saidar, sometimes to the One Power as a whole (though saidin is more often tied to Fire, the opposite element, with air opposed to earth... the dominance of fire-earth for men and air-water for women is in fact a very good example of Jordan giving the 'keys'). Jordan will very often include a source of water in his locations or scenes (when relevant), and very often they will be 'tainted', alluding to the DO's taint on saidin. There will be a flow from this source, representing saidar or the OP (a spring, an aqueduct, a river) and something representing either the Wheel or the channeler, harnessing or guiding the water, sometimes weaving a pattern out of it. We have all this imagery in the early description of Emond's Field anf the Two Rivers, with the Winespring as the Source, the Winespring water as the flow, the Mill of Master Thane (a waterwheel) after which the Winespring Water divides itself in a multitude of smaller streams: the Waterwood then The Mire, an allusion to the Pattern and its complexity. We have a similar example in 'macrocosm' on the full map of the Westlands: the River Erinin born in the mountains (like the Dragon), flowing to the deep Sea of Storms (Storms and Mire, related concepts. What's in between? The Wheel-like Island of Tar Valon around which 'the world turns' (the metaphor, again, his Jordan's own) but even more important the 'weaver' himself, the creator of 'Storms': the Fingers of the Dragon.

And to decipher all of this, no need for any encyclopedia of symbolism: a few chapters after the description of the Winespring and all, Moiraine will use all this in the form of a metaphor to explain the working of the One Power to Egwene, and the role of the channeler.

More examples of water symbolism: in EOTW, on Winternight, Tam the old soldier will inspect his well and dubiously taste the water in fear it had been tampered with by the stranger in black (an image of Shai'tan and of Ishamael - the black stranger of the prologue - Shai'tan himself is the Black Stranger in the Pattern - he doesn't belong there.) - then ridiculing himself for having 'paranoid fancies'. Soon after, Tam will 'go mad', raving about his long dead wife. That's LTT-Kinslayer/Taint/Saidin imagery. It will show up again, and again: water tainted with forkroot make channelers "drunk-mad". Nynaeve and Elayne will drink it in tea at Ronde Macura's, and she will also drink 'tainted water' in Winter's Heart in the fake attempt to poison her, not very long after Adeleas drank tea tainted with crimsonthorn. Elayne will refer to the cisterns of Caemlyn and the underground river filling them a few times (the returning 'male Aes Sedai' live nearby, a male and female 'Aes Sedai' conceive a child together in Caemlyn for the first time in eons - funnily, it's Min and Birgitte that get 'drunk to madness' that time), and Birgitte will mention a DF poisonning a whole city's water supply. One of the most important events in Aiel History was The Sharing of Water, and after losing the Aes Sedai and the Covenant they will go live in the desert - perhaps very significantly for the final fate of the Aiel (return to an alliance with the Aes Sedai?), when the Dragon (the male Aes Sedai) returns and become their leader, when he takes up again the ancient Aes Sedai symbol as his own (and the 'Spears of the Dragon'. Verin will try to taint Cadsuane's drink. The first appearance of the Asha'man in combat will happen at Dumai's Wells, the only source of Water in the area. Far Madding, the city where touching the source is impossible, has its water all around it. The most elaborate and complete example of this imagery in the late series was in KOD: Perrin will go an 'taint' a cistern with forkroot, the water flowing through an aqueduct through the city, where the channelers who drunk it will be impaired. Rand will have an episode of 'madness' on a boat (and soon another during a big shower).

And I promised you Jordan is very often light-hearted and playful, using symbolism for humour. Here are some examples: early on, in an attempt to seduce Lan, Nynaeve will start wearing only green and blue dresses, his favourite colours on women :) and tight-pursed Nynaeve throws away all her other dresses... Lan of course is bonded to Moiraine the Blue, and soon to pass to Myrelle the Green. the colour Nynaeve abhors is red, the colour of the Blue and Green's antagonist. She will make a massive fuss over tainting her hair red, and wearing a red dress. In a bit of irony, Jordan will make precisely this red dress be extremely sexy. It's only once she marries Lan that Nynaeve will start wearing yellow, but at least for now often slashed with Green or Blue.

Egwene is truly of all Ajah and none. In KOD she has even returned to novice white, but through the series she is a character who will most switch colours - and she hates the grey (usually representing balance) with a passion. It's amusing to spot what Jordan has her wear and this or that situation: when she goes to tell Rand she doesn't love him and won't marry him - for example - Jordan made her wear a large red scarf that she wore as a shawl.

Some of you might remember an earlier article where I explained the association of the Winespring Inn and Inns in general with the White Tower, the meeting place of the village council sitting (like Sitters) in the front of the Flame (the Amyrlin). For Jordan, that is an excellent motive to introduce a few inside jokes: Bran, the book lover, will brew brown ale. In the Shadow Rising, as Alviarin and Elaida seize power, Marin will bring out her red-and-white stripped tea pot. When she will lead Perrin's group into 'the old abandonned sickhouse' (an elaborate joke on Deane Aryman 'healing' the Tower from the depradations of Bonwhin, Deane born in Salidar where the Aes Sedai are hiding in the woods... taking up the old Inn that they rename 'The Little Tower' - I told you Jordan always gives away the keys, didn't I?) Marin will wear her best blue shawl...

Some of my favourite symbolic inside jokes concern rivers - saidar- and boats - channeling. When the girls still struggled with the One Power yet tried to pass themselves off as sisters, their boat will run straight into a mudflat. Later, they'll get bugged in the mud of the Maule - Nynaeve will barely learn how to avoid it wearing wooden clogs that they'll get captured. But the palm goes to all the jokes related to Nynaeve's block. She always get sea sick on water (not since she broke her block, however - Jordan didn't have her on water since), she will drink all sort of foul concoctions (and make a few drink some, or plunge their heads in buckets.. when she gets angry), she will be drenched in water by Theodrin in an attempt to break her block (a little joke that doubles as foreshadowing... she will break it in the end to avoid drowning and surrender to saidar to save life, Lan's, her own - a very strong motif for her).

Jordan was keen to use everyday objects, metals and such as well. Iron is the metal he associates with 'non magic' - it is the iconic metal of Perrin the blacksmith, Aes Sedai are forbidden to turn it to weapon, but they can turn 'mundane iron' into cuendillar. It is the mundane metal that can bind the powers of the 'Magical' Aelfinn and Eelfinn. Gold as a colour (same symbolism as yellow, the same way white and silver are equivalent in WOT) is associated to healing, and to the most benevolent action of the sun, the gold of dawn which brings life back to the world (For Rand, red (blood) is associated to dying - the setting sun, while white is both the scorching sun - like white-hot iron and balefire - and the symbol of his rest in death, and his eventual rebirth. Moridin's red brings death, and his black is the final death: the death of the soul and the death of Creation). However, Gold is most associated to saidin. It is a main colour for Rand - the one the other banners 'of the light' don't have: Elayne's Andoran banner is Red and White only, Perrin's wolf-head is red on white, Mat's Red-Hand is also red on white. Only Elayne, Rand's soulmate and his female solar counterpart, has also a golden sigil (but it's a fragile and delicate golden lily). It is also one of the colours heralding Logain's glory to come. Silver/White are rather associated to saidar - the colours that the character totally obsessed with saidar and getting the most power, Lanfear, will adopt. Bran al'Vere father of the future Amyrlin, will have a silver medallion. Jordan used the gold/silver imagery very cleverly in The Shadow Rising. First, he has in a moment where he loses control of his powers destroy gold and silver animals, and wove them into a useless clothe of gold and silver threads (like the Pattern woven of saidin and saidar)... a gift for Elayne... who is dully unimpressed by this attempt at useless grandeur with his channeling. She much prefers the white flower (saidar) he tries but fails to create out of feathers. This symbolic motif will return - after their first night together, when Elayne conceived their twins, Rand will fetch her a live golden flower, a golden lily - a life Elayne will preserve with a Keeping, as she protects Rand's children in her womb. Later in the book, there is another very clever use of One Power symbolism. The Aiel make these gifts to Marin al'Vere (who is The Mother, another stand-in for the Amyrlin):

- A gold saltcellar, a lion with a bowl on its back, offered by Gaul.

This is saidin (gold, the lion is a solar animal) containing on its back a bowl of salt (saidar).

- A silver pepper mill, with a hippocamp

This is saidar (silver), with a hippocamp (associated to the moon and the sea) containing inside it (reverse image from the salt cellar) saidin (black pepper).

Jordan includes a third element, which links very interestingly to the Three-Fold Land storyline, as if there was a third element missing to go with saidar and saidin: an bowl (empty, for now) wrought in gold, with leaves engraved at the bottom. This relates to Aiel and their discovery about the Way of the Leaf in Alcair Dal, the golden bowl, from He Who Comes with the Dawn (the golden rising sun). This is an interesting instance, where a symbolic detail like this may well also include a foreshadowing value - but this is hardly a crystal ball either: it's not really before we read the last book and see the role Da'shain Aiel Singing plays that symbolism like this will be fully decipherable.

Animal symbolism is another very rich vein to explore. Jordan found all sort of ways to associate characters with animals. Sometime it's through a title of nickname: Rand The Dragon, Thom the Grey Fox, Itulrade the Wolf. Perrin becomes a wolfbrother and now called The Wolf King, Mat is named the Fox in prophecy and the Prince of Ravens by title. Another one of Jordan's favourite device is using them in the sigils and banners: Gawyn who rushes blindly into things - sparking all sort of woes, is The White Boar, the shadowy Ingtar is a Grey Owl. Faile will rather adopt the name of a bird: The Falcon. Siuan's associations to Fairies and Swan Maidens from germanic and celtic mythology is disguised in the pronunciation of her name. Min's Viewing are also a rich source for those associations, of course. Often, Jordan will be a bit more subtle than this, rather giving animal-like features to creatures and characters: Lan will have the eyes of a falcon, Aes Sedai often glide like swans, Taim and Demandred have beaked noses, the thieving and killing fox in a henyard Mili Skane will have fox-like features, Verin will be bird-like and owns a owl to kill mice - and she very often acts as a guardian, looking for mice around Rand... from sisters of dubious allegiances she neutralize by compulsion (owl-associated hypnotism) to Cadsuane she put on scales and nearly killed. When wolves' souls are captured by the Shadow, their freedom gone forever as they are forced to serve Shai'tan and his minions, they are turned into dogs, black dogs.

All the characters associated to birds (or to wings) are great and swift travellers, often but not always by unnatural means: Verin uses Portal Stones, Berelain the Hawk travels all over the place - and eventually uses Traveling, her red winged soldiers swift in battle. Faile is another who travels all over the place, so is Galad, who has wings on his sigil. The Seanchan, hawk and ravens, are another example - and their ancestor Hawkwing gained his name for the lightning speed in which he moves his armies. Ingtar the Grey Owl was another character who travelled a lot, and used Portal Stones. The Shienarans and their Stooping Hawk are another example, from the men with Easar to Uno's group and Masema.

Jordan's use of symbolism with horses is so rich I can but scratch the surface here. Jordan associated horse (horse power) to destiny, to the Wheel weaving your thread in the Pattern. He used this imagery in a variety of ways. He has for instance the Aiel, who stepped outside their ancient role, scorn the use of horses - yet recently he had the WO begin to use them again... always those belonging to channelers: Egwene's for the most part - sometimes Moiraine's, and most significantly Aviendha whose destiny is tied to Rand goes on and off his horse a lot, before fairly recently getting her own from Elayne - one she will name Siswai. In Knife of Dreams, Mat who has to share his destiny with Tuon, will carefully choose and offer her a magnificient Domani razor. When there are great changes and turning points, characters will lose their horses (lost or dead) or buy a new one. Perrin loses his at Shadar Logoth - much later, his duality - his impatience to go forward and his caution that is often indecision will be represented by Stepper and Stayer. Moiraine, who works to bring Rand's destiny about, to make him 'ride the winds of time' has a white horse named 'West Wind' (that lead to the setting sun, for Rand this is death). Long before she found Rand, when she was still a hunter, Moiraine had a horse named Arrow. Early in the EOTW, before Rand's solar powers emerge, he will ride the most difficult horse of the lot - the one the others didn't want, a grey significantly named Cloud. Cloud will nearly unhorse Rand a few times. To ride to the final battle of the book, he will ride Red. Nynaeve, who seeks to protect all Emond's Fielders, will have a horse named Gaidin: warder. When Rand takes control and find the path to his true past and the secrets of Rhuidean, he will ride True Finder. At the peak of his power (before his decline), he will ride True Glory - a 'borrowed' horse to be kind, one he seized forcefully from an Aes Sedai who swore fealty to him (Kiruna) - the symbolism is that earthly, kingly power, isn't for him, that this isn't were his glory lies. 'True Glory' will unhorse him at the Altara/Illian border, as he fought... the Seanchan. It will be interesting what horse Ran will have for Tarmon Gai'don (if Jordan has left this sort of detail in his notes and outlines - details of symbolism is something from the series that threatens to be swept away by the change of writer, there is no telling at this point how Jordan documented all this or if he rather created and included it almost by instinct, as he went along). Bela is there for Egwene at the most important turning points of her destiny: to bring her out of the Two Rivers safely, to bring her accross the river, whereas Perrin loses his horse. To travel from Cairhien to Salidar at the summons of her destiny Egwene will create herself a dream Bela swift like the winds - while the real one awaits her there - and Bela patiently waits for Egwene all the while she meanders on side paths, like her trip to the Waste. To learn there the mysteries of the world of dreams, she will rather ride Mist - a horse she got almost immediately after getting Corianin's ring - and the horse she will leave behind to create herself a Dream Bela, with her newly acquired skills. And we will end this very long post on another touch of Jordan's humour: Siuan the deposed Amyrlin, when she will conceive her plans to use Egwene to rule in truth through her, will take her horse Bela. Siuan will get only grief from this usurpation - barely able to ride the placid, patient mare who will give her reproachful looks - and give us extremely amusing passages to read. In a bit reminescent of Rand and True Glory, Egwene when the Hall sees her as a figurehead an puppet will ironically try to saddle her with a huge gelding in total contrast with her position at that point: glory. When it's time for Egwene to run into her destiny at the Tower (and capture), she will ride on Bela again, leaving all Glory behind.. and become again a novice.

Much as he does with colours, Jordan offered many of the keys to animal symbolism in the series itself, and again he was very cautious not to dilute meaning, sticking to a few traits and leitmotivs he repeated (interestingly for animals, he often gave each of them benevolent or positive sides, and darker or negative aspects: cunning foxes and killing and thieving foxes, protective wolves and predators, wise owls and nefarious ones, Seanchan ravens and Shadow's ravens, dragon has protector/saviour and as destroyer etc.). Look for all the references to wolves, foxes, ravens, bears and geese - explore the meanings of the metaphors he uses them in, from bears with a sore tooth to foolish nobles compared to geese to cunning foxes and lethal or protective wolves. Very often, the essentials are all there. Looks for the clever ways Jordan will create associations: before Rand became Dragon, a walking serpent, riding the winds of time, he had to learn to walk... Jordan multiplied for Rand the references to slithering and crawling on his belly, his foes giving him epithets such as 'worm' and snail.

In the case of animal symbolism, however, an exploration of their roots in culture, mythology and folklore is most useful, as Jordan has drawn much of his inspiration from those.

Linda has written a great deal of articles related to symbolism in the series, directly or indirectly, for instance in her series devoted to mythological and other parallels for the characters, a few of which like Mat, Rand, Lanfear, Graendal have already been re published here (and many more to come... from Perrin to Tuon to Faile etc.). Several more will be available over the summer and fall, like a whole article devoted to number symbolism, a duo of articles related to the Arthurian Cycle and its links with the series - written by our friend Marcia; an exploration of colour symbolism - coupled with the symbolism for many objects, mundane and celestial and some additional information will be part of my own series devoted to Wheel of Time Heraldry. In complement to this post, we are re publishing here today Linda's excellent introduction to Animal Symbolism, Not Just the Dragon. Have fun with all the foxes, lions, wolves and geese - and watch out for the vipers in the bushes and the spiders in the dark corners!


Fanatic-Templar said...

I usually only post when I've got something to add, clarify or argue, but I felt the need to post here despite having nothing of substance to say.

These insights are the reason I follow this blog assiduously, they are very enlightening, and always make me want to start reading the series again. Even though I don't post too frequently, be assured that your hard work is very much appreciated.

Linda said...

Thank you Ben.

I can add another example from The Shadow Rising. The symbolism of the guest gifts that a parallel party made in the Aiel Waste to Lian is also revealing:

With a small grin for Aviendha to show her he had listened, Rand pulled a guest gift for Lian from his saddlebags, a finely worked golden lion. It had been looted from Tear and bought from a Jindo Water Seeker, but if he was ruler of Tear, maybe it was like stealing from himself. After a moment of hesitation, Mat produced a gift, too, a Tairen necklace of silver flowers, no doubt from the same source originally, and no doubt intended for Isendre.
"Exquisite," Lian smiled, holding up the lion. "I have always had a taste for Tairen craftwork. Rhuarc brought me two pieces many years ago." In a voice suitable for a goodwife reminiscing over some particularly fine sugarberries, she said to her husband, "You took them from the tent of a High Lord just before Laman was beheaded, did you not? A pity you did not reach Andor. I have always wanted a piece of Andoran silver. This necklace is beautiful, too, Mat Gauthon."… Moiraine tried to give Lian a guest gift, too, tiny crystal-and-silver flasks of scent all the way from Arad Doman, but Lian spread her hands.

The Shadow Rising,
Cold Rocks Hold

Lian is most happy to accept the golden lion, symbol of royalty channelling saidin, He Who Comes With the Dawn himself. Rand even hints that it represents himself. Saidar flowers, representing channelling women (especially those who embrace their fertility, as Aiel Wise Ones do), and a distant ‘memory’ of the Age of Legends seed-singing, was also very acceptable. The tiny crystal and silver scent bottles – reminders (tiny bottles) of the glass columns (crystal) and chora tree (scent) in Rhuidean organised by ancient Aes Sedai (silver), where Lian has never been, were too much for her. Moiraine’s gift, like Moiraine herself, represents the shame of the Aiel in abandoning the Covenants and failing the Aes Sedai.

uglycat said...

These insights are the reason I follow this blog assiduously

pretty much the same reason i read these posts as well.
the stuff that can be pulled out of it all is quite fascinating. sadly, i usually don't 'get' most of the symbolism when i read, so being able to learn about them somewhere else is very gratifying.

Molly said...

Great post; I completely missed the horse names! i'll have to watch those more closely now...