The Role of Prophecy
Prophecy is pretty much integral to apocalypticism, the belief in the world’s progress to a foreordained cataclysmic end, and to messianism, the advent of a foreordained world saviour. The Wheel of Time series combines both these beliefs and also millenarianism (the division of history into periods of 1000 years), so it’s hardly surprising that prophecy features large in the series. The Fires of Heaven has some interesting reactions to the Karaethon Cycle, the collection of Foretellings from the Breaking of the World, or possibly even earlier. The earliest translation or commentary thus far in the books dates from about 300 AB.
While Foretelling occurred in the Age of Legends - for example Deindre’s Foretelling in The Shadow Rising, and Mesaana’s observation to Alviarin in A Crown of Swords - we have no evidence that any were recorded into a collection as the Karaethon Cycle was. There are a few reasons why they may not have been. In that Age the war against the Shadow was short and sharp, in this one the war gradually approaches. The Second Age came close enough to apocalypse, but this Age will apparently come even closer, so this is the true ‘apocalypse’ Age. (It would weaken the impact of the Prophecies to prophesy the end of the world twice in historical memory!) More importantly, the Age of Legends was technologically advanced and very well-educated, while the Third Age has declined steadily with much knowledge lost (see the Price and Prize of Knowledge essay). It was born out of the Pattern’s need to warn and inform people in an easily remembered and valued form. Some of its cryptic wording is designed to keep the Shadow from working out crucial things (like the fact that the Dragon Reborn would have two close helpers) while allowing the general gist to be intelligible to readers.
The Prophecies of the Dragon have had a mixed press though, and that is among people even interested in it and what it portends. Siuan and Moiraine, highly educated in a tradition stretching back almost to the Age of Legends, believe that everyone will follow Rand because all know the Prophecies:
"By this time, the Amyrlin Seat will be approaching the rulers of every nation that still has a ruler, laying the proofs before them that you are the Dragon Reborn. They know the Prophecies; they know what you were born to do. Once they are convinced of who and what you are, they will accept you because they must. The Last Battle is coming, and you are their only hope, humankind's only hope."Rand strongly disagrees; and he’s right. Many believe that if there is no Rand, if he is killed, there will be no Last Battle, no War against the Shadow. Others don’t care about the War at all; they are just after their own advantage. Rand’s judgement is well and truly borne out by events in The Fires of Heaven in Cairhien, Amadicia and even in the Tower.
Rand laughed out loud. It was a bitter laugh. Sticking his pipe between his teeth, he hoisted himself to sit cross-legged atop the table, staring at them. "So you and Siuan Sanche still think you know everything there is to know…You're both fools.”
- The Shadow Rising, Rhuidean
We also learn in The Fires of Heaven a bit more of Gitara Moroso’s actions in aiding the Prophecies: she got Siuan to read up on Aiel when Siuan was accepted.
"One of the books she had me read, an old thing from the dustiest corner of the library, claimed that the Aiel call themselves the People of the Dragon. I did not remember it until I tried puzzling out where Rand could have vanished to. The Prophecies say 'the Stone of Tear shall never fall till the People of the Dragon come,' and there were Aiel in the taking of the Stone.”Thanks to Gitara, Siuan worked out that Rand must be in the Aiel Waste. Which is why Kiruna and Bera, sent to the Waste to contact Rand, meet up with the nine rebel embassy Aes Sedai and two other ‘chance-met’ Aes Sedai to form the alarming number thirteen. This will panic Min and Rand to stay in Cairhien, where they will be captured by Elaida’s embassy, leading to Dumai’s Wells and to Aes Sedai swearing fealty to Rand…
- The Fires of Heaven, The Practice of Diffidence.
Galad is one noble who does take note of the Prophecies. In Leavetakings, he warns Nynaeve and Elayne to stay clear of Rand because Rand brings destruction and will break the world again before he is done. This sounds like Galad knows and accepts Rand is the Dragon Reborn. He is also the only one of the three Lord Captain Commanders we see who definitely believes in the Dragon Reborn.
Galad always does what is right, so he will feel it his duty to work toward fulfilling the Prophecies, or at least not hindering them. Therefore he won’t try to kill Rand. Or will he? Elayne’s comments regarding conflicting duties for Galad may well Foreshadow Galad’s (and any Whitecloak’s) dilemma regarding the Dragon Reborn, a male channeller and therefore someone to be killed. This will add another twist to the whole deal. I wonder how Galad would feel if he knew Rand was his brother?
To complement this post, a compilation of all the Prophecies of the Dragon mentioned in the series and their possible interpretations in now released on the Thirteenth Depository.