New Arrival at the Farm, or Rand's Gamble
There are many new major developments and characters introduced in Lord of Chaos, and one of my favourites has always been Mazrim Taim and the beginnings of what would be come The Black Tower.
Before we get to that, I'll get two pointers on symbolism out of the way, as this post won't deal with that: I pointed out earlier that roofs are associated with sanity/madness (this comes from the association between head and roof, from various metaphors for madness like having a spider in the roof). I have also pointed out that boys carrying water from wells is in the series a symbol of male channelers. Those are the two tasks Jordan had future Asha'man perform when Rand and Taim visited the Farm. Not coincidentally (it's the recurrence of such 'coincidences' that end up "validating" a symbol/metaphor. When you collect all instances of an image/metaphor, patterns of use by Jordan emerge), the boy Jordan had on the roof mending thatch was Fedwinn Mor, the young man who will fall into madness and be euthanized by Rand.
Over my years on message boards, I've come to realise I've reacted Taim and Rand's 'Farm' a bit differently from a lot of readers. I tend to remain more distant to the characters than most - I'm more of an observer. I suspect Jordan rather wrote for his readers to enjoy taking sides and cheer or rage with the players (and fall in his "traps"), but I can't help it, it's not really the kind of reader I am.
Instead of joy or excitement that Rand was forming an organization of male channelers, I rather found Rand's gamble with the Farm totally chilling - a potentially disastrous decision made even worse by handing leadership of it to a main like Taim. What jumped at me on first read was that Rand may have put himself right on the path to fulfill the part of the Karaethon Cycle that seems to predict the Dragon could break the world again (a part which we have never seen "in the text" - we can suspect at this point it's a misinterpretation of verses concerning the breaking of the nations pre TG).
This is the possible consequence of the creation of an organization of male channelers Rand never gave much thoughts to. He is frequently afraid these men may go mad and die before the Last Battle and deprive him of the army he has sought to build, but he has never considered that if this organization grew as he wished and enough of these men survived Tarmon Gai'don, he was giving the world a new Breaking. Even when he will decide to cleanse saidin, he will do it to save his army, still oblivious to the other disaster he needed to avert now that he had assembled such a large group of male channelers who would eventually all go mad.
That Rand made the decision to assemble male channelers before he found a way to cleanse saidin and succeeded at it always striked me as a massive gamble on his part. Dangerously overconfident, and quite a bit blind.
This had another, far more pernicious consequence: what sort of men would come to him, when channelling was a sure way to go mad and die? A bunch of men interested in glory, wealth and power the association to Rand might bring them - a fact Rand himself noticed right away about the recruits, most of them at the time young kids not really realizing what they were getting into. But men willing to risk their life on achieving power, wealth and glory have a tendency to be willing to give anything to gain them.. even sell their souls. Male channellers had been for three thousand years the stuff of nightmare - what sort of men it takes to willingly become one of those? Sadly, it is often the sort of men who thrive on fear and power, the sort of men who wish to intimidate. All this has undermined the Asha'man from the start. Of course, they are men in the bunch who joined out of conviction, because they were too old, physically weak or too young to be soldiers. Damer Flinn is one such. And of course,Cadsuane's group did manage to turn several Asha'man from the use of fear and the pursuit of power and glory, and shaped them into real soldiers of the Light. Logain, as a role model, also managed to turn many around - and attract to him all the 'good men'. The motto of the Black Tower could have been, to paraphrase the verse about the Horn: 'You Who Come Here, Think not of Glory but of Salvation'.
But the good men aside, all the others provided the most fertile ground for Mazrim Taim to dig in and turnfrom Rand and from the Light. Men already seeking power and fear, wealth and glory (as Taim even admitted right away he was strictly after to Rand) are also all too easy to attract with intimidating black uniforms with pins on thei collars (which Jordan transparently modelled on the Nazi SS uniforms), to impress with grandiose and fearsome titles, completely departing from WOT's traditional titles for officers and setting them apart (those titles such as Storm Leader are also transparently modelled on Nazi ranks). No wonder one of the first moves Cadsuane's group made when bonding the Asha'man was to force them to abandon these uniforms - the last thing the world needed, that Rand truly needs, is to convince the whole world how dangerous he and his men are.
Quite a nasty serpents' nest Rand has let thrive four leagues south of Caemlyn - and yet, the return of male channelers to fight at Rand's side had to happen, if he were to win TG he needed those men. But he needed them to be loyal to him and his goals, to embrace duty and self-sacrice following his example. It's never black and white, and never easy to be in Rand's shoes. It was a mistake to let someone he didn't trust, someone who admitted candidly to him right away to be strictly after wealth, power and glory be responsible for shaping up in his image and with his values the male channelers.
It is quite a bit chilling that all that stood between Rand and complete disaster at the Black Tower hung on the decisions of two characters who seem to be the ones being groomed as future, post TG leaders. First it was Egwene, who decided against her better judgement that Logain had to be freed and sent to Rand, and Logain, who is on a true path to redeem himself, who abandonned Siuan's misguided revenge against the Reds and Elaida and went where duty to the Light called him. Without these two, Taim had a complete free hand to turn the Black Tower into a major disaster. Now, at least some of it will be averted - if Rand finally acts on Logain' information.
Mazrim Taim's arrival in the story line is a major turning point. Quite a fascinating character, who Jordan managed to surround in mystery. It should be fascinating to finally discover his back story, when and how he became a darkfriend.
A lot of readers are disappointed by the near absence of Demandred through the series. But the character is actually quite present, disguised as Mazrim Taim. Another Taimandred theory? Of course not! Jordan had to keep a general for the Shadow up his sleeve. It's very likely he needs such a commander for Tarmon Gai'don, which supposes that he left one of the Generals cleverly in the background, while the others unwisely showed their hand too early and got wiped out, first Be'lal, then Rhavin and finally Sammael. Meanwhile, Demandred was cunning enough to understand he had nothing to gain jumping in the fray before the time comes for the Shadow to need its generals... Tarmon Gai'don.
That is one reason to keep Demandred relatively out of the story so far. The other reason is that, unlike Mierin/Lanfear's story which lended itself very well to a new attempt to seduce Rand, and a new clash leading to her demise, the most interesting bits about Barid Bel Medar and Lews Therin are well in their past. It's not some much Demandred's action once he joined the Shadow which are of interest, it's his path to betrayal. Jordan could tell us, and did in part, but he could not show us, the way he did with Lanfear. So he created a stand-in and that stand-in is Mazrim Taim, introduced not coincidentally at the same time Demanded came to the forefront. Taim as the same vanity and arrogance, the same belief he is Rand's better, the same obsessive ambitions for wealth, power and glory/recognirion that poison him and will make him forever unsatisfied with any secondary position. Taim's fame (or rather his infamy) came to an end the day Rand's fame began. And Taim, like Barid Bel Medar, is set by Rand to reinvent war and mount an army. It is a sign of Rand's desperation that he put this man in charge of the Black Tower, and a terrible thing that he could not afford the time to keep a much closer eye on its developement. Now, Rand has created another Demandred, a Demandred who is this time well hidden, awaiting the signal for betrayal at the most costly moment, as the beginning of the final war arrives.
The finale of the series will reveal how costly this will be for the Light, and for Rand himself. The fact Rand pushed aside Logain's report that Taim is a darkfriend is not boding well. Taim is merely a few miles south of Elayne, and RJ has left us signs that like Barid Bel Medar was interested in Ilyena, Taim is not insensible to Elayne. She is not the only "wife" in danger. And what will happen of all the women and children at the Black Tower, the day Taim openly turns against Rand? Just attempting to remove him now might turn to disaster, because of these potential hostages. And how focussed on the Last Battle will the Asha'man will remain, when they realise (many of them are bonded) their loved ones are hostages of the Shadow? In Lord of Chaos, Rand muses that the families may not be in the best place at the BT, but that they remind the men of what they are fighting for. It may become horribly all too true - and might even come to include Elayne. Caught between saving their loved ones or abandonning them to horrors to fight the Last Battle, what an impossible choice, all the more since not letting loved ones die would mean letting the Shadow win, and letting the world die.
With Taim, Barid Bel Medar could hold a terrible revenge. And it's hard to believe he didn't have a hand in sending Taim to Rand. Time will tell.
Jordan set up all these issues quite masterfully, it's all there right from the introduction of this storyline:
The second Mazrim Taim enters the courtyard, Lews Therin has sized the man and warned Rand of his folly:
They halted a few paces before him at a gesture from Tumad. Rand opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Lews Therin rose up in a frenzy in his head. Sammael and Demandred hated me, whatever honors I gave them. The more honors, the worse the hate, until they sold their souls and went over. Demandred especially. I should have killed him! I should have killed them all! Scorched the earth to kill them all! Scorch the earth!
Face frozen, Rand fought for his own mind. I am Rand al’Thor. Rand al’Thor! I never knew Sammael or Demandred or any of them! The Light burn me, I am Rand al’Thor!Like a faint echo, one more thought came from elsewhere. The Light burn me. It sounded like a plea. Then Lews Therin was gone, driven back into whatever shadows he lived in. (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival)
Taim's opening gambit where he sets Rand straight on where he thinks his place is - a place he will later usurp since Rand won't give it to him - such ambitions are rarely tamed:
"Submit? I had thought more of a compact between us." (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival)
Then as Rand screams to show who's the boss (which is never as impressive and efficient as those using this mean to impress seem to think) Taim's pretense at submission, his loathing of Rand and his hypocrisy barely disguised, and again LTT's warning:
Without a pause Taim slipped to one knee. "I submit to the Dragon Reborn. I will serve and obey." The corners of his mouth quivered again in that almost smile as he rose. Tumad gaped at him.
"That fast?" Rand said softly. The rage was not gone; it was white hot. If he gave way, he was not sure what he would do. Lews Therin still babbled in the shadows of his head. Kill him! Must kill him! (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival)
Then Taim's avowal of his motivations, which should have struck an alarm bell:
Taim shrugged. "What are my choices? To wander the world alone, friendless, hunted, while you rise to glory? That’s supposing Bashere doesn’t manage to kill me before I can leave the city, or your Aiel women don’t. Even if they don’t, the Aes Sedai will corner me sooner or later; I doubt the Tower means to forget Mazrim Taim. Or I can follow you, and part of that glory will be mine." (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival)
Then the motivations of the "recruits":
"Some don’t really want to channel." Rand eased his grip on his sword hilt. He disliked admitting gaps in his knowledge to this man. "Some haven’t thought beyond a chance at glory or wealth or power. But I want to keep any man who can learn, whatever his reasons." (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival)
And finally, some great insight and wisdom from Rand, but alas a bit he doesn't apply to himself and gradually forgot the importance of - something Sorilea and Cadsuane will later set to make him remember:
To Aes Sedai, people were pieces in a game and the world was the board, not a place to live in. To them, only the White Tower was real. No man could forget the world and ordinary people when he had his family in front of him.(Lord of Chaos, A Woman's Eyes)
And later on, the chilling contradiction of what Rand had said about families and keeping the men in the world, among ordinary people, always remembering they are men, not killing machines:
Weapons," Rand agreed: They had to be weapons, all of them, himself included. Could weapons allow themselves families? Could a weapon allow itself to love? Now, where had that come from?(Lord of Chaos, A Woman's Eyes)
It will be up to others to teach Rand and the Asha'man they are men fighting, not weapons - and that one day, they will have to bury those weapons and all the horrors of wafare, if they are to live again as men. .