A new WOT book comes, and with it its new Inn jokes. Faithful to himself, Jordan managed to include a few funny (well, some are!) and witty jokes in the name of the Inns of the town of Maerone, where Mat and the Band of the Red Hand awaited departure for Illian.
Most of those Inns, and their residents, are tied to the action Mat goes through in Maerone or to elements of his story line. Mat significantly calls Maerone 'a bedlam' (the common name of course derived from the infamous Bedlam Asylum) he begins his tour. In Maerone, Mat finds a world where celebrations and entertainment cohabits with ultimate despair and deep misery, a town of now mixing people from all nationalities, nobles fallen on hard time, rough soldiers, orphans, pseudo-heroes and refugees, in a dark carnival like ambiance. It is one of the scenes from the book which best illustrates the title's reference to the 'Feast of Fools'.
The River Gate, which used to be the town's best inn before the innkeeper let the soldiers get drunk and they destroy the place is (via the association of rivers to the OP) and allusion to mad channelers. The issue of Mat's opinion on Rand's sanity to assemble male channelers crops during the POV.
The Silver Horn is a twisted reference to the Horn of Valere (not in-story, probably - it probably refers to a drinking horn), another subject of worry for Mat during this chapter, and so are the foolish Hunters for the Horn, looking for the wrong things at the wrong place. The Horn, of course, isn't silver, which completes well Mat's exclamation:
His bleak mood held when he left The Silver Horn – idiotic name! – and its innocent-faced singer. (Lord of Chaos, A Different Dance)
The Three Towers is obscure. Perhaps a reference to the Black, White and Ghenjei Towers. Another possibility, given the place features a young woman singing about true love, is that it hides a reference to a Seanchan place only Jordan understood (we do not know, for instance, how many Towers of Midnight there are).
The Fox and Goose is more meaningful. In the series, Goose are associated to the foolish side of nobles (commoners are associated to sheep by Jordan - and by some of his characters, channelers to black-and-white cows, and cats and dogs - though never by the characters themselves. Goose, like sheep, is one of the few metaphors not only Jordan use for symbolism, but which is used the very same way in his universe - the geese often seen in Inn's names are meant as innocent jokes at the nobility's expanse. (The three animals, cows, sheep and goose were also the same taking refuge on the Green during the battles in Emond's Field). The Fox of course is the cunning Mat himself, who has the better of two foolish Murandian noblemen and Hunters in this chapter - saving Olver from them, the young boy that becomes associated to the game of snakes and foxes later on. Mat, who has a long experience of mischief and punishments, funnily outwits Olver at the end of the scene.. following the exact same tactic that Cadsuane will use later to bring Rand to ask her to be his advisor.
There is a reference to a gleeman juggling sticks on fire at this Inn - an allusion to Mat as a Son of Battle and a nod to the fact later on he will contribute turning forms of entertainment (fireworks) into deadly weapons - yet another reference to Mat as a dark figure of carnival.
The Golden Stag, where Mat stays, is the most meaningful name of all. Stags in medieval folklore were heralds of destiny and the underworld - often bringer of prophecies (occasionally, herald of insanity. King Charles VI, Charles the Mad of France's encounter with a white stag in the woods is famous). At the Stag and Lion in Baerlon, for example, Rand learned the first clues about his true destiny from the 'seeress' Min. This symbolic role of the stag is common in Arthuriana and other medieval tales and cycles. In recent culture, a famous and classical use of the stag figure was used by JK Rowling in Deathly Hollows.
At the Golden Stag, Mat goes through an elaborate voyage through his "magical" memories, which he more and more agrees to embrace. In a very nice and very achieved bit of allegory of Mat's destiny as ta'veren (the allegoric meaning underlined very nicely by Harriet's choice for the chapter title, where the connection between dance and battle is made), Jordan had him teach the musicians an old song from the time right before the Trolloc Wars began, which they get half wrong. He drives the young maid Betse Silvin first through a simple pattern of steps, more and more elaborate and intricate as the song progress. This is an allegory of Mat, bringing the world from the peace about to end and into his own pattern of battle, guiding their steps through his knowledge and science as war leader.
The real 'herald' figure from the underworld comes in the middle of the night, startling Mat as such "magical" apparitions do. It is Rand, for one of the first times clearly not totally sane, rambling and beginning to lose control of what he says, like his muttering aloud about the man in his head (it is always fascinating from this stage of the series on to observe closely the great difference of perspectives between Rand's POVs - madman's logic, where he brings us into his own logic and arguments and appears sane enough, and his appearances in other character's POV, where his slipping sanity seen from outside becomes far more obvious). The Stag, Rand, brings his instructions to Mat, setting him on his path to the south and his destiny. It is Rand too, who will send him further, to Salidar and finally Egwene - another seeress, who will get him to Ebou Dar where he will meet Tuon. This scene, where Rand visits Mat in Maerone, is one of my favourite Mat/Rand scene in the series.
A Different Dance also marks the moment in the series when Mat joined my personal list of favourite characters. He has changed so much, his experiences and memories have subtely gained him much wisdom and maturity. From this point, this character becomes fascinating, while remaining funny and witty. While not a huge fan of Olver, per say, I also find his early scenes with Mat very funny and touching, and casting a whole different light on Mat's big heart. Olver is for Mat a constant reminder of his responsabilities, and that he can't afford anymore to act like a child himself, that too much, and too many people, depend on him now. Jordan was very inspired to add Olver to Mat's group this way. There's of course a nice bit of horse symbolism (destiny) there, with Olver who will eventually be accepted in the band of heroes, caught trying to mount the horse of a self-proclaimed hero, and hunter for the Horn.
Overall, A Different Dance is an excellent example of Jordan's magic to turn a chapter where 'not much happens' into great storytelling and literature.
To accompany this post, we're also publishing the Lord of Chaos installement of Linda's Dew Drop Inn, exploring the Inns from the present book.