Friday, August 7, 2009

New Article Released: The Price and Prize of Knowledge

It is my pleasure to announce the release of Dominic’s excellent essay that he wrote in 2006, The Price and Prize of Knowledge. Knowledge, and the gain, loss, corruption, withholding, misusing and disregard of it, is one of the major themes of the series, and in his inimitable way Dom explores each of these in turn, with instructive examples from the books, and weaves them into a wonderful Pattern from which we can glimpse What Might Happen Next. All the main characters, and quite a few minor ones, are touched by the theme in both its positive and negative aspects.

Knowledge is dear to the hearts of Dominic and myself, as it is to the Brown Ajah. The Brown sister Nesune, as is mentioned in Dominic’s essay, never goes anywhere without specimen boxes. In my recent, all too brief vacation I had planned to work out what size and amount of ‘specimen’ (archival) boxes I need to house my collection of playing cards, but prepared articles for the blog and did embroidery instead. (Some of the cards in my collection feature in essays on main character parallels or the Fool and Joker theme.)

What do playing cards have to do with the theme of knowledge? Skill in card games lies in the choice of what to play when, and in the gathering of information to overcome the randomness of the distribution of the cards and the secrecy of the other players’ cards. Card games are games of imperfect information:

Information is gradually released as cards are played or announcements are made, and much of the information that has not yet been revealed is to be deduced or inferred from that which has. The acquisition of information is as much the goal of strategy in strategic card games as the positional moves made as a result of the knowledge acquired.

- David Parlett, A History of Card Games

So it is with reading The Wheel of Time series. Knowledge is gradually released to the character and to the reader, and from this we can make judgements on what should be done, or what is going to be done, next, just as the characters themselves do. In some games, cards may be played purely for the purpose of acquiring information, even at the expense of losing points. This is a tactic that Ishamael/Moridin and Shai’tain himself follow, as Dominic shows, only they play people.

Card games play many variations on the theme of information, for example in the amount of it they make available, the speed at which they give it out, and the ways in which it may be ascertained…[They] are, by nature, not so much games of imperfect information as games about imperfect information and about its acquisition or perfectibility, and that this character derives directly from the basic two-faced nature of the cards themselves – mysterious on one side and self-evident on the other, and therefore ‘played from ambush, because they are concealed’.

- David Parlett, A History of Card Games

Many characters in the series collect knowledge assiduously, and some try to prevent others doing so. A few are oblivious until forced by events to be otherwise, perhaps by being ambushed. In the five-suited poker game Chop in Tear in The Shadow Rising, Mat, the holder of all the aces (actually Rulers) was unable to use them in time, before the Shadow turned them on him. It was a warning that having knowledge isn’t enough, it has to be used and shared.

According to Min, Nesune will found a library in the future, and this, in a way, is what Dominic and I are doing here at the blog: a library of knowledge of The Wheel of Time series, itself about knowledge and its loss, mutation and regaining over Time. And now we have an essay on that very theme of knowledge. Quite a Pattern.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.