A new addition to the blog is Theory Corner, where the authors of the site will post their theories on events in the last three books. So far ten theories have been posted: three about Mat, two about Rand, one about Egwene, two about cuendillar, one about the a'dam, and one about the Seanchan attack on the White Tower, but with only three months until The Gathering Storm, there will certainly soon be more!
The link to Theory Corner is located on the top left with the Wheel of Time Reference Library Index links.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Our colleague Jason Denzel from Dragonmount was allowed to read The Gathering Storm early and, more interestingly (if I'm allowed to be selfish for a minute), Harriet agreed to let him publish his review of it.
Not very spoiler-ish, for those who worry (and Jason highlighted the section where he touched on some of the plot) - from someone like Jason you can expect the safest sort of early review, which may not be the case when people less concerned about the fans and respectful of the material will review it (though we've heard through the branches Tor is not planning to send ARCs of TGS out on any wide basis, which hopefully is the truth - we haven't waited so long to be spoiled!)
Needless to say, I'm a bit envious of him as no doubt all of you will be, but if anyone deserved that treat of reading the book early and posting the very first review of it, it's certainly Jason, after all his done over the years through Dragonmount to for both the series and its online fandom (including the warmest welcome to Linda and me as we opened this blog).
It's gonna be three very long months after reading this review, especially that bit he says about Rand which seems to confirm Linda's and my intuitions about the importance of the theme of "laughters and tears". As for what he says about Egwene, it's tantalizing too, to say the least.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
War Comes to Emond's Field, part 2: Bloody Sunday
On Amadaine 14, the day before the Sunday festival (the important midsummer day of Festival that takes place between Amadaine 14 and Amadaine 15 - more discussion on why RJ attached quite a few battles with the Shadow to his festivals in the future read-throughs), as Perrin Aybara came back from his expedition to the East of the Two Rivers to hunt Shadowspawn he found Emond's Field much changed. The village was now completely surrounded by a wide low hedge of spikes, broken only at the main roads, where carts and wagons were used to block entrance. Every fence, hedge and low stone walls dividing the fields and pastures closest to the village had been sacrificed - crops higher than barley stubble had been scrapped (again much of what's green has to be sacrificed), every tree in a perimeter of 500 paces (250 spans, 1/4 mile) from the spikes hedge had been cut leaving a field of low stumps, and the men were still hard at work pushing the woods back even further (they will have pushed them back to 600 paces by the time of the final battle). Many of the farmers around had regrouped in Emond's Fields and the villagers were sending the flocks out to the closet remaining pastures only in large groups (equivalent to ten men's flocks, according to Perrin) with many more shepherds than usual. More wagons and carts had been used to block the spaces between houses. The Green was now crowded with sheep, cows and geese.
The hedge of spikes is of course meant to break or at least slow down charges by Trollocs, the cleared out perimeter (which we had first seen used in Shienar, all around the town of Fal Dara) is meant to give a clear bow shot and to deprive the Shadowspawn of any cover.
Very interestingly, Robert Jordan chose to give the farmers of the Two Rivers their own iconic weapon: the Two Rivers longbow. This choice was not innocent and reflects his theme that the characters from this area bring a massive transformation to the world and most of all to the world's leadership, largely in the hands of nobles, several of which Rand ended up 'casting down', while both Perrin and Mat find their different ways to nobility. Rand, Mat, Perrin and Egwene are turning the old order upside down so a new Age might arise, each in their own way. The Two Rivers longbow (which is fairly unique in the series' world, though now spreading to the Band and such) is largely based on the English longbow, the medieval weapon that contributed massively to bring an end to the age of chivalry and the domination of heavily armored mounted knights in battles (all of them nobles, of course), most famously with the Battles of Crécy and Agincourt, where the French nobility met disaster. The longbow became for a time the iconic symbol of the commoner soldier, as the common men gradually displaced the mounted armies of nobles from the field. This change is also beginning to happen in the story, between the Band of the Red Hand and the Legion of the Dragon, though for different reasons. Though this happened earlier in history than the period of reference from which Jordan took his inspiration for material life in the series (16th to 18th centuries), this delay is coherent with his decision that gunpowder has not yet been introduced. In the series, the real nobility of the arms is in decline in several nations outside the Borderlands (from Tear to Cairhien etc.), with professional armies emerging while nobles dedicate themselves more and more to politics and to enriching themselves.
Another thematic element associated to the longbow is that it is a weapon that while very deadly against a single target with good marksmanship (also for hunting, its primary purpose in the Two Rivers), in battle it is most effective when used in large volleys at long range to break charges, which goes hand in hand with RJ's theme that the people need to regroup, come together and work together - learn to be as one - if they want to be able to keep the Shadow at bay and defeat it, completing thematically with the weaponry used in those scenes the alliance of the villages that save Emond's Field at the end. Jordan liked to use the Two Rivers' longbowmen in such situations: in The Shadow Rising in the Two Rivers where all the villages come together; again in Lord of Chaos where they are part of an impromptu multinational alliance lead by Perrin of Aiel, Cairhienin and Mayeners (including even Aes Sedai) to save Rand at Dumai's Wells; and again at Malden, where Perrin makes an alliance with the Seanchan.
There is a very good article on the Two Rivers longbow on The Compendium of Weaponry and Military Costuming in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time site, to which I redirect readers who want to look at the subject in more details. I will cover here the basics that relate to the map. Before doing so, I'll discuss briefly Jordan's system of measurements (the Compendium is also a good resource for a more in depth discussion of this). Jordan apparently told some readers his foot was equivalent to the real life's one, however there is much evidence from the series to suggest the foot is slightly shorter. Paul at the Compendium found evidence the foot might be somewhat under 11 inches, which seems to fit best with real life information on weapons. Following this, Linda and myself decided to take a guess that the inch is approximately the same size as in real life, which makes 10 inches to his foot, 30 inches to a pace, 2 paces to a span, and a thousand spans to his mile. RJ's miles would be 60000 inches instead of the 63360 inches to the mile in real life. This estimation makes the Two Rivers longbow more effective than the best English longbows, but not terribly so. The Mary Rose, for instance, could cover a range of 360 yards, which would correspond to 432 of RJ's paces. Perrin calls 500 paces 'a longbow shot', and in action on the Sunday battle, the farthest arrows fell 'about a hundred paces short' of the woods, so around 400 paces. This estimation put the Two Rivers longbows with the best of the English longbows. Tam al'Thor, who lead the longbowmen in the Sunday battle, had them shoot their first volleys has the Shadowspawn reached the 300 paces mark only - that's probably his estimate of the distance at which the volleys would have been most deadly - more accurate than at full range, and with greater strength to pierce armour.
The Two Rivers bowmen used their traditional broadhead arrows though all these battles. Neither Perrin nor the Warders (or Faile) apparently introduced Haral Luhhan to the chiseled type used in Shienar and the borderlands, designed to pierce the Trollocs' crude armour (Rand and Mat came to use them in The Great Hunt, and we concur with Paul's idea at the Compendium that they acquired those arrows in Shienar, the Two Rivers hunters would have had no need for those). Those Borderlander arrows would correspond to the classic bodkin point arrow that came to be used with English longbows, and which introduced changes in the type of armour worn by knights, lighter and ridged, designed to deflect the bodkin points.
Other weaponry used in the Sunday battle includes an assortment of old halberds and polearms and such found in attics and all sort of makeshift pikes assembled from agricultural tools. This motif of the people turning every day objects into weapon is very present in the series, especially associated to the Two Rivers. Back in TEOTW, the blacksmith hammer that becomes iconic to the Wolf-King was already wielded by Alsbeth, the blacksmith's wife. Working from descriptions by the warders Tomas (Verin's) and Ihvon (Alanna's), the carpenters and Master Luhhan assembled simple catapults (the type with a central beam). Through the battle, the two Aes Sedai put weaves on field stones used for projectiles that make them explode, seemingly on contact. The exact range of these catapults is not given, though Perrin describes them in action at the same time the Trollocs had reached the 300 paces mark. By the time of the Sunday battle, six catapults had already been completed. One was located on the side of the road to the South, two more were placed on the Western side of the village. The locations of the three others, to the North and East are purely illustrative on the map, though it sounds likely one was at the East end of the village and two were placed on the more exposed northern side that also has the Westwood in the West.
The map of the events of Sunday 999 NE
(1) The wide low hedge of spikes, all around the village, some distance from the last houses.
(A) Marks the 500 paces mark, what Perrin calls 'a longbow shot', likely the distance reached by the best and strongest bowmen, like Abell and Tam.
(B) Marks the 300 paces mark, the distance from the hedge reached by the Shadowspawn at which Tam orders the first volleys to be launched.
(C) Marks the 50 paces mark, the closest to the hedge some Trollocs managed to get.
As Perrin, recently healed and still very weak, wakes up at the Winespring Inn in early morning of Sunday, there is some commotion and a large crowd of villagers assembled at the West end of the village to which he rides Stepper to investigate. Faile riding Swallow at his side, they are accompanied by a mounted escort of the local younglings who have begun to call themselves the Companions - a sure sign the normally extremely reserved Tam al'Thor has recently started to tell stories of his soldiering life as officer of the Illianer Companions. Interestingly, with this Jordan gave the future Wolk-King, his 'unifying' Hawkwing-like character, Lews Therin's Companions the Dragon Reborn doesn't have this time around.
At the West edge, Perrin learns a lone Trolloc scout or wanderer was seen and attacked by the men still doing woodcutting at the edge of the Westwood (wounding a few, which were healed by Alanna and Verin). Bain and Chiad had gone in pursuit and came back, announcing the imminent arrival of a Shadowspawn army, perhaps five hundred strong, that was then a mile or two at most behind them. The shepherds and flocks in the pastures are warned to return by Abell, as the two Aes Sedai prepare for battle at the catapults (3) (We do not know the exact positions of Verin and Alanna, placing the first to the south and the second to the north is illustrative only) and Tam al'Thor takes command of the Emond's Field's forces. Tam placed around a hundred men with the pikes and halberds in a single line along the hedge (5). They kneel to clear the way to the longbowmen, around 200 of them, arranged in two lines (4) behind the "pikemen".
The crowd is sent behind the last houses. The Companions have gone into the village and, having dismounted and left the horses behind, they return armed with their longbows (and the portable, bannerman's version of Wolf-Head Banner), surrounding Perrin and Faile who stand behind the lines (2).
After a time that seemed interminable to Perrin, the Shadow's army pours of the Westwood (8), perhaps five hundred Trollocs lead by three Myrddraal that ride back and forth to the rear, urging the Trollocs forward.
A few stray arrows are immediately shot (reaching 400 paces for the best ones, about a hundred paces short of the vanguard) by panicky untrained farmers before Tam manages to bring order back and remind them they need to shoot together at this order and wait until the Trollocs have reached the 300 paces mark (B). The catapults are put into action, sending the exploding stones in the midst of the Shadowspawn. The firing rate of the Aes Sedai decreases fast (Perrin will learn later those weaves are very taxing on the sisters). Soon, Tam's orders for volleys stop and the archers begin to spread out and take targets.
The battle is over in minutes, most of the Shadowspawn dead - only a few were seen escaping through the wood. The closest to the hedge of spikes some Trollocs have reached was 50 paces (C). The Emond's Fielders celebrate the 'great victory' but Tam, the warders and Perrin know better: the Myrddraal would have known this attack would forcibly fail, this was just a test of the village's defenses and defenders.
After the battle, Perrin rides to the South entrance (6) where the men left to guard have clustered (many of the older men and drunks were there, seemingly Tam had called to the West end most of the forces of the village to face the threat). Pretending at first they have also faced Shadowspawn, Perrin's keen eyesight soon disabuses Cenn Buie and his companions: hiding behind the first stone wall left standing about 500 paces away (7) are about 20 of the Tuatha'an, the first survivors to reach Emond's Field from Raen's caravans that faced a disastrous attack by Trollocs some distance south from the Aybara farm, on the edge of the Waterwood in the East (and many miles off the border of the map). The attack killed most of Raen's people, who learn the harshest way the price to the followers of the Way of the Leaf to have isolated themselves from the people.
Much later the same day, it's the arrival of 2 long files of horsemen (about 400 of them) on the North Road that causes a new commotion. Dain Bornhald had come to arrest Perrin. Perrin makes a deal with him: he will give himself up after the crisis has abated, if Bornhald will stay to participate in the defense of Emond's Field.
The third and last part of this article will cover the final battle of Emond's Field. Not to further delay the read-throughs, this last post for The Shadow Rising will be published between posts for The Fires of Heaven... as soon as the map is ready. :)
Saturday, July 25, 2009
A new article is now available in the Reference Library: Egwene's Dreams
This article, written by Linda in 2004 for the Wotmania FAQ section and kept up-to-date with each new book, is a compilation of all Egwene's dreams in the series and their possible interpretations. The Weaves and Talents and Fate, Free Will and Divining the Pattern articles have a general discussion of the rare Dreaming Talent. While Dreams only indicate a likely future event, rather than something that will definitely occur, many of Egwene's dreams have indeed come true precisely as described.
Posted by Linda at 6:42 AM
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The Shadow Rising Read through #22 - There Are No Beginnings or Endings... Unless the Dark One Ends Time
There Are No Beginnings or Endings... Unless the Dark One Ends Time
Between The Shadow Rising and The Fires of Heaven seems an appropriate time to look at the theology and philosophy of the Wheel of Time world. The Shadow rising across the world to a final confrontation with Good is an apocalyptic (originally Zoroastrian) concept, while the Fires of Heaven which purge the earth could be an Old Testament reference or the final cleansing fire that purges evil from the earth in Zoroastrian end times.
Many belief systems make up the concepts underlying the Wheel of Time theology and philosophy. Jordan’s original basic idea was to explore what it would be like to be told you were the messiah, whose sacrifice would save the world. The series is set at the potential end of Time, certainly the end of an Age, and contains ideas about end-times, eschatologies, of various cultures.
In 2005 I wrote an essay "There Are No Beginnings or Endings... The Paradox of WOT's Eschatology" for the Wotmania FAQ and it is now re-published here. Paradox is right. Much of this paradox stems from the nature of the Dark One. As Verin said, the Dark One is sealed away on all worlds and remains so unless he is freed on one of them. While ever he is imprisoned in one world, he is imprisoned in all (The Dragon Reborn, A World of Dreams).
Paradox confounds, but then so does chaos and the Dark One thrives on that. People who think they’ve lost their grip on events are more likely to despair. Order and belief give strength as Herid Fel wrote (Lord of Chaos, Thorns), and this may, nay will, be a key factor in defeating the Dark One. The Dark One didn’t order chaos unleashed for nothing.
So what do we have? Two equally powerful gods, one locked away, but able to interfere with the world; the other won’t, or perhaps can’t, interfere. We don’t know why. Has the Creator invested so much of himself in Creation that he is effectively part of the Pattern as some have speculated? Would it put too much strain on the Pattern or on Time if the Creator interfered? Whatever the reason, the Creator wants humanity to fix what they messed rather than come begging for help. We know very little about the most important things in WOT, and I am sure that the theology is much more important than the identity of Demandred or who killed Asmodean. The climax of the Last Battle and the solution to defeating the Dark One is likely to be theological and not a simple ‘Who Would Win In A Fight?’ between Rand and the Dark One: the symbolism pervading the series, and especially in The Eye of the World (as discussed in this read-through post) assures us of that.
RJ described his dualistic theology as ‘a bit Manichean’. He was right. It is only a bit. It is a lot more Zoroastrian with its emphasis on end-times, apocalypses and the contention between two equal and opposite gods. There is also the cyclic time and wheel of Hinduism/Buddhism/Jainism and the opposing forces, balance and change of Taoism. Another very strong influence is the Book of Revelation of New Testament and some of the apocryphal writings between the Old and New Testaments.
We are assured at the start of every book in the series that there are no beginnings or endings in the Wheel of Time. Taking this at face value, this would mean that the Ages have turned endlessly and will continue to do so. However, since we know the Wheel was created in some very distant past, there was a beginning. Correspondingly, the Wheel may come to an end in an impossibly distant future, or may follow a cycle of creation and destruction in the Indian mode. It may even exist eternally. Thanks to the Dark One, it is at risk of ending in the next three books.
Eschatology is the study of the end times of the world. Special forms of eschatology are: apocalypticism (belief in the world’s progress to a prophesied cataclysmic appointed end), messianism (belief in a future salvation figure) and millenarianism (belief in a periodisation of history into multiples of a thousand years and in the idea of a return to conditions of peace and happiness; it is the broad definition of millenarianism that is meant here, not the specific evangelical Christian term for the period of one thousand years of Christ’s rule on earth). These types of eschatology are not always all present in the end times of a theology. However, in the Wheel of Time series, all three are present to about equal degrees. This is one of the more remarkable features of the series, as is the lack of an organised religion.
Religion itself is abundantly present because “this is a world where what might be called the proofs of religion are self-evident all the time” (Robert Jordan at a book-signing in the Wotmania Plots, Characters and the Wheel of Time FAQ). A summary of the tenets of the general millenarianism of the series would be:
- Prior to the beginning of the next Age, human society will have declined – morally, socially or technologically. This will culminate in a global trauma (eg the Breaking of the World, Tarmon Gai’don) which is man-made, natural, divine (Dark One) or a combination of these three.
- Appropriate evidence is sought and found to justify such theories of decline and global trauma (eg the Prophecies of the Dragon).
- The coming Age will potentially be a distinct improvement on the present one, although decline eventually returns as the next Age nears. (An Age where the Dark One doesn’t touch the world would be an improvement although there is the risk that the coming age will be that of the Shadow and therefore much worse.)
- The end of some Ages is heralded by the appearance of the world saviour, the Dragon, his death ending the Age. (Some Ages don’t have a Dragon according to Jordan).
- The entire historical process moves forward according to a plan that is in outline preordained (the Wheel of Time spins the Age Lace to make the Web of Ages according to the Pattern).
- It is the duty of every citizen to actively prepare for the next phase of history, to further the Pattern with integrity, since their lives are the threads from which the Pattern is woven, although not all choose to follow this path.
- The Transformation is imminent, since the Dragon has been reborn…
The Dark One wants to end the world as it currently is and the Light’s forces want to retain the current Pattern and Wheel. The Last Battle between the two forces will be cataclysmic, apocalyptic even. The Last Battle is only the last if the Dark One wins and ends time. Otherwise the cycle of time will continue.
The Wheel of Time world does have Golden Ages: the Age of Legends was one. (This is probably the Pattern for the Second Age). After the Last Battle, will the Fourth Age be one? Not necessarily. At a book-signing, Jordan described the end of the Age of Legends as a "long drawn-out apocalypse". With so much at stake - the chance of total victory – the end of the Third Age may be even worse. The place is probably going to be a mess after all the battles – the world shattered as the Prophecies of the Dragon say – and there might be an unpleasant price for humanity for sealing up the Bore again. However, it will be far better compared to what the world would be like remade in the Dark One’s image as he intends.
The biggest paradox of all is that a world with a cyclic time frame shouldn’t have a Last Battle, since the Last Battle should be final. (Herid Fel pointed this out to Rand in a conversation in Lord of Chaos, A Taste of Solitude.) Moreover, the Last battle is occurring at the end of an age named the Third. By some, according to the Story. The middle of the great cycle of Ages. Yet no one thinks of this Age as the Seventh Age and to me, Tarmon Gai'don would be more convincing at the end of the Seventh Age. I guess it is a strong hint that the Light will win – probably the strongest possible hint. But the Pattern is for it to occur now. Even if this is the Dark One’s idea, going against the Pattern, the Wheel seems prepared. A paradox as I said. Presumably attempts have been made before, although whether they occur at random times or at the same Age, we don’t know. Not every Age has a Dragon so there are Ages when the Dark One doesn’t get near freedom.
If the Shadow wins, the Dark One intends to break the wheel and remake the world in his own image – resulting in the end of the world as it is currently known. The Dark One won’t care about the imbalance in the Pattern since he wants to change the Pattern anyway. Judging by his nature, he would be quite content if the Creator were extinguished, or at the very least, sealed in the prison the Dark One so recently vacated. With this outcome the Last Battle would truly be last.
If the Light wins, would the Pattern (and therefore the Creator) allow itself to become unbalanced to this extent by extinguishing the Dark One? If the losing deity is extinguished, there will be an imbalance in Creation and changes to the Pattern of Ages; therefore this should not happen. Perhaps this is where Jordan’s dualistic theology and cyclic view of time really takes effect. It is more likely that the Dark One will not be destroyed if the Light wins, but resealed in his prison so he cannot touch the world, thus restoring the Creator’s Pattern. The downside is that the Dark One could be contacted in a future Age. And so it goes.
We were warned that there were no beginnings or endings to the Story.
Monday, July 20, 2009
War Comes to Emond's Field, part 1: Before the Troubles
A Map of Emond's Field and its surroundings in the summer of the year 999 of the New Era
Emond's Field is perhaps Jordan's most iconic location, and the one that changed and evolved the most through the series, reflecting symbolically, in microcosm, the evolution of the main characters and the progression of some of the series's important themes. It is introduced as a small and sleepy little village in a remote western region of Andor, secluded and sheltered, like the main characters to whom it is home and origin. It has a small inn, whitewashed with a first storey of river stones, with a unique and distinctive red-tiled roof. Nearby are old stone ruins in the center of which grows a giant old oak. Images of Tar Valon and Dragonmount are evoked though this, the red roof representing the inescapable mission of the Tower since the breaking: protecting humanity against male channelers' madness. Emond's Field has an Old Road going south, representing the past, and a North Road, representing the future and the Battle to come (North in Jordan's work is often associated to winter and death, to Shai'tan, the Blight and Shayol Ghul and the borderlands of humanity). West to East is the path of the Dragon. Beyond the Quarry Road, in the mountains and to the South West lies the Waygate (a symbol for Shayol Ghul and the Bore itself, a hole in reality from which pour Evil, home to an evil "Spirit") and the destroyed wonders of Manetheren - symbolic, with the Sand Hills, of the War of Shadow and the Breaking. It is this Quarry Road that Rand takes East, carrying a 'mad' Tam (ie: fevered and in delirium) rambling about his dead wife - an image of Lews Therin who shares his mind. Bela (like all horses in the series, an image of the Wheel weaving a character's thread - the pull of the Wheel on one's life often represented by riding the horse - more active, or by being pulled in a cart, more passive - characters shown in carts and wagons no longer have matters completely in hands - being driven by others on rough roads, and sometimes even incapacitated and near death - as happened to Rand wounded outside Cairhien late in the series, and to Mat at the beginning of The Dragon Reborn.) isn't there anymore to carry the burden, it is Rand's alone to make his way on the Quarry Road, pulling what's left of the cart, its wheels broken. Interesting name, the Quarry Road... it is first a Road to the stone(s) (likely the 'quarry' was actually the ruins of Manetheren themselves - Jordan used this imagery of villagers rebuilding anew by carrying away the stones of an abandoned city in The Great Hunt, chapter 10. The characters seem to think the opposite, that the road led to a quarry from Manetheren - but they likely have it wrong, given there was no shortage of stone in the mountains and no need to go down in the valley!). Rand will get his first Sword, and his first hint the Shadow wants him at the western end of the Quarry Road, at his father's farm. A quarry is also the name for a target, a hunted prey - as Rand's path makes him the object of the Shadow's hunt. More figuratively, it used to mean 'to obtain with great difficulty'. This motif of the four points on the Rose of Winds will always be very present for Rand. He will be proclaimed first in the West (Falme), and again carry his burden alone on the long Road to the West, to the Stone where he gets his second Sword. He will move further East, again toward Destiny - that of becoming the Car'a'carn, and take back the road West, to war. He will remain 'at the heart' for a lot of the series after this, sometimes travelling South - but since The Eye of the World (and a brief off-screen visit during Winter's Heart), the North is the direction he has so far managed to avoid. The direction of the Last Battle, of his possible death, the direction of his destiny (of all the main cast's destiny) on the North Road and over the river (a symbol of death and rebirth to a new life, of destiny) Moiraine makes them all take as the series opened.
When Rand will return to the Two Rivers briefly(during Lord of Chaos, chapter 1), he will open his gateway on the Old Road (south, the past). As they look ahead toward the North, the wise Elder Haman will remind him:
"The road ahead of you," Haman rumbled, "is long, dark, and, I very much fear, bloodstained. I also very much fear that you will take us all down that road. But you must live to reach the end of it."
"I will," Rand replied curtly. "Fare you well." He tried to put some warmth into that, some feeling, but he was not sure he succeeded.
"Fare you well," Haman said, and the women echoed it before all three turned toward the farmhouse. Not even Erith sounded as if she believed he would, though.
A moment longer Rand stood there. People had appeared outside the house, watching the Ogier approach, but Rand stared north and west, not toward Emond’s Field, but toward the farm where he had grown up. When he turned away and opened a gateway to Caemlyn, it was like tearing his own arm off.
At the center of the village is the Green, where the children play, where some farm animals are brought to feed. The colour green in the Wheel of Time is the colour representing Life, spring and summer. It is not the colour of battle (unless one wants to take the view that Life itself is a battle), the Battle Ajah has adopted the colour of what they fight to defend, of Green Life against the Red of blood and fire that brings the Black of the Shadow's victory. White of rebirth versus Black of the final death, Green of Life versus the Red of fire and blood - the colours of the game of Sha'rah, which symbolism encompasses all of life, from Moridin's perspective - but by adopting Red and Black, he is taking the side of destruction and death. In the Eye of the World, wood is chopped to build three bonfires for Bel Tine, placed to the North on a patch of dirt, safely away from homes and... from the Green, to avoid damaging it, Rand precises. The symbolism of the Tree us strong and fairly "classic' in The Wheel of Time. With its green canopy, it completes the symbolism of the colour Green to represent Life and the cycle of Life (Avendesora, the Tree of Life itself, is the principal symbol of this). The tree becomes red with autumn and lose its leaves to the wind. Naked or covered in snow in winter, it is reborn, in green again, with spring, its dead leaves enriching the brown earth. Jordan also uses trees as a metaphor for Man, for a human life - the Dragon especially is associated to them. Jordan's male tree per excellence is the Oak - strong and hard, but prone to break in storms and thunderstorms. His female tree, supple and bending to the winds, but not as strong as the Oak, is the white willow. Finally, Jordan also make the tree a complementary metaphor for the cyclical Pattern, human threads becoming its leaves. All the symbology of the Way of the Leaf is derived from this. Trees through the series very often have to be sacrificed - to make defenses, weapons etc. - representing because of the all the Tree symbolism the necessary sacrifices in lives to defeat the Shadow. The Ogier aren't only Tree Brothers, they are in the series brothers to humans.
Still in this line of symbolism, the Bel Tine bonfires won't be used for festival at all, they will be used to burn Shadowspawn. Those three bonfires safely off the Green on a dirt patch to the North represent the three ta'veren and their missions - the fire and destruction they each must bring into the world to defeat the Shadow, as they is no victory possible without big sacrifices. In Jordan's vision, trying to hold on to too much (for over-protection of loved ones to try to see only to your earthly interests) should be a path to defeat, while giving up too much, going too far to win, leads on the path of Shadar Logth and a victory as terrible as the defeat - the characters are forced to walk the fine moving line between the two extremes.
Emond's Field has its image of the True Source, the Winespring - and its image of the One Power, the Winespring Water. Beyond the village is what is described by Jordan as a quilt of fields and farms - a pattern, and Jon Thane's Mill, its Waterwheel harnessing the power of the Winespring water - an image of the Wheel weaving the Pattern, transforming the product of the land into flour to feed everyone.
Emond's Field evolves
As Perrin returns in the summer of 999 NE, he brings as ta'veren massive changes to Emond's Field. First, he brings them a leader to fight troubles from the Whitecloaks (representing all the chaos of the Light fighting the Light - doing the Shadow's work - which is going on all around the Westlands by that point. In the series' History, this motif of crossing the line over to evil - an evil different from the Shadow but as bad, is represented by Shadar Logoth. As the series begins, it is mostly carried through the Whitecloaks (especially the Jareth Byar character in EOTW, and later Dain Bornhald in The Shadow Rising - and as they enter a phase of redemption, the focus of the Whitecloaks 'ordinary evil' will shift mostly toward Asunawa, the High Inquisitor) and the most fanatical Red Sisters (the iconic figure among the extremists being of course Elaida herself) - notably those involved in the Vileness. Later, the same theme will be developed with Masema's fanatics and its aura of danger also surrounds the Asha'man - which Rand conceived of as a group that should concern itself solely with preparing to die fighting Tarmon Gai'don - echoing Mordeth's 'The Victory of the Light is All') then the war against the Shadow they can't escape.
In The Shadow Rising, Jordan offers us a symbolic preview in macrocosm of the Last Battle. The story line will be marked by the ultimate betrayal of the Whitecloaks, abandoning those they had promised to protect when the battle rages (echoed by Elaida's betrayal in Tar Valon, which breaks the Tower). This is likely to be echoed eventually by Taim's Black Tower betrayal of Rand - a replay of the betrayal of Lews Therin's betrayal by those the soldiers he had raised at his side: Demandred, Sammael and Be'lal among them. Through those sequences, the village itself is transformed. The Green has to become a refuge for all the village's animals (in the final battle, the women, children and Tinkers will join them), and on it will eventually stand a camp for the 400 Whitecloaks, and this time fires will have been built on the Green. The quilt of distant farms, pastures and fields around Emond's Field - a symbol of the Pattern, will suffer the ravages of Shadowspawn lead by the man who is both alive and dead (Isam, the new figure of the Stranger, a symbolic counterpart of Ishamael/Moridin). All around the village, trees have to be cut to build the defenses and force the enemy to advance on open ground - hedges and stone walls around the fields will also be torn down (similar imagery will be re-used by Jordan during the Siege of Caemlyn - Elayne has to destroy the city's beautiful parks to make place for her soldiers to assemble and manoeuver). On the Green will stand two banners: Perrin's Wolf-Head and Manetheren's Red Eagle. Past and Present together, the Hero (Wolf) and the Land (Manetheren) being one. For these episodes, Jordan borrowed for Perrin's character the Celtic-Arthurian motifs - the Dragon/King being wed to the Land and being one with it - he rather made more prominent for Rand himself. Emond's Field wakes up to force Perrin to abandon his death wish, it prepares itself as he launches into the fight. Emond's Field struggles and falters as Perrin is wounded and tired (Jordan gave him a wound in his side, symbolic of Rand in two ways: for its physical location, but also through Perrin's two foes in this story line, Fain/Shadar Logoth and the Shadow). He weds his sovereignty goddess, the Falcon. She brings him a Crown, which he still doesn't know (but none of this escapes the clever Verin who has found the Wolf-King in this book and makes veiled allusions to Perrin about it) and she brings him a land: at the end, she symbolically brings the whole Two Rivers to him.
It's very noteworthy - and perhaps very revealing of where this important theme is going in the series as a whole - that in this microcosm of the dual fight against the evils of 'Shadar Logoth' and 'Shai'tan' defeat nearly comes from casting aside half the forces of the Light: the women - and from everyone remaining isolated in their little community instead of joining up (as Perrin visits the area in the Wolf Dream, he sees clearly the fate awaiting Deven Ride and Watch Hill, surrounded by pockets of Shadowspawn, the same fate that already befell Taren Ferry - the city that 'never belonged' and never participated to the common good of the Two Rivers - after this crisis, however, the new inhabitants of the village will join up the other villages behind Perrin. The motifs Jordan created with Taren Ferry - live together or die alone - is similar in the macrocosm to the position of the Aiel, strangers that can't be trusted - by the late series it centers solely on the Shaido).
It is Faile, his soon-to-be wife (behind her the whole village) who forces Perrin to abandon his death wish of surrendering to the Whitecloaks and Bornhald, who wants him for a crime he has not even committed: causing the death of his father. More importantly, Perrin will send Faile away to illusory safety (there is no safety for women and children under the Shadow - the only way to bring safety back, to save women and children, land and possessions, to have a chance at life again is to win). Faile however will deceive Perrin, like the Emond's Field women will, promising to stay with the children and flee to hide in the woods (where they would obviously have fallen to Shadowspawn). At the end, the men aren't enough, their lines are breaking fast and defeat is imminent. This is when the women and older children of Emond's Field will come to reinforce the men (saving the lives of Perrin and his men to the North), when Faile returns from Watch Hill as general of a Two Rivers army turns the tide to the North. To the South, it is the people of Deven Ride, who come to join those of Emond's Field. Men and Women fighting side by side, the land united as One, the necessary sacrifices accepted and the illusion anything can be sheltered aside when fighting the Shadow, the traitors like the Whitecloaks cast aside and rejected, beliefs that cannot stand in front of the Shadow have to be put aside for the war (the Tinkers learned this the hard way, losing most of their own and in the end forced to accept the protection of those using the inescapable violence to fight Shai'tan's forces), the union of knowledge/wisdom (Verin the Brown) and action (Alanna the Soldier) and the acceptance of facing the unknown despite vastly incomplete knowledge of all the facts (a motif carried out strongly in the series with Verin, the hunter for knowledge who never lets the vastest of what she doesn't know and doesn't understand stop her from making the necessary even if often risky decisions when they have to be made) - all important necessities for victory against the Shadow that Jordan showed us in microcosm in 'The Battle of Emond's Field).
In further installments through the read-throughs of Lord of Chaos and Winter's Heart, I will look at how Jordan kept using Emond's Field as a microcosm and how he reflected the progress of the series' themes in it.
About the Map
Designing a map of Emond's Field was sort of a challenge. Jordan has this reputation of very long descriptions of everything, in minute details. I guess for many readers, he is being very descriptive, more than what they are used to read maybe (I could point them to Alexandre Dumas, for instance, who can take a full chapter to describe a village or a garden, paragraphs to describe a meal - he even devoted a complete chapter of The Three Musketeers to the description of an Inn's sign and the history behind it! On his discharge, Dumas was paid by the line and often had to stretch - he was certainly guilty of what Jordan, unfairly IMHO, has been some times accused of: adding unnecessary filler material). More systematic research in Jordan's world rather shows that, in truth, his descriptions are of a far more evocative kind than precise and complete. He used them to set the mood of a scene (which he did brilliantly, usually), also taking the opportunity to include symbolic elements when he could. Most of his descriptions are also fairly succinct, lacking in details.
Through the series, Emond's Field has been described many times, but always in a more evocative manner. While a complete research of the Emond's Field scenes in the books has been the most important source of information to design the map, I also had to look for other sources of inspiration. I have looked notably at old maps of small villages and towns in the American south (and in lesser proportions in England) - most of all in the area around Charleston, trying to capture some of their elements. While there's no guarantee Jordan took his inspiration from his own surroundings, there are some clues that he did precisely that. He joked a few times that we should look on a map and would see that he lived in the Two Rivers. Indeed. Charleston itself evolves quite a bit like Emond's Field, from a village to a small town in the 17th century, to a booming town to which fortifications and The Citadel were eventually added during the Civil War. As his wife Harriet also mentioned at JordanCon, the villagers of Emond's Field owe a great deal to Jim Rigney's observations of village life in the Old South. Emond's Field, with its village green at the center, is fairly typical. The Inn in front stands where the village's church would normally be. Farms in the village itself (as there is in Emond's Field, Abell's notably) are not uncommon. I set up the farms loosely on the English model, with the house and barn usually away from the main roads/paths, surrounded by their fields and orchards. In the area I'm from (Québec), the countryside is very different, following the French system, where the farm houses are placed on the road itself, the barn and other buildings in the back, the fields narrower and to the side.
The map is forcibly not extremely precise, but enough to be able to create a map of the battle of Emond's Field, which you'll see in the second post. For now, this first map of Emond's Field show its state toward summer 999 NE, as Perrin found it on his arrival. I'll conclude this first post with the description of the main features:
Main geographical features:
The exact orientation of the village is a guess. It is probably not as perfectly oriented north-south as that, but the information in the books is not precise enough to determine this exactly, so I've followed the basic descriptions that suggest it is pretty much oriented this way.
The size of the village is also approximate. I made it stretch for roughly a mile and half north-south and east-west. It cannot be much bigger than this. Described as 'very small' even by the likes of Perrin and Egwene, there are some clues from the action we see there: Rand was able to call Egwene from one end of the Green to its center; Perrin (even accounting for his wolfbrother senses) can see what goes on at the west end of the village from the Inn, from the center of the Green Nynaeve could see the new Manor built 1/10th of a mile from the West end of the village. Etc. It cannot be too much smaller than this either; the villages is described as having many dirt streets and it is worth riding to get from one end to the other. A smaller village than this would not likely have spread to streets, the houses clustered closer to a main street/road instead. Once this approximate size decided upon, the more precise distances featured in the series are respected - though that will be visible mostly on the version of the map illustrating the battle.
The Westwood lies West of the village. At this point in the series's timeline, the Wood almost reaches the western edge of the village, though Rand tells us it gradually thins out. There are relatively few farms in this area, they are rather concentrated east of the village, both on the north and south shores of the Winespring water. The farm in the northwest corner is, by the way, not meant to represent Tam's farm, which is situated many miles west (and slightly north) well off the border of the map.
The Quarry Road is a fairly narrow wood path (once paved, but only a few signs of this are visible now) that leads almost all the way to the Sand Hills. From Perrin's description, it gradually bends northward out of Emond's Field. It meanders through the Woods around many stone outcrops. The Quarry Road leads into the village, first meeting the first dirt streets and rows of houses. Daise Congar, the new Wisdom, and her husband Wit have their house in this area of the village, in front of which Wit forced Tam to stop in An Empty Road.
The Quarry Road then opens onto The Green (3). Jordan describes it as a 'broad expense' of grass, all around which most of the village's houses are clustered. Toward its western end is a low stone outcrop and spring, the Winespring. Its course over the Green is never described in detail. I was originally tempted to place it at the northwest end, however it's very unlikely to be this way as Perrin situates the camp of the Whitecloaks on the Green above the Winespring. That the Winespring is more to the South West of the Green sounded the most practical solution.
The shape and size of the Green is never precisely described. It is fairly big, though. Three houses stand at the middle of it, and Jordan implied more stood on each sides. Four hundred men and horses will also camp on the Green above the Winespring.
The North Road begins at the Winespring. Binding to the West slightly, it leads up to Watch Hill and Taren Ferry. Evaluating distances in the Two Rivers is very difficult. Comparison between the various maps designed by Elisa Mitchell for this area, between the local map of the Two Rivers and the way the region is depicted on the big map, shows some fairly important differences, notably on the courses of the rivers and the general orientation of the region. Approximation based on the scale on the world map result in the Two Rivers being roughly 150 miles across, from the base of the mountains to the point where the Tarendrelle and Manetherendrelle meet. Following this, Watch Hill is located around 40 miles from Emond's Field on the North Road, and Deven Ride somewhat over 50 miles on the Old Road.
The Winespring Water runs from the Emond's Field's Green eastward, widening, into the Waterwood area where it divides into a myriad of smaller streams and eventually into the bog area known as the Mire. The edge of the Waterwood is over half a day east of from the village (walking or with a wagon, presumably). The Aybaras lived in that area, in a sprawling multi-generational farm, about a mile from the Winespring Water. This farm is also located miles beyond the border of the map. Further south in this area was where Raen's Tuatha'an caravans went to hide, well away from any of the villages - where they learn the hardest way the price of staying away and aside from the other human communities.
(1) The Winespring Inn: Located between the Wagon Bridge (4) and the ruins of a larger building in the center of which is a massive old oak(2). The Inn has a dozen chimneys, and based on the shape of its common room, it is basically squarish. The kitchens are in the back. Their door gives on the backyard, with its narrow and long stable, with large doors opening at both ends. Perceptions of the Inn by the characters have evolved a lot through the series. Considered a big building in the beginning by the younglings, it has been described later as a small inn by Egwene, even as a tiny inn. All is relative, of course: inns from the middle-ages to the early modern era (the sort of which the characters have encountered in the cities since) could be really immense buildings, the Winespring being tiny in comparison. The second storey still holds the living quarters of the Al'Vere and at least 5 rooms for guests, perhaps a few more (Thom, Lan, Moiraine, Fain all had a room at the same time, and Marin still had a room left for Tam).
According to local lore, the ruins south of the Inn once belonged to it and an Inn has stood there for 2000 years. That's to be taken with a grain of salt. This bit of description simply reinforced Jordan's association of the Winespring Inn to the White Tower, and the motif that the Two Rivers were once something greater. This building, however, could have been really anything in the era of Manetheren, now largely lost in the mists of legend... including an Inn.
(3) marks the position, toward the center of the Green, where eventually the white marble battle memorial will be erected, near the twin poles for the banner of Manetheren and the Wolf-Head banner.
The Wagon Bridge (4), beside the Inn, marks the end of the North Road. Tall willows stands nearby. At this point in the timeline, the bridge is still a wide, stout wooden bridge. Toward the end of the series, it will be rebuilt wider and in stone. Not far from the Wagon bridge are two narrow footbridges (5) that lead onto the Green. Their exact location is never described. Jordan a time or two implied they were near the larger bridge, however he has all the characters on foot use the Wagon Bridge.
(6) marks the location of Abell's Cauthon's farm (his fields, obviously, would be situated somewhere on the edge of the village), burned down by the Whitecloaks, who arrested his wife and daughters and kept them prisoners at their camp near Watch Hill. The Cauthon farm is directly on the Green, toward the middle of it. Just west of it is Mistress Calder's house (7) (where Rand brought Tam to Nynaeve in A Place of Safety), and next (8) is Beril Thane's house, the brother of the miller and councilman Jon Thane. Beside the Al'Vere's quarters above the Inn, those three are the only houses that can be located with some precision. Nynaeve also owns a house in the village, but we have no clue where it is situated. Haral Luhhan's smithy is another 'iconic' location in Emond's Field we cannot situate. It is described as being 'in the village'. Traditionally, a smithy would be situated a bit aside (for the fumes and the noise of hammering all day) and it would ideally be close to a good water supply - as blacksmiths used quite a bit - most often near rivers. They were also generally situated in a spot with good road access (lots of comings and goings, as people brought their horses to shoe), often not far from the main road, though in a secluded village like Emond's Field that rarely ever sees foreigners, that isn't much of an issue. If Jordan followed these traditional conventions, the smithy might be somewhere east, close to the Winespring. By this point in the series, it has been destroyed recently and a makeshift smithy arranged 'near the green'.
(10) marks the fairly tentative location of Jon Thane's Mill, a few miles east from the village, toward the Waterwood. From Jordan's description, it is quite possibly farther than this ("about halfway to the Waterwood"), though Rand seemed able to see it from the village, and Jon Thane's regular presence in Emond's Field at all hours of the day (he was also able to go fetch a horse to sell to Lan - and be back to lead patrols in the evening) suggests it isn't too far either. While it isn't described, there has to be a bridge across the Winespring Water at the Mill, for the farmers south of the Winespring to bring their cereals to the miller. Widow Aynal's Meadow, the location close to the Winepsring Water where Emond's Field holds its annual sheep shearing, is located at some unknown distance beyond the Mill. While it may seem odd for these two locations to be so far from the village, keep in mind most of the cereals - and sheep - are located on farms to the east.
(12) is the location behind the Inn where Marin and Perrin's group bumped into Cenn Buie as they were preparing to go into the Westwood. Marin was leading them to the old sickhouse (9), abandoned a few generations ago after a big storm nearly destroyed it. It is situated some distance into the woods beyond an old oak split by lightning (13), located about a mile from the west edge of the village. Marin reached it going through the village, while Perrin took the look way south and east, returning north through paths between fields and pastures, to avoid being seen by the villagers. The newer sickhouse (11) is located beyond the Mill.
All around the village are fields and pastures, belonging to the villagers, and then the first farms. According to Perrin, close to Emond's Field the farms pretty much ends where the next farmer's begins, while father east they are a lot more distant from one another (in the Westwood, farms are few and far between).
The second installment of this post, before we move on to The Fires of Heaven Read-through, will illustrate the last battle of Emond's Field against the Shadowspawn forces of Isam.
Sunday, July 19, 2009
The Biter Bitten
Asmodean was persuaded by Lanfear to control Rand like a puppet. However, he found Rand’s character harder and grimmer than he liked and became interested in why Rhuidean was warded. Such strong and long-term wardings could only be to guard something valuable. Mat, flattered by the attentions of a gleeman, was very forthcoming with information about the lost city. Rhuidean’s ter’angreal seemed easier pickings than manipulating Rand, so Asmodean sent Draghkar and put the dragon markings on Couladin to distract Rand. Judging by the way the angry Couladin clutched his forearms when insulted by Lian at Cold Rocks Hold, Couladin already had dragons on them at this time, but was not to show them until Al’cair Dal. Moiraine knows how such markings could be done with the Power.
Asmodean thought to raid Rhuidean for access to a sa’angreal that would mean he would be far above the other Forsaken in the amount he could channel. No longer would he be one of the lowest ranking Forsaken. Lanfear let Asmodean go because she couldn’t see what he’d find in Rhuidean that made it worth the risk of coming into the open. She sneered that Asmodean was a coward, yet she was overly cautious here. She won’t reveal herself until Rand agrees to stand with her. Had she gone with Asmodean, she would have found the female Choedan Kal access key and would have been unstoppable.
Like another Forsaken, Asmodean discovered that he was not going to be allowed to fulfill his dreams, but that he could still teach. He made a better teacher than Mesaana though, once he was frightened into it; but then, his survival depended on it. The would-be puppeteer then started dreaming of rising high through Rand rewarding his aid, according to Lanfear:
"For teaching." She sniffed dismissively. "He will do that because he knows his lot is cast with you for good. Even if he managed to convince the others that he has been a prisoner, they would still tear him apart, and he knows it. The weakest dog in the pack often suffers that fate. Besides, I watch his dreams on occasion. He dreams of you triumphing over the Great Lord and putting him up beside you on high.”Rand cut Asmodean off from the Dark One as a matter of principle, and so the other Forsaken would think Asmodean was a renegade. Rand thought that Asmodean would cause problems but that they could not be as great as the problems of ignorance about channelling (The Shadow Rising, The Traps of Rhuidean). This was largely true.
- The Shadow Rising, Gateways
Asmo was ‘chosen’ by Rand to be his teacher because there wasn’t anyone else. A big comedown for one of the Chosen.
Ironically, while Asmodean was linked to the Dark One, he didn’t sense the Dark One’s taint on saidin; it was only when he was cut off from the Dark One that he ever finally experienced firsthand the Dark One’s defilement. It could be considered an indication that the Pattern has begun to call Asmodean to account. The Forsaken scorn the poor living conditions of this Age, yet they are responsible for those very conditions.
The climax of Rand’s sub-thread in The Shadow Rising, mirrors that of The Eye of the World. Both places were warded and did not show in Tel’aran’rhiod. Rhuidean could only be visited once by a man. The Eye could only be visited once by anybody, but Rand summoned it despite Moiraine having already been there. Both extra visits were a matter of salvation: the party was menaced by Shadowspawn in the Blight, and a Forsaken was about to obtain access to the great male sa’angreal.
In both places Rand duelled with a male Forsaken tapping a vast source of the Power (the Eye, and the male Choedan Kal). One major difference is in the outcome: no one died or was seriously injured, and Asmodean is forced to teach on Rand’s terms, whereas Ishamael tried to manipulate Rand into wanting teaching on Ishamael’s terms. It was Ishamael’s scare tactics and Moiraine’s statement that there were no male Aes Sedai who could teach Rand that were the genesis of Rand’s plan. In The Shadow Rising, Decisions Lanfear suggested to Rand that Asmodean should be the teacher Rand knew he needed.
Avendesora was damaged in the duel, whereas its equivalent in The Eye of the World, the Green Man, was killed at the Eye.
Lanfear arrived after the duel, just as Lanfear’s nemesis Moiraine spoke with Rand after the Eye was depleted.
The glass columns ter’angreal is an equivalent of the Horn, but it summons the ancestral memories of each Aiel to show them their history, rather than summoning the souls of dead Heroes bound to Wheel.
To complement this post, an essay I wrote on the real world figures probably used to create Asmodean for Wotmania in March 2005 is republished here in the Reference Library. Compared to the other Forsaken, Asmodean has fewer mythological parallels, perhaps indicating his weaker character.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
The Measure of Rulership
According to Leane Sharif, “to lead is neither to push nor to pull” (The Dragon Reborn, Punishments). Judging by events of the series, Jordan may not have agreed with her, but he did provide us with a variety of political structures to study.
The first we see is that of the Two Rivers, an ideal land of high literacy, stability and equity. Many fantasy series start off from just such a haven. Both men and women have their separate political structures: councils of elected ‘elders’ which interact dynamically. The position of leader of the women’s council, Wisdom, is for life, while that of the men, the Mayor, is re-elected regularly (The Eye of the World, Glossary). Everyone is free to discuss every issue. This works well for thinly-populated peaceful areas and is the system in other deeply rural regions on the mainland. However, in a time of crisis when the Trollocs invaded, the Two Rivers adopted a lord, Perrin, by popular decision.
Most other nations have monarchs, whether they are elected by merit, or are nobles or aristocrats who have inherited their position. In distant Shara, the rumour is of a puppet monarchy of alternating king and queens controlled by female channellers (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time and Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow).
Among the Aes Sedai, leadership is based largely on an inherited quality (strength in the Power, and age, which again depends on saidar strength) with a lesser contribution from merit (eg speed of learning, skill).
The majority of Seanchan leadership positions are earned by merit, but position in the ruling Imperial family is based on inheritance and merit (one can be adopted into the Imperial family for great achievement (The Path of Daggers, A Time for Iron)). The Crystal Throne itself is almost a tombola gained through a war of attrition by the most ‘meritorious’ (defined as surviving) of the Empress’ offspring.
The Sea Folk monarchy has a strict meritocracy. The Aiel also have a meritocracy. In both societies, each member follows the law and customs of that society.
In complete contrast, Tear was ruled by a council of aristocrats and this oligarchy is probably the most extreme example of inherited power and its misuses.
It is instructive to compare the Tairen system with that of the Aiel. The Aiel prove themselves worthy before given leadership, yet still are never treated as nobles or monarchs. A clan chief is not a king. The law is applied equally to all.
Tairen leaders inherit their position, yet have absolute power. Their laws were not equally applied. Nobles could do whatever they liked to those lower in the social strata than they.
Until the advent of Rand, both Aiel and Tairen societies were bound by tradition and founded on falsehood. For the common good, the Aiel leaders kept secret from the ‘commoners’ that once they were as gai’shain and Tinkers now are. The Tairens had the illusion that nobles are different in kind to commoners and that the Stone was safe from invasion and channelling. As Juilin and Mat were invading the Stone, Juilin said of High Lord Darlin, newly knocked unconscious by Mat:
“He does not look so mighty lying there,” he said wonderingly. “He does not look so much greater than me.”Once Rand takes the Stone, he changes the laws in an attempt to even out this imbalance. In both lands Rand stripped away all illusions.
- The Dragon Reborn, Into the Stone
At first Andor seems an ideal monarchy, with its sound legal system and proud, outspoken citizenry, but the War of Succession and lack of equal access of males to rule is a distinct minus. The Borderlands, who cannot afford politicking or uncertainty or disunity, may have the most sound monarchies.
The series firmly shows that those who are eager to lead are usually the last ones who should do so, especially those who would do anything to gain power. As for elected positions, no matter who is elected, the office-holder is always a politician even if only out of necessity. The best leaders are reluctant, accepting the role only out of duty.
Friday, July 17, 2009
The Mirror has many faces: The Structure of The Shadow Rising
Toward the beginning of this read-through, I mentioned that I not only I loved The Shadow Rising, but I also admired the writing of this book.
To situate you a bit, I hold the opinion that Jordan's writing has kept improving over the years, and I separate this from certain problems he (debatedly) ran into with some story lines in the later part of the series. His prose, the depth of his world building, his mastery of his themes have however only improved with each book for me.
The Shadow Rising marks a turning point, the moment when the secondary story lines stopped building up through each book to a reunion with the main story line in the book's climax - reunion in Caemlyn in EOTW, Hunters and Prisoners meeting in Falme in The Great Hunt, Perrin's group, Mat and Thom, the girls and Rand all reunited in Tear in The Dragon Reborn. From The Shadow Rising onward, the story lines of Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve, Perrin, Mat, Min all became "their own" - in the case of Mat and Egwene progressing in parallel to Rand's story line for a while longer. From this point, they all go their own ways, temporarily grouped or or completely their own, crossing paths as the story demands. It is a mini 'big bang' in the Wheel of Time universe. With this came a massive expansion of the world building and a much grander scope - offering us more 'windows on the world'. It's here that new story telling devices appear or at least become more used, from meetings in Tel'aran'rhiod to Skimming (as soon, Travelling). Communications (and miscommunication), the exchange of knowledge and information, the keeping of secrets all become central themes of the series.
The structure of The Shadow Rising as a novel is a beautiful thing. In the latest 4 or 5 books of the series, the story lines have gained so much complexity, so much depends on what can happen when and what must be delayed or slowed down so all the timelines fit that Robert Jordan obviously had to make a few compromises on the structure of each novel. He did his best to develop each one around some themes, to keep presenting patterns and mirrors, but this becomes less obvious, as events and themes meant to echo one another develop over the course of different novels, but getting the story told had to take precedence. It must also be terribly difficult to juggle the global progression of so many story lines over the course of many books and many years of writing - it's no longer a matter of tweaking up a few chapters to polish up a novel... It's also harder to judge each of the late novels on its own, structure-wise - we've reached the point, a few books ago, where we'll need to reach the finale to be fully able to look back and analyse and appreciate the structure of the build up.
With The Shadow Rising, where the story lines truly begin and progress toward our first 'triple finale', we can fully appreciate Jordan's skills at handling structure and themes. Nearly everything in this book is echoed and mirrored. Let's look at some of the themes and motifs:
A main theme of the book is the return to your ancient roots, in order to find your true path. For Rand, it is a return to his roots both as Da'shain Aiel - Lews Therin's 'children' - and to Lews Therin himself, who makes his first appearances in Rand's mind in this book. It is also a return to the 'original sin' - to the roots of Mierin Aronaille and the creation of the Bore. Rand finds all this in the Glass Columns - who the Aiel once were, how the Bore and the ensuing war nearly destroyed them and how they transformed themselves - and how Rand will have to shatter them and bring another transformation. Rand begins to learn the true price of being who he is. With Rand, this return to the far past is accompanied by another return to the more recent past and the truth about his parentage, about Shaiel and Janduin - the mother who like him gave up her life to prophecy and salvation, the father who led the clans to battle. Rand is now 'officially' orphaned, but he finds a people - a vast family for whom he has to become a father figure as leader (and he begins to learn a father can't always protect or children can't grow up), but for the Maiden he is also adopted as a son, and as a brother. By orphaning Rand, Jordan followed a classic development for the hero in mythology - the type of warrior hero who needs to become a father to a people and juggle the tasks, often contradictory, of protector to his people and their leader in war.
This storyline is brilliantly echoed with Perrin and the return to the Two Rivers, with different aspects and motifs emphasized.
Perrin returns home - a very changed home - and he too takes a supernatural means to get there (the Ways, Rand took the Portal Stone, and then the Glass Columns) and he too begins by witnessing the truth of the far past in an ancient city: the full dangers of the Shadow lay at his feet as he exits the Gate in the mountains (Rand too needs to go down the Valley): the ruins of vitrified, sterile Manetheren - another Waste. Notice also the symbolism of the torched Avendesora, paralleling the necessary 'killing' of the Waygate by the removal of the trefoil Chora leaves...) Jordan even manages to include here echoes of the story lines of Egwene, Moiraine and Mat's: Perrin has to explore Tel'aran'rhiod with Hopper as guide, has prophetic dreams he understands little more than Egwene, and he barely escapes a trap at the Eelfinn and Aelfinn's Tower of Ghenjei. Waking at dawn (echoing Rand and Mat coming out of Rhuidean) he descends the mountains to Emond's Field, where he learns the truth about his family. What was a minor motif for Rand becomes a major and immediate motif for Perrin (a device at which Jordan excels in the way he develops his themes and story lines - minor for one boy, major for the other, an opposition for the third and often mirrors for each corresponding girl): his whole kin is dead. Again notice Jordan's attention to details... Rand finds 'a lost kin' in the book - a half brother - Perrin with his victory finds a distant little cousin. Rand found in the Waste a people he needs to lead through heart-breaking hardships and the Last Battle - an issue complicated by his remoteness from his bloodkin the Wise Ones would very much like to see bridged by making him "know his people". Perrin finds himself in much the same situation: as he emerges as a leader - unlike Rand he doesn't seek a people to lead it in the least - it is all imposed on him (and like Rand, gets a new banner... and a new title of Goldeneyes - a little nod to Rand's solar powers, even though Perrin is Egwene's lunar partner. His final title of Wolf King, the way prophecies refer to him - is also introduced in this book - it is introduced as a love name Faile invents for Perrin) he first loses his parents and has to rise up to the challenge of adulthood symbolically, and to become a father figure to Emond's Field - a motif emphasized by involving him directly with the other boys' fathers, and having to free Alsbeth and Harral Luhhan. This is also emphasized through little vignettes where Emond's Fielders seem to have suddenly returned to childhood, seeking Perrin's approval for every little thing they need to do. Perrin reaches the stage in his development as Hero where he needs female complementarity and give his people a mother too, and he marries Faile by the end of the book - by her return in Lord of Chaos, she, a teenager, will in turn have become the mother figure to Wisdoms and Women's Circles. Where Rand needs to deal with foreign elders: Clan Chiefs and Wise Ones, Perrin needs to rise and accept his place among people who were his own authority figures. Where Rand is distanced from his bloodkin he needs to learn to know as his own, for Perrin the challenge is the opposite, his 'soldiers' and 'children' are all to close to him, the losses and hardships all the more personal and biting.
Where Jordan becomes truly brilliant is that he found find ways to parallel all this in minor mode in the girls story line, developing plot and world building around the same motifs, without being obvious about it. In the hands of a lesser writer, the whole thing might have turned out mechanical - but Jordan achieved all this while offering gripping story lines - Perrin's chapters in this book at not only some of the best for the characters, they are among many readers' favourites in the whole series. And what to say about Rand's emotional trip through the Aiel's past!
Egwene - the future Aes Sedai leader (and here, literally The Mother)- also has her own return to the past by meeting Amys (symbolically at least, this is the first time in millennia) on the slopes of Chaendaer in front of the city built by the conjugated effort of sisters and Jenn, where the last significant moments of the old Covenant between Aes Sedai and Aiel took place (and RJ introduces a mirror: the Aiel warriors followed the guiding of the old Wise Aes Sedai as the Prophecy of Rhuidean is spoken, as this prophecy begins to be fulfilled, the future Amyrlin agrees to become the apprentice to the Aiel Wise Ones). And it doesn't end there... Egwene symbolically becomes orphaned in this book, as her Mother, the Amyrlin Siuan, is deposed.
Moiraine's story line also marks a return to the past. First, The Shadow Rising brings her full circle, to where it all began for her, with Gitara Moroso's foretellings (Jordan would later elaborate on all this in New Spring, where he will again introduce parallels and mirrors to events in the main series by the dozen). Symbolically, Moiraine in this book is a made a novice again by having to go through a ter'angreal which looks just like (no coincidence there) the one the novices enter to become Accepted. Moiraine has to reconsider her past, her decisions and her plans, and face the future and find her true path. Coming out of there, she finally gains Rand's Acceptance, but must accept her path will shortly force her to leave his side, let him fly on his own.
For Elayne and Nynaeve too Jordan has managed to create 'remnants of the past' echoing the plaza of Rhuidean through the Panarch's museum, not literally in a Waste but in what is intentionally described as 'a dying city', full of fossilized animals and objects even from past Ages... and again there's a strong thematic return to the War of Shadow and the Breaking, through the broken access key, through the bracelets and collar to bind a man going mad. And like those objects in Rhuidean which are coveted by Asmodean, those of Tanchico are coveted by Moghedien - the duels at equal strengths between Forsaken and Hero will be paralleled for Rand and Nynaeve in the end - both duels broken by the arrival of a dangerous woman - while Lanfear makes Asmodean prisoner for Rand, the arrival of Jeaine Caide leads to Moghedien's escape. With Elayne and Nynaeve, no prophecy but even their more 'mundane' adventures following the trail of the Black Ajah Jordan managed to parallel or mirror the other story lines. Nynaeve has long been orphaned and had to make herself Emond's Field's mother long ago, and in opposition to Rand and Perrin, her challenge is to learn her 'children' (Egwene and Elayne; the boys too) are grown up, and she needs to let them fly from the nest. This is even completed with a Freudian episode where Elayne, as part of her growing up, in turn tries to seduce her mother's ex-lover, before adopting him as a father-figure. Elayne will become 'pseudo-orphaned' by the next book... and start a story line where she too will need to become a mother to her people.
In the previous post of symbolism, I have touched on some secondary motifs Jordan included: the Tower Coup echoed by the Whitecloaks' raid on the Winespring Inn which represents the Tower in Emond's Field, the flight of the Sitters and Blue Ajah echoed by the escape of Tam (confirmed Councillor) and Abell (the presumed missing seventh Councillor of the village), who go hide in the woods, at the 'Old Sickhouse', the rescue of Siuan and Leanne echoed by that of Haral and Alsbeth. Notice how Perrin having to cope with the death of his parents, strugglea to keep his desire for revenge in check, but using it as a motivator to give him the strength to do what must be done while trying to avoid the trap of obsession, is also the story of one of his foes: Dain Bornhald. If Rand is confronted by the prophecies of Gitara and the story of his mother, Perrin has to face the other side of Gitara's prophecies in Tigraine's evil brother Luc. I have noted how the golden bowl with engraved leaves given by the Maidens to Marin was an echo of Alcair Dal.
An amusing mirror is Bain, Chiad and Gaul versus Faile, Berelain and Perrin. For one trio, it is a story of two women who won't break their sisterly bond and won't marry Gaul, who loves one but not the other, unless he comes to love and marry both. For the other trio, it's two bitter rivals (who will come to almost admire one another - Faile will even point out once they could have been friends) fighting over a man.
Another brilliant aspect is how Jordan was able to offer a new version, largely in mirror, of the Aiel's past in the Two Rivers story lines. For Bain and Chiad, it's not the story of women taking the spear, but seemingly of a distant giving up of their spears to return to motherhood. Gaul is clearly on a path to become a chief - he is Jordan's male version of Aviendha (having related issues regarding polygamous relationships, incidentally - Aviendha fears Elayne won't accept one, Gaul loves only one of the two Maidens), the Aiel thrown among the Wetlanders, re-learning their culture.
Most importantly, we get a great version of the Da'shain's road to the Spear with Aram, which manages to parallel what Perrin is going through at the same time. A brilliant contrast: the Aiel successfully became warriors because they remained a people. Perrin similarly found a new family in Faile and the people of the Two Rivers he has to care for as leader. Aram's story is a sad tragedy. Orphaned savagely, much like Perrin, his beliefs are shattered. Unlike the Aiel of old, he cannot fall back on the other warriors, with their Wise Ones and wives and children - and a new goal in life: protecting those who still follow the Way of the Leaf, the Jenn. Unlike Perrin he doesn't have a new 'family' to protect, but the same burning desire for revenge and becoming a protector. Raen and Ila fail, where Faile, Marin, Bran and the others succeed in supporting Perrin. They reject their grandson - cast him out, and Aram will never find a new family again. Gaul, Bain and Chiad for now ignore their Da'shain, and the weight of culture will make them cast out Aram - he will not find a new kin among the Aiel trio either. He will come to idolize Perrin, seek to emulate him - his only reason to live - but he is a protector without anyone but Perrin to protect, nothing but Perrin and his blinding desire for revenge to live for - and Aram falls into destructive obsession. He will lose his humanity and become the rabid wolf Perrin fears for himself. Even in The Eye of the World, his jealousy of Perrin over Egwene was palpable - he was all too happy when he thought he had seduced her being who he was, and resentful when in the end she went away with Perrin. As Perrin's obsession with protecting and saving Faile grows, Aram will make it his own - ultimately losing his mind, seeing Perrin himself as the threat to Faile and he will turn against the very man he idolized. A very sad tragedy, brilliantly set up in The Shadow Rising, though alas Jordan has struggled a bit with the conclusion of this story line, which was more successful thematically than it was gripping as a story.
I feel I have just scratched the surface of the book and its structure, but this has gotten long already. There are tons more parallels and mirrors found in the book, forming an extremely rich and coherent whole. As the story progresses, Jordan will stay true to this style of storytelling using patterns, parallels and mirrors, but the sheer vastness and complexity of the story to tell will rarely offer him the opportunity to bring a single novel to the point of near structural perfection as he has achieved in The Shadow Rising, where the best of the first trilogy and the best of the recent books met in harmony. It is a most admirable book, all the more for the fact its formal frame with all its mirrors and parallels, the near symphonic declinations of themes through each story line, never gets in the way of a gripping, funny and emotional adventure story. When the series is over, book four of The Wheel of Time might well remain as Jordan's most achieved book, his gem.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
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!