Monday, February 8, 2010

A Crown of Swords Read Through #4: Enter Death

By Linda

Ishamael, the man who knows “the paths to greater power” (The Great Hunt, Kinslayer) - True Power – returns in a new body as Moridin. When, exactly, we don’t know. By January 5th 1000 NE, when Moghedien was sent to him, Moridin already possessed two mindtraps - hers and Cyndane’s - and had developed the saa from frequent use of the True Power. These things take time to acquire. (Note also that he might have lied to Moghedien about her being delivered to him in a vacuole to frighten Moghedien and make her more malleable). Which brings us to the question of how long had Moridin been around before we saw him? Was he reincarnated before Aran’gar and Osan’gar were at the beginning of Lord of Chaos? Surely the Dark One would bend his energies to restore Ishamael before those two if at all possible? Why get a pawn to the end of the chessboard and ask for a knight or even two instead of a queen, when a queen offers far more possibilities?

Moridin is named ‘death’ to emphasise that he appears to be the only one of the Forsaken whose philosophy coincides with the aims of the Dark One; the only one of them who hasn’t blinded himself to the Dark One’s aim to kill Time. Soon he will be anointed Naeblis, the Lord of the Grave’s regent on earth. Being a follower out of personal conviction, he hasn’t needed bribes of power or riches, and has shown far less interest in them than any other dark character and most not-so-dark characters, just as Death, who spares no one says:

“For God’s commandment is
That all to me must be obedient…
I heed neither gold, silver nor riches,
Nor pope, Emperor, King, Duke, nor Princes,
For if I were to receive great gifts,
I might gain the world…”

- Everyman

With his anointing and gift of access to the True Power by the Dark One, the dark deity opposing the Creator, Moridin demands obedience from all other Forsaken. And as for gaining the world, Ishamael told Rand that:

The death of time will bring me power such as you could not dream of, worm."

- The Eye of the World, The Stag and Lion

So Ishamael thinks his payoff comes at the end, as though he would attain godhood through being freed of the Wheel and the eternal cycle of reincarnation and become a dark Ubermensch eternally existing free of the Pattern. (Unlike Rand, who might now be an Ubermensch within the Pattern.) Reincarnation and liberation from the reincarnation cycle, moksha, are concepts of eastern philosophy/religion. Buddhists, Jains and Hindus believe that people can liberate themselves from the endless cycle of reincarnation by meditation, virtue and distancing themselves from the material world, but certainly not in the ruthless and violent manner Ishamael prefers or expects. Ishamael’s monstrous ‘liberation’ will come about when the Dark One breaks the Pattern, and at a cost of the destruction of Creation.

This nihilism first appeared in his writings in the Age of Legends. In The Gathering Storm, Moridin’s nihilism increased, as though he was perhaps infected with the same despair that so plagued Rand in that book, the despair Moridin instituted by inflicting great emotional pain and suffering on Rand, and which ironically leaked into Moridin as well through their link, to the extent that Moridin was looking forward to annihilation – nothingness.

The greatest irony of the series would be if Moridin discovers at the last that the Dark One doesn’t intend to end the world the way Moridin expects, freeing him from the cycle of reincarnation he loathes and allowing Moridin to gain god-like freedom from rebirth, or the nothingness that he currently craves:

The others are fools. They look for grand rewards in the eternities, but there will be no eternities.

- The Gathering Storm, A Place to Begin

Having spent most of Time completely locked away, one would think the Dark One would find nothingness a tad boring and crave a little tyranny…instituting a dark world, an evil paradise ruled eternally by his Chosen. Would Moridin feel betrayed by the Dark One he has served so faithfully for thousands of years if he discovered that the Dark One intends a steady state Hell of indefinite duration in which Moridin is to participate? If so, what would he do?

Moridin’s current desire for nothingness upon the Dark One breaking the Wheel is symbolically right: Death can’t exist outside of Time.

Naturally Death is a major figure in real world myth and legend, just as he is important in the Wheel of Time world. In the Middle Ages, the precariousness of life, as the horrors of natural disasters and pandemics such as the Black Death made all too plain, inspired the motif of the Dance of Death, Danse Macabre.

Death was depicted as a skeleton in art and literature playing the tune while:

members of all social classes – from pope and emperor down to beggar, fool and hermit – engaged in a stately dance with skeletons and corpses, the dead escorting the living to the tomb.

- Paul Huson, Mystical Origins of the Tarot

Of all the Forsaken, Moridin/Ishamael has made the most use of corpse-like beings: Grey Men and zomaran. In the Last Days characters have witnessed both the living being dragged alive underground by the dead and the tribulations of the living dead. (Dance of death photo by Toffel.) Moridin has people of all classes, high and low, dancing to his tune and is convinced that all will serve him in one way or another before the end.

Death’s traditional colour is the blackness of extinction. Black Death. Moridin’s colours are red as well as black. In Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, Death mingles in disguise with the noble guests who have sheltered from a plague in a nobleman’s mansion and are whiling away the time with a masked ball. When the host, Prince Prospero confronts the unknown stranger, disguised Death, the prince falls down dead.

Is Moridin disguised as one of the other players/dancers in the Wheel of Time series?

No respecter of persons, Death is inevitable and inescapable as this painting entitled The Gaming Table; Whene’er Death plays, He’s sure to win; He’ll take each knowing Gamester in shows.

Moridin is an expert player of complex games, a gamemaster, and has boasted that

On the board, the Fisher stood waiting, but in the greater game, al'Thor moved already to his wishes. And soon, now. ... It was very hard to lose a game when you played both sides of the board.

- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances

Some characters serve Moridin unknowingly:

In all three places he had eyes, some that did not know they served him.

- The Path of Daggers, Unwittingly)

having been ‘taken in’ by Death’s strategies and manipulations.

Moridin as Death has made his entrance late in the series and has not truly unmasked himself or his plans because Death, along with War, Pestilence and Famine, is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse of Revelation. The last of the four to appear, Death rides a pale, corpse-coloured horse:

Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth

- Revelation 6:7-8

The role of the Four Horsemen is to wreak havoc upon the world when the first four of the seven Seals are broken at the end of days. In the Wheel of Time world, famine and pestilence and war are rife and Trollocs, wild beasts, are being massed for the Last Battle. Moridin’s advent soon before the Last Days presages the imminent freeing of the Dark One, Hades. It would be symbolically appropriate if Moridin had been transmigrated into his new body about the time, or better still slightly before, the order was given at the beginning of Lord of Chaos to ‘let the Lord of Chaos rule’ and wreak havoc upon the Pattern. Four of the seven Seals were broken by September 999 NE, late in The Fires of Heaven, which may indicate that Moridin was transmigrated about this time, since Death, the fourth Horseman, appears when the fourth Seal is broken. As far as we know, three Seals of the Dark One's prison are still whole.

Death features in the Tarot cards; in fact the Dance of Death morality play is postulated as one of their main inspirations. The high-ranking Tarot trumps Death, the Devil, Judgement and the World [heaven] are

a depiction of those four most important events in a believing Roman Catholic’s spiritual life, known as the Four Last Things – important because nobody can escape death or judgement, and the choice of heaven or hell is one each soul must make.

- Paul Huson, Mystical Origins of the Tarot

In The Gathering Storm, Rand arguably made such a choice.

His relationship with Moridin has become increasingly intimate and more equal than with other Forsaken. While Moridin did not want to fight Rand when they encountered each other and had a Fireside Chat in The Gathering Storm, they will soon face off in a final battle.

By confronting and then trumping Death, the hero learns what part of himself is truly immortal.

- Robert Place, Annotated Tarot of the Sevenfold Mystery

As will Rand.


DH said...

Excellent writing... as always!

Unknown said...

Excellent insights that have broadened my understanding, as always. The connections with myth and religion are particularly well integrated.

Wonderful job. I have always been abashed at your knowledge of myth and symbol, sort of like the Golden Bough meets Joseph Campbell with a little art history and anthropology mixed in.

t ball said...

I am amazed that I haven't considered the connection to the seven seals of Revelation before. A real "duh!" moment for me reading this commentary today. I appreciate the broad parallels you uncover in your unflagging research.

Linda said...

Thanks all for the appreciation and encouragement!

Tball: There are many parallels with Revelation. I have written about them in more detail in an essay on WOT Theology and End-times.

This link takes you to the section on Revelation.

Anonymous said...

I love the deep knowledge of christian and other mythology displayed by Linda, it's very enlightening for someone who's from an atheist nation and who's never really learnt these things (even if the links to Norse mythology as in Mat/Odin* and Rand/Tyr, Perrin/Thor have always been kinda obvious to me).

I didn't even know there were any seals at all lolling about in Revelation, though now I think of it there's a Bergman movie called the Seventh Seal, I suppose that refers to revelation.

* Beyond the obvious things as Mat being hanged from Avendesora for knowledge and going to lose his eye, carrying a spear and hat etc, I don't know if you've written about the ravens of Odin, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory... remeber what the inscription on the Ashandarei says? That's right...), who fly across the world and spy and report back to him. An obvious connection is Mat as Prince of the Ravens, and the Seanchan Seekers being da'covale carrying the raven tatoos.

Linda said...

Yes, the two ravens and all the other parallels Mat has to Odin (and a good few other figures) are in my essay on Mat.

Same with Rand/Tyr in the Rand essay. I've done the research for Perrin but not written the essay yet.

Fanatic-Templar said...

I doubt Shai'tan would institute a hellish world dominated by his Chosen after his victory... but then, that's just my perspective. There isn't much that can be said with certainty about the way Shai'tan thinks, I believe it was intentionally left vague to keep him more alien (Ishamael/Moridin playing the part of the human villain).

From my perspective, Shai'tan exists to destroy, that is simply what he is. If this were correct, then him sparing (so to speak) the world out of boredom from being sealed away would be akin to a human stopping breathing because he's been breathing all his life and wants to try something new. The world exists, therefore Shai'tan must destroy it.

Linda said...

I put that in because we don't know for sure what the Dark One will do.

Destroy yes, but what then? And how much? If everything is gone, he has nothing to play with. Is he a god that can create?

It seems to be that Ishy is banking on him not creating. The other Forsaken are banking that he can. Who is right?

What happens if those who are wrong find out before the end?

Fanatic-Templar said...

Good question, but we may never find out, since the victory of the Light is very much expected ;).

Mattrickster said...

Great article, Linda, as usual.

Your comment about Moridin being the 4th Horseman of the Apocalypse, made me wonder about the other 3 horseman? WOT has seen famine, war & general pestilence but are there any personalities associated with them?

Linda said...

Thanks Mattrickster.

An interesting question and a good one.

I think Padan Fain/Mordeth is Pestilence. He kills with a touch and also infects peoples' souls too.

There are two War figures on each side:

Demandred and Sammael for the Shadow and Mat ("son of battle") and Rand ("the trumpets of war shall sound at his footsteps").

Famine...I can't think of any right now.