Thursday, May 31, 2012

Towers of Midnight Read-Through #21: Chapter 14 - A Vow

By Linda


In Tel’aran’rhiod the Land is green, but the sky is threatening. Both the Shadow and the Light of the Pattern is obvious here and the Light is holding up in the battle at the moment.

After Rand’s visit, the Aes Sedai found hidden food stores in good condition. This holding back of Wrongness by the three ta’veren is a continuing motif in Towers of Midnight.

Egwene returns full circle in Tel’aran’rhiod to where she first visited as a beginner. She is aware of how much she has learned since then thanks to her mentors the Wise Ones (and Siuan, as far as Aes Sedai law and politics are concerned), but feels she’ll have to learn as much again. Her judgment is pretty correct, I think. She is a novice Amyrlin even if she is better than some already.

Egwene wants to work on one problem at a time –but so many need attention. So which? And how to solve them ?

Bair says Sorilea won’t like it that Egwene is Amyrlin. This could be for the reason Bair says: that Sorilea thinks Egwene is wasted on the Aes Sedai. A more sinister reason would be that Sorilea doesn’t want Egwene reforming the Aes Sedai and focussing them on what they should be doing: contributing positively to the Last Battle; ie that Sorilea is a Darkfriend. There is no way to tell which is right.

Egwene says whether they are fools or no, she can’t abandon the Aes Sedai. After all, the Wise Ones did not abandon her, but took the trouble to train her. She thanks them for all they did for her and they complement her in turn. It doesn’t happen often that they give direct praise; just as Aes Sedai rarely give thanks.

"The Car'a'carn has embraced death," Amys said. "He has given up trying to be as strong as the stones, and has instead achieved the strength of the wind."

Towers of Midnight, For What Has Been Wrought

The metaphor of Rand having the strength of the wind recalls the image of the wind rising at the beginning of each book, representing the breath of life of the world, as well as a beginning. Rand is frequently likened to a tempest in the last two books, and his advent marks the end of one Age and the beginning of the next or, from another point of view, the beginning of the End, which it is his duty as the Creator’s champion to prevent.

Stones can be broken if hit hard enough or in the right spot; they are often hard but brittle. Amys regards air as superior to earth, as women channellers would do.

This is similar to what Cadsuane told Rand:

"Stone cracks from a hard enough blow," she said, her face an Aes Sedai mask of calm. "Steel shatters. The oak fights the wind and breaks. The willow bends where it must and survives."
"A willow won't win Tarmon Gai'don," he told her.

Knife of Dreams, News For the Dragon

This also reminds me of the song that has been popular throughout the book: “The Wind that Shakes the Willow”.

The Wise Ones think Rand has matured, but are grudging of this, in contrast to their fulsome praise of Egwene. They appear to have lingering doubts or objections about him. Perhaps he has not met all his toh.

Egwene has feet in both Aes Sedai and Wise One camps so she understands the best – and the worst – of both groups. Aes Sedai are better at channelling, Wise Ones at cooperation and leadership. Yet the Aes Sedai have forgotten much of the Age of Legends knowledge, so how well does Wise One cooperation and leadership compare to those of the previous Age? I guess we shall see in the last book, but there was much politicking in the Age of Legends by all accounts, as can be seen in the definition of ajah as:

“an informal and temporary group of people gathered together for a common purpose or goal, or by a common set of beliefs.”

The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

and Mesaana complementing Aes Sedai manipulation with

“Watching her play her little games is certainly amusing. You children almost match the ajah at times.”

A Crown of Swords, Prologue

So perhaps better. After all, the Aiel were descended from a people that were dedicated to support, while the Aes Sedai concentrated on channelling.

Both groups are insular, and chauvinist (in the general as well as the specific meaning of the word).The Aiel seem arrogant as well as naïve here:

"I wish that there were a way," Egwene said, "to train more sisters in the ways of the Wise Ones."
"You could send them to us," Amys said. "Particularly if they need punishing. We wouldn't coddle them like the White Tower."

Towers of Midnight, A Vow

In fairness to the Wise Ones, Egwene’s treatment was exceptional as well as illegal. The typical Tower training is far milder and slower – which is why the Wise Ones are so disparaging.

The suggestion of cross-training or student exchange is finally raised, and it contrasts with Egwene’s original idea that all female channellers should be under one umbrella organisation. After this, the Kin’s situation is more likely to be acceptable and ratified. Egwene sees benefits in two different cultures working side by side with exchanges.

With some concord reached, Egwene revisits the subject of Rand. The Wise Ones are surprised he went to the Tower after the abuse he suffered when he was kidnapped. Egwene says his idea of breaking the seals is mad and tells them she will be marshalling opposition.

Egwene thinks her friends disloyal – Rand, Gawyn, Nynaeve most of all. Loyalty seemingly being defined as “doing what Egwene wants and not being allowed to explain their own opinions or actions”. There may be some excuse for Egwene to have this attitude to Nynaeve, since she is Nynaeve’s boss, but not for the other two.

A dragon’s fang has appeared in the White Tower rose window in Tel’aran’rhiod. (The rose window makes the White Tower church-like, since the term is usually reserved for churches.)

Did this window represent one of those, another world where Dragon and Amyrlin ruled Tar Valon side by side?

Towers of Midnight, For What Has Been Wrought

The window represents this world – which should have men and women working together. It did once, and is starting to again, so far without the White Tower’s participation. The Tower could be leading the way; instead those channellers in Rand’s group, Perrin’s group and soon even the Black Tower are the ones bringing channellers into balance. The dragon’s fang in the window represents what should and soon will be. The way the symbol has insinuated itself into the heart of the White Tower could be seen as a sly reminder of the existence of male channellers, and as a threat to female channeller exclusivity. It is a statement that Egwene and Rand should work together, not her marshal opposition to him, even if he has planned for it. Saidin and saidar are equal and opposite powers, but the Wheel only turns by them both working together.

Egwene puts Nynaeve on the defensive with news of the Seanchan raid on the Tower. But Nynaeve could do the same about what Rand has been through: where are the Tower Aes Sedai helping Rand?

Egwene says she is doing everything because she doesn’t trust the Aes Sedai to obey her orders. Nynaeve has experienced what Egwene is going through as a too young leader. Most of Nynaeve’s advice Egwene probably knows; she’s mainly having this conversation to get Nynaeve to see how she’s treating Egwene in the same way as she was when promoted too young. Nynaeve does come up with some new advice: don’t give Aes Sedai, especially Sitters, make-work, give good orders, and make sure the sisters are not bypassing her and create a fuss if they are. This leads to Egwene manipulating the Hall to vote on all Sitters of each Ajah to be present for votes, with no one left out, and the Amylin being informed of sittings so there is no going behind her back.

Egwene forces Nynaeve to recognise her authority and that Egwene feels she is disloyal. Nynaeve is not just reluctant to swear obedience to Egwene, but to any Amyrlin. Now Nynaeve knows how older women felt when she was elected Wisdom. One reason for Nynaeve’s reluctance is that Egwene and Elayne are Queens, while she is still “in waiting”.

Egwene is shocked that Elayne and Nynaeve accept that Rand should break the seals. She thinks they must be too influenced by him and need to be around her. In reality the reverse is closer to the truth: Egwene is so isolated from Rand that she has no idea of what the battle with the Shadow and the Dark One has been and will be like. Perhaps Egwene’s interpretation of her dream of Rand chopping the ropes holding a crystal sphere together (Towers of Midnight, The Amyrlin’s Anger) is what makes her convinced that breaking the seals is the wrong thing to do. Egwene is saying the same sort of thing that Latra Posae said back in the Age of Legends: it is too risky to open the Bore.

Nynaeve is told she must take the Three Oaths, otherwise she sets a bad example. Elayne’s vows may be delayed due to her pregnancy. The Sitters say Nynaeve needs to be tested in the ter’angreal, although Egwene thinks Nynaeve has enough experience to be exempted. (As it turns out, Egwene is right, but not in the way she argues here.) Egwene won’t go through the testing herself, having already taken the Oaths more than once.

The Black Ajah use only weaves in Tel’aran’rhiod, not direct thought and control. Egwene was doing this too.

She catches a glimpse of a bloodknife in Tel’aran’rhiod. The bloodknife is not literally there; one may have dreamed themself into the World of Dreams.

Why is it normal for Tel’aran’rhiod to be silent? Is this just a late Third Age condition reflecting the threat to the world? Or, more amusingly, is it a silent reflection of the lack of communication in the series?

At the end of the chapter Egwene tells Elayne and Nynaeve about the Black Ajah. Duhara’s name is not mentioned in Elayne’s thoughts after this, so maybe she was not mentioned in this discussion? That would be the usual turn of events.

As happens at times, there are a few fulfilments of the chapter title ‘A Vow’: Egwene’s silent determination to find Mesaana, Nynaeve’s promise to Egwene:

"I won't treat you the way women did me after I was first named Wisdom,"

Towers of Midnight, A Vow

and, more tenuously, the plan for Nynaeve, and ultimately Elayne, to take the Three Oaths.

1 comment:

Fragrant Elephant said...

Great post, Linda. I like your linking the silence in Tel'aran'rhiod to the lack of communication in the series. And you're spot-on with the connections between the wind that opens all WoT books, Rand's growth, and female channeler's opinion of wind.

Also, I would argue that Nynaeve doesn't care about being queen so much as having equal authority with Egwene, which obviously would never happen. IIRC, the section is Egwene's POV, and WoT characters aren't always right in their assumptions. Well, maybe this just me talking as a Nynaeve fangirl.

Looking forward to the next post!