Monday, June 11, 2012

Something A Bit Different

By Linda

This post is the result of a cold and very wet long weekend, in which for once I have the opportunity to read and think and hopefully recover from a low grade virus that has dogged me for over a week. (The read-through posts are rewarding but their demanding timetable doesn’t really allow me to explore other areas at length.)

Anyway, I was reading Tom Shippey’s J.R. R. Tolkien; Author of the Century for reasons which will become obvious below, when this passage caught my eye:

A further feature which as far as I know no one has ever tried seriously to copy is Tolkien’s structuring of The Lord of the Rings, his use of narrative threads. For one thing the very careful chronological positioning, the cross-checking of dates or distances and phases of the moon would be hard to do accurately…

Yet on the next page Shippey mentions Robert Jordan as one of a group of modern fantasy authors whose works show

the importance of language, the importance of names, and the necessity for a feeling of historical depth

- Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

(which I agree with, especially regarding the names and history), so he knows of The Wheel of Time series. It is therefore surprising that Shippey didn’t notice that The Wheel of Time has more narrative threads than The Lord of the Rings and their complex timing (before The Gathering Storm, anyway) is very precisely interlaced. The alternative is that Shippey didn’t read the works of an author that he is recommending. Yet Shippey rails against literary critics who deplore an absence in Tolkien’s work of something that is actually there. So go figure.

He also says:

No one, perhaps, is ever again going to emulate Tolkien in sheer quantity of effort, in building up the maps and the languages and the histories and the mythologies of one invented world…

- Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

I would argue that Jordan has done just that in three out of those four areas of world-building. For instance, Jordan has catalogued histories and traits not only of minor characters, but even of characters we haven’t seen yet (and maybe never will).

However, Shippey does say that several of Tolkien’s emulators

may have superseded him, used his work only as a starting point for quite different directions , even in some respects to have outdone him.

- Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

This I do strongly agree with, and believe that Jordan is one of these authors. On the whole I found J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century to be insightful and well-written.

And now onto some comments on evil as portrayed by Jordan. Some years ago I wrote an essay on the End-Times (Eschatology) of the Wheel of Time series, which of necessity touched on the theology and I’ve been doing background reading prior to giving it a much needed expansion and update. (For those who are interested, the essay will be split into three). Shippey’s book is part of my research, since he discusses views of evil:

The Boethian view is that there is no such thing as evil, evil is only the absence of good. Furthermore, people in their ignorance often identify as evil things (like being under sentence of death) which are in fact and in the long run, or in the divine plan, to their advantage. Corollaries of this belief are that evil cannot create, “not real new things of its own”, and furthermore it was not created, it arose when human beings exercised their free will – withdrawing their service and their intentions from God.

The trouble with this view is that it is both highly counter-intuitive and in many circumstances extremely dangerous. One might, for instance, conclude that the proper response to it would be to become a conscientious objector. Evil after all is, according to Boethius, more harmful to the malefactor than to the victim and those who do it (or appear to do it) are more to be pitied than feared or fought.

- Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

This is the attitude that the Tinkers have. They speak of accepting the will of the Pattern, never fighting back when violence is committed against them or others. This is not due to cowardice, since they aren’t afraid to die when their time comes; an example being the Da’shain who stood and sang to a mad male channeller while killed them, thus buying time for others to escape. They believe that violence harms the perpetrator as much as the victim (The Eye of the World, The Travelling People).

We then get the bizarre extreme of the Amayar: conscientious objectors conscientiously killing themselves due to the certainty that the Dark One will break the Pattern they have been accepting and not wanting to ‘be there’ to be corrupted or destroyed by the Dark One when this happens. Considerate of them to spare the Dark One being further corrupted.

The alternative is that evil does exist, and is not merely an absence, and what is more it has to be resisted and fought, not by all means available, but by all means virtuous; and what is even more, not doing so, in the belief that one day Omnipotence will cure all ills, is a dereliction of duty. The danger is that this opinion leads to Manicheanism or Dualism: the belief that the world is a battlefield between the powers of Good and Evil, equal and opposite.

- Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

This is the main portrayal of evil in The Wheel of Time. Jordan says his theology is Manichean (though Zoroastrian would be even closer to the mark - see my essay in its current form) with the Creator and the Dark One eternally contending for the right to run a universe in their image.

In the last two books Rand showed what happens when evil is fought by any means and not just by virtuous ones. He was manipulated into doing so by the Shadow, because this corrupts the Land and thus weakens the Pattern. To reverse Herid Fel's insight, eroding belief and order gives the Dark One strength. An earlier example of unscrupulous good would be the Shadar Logoth evil, something very much in Cadsuane’s mind as she has striven to prevent Rand from emulating it.

Shippey then goes on to say that with two equally powerful deities, it can be:

a matter of chance which side one happens to choose.

- Tom Shippey, J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century

This I think is going too far, and Jordan would strongly agree with me, since he has commented before on his belief in the existence of evil and the necessity to recognise it and fight it.

Mind you, Jordan does show characters that do follow this philosophy of choosing a side without true commitment: Darkfriends who signed up for personal advantage rather than a belief in the ‘rightness of evil,’ to put it ironically, and supposed Lightfriends who only do good by happenstance, no matter how parlous the times. In reality these are people who believe in only their own egos. There are also apostates (Padan Fain being one twice over) and double agents (like Verin).

Despite Jordan’s expression to the contrary, some readers have said that his two gods, the Creator and the Dark One, are not equal, due to one having imprisoned the other. But we don’t know how this happened. Looked at another way, there is the very real threat that the reverse can and may take place: that the Dark One will destroy the Creator’s work, create an alternative universe and lock the Creator away from it.

The Dark One, being currently outside the Pattern, labours under some difficulties. We have never seen him/her/it use their Power to its fullest. Always it has been tainted by the presence of the One Power. The Trollocs and Myrddraal, for instance, show traits of the original natural stock made by the Creator. Understandably, since their makers were humans, however evil and touched by the Dark One, not deities, and could not create without using something as a basis. Of necessity their foundation had to be something made by the Creator.

I think that the closest we have come to seeing the True Power truly is the mindtrap. It appears to have little taint from the Light in it. But ruthless as it is, it is not perfectly evil since there is, it has been stated, a way to escape it. Something truly evil would have no escape. I can conceive of an evil deity being able to create evil without having to twist good.

I hope that A Memory of Light will show us the full Dualistic theology that Jordan devised, with some revelation (pun intended) of the Dark One’s evil power as a very real and equal rival of the Creator.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow. That is a complex and thorough analysis of the Wheel of Time belief system!!! Way to go!!!