Friday, June 29, 2012

Towers of Midnight Read-Through #26: Chapter 19 - Talk of Dragons

By Linda


Olver reveals to Mat he has told a lot of soldiers about the plans to rescue Moiraine from another world. It seems a mistake to let Olver know anything was being planned, but if Olver even had a hint that something was going on behind his back, he would have spied, yet he wouldn’t have passed on Birgitte’s info about the Tower of Ghenjei. His tales to the soldiers of Moiraine’s impending rescue would lend credence to reports of Mat having previously gone into the *Finns’ world and gotten answers, his ashandarei, etc, and thus probably indirectly fuelled those rumours too.

When Mat asks Olver “who taught you to swear?” Olver answers “Mat”, which is true, but Mat is just convinced Olver brushed aside his question and was merely addressing him. Mat rarely takes stock of how others perceive him. He is entirely unselfconscious, as Fool figures are.

Mat is dressed not exactly as a vagabond, but well below his station and appears buffoon-like. He anticipates battles are soon to come; today’s ‘battle’ being with Elayne. At first Mat feels very under-dressed when he sees Thom and Talmanes, then he is defiant. It is his own that he doesn’t need to follow convention and pander to royalty, because he is above both. After all, the Joker trumps all. Yet it is part of his conceit to insist he is a lowly farmer Jack.

Mat holds out hope that he hasn’t been promoted to Seanchan nobility, even though was addressed as Highness. To which Talmanes says:

"Well, Mat," Talmanes said, "you never have made any sense, so why should we expect you to now? Onward, then, to meet the Queen of Andor. Certain you don't want to roll in the mud first?"

Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

Fools don’t make sense and tricksters are often dirty. Both defy convention because they get what they want by breaking the rules (see Fool and Trickster articles).

Thom is a magician in the way he transformed himself for this occasion. Once Mat realises what this visit means to Thom, who is returning from exile, he wishes he had worn something nice for Thom’s sake.

Thom is earnest regarding Andor, but Talmanes is a secret wise-cracker. (He has been developed into somewhat of an understudy - and understated – Joker). Watching Talmanes’ tiny twitch of a smile reminds Mat of the effect of winsome smiles in general. Mat needs a lot of money from Elayne, but she is resistant to his smiles, having some of her own. This harkens back to when Elayne suggested Mat practise smiling to catch the eye of the Queen. She was referring to Tylin and her harassment, but Mat caught a much bigger fish – Tuon.

Oh the irony! Mat wants to be a rascally, idle commoner, but instead is a noble consort petitioning a monarch for commercial backing on a manufacturing venture. But entrepreneur is a suitable occupation for a trickster.

Mat’s forces are developing a reputation and Mat himself more so, which will be handy when the attack on Caemlyn comes because they will be looked to for leadership. The large number of forces around Caemlyn will be useful to defend it - if they are all on the right side, and steadfast. Once inside Caemlyn Mat runs his eye over the city from a military point of view and notes that it has some large boulevardes, but also a lot of narrow winding streets, and the palace is very defensible, but needs more barracks. Foreshadowing of a battle there to come. Elayne offers to move the Band closer to Caemlyn and Mat takes her up on it. As it turns out, this will be helpful to defend the city when the Trollocs attack.

It’s amusing that Mat wants to be admired or revered, yet won’t dress up to that. People like to talk about Mat; he is a living legend, as is Rand, but Perrin is much less so. The three ta’veren are like the Hindu triad of Brahma the Creator (Perrin), Vishnu the Preserver (Mat) and Shiva the Destroyer (Rand). Vishnu is greatly worshipped in his own right out of love, Shiva is worshipped as much out of fear of what he might otherwise do as out of love, but Brahma is considerably less worshipped on his own bat compared to the other two gods.

Jordan’s theme of history turning to legend and legend to myth is shown actually happening in this chapter. Mat is said to have:

Hung from a tree for nine days. In fact, Mat was gone a week, but was only hanging from the tree for a very short time. Time passes differently in the *Finns’ world. Like many of these myths in the making, this refers to the Norse god Odin, who hung from the Tree of Life for nine days to gain knowledge.

Never lost at dice or love, and his spear never misses. Mat agrees to the first, but not the other two, yet his success rate with these is well above average. Odin was a gambler noted for his promiscuity and owned a spear which never missed.

Slain one of Forsaken. Mat hasn’t.

Duelled the King of the Aiel invaders and won the Aiel’s loyalty for Rand. Mat did kill Couladin but didn’t persuade any Aiel to follow Rand.

Stepped into death’s domain to challenge him and demand answers. Mat went to the underworld of the Finns, quite an infernal place, really, seeking answers to questions.

Been given a spear as a gift and had his death foretold. True. Jordan explained that Mat died in Caemlyn and lived again after Rand balefired Rahvin. Odin received a spear from the Norse trickster god Loki, who got the dwarves to make gifts for the gods, the spear being one of them. The spear never misses. Mat has parallels to Loki and Odin, all three being shady characters.

Things Mat did have gotten twisted in the telling into myths we recognise, or to events we know never happened.

On learning there are tales about him, Mat denied them unheard:

"I didn't do half of what they say," he grumbled, "and the other half wasn't my bloody fault."

Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

Tricksters are glib uses of the phrase “I didn’t do it”. With so many trickster mannerism and references, the reader expects Mat to trick Elayne in some way, but the surprise is that their bargaining scene is played entirely straight and sincerely.

Mat eyes Elayne off, notices she is fatter, and thinks she would make a lovely serving girl. And just a couple of pages earlier he had been wishing that he was in a tavern with pretty serving girl on his knee…

Mat assumed Elayne would be more tiresomely commanding and regal now that she is Queen, which is why he pointedly referred to her as “Elayne” to Guybon (thus confirming in Guybon’s eyes that he is very high-ranked, because the alternative is disregard of the social order on a level unthinkable):

“Elayne. As Queen. Burn him, but this was going to hurt.”

Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

But it didn’t because most of the time she wasn’t.

Much of his attitude comes from her efforts to ‘tame’ him and get him to recognise her as his sovereign. There is also a long-standing tussle of obligation on both sides.

Mat was girding himself to refuse to bow and scrape to Elayne, when she takes the wind out of his sails with informality. Defiantly he tells her he won’t bow or call her Your Majesty. She says she doesn’t want him to, unless they are in public when she has to keep up appearances. He concedes that this is reasonable. It is comic how Mat is put completely off –balance by Elayne’s informality:

How had becoming Queen made Elayne less high-and-mighty? Had he missed something? She actually seemed agreeable now!
Well, that was unfair. There were times when she had been agreeable before. They had merely been mixed between times when she had been ordering Mat around.

Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

and because he missed the news she is pregnant. As Queen, Elayne now has nothing to prove and doesn’t stand on her dignity unless pressed. Her pregnancy is not the cause, since that tends to make her over-excitable, if anything.

There’s an on-going joke that Mat misses the relationships going on around him, although he denies it:

Thom rolled his eyes. "Don't you ever listen when you're in the city gambling?"
"I listen," Mat muttered. "Usually."

Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

But Talmanes noticed that Mat didn’t have a clue about the people in Hinderstap being a little strange:

"Something feels wrong about these folk, Mat." Talmanes spoke very softly, glancing over his shoulder.
"While you've been playing, I've been talking to them. They don't care about the world. The Dragon Reborn, the Seanchan, nothing. Not a care."
"So?" Mat said. "They're simple folk."
"Simple folk should worry even more " Talmanes said. "They're trapped here between gathering armies. But these just shrug when I talk, then drink some more. It's as if they're… they're too focused on their revelry. As if it's all that matters to them."
"Then they're perfect," Mat said.

Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

Likewise Mat is too focussed on revelry and it blinds him to what is going on around him.

But finally to business:

”With fifty dragons and two hundred and fifty soldiers she [Aludra] could knock down a wall like the one around Caemlyn in a few hours."

Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

News enough to make any ruler sweat. Aludra and Mat just made the current designs of fortresses somewhat obsolete, and the world a lot less safer.

Mat tells of his tactics for using them on Trollocs: a spreading shot on a line of Trollocs from 400 paces.

Elayne realises this is exactly what she was lacking.

The dragons will use a lot of resources to save manpower to kill more manpower on the other side. With this mass destruction, Egwene’s dream of Mat bowling over the masses is about to come true.

Thom is proud of Elayne trying to out-bargain Mat because she was his pupil during the journey to and from Tanchico. Mat objects:

"I put a lot of effort and thought into getting these plans out of Aludra.”

Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

What does Aludra get from either Mat or Elayne, I wonder? So far: heartache from Mat. And no, I’m not suggesting money mends a broken heart, but that she is being over-looked here.

Mat insists on keeping the Band independent of Elayne. Instead she will hire them and they will have exclusive access to the dragons.

"I'm only suggesting reasonable solutions."
"The day you become reasonable is the day I eat my hat," Mat said. "No offense."

Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons

Mat insisted on the right to have a portion of what he and Aludra designed. He uses the foxhead medallion to bribe Elayne to order production on a “prototype” (modern word) immediately. To get one in four dragons he has to loan her the medallion for three days. This gives her enough time to study and copy it; one day wouldn’t have been enough.

He tells her the gholam is in Caemlyn. She didn’t know. This sets up the cooperative effort to kill it.

Mat is content to have the Band under contract to Andor immediately. Elayne plans to use them to quell possible objections in Cairhien. However the Band has to be free to fight as Rand wants in the Last Battle. In reality this may be as Mat directs, not Rand, because he is the better general and Rand say fighting is not his task.

Aludra has to supervise the dragons, and Elayne cannot sell Aludra’s ”technology” (another modern word) to others – to gain their favour for instance. Elayne is dissatisfied, and justifies her commercial and political intentions with the point that others will copy the Dragons anyway. Mat counters that they will be inferior copies. This reminded me of Elayne’s copies of various ter’angreal which were inferior to the originals.

Elayne still wants the Band under her full control. Mat says tough; he’d like a hat made of gold, a tent that can fly and a horse that excretes diamonds.It’s a trickster sort of joke, but Mat has a serious intent. The Band would have to do what Elayne said if they had a commission with her. It’s unspoken, but her tactics won’t be as good as Mat’s. Mat insists on being responsible for his men, one of the few things (the other being Tuon) that he has been voluntarily responsible about. He vows he will do what is right. Elayne says he will do what he sees as right, to which Mat says that every man should have that option. A disadvantage of monarchical society is that people are beholden to those above them on the social scale. Actually it’s a weakness of any hierarchical system that the viability of the organisation is dependent on the skill and wisdom – and luck too! - of its managers.

Thom laughs when Mat says he bargained against Elayne pretty well. While it may seem that neither came out ahead particularly, given their relative social standing and starting points, that’s actually a fairly unconventional result. Normally the monarch/backer wins. The one who hasn’t “won” much is the person who supplied the knowledge, skill and creativity – Aludra.

Elayne is much worried about the Two Rivers, and thought Mat might know she may have to put down an insurrection there (this is a reference to Perrin raising Manetheren and being called Lord of the Two Rivers). Mat is very surprised. And doubtful.

Elayne pardons Thom and wants him known for what he is when he is in Caemlyn, but otherwise he isn’t tied to her court. Thom realised that Elayne deduced he killed King Galldrian. She probably learned in Tear or on the way to Tanchico that Thom was in Cairhien at that time, and guessed that he was the killer. It had to be someone good to get past Galldrian’s defences, as well as with a motive. Mat wonders if he should get a pardon from Elayne in advance, for safety’s sake. Foreshadowing?


Anonymous said...

Mat ALWAYS is responsible toward his men, even if he doesn't give it much thought. This is in marked contrast to Rand, who obsessing over it without it amounting to much in action.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for your very entertaining and insightful read-throughs.

Your comment about the inherit weakness of heirarchial organisations is very true. If a leader is promoted for reasons other than for their wisdom, competence and experiece (which often happens), then in times of need, disaster often results.

I have been wondering if Mat's battle savvy from the Finns was his own past lives experiences or just the collected memories of previous battle leaders stuffed into his head.

Linda said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I think that poor management is responsible for more failures of enterprises than any other cause.

It so happens that I was reading over the chapters after Mat visits Rhuidean. Mat's battle knowledge comes from the memories the *Finns gave him. He is aware of this as he tries to figure out what is going on, and how they work.

Matthew Walsh said...

I think Aludra got what she wanted. These weapons will be used against Seanchan. She gets revenge. I'm sure the Crown will pay her handsomly besides even if that wasn't hammered out in the meeting.

t ball said...

Anon 2 - I believe Matt's memories are not his own (though I suppose some could be) but memories of soldiers from many periods of history. IIRC, there are a couple of moments when Matt recalls having memories of opposing soldiers from the same battle.

I recall discussions on blogs (and the old rec.arts. days in the late 90s) that the memories were from soldiers who had visited the Finn worlds. I don't remember if Jordan ever clarified that.

Dressageboy said...


Great post, thanks! Has there been any explanation, (by RJ, BS, or in the forums) aside from "...the old blood runs strong in The Two Rivers" for Mat's spouting the old tongue? Because he does it waaaay before he ever visits the Finns. If he's not channeling past lives, why IS he the only person thru 13 books, who has popped off in the old tongue unconsciously?

The old blood may run strong, as evidenced by the number of girls the Aes Sedai have brought from Emonds Field to the White Tower, but none of the other Two Rivers folk exhibit this behavior. So who IS Mat? Is he perhaps a H.O.T.H. reborn?


Linda said...

Matthew: We can hope that she is being paid. Not by Mat, judging by her remark about his money chest being the thing that he pays a lot of attention to.

She may want revenge on the Seanchan, but I doubt that cannon will be used on them. It would be a waste of people who could be fighting the Shadow. Also: revenge isn't always what it was anticipated to be.

tball: Mat's military knowledge came from his memories given by the Finns, and these are from adventurers who entered the Finn's world, often in the Tower of Ghenjei, wich RJ said was famous in earlier times.

Dressage Boy: Early in the books Mat used to spout a bit of Old Tongue and this was attributed to his having "Old Blood". Egwene has a bit too, which is why she almost understood what Mat was saying, but not as strongly as Mat. However, as Birgitte points out to Mat (because she's the only one with this knowledge) after he gained memories from the Finns he could do the Old Tongue in different accents. These being from different times and nations of the Third Age.

Nicole Santa Maria said...

Another thoughtful analysis of a key scene! Linda, what a great observation that entrepreneurship comes naturally for a trickster. While Sanderson's Mat comes off a little differently from Jordan's, he retains his core characteristics, and I think this scene with Elayne is terrific in terms of plot movement and character development, for both of them.

In conclusion: yay!

Manetheren said...

Mat's memories are certainly not is own past lives. I can't remember which book, but there is an instance where Mat reminisces about some of those memories and remembers one of the battles/war(?) and that he has memories from people on both sides. I could be wrong, as I'd have to re-read the series over again to find it.

Anonymous said...

the third book the dragon reborn matt after he was healed of his ties to the dagger recalled ordering the heart guard to advance. i think that a few of his memories involving manetheren are his past lives. also there is no telling what the dagger or rather mordeth may have planted into matt's head. as for his trip to 'finnland the shadow is most likely aware of the fact he went there, but i wonder what ties to the shadow do the 'finns have? morididn seems to be able to enter and leave without any problems and doesn't seem to have to pay any price.