Tuesday, July 2, 2013

River of Souls Read-through


By Linda

River of Souls is a short story published in the Unfettered anthology produced by Shaun Speakman of Grim Oaks Press. It is about 4200 words long, and explains some of Demandred’s story line which was not fitted into A Memory of Light (or earlier books).

Demandred has been in Shara for two years. Since he was not released early from the Bore, and the series commenced on Winternight March 998 NE, the events of River of Souls occurred after the Cleansing of saidin, which was in March 1000 NE. There is mention of dead trees, which occurred as drought took hold, but not of Wrongness, unless Shendla’s comment that every Sharan can feel that the Dragon has come refers to this, so perhaps the story is set before the Pattern loosened in Knife of Dreams.

Rhuarc told Rand in Lord of Chaos, The Wheel of a Life in November 999 NE that he had received reports of fighting in Shara and how the Sharans expected Rand to break the world. This news would have taken some time to travel west to the Aiel. The fighting may have been due to Graendal’s abduction of the Sharan monarchs (for her meeting with Sammael in late October 999), or due to Demandred’s slave revolt and social revolution (apparently commenced after the Dark One commanded him in September 999 NE to sow chaos), or both.

The story starts with Demandred, aka Bao, wrapped in the Oneness. The Oneness is valued and seen as the sign of an adept – someone all together – but, like anything, it has its bad side. Distancing is supposed to be a way of removing oneself from troubles or from being dependent or overly attached, but it could also make the practitioner unfeeling and disconnected. Some of the best exponents of the Oneness (e.g. Lan and Rand) had trouble expressing their feelings, so putting aside your emotions can have negative consequences. I guess Mintel would have said it is neither good nor evil, except that he thought very highly of the Oneness as a sign of enlightenment. It was no longer so in Demandred’s case.

Demandred always wanted to be number one (and the symbolism of One in the series is written about here) so much so that he became unscrupulous about it. His usage of the Oneness is negative, symbolized by his compressing his feelings to a black point:

Bao took all of his feelings - all of his thoughts, all that he was -and pressed them into a single point of darkness in his mind. That darkness consumed the emotion. He felt nothing.

River of Souls

It mirrors the nothingness of the Pit of Doom which sucked all into it:

Nynaeve clutched the stalagmite deep within the Pit of Doom, holding herself from being pulled by the winds into that nothingness in front of her. …It pulled with a powerful force, drawing all that was nearby into it. She feared that if she let go, she would be yanked in. Already, it had stolen her shawl, making it vanish. If that nothingness pulled her in, her life would end. Perhaps her soul as well.

A Memory of Light, Unchangeable Things

Demandred does express emotions, just not appropriately: none or little where he should feel in abundance, and obsessively where he should let them die away. As Graendal observed:

Demandred never smiled, never seemed to enjoy anything. Though he was one of the foremost generals among the Chosen, warfare had never seemed to bring him joy. Once she had heard him say that he would laugh the day he could snap the neck of Lews Therin. And only then. He was a fool to bear that grudge…
Yes, he was a cold one.
Perhaps Graendal underestimated him. He very well might be the most powerful of the three [allied Forsaken], more dangerous than Semirhage. She was emotionless and controlled, true, but sometimes emotion was appropriate. It could drive a man like Demandred to actions that a more coolheaded person couldn't even contemplate.

The Gathering Storm, Prologue

And he did become irrational over Rand in A Memory of Light.

When Demandred gained Sakarnen he laughed because with it he had a reasonable chance of killing Rand, and a good one once Rand destroyed the male Choedan Kal.

Fairly early into Demandred’s time in Shara, Mintel adopted him. Perhaps the Forsaken attracted Mintel’s attention when he began the slave revolt. (Only Shendla followed Demandred from the beginning.) With his frequent meditation, usage of the Oneness, and sanctity of person, Mintel is like a Buddhist monk. The Great Servant that Mintel and Demandred referred to is most likely the Buddha.

In A Memory of Light Moghedien didn’t interrupt Mintel’s meditation, but she did cut off his speech and then killed him. By Sharan belief this was a bad omen - and omens are reliable in The Wheel of Time world - so no wonder Moghedien was soon fired upon by dragons and then collared by a sul’dam.

Mintel went through the “City of Dreams” to reach Demandred quickly. Demandred feared he could have lost his soul doing that. The City of Dreams is probably Tel’aran’rhiod, the World of Dreams, which if you enter physically causes you to lose part of your humanity. A less likely possibility is the Ways, with the Black Wind the risk. The title City of Dreams is Macau, fitting the Chinese theme of Shara. It is also the name of a charity which helps at-risk youth to brighter futures. Other characters who enter Tel’aran’rhiod physically use channeling or their dual nature. Perhaps this shows Mintel’s power/prowess that he doesn’t need either.

The kingdom trees are mulberry trees and the mention of the Inner Land is an allusion to Inner Mongolia in China. The Sharans’ complex measurements of distance, weight and time are perhaps a reference to those of India. The Sharan name for outsiders, Ulikar, is very similar to the Russian place name Ulika. Due to their long history of contention, the Russians are outsiders to the Chinese. Plus Russia is west of “Chinese” Shara, indicating someone from the westlands.

At some time in Shara Demandred was branded on his hand:

The back of his hand had been scarred with a terrible burn in the shape of a circle, with three sinuous hooked knives stabbing out from the center toward the perimeter, their tips turning until they blended with the line outside.

River of Souls
It is the triple yin-yang symbol, the sam-taeguk symbolizing heaven, earth and humanity (see illustration right), but a particularly aggressive form of it.



A western version is the triskele, see illustrations below. The photo on the left actually depicts three blades.




The branding may be a relic from his slave days, or perhaps was a souvenir from gaining the rod section of Sakarnen. Demandred looks at it when Mintel speaks of the difference between men’s aims and what they receive, and of fate and the Pattern, but this would be an appropriate reaction for either possibility.

Shendla’s comment that Bao does not laugh because his duty is too heavy recalls Lan, who will defeat Bao. Both men were reluctant to take responsibility for their people – the people had to press them to – though for different reasons, and were gibed at for not laughing:

"I want to see you smile, Lan!" Andere shouted, clinging to his horse's saddle. "Show more emotion than a stone, for once! Surely this deserves it!"

Lan looked at the battle he'd never thought to win, seeing a last stand instead become a promising fight, and couldn't help himself. He didn't just smile, he laughed.

A Memory of Light, A Knack

"No smile?" Torn asked, inspecting Bao's face. "Not a hint of one?"
"Lord Bao does not laugh, Torn," Shendla said, a possessive hand on Bao's shoulder. "His duty is too heavy."
"Oh, I know, I know," Torn said. "That doesn't mean I can't try. Someday I will break that mask of yours, my friend. Someday!"

River of Souls

which makes Demandred’s laugh at gaining Sakarnen and smile at the end of River of Souls all the more significant. With Sakarnen he believed he could now defeat Rand, he had the means to “snap the neck of Lews Therin”, especially if these events occurred after Rand’s epiphany in June 1000 NE, where he destroyed the male Choedan Kal. Ironically, by the Last Battle, Demandred’s obsession with proving himself the better man impelled him to want to kill Rand without Sakarnen.

Demandred, like Rand, was gone for three days on his quest. Both men had an epiphany involving their sa’angreal: Demandred gained one, but Rand destroyed one. Demandred believed his eyes showed only death and coldness, though Shendla disagreed, and Rand’s eyes certainly held coldness and death, even fairly early in the series:

[Rand] did not understand why those coming before him began to sweat and lick their lips as they knelt and stammered the words of fealty. But then, he could not see the cold light burning in his own eyes.

The Fires of Heaven, Other Battles, Other Weapons

Demandred is honest with Mintel and Shendla, and like Lanfear, nearly came back to decency in the face of the “beloved”. Both Lanfear and Demandred were nothing to Rand, but they fervently believed they were and obsessed over him, and then justified their evil actions as being “caused” by his lack of regard for them.

So why did Shendla follow Demandred from the start? She said he wouldn’t want to know because it would weigh on him, and he agreed. If it was because she was infatuated with him, he probably would not feel pressured, merely flattered – or take it as his due. She appears to be a scholar of the Sharan Prophecies, and has some sensitivity to the Pattern:

”The Dragon has come, Bao. Every man and woman in this land can feel it. He will try to destroy the world, and only you can stop him. There is a reason you have done what you did. The Tapestry... shall I call it by your word? The Pattern? It has brought you.”

River of Souls

I suspect she is also a dreamer, one who cannot channel. Either way, she recognised his place in the Pattern almost immediately.

Demandred surprised himself by following the rules of the prophecy. Perhaps subconsciously he was afraid that if he didn’t do the quest perfectly he won’t succeed. Or he needed to believe in the role himself to be convincing to others, and to prove himself.

The chasm that Demandred descended is called Abyrward. The name is a combination of abyss, wyr(m) (worm, an alternate name for dragon) and ward; the abyss guarding the dragon, or more correctly, stopping most people from happening upon the dragon. The river at the bottom is Angarai’la, River of Souls – the souls of those who failed to kill the guardian in the cave? The name refers to Shangri-La but with connotations of anger. Shangri-La is a legendary Buddhist hidden valley or Oriental utopia. The River of Souls and Hearttomb are a dystopia and utopia combined since they house a monster and a benevolent being. Shangri-La is sometimes used to describe a lifelong quest or something elusive that is searched for obsessively. The Holy Grail, San Greal, also represents a lifelong quest and was an Arthurian Shangri-La. Demandred spent two years hunting for Sakarnen, but it was a means to an end, since his ultimate Shangri-La was Rand’s death.

Another allusion for the sacred river, considering the Sharans’ parallels to the westward-invading destructive Mongol hordes of Genghis and Kublai Khan, can be seen in Coleridge’s poem:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea…
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover! …
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Kubla Kahn, or A Vision In A Dream

Demandred didn’t have a pleasure dome like Kublai Khan did at his summer palace in Shangdu (Xanadu), but an un-described tent. However the area had vegetation that was far healthier than elsewhere in Shara. The river Angaralai’la runs within a chasm that is rugged and wild before entering the cavern of the Hearttomb. We don’t know where the river ultimately ends up. It is sacred to the Wyld since only he is allowed to drink its waters. Angaralai’la means River of Souls in the Old Tongue, and Demandred heard whispering in its flow:

The babbling noises it made accompanied him down the long decline, always his companion. At times, its noises sounded like whispers. Perhaps that was where it had earned its name.

River of Souls

Kubla Khan heard ancestral voices, voices of the dead, in the noise of the River Alph, that prophesied war. Once he attained Sakarnen, Demandred intended to take it and the Sharan forces to the Last Battle. He was killed there, and Shendla wailed over his corpse for the loss of her demon lover Demandred. Note that a few names of the Forsaken have demonic parallels (see Names of the Shadow). For further details of Demandred’s Mongol parallels see here.

Jordan and Sanderson reverse engineered Angaralai’la as a combination of Coleridge’s Xanadu and Shangri La, both being legendary places.

The sacred cavern of the Hearttomb contained a jumara and a nym, a monster as nasty as Aginor could make, and a force of fertility and nature as positive as the Light’s technologists could make.

The Nym had withered away in the Light-less Shadowspawn-inhabited cavern. It appears to have no body and existed as a foliate head:

Here, upon a natural stone dais, he found the plants grown together into what seemed a kind of face or head.
"So I was right," he said, kneeling beside the face. "I thought the Nym had all died."
"I... am not of the Nym..." the face said softly, eyes closed. "Not any longer. Have you come to give me rest, traveler?"

River of Souls

In the real world foliate heads occur in sacred architecture and are a representation of the Green Man, a nature spirit or Nature itself (see updated Nym parallels article). Someshta the Nym guarding the Eye of the World was called the Green Man.

The presence of the Nym may have influenced the growth of green, plant-like protruberances by the jumara. Or maybe the jumara camouflaged itself by creating similar growths to that emanating from the Nym.

Demandred killed a jumara, called a “worm” in the Third Age according to Sammael (Lord of Chaos, To Understand A Message), in single combat to attain the sa’angreal Sakarnen and become the prophesied Wyld, saviour of the Sharans. Since worm is an alternative name for a dragon, Demandred, unbeknownst to him, already was the Dragonslayer prior to bringing the Sharans to fight at the Last Battle and trying to kill Rand there. In a neat reversal of typical dragon features, Demandred used:

weaves to lift chunks of rock up into the air, then burned them molten in the blink of an eye and sprayed the jumara's maw with melted rock.

River of Souls

The jumara’s mouth burned as it swallowed fiery rock, rather than breathed fire out. Another link with the jumara and Rand is that Demandred had always hated jumara (River of Souls) and also the Dragon. He cursed Aginor with burning and Dashiva had indeed been burnt at the cleansing before these events.

As the fight with the jumara showed, Demandred has real skill but misapplied it.

Angor’lot, the True Destiny, is the sa’angreal Sakarnen. Sa’angreal are an allusion to the San Greal, the Holy Grail which featured in Arthurian myth and Sakarnen even has a cup component. Such hallowed objects are guarded from the unworthy. Sakarnen was disassembled and hidden, with one part at least guarded, because of the danger it posed. The Choedan Kal were also hidden - within landforms - and their functional keys stored in Warded Rhuidean, and Callandor was protected by Wards attuned to the Dragon Reborn. There is a strong Arthurian theme in Demandred’s story line as well as East Asian/Mongol. (Two other themes are Ancient Rome and Beowulf, but more of these below). The name Angor’lot is similar to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which is the world’s largest religious monument. It fits with the Buddhist/East Asia theme of Shara and the Taoism and religious awe of the One Power. More simply, the name sounds like “anger (a) lot”, and both its users, Demandred and Taim, had a lot of anger toward Rand especially.

Demandred’s alias Bao is an east Asian personal name (see updated Demandred essay), but as Bao the Wyld he is a parallel of the hero of Anglo-Saxon legendary hero Beowulf, and also the brutal ancient Chinese general Bai Qi of the “wild beast” state of Ch’in/Qin.

Brandon Sanderson confirmed in a tweet that Beowulf, the hero of Scandinavian legend and Anglo-Saxon literature is the main parallel for Demandred’s alias Bao the Wyld:

Both [words of the name] are a reference to Beowulf, and I meant the Wyld to mean "predator" or, in more common tongue, he who will kill the dragon.

The monster Grendel terrorized the hall of Hrothgar, King of the Danes for years, killing Hrothgar’s warriors one by one until the heroic Beowulf arrived. He fought Grendel unarmed so that he would not have an unfair advantage over the beastand ripped Grendel’s arm off. Grendel crawled off to his lair to die. Grendel’s vengeful mother attacked, and Beowulf drove her off and killed her with a sword, then found Grendel’s corpse and cut off the head as a trophy.

Beowulf eventually became King of Geatland, and ruled for over 50 years until a slave’s theft of a golden cup from a treasure mound roused it to attack the Geats. Beowulf fought the beast and killed it, but was mortally wounded in the fight.

Most of Demandred’s parallels with the Beowulf legend related to the Age of Legends or events in A Memory of Light and are described in more detail here. (Graendal also has some parallels as can be seen by her name).

After devoting two years to tracking down and winning Sakarnen, to gain an advantage over Rand, Demandred decided not to use it against the Dragon, because it would not prove him the better man. He was a former slave who killed the dragon-like jumara guarding the golden cup of Sakarnen. It was a close fight and he thought it nearly killed him. For this deed, he was acclaimed Dragonslayer by the Sharans and was regarded as their savior and king.

Demandred’s months as a slave culminating in him leading a slave revolt and ultimately a revolution reminded me of Spartacus, one of the leaders of a major slave uprising against the Ancient Roman Republic. Being a skilled gladiator (since he survived the arena), an excellent military commander and a threat to the Roman republic, Spartacus matches Demandred well. The enemies of Ancient Rome are one of the three strands used to develop the Forsaken (the other two being gods and goddesses and the Nazis, see here for full article). Spartacus and his fellow rebel slaves had no intention of ending slavery but acted for their own ends, and so did Demandred; he was there to find Sakarnen, and urged that slaves should be freed as a way to fulfill the Dark One’s command to spread chaos:

Two years ago he had started on this course when he had decided to impersonate a slave among the Sharans. After that had come the revolution, which he had led almost by accident…
"You break us free of fate's chains. You did not know the prophecies when you first came - you have said so yourself - but you fulfilled them anyway."
"By accident."
"Releasing the enslaved, declaring all men free? That was an accident?"
"I did it to create chaos!" he said, turning.

River of Souls

I‘ve written more about this parallel here in the updated Demandred essay. I smiled when Moghedien impersonated Demandred after he was killed in A Memory of Light, because she had been a slave to the a’dam - and ended one, too - so her impersonation of him is really apt.

Did he appoint new nobility, perhaps after the original nobles were killed in the revolution and Graendal stole the monarchs? Or did he treat the original nobility harshly? In A Memory of Light, The Wyld, they were depressed, starved-looking and lacking in confidence.

The result of the slave revolution was that the male channeller concubines were freed of their fate. This parallels Rand’s pressure on the Sea Folk after the cleansing of saidin to stop killing their male channellers (The Gathering Storm, . Demandred taught the Freed how to channel, probably the way his protege Taim taught the Asha’man. At the Last Battle they seemed reasonably competent and would have needed some months to reach this level.

It is interesting that, of all the Forsaken, Demandred was the one who got most caught up in the society he infiltrated.

In the balance:

"All men want something," Mintel said. "All men receive something. Not all men understand the nature of what they have received. You came to us for one purpose, but it was not the purpose that the Grand Tapestry planned for you. That is not uncommon."

River of Souls

Demandred came for Sakarnen, “freed” Sharans and gained their united forces. He did not kill Rand, but accidentally “helped” convince him not to kill the Dark One. Just as he accidentally fulfilled the other Sharan prophecies.

Sharans, or Mintel at least, were not concerned with good or evil but with fate, the Pattern. Demandred freed many of them: a “good” outcome from an evil purpose. Yet they killed a lot of people and their channellers were all but wiped out. On the other hand, the channellers were either feared or hated because of the power they misused or the threat they posed.

Good and evil are necessary in the Pattern, as Moiraine said:

“The Creator is good, Perrin. The Father of Lies is evil. The Pattern of Age, the Age Lace itself, is neither. The Pattern is what is. The Wheel of Time weaves all lives into the Pattern, all actions. A pattern that is all one color is no pattern. For the Pattern of an Age, good and ill are the warp and the woof.”

The Dragon Reborn, Within the Weave

Mintel also followed this philosophy, but unlike him, Moiraine wouldn’t let Darkfriends live. Judging by his non-action in A Memory of Light, Mintel thought some outcomes would be worth the crimes. Mintel believed the Sharans were fated to help Demandred ‘save’ the Land from the Dragon. This was by making Rand see the nobility of the Light’s fighters as they battled the Shadowspawn, Darkfriends and Sharans and realize that he should not kill the Dark One.

The Sharan prophecies run in parallel to the Karaethon Cycle (see updated Prophecies of the Dragon article) so it’s not surprising that Demandred thought that they were all about Rand. Instead, Demandred mirrored Rand. He is right when he says that he and Rand are alike; they are similar enough to share a common parallel in Genghis and Kublai Khan. But of course, Rand is true and Demandred is wrong. Not false, wrong. As he has been since he joined the Shadow.

9 comments:

Nicole Mitton said...

Interesting analysis, as ever! I must get a copy of Unfettered...

Anonymous said...

I wonder did the dark one send Demandred to shara or was it the work of moridin or both? i dont think Demandred just up and said "i think i will go to shara." Sammael and most of the forsaken showed no interest there. Sammael viewed the last battle taking place in randland and after that the world would be hit by the storm. Grendal's only interest was to set up a display to distract Sammael none of the oters even hinted at shara. did Moridin or the dark one tell the others to leave shara alone?

Linda said...

No I don't think so.

Demandred went to Shara because he believed that Sakarnen was there. It wasn't from reading the Sharan prophecies, because from what Shendla said he didn't know the prophecies when he started fulfilling them. Perhaps it was process of elimination - it wasn't anywhere else.

While Graendal's kidnapping of the Sharan Sh'botan and Sh'botay was done for display, it was important because it accelerated the breakdown of Sharan society and thus made Demandred's task easier. I hope my discussion on timing shows that.

Anonymous said...

linda, how did he even know about sakaren? like the acess keys they where lost in antiquity. the closest guess i can come up with is what moghedien told nynaeve back in the shadow rising.

Linda said...

Well all the Forsaken knew whay sa'angreal were very strong and worth looking out for. Lanfear indirectly talked about Sakarnen to Rand. I believe that Demandred actively searched for it based on what he said in River of Souls.

Linda said...

Sakarnen was made in the Age of Legends so there is no reason that Demandred wouldn't know of it. He was very surprised that it had been separated into two parts though.

Yes the Forsaken tried to track items down. Look at how many Moridin amassed.

Anonymous said...

i always thought morididn collected any OP items every time he was free of the bore. his collection was huge. none of the others had any where near the quantity moridin had.

Matt said...

Hi Linda,

I just noticed that the description of the brand on Demandred's hang of 3 sinuous blades closely matches the architecture in the background in this Japanese game:

http://static.giantbomb.com/uploads/original/0/498/235273-cvbgfh.jpeg

Linda said...

Matt, thanks for the suggestion and it is similar. I think that motif is related to the ones I posted above.