Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Towers of Midnight Read-through #61: Chapter 54 - The Light of the World

By Linda

Mat resolves not to get hanged this time when he makes a bargain with the Eelfinn. On his previous visit, he was ignorant, but this time he will be clever enough to avoid their traps and not leave any loopholes—or so he believes. Instead of being sneaky, Mat challenges the Eelfinn openly:

"You knew I'd come back," Mat said loudly. His voice did not echo. Light! How large was the thing? "You knew I'd come marching back to your bloody realm, didn't you? You knew you'd have me eventually." Hesitant, Thom lowered his flute. "Show yourselves!" Mat said. "I can hear you scrambling, hear you breathing."

Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

He believes that the Eelfinn manipulated him into returning to be killed. When he points out to Thom that they know things, he is implying that they know the future. We know the Aelfinn can read the Pattern of the main world but we don’t know if the Eelfinn can. Furthermore, it’s not that simple: the future is not all foreordained, as Moiraine’s trip through the rings in Rhuidean showed. It is far from certain that the rescue will be successful, although Thom has faith in Moiraine’s vision of their escape.

Mat feels played with—Toy toyed with—but he is good at winning games. The Eelfinn try to get him to make a bargain prior to arriving in the bargaining chamber. However, each visitor may only have one chance to make a bargain, and bargains aren’t binding unless made in the Chamber of Bonds. So Mat refuses and fends off the Eelfinn with their forbidden items. The Foxes claim Mat is purposely antagonising them when they did nothing to deserve it. He has the scar to prove they hanged him last time – when bound by a treaty no less. Since he came so close to death, being resuscitated by Rand, this also indicates they weren’t certain he would be back.

In return, they challenge him, with a senior Eelfinn saying:

"We are the near ancient, the warriors of final regret, the knowers of secrets."

Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

The Eelfinn hang out in the shadows like bogey men – or Myrddraal. They are meant to seem hellish in their own way. The white steam is a reference to the heat of hell, but also to “smoke and mirrors”. For instance, Mat’s spear blade passes through an Eelfinn “as if it were smoke”. Again, like Myrddraal, they are out of phase with the regular laws of physics. The blade is not iron so it can’t harm them; the iron knife and band hurt them. The Eelfinn’s blood steams and has faces in it –a distraction and a threat:

He shivered as he saw the Eelfinn's blood on the ground begin to steam. White steam, as in the other chambers, but this had shapes in it. They looked like twisted faces, appearing briefly and yelling before vanishing. Burn them! He couldn't get distracted.

Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

It reminds me of Moridin’s fireplace:

Rand turned back to the flames, watching them twist and flicker. They formed shapes, like the clouds, but these were headless bodies, skeletal, backs arching in pain, writhing for a moment in fire, spasming, before flashing into nothing.

The Gathering Storm, A Place to Begin

Noal thinks the Eelfinn control the darkness and their yellow light creates illusion. He thinks it’s all illusion, a trick, but the Eelfinn do have genuine abilities. Mat likens the Eelfinn to Aes Sedai because both are liars and cheats that have to be “honest”, are in fact bound to be. They cannot lie, but they can trickBoth groups have parallels in elfin or fairy folk as discussed in the previous read-through article. As Mat warns Thom and Noal, the Eelfinn are tricksters (see Tricksters article), but so are Mat, Thom and Noal for that matter. Mat is chronically “unreliable” unless he makes a promise. He always keeps those.

Light blinds the Foxes – as Mat the fox was a light-blinded fool (see Fool and Joker article) in the early books. While the Eelfinn are dazzled, Mat is enlightened and realises the Eelfinn have been manipulating him to make certain choices – pick a certain card:

Never choose the card a man wants you to. Mat should have realized that. It was one of the oldest cons in creation.

Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

Moiraine is discovered clothed in mist, a continuation of the mist/fog/steam/smoke motifs, which symbolise the danger of being misled and not seeing clearly. She is a Sleeping Beauty figure, having taken herself out of the main action in response to a warning and to fulfil prophecy. This is more empowered than the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty who was kept protected yet succumbed to her doom anyway, although both women awaited rescue.

Mat hates the way Moiraine disrupted his life, and used him, yet he prefers this life to his former one. She did what needed to be done to save the three ta’veren. Finally he understands her and is grateful for what she did—but still angry that she had to. Mat’s internal reconciliation to Moiraine looks to Rand’s emotional reaction when she arrives at the crucial moment and is restored to him as the only woman of many who died that has returned to him.

The scene fulfils Egwene’s dream of:

Mat throwing dice with blood streaming down his face, the wide brim of his hat pulled down low so she could not see his wound, while Thom Merrilin put his hand into a fire to draw out the small blue stone that now dangled on Moiraine’s forehead.

The Fires Of Heaven, What Can Be Learned in Dreams

The dream shows the dangers: Thom endures pain as he literally puts his hands into hot mist (steam vapour?) to free Moiraine, Mat has a facial wound hidden by his hat, (in fact he pulls his hat down to shade his eye as Egwene saw in dream) but he still rolls his dice to find their way. I.e. He is relying on his luck while bravely playing the game against the Finns. The kesiera is something personal of Moiraine’s and is therefore symbolic of her. Noal does not appear in the dream as though he is already dead.

Mat’s sacrifice of an eye is one of his many links with the Norse god Odin. The dice refer to the game of Foxes and Snakes and that they need to use an understanding of this game, and Mat’s luck, to effect a rescue. It is interesting that Mat rolled dice to determine their “moves” in this scene.

Moiraine was left bound/restrained in the Chamber of Bonds to be bargained for. Hence the Eelfinn say :

"The bargain has been arranged," one of the Eelfinn males said, smiling, showing pointed teeth.
The other Eelfinn leaned in, breathing deeply, as if smelling something. Or ... as if drawing something from Mat and the others. Birgitte had said that they fed off emotion.
"What bargain?" Mat snapped, glancing around at the pedestals. "Burn you, what bargain?"
"A price must be paid," one said.
"The demands must be met," said another.
"A sacrifice must be given."

Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

The price that must be paid is Mat’s eye, as he was warned beforehand. Yet, what if he had not asked the Aelfinn the question: “What fate?” Would he have accepted their bargain price if he was not forewarned? Was the price effectively set because he asked?

The Eelfinn feed off red and white vapour—more “smoke”—from Mat and become drunk from it. The declaration “I can taste fate itself” suggests they are sensitive to the Pattern, at least, if not as good at reading it as the Aelfinn.

The world depends on the payment of an eye for Moiraine; the trickster is a hero. Mat professes a low opinion of those prepared to be heroic and exclaims: “Burn me for a fool! “, a fool being a more typical role for a trickster. Mat has played the fool figure many times (see Fool and Joker essay).

The demands that must be met were Mat’s list: the way out restored and open until they go through, a direct way, with no attacks by the Foxes. The Eelfinn frown – and Mat thinks it’s because they don’t like the bargain. He gets cocky and thinks he got better of them, but they were concentrating on twisting the bargain. They summon the Aelfinn to attack them.

The sacrifice that must be given is Noal’s life. The Foxes’ intended sacrifice was to be their lives, all four of them, but they get one. Basically, they exchanged Moiraine for Noal. In folk tales, fairies may demand a life for a life. Many myths and legends in underworlds and otherworlds set a condition that if someone is to go, another must be left in their place. In this case, left to die.

Mat realises that Thom is loving toward Moiraine, but not yet the full depth of their relationship. Thom rescued her for love, not duty.

The room with the melted ter’angreal is at the end of the Eelfinn’s realm. Beyond is the Snakes’ realm. The Eelfinn made the way out go through the Aelfinn’s territory so they can attack.


t ball said...

This was one of my favorite chapters in this book, I thought Sanderson did a fine job of pacing. And he found something close to Mat's voice here as well after earlier missteps. This scene had some of the same excitement for me that I felt when reading the cleansing of Saidin, or the Aiel sister-ceremony with Elayne and Avhienda and other Jordan-penned chapters.

With the comment "I can taste fate itself" I figured it must be that their sensations are more enhanced than usual due to Mat being Ta'veren.

Linda said...

I think this chapter had quite a bit of content written by RJ.

t ball said...

Well, heh, that might explain why it worked so well. I suspect, though that Sanderson had to do at least a bit of finishing.