Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Memory of Light Read-through #18: Chapter 15—Your Neck in a Cord


By Linda

Mat POV

Like any Trickster figure, Mat knows all the entries and exits of the palace; Tricksters need such knowledge for daring coups and escapes (see Trickster essay).

Mat is sensitive at the neck, and his scarf feels like a chain and a ribbon—perhaps even the pink ribbons that he so dreaded when in thrall to Queen Tylin. It’s also a reference to him being hanged. He had just dangled high above the ground, a position nearly as dangerous as being hanged—having your neck in a cord. This neck symbolism has been continuing throughout the series, since The Eye of the World, when Trollocs tried to lasso his neck with a catchpole.

Not only is Mat’s neck motif prominent in this chapter, so is his fool motif:

Well, he would not be a fool and try this sort of thing again, that was for certain. Just this once, and grudgingly. Matrim Cauthon knew to look out for his own neck. He had not survived this long by taking fool chances, luck or no luck.

A Memory of Light, Your Neck in a Cord

Tricksters are often fools; they achieve their objectives by unconventional means, and get out of their scrapes, but are more often than not the butt of jokes in the process. Selucia calls Mat a fool three times in this scene—and something said or done three times in the series is true. Her first words are:

Selucia scowled. "What are you doing here, you fool?"

A Memory of Light, Your Neck In a Cord

Selucia is the Empress’ truth-speaker. No fool herself, she quickly deduced how Mat lost his eye.

"Hush," Selucia said. "You just tried to convince me you weren't an assassin, now you bring up that? Fool man."

A Memory of Light, Your Neck In a Cord

As well as calling him a fool, she mentions his neck:

"There is another way," Selucia said. "Come before you break your fool neck.”

A Memory of Light, Your Neck In a Cord

The joke is on Mat that there was an easier way in and out of the palace unknown to him, the Trickster.

Part of Mat being a fool involves him being forced by circumstances into risking his fool neck no matter how hard he tries not to. The Fool is a wild card—literally so in the tarocco or tarot family of card games—but low in rank. Another wild card in games is the Joker, but it is usually high rank. (And Mat is the only main character to play cards.) Fools like the freedom of having little or no rank, and Mat is grateful Selucia doesn’t refer to his title and his noble rank. He is determined to be a fool here, not the Joker. She and the Empress are well aware that he is both (see Fool and Joker essay).

Rand POV

Unlike Mat, who tries to avoid responsibility, Rand feels the burden of being responsible for peoples’ safety and lives. Making himself harder was the wrong way of handling this, as was deadening himself to pain. Only recently has he discovered that he needs to accept the pain, as the Aiel do physical pain.

Somewhat awkwardly, Rand gives Tam Artur Hawkwing’s sword. Tam tries to deny Rand’s gift, and, in turn, Rand makes him feel obliged to accept it. The gift is an expression of love and also obligation; Rand explains to Tam that his sword and the void kept him alive.

Tam knows that the flame and void is a meditation technique. This is a side of Tam of which Rand is ignorant until now; he never saw his father as a skilled fighter—a blademaster—or as a meditator. It makes sense: Rand thinks about how he has to be calm or at peace with himself to lead well. And the wise and experienced Ogier assure people that only decisions reached in calm can be sure (The Great Hunt, Among the Elders). The Oneness leads to that.

Rand feels weighted down by the burden of duty. Tam uses sparring as another kind of meditation: living in the moment, concentrating on one thing to the exclusion of all else. Such a purposeful activity offers a respite in the waking world, comparable to making a haven of one’s own dreams while asleep.

Rand hasn’t adapted his fighting to reality, to his lack of a hand. He is not living in the now and clings to ways of thought that are crushing him. Tam has anticipated problems—disaster, even—and practised fighting one-handed. He has not pretended that he is all powerful and invincible, or that the Pattern will look after him. Many powerful channellers fall into this trap of self-aggrandisement. Rand did; and he has come a long way out of it, but this is the last of its symptoms and Tam will literally wear it away. Rand sees that one-handed swordsmanship is possible and useful; and is encouraged and pressured by the fight to let go and follow his own instincts.

Interestingly, Rand attributes to Lan the opinion that one-handed fighting is futile—but Lan believes that you don’t surrender until you are dead, so he would acknowledge the necessity of fighting on without a hand.

By focussing on something straightforward, Rand leaves his worries behind. Emphasising the positive helps deal with the negative.

Mat POV

Tuon is also sparring to take her mind off things and stay sharp—with her eyes shut. Mat realises how dangerous she is and how she could have killed him. Except that Mat is dangerous, too, which is why they have a healthy respect for each other.

Their marriage is a self-fulfilling prophecy: they only said their vows because prophecy said they ought to. Mat realises that he has to live with it now. For a long while, he thought of courting her as a game, but marriage is not a game. It’s not an accident, either. Responsibility can’t be passed off. Like all fools, Mat tries to avoid responsibility–yet promptly protects his wife.

Mat acts on instinct—as Rand is doing—and kills a Grey Man. The slightest sound alerts Tuon. She showed that she trusts Mat implicitly, which he found moving.

Tuon calls her guards fools when they catch the wrong guy, then pretends that she never called Trollocs myths. Acceptance is one thing, denial another. This is why the Empress needs a Truthspeaker: to force her to accept that she can and does make mistakes and wrong assumptions, and to remind her of her fallibility and humanity. Selucia is covering too many roles at present, and consequently is not being an effective Truthspeaker, particularly as it does not fit with her previous relationship with Tuon. She is both very attached to her mistress and has obeyed her for a long time.

Tuon deduces that Mat went to save someone—or she was well-informed. Perhaps Selucia listened in to Mat’s plans after he read Moiraine’s letter at the menagerie.

The Empress expects people to serve her well, and therefore doesn’t express pleasure or gratitude when they do. She openly takes people for granted: they should just be grateful that their efforts are accepted and that they are not supplanted by another.

It seems that Mat won’t let his wife push him around too much. He won’t be trivialised, unless he wants to play the fool. She respects that. Tuon sees him as one who has survived great danger, and, moreover, is also glad to see him –an admission that is a major concession from her.

Mat wastes energy trying to avoid responsibility, as Rand does worrying over it. The moral is to accept it and move on. The chapter is about necks in a cord—or a yoke—and being strangled by responsibility as well as danger. But a yoke offers the possibility of progress and achievement, even if the labour is great.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Memory of Light Read-through #17: Chapter 14—Doses of Forkroot


By Linda

In Tel’aran’rhiod, the wind blows hard in natural patterns, but Perrin finds it easy to impose calm on a limited area, due to his skill and also his devotion to rightness and the natural order of things. Reality in the dream looks worn and the Land is coming apart. This is a step beyond what Moridin described to Rand earlier in the book:

"It dies, and the dust soon will rule. The dust . . . then nothing."

A Memory of Light, Advantages To a Bond

Moridin saw the end as a winding down of a universe crushed by entropy rather than a big crunch:

”The end is near,” Moridin said. “The Wheel has groaned its final rotation, the clock has lost its spring, the serpent heaves its final gasps.”

The Gathering Storm, Prologue

The storm is worse where Rand is. Fragments of land are sucked up by the wind and pulled toward the black clouds. The winds herald oncoming destruction.

Gaul’s strong will, identity and focus keeps him steady in Tel’aran’rhiod. Perrin asks him what he did to deserve Gaul’s loyalty. First was freeing him, which made Gaul follow Perrin because the Aielman had toh. He continued to follow not from what Perrin did, but what he is: ta’veren, strong, wise, a fighter. Gaul was always impressed with Perrin’s fighting ability and physical and mental strength.

Lanfear surprises Perrin by appearing beside him—like a lamia or succubus apparition. A lamia is a beautiful woman from the waist up and a serpent from the waist down, who kills children, seduces sleeping men, and enchants her victims with glamour and illusion. A succubus is a female demon who takes on a human female form to seduce men in their dreams. Lanfear—or Cyndane, as we should call her, because Moridin is strict with names—is not wearing Moridin’s colours, but her own. When she learns the wolves’ name for her, she denies hunting the moon because it is hers already. The name 'Moonhunter' is derogatory as well as accurate—Lanfear is arrogant and deluded. The Forsaken declares that she wants vengeance on somebody, this obviously being Rand, whom she blames for her predicament. Moridin indicated this earlier:

"Mierin hates you now, anyway," Moridin continued. "I think she blames you for what happened to her.”

A Memory of Light, Advantages to a Bond

The two scenes are linked. Lanfear can sense when Moridin is wondering where she is and quickly flits back to a more acceptable activity.

Perrin says Lanfear has never made any sense to him. He remembers that the wolves said she wants him. He doesn’t know what for, and neither do we. Not yet.


Toveine POV

Turned, Toveine has flung aside her reservations about Logain to be openly affectionate. Logain is crucial to either side due to his influence and strength. His resistance and devotion to the Light is very impressive; he has resisted eleven or so attempts to Turn him. Only this time does he scream in agony.

The Black Asha’man are exhausted trying to Turn Logain and his faction. All Reds except Pevara have also been Turned. Graendal—Hessalam, now—is in charge of the Black sisters. With plenty of women, the procedure will be more effective, as evidenced by Logain’s screams. This is his faction's last chance to save him; a twelfth attempt (symbolic number!) will probably be successful. Women Turn men easily and men women, as with Healing stilling. It is evidence of the necessary balance between the sexes and between saidin and saidar.

The doses of forkroot have been stopped for Androl, because they are going to Turn him soon and also because he is considered negligible, particularly with the dreamspike preventing his only major Talent from working. Which is why he is triumphant when he uses Evin’s paranoia from the taint to make him strike at Abors, who is holding Androl’s shield; using the Shadow’s weapons against them. Later in the chapter he does the same with their weaves. Impressively, he is able to open a tiny gateway under extreme duress despite the dreamspike being still in place. This could well be something the Forsaken consider impossible.

Taim reveals that he has the Seals but hasn’t handed them to the Dark One yet:

"I have already provided a gift to the Great Lord himself. Beware, I am in his favor. I hold the keys in my hands, Hessalam."
"You mean . . . you actually did it? You stole them!"

A Memory of Light, Doses of Forkroot

Androl doesn’t know what Taim is referring to, but he can see that Hessalam does. He doesn’t know who she really is, either.


Perrin POV

Lanfear explains to Perrin that the Asha’man guards were Turned and what this process is. She puts a dose of forkroot in their wine to help Perrin because she is “fond of him”. Perrin says no one should be forced to the Shadow. She counters, saying that they could have chosen to be severed from the Source; then, as non-channellers, they couldn’t be Turned.

When she reminds him that the Pattern offers only bad choices sometimes, she implies that’s all that she had when she swore to the Shadow. Perrin is not convinced by her claim—excuse, really—that she has suffered enormously—he is aware of how many she has made suffer enormously. Any thwarting of her desires or plans is agony to such a spoiled brat.

As “the one who is punished most” (A Memory of Light Prologue) she says she is no longer one of the Forsaken due to the Dark One learning that she was planning to help Rand win. (At the time of the prologue, Moridin indicated that she was a Forsaken, tough the lowest ranked.) This sounds more altruistic and cooperative than it actually is: Lanfear planned to use Rand, not help him. He was to either beat the Dark One with her “at his side” or she would kill him as he tried to do so and thereby save the Dark One.

Perrin is impressed with her skill in Tel’aran’rhiod. Lanfear is not supposed to be able to “do this” – move around independently in Tel’aran’rhiod? The Forsaken is sticking to her usual methods of using powerful men: she tells Perrin how he will be of use to her: to win with her at his side, as though he is doing it for her or sharing it with her. Basically he is to win the battle for her as her Champion, and Lanfear would be the dark Lady of Sovereignty.

Perrin shrugs her off. Lanfear tries a little honey and shows him how to set and unset the dreamspike. Perrin hopes that the retraction of the dome will bring Slayer to him. What it does immediately is enable Androl to make gateways again—gateways that aimed the Dreadlords’ weaves back at them.

In both scenes we see the Shadow undermining itself—Evin manipulated into attacking another Dreadlord, Dreadlords killed by their own weaves, and Lanfear plotting against the Dark One.