Monday, March 11, 2002

The Price and Prize of Knowledge

by Dominic

An essay on the Theme of Knowledge in The Wheel of Time

“ is customary for those who desire to win the favor of a Prince to present themselves to him with those things they value most or which they feel will most please him; thus we often see princes given horses, arms, vestments of gold cloth, precious stones, and similar ornaments suited to their greatness. Wishing, therefore, to offer myself to Your Magnificence, with some evidence of my devotion to you, I have not found among my belongings anything that I might value more or prize as the knowledge of the deeds of great men, which I have learned from a long experience in modern affairs and a continuous study of antiquity; having with great care and for a long time thought about and examined these deeds, and now having set them down in a little book, I am sending them to Your Magnificence.”

- Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, Dedicatory preface to Lorenzo dé Medici, Duke of Fiorenze

”Most mistakes made by rulers came from not knowing history; they acted in ignorance of the mistakes others have made before them.”

- Verin Mathwin Aes Sedai of the Brown Ajah, as quoted by Moiraine to Siuan, New Spring, It Begins


The theme of history repeating itself through time under new guises is one cherished by the author of The Wheel of Time, as is the theme of history fading into legends and legends fading into myth, before “myth too is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again” (The Eye of the World, An Empty Road). Jordan has used history, gleeman's tales and myth in his story to foreshadow events happening in his here and now, the final years of the New Era.

Woven with these two themes is a third one: a titanic struggle over knowledge between the Light and the Shadow. The preservation and study of knowledge and its application to current problems, the transmission of knowledge to new generations, the creative impulse to find new knowledge and rediscover what was lost, and also the darker side of things: corruption of knowledge, manipulation of knowledge, theft of knowledge through torture, spying and dissimulation, the greed or mistrust that lead to keeping precious knowledge to one self—and the cardinal sin of wanton destruction of knowledge. In The Wheel of Time, knowledge mutates and is always incomplete, there is no omniscience to be found within the Pattern, and perhaps not even outside, at least in the Dark One's prison.

The theme of knowledge is complex, far reaching and woven into the warp and weft that form the layers of the work. The main purpose of this essay is to draw attention to the prominence and quasi musical quality with which this theme has been developed through the series, with patterns and movements and their counterpoints, the echoing and mutating tones, motifs and shades, a symphony of threads of knowledge and information. And as the characters choose to weave these threads variously into warming wool and precious velvet, sheer flamboyant silks or the cloth for the veil and darkest cloaks to hide behind we shall first observe how the theme of knowledge is developed through the series in the realm of the Light through a representative, if by no mean exhaustive, sample of the motifs. Then we will look at the counterpoints of those motifs as they were developed under the veil of the Shadow. From there we will focus on a character with whom the theme of knowledge is fundamental—Moridin—and analyze a few examples of the mutability and corruption of knowledge and their effects in the series. We will then turn to the different means through which knowledge old and new is introduced by the Wheel and finally, anchoring ourselves in our observation of the motifs already present in the published books, look at what Jordan planned for the plot threads at the end of A Memory of Light.


"There is nothing more beautiful than to know all.”

- Father Anathasius Kircher, Ars Magna Sciendi [The Great Art of Knowledge], 17th century

The Ogier knew so much about some things, so little about others, and he seemed to want to know everything.

- The Great Hunt, Friends and Enemies

We can find the theme of knowledge layered in a myriad of motifs and shades in the details of the plot—for example in the political realm with Queen Elayne of Andor, faced with difficult challenges in the past and even now, who looks back constantly through her ordeals to the teaching, successes and mistakes of her mother Morgase, to the histories where Elayne sees lessons in the victories and defeats of her ancestors from the line of Ishara, to the pithy folk wisdom of her nursemaid Lini, or to the teachings of Gareth Bryne and Thom Merrilin as well as the advice of Nynaeve, Birgitte, Vandene and Dyelin. There we see the value of the preservation and interpretation of history, and of Elayne's higher education—but even now that the Rose Crown is hers her danger lays in what else she doesn't know about—in the still occulted knowledge of Moridin's plans for her nation and the challenge of extracting secrets from his pawns Daved Hanlon and Mili Skane, in sifting the truth from the falsehoods.

We find the theme with Siuan Sanche (1), opening for the Amyrlin Egwene the treasure box of the secret Archives of the White Tower, the counterpart to the expunged and manipulated “official version” of Aes Sedai history. Here we see the motif of the Initiation that opens to a person the door to potentially dangerous, but also extremely valuable, knowledge (a motif repeated, notably, in the Aiel storyline), plus the dangers of incomplete and corrupted knowledge, or of not heeding the lessons of the past, as Siuan sometimes did. It is not without irony that prominent among the causes of Siuan Sanche's downfall is all the secret knowledge of the Dragon Reborn she wasn't able to use efficiently and transmit openly to the Hall and the world sooner, because she knew herself surrounded by the hidden forces of the Black Ajah and by declared opponents like Elaida and the Red Ajah, threatening her and those she had to protect, Moiraine and the boy she would find. It is interesting that Siuan was once and is now again a Spy Master. It's a field of work she was brought into upon being raised a full sister and to which she had to return after a brief break in New Spring, at the urging of Moiraine and not out of desire but for the need they would have of the information from the Blue Ajah's eyes-and-ears. After her fall from power it was the great value of Siuan's Amyrlin network that re-opened to her the doors of politics in Salidar; although no longer a sister, the tactical advantage of the information she could offer proved a bait that Sheriam and her circle of leaders just couldn't resist, and her intoxicating false knowledge of the Red Ajah's dealings with Logain and false Dragons sealed the deal and sparked the true rebellion.

We find the theme in the realm of the Heroes, especially when past and present clash; where the old evil of Aridhol deprives Mat Cauthon (2) of personal memories and experiences—his baggage of knowledge—a symbolic murder of Mat's self; where the ancient power of the Eelfinn provides him with glimpses of his destiny, as much a gift as a curse; and again when the Aelfinn grant Mat a wide array of memories and experiences from men of the past—knowledge Mat seemingly needed to fulfil a destiny that was heralded by the Karaethon Cycle. It's the combination of the esoteric and seemingly manipulative knowledge imparted by the Aelfinn and Eelfinn (3) and of the glimmers of the Pattern granted in parallel to Tuon in the form of foretelling (fortune telling) and portents and omens tailor-cut for her superstitious nature that spun the fibers into the threads that wove the wedding of the Fox and the Raven, part of the prophecy of the Last Days. With Mat we see that knowledge can come at a high price, as he realized in Knife of Dreams. As Mat himself once put it, he was “hanged for knowledge, and lack of it” (Lord of Chaos, A Different Dance) We find the motif echoed again with Birgitte Trahelion, Hero of the Horn, whose gift from the Wheel is to collect through her incarnations new knowledge and experiences, new ways of surmounting trials and obstacles, to do what needs to be done and thus be a Hero. Birgitte's experiences are all hers to reflect and ponder on during her transitional sojourns in Tel’aran’rhiod and also available in the special event of the Horn of Valere calling her back, a very special gift which, breaking all conventions, she decided to share with Perrin, Nyaneve and Elayne and, an unintended consequence of an ill-intentioned spinning of fate by the Spider Moghedien, Birgitte can now selflessly use in the waking world, as Elayne's Warder and for the benefit of all souls under the Light. Again, a curse and a gift; the toll Birgitte has to pay for her decision to interfere with visitors to the World of Dreams is heavy and her memories temporarily faded, but the gifts she can impart are many; lately Birgitte's knowledge of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn, awarded to the ever curious Olver—a sponge absorbing everything, in the manner of youth, from the extremely useful gems to the dubious emulation of his guardian Mat—played a key role in shaping up a plan to rescue Moiraine, Min's “woman dead and gone” without whom Rand “would almost certainly fail” (A Crown of Swords, Into the Woods and Knife of Dreams, The Golden Crane confirmed this refers to Moiraine). Both repositories of knowledge having been acquired at a high personal price and in esoteric fashion, Mat and Birgitte have in common a great reluctance to reveal how, and how much, they know.

We can see the theme of knowledge at work with Moiraine, the early mentor figure in the series, sharing her experience of life with Egwene and Rand. We see it in her constant quest for more knowledge and for answers to help her in her cause: knowledge from Siuan's spy network and her own agents, information from Min, answers from Verin, from Vandene and Adeleas, from Rhuidean; the quest for knowledge never ends for Moiraine. And with her we see the burden of responsibility that knowledge can bring to someone, whether in exercising judgment about the use of dangerous things like balefire, or by paying the price of a lifetime of hard work and dedication for listening to, and making the decision to act on, Gitara Moroso's last foretelling. For Gitara herself, the price of that foretelling was her life, and her prophecy shortly after would cost the lives of the Amyrlin Tamra and the sisters she picked as her searchers. This motif of knowledge being a call to a quest and a cause to embrace shows up again with Tigraine Mantear, who like Moiraine followed the trail of a prophecy of Gitara and sacrificed her future life as Queen of Andor and the love of her son Galad due to the knowledge of her importance in the Pattern and to the world. The motif of the price for knowing the importance of one's destiny was carried through to her second son, Rand al'Thor, who follows his mother's path of duty and self-sacrifice. We see it again later with Moiraine at the docks of Cairhien, and more recently with Mat who learned not to fight what can't be changed and gave in to the ineluctability of his fated wedding to Tuon. We see it even in Elaida, whose actions, though tainted by ambition and hunger for power, are also shaped by her Foretellings, a few of which she has kept secret.

With another character important to the theme, Verin Mathwin, we have new shades of knowledge and learning. We see her circumspection and secrecy—Cadsuane calls her “a woman of many masks” (Knife of Dreams, The Golden Crane)—passing on information about Tel’aran’rhiod to Egwene but holding back the treasures or perils to be found in the diary of Corianin Nedeal; keeping in her own study for over forty years a fragment of manuscript about Ba'alzamon and inscribing in her little notebooks her precious thoughts and discoveries in a secret code. Verin embodies the motif of the dangers of knowledge when given to the unready—she herself was nearly killed putting to the test the secrets revealed by Corianin about Tel’aran’rhiod—not the greed of secrecy for possible self-advancement or glory which is more typical of the Shadow. We see her reflecting that she must give the key to her cipher before her death, which is a continuation of the motif introduced with Corianin Nedeal, the secret knowledge of the wise and Initiated, transmitted from one to another and which can set you on a path. This shows up again with Cadsuane's apprenticeship to a wilder in the Black Hills, and with Egwene's gradual initiation by the Wise Ones. With Verin we also see introduced the motif of anathema on the destruction of knowledge, of any writing, however dangerous in the wrong hands. This theme is carried to Loial the Ogier, another one for whom books are most precious, the material object being for him but the fragile repository of the real treasure, the knowledge and memory of the past they contain. While Loial is freer with his tongue, and even Moiraine in comparison appears loquacious, Verin remains ever careful with the pearls of knowledge she imparts to anyone, especially if they might interfere with destiny, or possibly with the work of the Wheel. From her half-muttered allusions to the “Five will ride forth” verse and her careful prodding of the party going into Falme in The Great Hunt through her sly manipulations of Demira Eriff in Lord of Chaos, Beyond the Gate that caused the failure of the rebel Aes Sedai Embassy to Rand (4), which she later completed by using Compulsion on fellow sisters so they swore fealty to the Dragon, her characteristic modus operandi was seen again in Knife of Dreams and shed a new light on her earlier observation and subtle prodding of Perrin into a leadership position, and her voluntarily mysterious allusions to the Broken Crown and Perrin taking his hammer leaves little doubt that Verin had identified him as the Wolf-King of the Karaethon cycle... and again chose not to tell, for her own reasons. In her now classic fashion, Verin and her faithful Tomas went away to serve Rand, where and in what way she decided not to reveal, but telling him to heed Cadsuane's advice, a sister she has deviously probed and tested before declaring her worthy of her trust and Rand's.

We find the theme developed extensively around the Wise Ones and their sharing of wisdom and knowledge through a hard apprenticeship, one which is different but in essence quite similar to the hard road to follow to become Aes Sedai. Two visions of education. The theme of apprenticeship, of direct transmission from an elder to a youth is present in a multitude of places, such as in Perrin's blacksmith apprenticeship, or in Elyas' transmission of the knowledge of the wolfbrothers, or from father to son, as we see with Tam and Rand, and again with Mat who is putting to good use what he learned from Abel Cauthon's horse expertise. It's the transmission of knowledge through observation and emulation, and for the Aes Sedai, Wise Ones and even blacksmiths alike, it's also a school in life. In the White Tower, this is supplemented by a more formalized curriculum and there we see motifs of education given shades that allude to classical studies, reminiscent of the education provided in abbeys and early universities, for example the lectio and disputatio(5). With the Wise Ones, we get a more practical and spiritual approach, from facing and accepting the realities of life, in their Life as a Dream philosophy, to the ethical intricacies of ji'e'toh, the code of honor and obligation, which the Aiel learn to live by from infancy to the grave. While the Aiel, and now Egwene, thanks to her Aiel apprenticeship, are formed to make their own ethical decisions, the most hardened warriors never hesitate to call on their Wise Ones' wisdom, knowledge or judgment.

We see a new shade of the theme of knowledge in the ter'angreal of Rhuidean that arms the Wise Ones and Clan Chiefs with the vital but perilous knowledge of Aiel history. Not everyone comes out alive from this terrible experience, and spreading such knowledge to the unready nearly shattered the Aiel society. It's a theme also echoed with Tuon, Egeanin and the Seanchan; knowledge of the truth about sul'dam is still a closely held secret and a sword of Damocles over the future of the Seanchan civilization in its present form—all the more threatening now that Semirhage has assassinated the whole Imperial family and thrown the Empire into civil war. The Empress Tuon, who has the ability to learn to channel, has pushed aside for now this undeniable, but dangerous, knowledge by turning it into an personal ethical issue : choosing not to learn, refusing to gain the knowledge to use her gifts. We see a similar motif in the White Tower with the ter'angreal through which the novices learn of and face their fears and thus gain Acceptance, and, interestingly, the right to choose their future fields of study; a threshold on their way to adulthood, the moment when, knowing and surmounting their fears, they are no longer children. In The Wheel of Time, gaining knowledge is often associated with a Rite of Passage, and one for which there is always a price. We saw this with Egwene, Nynaeve, Moiraine, Verin, Cadsuane, Rand, and perhaps most of all with Mat, among many others. In the Tower, the theme is carried through further in a more formal way, as there are many things which are revealed only when the last threshold is passed, so much that Aes Sedai commonly say that a Sister really begins her training only when she gains the shawl.

As far as Whitecloaks are concerned, some knowledge is so sacred that it should not be learned by humans.

For all his talk, he [Asunawa] doesn't really believe that all Aes Sedai are Darkfriends. He does believe they are dangerous fools and dupes, that the Power is something that should not be meddled with. (He's a great believer of the "there are things man is not meant to know" school.) Those who do meddle with it are usurping the prerogatives of the Creator; for them, there can only be confession of their sins under the question, and then death.”

Robert Jordan, Notes on Children of the Light

However, they do make sure that every recruit learns to read so that they can study the writings of Lothair Mantelar for themselves.

A well-developed motif through the series is the eagerness to learn, to experiment and to discover. It is attached primarily to the main characters Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne. Through them we see the joy of learning, the efforts involved, the frustrations, and eventually some rewards; all three have enlarged the knowledge of the White Tower, with their own discoveries as well as the pseudo discoveries acquired from Moghedien. And we see emerge the signs of a deeper impact of their discoveries in the rekindling of the fire of One Power research after centuries or millennia of stagnation, with the perspective of a true renaissance as more and more sisters come up with new creative weaves, or decide to share their secret ones. The parallel to the Renaissance creative spirit, characterized by a return to the rediscovered wisdom of the Ancients and a thirst to find the new, is carried through further by Elayne and Aviendha's discovery of an “Age of Legends” library, or in the recent hunger of the Sea Folk for the One Power knowledge of the Aes Sedai. Mirroring this theme among the non-channelers we find Rand's Academies that bring scholars and researchers together, which parallels in microcosm the late Renaissance and Enlightenment Eras' “Natural Philosophers” and the “Mechanicks” and “Engeneers”, forefathers of theoretical and applied Sciences.

The eagerness to learn is a motif also developed for Aviendha, in her apprenticeship and with her friends, and for the Brown Sisters. We're told Nesune Sedai, who takes specimen boxes wherever she goes, will eventually found a library that will make her famous, and this seems to herald a return of the Aes Sedai and their knowledge into the world at large. Verin especially evokes the complete scholar who can interest herself in everything the world has to offer, from rare species of snakes to gruesome bodies of dead Myrdraal to the most bookish and even arcane subjects—or dangerous forbidden weaves. But Verin, unlike many Browns, never misses a chance to observe from up close the most important events of her time. Verin is a scholar who doesn't just accumulate knowledge; she is keen to use what she knows and learns and to translate it into action and decision.

The contrast between passive studies and active use of knowledge is well introduced early in the series by the pair of retired historians Adeleas and Vandene Namelle, almost twins, two sides of a coin. Adeleas the Brown is the reclusive and bookish one, absorbed in her work, while Vandene the Green still keeps an eye on the goings of the world, ready to put scholarly endeavors aside and go back into action if her skills are needed, and to bring her sister along. Together, they are balanced. This was not the case with the second Brown/Green duo of Verin, cautious to observe and analyze before taking action, and Alanna Mosvani, the extremely curious but impulsive Green who realizes only after the fact the costly price of her actions. Robert Jordan seems to love contrasting Browns and Greens and offered us a third duo in Cadsuane and Verin and their two different ways of helping Rand with their knowledge and experience. Here, Verin is the solitary and secretive one who plays the puppet master behind the scenes, while Cadsuane is the flamboyant one who in turn advises action or caution but who, unlike Alanna earlier, is wise enough to limit the risks of her own impulsiveness by listening to some of the great minds of the White Tower, even if they are very low standing sisters like the White Daighian or the Brown Kumira, beneath notice for most sisters, but not for the oldest and most experienced, and highest standing Aes Sedai before the arrival of Nynaeve.

We also see the motif of eagerness developed differently with Loial, whose desire for knowledge made him dissatisfied even with his beloved books and led him against Ogier custom to leave the Stedding to see the world for himself and write his own book. For this prize, Loial is willing to defy the realities of the Longing, and most likely as a result of his newly gained worldliness, we see him now defying the Ogier establishment and opposing the conservative and reclusive views of his mother the Speaker, who advocates the Ogier detachment from the affairs of the world and the opening of the Book of Translation.

Indeed, the eagerness for knowledge is not devoid of traps and dangers. We've seen it with Martine Janata, or Setalle Anan as she now calls herself, who despite forty years of experience in the field paid dearly for her passion for mysterious ter'angreal and who, despite everything she endured, could not easily stifle her curiosity about Mat's medallion. We see the same motif of danger, in a much more amusing way, when Elayne made a fool of herself while studying the “red rod” ter'angreal. Most of all we've seen the darker side of this motif with Nicola, whose eagerness to learn has turned into greed, blackmail and malfeasance, for which she sought redemption from Egwene.

The Sea Folk also have a most ambiguous relationship to knowledge. By necessity secretive and reclusive—they needed to hide from the White Tower the very existence of Windfinders and, it appears, to keep the Amayar safe from foreigners in a way reminiscent of the mission of the Aes Sedai of long ago in Rhuidean—they have developed over the millennia a condescending and nearly xenophobic view of shore-bound knowledge, and among them foreign teachers hold an extremely low, even scorned position, while their own traditional knowledge is cherished and passed dutifully to the new generations. Like other cultures or organizations in The Wheel of Time, foremostly the Aes Sedai, but also the Illuminators' Guild, the dye makers of Tarabon, the Sharan silk makers and in general all manner of craftsmen, Elayne Trakand welcomed refugee lace makers from Lugard with open arms and more than a little mercantile glee, and the Sea Folk are extremely protective of their technological and trade secrets, an attitude which is paralleled strongly in real history all around the globe and contributed to the stifling of development until the appearance of “Natural Philosophy” began to change mentalities a little and made the culture of secrecy seem backward, unproductive and more than a little medieval to learned men—circumstances which are now mirrored in the last years of the New Era in The Wheel of Time and may ultimately have the same long-term effects. The Windfinders, however, have a much stronger tradition of turning their knowledge to practical benefits for their people, which may balance this weakness among other groups of channelers one day.

The Sea Folk, very advanced in their specialties, but backward in some areas, did not resist the offer of One Power knowledge and sealed the Bargain with Nynaeve and Elayne, and their eagerness, even greed, for knowledge grows as they discover the possibilities. Used to dutiful service and strict obedience from their Windfinders (all Sea Folk channelers, unless they are of low-standing and given to the White Tower to cloak the existence of Windfinders, have no choice but to spend their life serving their people on the ships) the leaders of the Sea Folk, in their hunger for Aes Sedai knowledge, seemingly fail to grasp that they are opening the eyes of their so-far biddable Windfinders to a whole new universe of possibilities to employ their skills and talents, something to make the path the Windfinders are forced to follow seem even narrower. It's another consequence of the price and prize of knowledge: it always changes the ones who acquire it, for better or for ill. Already, the apprentice Talaan, dissatisfied with the constraints of the Sea Folk culture, has chosen another path. And it is not without irony that women sacrificed to the Tower by the Sea Folk to protect their own secrets have found themselves, perhaps as a result of their natural discretion and reclusive natures, the appointed guardians of the deepest secrets of the Tower itself, buried in the elusive Thirteenth Depository.

We see, very often, that keeping knowledge to oneself is a weakness that must be overcome, otherwise it sets the path to misunderstanding, false conclusions and the leading of others into making costly mistakes. Much of knowledge has to be shared, if at the proper time, in the proper way and to the proper people. Nynaeve learned the lesson in Knife of Dreams, when the “sad bracelets” ter'angreal she thought lost under at the bottom of the sea and had failed to warn Rand or anyone about, resurfaced as the Seanchan's new a'dam for men. But again, there can be a darker side to the sharing of knowledge. We've seen it with the gossipy Sheriam, who sometimes revealed too much to her impressionable novices, and whose weakness has likely delivered her into the hands of her tormentor. Sheriam, it appears, is being blackmailed for her knowledge of Egwene's plans and secrets. In Knife of Dreams we see the tangled web of secrecy that has grown around Egwene's entourage providing the ruthless Lelaine with a new opportunity for blackmail, scheming and manipulation, just as Romanda—always a blunt speaker—in contrast grew more than ever suspicious of her rival and her secrets.

A sign of the future, perhaps, is to be seen in Egwene. She's the character who's made her mission to tie every female channeler to the White Tower—Sea Folk, Wise Ones and Kin alike—and the first woman since the Breaking to set free, on trust, a male channeler other than the Dragon Reborn. In Knife of Dreams, she made the decision to reveal to a Brown sister the existence of the Secret Archives, tantalizing her with facts that challenged her interpretation of the ongoing situation, a horrifying discovery for Browns, who traditionally root their reasoning and deliberations on the lessons of history, and now may spread the news that their already incomplete knowledge of the past, their treasure, has been intentionally and secretly corrupted by generations of leaders, that their trust has been betrayed even by fellow Browns, secret Librarians and a long lineage of Brown Sitters. While there is no doubt that this was first a shrewd political move in Egwene's campaign against Elaida to unify the Tower, it is hard not to see in it as well a deeper reflection of Egwene's growing weariness with the Aes Sedai culture of secrecy which has sometimes helped but also tremendously burdened her since she was raised Amyrlin Seat. Her falsely candid revelations about the manipulations of Elaida to King Mattin of Illian, another political move, nonetheless echoes Moiraine's revelations to Lan Mandragoran of the White Tower's cover-up concerning their failure to stop the fall of Malkier.

The gathering and protection of knowledge and information is an important motif: Amyrlin, Keeper, Ajahs and even many individual sisters have their own extensive networks of spies and agents. Knowledge, factual and rumoured always travel in The Wheel of Time's skies on the wings of pigeons, and on the roads via peddlers and merchants. Fierce struggles can take place over the control of the valuable networks, such as happened between Siuan, the rebel Hall and the Blue spy master Aeldene Stonebridge.

The exactitude and speed at which one learns what needs to be learned often proves a key factor, for good or ill. Some gained advantage from their superior information or from their skills for analyzing the reports, while others made costly mistakes from what they failed to learn or misinterpreted. Such is the case in Elaida, to whom information mostly comes filtered, censored and corrupted by her former Black Keeper Alviarin, and who sent Toveine's group of fifty sisters to disaster at the Black Tower; Elayne, whose incomplete information led to a trap that cost the life of her two advisors and came near to costing her own on Half-Moon Street; Perrin who despite gathering enough intelligence to come up with a viable plan to save Faile nearly lost her for having trusted the lies and misinformation of Galina Casban; and earlier Pedron Niall, who misjudged the value of the news coming from his agent in Tarabon until it was too late.

For not only the sisters indulge in intelligence and spying; almost everyone but Aiel share similar inclinations: Children of the Light, Seanchan with their Seekers and Listeners, nobles and rulers, even Cha Faile and Balwer for Perrin's benefits. Motifs of secrecy are developed around those activities. From the identity of those who head the networks and their agents to the content of the information itself, everything is carefully hidden. Spying brings its counter motif, the protection of the secrets you don't want known. False rumors are circulated on purpose by the more devious players of the Great Game and a decoy was even used by Pedron Niall to protect the true role of Sebban Balwer. In the Caemlyn Palace, Reene Harfor is hard at work rooting out spies and protecting Elayne's secrets, and engaged in a rivalry over this responsibility with Halwyn Norry. We often see Aes Sedai and sometimes Wise Ones ward their private conversations, while Tuon, used to the cutthroat nature of the Court of the Nine Moons, shrouds her every move in mystery and deviousness while hungrily amassing intelligence on Mat and the Band of the Red Hand. This ambiguous theme of spying is also developed richly on the Shadow's side, though usually for more dire purposes.

In the greater scheme of things, we can find the theme developing in the humorous way the author uses the device of miscommunication in the story—and in the dire, dramatic or infuriating ways he sometimes uses it. Miscommunication is a major feature of the series and a great challenge for the characters to overcome; the theme of knowledge is frequently interwoven into it, in many shades. We also see the theme emerge in the metaphysical realm, as the Wheel washes away even myth before an Age comes again. And here we see that as the rules change through the Ages knowledge, maybe, can become irrelevant or burdensome to the inhabitants of Creation—or even dangerous in the wrong hands. We see this play out too in the way experiences and memories from past incarnations are not given to a soul at rebirth, with the notable exception of Rand and, at least if Semirhage is to be believed, it's a dangerous anomaly which could have led him to terminal madness.

But can Semirhage and the Shadow's knowledge be trusted?


Knowledge is Power

- Francis Bacon, Meditationes Sacrae

”Belief and knowledge pave the road to greatness. Knowledge is perhaps the most valuable of all. We all seek the coin of knowledge”

- Hadnan Kadere, Saldaean trader and shai'tanist, skinned alive for imparting the wrong, and ironically false, knowledge to the Daughter of the Night, The Shadow Rising, Imre Stand

Of course, we also find the theme of knowledge among the Shadow. We find it a lot. It is often in the form of counterpoints or antitheses of the motifs developed on the side of the Light.

We see the fear and jealousy of others' knowledge, with Demandred, who worries about the true extent and the real reach back in time of Shai'tan's knowledge. It's dangerous to serve One Who Knows More. We see it with Moghedien, who gets punished for teaching her captors, and yet another shade in the small and petty ways she found to corrupt the knowledge she was forced to give away. The motif of the capture of someone whose vast knowledge is both a temptation and a peril resurfaces in Knife of Dreams with Semirhage; this time the prize of the Forsaken prisoner's knowledge being much more personal and tempting to Cadsuane, but the price the captors would have to pay for what Semirhage knows is very high.

We saw the theme with Asmodean, shielded and forced by Lanfear to teach Rand, in the fear this transmission of knowledge and skills generated among the other Forsaken—and ultimately in Asmodean's murder. For in the Shadow, it is right to murder for knowledge, to gain it or to keep others from gaining it. Asmodean's murder echoes the early attempt on the life of Rand's first mentor Moiraine in Arafel, and the later murder of the Natural Philosopher Herid Fel, the man who was sharing the result of deep reflections with Rand al'Thor. Being Rand's advisor and teacher is one of the most dangerous assignments in the Westlands; Cadsuane Melaidhrin and Min Farshaw should look back to what happened to their predecessors, though it's doubtful this would be enough to stop these two dedicated and courageous women. We saw the Amyrlin Tamra Ospenya killed by the Black Ajah for the knowledge she kept secret, as were most of those she shared it with; more than twenty years later Siuan Sanche would be stilled and put to the question by a group manipulated by Black sisters like Alviarin and Galina for the same secrets. Two more characters closely associated with knowledge were assassinated: Adeleas the historian, who was attempting to make the Black sister Ispan reveal her secrets, and Anaiya, with a reputation for arcane knowledge, who could support Egwene's claims of having oracular dreams. Anaiya and Kairen were murdered to protect the secrets of Aran'gar, who had pretended to be a follower of their close friend Cabriana, another assassinated Aes Sedai, this time by Semirhage who tortured out of her the information needed by Aran'gar to create the alias of Halima. Deira Bashere and Dobraine Taborwin nearly died so the Shadow could plant the false information that they did not snatch up the Seals to the Dark One's prison. Three captured Black sisters have also been executed so far, and while the motive to assassinate Ispan is still unclear (6), the other two were most likely killed to ensure they wouldn't reveal secrets and to punish them for the little knowledge they did reveal.

We saw knowledge being used to tempt, manipulate or corrupt, in the way Ishamael baited Rand with teaching; in the way Lanfear briefly seduced the Ogier Loial using his thirst and love for knowledge (The Great Hunt, In the Mirror of Darkness)—a classic tactic of some Night Goddesses in mythology, though here lust is replaced by knowledge; or in Mazrim Taim's “special classes”, to which he seemingly baits potential cronies with knowledge and training that bring power, indoctrinates them to his side and sets them apart from the rest of the Asha'man, tactics reminiscent of the indoctrination and training of the Nazi SS. Sometimes knowledge and secrets are used to to scare or unbalance opponents. Ishamael used this tactic a lot against Rand early on, as did Lanfear. So did Mili Skane (Lady Shiaine), who flaunted her mysteriously acquired knowledge of the details of one of Daved Hanlon's gruesome murders to his face, to great effect. Ironically, Hanlon in turn acquired details of Shiaine's involvement with nobles following Arymilla, and both Shiaine and he were prisoners of Elayne awaiting questioning, but this knowledge of more infiltration of the Shadow among her entourage turned into a double-edged sword for Elayne, and the toll for arresting Skane and her agents was high.

The motifs of education under the Shadow are developed mostly around the character of Mesaana, from her Age of Legends back story to her relationship with Alviarin. Here again, as for Demandred and Shai'tan, the extent of the knowledge of the master is not to be questioned and to be feared by the servant. Mesaana's superior knowledge is made clear, and her warning to Alviarin that “a pupil is not a teacher” (A Crown of Swords, Prologue) is full of menace. Even among her peers, Mesaana is keen to take a superior lecturing tone, possibly a thin veil for an inferiority complex.

We see the Forsaken constantly using what they know to mislead their rivals. Graendal is the expert of such mind games and pushes it to an art form; we see it at work especially in her dealings with Sammael, full of manipulation, dissimulations and baits about what she really knows, with hooks to figure out the extent of Sammael's knowledge and his true intentions. As for Moridin, with his extra chairs, allusions to his supposed suspicions concerning dead Forsaken, apparent slips about the mindtraps or keeping vital pieces of information about Mat and Perrin to himself, he seems to have turned his tactics with knowledge and information against the top servants of the Nae'blis, keeping them on their toes and baiting them into mistakes uncovering their disloyalty. We see this motif play out among the lesser villains too, such as Galina and Liandrin. We see Mesaana forcing Alviarin to bind herself exclusively to her before she gave the secret of Traveling. We see frequently the pawns eager to learn all the secrets of their betters—and often enough capable of anything if the prize is worth the risk. Unwelcome questions got Alviarin painfully chastised, while in Liandrin's case her miscalculations based on insufficient knowledge got her in a huge predicament. We see the greed for knowledge in the Black Tower and the elite around Taim.

We see Sammael baiting and menacing Graendal in an attempt to get from her knowledge of the whereabouts of Mesaana, Demandred and Semirhage. Sammael is keen to use the ignorance of the Wise Ones and Sevanna to trap them, and is even greatly amused by his own wit, to Graendal's displeasure, who feared the Wise Ones might see through his Old Tongue puns. He might have been less amused had he known that Shaidar Haran and Moridin spied in turns on these meetings and gained knowledge of his plans that might have played a part in Moridin's decision to help Rand eliminate Sammael.

We see the theme of knowledge play out, symbolically, in the excesses of the Forsaken, sometimes linked to the very nature of their evil. With Mesaana, who scorns the highly regarded and respected profession of teacher, in her disinterest in transmitting experiences and knowledge to those who come after her, in her obsession with finding the new, and in the way her frustrated ambitions led her to spreading poisonous and nefarious knowledge to corrupt the young in her schools of evil, teaching the glory of the Great Lord. No trace of the teacher's selflessness to pass on knowledge there, no more than in her teaching of Alviarin; Mesaana teaches to serve her own goals and ambitions, an attitude Elaida echoed in Knife of Dreams when she restricted the dissemination of the knowledge of Traveling acquired from her spy Beonin to selected sisters of the Red Ajah. We see it in Balthamel who apparently focuses too much on the mysteries of the far past without looking enough at the present, and we see it most of all with Aginor who embraced the Shadow to be able to pursue unethical research, using his genius and the knowledge acquired from the past generations of scientists against the whole human society. As did all the Forsaken, in lesser ways. With people like Semirhage and Aginor we see scientific knowledge becoming extremely dangerous weapons, when left in the hands of those who have forsaken morality and ethics, those who have rejected the responsibilities knowledge can come with. With Semirhage, curiosity for what she doesn't know, such as the Warder bond, rapidly becomes lethal for the subject of her study. A prisoner in Knife of Dreams she used her knowledge of Rand's condition, in which it is not possible at the moment to sift the truth from the lies, as a devastating weapon that frightened his followers about the Dragon's sanity to undermine their trust in the man supposed to fight for humanity at the Last Battle.

In their relationship to knowledge the Forsaken are often the antithesis of some of our heroes. We can compare and contrast Semirhage's perversion and morbid curiosity with Nynaeve's eagerness to use and expand her talents, as Wisdom and Aes Sedai Healer, to serve anyone in need, and her frustration of her limitations. The drive to help others, selflessly, has always been a prime motivation for Nynaeve, and she was far less tempted to drain Semirhage of her treasure of Age of Legends knowledge than Cadsuane, whom Rand restrained from using torture. Verin's universal curiosity and her use of knowledge as guide to her actions can be compared to Aran'gar's (Balthamel) focus on the past and disinterest in practical knowledge, with her way of indulging herself in various kinds of sensual debauchery—activities opposed on the symbolic spectrum to the more spiritual quest for knowledge and wisdom. It is notable that Aran'gar never made a reference to history until Knife of Dreams and that as Balthamel in The Eye of the World he appeared as a mute, unable—or unwilling—to transmit what he knew, his face a frozen mask. The image is clear, Balthamel's knowledge is sterile, Verin's is very much alive. In Knife of Dreams Aran'gar's grand plans to use her knowledge of primitive societies to run the Aes Sedai were shattered as the realities of her so-called primitive politics and her general carelessness in action caused her exposure by Romanda.

A third antithesis is found between Siuan and Mesaana. Siuan, who hated clerical work and politics despite her predispositions for both, and who dreamed of becoming an adventurous Blue, an Aes Sedai Jain Farstrider roaming the world (on exactly what kind of horse she intended to do that is an amusing rhetorical question). Siuan, who put her dreams aside and became spy master and Amyrlin Seat, because her services were needed, and who found her happiness in what she couldn't change; wisdom she inherited from her fisherman father. Siuan, who lost everything and, not without humility and consciousness of her mistakes, found great pleasure in teaching another to become the best Amyrlin in her place. In clear contrast Mesaana never overcame her frustration of seeing her youth dreams broken, Mesaana, who ridicules those who know less and makes her pupils pay dearly for what she teaches, Mesaana who remains in the shadows to better manipulate Elaida.

And we have Demandred, who constantly scorns the knowledge and skills of others, from Lews Therin whose intelligence and achievements he loathes, to Aran'gar, Lanfear, Sammael, Rahvin, Moridin, Aginor and so many others. Few but Semirhage ever get a positive appraisal from Demandred, but his reputation is still largely unstained among the readers as we have little idea of what he truly has accomplished and what mistakes he may have made. Demandred claimed to have figured out the scheme used by Rand to cleanse saidin, and for all this he fared no better than the others at stopping him. For all his jealousy and scorn of the others, could Demandred ultimately prove to be the biggest underachiever of them all?


He [Ishamael] called for the complete destruction of the old order—indeed the complete destruction of everything.

- The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time

With the collapse of metaphysical and theological foundations and sanctions for traditional morality, only a pervasive sense of purposelessness and meaninglessness would remain. And the triumph of meaninglessness is the triumph of nihilism: “God is dead.”

- Encyclopaedia Britannica on Nietzsche and the philosophy of nihilism

Knowledge is also a central them for the character of Moridin—a hypocrite verging on the paradoxical. He thirsts for knowledge and even shows his deep frustration for knowledge that has disappeared through the Ages, but he keeps knowledge from others and destroys it when he can.

Knowledge is a formidable weapon in the arsenal of the Game Master—and he wields it in many ways. Because that's what Moridin is, or at least fancies himself to be: the greatest Game Master, the ultimate Puppet Master ever born, and, if he has his way, one who will never die. Moridin has not been reborn, he has passed through the crucible of Death attended by his master and embraced death itself as his new name.

Moridin is caught between two great inhuman powers: Shai'tan, the Lord of Death (thus lord of “moridin”, in the Old Tongue), to whose cause he sees himself as the most devoted servant, and the great system of the world set in place by the Creator—a system and a reality which have no meaning or purpose for him, and which he seeks to outplay and destroy, for his own sake as for his Master's. According to his beliefs Moridin knows best what is good for the world, and to achieve his own freedom from what he calls the shackles of the Wheel of Time he is willing to deliver Creation into his master's hands. Moridin wants to keep his thoughts, his discoveries and his knowledge to himself forever, and use it for his own profit and to impress others with his superiority.

We can compare Moridin's opponent in the Game to a giant computer. The Wheel is not sentient, it is like an input-output-feedback mechanism that sets a matrix, a set of rules and parameters we know little about, collects back data from the woven threads and finds in its “data banks” ways to correct a situation when it strays too much from the matrix, from the guiding canvas on which the final weaving of an Age, the Age Lace, is done. Although the Wheel isn't sentient, we may assume it learns from the data it collects, that enables it to analyze and make decisions.

We may get a general idea of the matrix by observing history since the Creation of the Bore; that remains our best clue at the moment. The Wheel weaves for the survival of the system introduced by the Creator, and survival means uniting Creation against the repeated assaults of Shai'tan and his servants, the parasite that plagues the system and seeks to destroy it. According to the current, Third Age, state of the theology the Wheel accepts good and evil, human evil, are part of the Pattern, but it works to prevent evil, Shai'tan's evil, from taking over and creating a world in the Dark One's image (7). Beyond that, it is a non-sentient system concerned with logic and balance, designed to take the decisions that must be made through the collecting of data and projections, and unlike its Creator possibly, a system most likely incapable of ethics and emotions—reminiscent of the White Ajah philosophy, and their original purpose may well have been to emulate the dispassionate and logical thinking of the Wheel to understand the world and the Pattern better. In Knife of Dreams we see them use their logic to puzzle out what is wrong in the Pattern, and finding the solution to this problem could be their contribution in the Last Battle. We know from the society of the Age of Legends that it is not necessarily an even balance between good and evil people and events that the Wheel strives for, it is probably closer to a concept of harmony and stability that still allows and favors evolution, and that the personal ethical choice between good and evil remains a constant for humans; absolute good and the absence of choice would lead to stagnation. For Nature, evil has many unsuspected guises, such as the Forsaken and Darkfriends' desire for immortality. Immortality would empty the reservoir of souls and lead to stagnation and death by forestalling regeneration and evolution; like cancer cells that split to reproduce themselves and finally kill the host body.

In all these Games between Moridin and the Wheel there are at least three constants. The first one is that the Wheel weaves toward stability and order. The second one is that the Shadow surfaces to shatter these efforts and spread again the winds of chaos, forcing the Wheel to strive to correct the situation: the Dark One tainted saidin and the victory turned to partial defeat, the Age of Legends collapsed and the world broke. Ishamael launched the Trolloc Wars and after three hundred years the Second Covenant achieved through great struggle by the post-Breaking humanity shattered beyond any possibility to revive it—and this despite an apparent victory of the Light in the Wars. Ishamael, as Jalwyn Moerad, manipulated Hawkwing and sent his heirs abroad, and the Empire in the Westlands, the most elaborate social structure since the Covenant of Ten Nations, collapsed after his death, once again leading into more than a hundred years of war. A third constant, which bring us back to the main theme, is that each time Light and Shadow clashed a wanton destruction of knowledge occurred and very important pieces of information or experience disappeared from the world.

But the Wheel still could collect usable data and learn from these confrontations, just like Ishamael has observed, learned and refined his strategies. Each time the game appears to become more sophisticated and difficult, the strategies and the moves of the pieces on the board more devious and convoluted.

Moridin tells us that he has always favored the game of sha'rah. In his view, it is the game that encompasses all the subtleties of life. How ironic then, that Death himself plays it, the man who believes reality and life have no meaning. We know that Moridin believes there is a greater game above all others, played between him and the Champion of the Light through the Ages and the turning of the Wheel. But Moridin never ceases to play sha'rah, not only in the great battles, but in the smaller fights down to his routine dealings with the other Forsaken.

And to play this game, knowledge is power. We see that Moridin devoted much time to learning new skills—even in the specialties of Sammael and Demandred, he says. Moridin knows the price attached when you rely on the knowledge of others and upon his return from the dead, we saw him spying and observing his rivals in the Shadow, his pawns, and his foes of the Light alike, like a player carefully examining the state of the board before he planned his next moves, and revealed his return to the Forsaken, only now anointed as Nae'blis.

We saw Ishamael tempting Rand with precious knowledge and teachings, while somewhat incautiously throwing at him precious bits of information, the price to pay to overwhelm Rand with a feeling of ignorance to soften him up and make him amenable to temptation. Semirhage used a very similar tactic in Knife of Dreams, baiting Cadsuane to interrogate her and find what other shattering secrets, or dangerous lies, she holds. Semirhage proved that even shielded and deprived of her favourite painful weaves her words alone were still enough to hurt.

We see Moridin revelling in front of the others how Cyndane must share everything she knows with him now; a sweet revenge for Lanfear's habit of secrecy and misinformation that may have cost him dearly early on. Moridin is aware that knowledge is tempting, and he likes to show others how much he knows (8). We see him as Ishamael wield knowledge like a sword, planting corrupted information to bait Rand to come to the Eye of the World, a winning strategy he may have reproduced in The Great Hunt, creating, or at least leaking, the Dark Prophecy to lead Rand to Falme. Lack of truthful knowledge about the Horn of Valere was possibly his undoing at Falme; that would be the irony of it all and the other edge of that sword.

It is hardly surprising that Ishamael uses knowledge as a weapon so much. He can't stop the Wheel from collecting data about the Shadow and countering his strategies and his master's, but he can at least destroy and manipulate knowledge and situations so that human surrogates of the Creator must start anew and relearn how to fight him at each new confrontation, while he himself retains his experiences and augments his knowledge of his enemy. It is no coincidence that knowledge of Ishamael's involvement in the first two main confrontations he had with the Wheel in the Third Age disappeared, and that it took his death in Tear for Rand and Moiraine to discover who truly has been their foe since The Eye of the World. And Rand learned that Moridin was the third man in his mind long after the reader did.


“Your last thought will be the full knowledge of your defeat”

- Ishamael to Lews Therin Telamon (The Eye of the World, Prologue)

Manipulation of the truth is probably a very wise and cunning strategy. History repeating itself in The Wheel of Time as it does in real life teaches important practical lessons to those who, having listened to and learned from the past, must face in the present similar crisis and trials. As for tales, the cunning bard Thom Merrilin may well carry to us Jordan's own point of view when he says that “Stories have power. Gleemen's tales and bards' epics, and rumors in the street alike. They stir passions, and change the way men see the world” (Thom to Mat, Winter’s Heart, Another Plan).

Robert Jordan has confirmed in the TOR Question of the Week that the powers of the museum artefact known as the Horn of Valere were believed legendary and never put to the test by the pragmatic researchers of the Age of Legends. Whether Ishamael has learned better in the last three thousand years (but how could he with the Horn safely hidden in the Eye?) or was caught by surprise in Falme is for the moment an unknown. It is not beyond belief that he planted the legends of the Horn himself—as he had planted rumours of a threat to the Eye of the World in Jain Farstrider's mind, to better discourage his foes when the Horn would prove powerless at Tarmon Gai'don, and that in The Great Hunt he had his agents steal what he thought to be a worthless object just to confuse those serving the Light, who put great store in its powers, and thus launch them in a useless Great Hunt to retrieve it, isolating Rand again. Ishamael's name translates as The Betrayer of Hope, and it was awarded to him by those whose hope he had betrayed. Lanfear’s complete lack of concern about the Horn—she even encouraged Rand to sound it in her presence when some Heroes may have pierced her more youthful appearance with ease—might also indicate this was the original belief of the Forsaken before what happened at Falme showed them their mistake.

In The Wheel of Time the ambiguity of myth and the corruption of knowledge through time is best demonstrated with Lews Therin, the Dragon, the Kinslayer. Much of the historical truth seems lost in the mists of time. Today Lews Therin is commonly perceived as an evil man and the details of the prophecies heralding his rebirth to fight Shai'tan are not widely known beyond the more learned circles, and even forbidden in many areas, leaving the whole scene for myth and legends to flourish, where in the more corrupted versions the Dragon is even seen as a servant of the Shadow. The Prophecies seem to announce that a new Breaking will happen, and already the Dragon Reborn is being blamed for it, as he is often, and absurdly, blamed for the imminence of the Last Battle itself. The view that the Dark One is responsible for all this, as he was responsible for the War of Shadow and the Breaking, is not often taken anymore.

When the decision was made to attempt to seal the Bore, the War of Shadow was all but lost by the Light; time was of essence and no other solution was in sight. Lews Therin and the Hundred Companions' daring sacrifice, despite the heavy price, temporarily redressed the fault of the Aes Sedai in opening the Bore and bought three thousand additional years before the ultimate confrontation with Shai'tan. History and later myth remember this heroism as the sole cause of the Breaking the World and the Lord of the Morning became the cursed Kinslayer to the common folk, a figure to frighten little children and adults alike. The fact the man was also responsible for sealing the Bore and had imprisoned the thirteen most powerful servants of Shai'tan with their master seems partially lost. The dark nature of the Dragon is a mix of half-understood history, legends and myth. Despite accusations of stubbornness, deviousness and arrogance, which in more objective mouths than the Forsaken's might have turned into determination, cunning and self-confidence, some of his enemies describe him as unwilling to use others and soft-hearted, or even reeking of goodness and piety. Hardly the portrait of a monster as the Kinslayer is known today, and it's even hard to tax Lews Therin of overconfidence and arrogance when we know that he long put his plans on hold and even at the last minute tried first to convince women to take part in the expedition and failed, possibly for the best and at the interference of the Wheel itself, as Jordan has hinted this may have resulted in both saidin and saidar being tainted. Ta'veren like Rand, Lews Therin probably went where the Wheel pushed him, while those around him, much like Moiraine with Rand, tried to steer the Wheel in another direction.

The true Breaker of the World is Shai'tan, not Latra Posae Decume and her alternative plan, or Lews Therin's partly successful, but very costly, attempt to seal off Shai'tan; they were just leaders of people who had to make difficult and urgent decisions with incomplete knowledge—an important theme in the story.

Even today's catechism, at least in remote areas like the Two Rivers but possibly everywhere, mistakenly claims that the Dark One and the Forsaken have been bound in Shayol Ghul by the Creator at the moment of Creation. The horrors associated with Lews Therin's name are well remembered, and the one that awarded him the nickname of Kinslayer is merely a footnote of history that would have been better forgotten, for all the fears it generates and the hindrance to the Light's cause it brings. Lews Therin has been robbed of his role of savior and redeemer of Mierin and her team's mistake. And we see history repeating himself today, as Rand is accused of many troubles caused by the Shadow or done in order to fight the Shadow while Logain, his follower, mistakenly credits the Creator for the Cleansing of saidin.

Ishamael implied to Rand that the slaughter of Ilyena and all the household was inspired to the maddened man by Ishamael himself. True or false, this can't be ascertained for now, we know for sure it's only Ishamael's cruel Healing which brought back to Lews Therin enough sanity to see the dead at his feet, to realize what he had done and immediately take responsibility for it all. His suicide in grief and guilt, for which he chose an isolated location far from any people, would become emblematic of the Breaking of the World, neither the first nor the worst to lay at the feet of a madman in this period, but the one most acutely impressed in collective memory.

The distorted knowledge of the myth of the Kinslayer-Dragon shapes the whole world, even Rand and Lews Therin themselves. The Kinslaying and the Breaking taints Lews Therin and Rand's psyche, and has them see themselves as destroyers. Lews Therin is desperate and pretty hopeless most of the time, undermining Rand and his hope of victory at Tarmon Gai'don. By Healing of Lews Therin to give him the full knowledge of his defeat, Ishamael gained a great victory worthy of his name of Betrayer of Hope.

As for the world, we see the result of the corrupted and incomplete knowledge everywhere, even in Rand's friends, such as Mat, who is instinctively afraid that Rand will go mad and kill all those he loves. Parts of Egwene's Acceptance test revolved around similar fears. We even see examples of the dark corrupted myth in the topology, with the historically inaccurate “Kinslayer's Dagger”, the weapon of a murderer. The myth permeates the world of the Wheel, shapes so many aspects of it, divides the world between those who believe in the possibility of salvation and those who refuse to believe or absurdly fear the Dragon and his effects on their life a great deal more than they fear the upcoming confrontation of humanity with Shai'tan, and their passivity, indifference or hindrance serves the Shadow. There is little rejoicing in the fact the Creator has not abandoned them and his Champion has been reborn; the dark myth overwhelms that aspect.

Some of it may be the long-term work of the Betrayer of Hope. Hope in rebirth of the Dragon's soul has been largely tainted, and the corruption of the historical facts raise the question of how it all began, how it was known that he was the one who killed his household, or how is it that the isolated location of his suicide, the later Dragonmount, was correctly identified. Lews Therin's prominence, the deep scars left by the Breaking and the further ravages committed by male channelers through the centuries certainly explain most of it and provided the fertile soil on which the dark legend grew. But we also have the knowledge of one man who came to Lews Therin shortly after the Kinslaying, one man who followed him to the deserted area where he committed suicide, one man who even claims he inspired Lews Therin to kill his loved ones, one man who had the motives, for personal revenge and for his cause, and the means to ensure the details of the last hours of Lews Therin's life would survive his death and grow into the dark myth they have become : Ishamael, the Betrayer of Hope who predicted before the Prophecies of the Dragon that the battle wasn't over and Lews Therin would return, the man who also predicted accurately that Lews Therin would soon be called the Kinslayer. While other explanations can be found for the spreading of those details, the hypothesis that Ishamael might be behind it is attractive and simple. A dark legend shrouded in ambiguities and half-truth, ready to be spread later by the Red Ajah's propaganda; a legend that now mostly, if not exclusively, serves the Shadow's goals and undermines the Champion of the Light at each step, even identifies the Dragon with Darkfriends in the eyes of many.

The dark, even evil, man some see in Lews Therin today never existed. It's a smokescreen behind which the Master of sha'rah can hide his treacheries, hiding first behind Lews Therin and now behind Rand al'Thor and inside his head, demonizing and demoralizing them. Did Lews Therin's thoughts about Rand, the third man and himself as destroyers came to him on its own, or is it an example of Moridin's intoxication of his mind?

We may be here in the presence of a “Mythological Defamation”, a process dear to theologians (and Moridin is one) from all eras, by which they undermined their enemies by turning their champions and gods into monsters and demons. If that is so, never has Moridin wielded the sword of knowledge more efficiently and profoundly than this, and Semirhage's revelations that Rand bears the personality of the Kinslayer himself inside his head and faces the risk of terminal madness, possibly a lie, has but driven the sword even closer to the heart.

And this is but a prominent example of the corruption of knowledge, deliberate or through the action of time. An even more obvious example is found in the altered Karaethon Cycle from Seanchan, which drove Tuon and the leaders on dangerous paths that threatened the Light, and which some believe to be the result of deliberate corruption by the ubiquitous Ishamael, Darkfriends or misguided politicians with imperialistic aims. Whatever the source of the corruption, it remained the tool that Semirhage as Anath used to guide Tuon's decisions about Rand and it remained a massive obstacle to a true understanding between the Seanchan and the Dragon Reborn before the Last Battle, because as Thom wisely said, legends and myths, and in this case religious beliefs in the Prophecies, corrupted or not, stir passion and change the way men see the world.


Who thinks he turns the Wheel of Time, may learn the truth too late.

- From the Karaethon Cycle, Lord of Chaos endnote

He had four rules concerning action and information. Never make a plan without knowing as much as you can of the enemy. Never be afraid to change your plans when you receive new information. Never believe you know everything. And never wait to know everything. The man who waited to know everything was still sitting in his tent when the enemy burned it over his head.

- Pedron Niall, Lord of Chaos, Red Wax

"You can never know everything," Lan said quietly, "and part of what you know is always wrong. Perhaps even the most important part. A portion of wisdom lies in knowing that. A portion of courage lies in going on anyway."

- Winter’s Heart A Portion of Wisdom

Despite Moridin's efforts at betrayal, there is still hope. The Wheel has its way of bringing balance back and re-introducing knowledge. But the sharing of data seems to prove difficult and arduous, and sometimes it comes at a great price. Min Farshaw's viewings are so far accurate, but often obscure and symbolic. The true dreams are also hard to interpret and require the Dreamer to make an introspective journey into his or her own psyche. Foretellings and prophecies are cryptic and akin to poetry, and they can easily fool the unwary who sees what she desires instead of what is—such as Elaida often does. The Aelfinn's answers are riddles to humans, and even piercing the secrets of history and prophecy is a hard task in which many meet with frustration, complicated now by the scarcity and fragmentary nature of the sources and the barrier of the sophisticated and nuanced Old Tongue. Mat's gifts came at a great personal price, in part the consequence for a lack of knowledge, and to provide Mat with these gifts the Wheel had to send him to the perilous realms of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn. Moiraine's journey into the ter'angreal used by the Wise Ones in Rhuidean provided the answer to temporarily get rid of Lanfear but it came at the price of depriving Rand from his advisor at a delicate moment. Knowledge in exchange for knowledge.

These might be signs of the Wheel's limitations when it comes to counteracting the assaults of the Shadow on knowledge, and if Ishamael realized this it might be an additional explanation why knowledge is a favorite target for the Shadow's destruction.

The Wheel may have problems in communicating data from the Pattern to humans. What sparks this observation is Jordan's comment about the mistake we make when we rationalize Shai'tan, his motives and his intelligence too much on human terms, when in fact he is not human and does not think like one of us. This could be true of the Wheel as well, and of its maker, the Creator.

The strength of a Foretelling can sometimes kill the human vessel used to carry it, and it seems that the brain of the foreteller interpreting the vision struggles to make it clear, to find the right words, and the result is like obscure poetry, as if in a language the Wheel does not fully master. Dreams reflect the complexity of the psyche and subconscious of the Dreamer, her own set of unconscious symbols and those she shares with all humanity through time, often imprecise symbols the Dreamer in a fully conscious state struggles to interpret. Min's viewings are sometimes clear and usual symbols, but not always clear or usual to Min's conscious self, and often they are just auras of colors, as if in another language altogether, and in such cases often express abstractions such as glory or darkness.

In the end, the Aelfinn and Eelfinn are possibly the most skilled at speaking the language of the Pattern, but Birgitte warns us that they are extremely alien to the human species and its thinking, so it's quite possible they too have communication problems when it comes to rendering in human language what they read in the Pattern.

It may also be that the Wheel fears the effects on human free will of dangerous knowledge of the future, fears the trap of predestination, fears that full knowledge could betray hope and lead to despair. In the end, are dreams, visions and Foretellings meant to be interpreted before they happen or do they provide precious knowledge to humans to recognize in the events the Will of the Wheel and the inescapability of fate when they see them realized at last?

The Wheel also has patterns, and they repeat themselves through history; it is a system with rules, like a game such as sha'rah has rules. And Moridin has developed patterns too, and classic moves and strategies he likes to replay over and over when they have worked to his advantage before. He has favorite pawns and targets. All too human of him, but against a computer or analytic non-sentient mind this may be a very dangerous path for a player to take. The Shadow's usage of chaos makes the analysis of such patterns difficult, but it seems the Wheel has learned to use this tactic too, and to hide its plans within folds of chaos and fluxes in the Pattern, where the Foretellings and prophecies reveal only after success what needed to happen and where the Will of the Wheel lied; we have seen this at work recently, in the chaos and confusion in which crucial moments came to pass, like the Wolf-King carrying his hammer, the Fox marrying the Raven, the important number of Asha'man who rejoined Rand and Logain, planting the seed of an alliance with the rebel Aes Sedai before Mazrim Taim could blacken the reputation of the Black Tower beyond repair. The Shadow may believe it hid an army of male channelers in its service under Rand's eyes, or the Wheel may have hidden in all this chaos the first of the future male Aes Sedai to return to the fold after saidin was cleansed, as the prophecies predicted obscurely would happen, the “healing of wounds of madness and cutting of hope” (The Dragon Reborn, The Hunt Begins), the undoing of Ishamael's work with Lews Therin, which nobody in the story has yet interpreted correctly, not after three millennia of believing it was impossible.

The theme of Patterns and their pitfalls is yet another one that permeates many layers of The Wheel of Time. Suffice it to say here for the sake of illustration that it can be found in layers as varied as the fundamental concept of the working of the Wheel, in the way history repeats itself thematically and characters reproduce variations of the past, and it can be used as a plot element, for instance in the political realm with Siuan’s and Seaine’s “too young Sitters” and “Ajah Heads” patterns, or in the way Alviarin made sure the thirteen Black sisters fleeing the White Tower didn't follow any discernible pattern.

Now that the story has ended, it's an invitation to look back at the vast amount of knowledge introduced in the series from the past and present of the Wheel, at the classic moves of both sides in the Game, in an attempt to analyze similarities and permutations over time and situations.

As the Wheel turns, there are more and more permutations in the weaving and Moridin having played his Game four times within the time frame of the story seems to have generated a situation where the Wheel has spun out a great deal of its archetypal tools at once in an attempt to counter but also confuse and overwhelm its adversary. A kind of organized chaos, of pseudo-randomness, that also uses the disorders generated by the Shadow to hide the strategy.

The story of the War of Shadow with Lews Therin, Ilyena, Ishamael, Latra Posae and Lanfear as key pieces on the board appears somewhat simple, with well-defined antagonists. The story of the Trolloc Wars with Aemon, Eldrene, Ba'alzamon, Tetsuan, Rashima, Shen al Calhar and Mordeth remains manageable in terms of analysis. But with the War of the Second Dragon and Guaire Amalasan, Sawyn Maculhene and Elinde Motheneos, Artur Paendrag Tanreall, Bonwhin Meraighdin, Amaline and Tamika Paendrag, Chowin Tsao, Deane Aryman, Jalwyn Moerad, Luthair, Ishara and so many other important players it's already much more complex.

In truth, this is probably in part an illusion of history as it becomes legend and myth: the farther we go back in time, the less tangible facts we have at our disposal to judge of the truth. It is not because we can't possibly put a name to the equivalent of Perrin, Mat, Tuon, Nynaeve or Faile in the Age of Legends conflict that they were not present, but as a work of fiction, the intention is clear and beyond the time of Artur Hawkwing there are few key players we can readily identify. Was Latra Posae a savior of the Aes Sedai in the vein of Deane Aryman or Egwene, a strong woman of action like Cadsuane or a woman too set in her views and beliefs and who could not adapt, a precursor of the Red Ajah, of women like Bonwhin or Elaida? It's a matter of speculation; the facts are too few.

In the current incarnation of the Game, the Champion has been multiplied into three aspects, and while the two secondary Ta'veren played an important role in the War of Shadow, the Forsaken besides Ishamael, seemed oblivious to it until the Last Days. The perennial female hero has also been multiplied threefold for Rand himself, and additional women surround Perrin and Mat as well. Lews Therin may have been isolated from female Aes Sedai by the Fateful Concord, but now the Wheel surrounds Rand with a great deal of women, channelers of all creeds and non-channelers alike. The rest of the play on the board branches out accordingly: besides his usual tricks and favorite pawns—it is notable that in the past Ilyena, Eldrene, Amaline and Tamika Paendrag were all killed before the end—Moridin regained his twelve fellow Chosen (albeit temporarily in some cases) with their experience in War and the advantage of vastly superior knowledge, which has sometimes turned into pitfalls for them, not the least because in their arrogance they underestimate those they call primitives.

The scope of the game board has become so vast as to virtually defy accurate analysis. One prediction can be made without having to read the Pattern: knowledge was a key factor on both the sides of the Light and the Shadow at the Last Battle, perhaps as much as the theme of knowledge permeates the series so far.

The current metaphorical game of sha'rah is reaching its final phase and the battle over knowledge and information is raging. Fearing the worst, Rand has already founded schools to gather, discover, share and preserve knowledge in case a new Breaking occurs, so far without any support from the Brown Ajah whose mission this is. That most of their knowledge they have gathered which survived the Breaking is under key in Tar Valon, not disseminated through the nations and shared with scholars outside the Tower, is an indication of failure and a great danger in the War; much was lost in the past when the Library of the Tower partly went up in flames during a conflict with the Shadow.

The Shadow's wanton destruction of knowledge since the creation of the Bore is symbolized in the murders of Vandene and Adeleas; their lifework of a history of the world since the Breaking and beyond will never see the light, the sisters' arcane knowledge of the prophecies is now gone, as is the result of young Sareitha's research about linking. With each Aes Sedai that dies, precious unique pieces of knowledge and experience die, which makes gestures like Cadsuane's tutoring of Nynaeve, the dissemination of Aes Sedai knowledge to the Sea Folk, Kin and even damane extremely important, and the culture of secrecy that plagues the Tower or attitudes like Elaida's refusal to share new weaves extremely dangerous. (Ironically Elaida was the one forced to sisseminate this very weave to the Seanchan.) If the Thirteenth Depository went up in flames, its precious secrets and lessons from the past that have guided the steps of the leaders of the White Tower for three thousand years would rest in the minds of a few sisters highly unlikely to be able to re-assemble it from memory. Lessons on destruction of knowledge from the past have not truly been heeded, but Egwene's actions, the new eagerness for research and sharing sparked by recent discoveries are welcome signs of change. And we see Egwene's male counterpart Logain, weary of Taim's secret classes and furious in his belief that Rand has withheld powerful battle weaves from the Asha'man, while Nynaeve may have had her lesson about secrets with the a'dam for men. Things are changing, slowly.

Herid Fel the scholar has fallen for the cause of the Light, but some of his wisdom has survived through his books salvaged by Min, his posthumous pupil. Fel's contribution helped to accomplish the Cleansing of saidin and guide Rand in his plan for the Last Battle. Min, too, in her studies uncovered further knowledge and brought it to Rand’s attention. Elayne found a treasure in the form of an Age of Legends library, which caused an uproar of excitement among the Aes Sedai when she shared it.

With time running short, our heroes finally learned to communicate and share what they know, lest the enemies use this weakness against them to achieve final victory, rather than fall from their own greed and secrecy concerning knowledge and information. Miscommunication is hardly the province of the Light alone.

Trusting in the knowledge of the Great Captains, but not protecting them results in their minds and judgment being corrupted by Graendal and leading to them nearly losing their armies and the war.

Egwene’s knowledge of history and understanding of prophecy and the Pattern impressed the Sitters and highlighted Elaida’s stubborn refusal to consider that she may have misinterpreted her withheld Foretellings, and that her plans have been mired in her ambitions and prejudices. Able to quote the writing of Wise Amyrlins, thanks to Siuan, her demonstration of applying her knowledge to make wise judgements proved that she would be an excellent Amyrlin to reunite the Tower, undoing the various conspiracies. The knowledge of the Shadow that was amassed by Verin in her 70-year studies, and then handed on to Egwene with compliments on her worthiness for it, was also instrumental in cleansing the Tower as well as unifying it. So precious and exhaustive was this book with its safeguards, that Egwene in her place as mother-confessor to the sisters, absolved Verin, who did so very well in her eyes.

While Cadsuane was resolved to extract all the knowledge that she could out of Semirhage,

"I am not going to allow a person who knows weaves from the Age of Legends to simply dance herself to execution. We are going to pull every scrap of knowledge from that woman's brain, if we have to turn a few of her own 'creative' weaves on her."… The woman knew things about the One Power that hadn't survived even in legends.

- The Gathering Storm, A Tale of Blood

Egwene saw the dangers of keeping a Forsaken alive, even for good intentions, and risking their escape to commit further atrocities:

She had learned with Moghedien that there was a price to be paid for greed, if just greed for information. She and the others had been too eager—too proud of the "discoveries" they'd made—to see the world rid of one of the Forsaken…Verin had died to stop these women, and Egwene would see that her sacrifice meant something.

- Tower s of Midnight, The Tower Stands

As it was, Moghedien passed on misleading information as well as useful things.

Tuon, surrounded by schemes and plots and still convinced of the necessity of capturing Rand, needed knowledge gained from the triad of Setalle Anan, Min and the Prince of the Ravens, to join in the Last Battle. And Aviendha, the last main character to graduate from her apprenticeship, brought back from her trip through the glass columns in Rhuidean, knowledge of an unthinkable future for the Aiel unless they change their customs, literally an entirely different way of experiencing Rhuidean. Contrary to expectation, it was not knowledge of the past of the female Aiel lines that was problematic, but the future.

Moiraine once reflected: “The Dragon Reborn would have to be educated. He would need to know as much of politics as any queen, as much of war as any general. As much of history as any scholar. Verin Sedai said that most mistakes made by rulers came from not knowing history; they acted in ignorance of the mistakes others have made before them” (New Spring, It Begins). What will the Brown sisters think of the existence of the Thirteenth Depository where such mistakes and lessons are kept hidden from historians and could have resounding consequences for the future, as could Egwene's betrayal of the secret itself? Time and circumstances didn't allow Rand to reach Moiraine's ideal (but he may now that he is the Eternal Wanderer, rather than the Dragon), but what Moiraine was able to transmit to him, what Verin could add before she went away (to say nothing of her priceless gift of knowledge to Egwene) and with Cadsuane's mission to teach Rand and a return of her uneasy alliance with Sorilea, Rand avoided repeating some mistakes of the past and learned some important lessons.

Robert Jordan once said “No one knows everything. Everyone has to operate on incomplete knowledge, and quite often they know they are operating on incomplete knowledge, but they still have… Characters learn more about the truth has time goes on, and sometimes found out that what they knew before was only the first layer of the onion. That's a major theme, really, in the whole series, that changeability—the way something starts out seeming to be one simple thing, and slowly it is revealed to have a number of very complex layers” (Jordan discussing the important themes of the series at a Q&A/booksigning).

This indeed has been the truth since the beginning of the story and Lews Therin's deed at Shayol Ghul that saved the World but at the price of the Breaking. The always incomplete and ever mutating truth remained one of the major issues until the final chapters of A Memory of Light, and for all players, Light and Shadow alike.

Moridin's confidence in the superiority of his knowledge was deceiving. Even the great philosopher and theologian could still be surprised by the introduction and re-introduction of knowledge by the Wheel, as we saw in Ebou Dar while he was observing his foes fleeing with the Bowl of Winds. Even as Moridin was musing about the mysterious discoveries and abilities of the “primitives”, he was failing to grasp that they were about to surprise him again with what they could achieve with the weather ter'angreal, thus dooming his Master's efforts to corrupt the seasons.

As much as Rand had to go to the Last Battle with incomplete knowledge, Moridin also had to fight it despite the fact that it “troubled him sometimes, enraged him, what knowledge might be lost in the turnings of the Wheel, knowledge he needed, knowledge he had a right to. A right!” (The Path of Daggers Prologue). If anything, this is a clear indication that either Shai'tan's knowledge is incomplete, too, or he's unwilling to share with Moridin, or unable to explain the past in terms a human may understand. Symbolically, Moridin is deprived of the knowledge of the Initiated for his refusal to play by the rules of the Wheel of Time, therefore rejecting the process of Initiation by which ancient wisdom is gained.

Before the history of the last moments of the series becomes new legends and myths, our heroes will no doubt pay again the price and reap the prize of knowledge.

For us, the readers, the position in this ongoing battle for knowledge is much more comfortable. For the price for knowledge is patience and the promised prize will be to Read and Find Out. And then, we will know. But not everything. As Jordan said in an interview:

You may find out some of it, you won't find out all of it. Because part of what I do is realism, if you can talk about having realism in fantasy. In a lot of fantasies people find out what they need to know when they need to know it. Maybe just barely in the nick of time, but they find it out. In these books, often they don't find it out; they may manage to save themselves because they've done something for the wrong reason that happens to work out, that it's the right thing to do. They have to make decisions based on incomplete information. They know a little bit. Maybe it's not enough, but they make a decision anyway because that's the way things happen in life. There's going to be a few things at the end of the books which aren't really resolved. Not what I perceive as the major threads of the story, those will be resolved, but some things are left dangling. Some of what you would perhaps call the minor threads. A number of things indicate that life goes on.

For now, it is time to let Moridin “set back the Fisher on the board” (The Path of Daggers Prologue) and continue the great Game.




The connection between the name Siuan (pronounced SWAHN) and the theme of knowledge is interesting. The swan often symbolizes the creative power of the light and of speech. The “Swan Song”, the song of the dying swan, symbolizes the cycle light-speech-seed (creation) in psychoanalysis. In Alchemy, the swan and the swan song are related to mercury, which through death (sublimation) transmits its soul to the inert base metals. Unlike the phoenix who arises from its ashes, the swan transmits its properties. The symbolism of the swan song in relation to Siuan is underlined for us by Jordan through his use of irony; Siuan is said to be unable to carry a tune in a bucket. For more complete information on Siuan’s name see the Character Name articles. [DS]


“Le Mat” is another name of The Fool in the Tarot of Marseilles deck. Le Mat appears to wander, wearing a hat and carrying a staff, without care for the dog behind him who bites him and tears his pants. From the city walls, Le Mat appears to be just a fool. For the philosopher, he is rather a Master, his staff symbolizing the mysteries of Initiation, the prize of knowledge and truth. He is walking ahead, not wandering without a direction. Mat Cauthon is often discarded as a fool and a joker by the unobservant. Interestingly, for Mat the hat, the ashan’darei and the attack by dogs (Darkhounds) are all attributes linked to his travel to the Waste and Rhuidean, the center of Initiation in The Wheel of Time. Another Tarot card linked to Mat and Rhuidean is the Hanged-Man, or The Sacrifice, known earlier in the Tarot of Marseilles as “La Prudence” (Caution). It represents the willing or unwilling expiation, the payment of debts, the price to pay. The Hanged-Man is a symbol of regeneration and transformation. He has renounced through death to the exaltation of his own energies and opened himself to cosmic influences. He is a symbol of occult and magical knowledge, of passive initiation. [DS] For more information on Mat’s sources, see the Mat essay.


The Aelfinn & Eelfinn have strong links with both knowledge and destiny themes. They and their realms are inspired largely by races of the underworld and otherworld (not to be confused with hell and other lands of the dead) from many eras and cultures—often related to one another—like the Welsh elfin and fairy races, the Irish sidhe (shee), the old Celtic gods like the Tuatha dé Danaan, the French fées and the Arabic Jinns—among many others. Their realms are often perilous to humans but also full of secrets, hidden knowledge, magic and treasures, awaiting the daring hero or the incautious adventurer. “The fairies are people who transform, who can in an instant grant or refuse the most ambitious desires” [DS]. Christianity has often turned these old legendary creatures into mischievous demons, such as the incubus and succubus who haunted dreams to seduce humans and which are linked to Lanfear (see Lanfear essay) and Moghedien. The fairy tales derive in part from older myths, such as the three Greek goddesses of destiny, who spin and weave the threads of men’s lives—and cut them when time comes. It’s quite interesting that their name, the Moirai, is almost certainly an origin for the name Moiraine—a prisoner in the realms of the Aelfinn & Eelfinn—as it is the source of Moghedien's original surname Moiral; she is another parallel of the Moirae (see Three Strands Common to the Forsaken essay) The Latinized Moirai, the Parcae, bestow gifts on newborn children. Other related goddesses include Athena, Freyja (see Tuon essay) and the Norns. A link to Moghedien is also found via the spiders that are often associated to the weaving myths, for instance with Athena and Arachne (see Three Strands Common to the Forsaken essay). All these myths and legends converge in the fairytales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, with their fairy-godmothers. (The fairytale author Charles Perrault was a leading intellectual who wrote Parallel of the Ancients and the Moderns, a forerunner for the Age of Enlightenment in Europe.) It might be an uncanny coincidence, but the Fairy-godmother is translated from Perrault’s Fée-Marraine. The association to Moiraine is further suggested by the popularity of the Blue Fairy. It is indeed amusing to imagine Moiraine, Verin, Cadsuane and the sworn Aes Sedai as Rand’s fairy-godmothers, Moridin/Moghedien/Lanfear as evil witches/hags/godmothers and even the Black Ajah as the evil step-sisters. The confusion and convergence of many of the mythical and legendary motifs for the Aelfinn and Eelfinn, Moiraine, the Aes Sedai and even Lanfear is in itself quite notable. The theme of weaving, spinning and webs is unsurprisingly well developed in The Wheel of Time, and the associations to weavers from myth, legends and fairytales are plentiful. [DS, MF, CP, DH]


Verin slyly imposes to the embassy the idea of “sending a clear message” to Rand, carefully guiding Demira into not revealing to Rand the motives of their message. Only the experienced diplomat Merana Sedai noticed it but even she failed to see the trap woven by Verin that would lead to a direct confrontation with Rand fatal to the embassy's goals. Given her personal experience of Rand, there's little doubt that Verin was well aware of the inevitable consequences and her first-hand experience of Two Rivers people and the Aiel warriors’ deference to Aes Sedai (in The Great Hunt she was even told an Aiel would no more attack an Aes Sedai than a Wise One) makes it extremely doubtful she believed for an instant that Rand, and Aiel, were truly be behind the attack on Demira's life.


The lectio is a formal lecture to a class by a teacher, as Elayne and Egwene have mentioned attending. The White Tower has a Lecturing Hall, though rarely used at this point, being too spacious for the number of novices or Accepted (New Spring, Practice). The more advanced disputatio could be a discussion, debate or argument on a given subject between a teacher and a single pupil (the term is also used for a form of public debates, almost a sport for scholars). It became popular in the middle-ages for teaching philosophy and rhetoric, notably with the foremost philosophy teacher of the 12th century and one of the founders of the University, Peter Abelard. Something very much like this method is used with the more advanced Accepted. We saw it at work between Moiraine and Meilyn Sedai in New Spring Shreds of Serenity, with a disputatio on Willim of Manaches and his influence on the Saldaean philosopher Shivena Kayenzi. [AB]


While Ispan's murder probably served to silence her, it is still unclear if this was the true motive of the murder. The timing and overly savage circumstances of the double murder seem designed, unless it's a sign of incompetence, to make the Aes Sedai suspect there was another Black sister among them and have very personal motives never to give up the chase to find her. Careane, the murderer, was later given orders that constantly put her in greater and greater danger of exposure and motivated Elayne and Vandene to keep tracking her. Mili Skane (Lady Shiaine) initially wanted the murders of the Kin to be done by Marrilin Gemalphin, another Black sister very well-known by Elayne who was to infiltrate the palace, risking exposing her mistress. Daved Hanlon, whose mission near Elayne drew every women's attention, whose orders to report frequently to Shiaine attracted suspicion and whose more recent orders to meddle with the highly-watched Seanchan prisoners and with the patrols of the Guards was also in rising danger of exposure, as Careane would have known. What Moridin truly wanted to achieve in Caemlyn with this plot and whether he succeeded or has failed in Knife of Dreams is still very obscure, but it is well to remember that Falion, Marrilin, Daved Halon, Careane, Joachim Carridin and even Mili Skane are all agents who have failed him in the past; most of them, like the targets they were ordered to hit in Elayne's entourage, having a share of responsibility in letting Elayne's group correct the weather with the Bowl of Winds, an event for which Moridin promised revenge on all those involved.


Because Fate brings balance of good and ill without apparent purpose (though except for the very special ta'veren effects we have not seen ill things happening in the series which didn't hide a greater purpose of the Wheel), because the Wheel does not eradicate humans and organizations, such as the Whitecloaks, which use methods that could ethically be labelled as “evil” etc. many think the Wheel is neutral in the conflict with the Shadow; that it is not Shai'tan's enemy. We can counter that because of the nature itself of evil and the means evil people use, a true balance between absolute good and evil is not possible. It takes a far lesser amount of evil to be able to defeat the Light, which is constrained by the danger of using evil means and thus becoming as Evil as the Shadow itself. As for opposing Shai'tan, Robert Jordan has pointed out in his blog that while it is in the Wheel's power to make anyone, even Darkfriends, ta'veren he could not conceive of a reason why the Wheel would wish to do so. Humans in the story may confound Evil with the sacrifices the Wheel is willing to make to stop the Shadow, but even in its use of ta'veren it seems to strive to keep a balance in the collateral damages and miracles they cause. Unlike humans, the Wheel does not have an ethical view of good or bad/evil, it does what logically needs to be done to preserve harmony in the system, as dispassionately as a computer—a comparison RJ himself has used.


Editor’s comment: The author too is not immune from the temptation to play knowledge games with his readers. In the books, in his blog, or at booksignings he has misled or withheld information about what is really happening.


[AB] The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, Penguin Classics, 2004. From the introduction & notes by Betty Radice

[CP] Charles Perrault, Histoires ou contes du temps passé, avec des moralitéz. (Perrault’s fairytales), Gallimard, 1991 (1697).

[DH] Alan Rey, Dictionnaire historique de la langue française (3 vol.) (Historical dictionnary of the French language), Le Robert, 1998

[DS] Jean-Chevalier/Alain Gheerbrant, Dictionnaire des symboles (Dictionnary of symbols), Laffont, 1982

[MF] Carl Lindahl; John McNamara; John Lindow, Medieval Folklore, Oxford University Press, 2002


Written by Dominic, June, 2006 and updated by Linda in September 2017


Unknown said...

Wow :)

Kim said...

Are there plans to update this with TGS and TOM knowledge? Maybe a separate section rather than updating individual sections.

Nonetheless - great read!

Linda said...

Kim: At this stage there aren't any plans to update. It's not my essay, and Dominic, who wrote it, is no longer writing for the blog.