Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Eye of the World Read-Through #4 - From Inn to Inn

From Inn to Inn

by Dom

By beginning his series with a reunion of villagers, friends and a stranger at the Winespring Inn, forming a community of companions out of disparate people to embark on a long journey, during which we listen with the characters to the tales of the Gleeman Thom Merrilin before one after the other they begin to tell us their own tale in their own voice, Robert Jordan was going back to a tradition that went well beyond J.R.R. Tolkien, who made Inns a staple of Fantasy literature with his unforgettable Prancing Pony, to the roots of English literature and the opening scene of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, set at the Tabard Inn from which the pilgrims embarked on their journey to Canterbury.

The long journey from Inn to Inn echoes wealth of traditions as diverse as the comical travelogue and classic of Japanese literature Tôkaidôchû hizakurige, to the social details of the Inns and the characters inhabiting them in the tales of a Charles Dickens, to the truculent food, charming female staff and adventures found at Inns in the books of an Alexandre Dumas.

The Inns in the Wheel of Time have many purposes. Temporary places of safety on the road where the characters can slow down from their adventures, reflect and prepare the next step of their journey; the location of several crucial encounters between characters and more, the Inns were also for Robert Jordan the occasion to open for us a window on the cultures and affairs on each new or revisited localities. Of course, these omnipresent locations in the series gave him opportunity to weave even more "patterns" using them - from the physical aspect of Innkeepers, to the running gags of their relations with their cooks, the oddities of each inn's cats, the food that reflect the state of the weather and the situation in the locality, promiscuity, friendliness or lack thereof of the staff, the intruders, the newsmongers, the spies and traitors etc. One of the most important patterns related to the Inns is in their names and signs. Several have rich or amusing mythological connections, and they often have 'secret' meanings (much easier to puzzle out in hindsight during re reads - they often don't tell us much on first read...).

As mentionnd in my previous post, the Winespring Inn works as an allegory for the White Tower, complete with its grumpy 'foreteller' warning against Moiraine and predicting all sorts of doom. The pattern of associating many Inns to the Tower and events in the Tower story lines holds through the series. The White Boar, on the Watch Hill (an allusion to Tar Valon) near where Bornhald's Whitecloaks will have their camp, is an allusion to Gawyn, the Younglings and Galad. At the Stag and Lion, Moiraine's secret plans bring the Shadow's destruction on the Inn - but thanks to the Blue Ajah it will be rebuilt twice as large --> an allusion to Siuan's demise, and perhaps to the final reunion of men and women Aes Sedai. Speaking of that, the first 'bath joke' happens at the Stag and Lion: I explained the symbolic connection between water and the One Power in the earlier post. At the Stag and Lion, men and women are segregated. Moiraine and her 'novice' Egwene go to the baths together. The boys and men do the same, and aptly talk False Dragons. Nynaeve, who refuses to believe Moiraine about her gift, takes her bath alone (and it will take her a bath in the sea to finally break her block.... pots full of water on her head were not quite enough). To understand the 'gag' about baths, I need to jump ahead to Fal Dara in TGH, once Egwene knows Rand can channel but struggles to accept it, and Rand himself struggles with his self consciousness and fears about channeling, and his feelings about Aes Sedai and Egwene becoming one. This is reflected by the communal baths of the Keep, with Egwene and Rand both being terribly embarrassed by this custom, Rand himself categorically terrorized. This will become a running gag as the series progresses - baths almost always reflecting the mood of the channellers or the state of male and female channellers' relationships. This will involve notable characters like Taim, Cadsuane etc.

The Wayfarer's Rest in Whitebridge continues the pattern of WT allusions: the common room had to be divided in two to avoid fights between crews (allusions to the Ajah Quarters), there is Padan Fain whose stories turned the Innkeeper against the boys, and Floran Gelb as an Elaida analog, coming to the Inn to warn the clientele of the dangers of Bayle Domon and his three passengers.

The Inns in The Eye of the World (and beyond) are also thinly disguised allusions to story lines and characters : The Winespring is the True Source, the origin. The Stag and Lion marks the encounter of Min, the Stag (Stags in Celtic mythology are creatures of prophecy, and most often bring omens of death - Min shares prophecies with Rand, and had her viewing of him dead surrounded by his three women) and Rand, the Lion (as he will be very often described metaphorically in the early books (lion cub, lion on the hill etc.) - by Celtic-Arthurian analogy of the King one with the Land, reflected as the Dragon and the Land in the series, Rand is of course the White Lion of Andor.. Andor always has Queens, and the Lion is the emblem of their Realm, not of their own sovereignty - rather represented by the solar Rose Crown. After receiving the 'Queen's Blessing', our fledgling 'White Lion' will be given the horse Red to ride - the field of Andor). The Wayfarer's Rest refers, of course, to the apparent demise of that strider of highways per excellence, Thom Merrilin. The Queen's Blessing, with its sign of the Queen blessing a kneeling man, is a direct reference to what happens between Morgase and a kneeling Rand at the Caemlyn palace.

To complete this Read-Through post, a new article is now available in the Reference Library, the second entry in the Dew Drop Inn series, covering all the Inns from the current book, The Eye of the World


- You're welcome to leave comments about this post below, or to use The Eye of the World Round-Table open thread to leave a commentary of your own about any aspect of the book.

- Got any nagging question about a topic from The Eye of the World? Send them to 'Ask Zemaille' and the librarians will do their best to answer it.


Anonymous said...

This comment is far less analytical than the blog post, but I always liked how the "safe" inns were the ones with fat innkeepers, while the dangerous ones had thin or gaunt innkeepers.

SteelBlaidd said...

Thanks for the insight on Bath Scenes. I'm going to have to pay a lot more attention when those come up. Just thinking about Aviendha and her relationship to baths produces all kinds of interesting windows on her character.

Dominic said...

Thanks - and exactly for Aviendha :) For related stuff, take 'bath' in the largest possible sense: falling in the sea, in ponds, being afraid to cross water, sweat tents, carrying water (recurrent for both Egwene and Rand in EOTW) learning to swim, imagining someone bathing, dreams about swimming/baths (the last two are recurrent about Lanfear, and for the three women). For moments in particular, there's the taking of boats which is related to controlling saidar/relation of the character to saidar and thus full of 'inside jokes': The Amyrlin is the 'River Queen' and splashed water all over the place, the three girls try to pass themselves up for full sisters, and their ship run into a mud bank :D, Nyaneve with her block is always sea sick and don't want to come up deck - and it's when her little boat sinks that she finally breaks her block. Elayne rather learns fast and with enthusiasm what the Windfinder teaches her, Egwene's Skimming plateform is a boat. Egeanin who learns the truth about sul'dam and the lies/misconceptions about Aes Aedai is bereft of her ship. Setalle, who burned out, survived thanks to the love of a fisherman with a few little boats. Etc. It's a very rich theme to explore for the imagery. (one of many... We'll bring up more as we go along). Have fun.

For Anonymous: Nice catch about the Innkeepers - RJ was very good with little touches like this - it's like a clue to the reader: there's patterns there. The characters in the story also LOVE patterns - Rand seemed to feel safer once he noticed fat innkeeepers are nice, slim ones can't be trusted. It's part of their worldview, that everything form patterns. They don't like it when the patterns are broken. Don't worry too much about beeing analytical - it all started with spotting a few things like this. It took years and many rereads and tons of discussions with like-minded readers for us to go much beyond that and to have collected enough 'data' to be analytical.