Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Eye of the World Read-Through #6 - Perrin and Egwene

A Long series of notes and musings about the Perrin/Egwene sub-thread in The Eye of the World

by Dom

Dust on the Wind

  • I'm nowhere as fond of Perrin as I am of Nynaeve, but I really enjoyed reading his POVs in the early books. I still like the character, despite some irritating sides (And I'd lie if I said his storyline annoyed me nearly as much as many others. As I pointed out elsewhere I tend to focus on what I like, so episodes like So Habor, the mystery around Masema, the schemings of the Aes Sedai and WO, the Seanchan's arrival, Galina's plots were enough to get me through the pages of Perrin's obsessions).

    In Shadar Logoth, he has his first POV and Nynaeve will have hers next. These new perspectives on the story is one reason why I prefer the second half of this book to the first.

    I like Rand, but perhaps because I read these books in my late twenties, I always had more problems with is naive side in the early story. It created a kind of distance between me and this character, and far more so with Mat (Mat became a favorite of mine very late in the series only).

    Perrin, however, was already more mature and less excitable/naive, and his way of thinking things more quietly was a nice change of pace in that book, I find.

    In his first POV, there are already several points of foreshadowing/motifs introduced. A few :

    Prisoners : "He had almost turned back, thinking some of the others might have been taken, before realizing that he could do nothing alone if they had been captured."

    This motif will return over and over with Perrin, from the rescue of the Faile in TDR, to the prisoners in TSR to... Faile again. Here already, it's Perrin who takes the woman under his wing (and becomes a mite overprotective in the next few chapters).

    Egwene's dream : Perrin chasing through brambles, unaware of the cliff ahead down - and the motif of the axe dragging him down, threatening to sink him : "The wind scraped branches together and ruffled the leaves and needles of the evergreens. A nighthawk's lonely cry drifted in the dark (...) both of them booting their horses, heedless of noise, heedless of the branches. (...) Suddenly his horse screamed, and he was falling, tumbling out out of the saddle as the horse dropped away beneath him. (...) He had ridden right off the edge of a sheer bluff into the Arinelle. (...) And the axe dragged at his waist, threatening to roll him over if he did not pull him under. He thought about letting the river have that, too; he thought about it more than once."

    All this is merely symbolic at this point, but the theme will be introduced soon, when Perrin and Elyas meet up. And of course, Aram is coming shortly.

    In mythology, the crossing of rivers is always an important point, a motif or death and rebirth. Here Perrin crosses the Arinelle alone and with difficulty - there are no Ferry and Aes Sedai this time. Alone with Egwene, he will get his "rebirth" as a wolfbrother soon, and it's a path he will take pretty much alone. The association to Egwene here is of course due to the fact these two will have the World of Dreams in common.

    This was Perrin and Egwene's first association with a Nighthawk too - not the last. And the Ravens will soon come.

  • A Path Chosen/Wolfbrother

  • Wild man motifs :
    "Most of the branches fell away as he sat up in surprise, but some hung haphazardly from his shoulders, and even his head, making him appear something like a tree himself."
    Through the story, Perrin is very often associated to creatures of the forest, real of mythical. In the passage quoted above, he appears “something like a tree himself”, like the Green Man, like the Wildman of the Woods. Thom has compared him to an Ogier in their first encounter. A bit like Nynaeve and herbs/plants, many of the Perrin chapters are full of references to trees and nature – eight species of trees are mentioned in this single chapter. This symbolism to Min’s Viewing of Perrin with trees flowering all around him – whatever the meaning of this Viewing will prove to be. Shamans who can talk to animals (like Perrin the wolfbrother) and the real life mythical Green, or wild, Men (and the Ents of Tolkien, etc.) are very closely related concepts – and in Elyas, Perrin meets the two of them, and one who has reconciled his two natures but by leaving civilization, something Perrin cannot do. Later on, Perrin will develop a special friendship with Loial the Ogier, and soon will start an ambiguous relationship between the “Wolf Man” and the people of the Tree, as we might call the Way of the Leaf followers, the Tuatha’an, whom Perrin will find, like the wolves, in the wilderness.As always in Perrin’s chapters, mentions of the axe and blacksmithing abund.

  • Among the four wolves Perrin meet, Dapple the leader, in all shades of grey, light and dark, best represents balance and Perrin's nature and his challenge to find balance between human and wolf (Dapple will say that Perrin stands right between the two). Dapple is not the strongest, but the pack follows her because she is cautious, thoughtful and get them out of trouble. Burn, the scarred wolf for whom there is little left but a burning hatred, represents the danger Perrin faces to lose his humanity and become an animal. Hopper is the guide. He represents Perrin taking his destiny in hands and learning. Wind would likely represents him letting himself be carried by the "Winds of Time".

  • Again an association between Egwene and gleemen :
    "Perrin listened with satisfaction. Not even Thom Merrilin could have made a better tale from the little they knew of the world outside the Two Rivers, or one better suited to their needs."
    As Egwene tries to play the gleeman, Thom in the other storyline tries to pass Mat and Rand at his apprentices.

  • Elyas introduces the concept of the Black Ajah in the story, and already links them to Reds. His face-off with the Reds happened about fifteen years ago, in the middle of what Cadsuane calls the vileness, the years of illegal gentlings, around the same year Galina Casban became Red Ajah Head and whenThom’s nephew was gentled. The Amyrlin Seat Elyas mentions and seems to ressent is very likely Sierin Vayu, the pro-Red Grey we met in New Spring. Much later in the story, we will meet Elyas’s Aes Sedai – Rina Hedfen, now a Green Sitter in the Tower.

  • Saldaea foreshadowing/joke : Perrin’s addition to Egwene’s story is that they wanted to go see the King of Saldaea in Maradon. There is of course no such thing, as Queen Tenobia is single. Another part of Egwene’s tale that would have attracted Elyas’ attention is the mention they come from small farms outside a tiny village. In the Borderlands, farming is organized around keeps and under the protection of a Lord. In Saldaea, though this is largely implied only through the comments of Faile Bashere and other various hints as the lords under her fathers and the titles of Bashere and the Queen, the land seem organized into large feudal domains, much easier to protect from Shadowspawn than isolated villages. One massive bit of irony in this chapter is that Egwene makes herself Faile's proverbial 'Saldaean farmgirl' - and not much later she'll learn the Tiganza!!

  • Symbolism. As Perrin and Egwene travel east, they see in the the ruins of an abandonned Tower with the top broken and leaning on a huge oak threatening to topple it. The tower represents the White Tower, the broken top (leadership) the upcoming Tower coup, and Oaks in the story most often represents Dragonmount and the Dragon (the "Tree of Man"). The sight of these ruins will give Egwene nightmares about Shadar Logoth (the place where people turned on each other and destroyed themselves - another veiled allusion to the theme behind the Tower split storyline). This is the very first mention that Egwene has dreams, though those were probably just nightmares. Or where they? Hard to tell!

  • Inside joke/foreshadowing: Raen says he doubts the Song could ever be found in a city. While this may not foreshadow how the Tuatha'an may learn what they once were and relearn Singing, this is not without irony as indeed they could find the truth about their past and what they think of now as "the song" in Rhuidean.

  • The Traveling People/Shelter From the Storm

  • Lost in his troubles and focussed on the dangers ahead and within, Perrin has stopped taking the moments of simple joy and rest that he finds on his road. Already this has happened to him in Baerlon, when the nightmares has driven him to loneliness in bed while the others enjoyed the city.

    Here, the theme is really introduced in two parts. In the first, Egwene gives no explanation to Perrin :

    "You've been gone a long time," he said. "Did you have fun?"
    "We ate with his mother," she answered. "And then we danced ... and laughed. It seems like forever since I danced."
    "He reminds me of Wil al'Seen. You always had sense enough not to let Wil put you in his pocket."
    "Aram is a gentle boy who is fun to be with," she said in a tight voice. "He makes me laugh."
    Perrin sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm glad you had fun dancing."
    Abruptly she flung her arms around him, weeping on his shirt. Awkwardly he patted her hair. Rand would know what to do, he thought. Rand had an easy way with girls. Not like him, who never knew what to do or say. "I told you I'm sorry, Egwene. I really am glad you had fun dancing. Really. "
    "Tell me they're alive," she mumbled into his chest.
    She pushed back to arm's length, her hands on his arms, and looked up at him in the darkness. "Rand and Mat. The others. Tell me they are alive. "
    He took a deep breath and looked around uncertainly. "They are alive," he said finally.
    "Good." She scrubbed at her cheeks with quick fingers. "That is what I wanted to hear. Good night, Perrin. Sleep well." Standing on tiptoe, she brushed a kiss across his cheek and hurried past him before he could speak.

    In a second time, it's Elyas who tells Perrin to calm down and enjoy the rest while he can, which makes an irritated Perrin think :

    "He would know when it was time to go. Have some pie, lad. Don't lather yourself. Try some of this stew. Relax."

    And then, when Perrin confronts Egwene because he mistakes her attempts to seize the moment for a desire to refuse to go on or delude herself that they are safe, they have this exchange :

    " Once he managed to get Egwene alone, beside a wagon painted in green and yellow. "Enjoying yourself, aren't you?" he said.
    "Why shouldn't I?" She fingered the blue beads around her neck, smiling at them. "We don't all have to work at being miserable, the way you do. Don't we deserve a little chance to enjoy ourselves?"
    Aram stood not far off – he never got far from Egwene – with his arms folded across his chest, a little smile on his face, half smugness and half challenge. Perrin lowered his voice. "I thought you wanted to get to Tar Valon. You won't learn to be an Aes Sedai here. "
    Egwene tossed her head. "And I thought you didn't like me wanting to become an Aes Sedai, " she said, too sweetly.
    "Blood and ashes, do you believe we're safe here? Are these people safe with us here? A Fade could find us anytime."
    Her hand trembled on the beads. She lowered it and took a deep breath. "Whatever is going to happen will happen whether we leave today or next week. That's what I believe now. Enjoy yourself, Perrin. It might be the last chance we have."
    She brushed his cheek sadly with her fingers. "

    This will haunt Perrin through the series as it haunts Rand - the hardships of the fight against the Shadow, the threats to humanity, will slowly make them incapable of simply enjoying life while they can. They distance themselves from normality, while many of the women of the story seek to take as much as they can out of life when they can, aware they may not have much time with the big fight ahead (Faile's insistence to wed, Elayne's desire for a child etc.)

    Very similar moments and discussions will occur between Faile and Perrin in The Shadow Rising, and this time will introduce the aspect of coping with loss and the fear of loss - which later in the story becomes one of Perrin's greater problems.

    Again this is not black and white, and we will sometimes see the female characters hang to normal life more than they can and should afford (Egwene's obsession with rebuilding the Tower immediately while the world crumbles around the Aes Sedai, Faile's big plans to settle Perrin down as Lord, away from Rand and the battle). Somewhere in between the two is balance : not everything can be sacrificed or fighting becomes meaningless, and a lot must be sacrificed and fought for or otherwise life will not have a chance of going on much longer.

  • The Counterpart to Shadar Logoth: The Way of the Leaf.

    After we've been introduced with Mordeth and Aridhol's story to what happens to humans when you embrace a philosophy that every crime and every means is acceptable to fight the Shadow - that only the victory of the Light means anything, comes its antithesis with the Tuatha'an and their philosophy from a time when war did not exists : any violence is harmful and no man should hurt or kill another ever, no reason for it is justifiable.

    Utopians, dreamers, fools - some have even called the Tinkers evil. What do you think of the Way of the Leaf? Does this represents an ideal, a memory of light - a memory of what a world under the Light only again may be for - a hope, or is it a dangerous philosophy to even exists in the times of the Last Battle?

    They merely hang to a dream of peace which indeed I think is terribly naive right now. In the Age of Legends before the Dark One, it was a legitimate aspiration for humanity and one that seemingly influenced the society and culture of the AOL a lot, with the Da'shain merely being a bit more zealous in preserving peace and non violence than the average citizen or Aes Sedai.

    We do not know, of course, what faith the Tuatha'an put in the Dragon - the Da'shain of old sure seemed to think it acceptable that Lews Therin fought the Shadow, they even served in the War of Shadow in all sort of non-combattant/non-violent ways those who had to commit violence to save the world (and as we've seen, even after the Sealing the Aes Sedai insisted the Da'shain kept to the Way as if this was their most prized treasure).

    I think after the Sealing of the Bore, this is perhaps the greatest corruption that was introduced in the Way. The last rampart of the Da'shain were the Aes Sedai and they have lost them. Along the way, they also lost sight that Shai'tan has no place in the Pattern, that doing nothing to fight against him, even if it's only to support and help those who fight him for everyone, is letting a force that threaten the whole life cycle, that kills not only leaves but the whole tree down to the roots. Shai'tan is not the Death with a promise of rebirth that the Way of the Leaf teaches to accept, it is the "final death" that puts an end to everything.

    I do not agree with those who call the Tinkers and the Way of the Leaf "Evil", but it is a perfect example that too pure "Good" at the other extreme is as dangerous as evil, and as dangerous as the evil of Shadar Logoth. Everything as always in WOT hangs on balance.

    I think a preservation of the idea and ideals of the Way of the Leaf is important, though, and remembrance of the human evil of Shadar Logoth is as important as a warning against this peril without Shai'tan that is as evil as the DO itself. Without the dream of a life of peace and non-violence beyond the battle, what is humanity exactly fighting for, what is it aspiring to - a world without Shai'tan that could eventually become as bad as a world with him?

    Perrin is getting there. He may never embrace the Way himself (I would rather see him offering the Tinkers his full protection), he may never even have the chance to live in a world where the Way is more than a dream except in a few places, but he's sure coming to believe that a world where the Way could flourish would be a massive boon. Every small steps a ruler makes toward a world where the Way could thrive (Far Madding is a bit like that, foolish again considering the world around now... but this gives us insight in how Cadsuane and Verin were raised) is a gain for his or her people, and it is the way back to a society like the AOL's - with perhaps this time a memory of the dangers of the Shadow that will make it more balanced, less prone to embrace the other extreme, stronger and more ready to take the means to make sure it becomes and stays a world at peace. It is not impossible, Artur Hawkwing briefly succeeded before the Shadow and the Bonwhin's and the greed for power of the nobles destroyed his efforts.

  • Eyes Without Pity/Children of Shadow

  • Child Byar - one of the most despicable and unlikable character of the whole series IMHO. A complete fanatic, a cold sociopath - merciless and devoid of any laughter and tears, virtually incapable of any emotion but anger and hatred - almost more of an animal than any of the wolves, and his preys are other men. and yet still young. He is by a long shot one of the worst of the WC, IMO - coming very close to the "hard men" of Aridhol. Very close.

    What do you think may happen to him before the end?

    Geofram Bornhald, the main of reason who always does what is right but who isn't devoid of human feelings, who seeks fairness and gives chances, though he is implacable too. More strong than hard? He is perhaps the WC character that comes closest to being "likeable", almost likeable. His son will have a hard struggle not to fall into the extremism of Child Byar or Asunawa - not a very successful one so far, but could he still remember his father's lessons, could he still be redeemed by being with Galad?

    Do you think those two represents well the two "wings" of the CoL, the potentially redeemable ones with Galad, and the others with Asunawa, as bad and evil as Masema or the men of Aridhol, as fanatical as the worse Red sisters?

  • I really love those two chapters. For me, they are some of the best in the book. The action is fast paced and exciting, the antagonists (the ravens, especially with that fo are simple yet creepy, the human aspect has a lot of depth for action-centered chapters and RJ did an excellent job handling "the two evils" : that of the Shadow and that of human hatred, human debased to predator animal.

    The first chapter brings back the image from Rand's dream with the maze (the chase toward TG), mixes it with the dream where Ba'alzamon launched a raven at Perrin and it got his eye (this happens to Hopper for real in the action sequence). Here the maze is a series of hills around which the characters have to go, and if they risk going over, becoming "the king of the hill" (and sometimes, they had no choice, as both of them won't have a choice but rising to the top in the later series, as Lord Perrin and Amyrlin) they must crawl or else they might be seen. The evil is the collective "Eyes of the Dark One", coming from all sides.

    The moment where Perrin considers killing Egwene if they have no choice to escape is a great one - this fear he has that of this darkness inside that would make him capable to do it overshadows the human mercy there would be in doing it. I also love the moment where Elyas notices that Perrin looks at Egwene with hatred - resenting without knowing his role as protector, resenting that he would have to make the decision for her in the heat of the moment when there is no more hope. And Perrin can't accept it, can accept the depths he might have to descend into during the fight against the Shadow.

    The second chapter truly introduces one of my favorite themes in the series, that of the "monster inside" the three main male characters must struggle with. Perrin's is more immediate than Rand, for whom it is the heritage of LTT he must carry. For Perrin, it is the here and now, those animal feelings awakened in him, which he fears, doesn't understand and fight. You can really sense RJ the veteran in there, and the angle that war for life and death awakens in humans the core instincts of survival and defense/protection - turns them to predators to defend and to survive, while at the same time what is necessary in war threatens what's human inside you, risks unleashing the monster for good. It's Egwene here who must remind a desperate Perrin of what they're fighting for and the importance of not losing hope, of not giving up on the hope of better times : "He saw Egwene nod, but in the dark she did not realize it. "We'll be all right, Perrin."
    Light, he thought wonderingly, she's trying to comfort me.
    The shouts went on and on. Small knots of torches moved in the distance, flickering points of light in the darkness.
    "Perrin," Egwene said softly, "will you dance with me at Sunday? If we're home by then?"
    His shoulders shook. He made no sound, and he did not know if he was laughing or crying. "I will. I promise." Against his will his hands tightened on the axe, reminding him that he still held it. His voice dropped to a whisper. "I promise," he said again, and hoped."

    The second chapter has great symbolism. The abandoned stedding since the Breaking, the broken statue of the High King and at the center the attack from the fanatics who arose from this Empire : the Children of the Light.

    It also has a very chilling moment, when Perrin "loses it" for the first time, when he becomes one with the wolf and abandons rationality, he is outnumber and the men want them to disarm only, to go into a killing frenzy : "Out of the night Hopper came, and Perrin was one with the wolf. Hopper, the cub who had watched the eagles soar, and wanted so badly to fly through the sky as the eagles did. The cub who hopped and jumped and leaped until he could leap higher than any other wolf, and who never lost the cub's yearning to soar through the sky. Out of the night Hopper came and left the ground in a leap, soaring like the eagles. The Whitecloaks had only a moment to begin cursing before Hopper's jaws closed on the throat of the man with his lance leveled at Perrin. The big wolf's momentum carried them both off the other side of the horse. Perrin felt the throat crushing, tasted the blood.
    Hopper landed lightly, already apart from the man he had killed. Blood matted his fur, his own blood and that of others. A gash down his face crossed the empty socket where his left eye had been. His good eye met Perrin's two for just an instant. Run, brother! He whirled to leap again, to soar one last time, and a lance pinned him to the earth. A second length of steel thrust through his ribs, driving into the ground under him. Kicking, he snapped at the shafts that held him. To soar.
    Pain filled Perrin, and he screamed, a wordless scream that had something of a wolf's cry in it. Without thinking he leaped forward, still screaming. All thought was gone. The horsemen had bunched too much to be able to use their lances, and the axe was a feather in his hands, one huge wolf's tooth of steel. Something crashed into his head, and as he fell, he did not know if it was Hopper or himself who died."

    Another great moment from the earlier "wolf scenes" shows well the duality of Hopper as defender/predator, and why Perrin has to become the Wolf King to protect the females, the cubs and all his brothers and sisters from the pack : "Wolf or man, bull or bear, whatever challenged Dapple would find Hopper's jaws waiting to send him to the long sleep. That was the whole of life for Hopper"

    Long before Perrin and his instinctive, complete and obsessive love for Faile, there was Hopper and Dapple.

    It makes one wonder how much Perrin is still capable of loving a woman like a man instead of like Hopper felt about Dapple?

  • The Long Chase/Rescue

  • Apparently, an ointment with Sunburst Root is sovereign to heal blisters, weals and bruises inflicted by Whitecloaks. RJ often threw in jokes like this in Nynaeve’s pharmacopeia. The first one was earlier in the book. Nynaeve suggested a weak tea with Foxtail, to allow to sleep a while but wake up alert , with all your wits.

  • Could this be foreshadowing that Perrin will "bury the Whitecloaks" - perhaps not Galad's but at least Asunawa's fanatics? Or perhaps that he will personally with Byar, who is with Galad now but hardly sound like there's enough human in him to be "reformed"?

    This image of the "blacksmith in white" will return in TSR, this time it will be Haral Luhhan who is forced to wear the cloak to escape.

    Faile will also wear white as ga'shain.

  • “One other thing. There are wolves about, tonight. I saw two, and if I saw that many, there are probably more." He paused, and though his voice did not change she had the feeling he was puzzled. "It was almost as if they wanted me to see them. Anyway, they shouldn't bother you. Wolves usually stay away from people."
    "I wouldn't have known that," she said sweetly. "I only grew up around shepherds." He grunted, and she smiled into the darkness."

    I always like that joke. Though Lan isn’t bad at all, Nynaeve is one of the best at sarcasm in that series, when it doesn’t turn against her anyway!

  • A Final Thought: I always found the pairing Perrin and Egwene worked extremely well. Wheel of Time thrives on conflicting relationships, but I still mourn a bit the fact RJ never explored the friendship of these two some more. These are some of their last scenes together in the whole series!!

  • ------------------------

    - 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...

    I just wanted to say you have very insightful comments that made me appreciate the complexities of Robert Jordan's writing more.

    Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

    “Long before Perrin and his instinctive, complete and obsessive love for Faile, there was Hopper and Dapple.” I never thought about it in this way but you are very right. I’m definitely going to give this more thought.

    And I too enjoy the Perrin/Egwene combo. It will be interesting to see them when/if they are together again in the final books.

    Anonymous said...

    Hey dom, just thought i'd stop by. Beautiful site. You're a nynaeve fan? *sniffle* I did like Egwene and Perrin's short plotline in tEotW but I think the two of them together now would be obnoxious. Then again they've had no time between now and then to strengthen or reestablish their friendship.

    ~Jonai, from theoryland