Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Great Hunt Read-through #2 : A Survey of Shienar

A Survey of Shienar

By Dominic

Shienar is the location that bridges the ending of The Eye of the World and the beginning of The Great Hunt. Crude or perhaps more aptly just a tad more ‘generic Fantasy’ in its world building, at least in comparison to the nations Jordan designed and introduced much later in the series, Shienar remains quite interesting – and Shienaran characters like Uno, Hurin and Ingtar have become favourite minor characters to many. Already this early in the writing of the Wheel of Time, you could see how Robert Jordan used his world building to reflect many of the greater themes in the story (such as the men and women relationship) and to vary and complement what he had shown of the Two Rivers and Andoran cultures.

As part of this read-through, here’s a general survey and a map of the nation of Shienar, where the great hunt to retrieve the Horn of Valere begins.

Sources used for the survey are mostly The Great Hunt, The Eye of the World, The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, with additional information taken from The Path of Daggers and Knife of Dreams.

Sources for the map are described in the ‘About the map’ section.

Shienar's Geography:

Shienar's territory forms nowadays the north-easternmost nation of the Borderlands, guarding the passage between the Mountains of Dhoom and the Spine of the World known as Tarwin's Gap that leads northeast and eventually back into the valley of Thakan'dar and to Shayol Ghul, and from which massive invasions from the Blight can threaten Shienar and the continent.

Set below the meeting point of the two massive mountain chains, Shienar is a very hilly region, with large forested areas. Its one export product highlighted in the series so far are fine, precious woods, worth enough to be transported on river boats to the south.

To the east, Shienar is bordered by the Spine of the World. Two Stedding can be found in the mountain chain in this area, Stedding Qichen and Stedding Sanshen. Their exact locations in the Spine are unknown, though they stand farthest north of all the Stedding in the Dragonwall, and are only a few miles apart from one another. A third one, Stedding Shooloon, is on the territory of Shienar itself, again at an unknown location. Ogier are familiar to Shienarans, and very much respected among them. To the extreme southeast are the Niamh Passes, giving access into the Waste and through which the Shienaran suffer recurrent raids by the Aiel. The Eastern Marches are protected by the city-fortress of Ankor Dail, its exact location unknown but likely watching over the Passes, and near the Erinin.

To the north, Shienar is bordered by the Blight and the Mountains of Dhoom, where the nation of Malkier used to stand prior to its fall in 955 NE. The Seven Towers and the Thousand Lakes are located about a day's travel, perhaps 10 leagues or less, north of the city-fortress of Fal Dara – Lan and Moiraine made camp in front of them on their way to find the Eye of the World. Where the border of Malkier used to stand, Shienar has a defensive cordon of watch towers that extends from west to east are placed about half a mile apart. Those towers are equipped to give alarm to the fortresses night or day, using mirrors and sunlight, or bonfires.

To the west, the border between Shienar and Arafel stands at the river Mora that takes its source northwest of Fal Dara. On the Mora, some leagues southwest of Fal Dara, is the small village of Medo, an important trade point for the city-fortress as the Mora flows down south into the Erinin, the main trade route to Tar Valon and the South. The Amyrlin's party disembarked at Medo on its way to Fal Dara. On the return's journey, at crawling speed and with the short travel days it made, the Amyrlin's party took several days to reach Medo from the city.

To the south, the border of Shienar extends to the river Erinin, that takes its source in the Spine of the World near the Niamh Passes and sharply turns south below the border of Kandor and Arafel. The Erinin marked until around 700 NE the border with the now collapsed nation of Hardan. Scattered villages, unattached to any nation, remain in this area.

Two major roads connect the city-fortress capital of Fal Moran at the heart of Shienar with Tar Valon to the southwest (ending in the village of Daghain) and with Shol Arbela to the west, capital of Arafel. The city-fortress of Fal Dara, fief of Lord Agelmar Jaghad, stands north and slightly east of the capital, near the border (for discussion of its position, see the 'About the Map' section below). Beside those two cities and Ankor Dail, guarding the eastern marches, we know of the city-fortresses of Mos Shirare, Camron Caan, Fal Sion and Fal Eisen - fief of Lord Kayen Yokata - all of them currently not located from the text or the existing maps. Rand in The Eye of the World implied there are several more city-fortresses on the territory of Shienar. All those cities are likely to have dependent villages all around them, close enough for the inhabitants to seek the protection of the city in time of crisis. It is unknown, but somewhat unlikely at least in the north and east, if there are many scattered towns and villages far from the city-fortresses. Ingtar's passed very few settlements on their way to the Erinin. All major cities in Shienar are city-fortresses. Most of them stand on high hills, with a good view over their surrounding area. All of them are high walled, with many watch towers, and a perimeter of half and mile and more around the city is cleared of trees and covered with grass kept at ankle-depth, to prevent sneak attacks by Shadowspawn.

Shienar Parallels:

The nation of Shienar and its culture owe in general ways to various northern cultures, both European and Asian. Variations on its high peaked roofs that so impressed Perrin, for instance, could be found in comparable eras in most Nordic or semi-Nordic areas dealing with heavy snowfalls, from Canadian traditional homes to traditional farms in rural Japan. Shienar is one of the first nations fleshed out by Robert Jordan has he developed the series. It is closer to medieval culture than any of the other nations in the series, which are almost all inspired by early modern 17th and 18th century cultures. Geopolitically, it can be compared in some ways to the fortress cities of early Northern England, facing fierce raids from Scottish clans. But Shienar is also deeply inspired by medieval Japan, which adds an exotic touch to its more western elements. The Japanese touches can be seen in the starkness and severity of the culture, in the highly formal and ritualized social relationships, in the highly hierarchical yet united society and in elements such as the women's apartments, the beautiful but forcibly small and precious gardens in fortresses, the topknots and warrior ethos, in the warrior-lords' love of short formal poetry very similar to haiku, their love of simple and formal beauty, simple harmonious lines, sparse but perfectly positioned decorative elements, like a simple flower.

The system used to heat beds by placing a small oven underneath the bed's platform, as described by Rand in The Great Hunt, is fairly similar to the device used to warm people at the dining table during winter found notably in old rural Japan.

The names of many characters from Shienar are Japanese sounding and inspired, like Togita, Shinowa or Yokata, with additions of northern Chinese and Mongol elements – names like Changu, for example. First names, especially of Lords and ladies, follow different patterns.

Shienaran History:

The current nation of Shienar was born out of a province of the High Kingdom of Artur Hawkwing. The name of the province is unknown, but based on other examples (Andor, Cairhien), it may simply have been Shienar.

In the Free Years, this territory was still united with the northern region (which became Malkier in the New Era) as the nation of Rhamdashar, which explains in part the close relationship between Shienaran and Malkieri cultures. These common roots go way back, to early AB, when the territories now covered by Shienar, Malkier, most of Arafel and Kandor were part of the massive nation of Aramaelle. The capital in those days stood at the present location of Fal Dara. Mafal Dadaranell, as it was called, was Ogier built but was razed to the ground during the Trolloc Wars. One of the most famous historical figure from this area would no doubt be the celebrated Mabriam en Shereed (Mabriam’s Day is still a festival, though probably with the decline of the White Tower reputation it seems to have evolved into a feast when women plays tricks on men), Aes Sedai of the Gray Ajah and Queen of Aramaelle in Mafal Dadaranell, who was ta'veren and was highly instrumental in convincing the nations to join the grand alliance known as the Second Covenant or the Compact of Ten Nations, in 209 AB. Mabriam is the only known example of an important female ta'veren, playing a role of 'cultural hero' in her era similar to Artur Hawking’s role as unifier in the Free Years or Rand, Mat and Perrin at the end of the New Era. Shienarans still display nowadays a great reverence for Aes Sedai, and for unity.

The names of four more cities from Aramaelle are known: Anolle'sanna, Rhahime Naille, Cuebiyarsande. Their locations are not known, but the Old Tongue roots of Cuebiyarsande links it to horses, and suggests it was somewhere in nowadays Kandor, that still uses a rearing horse as its national emblem.

Another known historical figure from this area is Lord Mangore Kiramin, from ca. 300 AB, Sword-Bard of Aramaelle, scholar and translator of the Prophecies of the Dragon, and warder to Caraighan Maconar, the greatest legendary Green Sister.

Four nations' rulers can claim affiliation in spirit or more to the Aramaelle rulers: Queen Ethenielle of Kandor, who holds the Sword of the Warrior Queen Kirukan – character of many legends; King Paitar of Arafel, King Easar of Shienar and the uncrowned king of the Malkieri Lan Mandragoran, whose heavy signet gold ring, topped by a flying Crane above a lance and a crown, once belonged to the monarchs of Aramaelle, going perhaps all the way back to Mabriam en Shereed or Kirukan.

According to the RPG book, the nation of Shienar arose fairly early during the War of Hundred Years, as Hawkwing's former governors of the five Northern provinces allied and agreed to the necessity of forming solid and stable nations to face the threat of the Blight. The RPG gives Queen Merean Tihomar as the first ruler of Shienar. While much from the RPG book is subject to a debate on authenticity (though Robert Jordan reputedly provided the background information on nations), this history makes sense in the light, notably, of the ritual of alliance performed by the Borderlands rulers in the Black Hills, which seems to allude to this original and ancient compact between them.

Until around 700 NE, Shienar was bordered, south of the river Erinin, by the nation of Hardan (the capital, Harad Dakar, stood just south of the river. Ingtar's group passed its location in The Great Hunt, The Hunt Begins). According to Lord Ingtar, the scattered villages in that area resent Shienarans for refusing to extend their protection to the area south of the Erinin, but unlike many southern nations which seek to expand beyond their effective reach, the Borderlands can't afford this sort of territorial expansion.

Though its history links it with the four others, Shienar only became in truth one of the Borderlands in 955 NE, when its northern neighbour and virtually sister-nation Malkier fell to the Blight. The exact impact on the nation of Shienar of the fall of Malkier is a bit speculative. Surely they faced much increased Blight activity, and probably had to strengthen and expand their defences and alter somewhat their way of life - but how much is not known. It is highly doubtful the city-fortresses and their surrounding villages date only back to the fall of Malkier. Perhaps the cordon of watch towers in the north, however, was added in that time.

Shienar often faces Aiel raids in the eastern marches near the Spine of the World, and they seem to concentrate mostly around the area of the Niamh Passes and the city-fortress of Ankor Dail. Masema fought the Aiel at Ankor Dail, and Lan also fought them in the eastern marches before the 'Aiel War' (in his youth, before 976 NE). The exact purpose of these raids is unknown, though Shienar being heavily wooded, it's possible the Aiel raid this area for wood instead of establishing trade relations. But with the Aiel, it could also be for ‘sport’.

Shienar committed 29,000 men under the leadership of Lord Agelmar Jaghad to the Aiel War ( that spanned late 976 to early 979 NE, though most nations joined it only toward the end). Lord Agelmar, accounted one of the four living Great Captains of the Westlands (the fifth, Pedron Niall, is now dead), was originally considered by many nations for the position of Captain-General of the Grand Alliance, before King Laman opposed this and opened the can of worms that lead to a system of rotating military leadership, in the last days of the war.

In late Adar 998 NE, Shienar faced, and with the somewhat unwitting help of Rand pushed back, a massive invasion from the Blight in Tarwin's Gap - such as had not been seen since the Trolloc Wars.

In 999 NE, around the time the Dragon proclaimed himself in Tear and following the return of Hurin the Sniffer to Fal Moran with news of what had truly happened at Falme, extremely uncharacteristic riots and unrest erupted in Shienar and Arafel, but abated fairly quickly.

In early winter 1000 NE, with the Blight going uncharacteristically quiet (which we learned later in the series was an order of the Dark One), King Easar Togita joined the other Borderland rulers in a formal pact and expedition south to meet the Dragon Reborn, with massive armies at their backs. At least two of the city-fortresses' Lords, Agelmar Jaghad of Fal Dara and Kayen Yokata of Fal Eisen, accompany their King.

At the time of Knife of Dreams, the Bordermen rulers were now about 50 miles northeast of Caemlyn, advancing south with the blessing, even at the urging, of Elayne Trakand, who wanted to use their presence as a false threat to unite the Houses behind her.

King Easar is presently without an Aes Sedai advisor, but not by choice. His advisor, the Green Sister and ex-Tuatha'an Aisling Noon, obeyed Elaida's orders to return to the White Tower. She was part of the expedition sent to deal with the Black Tower, has been bonded by the Asha'man Arel Malevin from Logain's faction and is now part of Rand's entourage. With Kiruna Nachiman, sister of King Paitar, Aisling is in a good position to help Rand solve or at least understand the Borderlands rulers' "situation". Relationships with the Tower have been more strained since Elaida tried to pressure Easar, who answered with a letter essentially asking her to stop her meddling. Many readers have surmised that relations between the Borderlands and the Red Ajah are nowhere as good as they are with the Reds' bitter rivals, the Green Ajah, a more natural ally to them.

Shienaran Culture

The Shienaran nobility, used to live communally atop one another all their lives in their fortresses, have developed a culture of extreme civility that must ease the burden of living all the time surrounded by other people. They are also a very formal people, another way of creating some artificial distance between each other and preserving their intimate space. The nobles do not indulge in the power games and conspiracies of the Game of Houses, out of necessity - with the Blight so close the nation can only survive through their unity in defending it - and because in Shienaran culture everybody has a place, a role to play, and a deeply ingrained respect for leadership and for a chain of command. The nobility of Shienar and the Borderlands in general is a true nobility of the arms, a real warrior elite. The socio-political system seems feudal or quasi-feudal, with lesser Houses (for e.g. House Shinowa) owing allegiance to higher Lords ruling the city-fortresses and owing allegiance in turn to the King in Fal Moran. Shienar is reputed for having the best heavy cavalry in the Westlands. These soldiers are known as Lancers. They are well-trained, fearless, used to hardship, respectful of authority and very disciplined. The character Uno is probably the archetype of the Shienaran Lancer.

Without this tightly united nobility, devoting their whole lives and efforts to the defence of the villagers and the city-fortresses, without the warriors serving them, without the people ready and able to take arms at need in support, Shienar – especially the Blightborder region - could not survive. Yet for all the formality and hierarchical society, the relationships between classes seem more symbiotic and less marked than they are in many nations of the South: the common folk feed, dress, arm and supply the warriors and the nobles who devote themselves to their protection and a mutual respect between the classes seems prevalent. The concept of nobility in the Borderlands has not declined into the parasitic and oppressive forms found in nations like Cairhien or Tear.

The hierarchical nature of Shienaran society is also reflected in men's and women's relationships. Shienarans are forced to live in a man's world centered on defence and war, and their dominance there seems balanced by a greater role women play in organizing social and family life, seeing to marital alliances and to running the affairs of the Houses. Marital alliances play a central role in Borderland culture, strengthening the bonds not only between the Houses but also between neighbours. King Easar's third son is wed to a daughter of Queen Ethenielle of Kandor and more of her kin (either of a brother and/or two of her sisters) have been married into House Togita.

This inter-relationship between men and women, one of the most harmonious in the series, is reflected well in the positions of Shatayan - the woman who runs the Keep but is so much more than a head housekeeper, and the Shambayan, the man who acts as 'head butler' as well as secretary and aide de camp and sometime advisor to the Lord - but the Shatayan can also be an advisor - the King's is at his side when he meets the other Borderland rulers. Men and women in Shienar are courtly and formal to one another.

In this world of men and warfare, an enclave of 'normality', with an illusion or perhaps more properly a veneer of a more peaceful and softer world has been created in the fortresses for the women, where warfare and even men themselves cannot intrude without invitation, and where the younger children are raised. At an indeterminate age, boys join their fathers to live in the men's apartments, probably when it's time for them to begin their warrior training.

The symbiotic relationship between men and women, between nobles, warriors and common folks, King and retainers as well as the communal way of life of Shienar is well reflected even in their communal bathing pools, where everyone, once naked and devoid of the trappings of the warrior, noble woman or servant, stand as equals. This also shows that the enclave of the women's apartments has nothing to do culturally with prudery, let alone with the oppressive seclusion of harems.

This idea of symbiosis, harmony and balance in Shienaran culture is also present in their beliefs and rituals. They send their dead naked back into the embrace of the Mother, the earth, the land, that gave them birth. The ritual, like the baths, seems to be the same for commoner or king.

The Shienaran are said to value three things above all: Peace, because the war against the Blight is unending; Beauty for the ugliness of the Blight it must face, and Life, for the warrior faces certain death down the road.

The other major value of Shienarans is honour. The nobility in particular cherishes honour way above material wealth, which they demonstrate very little of, especially in comparison to their southern counterparts.

The emblem of Shienar is the Stooping Black Hawk on a field of five alternating horizontal stripes, first sky blue than white. The sigil of the ruling King is also considered a national emblem; King Easar of House Togita's is a White Hart.

Map of Shienar

About the Map:

The map of Shienar was developed using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, from a pen and charcoal sketch and a scan of my own over-sized reproduction of the 'big map'. It follows mostly two sources: the map of Shienar and the Borderlands found in The Eye of the World and the 'Big Map', both by Ellisa Mitchell, completed and amended with information from the text of The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt. Beside substantial but in the end unimportant differences in the exact positions of rivers and mountains, Mitchell has positioned Fal Dara differently on her various maps. On the big maps and the maps made after them, Fal Dara is positioned north or slightly north east of Fal Moran, and below the opening of Tarwin's Gap. On her regional map, she positioned it slightly northwest of Fal Moran, well west of Tarwin's Gap. The scale and therefore imprecision of the 'big map' excuses this, but from the description in The Great Hunt, the regional map is the correct one: First, the Seven Towers are almost straight north of Fal Dara and well west of Tarwin's Gap and secondly, we know from Rand's description that the road to Fal Moran, taken by the refugees going to Fal Moran, isn't beyond the South Gate (by which Rand and co. arrived, and by which the Amyrlin's party arrived and left) but beyond the King's Gate, which is between the South Gate and the East Gate, by which Rand saw Lord Agelmar lead his troops out of the city to Tarwin's Gap. Though my map tends to follow the layout of the big map, I shifted the position of Fal Dara on the map to the position shown on the regional map.

I added a road to the village of Medo, to the south east of Fal Dara. This is the one taken by the girls and the Amyrlin's party. Egwene describes this road as going south and veering west. The location of Medo on the Mora is speculative. By instinct and looking at the distance covered (Ingtar, at near full speed and making long days reached the Erinin in the same time) I was tempted to place the village closer to the Shol Arbela road, but as it is the centre of the Erinin trade for Fal Dara, closer to the source of the river and the city made more sense - and Egwene speaks of the crawling slowness and short travel days of the Amyrlin's party. The roads going north east from Fal Dara and Fal Moran are speculative, but based on Rand's description of a main Gate to the East, at least a dirt road exists and probably larger than this, to allow troops to travel east to Tarwin’s Gap. Another road/path leads north of Fal Dara toward the manned border Towers. Years ago that road would have lead to the Seven Towers.

I have positioned Ankor Dail near the Niamh Passes, for it protects the Eastern Marches and faces recurrent Aiel raids.

The stedding aren't located on the map. Two, just a few miles apart, are in the Spine of the World in this area, and one more is 'in Shienar'. The area is so forested it can be anywhere, really.

The decorative elements show the national emblem of the stooping black hawk, as well as White Harts, in reference to King Easar's sigil.

The scale is established from transposing that found on the World Map. Thanks to Weird Harold for help with this. The scale is a general reference only and shouldn't be taken as too precise. There are, for example, differences of up to 50 miles between geographical features between the regional map and the 'big map' - and it is much worse than this with the maps from the 'Big White Book' not done by Ellisa Mitchell. When exact distances aren't provided by Robert Jordan in the text, it is best to consider those calculated from maps as highly approximate.


Fanatic-Templar said...

Crude or perhaps more aptly just a tad more ‘generic Fantasy’ in its world building [...]

Tell me about it. I know I complained about it back in the Wotmania reread of The Eye of the World, but the spontaneous bits of Old Tongue the Shienarans use seems to be nothing but a remnant from it's literary equivalence to Gondor and Minas Tirith.

I know that they have a bit of a traditionalist streak about them, but this seems to very much go against the Shienaran preference for uncomplicated adornment.

I would expect random Old Tongue from southern nations, really. In nations like Tear, where nobles are expected to learn it, I might see nobles using Old Tongue in otherwise normal sentences as a touch of condescension or arrogance, which would lead to a habit of rote memorisation of certain passages or terms much like we have in English vis-à-vis Latin (or other languages, in this case French.)

But this doesn't seem Shienaran at all.

Linda said...

Yet the name Shienar is derived from Shinar, ancient Babylonia, which is mentioned in Genesis 14. The Tower of Babel was built there. In the Book of Daniel, the Israelites were taken to Shinar; just as Moraine took the five Emond’s Fielders there.

The name has something to do with the plot, but not much to do with the 'flavour' of the culture RJ developed for Shienar.

Contrast that with Cairhien with its many 'Sun' references: Court of Sun King, Land of Rising Sun and Cairo. Yet I feel the Shienar culture, while it has some generic fantasy elements, is more interesting than Cairhien - which is clumsier and not that well realised.

You're right, RJ got a lot better in later books. TGH shows more of his earliest writing.

Unknown said...

I agree that Shienar is more interesting/less clumsy than Cairhien. Everyone constantly talking about the Great Game, how much they play it, etc. feels about as subtle as a sledgehammer at times.

I find the geography of Shienar is interesting with regards to the fall of Malkier only about 50 years ago.

Probably the fact that the eastern border with the Aiel had been hostile meant that they were quickly able to adapt to a suddenly hostile northern border.

Also, the fact that Tarwin's Gap is likely the only feasible way to move an army from Shayol Ghul means that they would have some hope of logistically holding the northern border.

Love the maps by the way, keep em coming!