Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Great Hunt Read-Through #7 - The Bad Trip

The Bad Trip

by Linda

The Portal Stone symbols in Rand’s mind changed from arrow and circle, which was Rand’s random choice, to wavy parallel lines representing the stone on Toman Head. They rapidly went through thousands of symbols, representing all the lives they saw:

"The Lines that join the Worlds That Might Be, laid by those who knew the Numbers of Chaos…I've never heard it, but there is no reason we would not be born in those worlds, yet the lives we lived would be different lives. Of course. Different lives for the different ways things might have happened."

The Great Hunt, What Might Be
(More on the mathematics of chaos below.) Verin thinks it was a surge of the One Power that forced or pushed them to the Stone on Toman Head. It is interesting that this Stone is the only one that she has been to. They are now on Toman Head and have lost time. For them the trip took a few hours (from noon until about 3 or 4 in the afternoon) which is just as well, since Mat only has weeks to live, but in elapsed time it was about 4 months later. Egwene lost contact with Rand during that time. They must have literally been in those If Worlds.

Verin assumes that Rand made the mistake of trying to do too much.

Was the trip through the If Worlds the Pattern trying to show them the consequences of their decisions and warn them, or the Shadow trying to trap them? Or both: the Shadow set it up and the Pattern took the opportunity? The fact that the Shadow claimed to have won at the end of each of the thousands of lives Rand experienced makes it more likely they were involved, even if the Pattern used the situation as well. Of course, the Pattern may have been warning Rand of what is at stake, what his life means to the world – the Wheel and Creator are fairly keen on tough love. The Shadow may have been softening Rand up so that if he survives the trap he will be despairing and vulnerable to Ishamael’s temptation, which happens three days after they arrive at Toman Head.

Rand’s other lives were:

1 Rand and Tam were killed at home by Trollocs on Winternight.
2 Rand married Egwene, who was an excellent Healer – better than Nynaeve whom she replaced as Wisdom. The Seanchan conquered the mainland. Egwene died of old age (though she should have lived a long time since she channelled to keep Rand’s rotting at bay). The Shadow overcame the Seanchan and invaded the Two Rivers. Rand felt he had been born to fight the Shadow. He was killed by a Trolloc.
3 Egwene died the week before her wedding to Rand. He left the Two Rivers with Tam’s sword, was robbed in Baerlon and went to Caemlyn, where he joined the Queen’s Guards. Elayne married a Tairen prince. The Pattern threw up a lot of false Dragons. Rand’s body rotted. The Seanchan invaded and Rand defended Elayne while Andorans fled. Rand was killed by lightning.
4 Soldier
5 Shepherd
6 Beggar
7 King
8 Farmer
9 Gleeman
10 Sailor
11 Carpenter
12 Aiel

Rand died of rot, sickness, accident, age, insanity, or execution. He proclaimed himself Dragon, never channelled, sometimes Moiraine took him from Two Rivers, sometimes other Aes Sedai did so, sometimes none. Sometimes Egwene killed him at his request; sometimes she was Amyrlin and gentled him. Apart from Egwene, he married Elayne, Min, Else Grinwell or other, as yet unknown, women (eg Aviendha) in other lives.

The If Worlds show the people Rand is closely linked to. They show Egwene’s possible lives, but interestingly, Rand didn’t see anything relating to any of the Forsaken, even the ones he has had close contact with such as Selene/Lanfear or Ba’alzamon/Ishamael, nor did he of his close friends, Mat or Perrin. Yet Mat and Perrin obviously saw Rand in their lives. Aiel Wise Ones experience something very similar when they step through the three rings ter’angreal in Rhuidean. Rand passed the first step of becoming a Wise One, even though he is male.

How the other men fared:

Ingtar realises the consequences of being a Darkfriend from his lives. He insists he walks in the Light and will find the Horn and pull down Shayol Ghul’s power. Later in the book he describes what he saw in those lives:
"Rand, when Verin brought us here with the Portal Stone, I - I lived other lives. Sometimes I held the Horn, but I never sounded it. I tried to escape what I'd become, but I never did. Always there was something else required of me, always something worse than the last, until I was . . .

The Great Hunt, To Come Out of the Shadow

Uno was nauseated by what he saw of his lives.

From his exclamation, Mat appears to have betrayed Rand in at least one life:
"Rand, I'd never tell anyone about - about you. I wouldn't betray you. You have to believe that!" He looked worse than ever, but Rand thought it was mostly fright.

- The Great Hunt, What Might Be

Will Mat? Or will the warning be enough?

Perrin says they have few choices and can’t escape some things. He is resigned to his fate and his ties to Rand thanks to this trip.

Main world symbol

The Portal Stone symbol for the main world is a triangle on its point surrounded by a circle. The triangle represents the union of body, mind, and spirit. Pointing upwards it symbolises fire and male power, pointing down, water and female power. The circle stands for unity, wholeness, the Divine. The upwards pointing triangle within a circle is a symbol of protection and power – the circle contains the power and prevents it from breaking out and doing damage. It was used by Alcoholic's Anonymous to stand for the integration of personality. There is little or no use of the downwards pointing triangle within a circle but it would logically mean in the context of WOT that the true world is the most real, most divine, but the world uses saidar (the female power) and not both Powers.

Chaos Theory

Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics that attempts to describe systems which appear random. Such systems are very sensitive to initial conditions.

Much of the mathematics of chaos theory involves the repeated iteration of simple mathematical formulas, which is impractical to do by hand.

Ishamael refers to chaos theory when he remarks in Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News that small changes can have huge flow on effects - the butterfly effect. Small variations of the initial condition of a dynamic system may produce large variations in the long term behaviour of the system.

Systems that exhibit mathematical chaos are deterministic, and thus orderly in some sense. In a deterministic system, every action produces a reaction and every reaction more reactions in an infinite chain of events. All the different ‘If worlds’ show the variation of events in the deterministic Wheel of Time universe. Completely random events do not occur in a deterministic system – everything is part of the Pattern. This leads to the philosophical question of free will versus the Pattern (a subject of the WOT Eschatology essay), and the ‘If worlds’ show the consequences of the interplay between the two.

The If Worlds haven't been used at all since The Great Hunt, which I think is a pity. Surely they were introduced for more than an attempt at trapping Rand and explaining the theological framework of the WOT world. It could be that they will be crucial in winning the Last Battle. RJ hasn't yet explored the paradox of meeting yourself in one of the If Worlds. The Dark One himself is a paradox as Verin explained to Egwene:

"The Dark One is the embodiment of paradox and chaos, the destroyer of reason and logic, the breaker of balance, the unmaker of order."

- The Dragon Reborn , A World of Dreams

Perhaps a philosopher like Ishamael can turn this to his advantage. Or perhaps Rand and Min can gleam enough from Herid Fel's writings to solve the mysterious answers of the Aelfinn and work out how Rand can win against the Dark One.


Anonymous said...

"The If Worlds haven't been used at all since The Great Hunt, which I think is a pity. Surely they were introduced for more than an attempt at trapping Rand and explaining the theological framework of the WOT world."

Indeed. That part in TGH where Rand gets a glimpse of the other lives just might be my favorite section that Jordan ever wrote. I'd dare say that it was one of the few times when Jordan's prose managed to transcend his more ordinary style and hit something that has a bit of poetic flow to it.

Great work with this blog, by the way. The stuff you guys produce here really makes me want to go back and do a careful reading of the whole series. It's refreshing to see that this type of in-depth WoT commentary exists. All too often I've seen this writer and his work reduced to the worst type of caricature.

- Zach

Linda said...

Thank you Zach. I'm glad you like the blog and appreciate what we're trying to do. We feel there is a great wealth of content in the series to be explored. And we're posting articles on this as fast as we can!

I too particularly like the chapter What Might Be. I'm not so fussed about the earlier chapters in the If World due to the clumsiness of Lanfear's acting. In was very intrigued by the mysteriousness of the sterile If world though.

Dominic said...

Thanks for the comments Zach

On the Mirror Worlds, I tend to think Jordan established them early with the intent of tying them to something in the finale. I have a complete theory on how they are tied to other concepts in the story which I'll post at some point before TGS comes out.

"It's refreshing to see that this type of in-depth WoT commentary exists. All too often I've seen this writer and his work reduced to the worst type of caricature."

I'm glad you think like us on this.

To summarize my opinion on this, I don't believe a writer should be reduced to the quality of his prose. Jordan's could be conventional, ackward in places and he definitely falls into a category of 'popular writers' publishing 'popular works' - stories than are accessible and enjoyed widely.

As a storyteller he shone. His imagination was vivid, his world building skills are often amazing, and he put more layering and details into his work than most. His themes, from the main ones to stuff like 'laughters and tears' may be simple - some more conventional and some personal, but they all ring true. His characters are often ridiculed as cartoonish, but there are reasons why even so many of the minor figures become favourites of some and Jordan could bring any of them to life almost fully fleshed out in the space of a chapter - Tuon on the Victory of Kidron is a shining example of this, the first Cadsuane chapter is another.

I think few writers in Fantasy can use everything at their disposal, from the locations to colours and clothes - to reflect the themes of their story the way Jordan did. The Wheel of Time forms a tapestry as rich and complex as its Pattern, with amazingly few 'holes'.

IMO, popular writers like Jordan are as worthy of being respected, researched and looked into as the so-called 'high literature'. Their work very often generate more passion than 'classics' and passion is a major drive to get involved the way we do here to dissect and analyse the books.

I love to compare Jordan to a modern Alexandre Dumas. They are as 'popular' in their prose and widely read, and both are very long-winded and liked their stories to meander and disgress, and they had the same skills at creating iconic characters.

Alexandre Dumas has attracted the attention of fairly few scholars considering his popularity (though he enjoys the attention of a few excellent French ones nowadays), and he was often ridiculed as 'populist' by the literati of his time. And well... their books have fallen into complete anonymity, while Dumas' storytelling is still enjoyed by the new generations today - and in French at least, even his more obscure massive novels are regularly re published. I would not be surprised at all Jordan's books enjoy a similar fate.

Jordan is too often ridiculed by people who started reading him as teenagers, and who later made the point that they have 'outgrown' him. It's a bit ironic that a lot of those consider his first books the best, when they felt more like a classic 'Hero's Journey' epic for Young Adults, before he had enough set up to make his world explode and turn the series from the standard epic into what he truly envisionned, a giant chronicle that felt as true and detailed as an historical novel.

Anonymous said...

about the bad trip.Here is what I think. Verna was touching the stone at the top while rand was channeling into a symbol near the bottom. Remember the stones are from an earlier age and all that may have been required was touching a symbol and intence consentration. but touching 2 different symbols at the same time! I think it was trying to pull them to both the tomon head stone and to a mirror world at the same time. the fact they survied is astounding

Leyla said...

What do you mean when you say "clumsy acting" by Lanfear, Linda? Do you mean the way she tried so hard to be seductive to Rand? I actually am okay with those chapters because it actually shows Rand thinking "naughty" thoughts, and his reactions to her are pretty hilarious..."He almost shamed himself with a squeak when she touched his spine" is my favorite.

I totally agree with Zach that Jordan's prose hear has a poetic quality. "He was a beggar, and a king."...and it goes on. It actually inspired me to write something of my own! (It's always wonderful when a writer inspires me.)

As for what actually happened when they travelled with the Portal Linda said, it's ironic that Verin said she knew the symbol for Toman Head, but did not suggest using it as his "focus symbol", instead telling him to choose among four others [I think?] He chose the wrong symbol, which took them into a parallel world, and because he held on to the idea of getting to Toman Head, they passed through all the intervening symbols between the one he chose (arrow piercing a circle, the typical symbol for "male") and the symbol for Toman Head.
So when Verin says there was a "surge in the One Power", it's correct, but it's really telling us nothing. Rand had to basically hold onto a vast amount of the Power, for a long time, to get them out of the wrong worlds and to the particular place they wanted.
It was quite an astounding feat by Rand when one thinks about it, really.

As always, brilliant work, Linda!

N.B. Someone brought up how high up on the One Power Level someone would have to be to use a Portal Stone. I would think at least Level 15, because Loial qualified Aes Sedai using the Portal Stones, saying only the "most powerful" could use them. On the female scale, at least, I would guess that starts at just below Forsaken level. However, that's just an intuition. With logarithmic scales, intuition plays a part in estimating.