Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Shadow Rising Read-through #4 - Whirlpools in Perrin's Life

Whirlpools in Perrin's Life

by Dominic

The Wheel of Time series is heavily theme-driven, as much as it is character driven and plot driven. Jordan was an highly intelligent man, who - perhaps like Perrin, the character he thought he resembled the most at the same age - to whom he gave this mode of thinking. The series is built of patterns of all kinds, mirrors and parallels, dozens of shades and variations. Jordan worked his themes, great and small, that way. A writer could develop only a few characters, give them a lot of shades and ambiguities, go in depth with them to explore a few ideas that are the themes of his work. Jordan preferred more simple, more iconic characters - and to multiply similar patterns with variations with a huge cast. Wheel of Time is a series with few answers but a lot of questions - it's no coincidence it often sparks heated or passionate debates about the characters, their decisions or actions - it was built that way. There is not a single important theme in the series that Jordan explored from a single angle. To begin with, there is none which he doesn't explore from the male as well as the female perspectives, in turn in opposition and in turn in combination, reproducing the dynamic of the One Power. And even then, he liked to multiply the POVs and variations on the same themes as much as the story left him the opportunity to. Of course, he rarely ever used a character to explore a single theme - most are involved with a multitude of main and sub-themes, especially the main cast and his large secondary cast. It's often only with the tertiary cast (playing sometimes the part of 'extras' in a movie) the characters have only a few facets to explore, one or a few themes they reflect. At the same time he created all these variations and intricacies that turned the series into this vast tapestry, he liked to bring things down to their simplest essence - much like all these intricate weaves are made of all these flows used in tons of different ways, but in the end they are either of the one or many of the five flows of saidar or saidin,they are either male or female and both come from the unique True Source. It is this way that Jordan could encapsulate the spectrum of human emotional experience into a simple, iconic expression like 'Laughters and Tears', before inverting the movement and offer this theme to us in a myriad of variations, laughters of every sort in opposition to tears, and the two combining into many ways.

Long before he coined the expression in Rand's story line (he gave it to Sorilea, one of his few figures of true wisdom and strength) Jordan started developing the theme with Perrin. Perrin is a character who thinks a lot, and who internalize a lot. He is a characters who has been for many years very conscious of his physical strength, of the dangers he might get into if he lost control of his temper. And Perrin has learned to master this, and found a way to channel his strength and violence into an occupation both extremely useful and extremely harmless: blacksmithing. Reliable, dutiful, thoughtful and responsible, Perrin's fear of his size and strength has made a quiet and gentle man, a bit too quiet, a bit too prone to let others, often less intelligent, careful or appropriate to deal with a situation than he would be, take the lead. Right from the middle of The Eye of the World, Perrin had to put apart what the life and principles he had built over the years. The Wheel needed his physical strength and his violence, needed to show him a time for wolves had come, a time when men would face the most dangerous of predators in Shai'tan, and would face a battle where only one adversary would be left standing - Shai'tan, or humanity. Death, or Life. Perrin needed to go deep in to bring out of himself and unleash the demons he had so well managed to tame and render harmless yet useful. He knows how to shut them off or channel them into a creative purpose, he doesn't know much about using them, controlling them, shaping them to a purpose of destruction.

A very dark, worrying path for Perrin, made all the harder for the isolation he felt, for his introvert personality. For Perrin, there is no normal life anymore. He sees himself as unfit for one, tries to convince himself his duty is to become a predator to the Shadow. And that is a whole lot of 'no fun'. Even early on in the Tinkers episode of TEOTW, Perrin was so caught up with his inner demons he needed to stay focused on the fight, the responsibilities, on keeping his demons under control. Egwene, on the other hand, needed to abandon herself into this oasis of peaceful simple pleasures of the Tuatha'an, both to recharge her batteries by leaving her worries behind, and also to shield herself from all these worries that were beginning to eat her up. When Perrin shattered the illusion and reproach her her attitude and Laughters, all the horrors she had managed to keep at bay returned. Extrovert, Egwene exploded in tears - which didn't really know how to deal with, anymore than he could understand she was trying to grab the little joys she could find while she still could, before she had to return to all the worries and darkness she knew lay ahead of them both. Jordan doesn't judge there. He leaves the reader decide to side with Egwene or Perrin, or to decide there's truth in both their views and attitudes.

By TDR, things have become much worse for Perrin. On the one hand, he has learned to find the inner wolf and unleash it. He has become a terrific berserker figure - a bane for Trollocs, Myddraal and Grey Men. On the other hand, Perrin is more and more aware of the growing bloodlust he feels, and he is shown his perils, with Noam who has lost himself and became a wolf. As it becomes an obsession for Perrin to find a way not to lose himself, he first shuts the wolves off - turn his back on them. And that won't do. He needs to learn to call the wolf at need and hang to his humanity at the same time. And that struggle is symbolized by RJ as Perrin's Axe and Hammer. Perrin first needed to learn to let his violence and strength loose - learn to become a weapon. This was the path of the Axe. He left his old life behind for the time being and took and learned to use the weapon made by his blacksmith master. The Axe is no wood axe, it has a single purpose: to harm, to kill. When Perrin had become the berserker he had to learn to be and became terrified where it would lead him, the Pattern showed him the path - it gave him back the symbol of the man he is, to what represents his humanity: the hammer of the blacksmith. The Hammer is Perrin's hope, Perrin's salvation. It reminds him of who he is and shows him the light at the end of the tunnel: he is still the shaper, the builder, the gentle and thoughtful Perrin. It showed him that when he has learned to master the part of himself he needs to use to face the Shadow, when he reached the crossroads of danger to lose himself into a wolfish bloodlust, it would be time to pick the reminder of his humanity, and to use it to shape and builder when he has to, and transform it into a formidable weapon when he has to.

Perrin reached this point only in Knife of Dreams, but it came with a reminder that wielding the Hammer is not enough, that he must learn control of himself and control of his instincts to know how to wield the Hammer properly - when to destroy with it, and when to use it to shape and build. He ended up killing in warrior frenzy a man who had contributed to saving Faile's life.

Much of the groundwork for these themes was done in The Shadow Rising. While taking the Axe in Emond's Field brought him into the Wilderness ((of Shadar Logoth, the Black Hills, The Blight, the Woods of Shienar and Cairhien, the Mountains of Mist) his path to getting the Hammer marked a return to human civilization and an increased control at keeping the Wolves were they belong - soldiers to help him fight his battles, not brothers to live amongst - which culminates in the smithy in Tear, and his stay at the Stone. Perrin is now about to begin learning his real worth as a man - not only to be a blacksmith or a berserker, but to be a man who would lead and inspire, help shape others into the soldiers of the Light necessity force them to become. His very peculiarity, his connection to the wolves and his eyes, become a source of inspiration through his peers in this book.

In 'Whirlpools of the Pattern' , his first scene in the book, Perrin stands at a crossroads. Afraid of losing his humanity in TDR, he experiences the counterpart here. He has fallen in love with Faile and is afraid of letting himself be a man again, because he can't forget the wolf. He longs for Faile, he longs for the relationship, for the laughter and tears it would bring him (and that he would much need, like everybody) - but he is now afraid to lose the wolf his duty forces him to be, afraid of the kind of future there is for him, and afraid of the harm the wolf might bring Faile - directly, or by letting her be his side and sharing his fight, when he knows he is surrounded by dangers. Much like Lan (whose 'I have only widow's clothes to give my bride on our wedding day' theme is developed this time for Perrin in this book), much like Rand who fears he is some sort of monster, Perrin sees himself as a man unsuitable for any woman, especially for one he loves. He sees rejecting a relationship, sending Faile to safety, as a proof of his love for her. She of course doesn't see things quite this way. Largely for the women in The Wheel of Time, it's a matter that the Shadow is as much their enemy as men, that they have to see their loved ones face perils, and face losses, and they're not about to let men that fear their emotions make the decision for women just to spare themselves the pain of losses, the fears of loved ones in danger. And it's never black and white, Jordan preferred to multiply the perspectives and let the reader judge.

At The Shadow Rising begins, Faile has realised her infatuation with Perrin has turned into love - but she is afraid of committing herself without being sure he loves her back - which of course he's not about to admit, considering his thoughts to send her away. Faile is no fool. She has realised by that point in how much danger she stands being near Rand, and that the price of loving Perrin might be high, the risks to herself great. She isn't yet ready to embrace his cause and tests the waters to convince him to come away with her, but once he will open up about his duty to stay and play his part(a concept she respects, culturally), she will weigh the pros and cons and make her decision that she will stand at his side no matter what - and there will start all the problems, as for the same reasons Faile opts to stay at his side, Perrin wants to send her away.

At first, he wants her safe, and then he will want to spare her pain when he decides to go to the Two Rivers to give himself up for his crimes, sparing retribution to his people. There is no place in Perrin's views for a woman to share his fight at his side. Perrin has put aside 'laughters and tears' - he has hardened himself, started defining himself by his duty alone - and to distance himself from 'normal life'. A lot of men in WOT see things like Perrin and Rand: they are what they are, and their mission is to fight and protect. They see as futile and dangerous pretenses the attempts at living a normal life through all that - dangerous because they fear they may not be able to leave normalcy behind again when they have to if they return to it before it's over. Most of Jordan's women disagree. They do not see the point of all those sacrifices if it's not to be able to live fully what little is left to them of 'normal life' - the joys and the pains. For a Saldaean woman like Faile, there is no 'normal life' to have if you don't take all these little moments of peace to build yourself one, normal life is to fight the Shadow, to go on living with the Shadow as a permanent threat - it's part of her puzzlement and sadness with Perrin, that he can't seem to see these moments may be the only moments of a normal life they could ever have. For Perrin the price of enjoying it and risk losing it - and to risk bringing pain and sadness to a widow, is perceived as too high. For Faile, it's the price of missing out on laughters and joys to avoid loss and tears which is too high.

Interestingly and unsurprisingly, the characters who manage the best to balance their duty and 'Laughters and Tears' are the warrior cultures with great experience of war and loss: the Aiel, the Shienarans, the Basheres etc. For the others, especially the peaceful Two Rivers people, such issues come as a shock they struggle to cope with as they can, especially the men. Jordan will also introduce one of his most balanced and serene love relationship in this book, with Amys, Rhuarc and Lian.

The Bubble of Evil must have fed on Perrin's ongoing thoughts : it enacts all his fears - for himself, for those he loves, and it ends inches from killing Faile... because Perrin had decided to push her away from the fight and where he thought her safe - and that is when the axe nearly got her. That's only the beginning of this storyline, and a pattern that will culminate (for now) in the events of the Battle of Malden, where Perrin's plans (that is, his fateful decision to trust Galina) will be what almost causes Faile's death.

There are also seeds for interesting mirrors introduced in this chapter. To go along the Faile vs. Berelain story line that will soon begin, Jordan put with Perrin and Faile Bain, Chiad, and Gaul who longs for one and not the other, and their insistence that if he wants one, he will have to love them both. And this is a very good example of what I mean by RJ repeating the same motifs in variations. It is present everywhere in TSR: Lanfear and Ilyena, Elayne and Egwene and how they meet Rand together, Elayne and Aviendha who sees her feelings for Rand as a betrayal of Elayne's friendship because she's convinced Elayne wouldn't accept to share Rand with her the Aiel way - we even get a fairly different version in Elayne's flirt with her mother's old flame Thom. And of course there's also Moiraine and Nynaeve and their little duelling over Lan, and Egwene that both Galad and Gawyn love.

The Shadow Rising Read through #3 - On the Sharp End of a Dilemma

On the Sharp End of a Dilemma

by Linda

Suroth restored order six months prior to the start of The Shadow Rising and sent information to the Seanchan Empress. She has all but a handful of vessels under her control and has taken over the Sea Folk islands in the west.

The power of Seanchan is built on controlled damane. Suroth was forced to raise a sul’dam, Alwhin, to hereditary servant of the Blood because she knows the secret of sul’dam. Such a promotion is unprecedented. At this time only four "still live" who know that sul’dam can become damane (eventually), therefore Suroth has had others killed (sul’dam?) who know something. Suroth no longer trusts sul’dam and yet she has to, and to use them. Suroth would like to kill Alwhin and the two ex-sul’dam, Renna and Seta, but she doesn’t dare and Alwhin is aware of it. Suroth needs them as evidence and witnesses. She cannot trust this dire news to messages or messengers, but must deliver it personally and secretly. If the Empress learns of the news that sul’dam can become damane before Suroth tells her Suroth will be killed. In Knife of Dreams, Liandrin kills Alwhin because she thinks this will please Suroth. It will be interesting to see the repercussions now that Tuon knows about sul’dam and investigates the claims. Alwhin’s death could now count against Suroth.

Suroth thinks Aes Sedai control Rand and so she can do the same when she captures him and finds out how. She wonders whether Rand really is the Dragon Reborn and tells herself he cannot be. Therefore she was not one of those Darkfriends at Ishamael’s meeting in The Great Hunt, Prologue. While Ishamael didn’t tell them who the Dragon was, he did talk about the Dragon while showing the Darkfriends images of the three boys. Suroth would have seen Rand fight Ishamael in the sky above Falme, or seen a drawing of the fight. And will she give Rand to the Empress or not? A big question for Suroth, but it turned out to be academic.

WOT's publisher wins Locus' 2009 'Best publisher Award'

Congratulations to Wheel of Time's publisher Tor Books that won Locus' Best SF/Fantasy Publisher Award for the eleventh year in a row, a testimony both to their consistency and their central place in American Science-Fiction and Fantasy. With the launch of Tor.Com, a wide-ranging community site devoted to SF and Fantasy at large, Tor Books is more present than ever.

An imprint of MacMillan Books, Tor is still presided by its founder Tom Doherty. It's home not only to Jim Rigney's works but to many of the best writers' in the genres, from veterans like Gene Wolfe to rising stars like Brandon Sanderson. It has also enjoyed collaborations from some of the best artisans in the field over the years, from Harriet McDougall Rigney to the late Jim Baen.

Tor author Paul Melko also won the 2009 Locus Award for Best First Novel, for Singularity's Ring

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Shadow Rising Read through #2 - What Might Have Been: Contingencies and Design

What Might Have Been: Contingencies and Design

by Linda

Like Moiraine, Siuan takes no account of Rand’s abilities or judgment:

“Burn him!” Siuan barked. “By now, he could be dead! I wish he had never heard a word of the Prophecies of the Dragon. If I could keep him from hearing another, I would.”
“But doesn’t he have to fulfill the Prophecies? I don’t understand.”
The Amyrlin leaned back against her table wearily. “As though anyone even understands most of them! The Prophecies aren’t what makes him the Dragon Reborn; all that takes is for him to admit it, and he must have if he is going for Callandor. The Prophecies are meant to announce to the world who he is, to prepare him for what is coming, to prepare the world for it. If Moiraine can keep some control over him, she will guide him to the Prophecies we can be sure of - when he is ready to face them! - and for the rest, we trust that what he does is enough.”

- The Shadow Rising, Seeds of Shadow

Had events allowed them to follow this plan it would have been disastrous. The 'prophecies they could be sure of' would be the Tower's consensus view of certain prophecies and therefore far too predictable, and easily betrayed by the Black Ajah. There is not enough time left for Rand to show them he is 'ready'. There are important players Siuan and Moiraine knew very little about at this time – the Seanchan, Forsaken, Black Ajah and Aiel – and they knew nothing about Tel’aran’rhiod. Their lack of knowledge is considerable to the point of ludicrous and it was arrogant of them to think they 'knew better' than Rand. Siuan and Moiraine didn’t dare trust the Pattern enough to keep Rand alive. At best, they were planning on treating Rand as a young Warder. In reality, Rand cannot trust them to keep him alive. Moiraine and Siuan didn’t even understand the significance of Perrin and Mat; that it is three ta’veren acting together, not one, who will win against the Shadow, which means they had no idea of the very basis of the Wheel's Pattern for winning against the Shadow.

If Egwene or Nynaeve had not left the Tower back in The Dragon Reborn, they would have been captured and interrogated and possibly stilled when Siuan was deposed. Certainly they would be unable to do their part. If Min had done what she wanted and left for Tear after reporting to Siuan as Moiraine commanded, she would not have been there to help Siuan, Leane and Logain escape and wouldn’t have met up with Rand either.

In The Shadow Rising, Decisions, Rand says he was born to fight the Dark One and fulfil the Prophecies. Lanfear says he doesn’t have to, that prophecies are only the sign of what people hope for. This is similar to what Siuan says. It sounds like projection in the Jungian sense. It might be a lie, and then again considering how the Pattern has been taking no chances with Rand, it might not.

Late in the book, Moiraine tells Rand that Prophecy is most dangerous when one tries to make it happen (The Shadow Rising, Traps) and that even Rand cannot hold it then; the pressure explodes the Pattern. Yet making Prophecy happen is what she and Siuan planned to do, and what she tried to do in Tear by urging Rand to declare war on Illian. When Rand drove Callandor into the Stone and went off to Rhuidean he was following the Prophecies. Does this count as 'trying to make them happen'? It was successful nevertheless, as when Mat followed the prophecies of the Aelfinn. Perhaps the subject of a prophecy has the right to follow prophecy, but no one has the right to force their interpretation of a prophecy on another.

Elaida failed miserably in Prophecy Interpretation and Applications 101. She is convinced Rand will destroy Andor and that Andor must be kept whole because of her Foretellings. She wants to dispose of Rand herself because her Foretelling of Rand bringing division and strife for Andor will wreck her Foretelling about the royal line of Andor being the key to defeating the Dark One and consequently thwart her ambitions to control/influence Andor and thus the Last Battle. She thinks the Tower would only watch and guide the three ta’veren when they should be disposed of. Presumably she means killed. If Elaida hadn’t concentrated on Andor because of her Foretelling she might have been Amyrlin 10 years ago instead of Siuan. Happy thought.

This scene shows the critical role of choice in prophecy. Both in whether to follow it or not, and also in how the prophesier presents and interprets the prophecy.

What is often overlooked is that in all kinds of prophecy, the prophesier participates in the prophecy:

  • by their interpretation,

  • by whether they tell anybody of it and who they tell,

  • by how they tell of it, and

  • by their actions.

As we see here, Foretellers participate in their prophecy through misinterpretation, who they choose to tell, and by their subsequent actions. Elaida is a classic example of a seer who closely participates in her prophecies. She is certain that her interpretation of her Foretellings is correct, although they could be interpreted in other ways. She is also notorious for keeping her Foretellings to herself (thus losing the chance for objective discussion and proposal of alternatives) and for using them for personal advantage.

A prophet should take more care in their prophesying. As much as a follower of prophecy should.

The Shadow Rising Read-through #1- Seeds of Shadow... and of so many other things

Seeds of Shadow... and of so many other things

by Dominic

Those who've known me for some time know I not only love but admire The Shadow Rising.

I was told about The Wheel of Time on an unrelated message board, during a discussion of various themes I liked in fiction and how I had a weakness for the really long series with a lot of details and complexities that make a secondary world feel like real history, and a huge cast and many, many storylines - and how alas no Fantasy writer seemed to write a kind of Fantasy version of War and Peace, or better yet, like Alexandre Dumas' fun historical novels, his more intricate stuff like the third volume of the Musketeers (the 1300 pages one that got split into several volumes in English) or Joseph Balsamo. Alas, the person who urged me to read The Eye of the World, while being dead on with this recommendation, failed to mention there was a kind of massive three books prologue before really getting there. I've struggled to finish TEOTW, multiple attempts over a year or so. I didn't quite like it enough to go on, but the prologue of TGH stacked at the end of my edition - a prologue extremely reminiscent of Alexandre Dumas' opening to Joseph Balsamo (where mysterious members of a secret society are summoned to meet their Grand Master in the isolated ruins of a gothic castle) made me curious. As I hate not to wait the next volume because it's not in store, I picked TDR too at the same time. That was a good thing, because if I have a lukewarm opinion of The Great Hunt now, I was really annoyed by it the first time around, and would not have bought TDR... but since I had it already.... The Dragon Reborn got my hopes again that maybe the person who recommended the series to me was right after all.

And then there was The Shadow Rising. That was at last the series I was looking for. Over a decade later, I still hold book four as one of Jordan's masterpieces. There are many parts of the series I like better further down the line, but as a whole The Shadow Rising is outstanding in many ways. This read-through will let me elaborate on why I love this book so much and why I especially admire Jordan's writing in this one.

For this post, I'll look into the prologue that isn't a prologue, Seeds of Shadow.

Jordan may have decided to call it 'chapter one', but Seeds of Shadow has some of the characteristics of what the WoT prologues would become by the late series, and left behind the style of the first three. TSR is so far the only book that doesn't have a 'real' prologue.

One of the things I love most in Jordan's work is his use of multiple POVs and how he gives voice to very secondary characters at need. I love how he used this device to really expand the scope of the story from the more traditionally 'epic' adventures of the main characters to create this vast tapestry in the image of his Pattern, the chronicle of the end of an era and civilization, accomplished not only by deconstructing the hero persona, bringing it down the pedestal the hero is placed on in classic epics, to enrich it with all sort of more mundane and personal matters that are typical of serials and chronicles, but also through vignettes from all around the world via minor and less minor POV, more or less biased and sometimes conflicting, always very partial (a literary style that is a direct heir to the tradition of the large scope 19th century serials, especially the historical ones, that really made it popular. Over time, it has become very common in many genre literatures, from the international thrillers to Fantasy, and it's a storytelling style still looked down by a lot of the mainstream lit. people). The first three books didn't have this feel so much - multiple POVs were mostly used to drive fragments of a single main storyline forward, even TDR remains a kind of interstitial book for this: it still leads to a reunion of all the storylines in Tear.

Seeds of Shadow makes us dive right back into the surroundings of Tar Valon, and as often in these intros, Jordan takes the opportunity to slip in metaphors and symbolism in his descriptions. In this one, he brings back the metaphor he had used in EOTW, of bridges over water as Spokes and the River has the True Source making the Wheel turn around its axis (the Island itself, the spoke currently in the water is the seventh, the ongoing Age) - and this time he gives us the 'key' to this image right off the bat: people say the Wheel of Time turns around Tar Valon and the Tower is the axis on which Tar Valon itself turns.

The "dark fang" of Dragonmount reaches to the sky and barely casts a shadow on the Island around sunset. Dragonmount is already smoking, a hint of danger and of the Taint on saidin. Dragonmount is fire and earth, Tar Valon is described as aerial and in the middle of water, both are tied through the haunting spirit of the Dragon, both swept by the winds of time on which the smokes of Dragonmount ride. Dragonmount and Tar Valon form together the old Aes Sedai symbol, inseparable, yet apart. These images will return, with complements and variations, as the Last Battle approaches - RJ will evoke them again in the intro paragraph of Knife of Dreams.

Jordan also brings back the image of a fireplace in a hall, which he used in EOTW to create an association between the white-washed Winespring Inn, built on a first-storey of river stones (like an island) and the center of Emond's Field, and the White Tower(completed with ruins nearby and a massive oak tree offering shade, the Dragonmount allusion), where Egwene was born as surely as Rand was born on the slopes of Dragonmount. In Emond's Field, Jordan had the village council of seven (ie: the Sitters) sit and debate of the affairs of their small world in front of the fireplace (the Flame, ie: the Amyrlin). RJ even partially assigned ajahs to these men (it's typical for him to stop one or two elements short, otherwise it would become too obvious and intrusive to the storytelling): grumpy Cenn who makes all sorts of dire predictions (which turn out right, though he's off in his interpretation!) disapproving of everything and most of all the women's leader Nynaeve - and who Bran didn't trust for the top of his Inn, preferring tiles to thatch is the Red, and also a mirror of Elaida the foreteller herself; Bran and his books are the Brown; the old soldier still ready to take up arms at need - Tam the Green); the man who lives out of the village and is concerned with matters of the Wheel...patiently grinding white flour for everyone (Jon Thane the miller, the White), the blacksmith afraid of blood (the Yellow - especially that blacksmiths are associated to magical powers and healing in myth and legends) etc. In TSR Jordan gives us the key to the image of the fireplace in the hall, through a metaphor. He begins by mentioning the Amyrlin as the leader of the Tower and then compares this Aes Sedai power to a grand fireplace in a Hall that one can be proud of but that it isn't the same as desiring to go right through the flames.

One last important image RJ offers us also repeats an allusion from TEOTW, where he has the tiled roof of the Inn reflect the sun. Here the Tower reflects the Sun like a beacon. Combined with the silver and white colours of Tar Valon (used notoriously for Lanfear), Jordan gives us the fundamental association of the White Tower and the city to the Moon, and the Dragon is associated to the Rising Sun, who comes with the dawn, the Prince of Dawn, Lord of the Morning whose light the Moon reflects and perpetuates through the night. Together, Sun and Moon are the essence of the light. It isn't a gratuitous imagery Jordan put in the 'prologue': the Sun and Moon - their complementarity and antagonism, the fact the Moon can eclipse the Sun 'in her anger', the fact the Sun outshines the moon at dawn etc. becomes a central theme of The Shadow Rising, the book in which the 'newly rising Moon' character (Egwene) begins her training as a daughter of the Night to shine in the long night as it's about to set on The White Tower and the World, the book in which solar imagery multiplies even more markedly around Rand (he who comes with the Dawn) while his 'solar god' powers increases accordingly, and he outwits the 'Old Moon' (Lanfear) who would like to reverse the cycle and go back to their youth - when the Sun loved her, but of course she can't reverse the flow of Time (and the Old Moon will soon die, in the city of the Rising Sun). There will come a time when there's only Egwene to bring the Sun's light into the long night as he "sleeps", but for now the Rising Sun is just born - outshining her, Siuan and Elaida. Siuan who wanted to guide the Sun falls down in this book. Elaida, the Red Bloody Moon who pretends to be the Sun is setting herself up for a harsh lesson down the line. Egwene goes on to learn the World of Dreams, somewhat envious yet disapproving of the Sun's Light. A major difference between the two Daughters of the Night is that, as the Sun begins its rise, Egwene has realised the Sun is her brother, not her lover. They free each other, with no resent or hard feelings - no hatred either of the 'solar' goddesses at his side (Elayne and Aviendah), who are her friends. Her path begins in this book in complete opposition to her Shadow's counterpart Lanfear.

In these few intro paragraphs, RJ's prose is elegant and fluid, the allusions have become more meaningful and better flowing with the storytelling, less intrusive. Jordan finally came fully into his style in this book, and unlike many writers enamoured with symbolic elements, he doesn't push them or make deciphering them a sine qua non condition to understand his story, he just repeats them often, uses variations, knowing some of it will sink in with the readers. From hereon, this will become characteristic of the way he uses symbolism, imagery and metaphors in WOT, as a support for some of his themes, another layer of 'the big pattern' the story forms rather than the key to his novels (à la James Joyce or Alfred Jarry, to cite extreme examples).

RJ even managed to make us go back an instant to the Dragonmount prologue, reminding us of how and where LTT died in that chapter. He then echoes the prologue of The Great Hunt with the excellent Min scenes. She is cloaked and hooded among strangers in a great hall, disguised and using a new name and trying to hide her real identity, observing and commenting on the others around while attendants in white roam around (the novices and Accepted, replacing the Zomoran), even comparing the Tower to the Pit of Doom while waiting her turn for an audience with the Leader, seeing all sorts of dire images on the way (and from Siuan she will get all sort of unpleasant and secret orders, like Bors got from Ishamael). Ba'alzamon appeared masked and up in the air, Min will rather see Siuan naked on the ground.

The only irritant for me with the early chapters, even by book four, came from RJ's anxiety over the possibility Tor would be forced to let the early books go out of print that compelled him to clutter the beginnings of his books with 'infodumps' in the POVs bringing the readers up to speed with all that happened before. Thankfully, he hated having to do that and the popularity of the series made him abandon the device as soon as he could. More interestingly, by book four he has become a real master at foreshadowing. He was good enough before, though some of it was too transparent, like all the Arthurian references.

The Min scenes are full of good foreshadowing. There's this reference to men who think losing an hand is a fair bargain to avoid something they deem worse. There are these early references to the fact Egwene, Nynaeve or Elayne could have to face the headsman (later this foreshadowing will focus more and more on Egwene). We have Gawyn rushing into things (like a boar), frightening Min. Jordan will keep building these boar-like (his sigil) characteristics in the book. We get a clue of the Seanchan's return through a viewing that doubles up as a red herring to hide the real nature of the threat Min sees around (while being foreshadowing of the Seanchan attack on the Tower, far away in the future at that point). We have Gawyn mention that he's defeated Hammar, a warder he would kill in the Coup. The scene is also very amusing while foreboding (Min is a good narrator for that sort of things). It may also offer a funny explanation for the origin of Min and her name. Quite the tomboy, Min is forced to train herself to be 'a proper lady'. This calls to mind elements of the plot of the G.B. Shaw's Pygmalion, better known under the theatrical version's title of 'My Fair Lady". Where this becomes interesting is how this play came about. Shaw modelled his tomboy protagonist Elisa on his muse and mistress Florence Farr who also created the part of Elisa on stage (and who also matches Min's physical description, with her short and curly dark hair). Not only was Farr 'quite a number' and a kind of feminist before the time, but she was a member of the notorious Golden Dawn secret society where she was a reputed Seeress, summoning prophetic and symbolic visions. To complete the picture, Farr was also notorious for having shared openly her lover Shaw with other women. Elisa, Farr and Shaw... Elmindreda Farshaw, who learns with amusing difficulties to act the 'Fair Lady'. A very amusing set of coincidences, if they are coincidences (it's also notable Jim Rigney was a theater critic early on).

The POV goes on with the audience with Siuan, who first shows her powers of deduction by puzzling out the threat of a possible Black Ajah takeover yet will remain completely blind to her conclusions later on, fooled by her personal rival Elaida's involvement - and who despite her correct intuitions fails to accept that she won't be able to change the outcome and can only prepare herself for it. It's an amusing mirror of Elaida, who can foretell but interprets everything wrong, yet has the reputation of getting what she wants all too often nonetheless.

Indeed from Siuan we go next to Elaida, in a very neat little scene that paints her as the possible threat to Siuan, re introduces us to Alviarin with veiled clues she may be the most dangerous of the two. Alviarin remains one of my favourite Black Sisters so far. With her, the Black Ajah really got more interesting at last. With the two sections, RJ also finally made AS politics more important to the series, in a version already more polished than the somewhat simplistic notions he could put in TGH - and another point that makes Seeds of Shadows so good is that all those seeds do grow later in the books. Very good use by Jordan of the minor character of the novice Sahra in those scenes as well, preparing the stage for that chill scene of her death where the looming threat to Min and the Tower will suddenly become all the more real and imminent. Jordan carried out this storyline brilliantly through the book, with an amazingly small number of scenes.

From all sorts of new prophecies, Jordan jumps to the fulfillment of a Dream by Ewgene introduced in TDR and that she had rejected as a nightmare sparked by missing home: the threat to the Two Rivers, with the arrival there of Padan Fain and Bornhald. Very nice balance in the Bornhald POV - Jordan managed to contrast him well with Fain's madness and to make him appear almost reasonable in comparison, making his extremism later in the book all the more effective. One more time Jordan introduces a red herring that hides real foreshadowing. He has Fain here mention his interest in Tar Valon, which won't have anything to do with the Tower Coup, but will play itself out in the next book. Nice brief re introduction of the Tinkers in that scene as well.

The chapter concludes with what for me is one of Suroth's best scenes. A device to introduce elements that will play out in the girls' storyline with Egeanin, it is a final red herring about the threat to TV that is actually foreshadowing for something else ('dealing with the Aes Sedai', the Tower attack)that will very likely play itself out in The Gathering Storm. Nice little bit of symbolism, by having the Seanchan hold an island. One element that pleased me a lot with this scene is that Jordan managed to 'turn the Seanchan around' with it, so to speak. While changing nothing to the fundamentals introduced earlier, Suroth is already here a far more polished and sophisticated character, less 'over the top' than Turak in The Great Hunt. Beside introducing the 'mystery' of some dire knowledge Suroth has gained (that sul'dam are all potential channellers) that will be resolved in part here and in more details later in the book, Jordan managed to pile up a great deal of little hints about Suroth and the Return that will play themselves out only later, much later for some of them. He pits them against the Sea Folk already, and has Suroth dismiss them as a non-threat facing damane - a belief that will cost her in Ebou Dar, but also interesting foreshadowing about the possible fate of the Sea Folk raker that would carry the girls. After it left the girls in Tanchico, Wavedancer was heading for Cantorin, straight into Suroth's hand. We all know how much Jordan liked to bring back minor characters - did he intended to bring the Windfinder Jorin back as a damane in AMOL?

The chapter also introduces the Death Watch Guard, and new details about the Imperial system that add much depth and interest to the Seanchan culture already. A sly mention of the Court of the Nine Moons plants the seed for the reader about the Aelfinn's answer to Mat, completing the previous passing mention (probably forgotten by most readers, however - I sure did myself on first read) of the favoured imperial daughter and heir Tuon, by Turak. Jordan also introduced here the notion of something the Aes Sedai must have to control Rand, foreshadowing what Amico tells the girls later. This will even resurface, like so many things planted in The Shadow Rising, as the so-called 'male a'dam' in Knife of Dreams. This scene of course complements Rand's own visit to Seanchan and his keeping of the spearhead as a reminder of a possible Seanchan return (and this 'scepter' will incidentally be destroyed, in Knife of Dreams again, also when the loss of an hand, to spare something Rand sees as a much greater price: losing Min). The Suroth POV also introduces 'the second captured AS' whom Suroth - who has much problem handling Westlands damane - would have liked to keep, but who will end up as an excellently trained damane - Tuon's Mylen - yet another COT/KOD element seeded in TSR. The chapter also plants the notion that the Seanchan believe the Dragon closely associated with Tar Valon. That conclusion will be much strengthened, most likely, by events in KOD, with Perrin (who was with a woman who claims to be the Westlands' Paendrag heir!) seen leading Aes Sedai and Asha'man, and Rand surrounded by both and sending back sul'dam and damane to Tuon. How these seeds will play out in Tuon's mind should be interesting...

This prologue-like chapter 1 was fairly short, but it made an excellent and promising opening, and The Shadow Rising would go on to deliver on all these promises.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Dragon Reborn Read-through #12 : Three Historical maps of Essenia, Moreina and Tear

by Dominic

Map of the Nation of Essenia

(Compact of the Ten Nations Era)

The Nation of Essenia arose at an unknown date in the early centuries after the Breaking of the World and joined the Aes Sedai Queen of Aramaelle Mabriam en Sheered's Compact of the Ten Nations, which came about in 209 AB and collapsed only by the end of the Trolloc Wars, over a millennium later.

The borders of Essenia reached north of the hills above the deep forest known as Haddon Mirk, to the Eastern side of the hills of Kintara and followed the Manetherendrelle (likely to have had another name once it left the territory of Manetheren) south down the whole peninsula on which Illian now stands, to the Sea of Storms

The ruler of Essenia by 209 AB was First Lord Cristol. The political system of Essenia, and whether it remained constant through its history, are unknown.

During the Second Covenant era, Essenia was reputed for its scholars and philosophers.

The nation of Essenia is also remarkable for at least two features still existing on the Eve of the Last Battle. First, the fortress of the Stone of Tear built in the city of Tear a few leagues north of the Delta of the Fingers of the Dragon. Built at an unknown date using the One Power, it was completed either at the tail end of the Breaking or shortly after it. At the heart of the Fortress the san'angreal Callandor was preserved, warded to recognize the Dragon Reborn. The second feature is the unique ter'angreal system that was created on the site of the capital, Aren Mador (present day Far Madding). Known as the Guardian, the ter'angreal prevents channelers from touching the True Source (however, it doesn't prevent the weaving itself of the saidar or saidin, as long as the channeler can draw either from a ter'angreal known as a well. It seemingly can't break weaves and so Far Madding would still be vulnerable from channeling done outside the perimeter of the Guardian. The larger perimeter for men would allow female channelers to surround Far Madding and protect it from a false Dragon, while preventing them from channeling too near the city. We do not know, however, if the different perimeters of effectiveness was a goal of the builders or the result of natural differences between male and female channeling.)

The circumstances that led to the building of the Guardian are a mystery, nor is the exact date of its making known. That it predates the collapse of Essenia is however, virtually certain, if only for the technological knowledge involved. Some readers of WOT have suggested it may have built only around 335-6 AB, as a result of a crisis sparked by the rise and depredations committed by the infamous false Dragon Raolin Darksbane, a native of the city, perhaps following a failure from the Tower to bring him down rapidly. Others have suggested the ter'angreal may have been built by Aes Sedai around 209 AB, perhaps as the price Essenia asked of the White Tower to agree to join the Compact of the Ten Nations. Other theories include its making by the same group of channelers involved with the placement of Callandor in the Stone; another has the ter'angreal made during the Breaking to protect a city that has not survived, and it was later found and installed in their capital by the Essenians - and yet others have suggested the Guardian was the result of an early bargain with the Eelfin. It was also suggested the ter'angreal dates back from the Trolloc Wars only, and was meant to protect Aren Mador not from Aes Sedai but from the Dreadlords. Hopefully more information about Guardian will come in the last books or, failing that, with Harriet McDougall's Wheel of Time encyclopedia, to be published once the last book of the main series has been released (the manuscript is presently due one year after the publication of the last WOT book, dixit Harriet).

A culture that don't hesitate to stand up to the Tower with some confidence, by forbidding channeling altogether if not the presence of Aes Sedai themselves, is typical of both Far Madding and Tear in the New Era, and with the Guardian Far Madding has the means to enforce this law strictly. It is unknown in which era since the Breaking this cultural trait arose, though as it is prejudices shared by the whole region, these attitudes against channellers may well date all the way back to Essenia or at least the Trolloc Wars, when between the Dreadlords and the betrayal of Manetheren by the Red Amyrlin Tetsuan the Aes Sedai's reputation got seriously harmed.

Beside Aren Mador and the city-fortress of Tear, the name of a third Essenian city has survived: Desande. The location of this city is unknown. Too many possible locations for a big city exist to really guess, but a logical location would be facing the Eharonin city of Dorelle Caramon. Dorelle Caromon was later rebuilt as Illian, however it probably had to stand on the western side of the river (unlike Illian which stands on the eastern bank), as it marked the border with Essenia (the historical maps, however, are a little imprecise). The Ogier rose Groves and created Waygates near both Tear and Aren Mador.

Map of the Nation of Moreina and the south-east area

(Free Years Era)

By the end of the Trolloc Wars, the nation of Essenia had collapsed and its territory gave birth to five new nations, possibly out of what used to be provinces or districts. Khodomar got a fairly insignificant portion of Essenian land situated above the river Irallele. The nation of Talmour covered what is now the heavily forested area of Haddon Mirk. A well-known historical figure from Talmour was Rogosh Eagle-Eye, a hero of the Horn who had this incarnation in the times of Hawking. Esandara formed in the area of the hills of Kintara, around the location of the old capital of Aren Mador, and included parts to the north which later belonged to Andor. Fergansea covered the land from the Manethrendrelle to the Erinin, including the whole plains of Maredo. It was bordered to the West by Shiota.

The nation of Moreina was a monarchy, its capital and seat of power was Tear. Late in the War of Consolidation of Artur Hawkwing's High Kingdom, the High Governor of Moreina declared in his favour and surrendered the nation to him. It seems likely, though it's so far uncorroborated by the series or Guide, that the High Governor of Moreina first toppled the last monarch of Moreina before declaring the nation for Hawkwing, unless perhaps the last King of Tear had fallen in FY 943, as the False Dragon Guaire Amalasan conquered Moreina and besieged the Stone, if unsuccessfully.

Map of the Nation of Tear

(New Era)

According to the RPG book (RJ apparently provided its authors with the historical information about the New Era nations), the Nation of Tear was born around FY 974, at the end of the War of Hundred Years that followed the death of Hawkwing and the collapse of his High Kingdom. Tear was apparently formed by a group of lords from the area led by Lord Istaban of House Novares and the Lady Yseidre of House Tirado. Power struggles within the group led to the establishment of the Council of High Lords as the ruling body of Tear. The High Lords themselves choose who among the Lords or Ladies of the Land are powerful enough to be deemed a High Lord/Lady and join their Council. At any given time, there has been between as few as six or as many as twenty High Lords. While constantly scheming between themselves, the High Lords are keen to hide these cracks and weaknesses lower Lords might use to advantage: all decisions of the Council are presented as unanimous, the Lords of the Land are reduced to applying these laws. The rule of the High Lords is very harsh (not necessarily compared to similar real life societies in the 17th-18th centuries, but by Wheel of Time standards) , exacting massive taxes from the common folk, and resorting to torture, which is forbidden in the more socially advanced nations, like Andor.

The modern successor to Essenia and Moreina is bordered to the north by the forest of Haddon Mirk, in which the nation of Mar Haddon used to stand in the New Era until its collapse at an unknown date. The area has been completely reclaimed by the forests and today Haddon Mirk is very dense and without roads and paths.

To the west, Tear has reclaimed over 20 Leagues of the Plains of Maredo from the FY era nation of Fergansea. North of this area used to stand the kingdom of Maredo, its capital Far Madding. All that remains of Maredo nowadays is the city-state of Far Madding. To the south, Tear is bordered by the Sea of Storms, its capital Tear standing on the eastern bank of the Erinin, some leagues north of the delta of the Fingers of the Dragon . To the east, on the Bay of Remara and facing the peninsula on which the City-State of Mayene is situated, stands Tear's only city beside the capital, Godan. Further north, the eastern border lies along the Spine of the World.

Jealous of their power over trade, the High Lords forbid any Lords of the Land to build communities bigger than manorial lands and villages. Along the banks of the Erinin, they forbid anything but small fishing villages, to avoid any competition with their Erinin trade. Their deadlock over Tairen trade is complete with their control of the roads leading east to Illian and north-west to Far Madding, and their grip on passage of the Fingers of the Dragon, which under Tairen law must be passed with a Tairen pilot aboard, on pain for ships that don't comply of being forbidden of ever docking in Tear again. Tear also used to control trade over the Erinin with the Sea Folk, as much what comes south on the river from Tar Valon, Cairhien and Andor as what went north. The city of Godan is allowed to thrive as a competitor and a threat to Mayene. Stallions of Tairen stock, raised on the High Lords's domains and on pastures they own outside the capital, are prided and fabled over the Westlands and another trade good of the nation. Tairen carpets, with their Tairen maze motifs, are also prized.

Most of the population of peasants are little more than serfs on the manors of the Lords of the Lands and High Lords, not enjoying any possession of land or much liberties. Their living conditions are harsh, the laws of the High Lords given them few rights while excluding the nobility crimes like rape or murders of the peasantry.

Like the other nations near the Spine, Tear is fairly hilly to the East. The North and West are a major agricultural are of the Westlands, on which grain is produced. Grain is stored in granaries in the capital and traded through the High Lords. To the south and east of the city there are major Olive groves. Another major activity in Tear is high sea and river fishing. A few leagues east of the City, through the eastern gate known as The Dragonwall Gate, an old Waygate can be found in the area where the Ogier Grove used to grow, before it was razed down. The Ogier were not the builders of Tear, but have been hired frequently for repairs and various buildings. There are also four Portal Stones on the territory of Tear, one of which is also near the old Ogier Grove east of the City.

Above the city of Godan in the Dragonwall stands Stedding Shangtai. Stedding Jenshin is situated north of Haddon Mirk just above the river Irallel.

Tear is very inimical to the small but prosperous City-State of Mayene, mostly over Mayener trade in Oil from fish (these Oil Fish are likely whales), cheaper than Tairen olive oil. As whale oil is not favoured for cooking, it's probable much of the Tairen oil is also destined to the lighting markets. In 998-99 NE, Berelain Paeron su Paendrag was was kidnapped and held hostage in the Stone of Tear, in an effort by the High Lords to bring Mayene to its knees. Berelain was freed by the conquest of Tear by the Dragon Reborn, who also forced the High Lords to sign a treaty with Mayene and hire her fleet to carry grain to Illian.

Tear and its western neighbour Illian have long been fierce enemies. In recent years they have gone through two wars between 957 NE and 976 NE. By late 998 NE, another war was looming, after Sammael took over Illian as Lord Bren while Bel'al took over Tear as High Lord Sammon. If rumors comported by Tairens traders is true, High Lord Sammon planned not only a war with Tear but also promised one against Tar Valon. The enmity between the two nations is deeply rooted, and they compete on the oil market. According to Tairens, there is a lot of Illianer pirating against Tairen ships on the coast of the Sea of Storms. Giving the state of relationships between the two nations, these could well be privateers.

At various times in the New Era, Tear and Cairhien have sought to extend their respective territories north or south, have claimed land and have warred over it, without ever being able to keep control of these areas for very long. There were also wars between Andor and Tear. These were not very likely to have occurred over territorial claims, however a likely casus belli could have been Tairen control over the Erinin trade in the south, for instance over the taxation of Andoran trade goods or some discriminating measures against Andoran traders in Tear harbour Andor fought to have lift.

The Stone of Tear fell in early 999 NE, with the coming of the Dragon Reborn and the Aiel and the fulfillment of important prophecies of the Karaethon Cycle. With his coming, Rand has seriously undermined the power of the High Lords, making them equal of the common folk under Law, banning torture and forcing them to lift inhuman taxation measures. Rand then freed Tear of its tyrants' grip by sending most of them North to oversee distribution of Tairen grain in Cairhien ravaged by the civil war. This was originally seen as an opportunity by the Tairens who browbeat the Cairhienin nobility and sought to establish domains in Cairhien. Coming back from the Waste with a massive Aiel army hunting Couladin, Rand put an end to Tairen hopes in Cairhien, which lead to a revolt by several High Lords who took refuge in Haddon Mirk. Rand was able to gain the support of one of the rebellious High Lords, Darlin of House Sisnera, who became his Steward in Tear. The rebellion came to an end in 1000 NE, with the help of Aes Sedai Rand sent to Tear to negotiate. The rebels have accepted to put an end to it if Rand agreed to let High Lord Darlin be crowned King of Tear. It is a sign of the depth of the High Lords's resent of Rand's rule of Tear and despair to see an end to it that they chose to raise the High Lord he has favoured above themselves as King.

The nation of Tear is largely based on the Spain of the Conquistadors and the Spanish Inquisition. Jordan spiced it up with a sub-tropical climate and vegetation like bamboo and fig trees with overtones of South-East Asia, likely inspired by his experience of Vietnam. He was far more successful in his east-west cocktail with the Tairens than he was when he mixed French and Japanese cultures in TGH to create Cairhien, avoiding this time to mix illogical cultural traits, like French Baroque attitude and tastes with the Zen dominance of Togukawa Japan. In Tear, he avoided such clashes, rather picking Asian elements that don't clash with the European, Spanish inspired, culture in Tear. The Dragon Reborn may thus mark the point where RJ really began to master his world building, which only got better from there, the cultural elements that differentiate each nation becoming more subtle and believable, staying away from the weird, slightly schizophrenic cocktails such as he had done for Cairhien, in my opinion still the weakest of all his invented cultures, though he was able to broaden and correct its introduction in The Great Hunt a bit as the series developed.

In complement to this post and in conclusion to The Dragon Reborn Read-through, we publish The Nobles of Tear, documenting the various Tairen Houses, their members and their deeds up to Knife of Dreams. This article was newly researched and written by Linda in March 2009.

We have reached the end of our The Dragon Reborn Read-through for 2009, and with it we have also reached the end our the Thirteenth Depository's 'recap'/expansion of the Read-through activity we had begun on Wotmania last year. From The Shadow Rising and onward, each Read-through will last at least two weeks, mixing general book commentaries with posts on themes/symbolism/parallels. We expect to begin with book four of the Wheel of Time early next week.


- You're welcome to leave comments about this post below, or to use The Dragon Reborn 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 Dragon Reborn? Send them to 'Ask Zemaille' and the librarians will do their best to answer it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Dragon Reborn Read-through #11- Rand: What Must Be

Rand: What Must Be

by Linda

I suppose this is a good time to take stock of how far Rand has developed in the first three books. Character-wise, he is indeed wiser and a lot less naïve, but understandably a lot less trusting, and perhaps less kind, as well. The psychological assault on Rand: sleep derivation, threats and assassination attempts have taken their toll. Of necessity he has started to harden himself, but it is nothing compared to what he will be like at the end of book 6 or book 11.

Having met quite a few more women than he would have in the Two Rivers, and having been forced to make a drastic career change, Rand no longer wants to marry Egwene, nor she him.

His channelling developed little until Tear. It was always instinctive; perhaps only luck, perhaps leaked knowledge already being ‘provided’ by Lews Therin. Rand doesn’t know, and nor do we. But we can suspect. A duel with his archenemy Ishamael may well have aroused Lews Therin from wherever he slumbered in Rand’s psyche; early in the next book, The Shadow Rising Lews Therin ‘speaks’ openly when Rand is confronted with Lanfear.

It is interesting or indicative that Rand’s first act of channelling was to Heal or protect and not destroy. RJ was careful to have Rand channel a fair bit before providing him with a teacher. He would not want Rand to seem too dependent on a Forsaken. In 2007 I wrote an article for Wotmania which charted the onset of Rand's Channelling and it is now released here in the Reference Library.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Dragon Reborn Read-Through #10: Mat, from Inn to Inn

Mat, from Inn to Inn

by Dominic


Jordan offered us a first POV of Mat in The Dragon Reborn, Mat freed from the taint of Shadar Logoth. For obvious reasons, he couldn't introduce this character's POV during EOTW or even less TGH, when it was certain to make him appear very unsympathetic and annoying.

I wouldn't even say more unsympathetic and annoying for me, as it's not before TSR and even more TFOH that I sarted to like the Mat character and find him somewhat funny (later 'very funny' - and hilarious once Tuon joined his story line, though I'm a even bigger fan of the humour surrounding Nynaeve). The POV in The Dragon Reborn was something of a shock, as it turned out Mat was even worse than how the other characters saw him: self-centered, obsessed with riches and money (and even after all the woes it caused, he is still musing on getting back the ruby from the Shadar Logoth dagger to sell it), lazy, judgemental and always keen to see the bad sides of other people first (and often only), immature - altogether grumpy, whinny and cutting to others and by a long shot a worse travelling companion then any of the girls to each other. The list of his annoying sides early on could be long, some perhaps aggravated by the Shadar Logoth taint - like his extreme suspicion, especially of Aes Sedai and Rand. Many people blame Egwene for the distance that has grown between her and Rand, but it is Mat in this book who turns his back to Rand, even to their friendship, with the most vehemence, while all the rest of the Emond's Fielders will struggle with much at times, but will always strive not to abandon Rand and not to lose Rand al'Thor behind the Dragon image. For Mat, it goes from 'best friend' back in Emond's Field to 'a nice enough fellow, but who could be friend with a man like him?". It's amazing how Jordan was able to turn the character of Mat around over the course of the series. He's still a bit of all that, but along the way his true valour, his true heart as well, started showing and his bad sides started becoming sources for humour. He is among my favourite characters now.

In The Dragon Reborn, Mat's journey truly begins after the 'false start' of Shadar Logoth. A counterpart to Perrin, Mat became in this book a major player, with his own story line. As I mentionned in an earlier post, in this book the focus of the Inns shifted to the two secondary ta'veren.

The Tremalking Splice could refer to many things. Much later in the series, Mat would seal the Sea Folk to Elayne and Nynaeve. He would also have unpleasant encounters with ropes and nooses. This could eventually refer to his thread in the Pattern and dying and living again. But my favourite way to interpret the Inns' name is that it heralds the beginning of Mat's journey, and his belief that he is escaping 'everything': the Aes Sedai, his destiny as ta'veren etc. In truth, he is escaping Siuan Sanche yet tying himself to the Pattern even more strongly - going back to Rand and Moiraine, to the underworld of the Finns that would bring him to Rhuidean. This Inn where it begins also sees the true emergence of Mat's Luck. Mat thinks he's cut the rope, but it's only for it to be spliced and hold him much stronger.

The Woman of Tanchico is an interesting one too. In the Dragon Reborn, Mat is merely beginning to assemble around him the people who would become his companions/followers. Mat is a trickster and like many gods of war, a kind of Carnival figure, able to twist the odds around him, turn the world upside down. By the Last Days before Tarmon Gai'don in Knife of Dreams, he will have gathered around him the strangest crew of characters of the whole series, people in the oddest situations, who aren't what they seem to be : an imperial heiress and a figure of Judgment turned into a 'thieving servant', a lady's maid who is actually a lethal assassin and bodyguard, a motherly Innkeeper playing matchmaker and almost an accomplice to Mat's 'lively' character who is in truth a very serious Brown Ajah Aes Sedai scholar who burned herself out, sul'dam caught in a wagon with a bunch of Aes Sedai forced to be 'grateful' and obedient to Mat, a gleeman who was in truth lover to a Queen long ago, who has quite a few assassinations on his book including one (Galldrian) that sent a whole nation into chaos, a Tairen thief-catcher who's becoming quite good at freeing or kidnapping noblewomen, a once naval officer elevated to the Blood, cast out of the nobility and ordered to become a shea dancer if she wants to return to the Seanchan fold, who is in love with her slave who leads her by the nose but who is forced to pass herself out as Mat's girlfriend, a scout who is actually a master thief, the once Panarch of Tanchico now passing for an humble servant in love with a mere thiefcatcher (it should be funny to see the reunion of 'Thera' and Elayne), mini-Mat himself, Olver, a maker of fireworks - displays of beauty for aloof noblemen - performing with a circus and who has turned herself into the inventor of gunpowder artillery - and of course the strange old man with his tall tales who is actually the hero Jain Fastrider in disguise. And that,s without including the odd group of the Band of the Red Hand, with once idle and do-no-good noblemen's sons in top positions. Together, Mat's little carnival was right at home at the circus.

So, who is the woman of Tanchico? First, she could be Amethera/Thera. By the end of the book, Mar will 'recruit' Juilin the thief-catcher - her future mate and saviour. She could be Liandrin, one of the two important Tanchican in this book, though unrelated to Mat. Lastly, and most probably, she is the dual Illuminator/Armorer Alludra, who will cross Mat's path in The Dragon Reborn before joining his 'dark carnival' much later in the series. Her duality might be represented by the two sisters owning the Inn. It is noteworthy that at this Inn Mat recruits his first 'follower' in Thom.

There isn't much to say about The Riverman, unless perhaps it alludes to yet a third important future companion of Mat, Bayle Domon.

The Good Queen, where Mat meets Alludra, is an ironic nod to Morgase who, compelled by Rahvin, is making a mess of everything. It is, beyond that, an allusion to the future Queen of Andor, Elayne, whose ties to Mat begin in this book and would, later, have her label him 'a most valuable subject'. This theme is also carried through at the Queen's Blessing, Mat's next stop. Jordan has developped an humorous running gag around those two, slowly turning Mat into her knight-servant through twisted, amusing episodes alluding to the classical tasks Knights accomplish for Ladies in the Arthurian and French 'courtly love' traditions. It begins by challenging her two champions, her brothers, to a duel. By chivalric tradition, Mat has made himself the new champion of Elayne by defeating in fair fight her two knights. And the parallel continues: soon after, Mat has to brave all sort of dangers on a quest to carry an important message for his Lady: a letter to his mother. From the palace, Mat has to embark on an even more dangerous quest, to go save the Lady for the evil Knight holding her captive in his fortress. And it doesn't end there... Mat later gets charged by the King Arthur figure, Rand, to escort the Lady to safety - an other archetypal task. In Ebou Dar, the stakes are raised, and Mat has to save Elayne by fighting the monster (a dragon image, the Gholam) that threatened her and her treasure. That is all, for now... there is one more very important chivalric task Mat has not performed for Elayne: defending her castle from assieging enemies. But with part of the Band already heading for Caemlyn, let's say this isn't over yet. ;)

The White Crescent may allude to the Stone, a 'fortress of the Moon' or to Lanfear, who set much in motion in this book.

The Golden Cup is an allusion to Mat's Luck, that emerges in this book.

In complement to this post, we are publishing today The Dragon Reborn entry of the Dew Drop Inn: Wheel of Time Accommodation article.


- You're welcome to leave comments about this post below, or to use The Dragon Reborn 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 Dragon Reborn? Send them to 'Ask Zemaille' and the librarians will do their best to answer it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Dragon Reborn Read-through #9 -The Importance Of What Is Important

The Importance Of What Is Important

by Linda

After spending some time looking through the Great Holding of Tear, Moiraine finally mentions Perrin and the possibility he and his companion were in danger to the girls. Egwene wants to know who Perrin’s companion is, Nynaeve wants to know of the danger he might be in.

Moiraine found a Seal unbroken in the Holding and thinks it is significant, more important than Perrin. The three previous Seals were broken. Mat thinks the Seals are not important. Everyone has different ideas about what is important:

“And this time unbroken,” Nynaeve said. “For the first time, the seal is unbroken. As if that mattered, now.”
“You think it does not?” Moiraine’s voice was dangerous in its quiet, and the other women frowned at her.
Mat rolled his eyes. They kept talking about unimportant things.

- The Dragon Reborn, People of the Dragon

Only Moiraine wonders about why the Seal isn’t broken this time and why this time is different to the other times. (A notable difference is that this time Ishamael died.)

Mat asks pertinent questions about prophecy being fulfilled. Are they the People of the Dragon? Moiraine says she wasn’t trying to fulfill prophecies, only to keep Rand alive:

“Perhaps,” Moiraine said slowly. “I came to stop Be’lal from killing Rand. I did not expect to see the Stone of Tear fall. Perhaps we are. Prophecies are fulfilled as they are meant to be, not as we think they should be.”

- The Dragon Reborn, People of the Dragon

Yet in the next book she will try to fulfill a prophecy – that of the city lost and forsaken – and gets it wrong. It takes quite a while before she accepts to leave the Pattern alone.

Moiraine also reasons out that Rand didn’t kill the Dark One and that Ba’alzamon was human, since he left a body. Egwene then corroborates that with what she saw in Verin’s piece of ancient manuscript that linked Ba’alzamon with Ishamael. The women strengthen their resolve to continue the war. Berelain’s message from Lanfear helps.

Most uncharacteristically, Moiraine gives out the information to this small group that Mat is the Hornsounder. Mat assures them they can count on him while privately thinking of doing a runner. The trickster in him is suddenly uppermost.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Dragon Reborn Read-through #8: A Map of the City of Tear

A Map of the City of Tear

by Dominic

About the map of the City of Tear:

No map of the city of Tear has appeared in the books of the series so far. One was however commissioned to Elisa Mitchell (who also designs the books' maps) for the out-of-print RPG book. My map of the city was inspired by her layout, with some changes. The accuracy of Mitchell's map has often been called into question for its apparent conflicts with the books. It was worth investigating further, as there are other obvious errors on the colour maps from the RPG book, for example on the Caemlyn map: Mitchell corrected various problems with the design of the Inner City, as her black-and-white map published in EOTW did not depict it accurately, neither the Queen's oval plaza in front of the palace, nor the streets that meandered on the biggest hill on which the palace is built, up to very close to the palace's walls (as the episodes where Rand and later Mat climb up a slope visible from the street to the top of the wall showed). She also corrected problems with Lower Caemlyn, not depicted accurately on her original map.

However, she also introduced some new inaccuracies: by making the streets layout of New Caemlyn more realistic (and the buildings better in scale - Caemlyn on the original map was mostly empty spaces, parks and over-large buildings, with nowhere near enough smaller buildings for its size and population) she also introduced major errors, for instance she got rid of the straight wide boulevard with a row of trees in the middle that runs from the Whitebridge Gate to the Sunrise Gate (to Aringill), described exactly like this in The Dragon Reborn, notably - and appearing on her original layout.

And what about the map of Tear? Two main points about the map have caused problems to readers, and those who've participated in 'WoT map making' discussions before are familiar with them: the location of the city on the Erinin and the location of the Stone of Tear within the city.

The conflict with Robert Jordan's book begins with this quote from Egwene's POV of her arrival in Tear:

"As the Darter wallowed toward the docks of Tear, on the west bank of the River Erinin." (The Dragon Reborn, Following the Craft)

Mitchell rather located the city on the Eastern bank. However, this isn't a mistake from Mitchell, the error is Jordan's (or his editor's - or he gave Egwene a poor sense of orientation) own in that passage of The Dragon Reborn, as a survey of a few further episodes in the city will demonstrate. To the best of my knowledge, this error has not been corrected in newer editions, though apparently Robert Jordan acknowledged it to some readers at book signings (others say they could not remember if he said the map or the books were wrong, but that he acknowledged the conflict).

The first problem with Egwene's description of her arrival is that it contradicts Perrin's arrival in the same book. Moiraine's group has travelled over land from Illian. If Tear stood on the Western bank, they would have entered it directly through a Gate in the walls. They rather took a ferry and docked in the Maule, the port district, just like Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne (and Mat and Thom) did earlier, which means the city has to stand on the Eastern bank:

The afternoon sun was hot as the ferry docked in Tear; puddles stood on the steaming stones of the dock, and the air seemed almost as damp to Perrin as Illian's had. (The Dragon Reborn, The Hammer)

But how can we decide which description is right between two conflicting ones? There is of course the matter that with Egwene it's a simple editing error, west bank for east bank, while with Perrin it's a major scene construction blunder. Further episodes confirmed the editing error in the Egwene chapter:

In The Shadow Rising, Perrin leaves the Stone through an eastern gate, rides through the city and take the Eastern Gate, travels some leagues to the location of the old Ogier Grove and use the Waygate there. This indicates, of course, that the city is on the Eastern bank of the Erinin, and that Perrin took the road to Godan). Rand will take the same direction with the Aiel later, and reach the Portal Stone.

In The Dragon Reborn itself, there is a further bit of evidence (form a Mat POV), but we'll look at it further down the line. For now, it's established that Elisa Mitchell placed the city on the correct side of the Erinin.

The second problem the map has caused readers concern the location of the Stone within the city. The evidence of its location is clear, but Robert Jordan used 'left and right' instead of 'north or south', and with the erroneous Egwene quote it sparked a confusion.

First, we know for certain that the Stone is on the waterfront and has its own docks on the Erinin. It is thus to the west of the city. But is it north or south?

The most reliable evidence comes again from Perrin's POV. We established he took a ferry on the eastern shore and docked in the Maule, when he further observed:

As soon as the ramp at the end of the barge was lowered, he led Stepper up to the dock after Moiraine and Lan. The huge shape of the Stone of Tear lay off to their left, shadowed so that it looked like a mountain despite the great banner at its highest point. (The Dragon Reborn, The Hammer)

To have the Stone to his left as he led stepper down the ramp, it had to be situated to the North.

Finally, yet another confirmation comes from Mat, in Lord of Chaos. Intent on joining Rand's forces on the plain of Maredo, Mat and the Band are travelling on the eastern bank of the Erinin from the city of Maerone in Cairhien toward Tear. In the episode when Rand visits Mat to tell him he will be diverted by Gateway to Salidar instead, Mat mentions his original intention, which was to reach Tear and take there the ferry to the plains of Maredo. This is again a solid indication that the city is on the eastern bank.

I have not found further quotes to corrobate the location of the Stone (Perrin's and Mat's, however, are conclusive enough), but all the other quotes mentionning directions (in or out of the Stone) are compatible with Perrin's observation that the Stone is at the north-west corner of the city. For example, this quote from Mat's POV:

Whether the thing was a street or a plaza, he had followed it all the way around the Stone since nightfall; the only place it did not go was on the river side, where the Erinin ran right along the foot of the fortress, and nothing interrupted it except the city wall. That wall was only two houses to his right. So far, the top of the wall seemed the best path to the Stone, but not one he would be overjoyed to take. (The Dragon Reborn, Into the Stone)

Mat was within the city walls, more precisely just south of the northern wall, with the wall to his right, as he was turned to look at the Stone.

So, Elisa's Mitchell's basic layout of the city does not contradict the descriptions by Robert Jordan. There are a few details which are wrong and some I have sought to correct on my map:

- Mat clearly mentions (quote above) that the the 'wide plaza' surrounds the Stone on all sides except on the river front, and is interrupted only by the city walls. On Mitchell's RPG map, the plaza stops a the city's wall and doesn't appear on the north side. Rand confirms Mat's description in Knife of Dreams, commenting that the plaza surrounds the Stone on three sides.

It is likely there is some sort of 'low city' on that side (and that this lower city extends quite a bit further from the walls), and there's very likely a street from the Stone to the main north road (Semirhage sent Shadowspawn that way). In doubt, I did not depict them.

- Mat was able to walk the city's walls from rooftops all the way to the Stone and used explosives to create a breach. On Mitchell's map, the city's walls stopped quite short of the Stone's.

- In the episode of Sammael's attack, we have the confirmation that the Stone has its own docks. Mitchell had omitted them.

Another dubious element os the floor plan of the Stone that is hard to reconcile with the books, but the descriptions are so partial I left it as is.

The shape of the Stone may also be inaccurate. Jordan leaves the impression it is more squarish, but it is not fully conclusive.

I found no other obvious layout error (the city of Tear beside the Maule and the areas near the walls and gates is actually never described in much detail), so the rest of the map's elements follow Mitchell's layout.

That leaves the issue of the city's size. There is no scale on the map, but if the layout is accurate, then we can simply take Rand's estimation of the Stone's size ("a square mile of more", in Knife of Dreams, Within the Stone) to guess the city's size at roughly 7-8 square miles "or more". However, this contradicts Egwene's estimate (at first glance) that Tear is "easily as big as Tar Valon" (roughly 8 miles long and averaging 2 miles wide, less near the harbours, more in the south part where the Grove is) "or Caemlyn" (Elayne mentions in KOD that its outer walls run for 6 leagues, so twenty four miles of outer walls). According to Mitchell's layout ans scale, Tear would be significantly smaller than either. It may well be Egwene who, watching the city for the first time from the river, misjudged its size or that for her 'big is big' - or perhaps RJ revised the size of Tear years later, turning Egwene's comment into an error. In KOD, Rand mentions that from the Erinin the Stone reaches all the way to the heart of the city, which, at a square mile, wouldn't quite be the case if the city was as big as Caemlyn or Tar Valon. The description of his relatively short trip riding at a slow pace from a gate to the east to an inn in the city's center in KOD also suggests Tear is smaller than Caemlyn or Tar Valon.

Another possibility is that the 'lower city' outside the walls is considerably bigger to the north, south and east than what Mitchell depicted, as is the case with the Foregate of Cairhien (before its destruction) and the Lower City of Caemlyn that both stretch for some miles.

This map of the city of Tear was one of the first maps inspired by WOT I created, around 2007. I used a watercolour painting for the background, combined with a photograph I made of a blank 18th century book page, and elements inspired by those found in a 18th century Dutch atlas. Everything was composited and finalized using Illustrator and Photoshop.


- You're welcome to leave comments about this post below, or to use The Dragon Reborn 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 Dragon Reborn? Send them to 'Ask Zemaille' and the librarians will do their best to answer it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Dragon Reborn Read-through #7: Three Times Makes True

by Linda

Other Forsaken think Ishamael lies without thought to gain an inch or a second. That’s quite an endorsement coming from them.

Ishamael had hidden himself like a bat above Callandor and hovers in the air above Rand. He is wrapped in blackest shadow; this is probably the True Power. Strangely, he slowly descends hovering. This is an ability we haven't seen before or since. The other Forsaken don't show any such ability to lift themselves off the ground with the One Power. Another True Power manifestation?

In Tel’aran’rhiod, Ishamael sent/made Trollocs and Myrddraal, turned air to soot, made flames, unravelled reality to send Rand into a world of nothing, flooded the halls, changed gravity, turned air to rock, then lava then a vacuum, and made soul-eaters.

He sprang each trap and ran on; what Ba’alzamon twisted to destroy him, he made right without being aware of how. Vaguely he knew that in some way he had brought things back into natural balance, forced them into line with his own dance down that impossibly thin divide between existence and nothingness, but that knowledge was distant.

- The Dragon Reborn, What Is Written in Prophecy

The theme of balance again. Rand and his opposite Ishamael duel. Ishamael wants to upset the balance, Rand to right it. The two are pretty equally matched.

The Stone rings three times as Perrin swings his hammer Thor-like (he is a parallel of Thor) to free Faile.

Ishamael weaves balefire at Rand and Callandor parts the flow:

a blazing shaft like the one Moiraine had made shot out of the shadows among the columns, straight toward his chest. His wrist twisted the sword instinctively; it was instinct as much as anything else that made him loose flows from saidin into Callandor, a flood of the Power that made the sword blaze brighter even than that bar streaking at him. His uncertain balance between existence and destruction wavered. Surely that torrent would consume him.
The shaft of light struck the blade of Callandor - and parted on its edge, forking to stream past on either side. He felt his coat singe from its near passage, smelled the wool beginning to burn. Behind him, the two prongs of frozen fire, of liquid light, struck huge redstone columns; where they struck, stone ceased to exist, and the burning bars bored through to other columns, serving those instantaneously as well. The Heart of the Stone rumbled as columns fell and shattered in clouds of dust, sprays of stone fragments. What fell into the light, however, simply was not, anymore.

- The Dragon Reborn, What Is Written in Prophecy

Neither Rand’s weave nor Callandor was affected by balefire. Later in Winter’s Heart, Aginor expected Callandor to survive his balefiring of the hilltop where Rand’s party were cleansing saidin. A logical conclusion would be that Callandor is made of cuendillar.

Rand sees Ishamael’s black connecting cords to the Dark One:
Black lines like steel wires seemed to run off from Ba’alzamon into the darkness mounding around him, vanishing into unimaginable heights and distances within that blackness.

- The Dragon Reborn, What Is Written in Prophecy

Only Rand’s action in cutting these cords prevented Ishamael, using the True Power, from winning the fight.

Finally Rand kills Ishamael, the Heart of the Shadow, by stabbing his heart with Callandor in the Heart of the Stone in Tel’arah’rhiod. As he lies dying Ishamael still insists the Dark One cannot be defeated. Of course that could be a lie. :P

Both Ishamael and Rand materialise in the waking world Heart of the Stone. All very symbolic stuff. Compare with this verse in the Karaethon Cycle:

Soul of fire, heart of stone, in pride he conquers, forcing the proud to yield. He calls upon the mountains to kneel, and the seas to give way, and the very skies to bow. Pray that the heart of stone remembers tears, and the soul of fire, love."

- A Crown Of Swords, Opening prophecy

And this time, the third time he duels Ishamael, he kills him. The third time something happens or is attempted in The Wheel of Time series it has greater potency or is ‘made true’.

Rand believes he has killed the Dark One (even though Ishamael just finished telling him otherwise) and won the Last Battle. He aims to end the breaking and killing, and not break the nations and the world. With this on his mind, I think one of his questions to the Finns in a few days’ time is about this.

This is the third and last time that all three ta'veren are in one place and have a major win against the Shadow. Do I detect a strategy here?

With the end of The Dragon Reborn, we have the end of Ishamael masquerading as Ba’alzamon and the end of the uncertainty about whether the series would continue. The books become more complex, with (gradually) more explanation about what the Forsaken are up to (though not enough to convince us that the Shadow is way ahead of the Light in the war), and to my thinking, a lot more interesting.