Monday, July 6, 2009

The Shadow Rising Read-through #11- Meet the Sea Folk

Meet the Sea Folk

by Dominic

The Shadow Rising introduces us for good to the Sea Folk culture. Exotic and mysterious even to the Westlanders, they will remain so for the readers, more than the Westlands' nations. We had few POV from Sea Folk to give us real insight in their thinking, and their role in the series is limited, if growing by the end. Was this RJ's intention to keep them a little foreign and exotic for good, or did he plan the Sea Folk to have a larger role only in the series' finale? Or perhaps the role of these seafarers will remain secondary. Sometimes, we are fooled by Jordan's attention to worldbuilding details, for him it seemed that even if a group or nation was to play a secondary role, it was not a reason to shirk on building up their culture interestingly. We know he didn't intend to bring us to Seanchan again, nor to Shara. He's never said we would never visit the Sea Folk Islands, however (we have done so, but all too briefly.. Cantorin under the Seanchan, Tremalking through an Amayar's eyes)... We may know in a few months now.

Despite their small role, Jordan has worked into the Sea Folk culture nearly as many details and intricacies as he did for the Aiel, who played a central role. By The Shadow Rising, most of their culture seems already well established in Jordan's notes (he had much time to let worldbuilding ideas for books 4 and up mature in his mind, during the years he was working on 'the first trilogy', largely in parallel), the details of their hierachy figured and alluded to, if not yet revealed. In fact, the Sea Folk worldbuilding is rich enough that it has made quite a few readers disappointed we never got to see more of them.

An interesting aspect about the Sea Folk is their radically different vision of the era of the Last Battle, derived from their Jendai Prophecy. The Shadow Rising marks a point in the series where prophecies take the center stage: in Tar Valon, where different vision of how to deal with the Karaethon Cycle's events bring down Siuan and raises an Amyrlin from the Red Ajah. Elaida believes the worst of the KC (in her eyes, a 'second breaking') can be avoided, while Siuan and Moiraine believed they could guide Rand through the prophecies. Siuan even refuses to believe Min's Viewings are absolute and unavoidable, and who insists they are just warnings about events she could avert. Moiraine, in The Shadow Rising, seems to believe Prophecies are too obscure and it's better to make plans, rely and implement plans, and let the prophecies fulfill themselves.

In Tear the High Lords are divided on how to react to the fulfillment of the Callandor prophecies - some seing an opportunity to increase their power at Rand's side, others scheming to kill Rand as if it would make everything go away.

In the Waste, we get new dire Rhuidean prophecies, the harshest of all we know. Rand is the Aiel saviour, but also their destroyer. Again, we see some struggle between the Aiel to cope with this, and with their revealed past, but Shaido aside we are presented mostly with strong, fatalistic leaders determined to face what's coming to them and make the best of it.

The Jendai prophecy is different, or at least interpreted differently. The Sea Folk are the only ones in the series who look positively at the arrival of their Coramoor - a cause for celebration rather than fear. They see Rand not as the world's saviour, but as the herald of a new, better Age, that will bring great things to the Sea Folk. They know the world will see chaos, wars among the 'shorebounds', the White Tower broken. - but they look at this as opportunities. The Sea Folk have seen the nations rise and fall, while themselves endured. They knew about the Return, but their prophecy also tells them these fore will be sent away (more than once). They are to serve this Coramoor, but he will bring them glory and riches. From the Sea Folk's perspective, it seems as if the Last Battle itself doesn't exist or is of much lesser importance in the Sea Folk's wordlview than it is for the 'Shorebounds'. If they are to take any part in it, they still have not referred to that.

Interestingly, while for the Westlanders the issue through the series is to cope with the prophecies and learn they can't be avoided, for the Sea Folk the events of the series became an harsh lesson about their own beliefs. Their prophecy brought them united behind the Coramoor, and they thought they could bargain themselves away from the worse... The events in Ebou Dar showed them the price might be much higher than they thought to send 'those who once ruled' away. Rand's orders in KOD showed them they may not hold the best end of their Bargain with the Coramoor, and when they must serve, they must serve. Back home, their islands are thrown into tragedy as the Amayar they had sworn to protect destroy themselves. They drove a very hard bargain with the Tower to agree to help with the weather - their whole harsh attitude toward Aes Sedai may be based on their belief the White Tower is (as their prophecy may imply) broken for good. Once the Sea Folk leaders got involved, we got very far from the friendly cooperative attitude of Jorin, the generosity of Sailmistress Coine... the Sea Folk may learn before the end the Tower's power was broken only to return even stronger... if Egwene has her way, the Windfinders may find themselves linked to all the other channnelers in future, free to serve where they wish - and choose other careers than the one their ability force them to adopt in Sea Folk culture.

The Sea Folk's worldview, how they always seem to focus on the great things the Jendai Prophecy promise them and aren't very cooperative with the 'shorebounds' or concerned with the events there and the Last Battle, has made them grating to many readers. The cultural clash between the Atha'an Miere who focus on the fourth Age and seem to take as granted the victory of the Light; the Amayar who seemed to think either the world was about to end and it was useless to go on, or that it was better to die to avoid Tarmon Gai'don and be reborn in a new world; the Aiel's attitude to the fulfillment of the Rhuidean prophecy; the wide range of reactions to the Karatheon Cycle - and even the Seanchan vision, is always interesting to observe. Prophecies are much more than simply foreshadowing in the hands of RJ, it's at the core of important themes he has developped in the series.

Another interesting point in these two chapters on Wavedancer is the fact Elayne swore (on the honour of House Trakand) to defend the freedom of the Sea Folk from the Tower. It will be interesting to know if Elayne will get involved when and if Egwene presents her plan to tie the Windfinders to the Tower despite how the Sea Folk dealt with her, or if all her frustrating experiences with the Sea Folk will make her forget or break this oath to Jorin.

Jorin's fate itself is an interesting matter for speculation. Jordan loved to bring back minor characters like her - but we haven't seen or heard of Wavedancer since this trip to Tanchico. We may have a clue, though: we know Coine intended to go spread the news of the Coramoor to Dantora harbour in the Aile Jafar (near Tanchico) and then to sail to Cantorin harbour in the Aiel Somera (due west of Falme). It seems she made it to Dantora. But as we know, Cantorin was at the time the Seanchan base. If Jorin returns in AMOL, she may well do so, initially at least, as a damane...

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