Friday, July 17, 2009

The Shadow Rising Read-through #18 - The Mirror has many faces: The Structure of The Shadow Rising

The Mirror has many faces: The Structure of The Shadow Rising

by Dominic

Toward the beginning of this read-through, I mentioned that I not only I loved The Shadow Rising, but I also admired the writing of this book.

To situate you a bit, I hold the opinion that Jordan's writing has kept improving over the years, and I separate this from certain problems he (debatedly) ran into with some story lines in the later part of the series. His prose, the depth of his world building, his mastery of his themes have however only improved with each book for me.

The Shadow Rising marks a turning point, the moment when the secondary story lines stopped building up through each book to a reunion with the main story line in the book's climax - reunion in Caemlyn in EOTW, Hunters and Prisoners meeting in Falme in The Great Hunt, Perrin's group, Mat and Thom, the girls and Rand all reunited in Tear in The Dragon Reborn. From The Shadow Rising onward, the story lines of Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve, Perrin, Mat, Min all became "their own" - in the case of Mat and Egwene progressing in parallel to Rand's story line for a while longer. From this point, they all go their own ways, temporarily grouped or or completely their own, crossing paths as the story demands. It is a mini 'big bang' in the Wheel of Time universe. With this came a massive expansion of the world building and a much grander scope - offering us more 'windows on the world'. It's here that new story telling devices appear or at least become more used, from meetings in Tel'aran'rhiod to Skimming (as soon, Travelling). Communications (and miscommunication), the exchange of knowledge and information, the keeping of secrets all become central themes of the series.

The structure of The Shadow Rising as a novel is a beautiful thing. In the latest 4 or 5 books of the series, the story lines have gained so much complexity, so much depends on what can happen when and what must be delayed or slowed down so all the timelines fit that Robert Jordan obviously had to make a few compromises on the structure of each novel. He did his best to develop each one around some themes, to keep presenting patterns and mirrors, but this becomes less obvious, as events and themes meant to echo one another develop over the course of different novels, but getting the story told had to take precedence. It must also be terribly difficult to juggle the global progression of so many story lines over the course of many books and many years of writing - it's no longer a matter of tweaking up a few chapters to polish up a novel... It's also harder to judge each of the late novels on its own, structure-wise - we've reached the point, a few books ago, where we'll need to reach the finale to be fully able to look back and analyse and appreciate the structure of the build up.

With The Shadow Rising, where the story lines truly begin and progress toward our first 'triple finale', we can fully appreciate Jordan's skills at handling structure and themes. Nearly everything in this book is echoed and mirrored. Let's look at some of the themes and motifs:

A main theme of the book is the return to your ancient roots, in order to find your true path. For Rand, it is a return to his roots both as Da'shain Aiel - Lews Therin's 'children' - and to Lews Therin himself, who makes his first appearances in Rand's mind in this book. It is also a return to the 'original sin' - to the roots of Mierin Aronaille and the creation of the Bore. Rand finds all this in the Glass Columns - who the Aiel once were, how the Bore and the ensuing war nearly destroyed them and how they transformed themselves - and how Rand will have to shatter them and bring another transformation. Rand begins to learn the true price of being who he is. With Rand, this return to the far past is accompanied by another return to the more recent past and the truth about his parentage, about Shaiel and Janduin - the mother who like him gave up her life to prophecy and salvation, the father who led the clans to battle. Rand is now 'officially' orphaned, but he finds a people - a vast family for whom he has to become a father figure as leader (and he begins to learn a father can't always protect or children can't grow up), but for the Maiden he is also adopted as a son, and as a brother. By orphaning Rand, Jordan followed a classic development for the hero in mythology - the type of warrior hero who needs to become a father to a people and juggle the tasks, often contradictory, of protector to his people and their leader in war.

This storyline is brilliantly echoed with Perrin and the return to the Two Rivers, with different aspects and motifs emphasized.

Perrin returns home - a very changed home - and he too takes a supernatural means to get there (the Ways, Rand took the Portal Stone, and then the Glass Columns) and he too begins by witnessing the truth of the far past in an ancient city: the full dangers of the Shadow lay at his feet as he exits the Gate in the mountains (Rand too needs to go down the Valley): the ruins of vitrified, sterile Manetheren - another Waste. Notice also the symbolism of the torched Avendesora, paralleling the necessary 'killing' of the Waygate by the removal of the trefoil Chora leaves...) Jordan even manages to include here echoes of the story lines of Egwene, Moiraine and Mat's: Perrin has to explore Tel'aran'rhiod with Hopper as guide, has prophetic dreams he understands little more than Egwene, and he barely escapes a trap at the Eelfinn and Aelfinn's Tower of Ghenjei. Waking at dawn (echoing Rand and Mat coming out of Rhuidean) he descends the mountains to Emond's Field, where he learns the truth about his family. What was a minor motif for Rand becomes a major and immediate motif for Perrin (a device at which Jordan excels in the way he develops his themes and story lines - minor for one boy, major for the other, an opposition for the third and often mirrors for each corresponding girl): his whole kin is dead. Again notice Jordan's attention to details... Rand finds 'a lost kin' in the book - a half brother - Perrin with his victory finds a distant little cousin. Rand found in the Waste a people he needs to lead through heart-breaking hardships and the Last Battle - an issue complicated by his remoteness from his bloodkin the Wise Ones would very much like to see bridged by making him "know his people". Perrin finds himself in much the same situation: as he emerges as a leader - unlike Rand he doesn't seek a people to lead it in the least - it is all imposed on him (and like Rand, gets a new banner... and a new title of Goldeneyes - a little nod to Rand's solar powers, even though Perrin is Egwene's lunar partner. His final title of Wolf King, the way prophecies refer to him - is also introduced in this book - it is introduced as a love name Faile invents for Perrin) he first loses his parents and has to rise up to the challenge of adulthood symbolically, and to become a father figure to Emond's Field - a motif emphasized by involving him directly with the other boys' fathers, and having to free Alsbeth and Harral Luhhan. This is also emphasized through little vignettes where Emond's Fielders seem to have suddenly returned to childhood, seeking Perrin's approval for every little thing they need to do. Perrin reaches the stage in his development as Hero where he needs female complementarity and give his people a mother too, and he marries Faile by the end of the book - by her return in Lord of Chaos, she, a teenager, will in turn have become the mother figure to Wisdoms and Women's Circles. Where Rand needs to deal with foreign elders: Clan Chiefs and Wise Ones, Perrin needs to rise and accept his place among people who were his own authority figures. Where Rand is distanced from his bloodkin he needs to learn to know as his own, for Perrin the challenge is the opposite, his 'soldiers' and 'children' are all to close to him, the losses and hardships all the more personal and biting.

Where Jordan becomes truly brilliant is that he found find ways to parallel all this in minor mode in the girls story line, developing plot and world building around the same motifs, without being obvious about it. In the hands of a lesser writer, the whole thing might have turned out mechanical - but Jordan achieved all this while offering gripping story lines - Perrin's chapters in this book at not only some of the best for the characters, they are among many readers' favourites in the whole series. And what to say about Rand's emotional trip through the Aiel's past!

Egwene - the future Aes Sedai leader (and here, literally The Mother)- also has her own return to the past by meeting Amys (symbolically at least, this is the first time in millennia) on the slopes of Chaendaer in front of the city built by the conjugated effort of sisters and Jenn, where the last significant moments of the old Covenant between Aes Sedai and Aiel took place (and RJ introduces a mirror: the Aiel warriors followed the guiding of the old Wise Aes Sedai as the Prophecy of Rhuidean is spoken, as this prophecy begins to be fulfilled, the future Amyrlin agrees to become the apprentice to the Aiel Wise Ones). And it doesn't end there... Egwene symbolically becomes orphaned in this book, as her Mother, the Amyrlin Siuan, is deposed.

Moiraine's story line also marks a return to the past. First, The Shadow Rising brings her full circle, to where it all began for her, with Gitara Moroso's foretellings (Jordan would later elaborate on all this in New Spring, where he will again introduce parallels and mirrors to events in the main series by the dozen). Symbolically, Moiraine in this book is a made a novice again by having to go through a ter'angreal which looks just like (no coincidence there) the one the novices enter to become Accepted. Moiraine has to reconsider her past, her decisions and her plans, and face the future and find her true path. Coming out of there, she finally gains Rand's Acceptance, but must accept her path will shortly force her to leave his side, let him fly on his own.

For Elayne and Nynaeve too Jordan has managed to create 'remnants of the past' echoing the plaza of Rhuidean through the Panarch's museum, not literally in a Waste but in what is intentionally described as 'a dying city', full of fossilized animals and objects even from past Ages... and again there's a strong thematic return to the War of Shadow and the Breaking, through the broken access key, through the bracelets and collar to bind a man going mad. And like those objects in Rhuidean which are coveted by Asmodean, those of Tanchico are coveted by Moghedien - the duels at equal strengths between Forsaken and Hero will be paralleled for Rand and Nynaeve in the end - both duels broken by the arrival of a dangerous woman - while Lanfear makes Asmodean prisoner for Rand, the arrival of Jeaine Caide leads to Moghedien's escape. With Elayne and Nynaeve, no prophecy but even their more 'mundane' adventures following the trail of the Black Ajah Jordan managed to parallel or mirror the other story lines. Nynaeve has long been orphaned and had to make herself Emond's Field's mother long ago, and in opposition to Rand and Perrin, her challenge is to learn her 'children' (Egwene and Elayne; the boys too) are grown up, and she needs to let them fly from the nest. This is even completed with a Freudian episode where Elayne, as part of her growing up, in turn tries to seduce her mother's ex-lover, before adopting him as a father-figure. Elayne will become 'pseudo-orphaned' by the next book... and start a story line where she too will need to become a mother to her people.

In the previous post of symbolism, I have touched on some secondary motifs Jordan included: the Tower Coup echoed by the Whitecloaks' raid on the Winespring Inn which represents the Tower in Emond's Field, the flight of the Sitters and Blue Ajah echoed by the escape of Tam (confirmed Councillor) and Abell (the presumed missing seventh Councillor of the village), who go hide in the woods, at the 'Old Sickhouse', the rescue of Siuan and Leanne echoed by that of Haral and Alsbeth. Notice how Perrin having to cope with the death of his parents, strugglea to keep his desire for revenge in check, but using it as a motivator to give him the strength to do what must be done while trying to avoid the trap of obsession, is also the story of one of his foes: Dain Bornhald. If Rand is confronted by the prophecies of Gitara and the story of his mother, Perrin has to face the other side of Gitara's prophecies in Tigraine's evil brother Luc. I have noted how the golden bowl with engraved leaves given by the Maidens to Marin was an echo of Alcair Dal.

An amusing mirror is Bain, Chiad and Gaul versus Faile, Berelain and Perrin. For one trio, it is a story of two women who won't break their sisterly bond and won't marry Gaul, who loves one but not the other, unless he comes to love and marry both. For the other trio, it's two bitter rivals (who will come to almost admire one another - Faile will even point out once they could have been friends) fighting over a man.

Another brilliant aspect is how Jordan was able to offer a new version, largely in mirror, of the Aiel's past in the Two Rivers story lines. For Bain and Chiad, it's not the story of women taking the spear, but seemingly of a distant giving up of their spears to return to motherhood. Gaul is clearly on a path to become a chief - he is Jordan's male version of Aviendha (having related issues regarding polygamous relationships, incidentally - Aviendha fears Elayne won't accept one, Gaul loves only one of the two Maidens), the Aiel thrown among the Wetlanders, re-learning their culture.

Most importantly, we get a great version of the Da'shain's road to the Spear with Aram, which manages to parallel what Perrin is going through at the same time. A brilliant contrast: the Aiel successfully became warriors because they remained a people. Perrin similarly found a new family in Faile and the people of the Two Rivers he has to care for as leader. Aram's story is a sad tragedy. Orphaned savagely, much like Perrin, his beliefs are shattered. Unlike the Aiel of old, he cannot fall back on the other warriors, with their Wise Ones and wives and children - and a new goal in life: protecting those who still follow the Way of the Leaf, the Jenn. Unlike Perrin he doesn't have a new 'family' to protect, but the same burning desire for revenge and becoming a protector. Raen and Ila fail, where Faile, Marin, Bran and the others succeed in supporting Perrin. They reject their grandson - cast him out, and Aram will never find a new family again. Gaul, Bain and Chiad for now ignore their Da'shain, and the weight of culture will make them cast out Aram - he will not find a new kin among the Aiel trio either. He will come to idolize Perrin, seek to emulate him - his only reason to live - but he is a protector without anyone but Perrin to protect, nothing but Perrin and his blinding desire for revenge to live for - and Aram falls into destructive obsession. He will lose his humanity and become the rabid wolf Perrin fears for himself. Even in The Eye of the World, his jealousy of Perrin over Egwene was palpable - he was all too happy when he thought he had seduced her being who he was, and resentful when in the end she went away with Perrin. As Perrin's obsession with protecting and saving Faile grows, Aram will make it his own - ultimately losing his mind, seeing Perrin himself as the threat to Faile and he will turn against the very man he idolized. A very sad tragedy, brilliantly set up in The Shadow Rising, though alas Jordan has struggled a bit with the conclusion of this story line, which was more successful thematically than it was gripping as a story.

I feel I have just scratched the surface of the book and its structure, but this has gotten long already. There are tons more parallels and mirrors found in the book, forming an extremely rich and coherent whole. As the story progresses, Jordan will stay true to this style of storytelling using patterns, parallels and mirrors, but the sheer vastness and complexity of the story to tell will rarely offer him the opportunity to bring a single novel to the point of near structural perfection as he has achieved in The Shadow Rising, where the best of the first trilogy and the best of the recent books met in harmony. It is a most admirable book, all the more for the fact its formal frame with all its mirrors and parallels, the near symphonic declinations of themes through each story line, never gets in the way of a gripping, funny and emotional adventure story. When the series is over, book four of The Wheel of Time might well remain as Jordan's most achieved book, his gem.

1 comment:

Linda said...

Compared to The Shadow Rising, the first 3 books aren't that intricately interwoven. All the symbolism is there from the first, but the 'fine weave' of the plot really takes place from this book. I'm not a one for favourites as you are :) but I find the Fires of Heaven to be just as well structured and I also like Lord of Chaos (which many find contains too many POVs) and A Crown of Swords.