Monday, August 31, 2009

The Depository's TGS prologue Predictions Challenge

It's floating in the air that we may get some new Wheel of Time to chew on soon. So it's time to put your little grey cells to good use - oops, wrong series - I meant hone your Foretelling Talent. Nah, better yet: make a Nynaeve of yourself, hone your weather sense. The Storm is coming, tell us what you forecast by listening to the Winds carrying that big 784 pages hardcover bound storm toward us.

Use the Comment feature of this post to send us your personal three predictions about the TGS prologue, we'll move them to the Predictions Challenge's panel near the top left of the layout (leave us a name/alias to credit!) where you can also find the first entries already submitted. What happens, who will appear, who has POVs, in what nations, cities or homes are we going to land during the prologue, which minor story line will return, what might get resolved, or introduced - anything's good as long as your Wisdom's talent is for now focussed on the prologue itself (we will hold the full book's 10 predictions challenge later this september. Foretellers only for that one!). Expect the Blog Team's predictions soon.

Don't wait too long, the challenge will end with the release of the advanced prologue (should it ever come) and the winner announced a few days later. Unless our resident Wisdom is very much wrong (which has been known to happen, alas - we sometime suspects she's a bit of a phoney who looks at bees and ants and just pretends to Listen to the Wind), that may be sooner than later. And if it's later, more time to predict and discuss the predictions :)).

New edit: Beside your three predictions, why don't you find your little inner-Harriet and try to guess what the real Mrs. Rigney came up with for the title of the Prologue, or part of it? Hint, hint: Winter's Heart - Snow, Crossroads of Twilight - Glimmers of the Pattern, Knife of Dreams - Embers Falling on Dry Grass, The Gathering Storm - ?????

The door to Wotmania closes

by Linda

Well what can I say about the end of an era for me?

When I joined Wotmania in 2002 I was about to return to the workforce after an hiatus rearing two sons. My elder son also joined Wotmania at the same time. He was 12 and became the youngest theory poster ever there. Now he is 19 and studying IT at university. Wow.

I had already made a large collection of notes on the series and had a ranking of strength in saidar. Some months later, Moridin_2000 suggested we write a FAQ around this ranking. I enjoyed that so much I turned to writing solo articles on the research I had done on the board games, a largely over-looked area. Readers recognised go (stones) but not anything about the other games. Like all areas of RJ’s world, they had solid foundations of real world parallels. So did the characters. Lanfear was the one who caught my eye first. Not surprisingly, since she is a masterpiece. (So are Rand, Mat, Tuon, Graendal, Ishamael and Perrin, btw). And this is where Dom came in. He too was interested in the parallels, the world-building, the symbolism, the themes. Our correspondence, started over Lanfear and Lilith, ever since has been long. Very long! But very fruitful. :) Long may it continue!

Still, all things change if they are not to stagnate or go round in circles, and now Wotmania is almost done. At the beginning of this year, Dominic and I had already decided we wanted to do more than supervise the same arguments and argumentors. They had become torments and tormentors to us. We wanted maps, illustrations, better indexing, all the mod cons for the articles. Independence, I guess. Thanks to Larry suggesting to Dom that we should have our own blog like his excellent OF Blog, here we are.

Looking forward, we have many plans yet to enact. Some quite soon as you will see. has been born out of the ashes of Wotmania, and I wish Dr Saidin well in moderating the WOTboard there. And there is the imminent release of The Gathering Storm, bitter-sweet with the reminder of the greatest loss of all: RJ himself.

Looking back, I am proud of our work at Wotmania. Proud of our high viewing rate: over 100 for me, and 78 for Dom, some of the highest rates there. Glad that the best of our stuff will live on here, in augmented and updated form. Indexed and illustrated.

Update: And now it is gone. I invested a lot of myself there; I made many friends there, some happily still in touch, some sadly not. I have amazing memories: of RJ reading our board and commenting on his blog, of Brandon Sanderson visiting the WOTboard, of lunches with fellow wotmaniacs. Where wotmania was in cyberspace there are now links to Dragonmount and to ReadandFindOut. But in my memories it is as it was and aspects of its vintage years are stored here on the blog and on my computer.

Funny, an hour ago I thought I had nothing much to say, that Dom had said it all and more eloquently.

So sad the song, of what might have been, when that moment of truth suddenly arrives...

Fare you well, posters of wotmania. I salute you.

Do you have any theory to share?

Some readers have expressed interest in having us host their Wheel of Time theories. With the recent demise of Wotmania we've also had a few queries about hosting their theories from the Theory Post here.

Well, we've decided to create the Readers' Corner for this.

From now on, feel free to send your The Gathering Storm (and AMOL as a whole) theories to Zemaille, at, and we'll be happy to add it to give it a page and index it in the Readers' Corner.

Here are a few guidelines:

- Please let us know under what name/alias you wish to be credited for the theory. If you have a link to a google account or website you wish us to add to it, let us know explicitly, as otherwise we won't add it (nor publish your email address).

- Both Linda and I are fairly busy people. The articles and the Read-throughs are eating up a very great deal of our time. For this reason, we cannot offer to provide any editing. We will briefly review the theories sent, and publish them as is. Occasionally, we might ask you to clarify something, or to revise spelling etc., but that's as far as we can afford as far as editing go. Theories will not however be judged for content. Others will tell you if they're right or wrong ;)

- The theories need to be developed - and if you can support your points with quotes and examples, all the better. We won't accept one liners and such. You have a theory that Egwene won't be Amyrlin of the united tower,take the time to develop and exlain why you think so. If your theories about TGS are more of the "one line predictions" type, preserve them for now. Very soon, we will hold at the Blog a 'foretelling challenge', first with 3 predictions for the TGS prologue, and later in September we'll start the big one, 10 predictions for TGS itself. We will post our own predictions, and the challenge will be open to everyone (unless you happen to be Jason from DM, in which case you're DISQUALIFIED! Reading the book before everyone else.... sheesh! Oh, and Brandon you're DISQUALIFIED too - you wanted to write the book, you're out, big fan or not (ps: posting your list as Scalzi won't work either. Don't try under Kelsier and such either, we happened to have read your books). And Harriet too, we love you, but you're out of the challenge. Tom, Dot and co. at Tor? ALL DISQUALIFIED. :P)

- It doesn't matter to us if your post your theory exclusively here, or if it's something you've posted elsewhere on a MB and such. It's important that you are the rightful author of the theory, though. In case of problem with this, the theory will be deleted.

- You can also send us old Theory Post entries, if you want to have them here, for old time's sake. They have to be your own theories, of course, not entries by other people. There are no plans to host the Theory Post as a whole here (though someone suggested it), we don't have permission from the authors nor Mike for this, and no intention to seek it. It seems probable, the new site on which the Wotmania communities moved, brings back the Theory Post archives at some later point.

So, theorize away guys and gals. We will add the Reader's Corner panel on the left side when (if?) we post the first submission.

Lord of Chaos Read-through #7: Inn Sights

Inn Sights

by Dominic

A new WOT book comes, and with it its new Inn jokes. Faithful to himself, Jordan managed to include a few funny (well, some are!) and witty jokes in the name of the Inns of the town of Maerone, where Mat and the Band of the Red Hand awaited departure for Illian.

Most of those Inns, and their residents, are tied to the action Mat goes through in Maerone or to elements of his story line. Mat significantly calls Maerone 'a bedlam' (the common name of course derived from the infamous Bedlam Asylum) he begins his tour. In Maerone, Mat finds a world where celebrations and entertainment cohabits with ultimate despair and deep misery, a town of now mixing people from all nationalities, nobles fallen on hard time, rough soldiers, orphans, pseudo-heroes and refugees, in a dark carnival like ambiance. It is one of the scenes from the book which best illustrates the title's reference to the 'Feast of Fools'.

The River Gate, which used to be the town's best inn before the innkeeper let the soldiers get drunk and they destroy the place is (via the association of rivers to the OP) and allusion to mad channelers. The issue of Mat's opinion on Rand's sanity to assemble male channelers crops during the POV.

The Silver Horn is a twisted reference to the Horn of Valere (not in-story, probably - it probably refers to a drinking horn), another subject of worry for Mat during this chapter, and so are the foolish Hunters for the Horn, looking for the wrong things at the wrong place. The Horn, of course, isn't silver, which completes well Mat's exclamation:
His bleak mood held when he left The Silver Horn – idiotic name! – and its innocent-faced singer. (Lord of Chaos, A Different Dance)

The Three Towers is obscure. Perhaps a reference to the Black, White and Ghenjei Towers. Another possibility, given the place features a young woman singing about true love, is that it hides a reference to a Seanchan place only Jordan understood (we do not know, for instance, how many Towers of Midnight there are).

The Fox and Goose is more meaningful. In the series, Goose are associated to the foolish side of nobles (commoners are associated to sheep by Jordan - and by some of his characters, channelers to black-and-white cows, and cats and dogs - though never by the characters themselves. Goose, like sheep, is one of the few metaphors not only Jordan use for symbolism, but which is used the very same way in his universe - the geese often seen in Inn's names are meant as innocent jokes at the nobility's expanse. (The three animals, cows, sheep and goose were also the same taking refuge on the Green during the battles in Emond's Field). The Fox of course is the cunning Mat himself, who has the better of two foolish Murandian noblemen and Hunters in this chapter - saving Olver from them, the young boy that becomes associated to the game of snakes and foxes later on. Mat, who has a long experience of mischief and punishments, funnily outwits Olver at the end of the scene.. following the exact same tactic that Cadsuane will use later to bring Rand to ask her to be his advisor.

There is a reference to a gleeman juggling sticks on fire at this Inn - an allusion to Mat as a Son of Battle and a nod to the fact later on he will contribute turning forms of entertainment (fireworks) into deadly weapons - yet another reference to Mat as a dark figure of carnival.

The Golden Stag, where Mat stays, is the most meaningful name of all. Stags in medieval folklore were heralds of destiny and the underworld - often bringer of prophecies (occasionally, herald of insanity. King Charles VI, Charles the Mad of France's encounter with a white stag in the woods is famous). At the Stag and Lion in Baerlon, for example, Rand learned the first clues about his true destiny from the 'seeress' Min. This symbolic role of the stag is common in Arthuriana and other medieval tales and cycles. In recent culture, a famous and classical use of the stag figure was used by JK Rowling in Deathly Hollows.

At the Golden Stag, Mat goes through an elaborate voyage through his "magical" memories, which he more and more agrees to embrace. In a very nice and very achieved bit of allegory of Mat's destiny as ta'veren (the allegoric meaning underlined very nicely by Harriet's choice for the chapter title, where the connection between dance and battle is made), Jordan had him teach the musicians an old song from the time right before the Trolloc Wars began, which they get half wrong. He drives the young maid Betse Silvin first through a simple pattern of steps, more and more elaborate and intricate as the song progress. This is an allegory of Mat, bringing the world from the peace about to end and into his own pattern of battle, guiding their steps through his knowledge and science as war leader.

The real 'herald' figure from the underworld comes in the middle of the night, startling Mat as such "magical" apparitions do. It is Rand, for one of the first times clearly not totally sane, rambling and beginning to lose control of what he says, like his muttering aloud about the man in his head (it is always fascinating from this stage of the series on to observe closely the great difference of perspectives between Rand's POVs - madman's logic, where he brings us into his own logic and arguments and appears sane enough, and his appearances in other character's POV, where his slipping sanity seen from outside becomes far more obvious). The Stag, Rand, brings his instructions to Mat, setting him on his path to the south and his destiny. It is Rand too, who will send him further, to Salidar and finally Egwene - another seeress, who will get him to Ebou Dar where he will meet Tuon. This scene, where Rand visits Mat in Maerone, is one of my favourite Mat/Rand scene in the series.

A Different Dance also marks the moment in the series when Mat joined my personal list of favourite characters. He has changed so much, his experiences and memories have subtely gained him much wisdom and maturity. From this point, this character becomes fascinating, while remaining funny and witty. While not a huge fan of Olver, per say, I also find his early scenes with Mat very funny and touching, and casting a whole different light on Mat's big heart. Olver is for Mat a constant reminder of his responsabilities, and that he can't afford anymore to act like a child himself, that too much, and too many people, depend on him now. Jordan was very inspired to add Olver to Mat's group this way. There's of course a nice bit of horse symbolism (destiny) there, with Olver who will eventually be accepted in the band of heroes, caught trying to mount the horse of a self-proclaimed hero, and hunter for the Horn.

Overall, A Different Dance is an excellent example of Jordan's magic to turn a chapter where 'not much happens' into great storytelling and literature.

To accompany this post, we're also publishing the Lord of Chaos installement of Linda's Dew Drop Inn, exploring the Inns from the present book.

Farewell Wotmania, Hello

by Dominic

It's not without some sadness that I see Wotmania enter its last day of existence. Tonight - after a long, fruitful life that began in 1998, the site will close for good. I wish to mark the day with this editorial, as a companion to the post made a few days ago by our friend and fellow blogger Larry, the mastermind behind the OF Blog of the Fallen, where the spirit of exploration of the center and barely walked fringes of the worlds of SF and Fantasy that characterized Wotmania's Other Fantasy section in its best years endures (and to which, in both it's OF MB and OF Blog incarnations, I owe the discovery of some great writers over the years, from China Miéville to Borges and Wolfe, to newcomers like Erikson and Bakker, and yes, even Brandon Sanderson).

Around the time of ACOS (I discovered WOT shortly before the publication of The Path of Daggers) I had gone hunting for WOT resources on the Net. These were still the days of the pioneers: Jason Denzel's Dragonmount, Leigh Butler's WOT FAQ, Bob's WOT encyclopedia, Matt's Theoryland and Mike Mackert's Wotmania - the people who built the WOT online community and, in many cases, are still the ones around which it revolves and thrives today.

In circumstances and for reasons that are a bit lost of the mists of time to me now, I ended up attaching myself gradually to Wotmania, going there from lurker or occasional Theory Post replier/debater 'till around the time of Winter's Heart when I've made my way from newbie to full time regular to becoming virtually a staple of the MB and finally I joined my friend Linda as admin in the last years. 9000 or so posts and many years later, here am I.

Wotmania has been for me a place for friendship, and a school in the series' subtleties and layers, a playground for debates and discussions. My knowledge, and even some of my enthusiasm for the series today I owe in part to those years of great discussions and exchanges with the likes of Bob, Mark, Peter, John, Benjamin, Nikky, Marcia, Danny, Brad, Chris - and our lovely grandmother Jo - our elder at 75 yo (who sadly vanished one day and we very much fear has passed) and all the others, too numerous to name here, but you know who you are. These people, that Message Board, have been a great motivator and help to deepen my understanding of the series over the years.

Wotmania is also the place where in 2004 Linda and me met over some discussion of the mythological sources for the character Lanfear, in a thread dealing with what no doubt goes down as the MB's most famous (and Longest) theory, by Light in The Night (it's still wrong though John, if you read this!) - and we discovered our kindred spirits in our approach and vision of Robert Jordan's work. The encounter with Linda, which sparked a flurry of messages between us, was a major turning point, the beginning of a great long distance friendship and an invaluable source of inspiration, a springboard for our ideas over the years. This blog still owes a lot to these private conversations about the series we've had since 2004 - not counting our public discussions, Linda was telling me we exchanged over 500 pages worth of 'private messages' about the series in 2006 alone (hard to believe she found the time to wrote most of the articles that form today the core of our Blog in those years, but productivity and quality, that's Linda in a nutshell :)). Linda, with Chris and others, was largely responsible for handling the reference/FAQ section which remained to the end one of the most valued and respected section of Wotmania - a section whose legacy endures quite a bit here today..

As the saying goes, those were the times. I wish to thank everyone, from Wotmania's creator Mike, to my one-time fellow admin Linda and all the posters from the Wotmania community for all these years of fun, and all their passion. To Jim Rigney, for his surprise appearances shortly before he launched his blog (and which caused quite the stir you imagine! Ah, more good memories) - and Brandon, who right away showed up on the boards with the openness and generosity that are trademarks of his relationship with WOT fans. We would not been here today without all of you.

Of course, it wasn't all fun all the time - and nothing can last forever. Wotmania's owner gradually had to shift his attention to his personal and professional life, and saw his interest in the series decline - the burden of keeping the site alive and kicking passed into the admins' hands (most of which were not involved with the WOT section of the site), which alas had the side-effect of gradually cutting us from Mike's ties to the other WOT webmasters and the creators and publishers of the Wheel of Time, and then the sad news of RJ' long disease and his passing that demotivated and saddened everyone and plunged the MB into an apathy that was a heavy and near impossible burden to try lifting as admins (which, I have to admit, was even a failure), the vicious circles in which some discussion topics have fell over the years and which have alas become way too much a trademark of the MB over time, tiring and finally driving away too many of the best posters. As the continuing efforts and dynamism of Jason and his team were turning Dragonmount into the powerhouse around which much of the Wot community gravitates today (with good cause), Wotmania alas gradually declined and all too often had to watch the train pass through greener pastures.. But let's not delve too much on that - Wotmania has been overall a terrific experience for me, leaving fond memories.

It's with a little sadness (and a tad of guilt) but no resentment, and tons of that rekindled passion and enthusiasm taking on new challenges bring that last winter - shortly before the announcement of the site's imminent end, I took the final decision to move on, joined from the start by Linda, and together we ended up preparing then opening and expanding this Blog (which genesis came about a year before, an idea we owe to our OF friend Larry, which we nurtured for a year before going forward), where we could invest all our energies and efforts into what we felt fed our passion for the Wheel of Time the best, where we thought we could make best make a contribution too. With the site closing, we also felt it was the perfect opportunity to expand our horizons beyond the gates of Wotmania to reach to the WOT community at large, while preserving somewhere the best of our efforts, articles and discussions over the years, try to ensure that our corner of Wotmania survived the closing of the site, and that we could also keep on expanding it to our hearts' content, with new tools and possibilities at our disposal. And it's a great experience so far, thanks a lot to all the support and encouragement we've received from you the readers who keep coming for our musings and ramblings, from various webmasters who've generously extended a hand to these newcomers, to Jen at Tor too - you all helped us promote the Thirteenth Depository in the WOT community, and make it a success we are very fond and proud of today. We're very proud to be part of "it" with such fellow WOT enthusiasts around, of making our own little contribution to keep alive on the online world Jim Rigney's legacy.

And as we know, there's no real ending or real beginning in the world of the Wheel. At the same time we mark the passing of Wotmania, we welcome its rebirth of a sort in, the new site now managed by former Wotmaniac Ben Murdoch-Smith., so named in homage to its roots as a community of Robert Jordan enthusiasts, is a new site refocussed on the discussion and promotion of SF and Fantasy at large and a new home for the community of Wotmania's socialites from CMB (which over the years had become the center of the site, for good and sometimes for ill for the WMB and OF, the topical boards). While the vocation has changed, Ben has offered their own corner to the WOT board posters, with its familiar look and feel, where they will be able to continue Wotmania's legacy in the years to come - a gesture I salute, as despite having taken personally my distances from MB activities in the last months to devote myself to the Thirteenth Depository, and while knowing there are excellent and very active Message Boards around, from Dragonmount's to Theoryland, I'm all too aware how difficult it is for long time posters to scatter like this, lose contact with friends and join an existing big board, where you need to rebuild yourself a circle and a credibility as poster, get to know the people and their opinions. Not easy to be newbies again when you have 10 or 15 years of WOT discussion experience under your belt. So in the name of all my fellow Wotmaniacs, thank you Ben for the initiative - and I'll no doubt pay visits from time to time.

I also wish to salute the nomination of our own Dr. Saidin, Mark, as the new admin of the WOT board at RAFO. Mark is a friend and another WOT fanatic and an expert of One Power debates, with many years of knowledge and contributions to the WOT community at large under his belt. All the best to you, the RAFO Wot Board and your posters, Mark. Make that place thrive again as it deserves!


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lord of Chaos Read-through #6: New Arrival at the Farm

New Arrival at the Farm, or Rand's Gamble

by Dominic

There are many new major developments and characters introduced in Lord of Chaos, and one of my favourites has always been Mazrim Taim and the beginnings of what would be come The Black Tower.

Before we get to that, I'll get two pointers on symbolism out of the way, as this post won't deal with that: I pointed out earlier that roofs are associated with sanity/madness (this comes from the association between head and roof, from various metaphors for madness like having a spider in the roof). I have also pointed out that boys carrying water from wells is in the series a symbol of male channelers. Those are the two tasks Jordan had future Asha'man perform when Rand and Taim visited the Farm. Not coincidentally (it's the recurrence of such 'coincidences' that end up "validating" a symbol/metaphor. When you collect all instances of an image/metaphor, patterns of use by Jordan emerge), the boy Jordan had on the roof mending thatch was Fedwinn Mor, the young man who will fall into madness and be euthanized by Rand.

Over my years on message boards, I've come to realise I've reacted Taim and Rand's 'Farm' a bit differently from a lot of readers. I tend to remain more distant to the characters than most - I'm more of an observer. I suspect Jordan rather wrote for his readers to enjoy taking sides and cheer or rage with the players (and fall in his "traps"), but I can't help it, it's not really the kind of reader I am.

Instead of joy or excitement that Rand was forming an organization of male channelers, I rather found Rand's gamble with the Farm totally chilling - a potentially disastrous decision made even worse by handing leadership of it to a main like Taim. What jumped at me on first read was that Rand may have put himself right on the path to fulfill the part of the Karaethon Cycle that seems to predict the Dragon could break the world again (a part which we have never seen "in the text" - we can suspect at this point it's a misinterpretation of verses concerning the breaking of the nations pre TG).

This is the possible consequence of the creation of an organization of male channelers Rand never gave much thoughts to. He is frequently afraid these men may go mad and die before the Last Battle and deprive him of the army he has sought to build, but he has never considered that if this organization grew as he wished and enough of these men survived Tarmon Gai'don, he was giving the world a new Breaking. Even when he will decide to cleanse saidin, he will do it to save his army, still oblivious to the other disaster he needed to avert now that he had assembled such a large group of male channelers who would eventually all go mad.

That Rand made the decision to assemble male channelers before he found a way to cleanse saidin and succeeded at it always striked me as a massive gamble on his part. Dangerously overconfident, and quite a bit blind.

This had another, far more pernicious consequence: what sort of men would come to him, when channelling was a sure way to go mad and die? A bunch of men interested in glory, wealth and power the association to Rand might bring them - a fact Rand himself noticed right away about the recruits, most of them at the time young kids not really realizing what they were getting into. But men willing to risk their life on achieving power, wealth and glory have a tendency to be willing to give anything to gain them.. even sell their souls. Male channellers had been for three thousand years the stuff of nightmare - what sort of men it takes to willingly become one of those? Sadly, it is often the sort of men who thrive on fear and power, the sort of men who wish to intimidate. All this has undermined the Asha'man from the start. Of course, they are men in the bunch who joined out of conviction, because they were too old, physically weak or too young to be soldiers. Damer Flinn is one such. And of course,Cadsuane's group did manage to turn several Asha'man from the use of fear and the pursuit of power and glory, and shaped them into real soldiers of the Light. Logain, as a role model, also managed to turn many around - and attract to him all the 'good men'. The motto of the Black Tower could have been, to paraphrase the verse about the Horn: 'You Who Come Here, Think not of Glory but of Salvation'.

But the good men aside, all the others provided the most fertile ground for Mazrim Taim to dig in and turnfrom Rand and from the Light. Men already seeking power and fear, wealth and glory (as Taim even admitted right away he was strictly after to Rand) are also all too easy to attract with intimidating black uniforms with pins on thei collars (which Jordan transparently modelled on the Nazi SS uniforms), to impress with grandiose and fearsome titles, completely departing from WOT's traditional titles for officers and setting them apart (those titles such as Storm Leader are also transparently modelled on Nazi ranks). No wonder one of the first moves Cadsuane's group made when bonding the Asha'man was to force them to abandon these uniforms - the last thing the world needed, that Rand truly needs, is to convince the whole world how dangerous he and his men are.

Quite a nasty serpents' nest Rand has let thrive four leagues south of Caemlyn - and yet, the return of male channelers to fight at Rand's side had to happen, if he were to win TG he needed those men. But he needed them to be loyal to him and his goals, to embrace duty and self-sacrice following his example. It's never black and white, and never easy to be in Rand's shoes. It was a mistake to let someone he didn't trust, someone who admitted candidly to him right away to be strictly after wealth, power and glory be responsible for shaping up in his image and with his values the male channelers.

It is quite a bit chilling that all that stood between Rand and complete disaster at the Black Tower hung on the decisions of two characters who seem to be the ones being groomed as future, post TG leaders. First it was Egwene, who decided against her better judgement that Logain had to be freed and sent to Rand, and Logain, who is on a true path to redeem himself, who abandonned Siuan's misguided revenge against the Reds and Elaida and went where duty to the Light called him. Without these two, Taim had a complete free hand to turn the Black Tower into a major disaster. Now, at least some of it will be averted - if Rand finally acts on Logain' information.

Mazrim Taim's arrival in the story line is a major turning point. Quite a fascinating character, who Jordan managed to surround in mystery. It should be fascinating to finally discover his back story, when and how he became a darkfriend.

A lot of readers are disappointed by the near absence of Demandred through the series. But the character is actually quite present, disguised as Mazrim Taim. Another Taimandred theory? Of course not! Jordan had to keep a general for the Shadow up his sleeve. It's very likely he needs such a commander for Tarmon Gai'don, which supposes that he left one of the Generals cleverly in the background, while the others unwisely showed their hand too early and got wiped out, first Be'lal, then Rhavin and finally Sammael. Meanwhile, Demandred was cunning enough to understand he had nothing to gain jumping in the fray before the time comes for the Shadow to need its generals... Tarmon Gai'don.

That is one reason to keep Demandred relatively out of the story so far. The other reason is that, unlike Mierin/Lanfear's story which lended itself very well to a new attempt to seduce Rand, and a new clash leading to her demise, the most interesting bits about Barid Bel Medar and Lews Therin are well in their past. It's not some much Demandred's action once he joined the Shadow which are of interest, it's his path to betrayal. Jordan could tell us, and did in part, but he could not show us, the way he did with Lanfear. So he created a stand-in and that stand-in is Mazrim Taim, introduced not coincidentally at the same time Demanded came to the forefront. Taim as the same vanity and arrogance, the same belief he is Rand's better, the same obsessive ambitions for wealth, power and glory/recognirion that poison him and will make him forever unsatisfied with any secondary position. Taim's fame (or rather his infamy) came to an end the day Rand's fame began. And Taim, like Barid Bel Medar, is set by Rand to reinvent war and mount an army. It is a sign of Rand's desperation that he put this man in charge of the Black Tower, and a terrible thing that he could not afford the time to keep a much closer eye on its developement. Now, Rand has created another Demandred, a Demandred who is this time well hidden, awaiting the signal for betrayal at the most costly moment, as the beginning of the final war arrives.

The finale of the series will reveal how costly this will be for the Light, and for Rand himself. The fact Rand pushed aside Logain's report that Taim is a darkfriend is not boding well. Taim is merely a few miles south of Elayne, and RJ has left us signs that like Barid Bel Medar was interested in Ilyena, Taim is not insensible to Elayne. She is not the only "wife" in danger. And what will happen of all the women and children at the Black Tower, the day Taim openly turns against Rand? Just attempting to remove him now might turn to disaster, because of these potential hostages. And how focussed on the Last Battle will the Asha'man will remain, when they realise (many of them are bonded) their loved ones are hostages of the Shadow? In Lord of Chaos, Rand muses that the families may not be in the best place at the BT, but that they remind the men of what they are fighting for. It may become horribly all too true - and might even come to include Elayne. Caught between saving their loved ones or abandonning them to horrors to fight the Last Battle, what an impossible choice, all the more since not letting loved ones die would mean letting the Shadow win, and letting the world die.

With Taim, Barid Bel Medar could hold a terrible revenge. And it's hard to believe he didn't have a hand in sending Taim to Rand. Time will tell.

Jordan set up all these issues quite masterfully, it's all there right from the introduction of this storyline:

The second Mazrim Taim enters the courtyard, Lews Therin has sized the man and warned Rand of his folly:

They halted a few paces before him at a gesture from Tumad. Rand opened his mouth, but before he could speak, Lews Therin rose up in a frenzy in his head. Sammael and Demandred hated me, whatever honors I gave them. The more honors, the worse the hate, until they sold their souls and went over. Demandred especially. I should have killed him! I should have killed them all! Scorched the earth to kill them all! Scorch the earth!
Face frozen, Rand fought for his own mind. I am Rand al’Thor. Rand al’Thor! I never knew Sammael or Demandred or any of them! The Light burn me, I am Rand al’Thor!Like a faint echo, one more thought came from elsewhere. The Light burn me. It sounded like a plea. Then Lews Therin was gone, driven back into whatever shadows he lived in. (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival)

Taim's opening gambit where he sets Rand straight on where he thinks his place is - a place he will later usurp since Rand won't give it to him - such ambitions are rarely tamed:

"Submit? I had thought more of a compact between us." (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival)

Then as Rand screams to show who's the boss (which is never as impressive and efficient as those using this mean to impress seem to think) Taim's pretense at submission, his loathing of Rand and his hypocrisy barely disguised, and again LTT's warning:

Without a pause Taim slipped to one knee. "I submit to the Dragon Reborn. I will serve and obey." The corners of his mouth quivered again in that almost smile as he rose. Tumad gaped at him.
"That fast?" Rand said softly. The rage was not gone; it was white hot. If he gave way, he was not sure what he would do. Lews Therin still babbled in the shadows of his head. Kill him! Must kill him! (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival)

Then Taim's avowal of his motivations, which should have struck an alarm bell:

Taim shrugged. "What are my choices? To wander the world alone, friendless, hunted, while you rise to glory? That’s supposing Bashere doesn’t manage to kill me before I can leave the city, or your Aiel women don’t. Even if they don’t, the Aes Sedai will corner me sooner or later; I doubt the Tower means to forget Mazrim Taim. Or I can follow you, and part of that glory will be mine." (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival)

Then the motivations of the "recruits":

"Some don’t really want to channel." Rand eased his grip on his sword hilt. He disliked admitting gaps in his knowledge to this man. "Some haven’t thought beyond a chance at glory or wealth or power. But I want to keep any man who can learn, whatever his reasons." (Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival)

And finally, some great insight and wisdom from Rand, but alas a bit he doesn't apply to himself and gradually forgot the importance of - something Sorilea and Cadsuane will later set to make him remember:

To Aes Sedai, people were pieces in a game and the world was the board, not a place to live in. To them, only the White Tower was real. No man could forget the world and ordinary people when he had his family in front of him.(Lord of Chaos, A Woman's Eyes)

And later on, the chilling contradiction of what Rand had said about families and keeping the men in the world, among ordinary people, always remembering they are men, not killing machines:

Weapons," Rand agreed: They had to be weapons, all of them, himself included. Could weapons allow themselves families? Could a weapon allow itself to love? Now, where had that come from?(Lord of Chaos, A Woman's Eyes)

It will be up to others to teach Rand and the Asha'man they are men fighting, not weapons - and that one day, they will have to bury those weapons and all the horrors of wafare, if they are to live again as men. .

Lord of Chaos Read-through #5 - The Working Out of Fate and Choice

The Working Out of Fate and Choice

by Linda

So what is it with prophecy? Is it inevitably right? Is everything fated?

It’s easy to overlook the amount of choice and free will involved with both prophecy and prophesying. Rand certainly believes that prophecy doesn’t certify events as inevitable:

He had lived too many prophecies to believe any of them meant exactly what they said. Or even that they ensured anything. In his opinion, prophecy set the conditions that had to be met for a thing to happen; only, meeting them did not mean the thing would happen, just that it could.

- Lord of Chaos, A New Arrival

Yet Rand has made the choice to use prophecy to guide his actions – such as taking not e of what the Aelfinn said, and reading multiple copies of the Karaethon Cycle. But in Tear he chose to act on the one verse in those books, just as he chose to solve the Aelfiin’s riddles himself, and when to act on the riddles.

He’s not the only one using prophecy – Elaida has been secretly doing the same for years, with the important difference that she gets it wrong.

Which brings us to prophesying itself. Elaida participates closely in her prophecies through her (mis)interpretation of them, who she chooses to tell (sometimes no one) and by her subsequent actions. 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 for using them for personal advantage.

In Lord of Chaos, Min’s viewings and the way she chooses to participate in her prophesies, in the way she interprets them and in who or how she tells of them, become very important. Perhaps it was always likely Min would come unstuck since inevitably she would see danger or disaster around someone she loved and would try to prevent it. Most people would.

As the Wise One Bair says:

“Those who move with too much knowledge of the future inevitably find disaster, whether from complacency at what they think must come or in their efforts to change it.”

- The Shadow Rising, Beyond the Stone

And Bair has not only been through the rings at Rhuidean, she has prophesied often enough herself.

By informing Rand in a panic of her viewing that Aes Sedai would harm Rand, she spurred him to flee to Cairhien, and thus actually brought this event about. She was right that the rebel embassy would be present when Rand was hurt and surrounded by death and blood, but it was the Tower embassy that gave him his hurts and brought about the circumstances that led to the battle.

The fine balance between Fate and Free Will in a world abounding with prophecy is discussed further in the essay Fate, Free Will and Divining the Pattern now released on the Thirteenth Depository. Min's Viewings, compiled in September 2004 and previously published on Wotmania are also now republished here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Lord of Chaos Read-through #4: Chapter and Verse

Chapter and Verse

by Linda

This post looks at what’s behind a few of the more interesting and symbolic chapter titles in Lord of Chaos.

Lion on the Hill

How many lions can you crowd on one hill?

Simply and superficially, there’s the White Lion of Andor banner raised above the Palace. In the palace there’s Rand, being lionised by a heap of sycophants, who’s an Andoran prince in disguise and as High King, is symbolised by the Lion, the King of the Beasts (see Animal Symbolism essay.) Bashere is aiding Rand, and if his wife is a leopard, as three times a lord and a courageous fighter, Bashere pretty much qualifies as a lion too, if a much smaller one than Rand. :P

And then at the very end of the chapter, a rogue beast arrives, Taim, who was caged for a time but is now a dangerous animal on the loose – a veritable lion on the high plains as Tuon would say.

A Different Dance

Again, the title seems simply to refer to the pattern dance that Mat dances with Betse. In his memory, it was danced at the onset of Trolloc Wars just before everything crumbled into war. He dances it now in a similar situation, although he doesn’t fully appreciate this. He claims the dance as ‘his’ yet he nearly fell while in the dance, because he was so overwhelmed by his memories.

The pattern dance is also a metaphor for the pattern of Ages; it starts out simple and gets increasingly complicated with each pass, just as the Ages do:

The Pattern of an Age is slightly different each time an Age comes, and each time it is subject to greater change, but each time it is the same Age.

- The Eye of the World Glossary

Speaking of patterns and dances, Mat’s life has been danced about by the Pattern and he’s having a hard time reconciling himself to it:

A series of steps, each taken for good cause or pure necessity, each seeming so reasonable at the time, and each leading to things he had never imagined. He always seemed to find himself caught in that sort of dance.

- Lord of Chaos, A Different Dance

The Finns between them have really changed Mat – given him knowledge and gifts that have made him heroic despite his best efforts to avoid all of it. Sometimes he concedes there’s even a good side to his situation:

Without them [his memories], he would not be where he was, commanding nearly six thousand soldiers and more wanting to join every day, about to lead them south and take command of the bloody invasion of a land controlled by one of the bloody Forsaken. He was no hero, and did not want to be one. Heroes had a bad habit of getting killed…On the other hand, without those memories he would not have six thousand soldiers around him. He would stand alone, ta'veren and tied to the Dragon Reborn, a naked target and known to the Forsaken. Some of them apparently knew entirely toe much about Mat Cauthon. Moiraine had claimed he was important, that maybe Rand needed him and Perrin both to win the Last Battle. If she had been right, he would do what he had to—he would; he just had to get used to the idea—but he was not about to be a bloody hero.

- Lord of Chaos, A Different Dance

Another ‘Dance’ that is Mat’s is the song Dance with Jack o’the Shadows, the Dance of Death, which is actually sung to Mat by his soldiers in this chapter. Mat himself is King of the Dead, hence this song is his ‘signature tune’.

To Aiel, the dance is battle and Mat even once asked a Maiden if she knew any dances other than battle. Mat and the Band are apparently going to ‘dance the spears’, go to battle against Sammael. However this is just a feint and Mat, Rand and Bashere have a secret plan, a different dance than Sammael expects.

A Matter of Thought

Elayne’s thoughts have been very productive. Off her own bat she has made original ter’angreal. Quite brilliant thinking.

This contrasts with the rebel Hall, which has been indecisive for some time.

Sheriam’s six discuss their own ideas about how to keep their influence with the Hall and do the actual directing as well as day to day management of the rebels: they will manipulate the Hall into electing a very young Amyrlin. Carlinya disagrees about the usefulness of Egwene to this group of six. She points out that is Egwene is easily manipulated, then anyone, including the Hall might do it. Competition for them! No one thought Egwene might be commanding and not very easily manipulated at all.

In Tel’aran’rhiod, the rebel crew discover that the obliteration of the Blue Ajah is high in Elaida’s thoughts, as is her intention to re-unite the Tower. Elaida hasn’t yet realised that these two thoughts are contradictory. There can be no unification of the Tower with this attitude. After all, if Elaida can turn on one Ajah and destroy it, she could turn on another.

Siuan’s thoughts are about what the Tower administration is doing. She discovers that Alviarin is countermanding Elaida’s orders. This is treason; something Elaida wants pinned to Alviarin but hasn’t succeeded in achieving. Yet it only took Siuan a short while to find it.

And someone’s thoughts created a nightmare trap in Tel’aran’rhiod. The group assumes it is one of them, but it might have been set by a Forsaken. We see Demandred hanging around and his ruminations are on why he has been told to let Elayne live.

The Storm Gathers

There are a few things in this chapter which will cause a storm in the future:

  • Siuan’s attempts at revenge and her lies about the Red Ajah, including Elaida, setting up false Dragons to bring them down,

  • The rebel army being created by Gareth Bryne,

  • The large number of novices being collected (handy for the Tower, but also for the Seanchan – it will save them a lot of searching),

  • The arrival of Tarna, the Tower’s emissary in Salidar, and on her return she will realise that accommodation must be made with the Asha’man, and

  • Either Rand or Isam hanging around Tar Valon in Tel’aran’rhiod.

Under the Dust

What is under the dust thrown in our eyes?

Elayne is teaching Sitters, but while Sitters are usually the strongest Aes Sedai, they are too weak to make ter’angreal. By themselves, that is. They’d be fine if they linked, but does it occur to them? Aes Sedai need to link up with other channellers – Sea Folk, Wise Ones, Asha’man – because to set themselves apart will achieve little in the war.

Tarna knows a great deal about what is going on in Salidar. Presumably she received reports from Elaida’s mole/s? Tarna hints to Nynaeve that Galina is the Red Ajah Head but Nynaeve never noticed.

When Elayne and Nynaeve searched for something to inspire the rebels to support Rand, they went to a ter’angreal storeroom in the Tower. They never zeroed in on it though, so we don’t know if it was a ter’angreal or the Horn. Trying again, they find the Ebou Dar cache (including the Bowl of Winds) under the dust of centuries which will also lead them to the Kin. They then throw dust in the eyes of Sheriam’s six by suggesting that the Bowl needs a man to work it to tie the rebels to Rand.

A Pile of Sand

In this chapter a pile of sand represents a punishing, thankless or never-ending task.

Egwene’s dreams are just such a task. She tries her best to remember them and work them out. She acknowledges that she would rather search a pile of sand than have teaching or knowledge withheld from her, which is what would happen if her disobedience over not entering Tel'aran'rhiod was known to the Wise Ones.

Elayne and Nynaeve try to pull Siuan into line, and try to get Sheriam and co to let them search for Bowl. They end up cleaning cauldrons rather than hunting bowls. There’ll be nothing doing until Egwene arrives.

To Understand a Message

To understand a message, you have to get the wording right. Graendal didn’t get the wording of Rand’s reply to Sammael’s emissary right, or pretended she didn’t, so Sammael tells her more. His information alarms her greatly. He successfully lied to her that he had an agreement with Rand and manipulated Graendal into supplying him with information on the other Forsaken. Amusingly Sammael is almost right when he said that the army currently amassing will never move against him.

Graendal got the message of Sammael’s room all right - furnished with items from the Age of Legends stored by a Darkfriend. And that Sammael knew the other Forsaken were all spying on him, trying to get their hands on the cache he searches for.


Rand is offered gifts in this chapter. The obvious one is the gold and gems the Tower embassy offers. Rand is too busy feeling clever that he fooled them into believing him greedy and easily manipulated to remember the saying that every Aes Sedai gift has a hook in it…Egwene was able to witness the meeting due to Rand’s gift of a screening weave.

Rand obtained a gift of information too – that Galina and Alviarin were associates, but he is mistaken in the nature of their association.


Rand is being pricked by a lot of thorns: the Wise Ones, Elaida’s embassy, the approach of Alanna and the rebel Aes Sedai, and Min’s teasing. He is irritable when Min is not there, but hasn’t worked out why yet.

Perrin is the one in immediate trouble though. Faile is very jealous of Berelain and this makes her smell thorny. Presumably Faile finds the situation with Berelain even more thorny than Perrin does.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lord of Chaos Read-through #3 Blind woman, Deaf Man and a few Jackdaw Fools

Blind woman, Deaf man and a few Jackdaw Fools:
Welcome to Emond's Field Town

by Dominic

For this post, I return again to Emond's Field for the last time in a while (we will pay another visit during the Winter's Heart read-through, when the next, but somewhat doubtfully the last developments happen).

The attacks by Shadowspawn in The Shadow Rising have brought a series of changes to the little village, but now the speculations of the Village's Council way back at the beginning of The Eye of the World (about the possible identity of The Stranger) are coming true: refugees from the troubles outside are flooding in the area, somewhat ironically as the they are fleeing Dragonsworn and civil war.

As we've noted previously, Jordan liked to use the Two Rivers, its residents, its geography, as a microcosm of the world at large. We have noted symbolic connections between the Winespring water and Winespring and the True Source, The Inn and the White Tower, its red tiled roof an allusion via a nod to the Red Ajah to the defining male-female AS relationship at that point - and its uniqueness in the village a representation that only the Aes Sedai can deal with male channellers; the big (and unique) fireplace (the Flame) in the common room (the Hall) in front of which the Village Council and Women's Circle sit for their meetings (the Sitters). We have noted the connection at the symbolic level of Gold with saidin/men, silver with saidar/women, and iron with non-channelers.

We have also noted that the destroyed city of Manetheren is associated symbolically to Malkier, the Waygate (in which an evil spirit is trapped, and from which hordes of shadowspawn come) is a parallel to Shayol Ghul, the Sand Hills standing in for the Blight and the Westwood in which only the hardiest of farmers live represent the Borderland. We have also noted that the Mill down the Winespring was a representation of the Wheel driven by the True Source , while the myriad of little streams of the Waterwood flowing across the quilt of farms south of the villages was a metaphor of the Pattern.

As he returns briefly to Emond's Field in The First Message, Jordan re-reintroduced several of these symbols, and altered them to reflect some changes in world.

First, there's the location of Perrin and Faile's "manor" still being built, a very large farmhouse. Jordan located just north of the village, in effect on the edge of 'the borderlands'. The refugees are also coming out of the woods, having faced the perils of the mountains - and allegory from the fact the Shadow is making people (the few who are wise enough) flock to Rand and his allies. This situation foreshadows Perrin's and Faile's involvement with refugees in the late series - while Rand and Mat are destroyers of the Shadow at heart, Perrin is since TSR a force for the future as well as the present - not only a protector of the common folk in the last battle, and a unifier of men and nature against the Shadow, but probably a builder for the future - Perrin's 'realm' has faced the Shadow, but it is now literally booming, as if the events in TSR was its Last Battle and the fourth Age is already begun in the Two Rivers, a precursor of what is to happen soon in the world, like it began first in Emond's Field in Winternight 998 NE - which may well be the intended symbolism: Emond's Field as the 'matrix' following which the rest of the world is then woven.

Political and judicial Power in the area has in effect moved out of the Winespring Inn (the home of the Mayor, where Council and Circle met) to the manor, much has political power is progressively moving into Rand's hands (and his three fellow younglings, Egwene, Perrin and Mat) in the world at large, and escaping the old center of power, the White Tower.

A new alternative symbol for the Wheel and its role is introduced: weavers' looms. They now proliferate in the region - and they will be used to transform raw wool (another image of the One Power) into finished products for trade. The analogy is amusing (and not coincidental), when you consider the Two Rivers has exported a lot of mightily good 'raw wool' since the beginning: from Rand, Egwene and Nynaeve to the girls recruited by Verin and soon the boys fetched by Taim). The new trade goods, the "finished products" that will appear in the next months in the Two Rivers are reflecting the fact all the younglings are beginning to come into their own: Egwene soon as Amyrlin, Rand as Dragon, Mat as military leader, and Perrin as unifier and protector.

Faile grants a privilege to a refugee weaver to build a carpet shop. The weaver promise Faile the gift of her best piece for the Manor's great hall (this may be interpreted as 'the best pattern/an important pattern'). This, and the throne-like chairs Perrin and Faile have had made, makes it difficult not to see a little in this a metaphor for the trappings of power around which Rand starts surrounding himself in this book. All this, and the fact the house is still being finished, is again a metaphor for the four Emond's Field characters gradually coming into their own in this book = all of them have having more and more to cope with the trappings, and the traps, of power too, incidentally. The characters are more and more walking the path of daggers.

Interestingly, while the original wheel symbol fed people's hunger (Jon Thane's Mill, transforming the grain into flour which the Flame at the inn transformed into bread - Marin's is the best to be found around), the newer symbol of the loom takes raw wool and transforms it into something which ornaments at a superficial level (much finer dresses and coats, and carpets), but is mostly meant to protect and keep warm, during winter (a function which Jordan specifically alludes to). Winter is associated to death in WOT - death toward rebirth normally, and final death when it's the DO's kind of perpetual, snowless winter. Notice all the references to nice dresses, even gowns, in that scene, very atypical of the Two Rivers previously - Faile mentions the villages seem about to compete to dress her, and that she can't see any use for gowns any time soon (this is an allegory Egwene will soon face too, all those gifts of dresses from Sitters, and the importance of 'appearing the part'). We see this not only a prolongation of the symbolism already mentioned, but also a reference to the sycophants currying the leaders' favours, a new bunch of which are about to be introduced in the first Rand chapter, and several in Salidar around Egwene, dressing her up with frills and silks like a pretty doll... or a puppet. The very same allegory was used when Siuan was 'hiding', in fact using, 'Miss Elmindreda'.

As I've noted above, power has shifted out of the Inn to the manor, just like the Tower's influence is waning. A very important detail is that Faile's great hall doesn't have a single fireplace but two of them. The shift marks the creation in Lord of Chaos of the organization for male channelers, still under the leadership of Rand at this point. This is the book in which he begins to put both Aes Sedai and Asha'man at his side, an in his service. As the Black Tower progresses, it will be represented in Emond's Field by a proper second Inn, right next to the Winespring Inn representing but much bigger. The Inn's name, the Archers, will properly honor Emond's Field own "Guardians", its longbowmen (and here we understand the metaphorical meaning behind Jordan's insistence that only men are capable of using the longbows, not boys nor women. I will point out that archery is also how Rand learned the Oneness initially).

The Winespring used to be associated mostly to saidar, and continues to be so a the moment. In the Two Rivers, the male symbol for the True Source is rather wells. In Eye of the World, there was even a little metaphoric joke in the scene where Tam is afraid his well has been tainted, then tastes it and laughs, commenting he's having fancies. In Lord of Chaos, the issues are to unify the Tower and expand the number of female channelers, and set them to useful service with their talents, and to find and train male channellers. Jordan has this reflected in the Two Rivers: to face the Dark One's growing touch on the seasons, which restricts water sources by drought, Perrin has new wells dug around the village, while Faile introduces a system of irrigation canals in the Waterwood area. In a nod to Rand's distant interaction with what is still The Farm ans soon will become Taim's Black Tower, Faile points out Perrin actually just suggested wells and the villagers made them appear.

To return to the shifts of power, Jordan has introduced a little humorous riddle of some interest. He has Cenn Buie, who we have identified in the past as the stand-in of Elaida in the microcosm, come protest to Faile about the newcomers and the women's new ways of dressing (a nod to the Asha'man's uniforms people fear and Aes Sedai really don't like - Cadsuane's group will later force their warders to discard them). Funnily, it turns out for all his protesting, Cenn is actually hiring newcomers too as helpers in his business - possibly an early allusion to the Reds bonding Asha'man. Cenn's problem turns out to be worries over a specific newcomer who runs a tile business and made Cenn, the thatcher, anxious for his living. Annoyed with change is more like it, as Faile points out there's more than enough work for both of them! Cenn has lost full monopoly over roofing, like Aes Sedai need to accept the return of their long lost brothers. Faile points out to him that Perrin and her have chosen to use thatch for the manor at the moment, but that Cenn is not advancing very fast, and she may have to call in Master Hornval to inquire about his tiles. Part of the analogy is fairly obvious, given Elaida's actions and positions - and how she is getting bogged down. Master Hornval is also a fairly transparent shortening of Horn of Valere. Where Jordan was going with all this is however fairly obscure (symbolism has never been such a good crystal ball, I'm afraid!!). Was Jordan referring to the fact the Heroes follow the Dragon and the Banner - and thus Master Hornval is rightfully Rand and this alluding to the contest for leadership of the Light between Elaida and Rand? That's probably the best interpretation, as this contest takes place during Lord of Chaos itself. Another possibility is that behind Master Hornval/Horn of Valere is actually Mat or a reference to the heroes' leader Hawkwing, in which case is an allegory of the struggle for Tar Valon which could take place between Elaida and the Seanchan. That's however much less likely Jordan was projecting this far with the allegory, despite the tempting Mat-horn association. We probably have the right interpretation at this point, but one or the other of the AMOL books will confirm it.

I have pointed out in my previous LOC post how important the Blacksmith figure, a non-channeler, is in the series, that he is pivotal in making the tools necessary to life (from axes to fell trees for building or fires, hammers and nails to build with wood, to metal pieces in looms, shoes for horses (symbol for destiny, the thread being woven by the Wheel( to all that is necessary to make weapons and fight the Shadow (not for bows, as archery is used as a symbol for channelling). The blacksmith is so essential the Aiel protect them from harm in battle or from being made gai'shain: capturing or killing a sept's smiths is condemning the sept to death: the smiths make the spearheads (this metaphor is extended to Perrin as leader, who has the annoying habit of wanting to give himself up to foes - and his stopped by people who tell him they need him, from Faile to the Emond's Fielders). Master Luhhan's forge, essential, is also always rebuilt very fast - in TSR after his forge was destroyed in his arrest, he had a makeshift forge rebuilt near the Green - EF absolutely needed him working to defeat the Shadow - from turning tools into weapons to shoeing the horses to making arrowheads to iron pieces needed for the catapults to work - catapults that represented the union of almost all forces against the Shadow: explained by the knowledge of scholars, built out of the land itself (stones and trees) by the craftsmen and the blacksmith, brought into the right places by the power of horses, kept loaded by the strength of men and made deadly through the talents of Aes Sedai protected by warders and longbowmen. When the catapults are no longer enough, people on horses (Verin, Perrin) are falling - a symbol the ta'veren is faltering, the Pattern is taking a bad turn - and the Shadow is winning, it's the last missing pieces, women and children and outsiders, who will join the fight and turn the tide).

As I have pointed out in the previous post, the Shadow's counterpart to the Blacksmith figure are the Forgers in Thanka'dar. The Forgers, said Demandred, are not proper smiths as they can only make deadly blades - which they complete by giving a human 'the final death'. In the Faile scene, we see the mirror of this: Master Luhhan associates himself with a cutler and a whitesmith. The people of Emond's Field have access to more and more knowledge and crafts, a situation we find paralleled with Rand's Academies, which emerge in this book. In a later read-through, we will see how the academies' progress is reflected in Emond's Field, on the eve of Tarmon Gai'don.

There are also mentions of metals, found in the mountains. We can see in this an 'hidden treasure', the local - and in macrocosm the resources of everyone, being put unearthed and more and more fully put to use. This goes hand in hand with the explosion of crafts, the Academies - and which is also reflected in this book by the sudden explosion of knowledge on the OP front: in Salidar through Moghedien, at the Farm with the Asha'man - and by the end of the book, things starting to come together as Rand completes his Asha'man retinue with his first sworn Aes Sedai. Gold for saidin, silver for saidar are found in the mountain, and iron for non-channeler. Faile reminds the miners that iron is important and useful too - as Perrin will notably prove at Dumai's Wells.

Another amusing microcosm vs. macrocosm element is that the Wisdoms come and complain about three boys (incl. Aes Sedai-fan Ewin Finngar) who've listened to Perrin's stories and vanished to see the world. RJ never returned to them. I often wonder if he intended to at some point in the finale - those boys could show up anywhere, really, from Caemlyn or the Black Tower to Tar Valon. It would have been funny to learn where they went, if only through a passing mention. That sort of tiny secondary details may have been lost now - or could RJ's notes have been so precise as that?

The part of the POV with the Wisdoms is also full of analogies, first to Egwene's position toward her Hall and the circle, but also to Elaida stuck with her council. There's even an analogy for the Yellow sister Shemerin's fidgeting and unsuitability among the others, with the youngest Wisdom acting exactly like her, and eliciting from Faile the exact same reaction Elaida had at Shemerin (and dealing with it similarly, Faile decides she will have to talk to the Taren Ferry circle about replacing the Wisdom).

I will conclude with a short explanation of the title I gave this post, taken of course from the book's opening children's chant.

As we'll discuss later, this book is very much about fools. They are mentioned 18 times in the prologue alone, in each and every scene, and 178 times in the whole book - and that's discounting all the variations on the same theme, from woolheaded idiots to brained-addled nobles to mentions of madness and nonsense.

In the Faile scene, we have some of our first (but by no mean the last in Lord of Chaos) blind women and deaf men. In a form or ironic humour so typical of Jordan's writing and perhaps my own favourite type of humour quirks from him - I just adore this sort of scenes where he makes the POV character completely blind to the irony of what they say or do (my all time favourite might be a scene where Nynaeve complains about the fact men always seems to think violence ever solves anything, then goes on to that she would very much like to beat the whole lot of them, that it might give them some sense... classic!), Mr. Rigney has two women fighting over the same man (a sober Emond's Fielder and a Domani in risqué dress, making the analogy Jordan was getting at even more transparent) coming to Faile to solve their situation. Faile (thinking them very much fools) sends them to the Wisdom, and hopes Daise Congar will be in one of her worst moods and teach them both a lesson about losing the Wisdom's time with their nonsense. Faile is absolutely blind to the fact barely a few months ago she was rolling on the floor with Berelain in the middle of a corridor - and to the fact they'll pick up their foolish rivalry exactly where they left off, and climb to even higher summits of absurdity, very shortly. Foolish girls... indeed. Jordan keeps going with the humour: as soon Faile sees the back of the women, Daise Congar barges on her, and Faile muses how difficult it is to handle the wisdoms and that she doesn't like how Daise and the others treat her like a Lady one second, and secondly dare advise her as if she was a girl. Fools indeed. This becomes a running gag when later in the scene Faile remembers how she chased Calle Coplin out of the manor with a broom for having eyes on Perrin. Blind woman. Scenes like this always wipe straight out of my mind any irritation I might develop over the attitudes of some the characters. Some get irritated at Faile, or at all Nynaeve's bad faith, or like when Egwene goes to hide from Rand for three days (in TFOH) after he all but exposed the secret she isn't truly Aes Sedai by pointedly not asking Moiraine to use the Power as a weapon because of her Oaths, then publicly asking Egwene to join him in the battle - never realising what he's just done (poor Rand is even very confused why Egwene might be hiding from him like this...she was afraid Rand would go on and state flat out in public he's asked her because she's just Accepted, you fool! Mind you, Egwene's the fool for having claimed to Amys in TAR that she was full sister... for no good reason. And Jordan made her pay, and pay for this lie - he loved humourous payback a lot). For some reason, my love for Jordan's humour I guess, I don't get irritated at any of this, but I do smile and chuckle A LOT reading Wot.

As for our deaf man, it's Perri n- all that Faile is telling him about his attitude to servants she's training, and his duties as Lord go in one hear and straight the other.

As for the fools, they're all Faile's petitioners, most coming to her for reasons more foolish than the others, giving us together our first King and Queen of Fools and their little court of Fools.

The motif will continue through the books, a series of women blind to some facts and men who don't listen to advice or reason. Rand not listening to Bashere, with his court of extremely foolish sycophant, Ailron and Morgase-Tallanvor, Elayne acting like a spoiled-child in Salidar... and like this all the way through the end of the book.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lord of Chaos Read-through #2 : Opening Gambit

Opening Gambit

by Linda

Lord of Chaos introduces us to more lost knowledge from the Age of Legends. A board game this time. It seems trivial, but we’ll see that games are metaphors for battles and the Great Game (of Houses), and skill at board games is a reliable indicator for generalship, politicking and problem-solving abilities. More board games will be referred to in later books and in The Path of Daggers the gamemaster Moridin will reveal that he develops his schemes not on the drawing board, but the game board.

But back to Lord of Chaos, and the Age-old game of tcheran. Semirhage doesn’t tell us much, but then she says she’s an indifferent player. From her description, tcheran has similarities with another great game of strategy and war, chess. The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time confirms that Semirhage is no great strategist, and was no great shakes as a general in the War of Power either. She is too caught up in her perversions and lusts for complex planning, too one-track minded to consider the need for alternatives. Her interrogation of Cabriana was almost aborted when she accidentally killed Cabriana’s Warder while unnecessarily torturing him to satisfy her lust for cruelty. She did not stick to her assigned task, even though it was urgent, and then let her mind wander while performing her unnecessary ‘experiment’. Some of her important parallels are with Nazi doctors and SS leaders, notorious sadists and death goddesses and these are detailed in the Semirhage essay now re-published here in the Reference Library. No wonder she ended up a captive in Knife of Dreams.

In contrast, Mat Cauthon keeps a variety of possible strategies in mind, and is not only prepared to change them at a moment’s notice; he expects to and is on the lookout for any changes in circumstances which will require this:

“Everything always changes. The best plan lasts until the first arrow leaves the bow.”

- The Fires of Heaven, Before the Arrow

So is Ituralde:

If they saw the trap, then he had another plan already laid, and another behind that. He always looked ahead, and always planned for every eventuality he could imagine…

- Knife of Dreams, Prologue

Mat is a killer at Stones, and no doubt he would be at other strategy board games if he knew them. What is known of tcheran and its similarities to chess are described in the Tcheran article now released on the Thirteenth Depository.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lord of Chaos Read-through #1: A Storm Gathering at Shayol Ghul

A Storm Gathering at Shayol Ghul

by Dominic

Lord of Chaos is a book of major developments: new themes, new characters, new concepts, new creatures - and major new starts for characters like Min, Egwene, Perrin etc. - also a great expansion of the One Power mechanics. Three Forsaken make their first entrance on the stage, and Aes Sedai politics virtually explode, with two large Embassies sent to Rand, and the characters from the newly formed Rebel Hall emerging. Many of the players on the center stage and periphery in book 6 are the ones who will keep playing important secondary roles all the way to the late series, and presumably the finale.

This book is some way closes what I like to call the 'Solar trilogy', and in others it is the book that truly sets up the late series.

Lord of Chaos is one mammoth book - in length and in content. We could easily spend a month or more exploring it. As our goal is to survey the first eleven books before the release of The Gathering Storm - and spend the last month on the three last ones, we're gonna have to proceed a bit faster than this through the mid-series, selecting some of our favourite topics. Don't worry though, we'll return to the mid-series' books more extensively eventually, during the wait for book 13.

The prologue of Lord of Chaos introduces us to Shaidar Hairan, the strange Myrddraal on which some of Shai'tan's will and mind is impressed. Shaidar Haran is an interesting puzzle, not so much for the mechanics, but for the insight it gives us into Shai'tan's plans, and the new mysteries about them it introduces. The Chosen are not the only ones wondering about the implications of Shaidar Haran's arrival on the scene. The signs are there from the start (like the unusual favour of giving Shaidar Haran extra room to move in the cavern) that the pecking order may have changed in the Shadow - while the scene with the first transmigrated Chosen, Aran'gar and Osan'gar, confirms it at the end of the prologue. The whole issue of Shai'tan's true intent about his promises to the Chosen arises in this book - does he even intend to have a world for them to rule? Is there any difference for him between Myrddraal and Chosen, except their respective usefulness as tools? That's the real conundrum for the Chosen, with the exception of Moridin who embraces his master's goals in full and advocate the destruction of everything - the rest of them are starting to wonder.

Along Shaidar Haran's comes Demandred's introduction in the series - mentioned before but never met until then. I must confess he's a character that always held limited fascination for me. Jordan certainly managed to shroud him in mystery... but in little else so far. He fascinates a lot of readers - he is even many's favourite villain. Personally, I more than a little suspect this has a lot to do with the fact Jordan has kept him in the shadows so much and unlike most of the other Forsaken who played a more active part in the plot of the series, Demandred has not got the chance yet to show his flaws, to be brought down a few notches again. The Chosen have entered the series through their legends, and progressively Jordan has deconstructed these myths and revealed that these 'demons' are in truth terribly human, terribly flawed humans, often even terribly petty and weak humans. Some of them have great gifts, but all of them didn't live up to those gifts: Moghedien was always a swindler - and so was Balthamel, Mesaana turn her talent for teaching into a tool of destruction, Aginor used his mastery of the principles of life to create beings focused on annihilation of all life; Graendal and Semirhage rejected service and put their skills to personal gratification, torture and enslavement etc. I can't really shake off the feeling that Demandred is not so much the kind to show his worth through his actions (for instance proving with them he is better and greater man than Lews Therin) but rather someone who has the genius of avoiding the spotlight whenever he runs the risk of harming his reputation or be cast in bad light - the kind to remain in the shadow where he can criticize those in the spotlight. I never really cared for his "potential" - he never realised it and in the end threw it all away and joined the Shadow.

Another major development (very unexpected for me on first read, I remember) was the direct presence of The Great Lord OF SPEAKING IN CAPITALS. By the time of Lord of Chaos, I was more and more expecting Jordan to keep his Dark Lord forever confined to a part in the tradition of Tolkien's Sauron. Having a direct exchange between Shai'tan and a Forsaken was a pleasant surprise. Such things are always a bit risky - godly beings have a tendency to lose some of their aura of power when too directly involved - but Jordan has so far dealt with that risk masterfully. Shai'tan is ominous. I've wondered since if he had plans to take the much greater risk of a Shai'tan POV in the finale. Given all he's told us about his inhuman logic this would be most interesting, but it might also ruin everything. We'll see.

The First Message also offers us a first good look at Shayol Ghul and the Pit of Doom. We had been around there before, in Rand's Dreams and all - but here we get enough at last for a little more detailed analysis and insight in the symbolism Jordan was developing for the Shadow. The first five books, especially books 4 and 5, were a lot more generous in this respect to the Light, especially to the Dragon. Books 1-5 introduced a lot of the elements of what is natural, what belongs in the Pattern - the first scene at Shayol Ghul offers us a stark contrast, which is quite interesting as this mirror is one of the thing that helped me 'unlock' many of details of the symbolism RJ was using for the light.

One of the first things worth observing is the great similarity between Dragonmount and Shayol Ghul - two impossibly high volcanoes. The Dragon created a volcano committing suicide - a geographic extension of the mythical dragon. Dragons have long be associated to volcanoes - many mythologists have even suggested this association as the origin of the ability to breath fire given to in folklore and myth. Dragonmount remained to cast its shadow on Tar Valon. Long before there was a Black Tower, Dragonmount as stood symbolically for it. Not a thing of Air and Water, as the lofty island in the middle of the Erinin that can only be reached by aerial bridges and harbours - with its delicate aerial walkways and high buildings, but a thing of raw Earth and Fire, representing male channelers, asleep near their sisters, casting a shadow on the Island, like a symbol that the sisters can never escape for very long thoughts and worries about male channelers. Dragonmount is both a reminder of the past and a threat, of male channelers's madness and the Breaking of the World - and a symbol of hope of salvation in the future, but a constant reminder that salvation will have to come amidst all the woes and destruction the fulfillment of the Karaethon Cycle will bring: the place the world saviour will be born, and with him the return of Shai'tan's touch on the world. Symbolically Dragonmount has been the Dragon Soul's prison for 3,000 years - a prison he would only escape as a newborn babe (probably not in truth - the evidence so far is that eathbound souls like Mordeth's are kept out of the normal birth-death-rebirth cycle, and beside RJ's concept is that soul enter the physical realm and is tied to 'a body' at the moment of conception - which happened ... somewhere in Cairhien - the realm of the 'Golden Dawn', presumably).

Shayol Ghul proceeds from the same symbolism: another volcano (or its equivalent anyway - the Pit below SG is said to be 'roofless'), it is more a representation/perception in reality of the Bore, which we are told is not physically at SG but everywhere. The Pit of Doom itself is down a deep cavern, a lake of molten black and red lava, in which the dark spirit of Shai'tan 'resides'. What was only symbolic for the 'Dragon's prison' is thus for Shai'tan the literal truth, interestingly. Here we have the origin of Moridin's adopted colours: the red and the black of the Pit of Doom - of destruction and the great void. Those forced to wear it will be literally owned by the Great Lord himself, and put in Moridin's care.

The symbolism attached to Shayol Ghul, the Pit of Doom and the valley of Thakan'dar proceeds a great deal through inversions. Inversion of the natural order and of the series's symbols. This is a major theme of the series that is especially developed in this book and to which we will return in a post centered on the title itself.

Shayol is in a valley, but it is a dead and barren valley. Commenting on the fact he had to let go of saidin and lost the keener sensual perception he gained from it, Demandred added no one wants to smell the air around too much anyway. As we have observed in previous posts, water and rivers in particular are associated to the True Source and to Life in the series. In this valley, only a rivulet flows and to touch it is to die, however Demandred reveals that this location (before the mountain arose, before the drilling of the Bore created it - connecting this event with the symbolism of LTT's death), used to be a temperate resort island - a virginal land enjoyed by those who loved the rustic (a kind of Eden is the intention behind this description), completing the association to Dragonmount and Tar Valon; notice the inversion: LTT created Tar Valon in a remote pristine area by twisting the land, the creation of the Bore/SG destroyed a pristine, beautiful island.

Nothing lives there now (though Death aka Moridin has his palace nearby), even those creatures Demandred calls Forgers, the new type of Shadowspawn (and we'll leave to others the usual rhetorical debate whether the forgers should even be called such) are said not to be truly alive. We are left to understand they are like automatons made of inanimate matter (stone, all other creatures are tied to live things, from animals to trees), semblance of lifeforms moved by Shai'tan's will - like fingers of stone which he moves and grabs souls with then place them in Myrddraal's blades (a cut from which is almost certain death, we were told by Moiraine and Lan in TEOTW). Shayol Ghul is mostly a world of greys and blacks, the other colours barely perceivable in the murky light. It is the black that mutes and absorbs and level everything, the black of the void, of un-creation.

Jordan made here with the Forgers a very clever allusion to the motifs he associated to the Blacksmiths - and has Demandred emphasized it by musing over whether the creatures can even properly be called smiths. The Blacksmiths in the series is portrayed as a Maker/Unifier, who bring together the 'male' forces of earth (metals/coal) and fire to design and create a variety of tools, from the ornamental to necessities of life - and occasionally they need to make weapons, or transform tools like scythes into weapons. A lot of Perrin's storyarc, a builder/creator forced to also embrace his darker destructive side in order to fight evil, is tied to to this dual symbolism (the axe and the hammer in myth and symbolism are both tools of death/resurrection - many gods including Tor have hammers with both functions, one side to kill, one side to resurrect. This is tied to their duality - both are used to create new things, both can be used to kill. Departing a bit from this, Jordan made his choice to associate the death to the Axe and life/creation to the Hammer, by clearly making the Axe a war axe and the Hammer a blacksmith hammer. While both can be used a weapon, and theoretically Perrin could use the war axe to fell trees and build something, Jordan has clearly split the dual functions of Tor's Hammer (or the Dagda's cauldron in Celtic myth) between each object, one associated to destruction, one to creation) Those unnatural stone giants can make only one thing - Myrddraal's blade - and they make it through destruction and perversion of what is alive, a person. Unlike Aginor's Shadowspawn, these things are not truly alive, they are purely dead matter moving at Shai'tan's will. All the motifs surrounding Shai'tan's role are in them: Shai'tan doesn't create the same way the creator can create; what he can do is only destroy, twist and pervert elements already within Creation. The Lord of Death, he is incapable of giving anything the spark of life - even his immortality proceeds from a trick of taking a soul and stealing another living being's body to place it in. This symbolism teach us that if Shai'tan ever ran out of living beings, he would be unable to give anything the spark of life. We have also seen this symbolism used in TGH, in the empty Portal World.

To further increase the feeling of inversion, Jordan used various tricks. There are literal ones, like the lightnings which strike from the ground and into the clouds. He used literary tricks too, like this choice of metaphor: "Above, roiling gray clouds hid the sky, an inverted sea of sluggish ashen waves crashing around the mountain’s hidden peak." (Loc, The First Message), giving the strange feeling there is a roiling sea instead of a sky above. He also used metaphor to emphasize the environment of Shayol eats up 'creation': "mist marked his breath, barely visible before the air drank it. Eat up, drank, swallowed up are words very present in Shayol Ghul chapters.

In this episode, Jordan also reinforces the symbolism of the colour white as the blank slate (associated to pure spirit too) and the colour associated to death, but to death with the promise of a new beginning. The colour of winter, of snow that let everything under it rest before the great rebirth of spring. In these scenes, white is the colour of the blank blade of the Myrddraal being made - but when a soul is put into it (or so we can presume, anyway) and it is dipped in the deadly water (which by inversion of the usual symbolism for water is forcibly a symbol for the True Power), it takes the black of the final death. Winter's association to death is also greatly reinforced: first, Demandred tells us that far above this realm of death is eternal winter and ice, then goes on to tell us Thakan'dar itself lives in eternal winter - but notice that here it's a winter of eternal death, without any snow nor rain - a land of greys and blacks, a realm of death, with no promise of any spring to come.

Another motif introduced at Shayol Ghul (we have seen it before in scenes at Ishamael's palace) is that of the unnatural Gathering Storm, striated and roiling with black, silver and lightnings above the Pit of Doom and around the mountain. We have already seen this unnatural storm again in KOD, early on above Caemlyn, and at the end giving a very ominous tone to the meeting at which Elayne gained the Lion Throne. As I'll mention the first scene from TGS (as we heard of from reports about the tape played at JordanCon, I'll use the spoiler tag.

Minor TGS prologue spoiler - click to expand

Keep an eye out for this motif/element to become prominent in the finale, as those who've read the report from JordanCon's panel when Harriet played a tape of Jordan narrating the first scene of the prologue already know. This unnatural storm seems about to travel all over the place - Shai'tan's realm is expanding."

Another little thing to attract your attention to: notice as you reread how often Jordan refers to fools in Lord of Chaos. Demandred uses the word multiple times - and the rest of the prologue continues the trend. The multiplication of references to 'fools' idiocy, insanity and madness plays the same role through Lord of Chaos the piling up of mentions of fire and everything related to fire or the sun played in The Fires of Heaven. I'll leave the exploration of this to the post about the title and main themes of the book.

Finally, it's interesting to see Demandred notice the presence of a few human prisoners who he assumes are victims of raids in the Borderlands - but in much smaller numbers than usual - and this despite pointing out that those have been curtailed. This solved the mystery of the 'strangely quiet Blight' mentioned in reports to Elaida in The Fires of Heaven. And since raids have been curtailed, those are very likely 'collateral victims' from raids that were ordered to find suitable bodies for the transmigrated Forsaken - relatives or neighbours of the people whose bodies were used for Aran'gar, Osan'gar, Moridin or Cyndane, quite possibly.