Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Storm is Coming! #15: What the Storm Means, scene 1

As the Gathering Storm is almost upon us, we finally turn to the Prologue scene-by-scene commentary.

Here is our dialogue on the opening scene.

This post discusses the first POV of the Prologue of The Gathering Storm, available at Tor.com and selected ebook retailers

Click here to expand the rest of this post

Dominic: First, a few general comments about the full prologue.

I found it good, really good, each scene is interesting - and I was terribly excited to read it - but taken as a whole piece - which the prologues aren't supposed to be - to be fair. The fact they are released early as ebooks artificially makes them appear so) it doesn't rank with RJ's best prologues, neither with the very long ones like Crossroads's or Knife of Dreams, nor with the "classics" like The Great Hunt's or Lord of Chaos's. It's not a fault in itself, though. The last prologues served mostly to make secondary story lines progress, and a lot of these are no longer necessary: Galad has probably reached the point where he can be included in the ongoing story as he's close to Perrin, and the Black Ajah Hunt seems to have reached the point where it can be folded into Egwene's story line. We're back to a prologue style that sets up things for the book itself, and as such it's less climactic, more subdued and concerned with set up, though it ends with a "bang", but the Faile scene isn't our topic for today.

Linda: The Prologue was divided in two, so there were going to be 8 to 12 POVS in it originally – more than in most of the prologues.

Dominic: I'm unsure about this. It's possible, but presumably the material from the original prologue that was moved by Brandon to the Towers of Midnight one concerned story lines that are not in The Gathering Storm at all. We may be talking of one or two scenes only. I wouldn't be surprised that most of the prologue of Towers of Midnight will be made up of tweaked scenes from further in the book.

Linda: Well there are six POVs in What the Storm Means, so if two went in to Towers of Midnight, that is eight. That is still more POVs than most Prologues. And Brandon did say that he moved some material from the original prologue to Towers of Midnight, so that represents a couple of POVs at least.

Dominic: Well, he also said previously that he moved scenes from the book to the prologue and from the prologue into the book, so at this point how many scenes were in the original prologue is a bit of a wild guess. Only Brandon could tell. 12 sounds too many. What's more unusual to me is that many of the scenes are fairly short - but as I was saying, it's no longer the style of the last three prologues. It's an hybrid between those and the mid-series's prologues that set thing up for the book itself.

The opening scene is one I long awaited to read. It's that scene Harriet picked for a special sneak peek at JordanCon, in the taped version of Jim telling the book's story to the family. Succinct reports had described it a bit and I was eager to see the final version. It did not disappoint.

This is a "ambiance scene", setting the tone. As such it's really well done, if perhaps a bit too long. I love those scenes in the books, they really do a great job at getting you in the proper mood. They don't work as well out of context, like here in an early release; you miss the echoes and ripples from that scene further down the line in the book.

But it's still an exciting scene for the tone it sets.

I also like when Jordan chose to include little snippets from life outside the story lines like this. It goes a long way to give the series this feeling of being this very large world.

Linda: Black and silver clouds have been seen before: in the local area around Thakan’dar. It’s an indication that the Dark One’s sphere of influence is spreading. Soon his touch will be as great as it was when the Bore was open.

Unnatural weather and season.

Dominic: It's definitely meant to evoke Thakan'dar. That storm is a huge part of the effect, but there's more than that – the dryness and the spring-that-doesn't bring new life back is another important aspect, as we see from this description by Demandred in the prologue of Lord of Chaos:

Thakan’dar was always dry as any desert, though always wrapped in winter.

The very weird vermin, everything that is dead rotting (like meat) recalls the Blight, as if the world was beginning to turn into the Blight.

Elayne and Nynaeve have succeeded in bringing a winter about with the Bowl of the Winds, but it doesn't appear to have had the rejuvenating effect of a natural winter, as if the Bowl had touched the weather pattern, but only the weather pattern, not any twisting of reality or deeper effect of the DO's touch. Their efforts may have slowed down the rest of the Dark One's corruption long enough to buy the world enough time to survive to fight the Last Battle. It was getting very strong, with food, everything that's dead really, rotting unnaturally fast in winter I suspect the corruption will accelerate greatly with the return of summer. We'll see the sun as a bringer of death and diseases, far more dramatically so than the Dark One managed with his "eternal summer" mid-series.

Linda: Well the taint made the men rot while alive, so no wonder everything is now either sterile or rotten. The Dark One's touch is literally putrid.

As a corollary, what does manage to be born alive should be genetically abnormal or mutant. We are assured Elayne's babies will be born healthy, but what about other newly born creatures?

Dominic: There's been several background mentions of freaks/monsters, but it's generally ascribed to ta'veren. It may be more than that...

Linda: How long will this effect last even if the Dark One is defeated? A full season, a full cycle of seasons?

Dominic: Perhaps. Some effects could be permanent. I heard one interesting theory once: someone suggested the Borderlands are way too cold for their latitude, and that the explanation may be that for the Wheel the whole Blight is out of reality - that there may be an anomaly in this - with the Borderlands getting a more direct influence from the north, as if the Blight was not there. Not sure the theory is viable, but it would mean great climate changes could be coming in the fourth Age.

To return to the storm... it also began to appear in Knife of Dreams. We've seen it briefly over Caemlyn early in the book, which was fairly ominous.

Linda: The smith is a Borderlander, but it sounds like Renald the farmer isn’t one.

Dominic: Ah… it's not what came to mind for me, the way Renald speaks of the south. My feeling is that Renald was a Kandori/Arafellin or Saldaean and his friend the blacksmith is the one who's been a wanderer, born in Shienar. The same "wandering" motif is attached to Perrin, who says that home is wherever Faile is.

An alternative would be that the scene is set in the south of Shienar, and Renald was the one born in another of the Borderlands nation. Renald really struck me a Borderman, though.

Linda: It’s time to make weapons instead of farming. The people could all starve, but if they don’t fight they will all die anyway. The unnaturalness and wrongness of Dark One is that nothing will grow, a sign that growers must also fight for the health of the land.

Dominic: Everyone in the end will have to fight, in their own ways. Food scarcity is becoming a real worry. I often wonder if the Tuatha'an rediscovering the Seed Singing of the Da'shain Aiel won't have to come earlier than later, much earlier than most expect. Most, perhaps all of the Tinkers are gathering in Seanchan-held zones now. Their contribution to the Last Battle may be to feed to the people by growing protected crops in the South. If the rest of the countryside is already as bad as So Habor (and I wonder again if it's a sign that the warmer weather in the south, even in the coolness of late winter helps the DO's corruption to spread faster), Altara sure could use their help.

Linda: We see the dedication and courage of humble folk versus the stupid ambition of nobles. They accept that it is the end – the Last Days.

Dominic: The common folk have a more immediate and practical view of things indeed. Jordan has roughly two sorts of nobilities. One is more very close to the ideal of the old nobility of arms, protectors. Perrin is like this, Elayne and the Bordermen, and even Berelain, and certainly the Seanchan – the Aiel chiefs and Wise Ones beside the Shaido could also be included in this. A lot of the rest of the nobility is of the second type, having abandoned most of their duties and concerned only with easy pampered life and their privileges, privileges they don't even have a right to anymore since they no longer perform the duties attached to them, hard duties. A lot of the southern nobility is like this, from Tarabon to Tear, and Cairhien. We can sense the end of an Age there. I doubt the Tairen High Lords would find it so easy to return to their oppression of the common folk now. They could face a revolution.

Linda: Where are the rulers? They have been manipulated by the Shadow into ignoring their own lands and people and chasing after Rand for ignoring them. They’re no better than he is; they’re worse, arguably.

RJ said on his blog that this was a plot of Shadow:

The Forsaken are a group of power hungry people who don't like one another and vie with one another for power as much as they vie with the forces of the Light. Much like the internal politicking in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But look at the situation in the world as it actually stands, from the White Tower divided to crop failures caused by a too-long winter and a too-long summer and people fleeing their farms because the Dragon Reborn has broken all bonds, meaning still less food, and that spoiling at a fearsome rate, from chaos in Arad Doman to a large part of the Borderland armies out of position, from the arrival of the Seanchan focusing too many eyes on them instead of the Shadow to the strongest single nation, Andor, riven by civil war in all but name and Tear split by open warfare, from.... Well, take your pick. There are lots more to chose from. Take a step back and look at what the forces of the Shadow have wrought. The world and the forces of the Light are in bad shape. At this point, boys and girls, the Shadow is winning.

So, are any of the rulers Darkfriends? Which of them have been influenced by a Darkfriend advisor?

Dominic: Among the rulers I think there may not be any darkfriends. Among the advisors maybe a few. I remain sceptical though. I think there's not necessarily a direct influence of the Shadow behind it – we may be misinterpreting what RJ meant with this, by concluding too fast he's made an important slip there.

I think what he may have been alluding to is the chaos the Shadow has managed to spread in the South, them and Rand and their manipulation of Rand. This chaos is by and large what seems to have brought the rulers to the South, to stop it if Rand was a false Dragon, or to bring him to stop it and listen to their fears and misgivings if he is the real Dragon Reborn. Rand in the end is as guilty as they are to have overlooked their coming to the South for so long. Cadsuane too should have known better.

I think their decision to come deal with Rand may not have been inspired by the Shadow, and ultimately it may not be such a disastrous one, if we look at it this way:

The initial onslaught planned by the Shadow may be so terrible and sudden that only an army forewarned and ready to face it at Tarwin's Gap may be able to slow it down. Down the line, where Lan's army may be able to hold, Shienar taken off guard may have been swallowed up, and Arafel next, by the time Saldaea and Kandor decided to send their men east instead of keeping them home in fear the Shadow will descend on their lands. The geography makes me think that anything much larger than raids shouldn't be coming down on the west – Lan seemed to say most of the Shadowspawn came out of Tarwin's Gap during the Trolloc Wars. I'm guessing they've invaded the rest of the Borderlands from the east.

Linda: I disagree. The fact that they immediately began to fight among themselves over Hurin's news of Falme is surely indicative that they were being manipulated by the Shadow long before Rand did anything much in the South. Normally they know better than to do that; nothing is worth the risk of weakening themselves and distracting themselves from watching and fighting against the Shadow, even if the Blight seemed quiet at the time. As Agelmar said, the Shadow never sleeps. They all know that.

Dominic: I have no doubt the Shadow played a role in the troubles, I'm just saying I'm unconvinced the Shadow had a big role near the rulers, directly provided them solution to go south. I think this is a decision the rulers made without much influence from the Shadow. We'll see. If there are DF among them, I doubt it will prove to be more than one advisor. The most suspicious/determined seems to be Ethenielle's. Easar's shatayan was against the expedition in the first place. Colavara had no role in it - Paitar let her know about the plans after they were made, or so he says. Ethenielle implied the plans were made very secretly between the rulers alone.

Linda: The smith is playing a leadership role and rallying the people to go north to the army and fight. Smiths are very important in pre-modern societies because they make the weapons and tools everyone needs for survival. And that what it’s all about now: survival. It’s interesting that Renald too knows smithing.

Dominic: This seems to be intended as an echo of Perrin's motifs.

Linda: Oh yes. And especially because smiths are also associated with the sky in many mythologies (Eg Slavic) and with volcanoes (Greece). Perun, whose name is so similar to that of Perrin, was a sky smith god. The smiths in the Prologue have responded to abnormal skies. Soon the twin volcanoes of Shayol Ghul and Dragonmount will erupt.

Dominic: Shayol Ghul may not be a volcano. The Bore underneath has an unnatural sky above, the Forsaken point out it doesn't show the sky above Shayol Ghul. I'm not sure about Dragonmount. It's threatening to erupt, but will it in the end, or is that a threat to avert by winning the Last Battle? I don't know. Dragonmount erupting would wipe out Tar Valon.

Linda: Already Dragonmount has been issuing noxious vapours, and black clouds. These are all signs to a geologist of an impending eruption.

It would be symbolically correct if this were to happen, volcanoes representing a way to core of the earth, the axis mundi; Dragonmount being the birth and death place of the dragon to boot. Dragons are associated with volcanoes. Volcanic eruptions were believed to be caused by them sleeping uneasily. As Rand has become increasingly injured and tainted, so Dragonmount has become increasingly unquiet.

Tar Valon island was created by Dragonmount, so it is fitting that the slate is wiped clean there by Dragonmount again. It's time for the island to incorporate men too as equals there. A minor, or controlled, eruption would not destroy it completely, but enough to leave something worthwhile to rebuild upon.

I think it's typical of RJ to have two volcanoes, one for the Dragon, one for the Dark One, both mirroring these very figures.

Dominic: We'll see. I tend to see Dragonmount's eruption more as a symbol for Shai'tan's touch on the Dragon. I think it's possible Dragonmount quiets down and never erupts in the end. I'm not saying this is geologically sound, but eh... Shai'tan's tends to alter rules of reality. Before LTT created Dragonmount, there's the earlier cause of the kinslaying and Moridin's healing of LTT that drove him to suicide, and the kinslaying is the result of Shai'tan's taint. If the whole dragon-as-a-monster is avoided this time around, I could see Dragonmount symbolically going back to sleep. If you wish, I see Dragonmount more as a sign that Egwene and Rand have to come together and work together. I think the eruption has a chance of being avoided in the end - if Rand comes to his senses about seing the Tower and Egwene as enemies, and if Egwene comes to her senses about controlling Rand, something she has about as much power over as quelling Dragonmount. Hmmm... actually... the channellers could have a chance at the second. The Asha'man and Egwene and the few women strong in earth quieting down Dragonmount before it erupts would also work very well, symbolically.

Linda: Ethenielle said they had all left enough forces unless Trolloc Wars come again…Yet Moridin is planning worse than that. Obviously the forces that remain won’t be enough. And who is to lead these forces? Lucky Nynaeve and Lan had more sense and dedication than they.

Dominic: Actually, perhaps the 200,000 bordermen south will be more useful later or elsewhere, and the fact Lan may be given a free hand to muster the common folk and the remaining soldiers alike may be what saves the world. He may have failed bitterly had the rulers been at home. It's quite a big gamble to gather all in Shienar, but perhaps it's what must be done.

Linda: We don't know that there is one all-in battle there. There may be several battles along the Borderlands, with Lan being the inspiration for each nation to gather their forces together and fight incursions at various places along the length of the Blight. I see news of what Lan is doing moving way ahead of him and men gathering at their nations' large towns as a result.

Dominic: Does Lan really needs to be inspiration? Surely the rulers left capable people in charge up north. It seems to me Lan is meant to regroup everyone and bring them to Tarwin's Gap. Which they won't do without him - or without the effect his passage. anyway.

Linda: The news of what he is doing has them gathering in anticipation and thus they are already in place when the attacks come.

Dominic: I'm curious to see if any of those characters will return in minor roles further down the line or not. With ambiance scenes, it's up in the air. RJ frequently used them as one-timers, but elsewhere he reused these minor figures. We could see them with Lan's army, for instance. Unless he introduces 'witnesses' of some sort, Lan is for the time being deprived of POV characters beside himself.

I suspect this could be the story line in which Brandon spoke of creating another POV character because a main one was on his own for a while.


As always you're welcome to leave us your comments, or to come join us in the ongoing discussion of What the Storm Means on our forums.

All unattributed quotes in this article are from What the Storm Means, Prologue of The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson, to be released by Tor Books on October 27th. Chapter One (in written form) and Chapter 2 (from the audio version of the book) are currently available for free on Tor.com, upon free registration to the site. The prologue, What The Storm Means, is currently on sale as an ebook from many online retailers (visit Tor.com for details).

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