Friday, March 19, 2010

Winter's Heart Read-through Post #3: Sevanna the Noble Savage

By Linda

Many of the westlanders deride the Aiel as savages; in Sevanna we have a noble savage - although not quite in the usual sense of the term.

From Winter’s Heart, until her capture, Sevanna wore only silk – dark grey silk skirts divided for riding, white or cream silk blouse laced very loosely and red or blue silk headscarf with or without a circlet of gems upon it – plus a crimson cloak, red boots and large quantities of looted necklaces, bracelets and finger rings. Laundering of luxury fabrics like silk is arduous and requires a lot of water, hardly acceptable to a semi-nomadic desert warrior society.

Red symbolises blood and fire and this is echoed in Faile’s thought that Sevanna had:

painted her name across the sky in blood and fire.

- Winter’s Heart, Offers

It is not a colour that Aiel wear everyday. Red fabric is expensive to produce, more so than almost all other colours, as well as conspicuous. But then that’s what Sevanna was trying to be. Sevanna’s red cloak is lined with white fur, yet the other Aiel won’t even add white to their cadin’sor for winter camouflage because it is a colour reserved for gai’shain. Neither do Aiel wear finger rings. Finger rings, especially in large quantities, reduce or limit the work capacity of the hands wearing them, which is why many people remove their rings for rough or messy work.

Since her clothes are impractical and expensive and violate the Aiel values of work and hardiness, Sevanna was the first Aiel noble.

Further support for this is that, contrary to Aiel custom, Sevanna intended her children to inherit her rank:

The wetlander notion of handing down rank to your children, and their children, for instance

- A Crown of Swords, Prologue

and had her gai’shain – slaves, in reality – refer to her as ‘the Lady Sevanna’ (Winter’s Heart, Offers).

These excessive numbers of gai’shain, all formerly of considerable wealth or rank, were dressed in white silk robes and elaborately jewelled gold belts and collars/torcs (Winter’s Heart, Offers) as a humiliating reminder of their fall, and, intentionally or not, as a mockery of the gai’shain and the Da’shain ideal as well as a semblance of a personal livery. Perhaps Sevanna was tempting fate wearing white fur. Under her leadership huge numbers of Shaido were made da'covale, exactly in the way the Shaido's wetlander captives were to be permanently gai'shain.

By Winter’s Heart, Sevanna’s feet were no longer good enough for transporting her, and she took to riding a horse – although it did keep her silk skirts out of the snow. It also literally raised her above the other Aiel. Since horses are often a symbol of saidin, riding one reflects Sevanna’s intention to control and use Rand. It is impressive how consistent the layers of symbols are in the books.

And even Faile was amazed at Sevanna’s new bathing routine:

The water for Sevanna's morning bath—she bathed twice a day, now!—had not been hot enough…

- Knife of Dreams, As If the World were Fog

especially considering that they are living in a crowded camp. Bathing twice daily would be unheard of in our world in the 17th and 18th centuries (see Private Lives article). Faile, too, thinks it decadent.

Sevanna was almost Graendal-like in her desire for servants - or rather, slaves - who were formerly of high rank (she just used different methods of coercion) and the trouble she takes over dressing:

Sevanna gathered the rich, the powerful and the beautiful, simply taking them if they were gai'shain to someone else…once she [Sevanna] did rise, all her talk had been of what clothes and jewels she would wear, especially the jewels. Her jewelry chest had been made to hold clothing, and it was filled to the top with more gems than most queens possessed. Before putting on any garment at all, Sevanna had spent time trying on different combinations of necklaces and rings and studying herself in the gilt-framed stand-mirror.

- Knife of Dreams, Something Strange

By Aiel standards, Sevanna was as decadent as Graendal, too, and both wanted to enslave Rand. Sevanna thought she would be able to bind Rand with a ter'angreal from Sammael, marry him, collar him, and use him as a puppet. Graendal said she would like to make Rand one of her pets – her most prized pet, to be the centrepiece of every display (Lord of Chaos, Threads Woven of Shadow). I guess this makes the austere, threatening and sadistic Therava an equivalent of Semirhage.

Ironically, while the Aiel have been regarded as savages for many years by westlanders, they have been a strictly ordered society with strong values. However under Sevanna the Shaido became closer to living up, or maybe down, to the insult than any Aiel previously.


Dida said...

Nice essay, Linda!

I've also wondered if Sevanna might of heard, learned whether fact or rumor Shara tales how their society ran previously? Did Sevanna in the back of her mind, want to be on top in the way the Sharan's supposedly are in their slave nation-state?

Linda said...

Thanks Dida.

From Rhuarc we learn that th Aiel do sell people to the Sharans but they believe that Sharans are liars.

I would think that Sevanna came up with her ideas herself. She's quite original for an Aiel.