Monday, March 22, 2010

Winter's Heart Read-through Post #4: The Imperial Return

By Linda

And so we come to the long-anticipated arrival of the (at the time) future Empress who, while she won’t live forever will, after she channels, live for a very long time. Her entry onscreen often cues Handel’s triumphal music “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” in my mind, although Mat is definitely no Solomon!

As befits someone with large amounts of magical as well as temporal power, Tuon has parallels with quite a few powerful mythological and historical figures and these are described in the Tuon parallels essay newly released here on the Thirteenth Depository.

Some of the parallels link her closely to her consort Mat, well-matched mates for each other as they are, but others are Tuon’s own: Tuon is no mere adjunct to Mat, but an important figure in her own right. Like Mat she has strong links with deities of the sea and horses, wealth, luck and war, the last leading on to her important role as Queen of the Underworld/Dead. Independently, however Tuon has links to justice and order goddesses and mother-plenty-fertility goddesses. She is the dedicated Mother of an Empire always at war or in rebellion, and the prosperity, order and justice she brings is supported by her well-honed armies at her back. Her purpose with the Return is:

to reclaim what had been stolen from her ancestor.

- Winter’s Heart, What A Veil Hides

In other words she is Nemesis restoring proper order as she sees it and changes the Fortunes of the Westlands.

Tuon is very much the empress - be it a conquering warrior one or a caring one, but has an end of era feel about her, like Emperors Hirohito of Japan and Puyi of China, as though she is the last of the traditional type of Seanchan ruler. And like them has a strong war and corruption motif surrounding her.

How can the Empress’ sovereignty not be changed when Tuon currently has no heirs, or even family, her homeland is in anarchy, she has made an unconventional marriage and even more potentially explosive: she could learn to channel? She almost certainly will channel in these Last few Days to save somebody or something. Her predicament is mirrored in that of the sul’dam Bethamin who, knowing she could be damane, agonised over her duty to the Empire to be collared and finally channelled to ‘save’ herself from the dreaded Aes Sedai (who ironically are bound not to kill with the Power). This same threat of channelling hangs over Tuon, symbolised by her changing all her names except one upon becoming Empress and keeping the seemingly insignificant one which is an anagram of athame, a witch’s knife. Tuon has cut the Aes Sedai witches once already, and will again now that she has her long line of women to call lightning against the Tower, as Egwene dreamt (The Dragon Reborn, Questions and see Egwene’s Dreams essay). However, will the blade of ‘witchery’ cut Tuon in her turn, leaving Nemesis hoist by her own petard? Very likely. I believe she will be forced to channel and she is going to face rejection by some of her own people as a result. This is where Berelain sur Paendrag may step to the fore, whether she wants to or not. It’s one reason why Berelain has been kept prominent in the series. If the Seanchan start focussing on the Last Battle instead of dividing and distracting the westlands and enslaving women channellers, the Shadow can disunite them by revealing the sul’dam’s, and therefore Tuon’s, ability to channel. Berelain, who flies Hawkwing’s hawk standard as his descendant, may become an alternative ruler for the disaffected.

Like Berelain, Tuon uses Hawkwing’s colours of blue and gold as we see in her first scene: the carpet in Tuon’s cabin was of gold and blue and so was the cape she wore for her arrival at Ebou Dar. For Berelain these colours refer to being a ‘royal hawk’ as Artur Hawkwing was, but in Tuon the hawk has partly been displaced by the Seanchan raven, and the colours also refer to royalty on the sea – or at sea.

The Daughter of the Nine Moons wears a raven and rose motif marking her as the much-loved flower of the Seanchan Empire. The raven is a carrion eater and scavenger associated with the Dead. (It would be interesting to know when and why the Seanchan adopted a symbol used by the Shadow.) As the flower of the Seanchan ravens, Tuon has come to pick over the remains of Hawkwing’s empire. After the Last Battle, the nations – what is left of them – will resemble that empire even less, which is why I think Tuon won’t be Empress of the Westlands.

But back to her arrival: Tuon has quite an entourage as befits a goddess empress.

  • 6 damane – the best of her damane, and interestingly an Aes Sedai is one of them, so Tower training is not so bad!

  • 18 sul’dam

  • 10 maids

  • Anath, her Soef'eia

  • Selucia

  • Ronde Macura

  • Yuril, her Secretary and Hand for her Seekers

  • >500 Deathwatch Guards

  • 25 Gardeners on ship with her but 100 Gardeners all told.

  • Tuon ends Winter’s Heart rolled in a rug like Cleopatra to be taken by, rather than to, the great general Julius Caesar/Mat.

    * * * * *

    EDIT: I've decided to change the format of the read-through posts that introduce essays to include the first page of the new piece. So here is my analysis of Tuon:

    Character Parallels Tuon

    This essay will deal with the sources I think were used to create Tuon. Due to her late, though long anticipated, entry in the series, many see Tuon as no more than Mat’s wife. However Tuon also has important functions that have nothing to do with Mat.

    Each one of the couple finds the other very complex, with Mat complaining about Tuon:

    That little woman made a blacksmith’s puzzle simple.

    - Knife of Dreams, Dragons’ Eggs

    Just like Mat, Tuon has many parallels: mythological and historical references to the sea, war, wealth, horses, empires, fertility and marriage, justice, and the Underworld.


    With the Return figuring large in Imperial planning for over a hundred years (The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time) and taking up considerable resources, the Seanchan Empire has become increasingly associated with the sea. Tuon’s triumphant arrival with thousands of great ships crossing a large and underexplored ocean links the heiress of Seanchan to sea goddesses.

    At one stage Tuon considered making Tar Valon her capital (Knife of Dreams, A Village in Shiota) but she announced publicly in her audience hall with its ceiling painted with gulls and fishers at sea, and the walls a soft blue, that it would be the maritime port of Ebou Dar, and this while wearing a pleated gown of the deepest sea blue, a white cape fluttering behind her like wave foam (The Gathering Storm, Gambits). Her fingernails were lacquered blue in this scene, instead of their previous red.


    Mazu, or Mat-su ("Mother-Ancestor"), is the East Asian goddess of the sea who protects those associated with the ocean. According to legend, she was born Lin Moniang in 960 AD as the seventh daughter of Lin Yuan of Fujian, China. The menfolk of her family earned a living by fishing. Lin Moniang started swimming relatively late at the age of 15, but soon was an excellent swimmer. She was greatly concerned about the dangers of the sea and stood on the shore wearing red clothes in all weathers to guide the fishing boats home. She was said to have saved her brothers and father from drowning at sea in a storm when she was either in a trance or dreaming. Lin Moniang also healed the sick and could predict the weather. After she died, she became a folk hero for her deeds and for trying to save those at sea, and was ultimately deified as Mazu.

    Mother-ancestor would be an excellent description of how the Seanchan regard their Empress. Red is the colour of the Seanchan Imperial family, which is why Tuon’s long fingernails are lacquered red (Knife of Dreams, Prologue) much of the time. Saidar itself is often symbolised by water in the series, and Tuon teaches damane in a much more positive and caring way than most. Having trained damane, Tuon has the potential to learn to channel, and may well be forced by events to do so – relatively late at age 20. Channellers, even those made damane, exhibit similar talents to Lin Moniang: Tuon has taught her damane Healing and has one which can tell ‘fortunes of the weather’ (The Gathering Storm, A Halo of Blackness), presumably similar to or the same as predicting the weather by Listening to the Wind. In Seanchan, people adopt new names as they change rank: Tuon took a new name when she was invested as Empress.

    In paintings Mazu is usually depicted wearing a red robe, and in sculptures she is a heavily bejewelled empress holding a ceremonial tablet or a jewel staff, and wearing the flat-topped imperial cap with hanging beads front and back. She is usually accompanied by two guardian generals known as "Thousand Miles Eye" (usually red in colour) and "With-the-Wind Ear" (usually green). They are believed to be former suitors whom she each challenged to fight her for her favours. Mazu defeated them in unarmed combat and they are now completely loyal and do her bidding.

    In Ebou Dar Tuon wore much jewellery and was interested in Mat’s ashandarei, and in Jurador, she had Mat buy her many shades of red silk which she had made into clothes. Tuon showed her skill in unarmed combat when she wrestled with Mat. The colours of the Deathwatch Guard are red and dark green. Like Mazu’s two generals, they are supposed to be loyal guardians. When hunting Tuon they likened their task to ‘catching the wind in a net’ (Crossroads of Twilight, The Tale of a Doll).


    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    Excellent post as always.. Minor spelling corrections suggested: Soe'feia, Selucia. I feel nit-picky today! :)