Friday, October 29, 2010

Analysis of Minor Characters #7: Vanin

By Linda

Vanin is a mirror of Mat, just as Gaul is of Perrin. He is the older version of what Mat would like to be: a scruffy anti-noble master horseman and thief, a good fighter who avoids both fighting and work as much as possible.

There’s quite a bit of hero worshipping in Mat’s attitude to Vanin at first:

Dripping sweat, Chel Vanin reined his dun gelding in before Mat. In a rough gray coat that fit his balding bulk like a sack, he sat his saddle like a sack, too. Vanin was fat, and no getting around it. Yet improbable as it seemed, he could ride anything ever born, and he was very good at what he did.
Long before they reached Maerone, Mat had surprised Nalesean, Daerid and Talmanes by asking for the names of the best poachers and horse thieves among their men, the ones they knew were guilty but could not prove anything against…
Those seven men he took aside and told that he needed scouts, and that a good scout used much the same skills as a poacher or horse thief. Ignoring fervent denials that they had ever committed any crime whatsoever—more from each than from Talmanes and Nalesean combined, and just as eloquent if far coarser— he offered pardons for any thefts done before that day, triple pay and no work details as long as they reported the truth. And a hanging for the first lie; a lot of men could die from a scout's lie. Even with the threat they leaped at it, probably more for less work than for the extra silver…
The last, named by all three just before him, had been Chel Vanin, an Andoran who had lived in Maerone but ranged wide on both sides of the Erinin. Vanin could steal a hen pheasant's eggs without disturbing her on the nest, though it was unlikely he would fail to put her in the sack too. Vanin could steal a horse out from under a nobleman without the nobleman knowing it for two days. Or so his recommenders claimed in tones of awe. With a gap-toothed smile and a look of utter innocence on his round face, Vanin had protested he was a stableman and sometime farrier, when he could find work. But he would take the job for four times the Band's normal pay. So far, he had been more than worth it.

- Lord of Chaos, Heading South

They had advance scouts out, of course, but none of them were as good as Vanin. Despite his size, the man could sneak close enough to an enemy fortification to count the whiskers in the camp guards' beards and never be seen. He'd probably make off with their stew, too.

- The Gathering Storm, On a Broken Road

Vanin can spy out the lay of the land anywhere, avoid detection by Warders and yet detect them in turn, and according to Siuan, find out things before she puts them under his nose (Lord of Chaos, A Sudden Chill and The Colour of Trust).

Mat recognises Vanin as a fellow trickster figure, just as he did the similarly named Verin. Verin and Vanin are both disregarded because of their weight and their innocuous facades, Verin’s being prattling and Vanin’s sleepy.

Like Mat, Vanin is naturally scruffy:

His coat appeared to have been slept in for a week; it always did, even an hour after one of the serving women ironed it.

- A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic

It’s a sign that they don’t follow the rules.

Vanin spits on the ground when he hears or speaks of something he doesn’t like, just as Mat spits on his hand when making a bargain. Along with their untidy appearance, spitting reflects the earthiness typical of tricksters (more on this in a forthcoming Trickster essay).

Vanin, like Mat, respects his skin too much to fight, although he is skilled when he does: he

was the only man who had not been in two dozen scrapes already; for some reason, men looking for trouble walked as wide of Vanin as they did Nalesean. The only difference was that Vanin seemed to like it that way.

- A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic

Mat, too, avoids fights unless forced. Both men also avoid work; Vanin usually sleeping whenever possible:

Vanin sat up on his barrel, looked around, found nothing moving, and settled himself back again with his eyes shut.

- A Crown of Swords, A Note From the Palace

The men were all waiting in the Redarms' long room near the stables, everyone on their feet except Vanin, who lay sprawled on one of the beds with his fingers laced over his belly. Vanin said a man had to take rest when he could.

- A Crown of Swords, Promises to Keep

or perhaps reading:

Vanin, a balding suety heap, was lying on one in his shirtsleeves, an open book propped on his chest. Mat was surprised the man could read.

- Winter’s Heart, Pink Ribbons

He has even tricked the Band into permitting this indolence:

And with Vanin, too, but Vanin possessed skills that he considered put him above raising tents, and the Redarms agreed with only a little reluctance.

- Crossroads of Twilight, A Cluster of Rosebuds

Vanin and Mat both regard horses at least as highly as, if not higher than, people, perhaps because they so often take advantage of the latter.

Mat himself points out that Vanin has not stolen a horse since Mat has known him (Knife of Dreams, Dragon’s Eggs). Instead it is Juilin the thief catcher who has stolen something for Mat!

Tricksters like to reverse the roles of people, and are no respecters of rank. Vanin managed to extract information from an Aes Sedai (women notoriously unforthcoming with information) about mountain passes, which helps him move secretly from one country to another. He doesn’t like nobles or acknowledging their rank - at least until Elayne charmed him.

This caused the first cracks in Mat’s admiration for Vanin:

There was no "my lord" nonsense from Vanin. He made no bones about not liking nobles. With the unfortunate exception of Elayne.

- A Crown of Swords, The Triumph of Logic

The day Mat saw Vanin knuckle his forehead to her, heard him murmur, "Thank you, my Lady," without a trace of irony, that day Mat nearly swallowed his tongue.

- Lord of Chaos, The Wandering Woman

Vanin shifted his feet, shook his head. "A waste of time," he said flatly. "Lady Elayne would never go anywhere like that. The Aiel woman maybe, or Birgitte, but not Lady Elayne."
Mat closed his eyes for a moment. How had Elayne managed to ruin a good man in so short a time? He kept hoping that enough time away from her influence would set Vanin right, but he was beginning to lose hope.

- Lord of Chaos, Weave of the Power

and Mat was disappointed in Vanin when he was intimidated by Joline:

"What was this?" Joline demanded of Vanin. "You've finally determined where we are?"
"Bloody well have," Vanin said, then unabashedly scratched himself. Good man, Vanin. Mat smiled. Treated all people the same, Vanin did. Aes Sedai and all.
Joline stared Vanin straight in the eyes, looming like a gargoyle atop some lord's mansion stonework. Vanin actually cringed, then wilted, then finally looked downward, abashed. "I mean, I have indeed, Joline Sedai."
Mat felt his smile fade. Burn it all, Vanin!

- The Gathering Storm, On a Broken Road

Vanin’s susceptibility to seasickness also probably lowered him in Mat’s eyes:

Vanin bringing up the rear and staring gloomily at the choppy river; he claimed to have a tender belly when it came to boats.

- A Crown of Swords, Six Stories

It’s such an unheroic weakness.

Finally there’s a turnabout where, far from being admirable in Mat’s eyes, Vanin fears losing status or annoying Mat. After fully informing Talmanes of events in Altara, he stayed clear of Mat to avoid being told off:

The two riders slowed to a walk short of Mat, and Vanin reined in to let Talmanes approach alone. It was not shyness. There was nothing shy about Vanin. He leaned lazily on the tall pommel of his saddle and spat to one side through a gap in his teeth. No, he knew Mat would not be best pleased, and he meant to stay clear.
"Vanin brought me up to date. Mat," Talmanes said.

- Knife of Dreams, Attending Elaida

Vanin was particularly defensive about having to use the map-maker’s maps to guide them into Murandy:

"Vanin! Where on the Dark One's blistered backside are we?"
The fat former horsethief looked up. He rode a short distance behind Mat, and he carried a map of the area unrolled and folded across a board so he could read it in the saddle. He'd been poring over the bloody thing the better half of the morning. Mat had asked him to get them through Murandy quietly, not get them lost in the mountains for months!
"That's Blinder's Peak," Vanin said, gesturing with a pudgy finger toward a flat-topped mountain just barely visible over the tips of the pines. "At least, I think it is. It might be Mount Sardlen."...
The map belonged to the master mapmaker; it was only because of his presence that they'd been able to find this roadway in the first place. But Vanin insisted on being the one to guide the troop—a mapmaker wasn't the same thing as a scout. You didn't have a dusty cartographer ride out and lead the way for you, Vanin insisted...
Of course, there was also the fact that Vanin seemed threatened by the presence of the mapmaker, as if he were worried about being unseated from his position guiding Mat and the Band. Mat had never expected such an emotion from the overweight horsethief. It might have been enough to make him amused if they weren't lost so much of the flaming time.

- The Gathering Storm, On a Broken Road

lest he lose his privileges and just be an ordinary member of the Band.

So will Vanin fade into the Band, or will he regain his prominence with some skilful trickery or thieving?


Corigan said...

Great post.

Vanin has nothing to worry about however. Matt understands all too well - as the son of battles - that while there's several forms of intelligence gathering, Human Intelligence (HUMINT) is the most valuable and most reliable.

The map maker can be classified as TECHINT - technology based intel, which has it's place, but while it places nobody at risk in the obtaining of information, the information is not always 100% accurate, may not reflect the current situation well enough to be usefull or may be only a partial picture.

No, Vanin has no reason to fear losing his place, though Matt may not inform him of this...

Linda said...

Thanks Corigan. It was the shift in their relationship that interested me. Vanin started out making Mat feel he was lucky to have him, and ended hoping that Mat was still going to let him have his status and privileges. :)

Jack o' Shadows said...

Perhaps Vanin's unmatched hubris has been challenged by the strange events he has seen while traveling with Matt and Co. He has been knocked off balance by Elayne, housed in the Tarisian Palace, faced the indomitable gholam (well not quite directly), faced Seanchan both socially in the palace and in battle, has seen the advances in technology that Matt and the Band have acquired (cross bow cranks etc.) and has seen the advent of explosive weaponry. Perhaps most of all, he has seen Matt's battle luck. The man with steely confidence and a haphazard approach to life and his talents, wants to be a part of the Band more for survival than privilege now. I think the the wider world he has been exposed to leads him to believe that survival may only come by following Matt, or perhaps Elayne, and by maintaining his status to stay out of most of the fighting. I hope Brandon has some Vanin moments in the next two books that stretch and challenge the man as much as Matt has been (and will be). Thanks for posting on my favorite minor character!

Marcia said...

Another lovely character essay Linda. I've always been partial to "minor" characters like Vanin and Aludra, et. al. I think it's always been one of Jordan's particular strengths as a writer to give these characters a true depth and importance within the story, utilizing well both their relatively small "on screen" time and the perspectives of major characters with regards to them. It's always been one of the most satisfying things about WoT for me.

And I'm loving these essays right now as well, since I'm trying to get my WoT fix without encountering any major spoilers about ToM! I've indulged in the released TOR goodies the last few weeks (Prologue, etc.), but I won't get a chance to start reading the book until a couple of days after its release, so this is nice, thank you!

Linda said...

Jack: I took up your suggestion to look at Vanin. So many characters have seen their world over-turned and RJ shows their reaction to that very well.

Marcia: Thanks Marcia. After I post my review around about release date, I'll probably post Kandor costume and then slow down my posting while I update the articles and write new ones.

Anonymous said...

hmmm... these essays keeping on getting better and better. Is Morgase or Tam or Cenn Buie on your list ???

Linda said...

I shall add Tam to my list. Cenn might be more interesting if we see him again either at the Last Battle or afterwards in the Two Rivers. He's certainly one to bear in mind, though.

Morgase I'll look at when I write about the Elizabethan parallels of Andor. She's a fairly important character and her changes are so significant that they might warrant a longer style article.

Anonymous said...

It's Mat, not Matt, %%!%!!

Anonymous said...

dank u.
yes. that is so wonder Mat is pissed with tuon calling him matrim.

luvtheedragon said...

I think Lini makes a better important minor character than morgase :)

Linda said...

Lini was a character I was considering doing in this series, but the whole point about Lini (so far) is that she doesn't change.

Jack o' Shadows said...

@Anon My bad, I am always pleased when I can spin out a grammatically correct sentence, but my attention to detail can only stretch so far. This is a challenge for me, as writing is not my talent. So, sorry Mat fans, I will try to avoid butchering his name in the future.

FelixPax said...

Vanin is one of the few to know of the "Promise & Treaty", between Mat Cauthon & Tuon. A promise that Tuon will not cause dissension among Mat Cauthon followers.

This matters, because Vanin knows that Mat Cauthon instructed Bethamin & Seta to learn how to channel the Power with Aes Sedai, at the White Tower. If Tuon or the Seanchan leash Aes Sedai with a'dam, that will violate Mat Cauthon instructions. Tuon cannot legally leash any Aes Sedai who claims to be training Bethamin or Seta, nor any Aes Sedai who claims to follow Mat Cauthon.

(Yes, its seems that Egwene al'Vere will need to bend her knees to Mat Cauthon, so to save the Aes Sedai from the Seanchan Empire's a'dam. However, that a whole another topic.)

Separately, what did Mat Cauthon once think about Vanin?

"In truth, he was probably enough protection for two dozen pretty sixteen-year-old girls carrying sacks of gold, even here, but Mat insisted that Vanin and the rest keep their eyes open. In fact, the former horsethief and poacher kept so close to Elayne that anyone could have been forgiven for thinking he was her Warder, if a rather fat and rumpled one. " (Source: A Crown of Swords, Chapter 38 'Six Stories' - Mat Cauthon point of view)

Vanin did later act LIKE a Warder to Elayne in the Rahad, in this scene:

Elayne made an exasperated sound. “This is no time to stop for an argument, Nynaeve. The Bowl is upstairs! The Bowl of the Winds!” A small ball of light suddenly appeared, floating in front of her, and without waiting to see whether or not Nynaeve was coming, she gathered her skirts and darted up the stairs. Vanin dashed after her with a startling turn of speed for his bulk, followed by Reanne and most of the Wise Women. (Source: A Crown of Swords, Chapter 38 'Six Stories' - Mat Cauthon point of view)

Seems as if Vanin, will do the honorable thing. Vanin will try to protect Elayne, if she is at all at danger. Just like Mat Cauthon once did to in Ebou Dar, where Mat pushed some 20 odd Sea Folk Windfinders to follow Elayne & Nynaeve's will. Mat Cauthon pushed the then, Windfinder of the Mistress of Ships Renaile din Calon to enter into a personal Bargain, with Mat. This Bargain is still active, too. Seems as if Vanin as a mirror of Mat Cauthon's character, will do the same for Elayne, Nynaeve and the White Tower itself in the future. Perhaps remind the Seanchan of Tuon Treaty?

There is one character, who Vanin can use to set-up a truce in fighting at the White Tower, between the Aes Sedai & Seanchan. Valan Luca.

Vanin should know that Valan Luca, has a Letter of Personal Protection from Tuon, the Daughter of the Nine Moon. Vanin knows that Tuon married Mat. Vanin knows that Mat is the Price of Ravens. Vanin has held Mat Cauthon's ashandarei. Vanin is friendly with Setalle Anan, who heard Tuon speak a promise & seal a treaty with Mat. Valan Luca is know by many Seanchan soldiers, officers, and members of the Blood. Put together, Vanin and Valan Luca can get whom ever's attention is necessarily from the Seanchan's side. Every Deathwatch Guard and Gardeners should know what the Band of Red Hand Flag represents: The Empress's husband's personal army.

There exists a parallel between Chel Vanin and Valan Luca, each has an attachment to a particular young woman Aes Sedai.

Chel Vanin does act like a Warder, for Elayne Sedai.
Valan Luca did attempt to save Nynaeve, from harm during the riots of Samara.

Valan Luca even claimed: "I will find you again, Nana, and you will choose me. I know it in here.” (TFoH, Ch.47)