Friday, March 4, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #3: Chapter 1 - Tears From Steel

By Linda


In The Gathering Storm the wind starts at the White Tower, a centre of power for three thousand years. That position has been seriously undermined. It’s now isolated in its own little state and has been broken and corrupted - by different people as the text hints: Elaida and Siuan broke it and Mesaana and the Black Ajah corrupted it.

More signs of corruption and civil disorder in Tar Valon are the bold street toughs. The Tower no longer manages its city well. Elaida is too busy and Aes Sedai eyes are turned elsewhere: on each other.

A few of the city's buildings are described and their forms presage some important issues of the book. The dome hinting at the form of a rising sun refers to Rand. He finally visits Tar Valon “soon”. The building is dwarfed by the Tower as are all the other buildings in the city and this reflects the Aes Sedai perspective on Rand and the world. Or how the Aes Sedai would like to see themselves in relation to Rand. But Dragonmount dwarfs the Tower…

Since flowing water usually refers to saidar, the fountain of two waves crashing together:

There a fountain sprang from the top of a building itself, cresting what appeared to be two waves crashing together.

The Gathering Storm, Tears From Steel

could refer to the Tower/rebel conflict or at least the upcoming Elaida/Egwene confrontation and also foreshadows the Seanchan attack on TV, which will include large numbers of damane. Elaida's rooms are near the top of the Tower, and at least part of the Seanchan attack will land on the roof, just as the fountain is on top of a building.

The two buildings of women reaching hands to each other:

a pair of steep three-story buildings stood opposite one another, each crafted into the form of a maiden. The marble creations — half-statue, half-dwelling — reached with stone hands toward one another as if in greeting, hair billowing behind, immobile, yet carved with such delicacy that every strand seemed to undulate in the wind's passing.

The Gathering Storm, Tears From Steel

reminded me of Egwene's dream of a Seanchan woman who will reach a hand to pull Egwene to safety. The two groups need to reconcile their attitudes to their respective female channellers. Another conflict in need of reconciliation is that of the rebel and Tower Aes Sedai. They will finally rejoin at the end of this book.

Even at the beginning of the White Tower’s foundation when the buildings were constructed there were dissenting groups of Aes Sedai forcibly made to join, and there have been mutinies at irregular intervals…and schisms too. The Tower unity has been a façade at times.

Much is made of the contribution men are making to the city in this chapter. The men are portrayed positively, more so than the Aes Sedai, who let the city decline. The Tower Guard are clean, unstained and white.

Then there's the irony of Reds working with men, and it's to weaken the city defenses further to remove the half-cuendillar harbour chain. This also reminded me of the six Reds gone to bond Asha'man Warders and the barrier of the Black Tower’s walls and the dreamspike which in Towers of Midnight will force the Reds and Logain’s faction to work together to break them.

Reds are destroying the Tower’s defences – chipping away at stones - just as Elaida destroyed Tower unity. In fact it is the outcome of Elaida’s divisiveness. The Tower’s stone defences are warded, and the Reds’ unravelling of these wards so men can remove the walls is symbolic of the Reds no longer needing to protect the world against male channellers but, as Pevara’s group shows in Towers of Midnight, working with men against a greater danger. Tsutama’s decree that Reds can bond male channellers as Warders is also chipping away at Reds’ prejudices.

Later in the book men will fight to protect the Aes Sedai and to rescue Egwene. Egwene planned that men should do any fighting to settle the schism too. If the Aes Sedai fight each other they can never be reunited.

While the Tower’s perimeter is being broken with the aid of men, the rebel camp’s perimeter now excludes men:

There was a tight perimeter between the inner camp and the outer one, a perimeter that had most recently been intended to exclude men, particularly those who could wield saidin.

However looking on men as ‘the danger’ was shown to be a fallacy in Knife of Dreams, since the danger came from a woman channelling saidin, and from one of their own Sitters.

In the rebel camp novices are being washerwomen. It’s symbolic of the Aes Sedai ‘washing its dirty linen in public’ and not hiding the shame of its disunity and the Black Ajah from the world.

Novices are beating rugs among the rebels, while their Amyrlin is a novice and is being beaten in the Tower. In the next chapter Egwene will say that she feels like a beaten rug after a session with Silviana.

The wind at the start of each book shows us ‘which way the wind is blowing’. It is the breath of the world: the world’s prana or chi, a reflection of the world’s vital spirit or energy flow.

The wind sweeps west from the White Tower past the rebels and is blocked and re-directed south to Rand by something from the Blight. It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good... as the saying goes. Its journey shows that Rand’s and Egwene's story lines are linked (and will be the central part of the book).

Much of this path is the reverse of that which Verin took Egwene, Elayne, Nynaeve, Mat and Hurin along in The Dragon Reborn and is another linking of Egwene and Rand.

The wind also symbolically moves from the beginning of the Third Age, where men are excluded, through to the chaos of now and indicates the extent of the Shadow’s influence on events. “Arid Domain” is what Arad Doman refers to and look at the state of it now. And as the interference from the Blight suggests, the chaos gets worse in The Gathering Storm. Graendal vowed in Lord of Chaos,that “she would sow chaos till the harvest made Demandred’s lungs explode.”

Rand is in Arad Doman to restore order and to protect it from the Seanchan. Graendal’s philosophy of ‘everyone in their place for the greater good of society and to serve her’ is a mockery of the social structure of the Seanchan, who are being prevented from taking control of Arad Doman. They too have a society based on a proper place for everyone and serving the Empire and Empress; but where they would bring order, Graendal brings chaos. Ituralde used Graendal’s orders to rally Domani and Taraboners into striking at the Seanchan and madden them enough to trap them.

Rand thinks the tents of Bashere's army look like stones on a board; he sees the army as something to be manipulated, as a war game. Distancing oneself from people is a sign of mental illness.

Rand is linked to Moridin, who fancies himself as a gamemaster and has previously used the board game metaphor for the way he directs and controls events – and cheats by playing both sides. The aim of stones being to surround numbers of your enemy’s pieces rather than take them piece by piece…

As he has in the past, Lews Therin bleeds across the link to Rand. There is leakage between Moridin and Rand too, shown in how they reflect each others’ stance and attitude. Rand’s likening of the Saldaean camp to a stones board and his thoughts:

Besides, he didn’t need to understand women in order to use them.

The Gathering Storm Tears From Steel

may be an influence from Moridin.

Graendal is all for everyone being in their “proper” place as defined by her so they can serve her as Rand is, but she believes it is essential to understand the people you want to manipulate. Ironically she had this thought in response to Sammael’s puzzlement over why Rand got upset when women died fighting for him...(Lord of Chaos, To Understand a Message).

Rand’s comment also expresses his self-loathing over feeling forced to use women, as though he knows how much his integrity of character has gone downhill, but can’t /won’t do anything about it. Yet.

Semirhage’s capture reminds Rand sharply of his own capture by the Tower embassy. This is why he won’t allow her to be tortured as he was. He doesn’t want to corrupt women either by allowing their torture, or allowing them to torture others. He doesn’t want to be like those Aes Sedai. And in fact the key to breaking Semirhage isn’t torture but another kind of cruelty – humiliation.

Semirhage's diagnosis of Rand’s madness:

"He’s insane... Clearly, he is hearing Lews Therin's voice. It makes no difference that his voice is real, however. In fact, that makes his situation worse. Even Graendal usually failed to achieve reintegration with someone who heard a real voice. I understand the descent into terminal madness can be . . . abrupt." Her lips curved in a smile that never touched her dark eyes.

Knife of Dreams, A Plain Wooden Box

whether real or false is not surprisingly undermining Rand. Supposedly she rarely lies, but she'll say anything to inflict pain. Is this paradoxical? Or is somebody wrong?

Graendal claimed no belief in ‘past lives’ anyway, judging by what she said in The Fires of Heaven, Prologue:

“It may well be that, as many believe, all are born and reborn as the Wheel turns….”

I’m not keen on relying on corrupt doctors. Nor on ones that disbelieve the source of the problem.

Rand’s state is steel, but Lews Therin is tears:

Yes, that was definitely sobbing, not laughter. Sometimes it was hard to tell with Lews Therin.

The Gathering Storm, Tears From Steel

Since Rand just suppresses all his feelings, or distances himself from them it’s no wonder he finds it hard to distinguish them. Incidentally the way he does distance himself from feeling is akin to living wrapped in the Oneness as Lanfear recommended as a way to become great. Great…

Rand says he has become steel – the man of steel, Superman. But Superman had a vulnerability. After Semirhage tortures him Rand tries to be cuendillar man, so hard he is now a statue, catatonic and unbending, not just unyielding. Finally he becomes a genuine super man at the end of the book by being neither steel nor cuendillar.

How apt that Rand sees through watery eyes at this stage. With corruption (and tears) all through the chapter, I doubt he is stainless steel. Lews Therin cries on Rand’s behalf.

Rand assumes he and Lews Therin will merge although as he discovers at the end of The Gathering Storm they were never two. Min's viewing of two men merging could just as easily have been Moridin and Rand. Too bad she gave no description of the other man she saw.

Rand's concentration on need is like using need in Tel'aran'rhiod: bending one's situation to suit one's will.

Need. No longer was it about what Rand wanted or what he wished. Everything he did focused only on need, and what he needed most was the lives of those who followed him.

The Gathering Storm, Tears From Steel

He does this increasingly through The Gathering Storm so that only the strongest is able, or dares, to withstand his will. Tuon and Nynaeve being two.

When Rand thinks that “Only Tarmon Gai'don matters” he sounds like Masema. Yet Rand has made a conscious decision not to use torture - not to be prepared to do anything to win. Cadsuane, who wanted Rand less dark and unfeeling, less like Shadar Logoth, thinks he should permit torture. Go figure.

Nynaeve says Semirhage is dangerous beyond reason. Rand found out how right she was. Semirhage did not scruple to do more to Rand than even the worst he could think of.

Cadsuane is dressed in green and yellow, representing life and healing, Nynaeve is in grey and yellow - mediation and healing - and Alivia in red - war (not Red Ajah since she's never been indoctrinated). War is about all Alivia knows.

How amusing that the Red Ajah now allows Asha’man Warders, whereas Rand has a ‘Red’ Warder in Alivia. I think this symmetry is intended, after all, Alivia feels she owes her freedom to Rand. Red clothes would have to be the most defiant gesture a slave can make after nearly 400 years dressed only in grey. A genuine Red, Teslyn, vowed to do anything for Mat in return for being freed from the Seanchan.None of the women with Rand could bring themselves to say anything about what was obviously an episode of insanity.

The dragon on Rand's handless arm has no head. This refers to Rand's insanity which is now openly known to those around him and is handicapping him. Is Cadsuane mad trying to force a madman to be polite? Can this help him keep those he needs around him? Barely. There's no laughter or tears in Rand, yet there is in Lews Therin. Rand's probably madder than Lews Therin since Lews Therin is more aware of what has happened than Rand is.

Rand expresses a dark view of Egwene in this chapter and in Chapter 1 of Towers of Midnight she will reciprocate. Part of Rand’s bitterness is leakage from Lews Therin who is angry that the women wouldn’t help at Shayol Ghul:

They refused to help us, you know. Refused! Said my plan was too reckless. That left me with only the Hundred Companions, no women to form a circle. Traitors! This is their fault. But. . . but I'm the one who killed Hyena. Why?

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and this leads into the vital questions of how to seal the Bore and what the role Egwene and the female channellers will payin this, and how to get men and women working together in balance.

How pitiful Rand has become:

My eyes see as if in a fog, my hand is burned away, and the old wounds in my side rip open if I do anything more strenuous than breathe. I'm dry, like an overused well. I need to finish my work here and get to Shayol Ghul. Otherwise, there won't be anything left of me for the Dark One to kill.

The Gathering Storm, Tears From Steel

Rand’s insight into his condition is more accurate than he knows. He is blind (foggy vision), losing his humanity (symbolised by losing one hand) and tainted, constrained so he can barely move safely. He is unable to cry due to being “dry” but Lews Therin leaks tears. As he realises after his epiphany, he does need to get to Shayol Ghul before the Dark One is too strong.

We have been told that Rand’s sword was Artur Hawkwing’s: it was confirmed by Kathana Travaeler of Dragonmount that this is the sword Justice through direct email correspondence with Brandon and Maria. This fact has not yet been used in the books.

The elation Rand feels from Elayne through the bond would be when Elayne secured the support she needed for the throne at the end of Knife of Dreams. The mood didn’t last long.

Brandon’s characterisation in this chapter is quite good, but there are out-of-character expressions. When Rand called Asmodean a weasel of a man it seemed the wrong word for me. It grated. Min I thought pretty consistent with how RJ portrayed her. Cadsuane doesn’t stride, RJ usually described her walk as smooth, a glide. Also, there was the art reference which didn’t work. Otherwise she was well enough. Lews Therin and Rand were excellently done and Nynaeve was good.

I shall end this post with some foreshadowing for A Memory of Light that also links with viewings Min has recently had on swords:

Rand reaching for his sword— a useless gesture, now. The loss of his hand, though it wasn't his primary sword hand, would leave him vulnerable if he were to face a skilled opponent. Even with saidin to provide a far more potent weapon, his first instinct was for the sword. He'd have to change that. It might get him killed someday.

The Gathering Storm Tears From Steel

So it might.


Shadar said...

"as Pevara’s group shows in Towers of Midnight, working with men against a greater danger"


Isn't Pevara on her own now? (assuming that the others have been turned by a 13X13 or similar?)

I had high hopes for Tarna -- but it seems Pevara and Teslyn and Silviana fill the "good" red quotient.

Linda said...

Tarna was going to work with Pevara until she was turned.

There are 6 Reds. We only saw 3 in Towers of Midnight. Let's see what has happened to the other 3.

Mendosi said...

"(assuming that the others have been turned by a 13X13 or similar?)"

Silly me - I didn't realise that's what was happening at the Black Tower in ToM. I thought there was something eerily familiar about those channelers having a change of heart, but I didn't click.

Thanks for these posts, Linda. Great stuff!

Molly said...

On Semirhage saying anything to produce pain but never lying: there are a lot of proverbs etc. that run along the lines of truth being the hardest thing to accept, the truth about your faults hurting the most etc. It wouldn't surprise me at all if everything she says is true. She'd like the fact that her "patients" can't comfort themselves by telling themselves she is lying because they know in their heart she is right. And if she is right about that, then she is right to hurt them.

It is easier to mold someone into obedience when they think you are right about everything.

Linda said...

Good observation Molly. Semirhage may thinks she is right, but that doesn't mean she is. Doctors aren't infallible. Graendal didn't appear to believe in past lives, therefore she is unlikely to have said what was attributed to her by Semirhage.