Monday, August 1, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #37: Chapter 34 - Legends

By Linda


The fool motif is a strong one in Mat’s character, and one I’ve written about a couple of times before here and here. It comes to the fore in this chapter, though it’s not always done well.

It was time to stop being a fool. The whole world had decided to turn against him—even rural mountain towns were death traps, these days. Next he knew, the daisies on the sides of the road would be ganging up to try and eat him.
That thought gave him pause as he remembered the poor peddler, sinking into the phantom Shiotan town.
When that ghostly place had vanished, it had left behind a meadow with butterflies and flowers. Including daisies. Burn me, he thought.

The Gathering Storm, Legends

During the Saturnalia and similar festivals in early times, the fool was given power for a day as part of the anarchical reversal of the strict social order which gave a much needed outlet for the suppressed. In The Wheel of Time, the Dark One is trying to turn the world upside down to sow chaos and weaken social order and strength.

Apart from being innocuous little flowers, daisies are also the “day’s eye,” a solar symbol, and thus a link to Rand, the most solar character.

Normally Mat is the most loved character and can go anywhere with impunity. Here he is aware that this is increasingly under threat.

“I'm tired of walking into traps unprepared. I plan to take command of my own destiny, stop running from problem to problem. It's time to be in charge."
"And you do that with ..." Julin said.
"Elaborate aliases with backstories," Mat said, handing Thom and Noal their sheets.

The Gathering Storm, Legends

Mat’s silly background stories are not good characterisation. Most tricksters spin a good yarn, especially ones as skilful as Mat (see Tricksters essay). These stories are deliberately incompetent. I think it’s a mistake to make a mockery of him for a few laughs.

A better example of Mat's skill as a trickster is how he tricked Joline‘s Warder into lending his fancloth cloak by lying by omission. When Verin arrives Mat regrets that his preparations for Trustair are now redundant. Of course, this makes Verin the stronger trickster. The merchant who sketched Mat the plan of Trustair and then reported to Verin that he had met Mat and sold him the “wanted” picture could be a Darkfriend, or he could be a good guy sent by Verin. Whichever he is, we could not realise the significance of this yet.

Mat’s crossbowmen are firing crossbows every 8 seconds, which is faster than early modern weapons, yet Mat now wants to develop a new method of loading which doesn’t require the crossbows being lowered.

Thinking has changed since Jordan devised the crossbows for Mat’s Band. Ralph Payne-Gallwey's book on the crossbow wasn't available on Google books when Jordan wrote Knife of Dreams. It has influenced thinking on crossbow arming speed and one arming device similar to Mat’s crank, the cranequin, is now thought to have taken 35 secs to load, rather than 8. The re-arming speed of another device, the windlass, is still the same at 12 secs though. And Mat wants to shave 4 seconds off the cocking time. That would put the bow up with the re-arming speed of the best of modern crossbows.

Mat is careful not to annoy Aludra because he wants the plans for the dragons. He is using her and she is aware of it. This is the sort of ambivalent thing tricksters do. Aludra is hurt that Mat transferred his attentions to Tuon and makes a sarcastic remark about Mat’s attraction to gold. He is a god of wealth (see Mat essay). She could be implying that Mat married for money.

Aludra is a fire goddess (see Mat essay). She has invented primitive matches, which will strike fire quickly and efficiently at will, and another firepower, the firing of gunpowder weapons. Mat’s “appropriating” of this “fire” to change the face of warfare parallels that of tricksters stealing fire from the gods to aid humanity. Aludra says to Mat:

“Do not complain of the heat when someone offers you the sun in the palm of her hands."

The Gathering Storm, Legends

Aludra is a rather down to earth goddess and has started a feasibility study of her dragons. The copper and tin are for casting the bronze bodies of the dragons, while the sulphur, charcoal and guano (nitrates) make gunpowder (see Mat, Fireworks and Bellfounders article).

Mat thinks Rand might afford the production costs of the dragons, but he couldn’t.

Why, he'd have to dice with the queen of Andor herself to find this kind of coin!

The Gathering Storm, Legends

He’s mistaken. Rand has practically bankrupted his estates to feed people. In Towers of Midnight Mat bargains with Elayne instead of dicing with her and sells the services of the Band to get her to finalise the production of the dragons.

Egeanin really admires Aludra’s brilliance and it’s appropriate that a fire goddess is brilliant. The exiled Seachan woman won’t aid the Seanchan, but won’t fight them either.


Anonymous said...

i dont know what but something about that didnt work. i couldnt tell if mat had done a bad job with the IDs or the others just found the whole idea funny but the way this happened didnt feel right reading it.
it is good to work out a background to cover any questions so i dont get why they didnt like it. its the little details that get you killed

and dont worry about the crossbows for 2 reasons one of is its fiction and the other is we dont have exact details for them so they could just be really well designed and made from the best materials around that we might not have access to yet

Peter said...

Yes, I also found that Mat's character in this chapter did not ring true to current form. I had the same feeling when reading the ToM chapter about Mat, Perrin and the badger.

It was like Mat regressing to his juvenile prankster days in tEotW.

LordJuss said...

I know loads of people did, but I never really had a problem with this. It reminded me of the story Mat came up with in Crossroads of Twilight when his little group join Valan Luca's circus (the story about him and Egeanin being lovers and Tuon and Selucia being escaped servants). It's an equally daft set of backstories and people only buy it because Mat-the-trickster is able to make it sound convincing. I'd always assumed this section was a reference back to that.


Linda said...

LJ: In COT the stories were verbal, not written and that makes the difference. The backstories seemed too much like theatre scripts and too modern. Even the word backstories is modern in feel.

And then we get the silly mis-written message to Elayne in TOM, when Mat's message to Nynaeve and Elayne in Ebou Dar was better written. There's been a tendency to play Mat for laughs in the last couple of books.

Anonymous said...

i liked the letter to elayne i just didnt get why the this chapter didnt work i laughed at the letter and elaynes reaction and it fit with him still being annoyed at her for playing the queen in altara and got a little bit of revenge for being left behind by commenting on hers

Molly said...

I had a problem with this scene as as well, mostly because it has already been established that Mat doesn't like having to write; it seems very out of character for him to have written scripts.

Leyla said...

it seems like sanderson can write the characters he dislikes almost better than the characters he likes! is it just me, or is almost ALL of the dialogue in TGS incredibly stilted and formal? i know that the characters have matured a great deal, but their verbal interactions were never yawn-worthy. aside from the way mat spoke, almost everyone - rand, egwene especially - did not talk at all the way that jordan wrote them. i can't complain really, he's doing his best to write the books, but i think he was more on point with the dialogue in TOM.

Anonymous said...

well later rand didnt really have emotions so he would have been formal or rude depending on how annoyying you are. and perrin and faile are still awkward at the time so they would be more formal with each other than normal.

i dont care how he writes egwene i am just hoping she is stilled and pushed into an open gateway to nowhere and dies alone screaming in the dark for being more annoying than my sister, hitler and bush combined

Anonymous said...

I actual suspect that Robert Jordan had some form of Asperger's because his writing style is consistently and stylistically a hideous jumble. Jordan is a writer who writes `this fire was not at all small, and the room seemed not far short of hot, a welcome heat that soaked into the flesh and banished shivers' [343] because he is constitutionally allergic to the phrasing `a large fire warmed the room.' He thinks the former sentence is more precise and therefore evocative. He's wrong. That's not precision, it's a finicky fussing textual Asperger's, a style that can see nothing but details (and, more to the point, nothing but a certain very limited palate of details - colours of clothing, speed of movement, types of food, gradations of heat and cold-never the telling details great writers master). It is a style wholly incapable of illuminating penetration or evocation.

Thomas Kinkade is Robert Jordan's equivalent in visual art, art with a small `a'!

Both caught up in mindless detail that is badly illustrated and neither having an understanding of composition and abstraction required to produce real Art.

Anonymous said...

I'm not gonna lie; I wish I could've read this on the 9th so I didn't have to waste my time reading the comment directly above. Not to mention that Jordan didn't even write this book...