Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Gathering Storm Read-Through #52: Chapter 49 - Just Another Man

By Linda


For a short, quiet chapter, there is a great deal in it. It’s not just another chapter.

His first time in Ebou Dar, Rand walks around feeling nothing special – any man and everyman. Shortly, at the beginning of Towers of Midnight, upon coming down from Dragonmount, the first person he will meet will be Almen (all men) Bunt.

The Seanchan treat all citizens well unless they break the law, including that against channelling independently. They go out of their way to establish peace, law and stability in any lands they conquer so the populace accept them and don’t rebel. Otherwise they would have to tie up resources quelling insurrection. Their rule is tyrannical, and yet not:

They were conquerors. He felt their lands shouldn't be peaceful. They should be terrible, full of suffering because of the tyrannical rule. But it wasn't like that at all.
Not unless you could channel. What the Seanchan did with this group of people was horrifying. Not all was well beneath this happy surface. And yet, it was shocking to realize how well they treated others.

The Gathering Storm, Just Another Man

Currently Rand’s rule is also a tyranny of sorts, and because he is manipulated by the Shadow and exposed to the Shadow, the land is rotten around him.

Even pariahs like the Tinkers are not only accepted among the Seanchan, but encouraged to fulfil a useful civic function (and stay in one place): taking in late travellers, mending pots (the traditional occupation of real world tinkers), sewing uniforms, etc. Traditionalists among the Tinkers are concerned because they expect to find the Song while wandering like pilgrims as they search. Yet in 3000 years they haven’t done so. The Song truly is “as much a part of them as the Way of Leaf.” The two are intertwined together – they can’t have the Song, or the technique of Singing, unless they follow Way of the Leaf.

Rand, a, or the, pariah, joined the Tinkers’ camp for a night. Once, they served him as Da’shain Aiel. Ran always had mixed feelings about them: the Aiel prejudice against the Lost Ones and the mainland view of of Tinkers as idle thieves versus the knowledge that they kept one of the covenants, the First, to the Way of the Leaf, but broke the Second, to serve the Aes Sedai, unlike the Aiel who kept neither. Dressed in humble, everyman clothes, Rand carries a staff, a symbol of pilgrimage and search for wisdom. Like the Hermit of the Tarot (see Rand essay), he is solitary and separate from society, because he dare not speak his identity, and soon he will use the light of the access key and sa’angreal as guidance to ‘light his way’. Only, it will be the wrong way, which is why he casts aside his staff before he seizes the Power to destroy. Wisdom will slowly and painfully come from accepting this.

Perrin’s dream of Rand wearing rags and a rough cloak, and with a bandage covering his eyes (The Shadow Rising, To the Tower of Ghenjei) is fulfilled here. Min too had a viewing of Rand with a beggar’s staff in The Eye of the World. Rand is beggaring himself financially to feed the starving and is himself emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. He is blind to his psychological problems and where he has gone astray. Both images also allude to Rand in his role of Fisher figure in Moridin's Sha'rah game (The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances).

Rand feels the full culpability of being Kinslayer and is full of self-loathing:

He had nearly killed his father. He hadn't been forced to by Semirhage, or by Lews Therin's influence.
No excuses. No argument. He, Rand al'Thor, had tried to kill his own father. He'd drawn in the Power, made the weaves and nearly released them…
Lews Therin had been able to claim madness for his atrocities. Rand had nothing, no place to hide, no refuge from himself.

The Gathering Storm, Just Another Man

Rand is wrong; he too is insane.

The Seanchan have made a safer society than Rand has been able to. He is a danger to society himself, having nearly killed his own father and now planning genocide. Still, unbeknownst to Rand, Tuon has had two of her siblings killed:

His wife-to-be had had a brother and a sister assassinated? After they tried to have her killed, true, but still! What kind of family went around killing one another? The Seanchan Blood and the Imperial family, for starters. Half of her siblings were dead, assassinated, most of them, and maybe the others, too.

- Knife of Dreams, A Short Path

The Seanchan have conquered those nations which were not politically strong. As we saw in The Shadow Rising, they sent spies to determine which nations were weakest. To their credit, once they have conquered them, they do improve the stability and order of these nations markedly.

Rand is still bent on destroying his enemies because they have defied him. He is more concerned about whether if he uses a lot of power to destroy the Seanchan, he will attract Forsaken, than he is about the effect of using such large amounts of balefire. Once he decides to do it he leaves his staff behind; it’s not a pilgrimage now, but an attack. His isolation has led to alienation:

It felt so odd to be just another foreigner.
The Dragon Reborn walked among this people, and they did not know him.

The Gathering Storm, Just Another Man

The Dragon Reborn will die for these people and yet they don’t recognise him, nor does he know them. He has cut himself off from humanity and realises this as he walks anonymously among them but doesn’t notice that he is thinking inhumanely. No wonder his own father barely recognised his character.

He sees them as his people but he is prepared to kill them:

It will be a mercy, Lews Therin whispered. Death is always a mercy. The madman didn't sound as crazy as he once had. In fact, his voice had started to sound an awful lot like Rand's own voice.

The Gathering Storm, Just Another Man

They are as mad as each other. Once, Rand wept for women who died in his name, now death is a mercy. And his musings on balefire are ominous:

He could give those walls a purity they had never known, a perfection. That would make the building complete, in a way, in the moment before it faded into nothingness.

The Gathering Storm, Just Another Man

Nihilism as purifying sounds like Ishamael/Moridin’s philosophy (for comparison see here. The reason why Ishamael swore to the Dark One is because the Dark One plans to destroy the world (and rebuild it in his own image).

Rand sickens himself with his decision to commit genocide. The sickness is due to the war within himself over how corrupt he is now. The Land, being one with him, is blighted by his corruption, and he, one with the Land, is blighted in return. It is a positive feedback loop. Because of this close link between the Creator’s champion and the Land, following the philosophy of “as above, so below,” it is very bad for the world if Rand commits evil acts. The Shadow can win just by manipulating him into such sin, however well meaning Rand is, effectively corrupting him to their side, just as in the sha’rah game if the Fisher is forced onto the opponent’s colour on the goal row it is a conclusive win for the player.

Even in the extremity of his nausea Rand still holds onto power, so fond of it or reliant on it he has become:

But he held on to saidin. He needed the power. The succulent, beautiful power.

The Gathering Storm, Just Another Man

Humbling himself was the first step to ‘meeting his toh’ and restoring his honour as an Aiel would, and the shame he felt in Ebou Dar when people innocently showed concern for him while he secretly considered committing genocide underlines this. The strong sense of community and caring in Seanchan society prevents Rand from demonising them enough to justify obliterating them. He Skims away on an Aes Sedai symbol disc, which also represents a Seal on the Dark One’s prison. Rand is astride “good” and “bad”, creation and destruction, healing and corruption, trying to Seal away the Shadow. He is not balanced though, quite the opposite; he is so unbalanced that he is literally insane. He is increasingly merging with Les Therin in this chapter:

He didn't know if the thought was his or if it was Lews Therin's. The two were the same.

The Gathering Storm, Just Another Man

and this will be complete before the end of the book. Rand thinks the Pattern pushed him to destroy because destruction was necessary. His statement that “he was destruction” is a link with the Hindu god Shiva (see Rand essay). The Pattern wants him to realise before the Last Battle that destruction should be carefully limited. Perhaps it is necessary for Rand to know what evil is like so he can beat it? He needs to be dark before he finds light; he needs to be corrupt through his link with Moridin so he can cut himself off from Moridin. (This link also ties Moridin up for a while.)

First Rand Skims to where he fought the Seanchan with Callandor and both sides lost. He also lost control of himself in that battle thanks to Callandor. Then the Dragon Travels to Dragonmount where he died and was born again and will be reborn (transfigured). It is the end of one cycle right now. Three thousand years ago Dragonmount marked the end of one Age.

Dragonmount is the counterpoint to Shayol Ghul, centre of good to its centre of evil. Such solitary volcanic mountains represent the axis mundi, the sacred centre or heart of the world. In this case the mountain was formed by the death of the Creator’s champion and was the place of the soul’s rebirth. Dragonmount is one with Rand and both have wounds which bleed. We don’t know when Dragonmount had a volcanic explosion which tore away a section of mountainside and left a wound like the maw of a beast. Was it when Rand was wounded at Falme? When Rand fought Rahvin in Caemlyn, Rand roared like a beast. He seethes inside like a volcano and his temper is volcanic.

Under an overcast sky – unenlightened – Rand looks down at the access key – a small statue of a man holding a globe in one hand. Rand is now holding the world in his sole hand. He has the power to destroy the world. But, like his parallel Heracles (see Rand essay; Hercules' pal Atlas being a parallel of Perrin) he also has the world resting on his shoulders for a while.

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