Monday, November 28, 2011

The Theme of Living Dead

By Linda

The theme of the living dead began in the early books with Grey Men and Zomaran, then the restoration of dead Forsaken in Lord of Chaos and the appearance of ghosts in Crossroads of Twilight, and is more prominent than ever in The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight. The weakening of the distinction between living and dead is part of the wrongness the Shadow brings to combat the Light, balancing creation with destruction and natural with unnatural (the subject of my next essay).

Doomsday, a time of Judgement, literally approaches; heralded by the Last Trump, in this case the Horn of Valere summoning dead Heroes. We had a trial run in The Great Hunt to confirm Mat as summoner of the Dead. The Dark One as Lord of the Grave has increased his touch on the world and so his henchman Death has also been granted, or obtained, more power. However the Light’s King of the Dead, Mat, and his Queen, Tuon (a name associated with the Underworld; see Mat and Tuon essays), have likewise gained in influence, and Fain, Mat’s dark opposite, has developed some impressive living death and death dealing powers.

The Unquiet Dead

Ghosts have been appearing since Crossroads of Twilight, a sign that Tarmon Gai’don is near:

"Taim very likely will have to wait on the Last Battle, whatever he's about," Verin said suddenly. Her knitting, a shapeless lump that might have been anything, sat in her lap. "It will come soon. According to everything I've read on the subject, the signs are quite clear. Half the servants have recognized dead people in the halls, people they knew alive. It's happened often enough that they aren't frightened by it any longer. And a dozen men moving the cattle to spring pasture watched a considerable town melt into mist just a few miles to the north."

- Knife of Dreams, News for the Dragon

The dead walking are due to the Dark One loosening the Pattern and changing reality. As Lord of the Grave, he has influence over the dead and aims to break the Pattern, so everyone, perhaps even his Elect, will be dead.

In the Tower:

Women were seen walking out of walls, or into them, often in dresses of old-fashioned cut, sometimes in bizarre garb, dresses that seemed simply lengths of brightly colored cloth folded around the body, embroidered ankle-length tabards worn over wide trousers, stranger things still. Light, when could any woman have wanted to wear a dress that left her bosom completely exposed? Egwene was able to discuss it with Siuan in Tel'aran'rhiod, so she knew that these things were signs of the approach of Tarmon Gai'don. An unpleasant thought, yet there was nothing to be done about it. What was, was, and it was not as if Rand himself was not a herald of the Last Battle.

- Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea

Rand himself is associated with a rise of the dead—both quiet and unquiet. Nynaeve, Cadsuane, Merise and Corele observed a procession of about 200 people walking around the city wall of Bandar Eban carrying a coffin. The apparition occurred nightly after Rand arrived. As it foreshadowed, Rand did bring death to the city, in part due to his deficiencies as a ruler.

Even the Ogier, those champions of naturalness and rightness, have experienced the living dead. The first of these was Trayal, whose mind/soul was destroyed by the Black Wind.

Late in the series, Loial reports that Ogier dead are now standing outside the stedding looking in. Perhaps they can’t enter a stedding. Things of the Shadow are very reluctant to enter such places—they are almost unable to—and apparitions have the Dark One’s touch. The only apparitions that are not ‘wrong’ are those called by the Horn.

King and Queen of the Dead

Mat was aware of ghosts walking before the other members of the menagerie were: for example, on the road into Jurador Mat saw ghosts but Tuon and Seleucia saw nothing (Crossroads of Twilight, Something Flickers).

As King of the Dead, Mat has witnessed and avoided two deathtraps. In Altara, he and his companions encountered a sizeable village. Mat noticed that it had no surrounding farms and its inhabitants ignored the menagerie and a peddler and called a halt. The peddler’s animals started screaming in terror.

Hat in hand, the round peddler leaped down to see what was the matter with his horses.
Landing, [the peddlar] lurched awkwardly and looked down toward his feet. His hat fell from his hand, landing on the hardpacked road. That was when he began screaming. The paving stones were gone, and he was ankle-deep in the road, just like his shrieking horses. Ankle deep and sinking into rock-hard clay as if into a bog, just like his horses and his wagon. And the village, houses and people melting slowly into the ground. The people never stopped what they were doing. Women walked along carrying baskets, a line of men carried a large timber on their shoulders, children darted about, the fellow at the grindstone continued sharpening his hatchet, all of them nearly knee-deep in the ground by this time…
Would the man die, or was he being carried to wherever those dead Shiotans were going? That was what had caught him about those buildings. That was how country people had built in Shiota for near enough three hundred years…
When the last of the thatched rooftops and tall chimneys melted away. Mat let out a long breath. Where the village had been was another meadow decked out in cat daisies and jumpups where red and yellow butterflies fluttered from blossom to blossom. So peaceful. He wished he could believe the peddler was dead.

- Knife of Dreams, A Village in Shiota

This is a murderous apparition. The ghosts descended into the earth, the underworld, taking a live man and his horses with them. And it all occurred in front of the King of the Underworld, whose party was safe, thanks to his warning.

In The Gathering Storm, Mat went to a town of living dead: Hinderstap.

"We aren't sure if it was something we did, or just a cruel curse by the Dark One himself," the mayor said.
"It was a normal day, early this year, just before the Feast of Abram. Nothing really special about it that I can remember. The weather had broken by then, though the snows hadn't come yet. A lot of us went about our normal activities the next morning, thinking nothing of it.
"The oddities were small, you see. A broken door here, a rip in someone's clothing they didn't remember. And the nightmares. We all shared them, nightmares of death and killing. A few of the women started talking, and they realized that they couldn't remember turning in the previous evening. They could remember waking, safe and comfortable in their beds, but only a few remembered actually getting into bed. Those who could remember had gone to sleep early, before sunset. For the rest of us, the late evening was just a blur."

- The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap

The town’s inhabitants kill each other and any visitors each night, but are returned to ‘life’ each morning with the visitors they killed trapped with them. Any inhabitants who leave are returned to the town in the night. Even suicide doesn’t work as an escape route. Objects, however, retain any physical damage and must be repaired. (It’s like the reverse of Tel’aran’rhiod, the World of Dreams, where objects aren’t affected long term by changes, but beings are totally affected by any change to them. What happens in Tel’aran’rhiod seems real, but what happens in Hinderstap in the night seems like a dream, albeit a very bad one, and fades).

As Thom explains:

"It's just . . . well, it's a sad tale. Something's wrong in the world.
There's a snag in the Pattern here. The town unravels at night, and then the world tries to reset it each morning to make things right again."

- The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap

"It's as if the darkness itself intoxicates them," Thom said while Mat helped Delarn into his saddle. "As if Light itself has forsaken them, leaving them only to the Shadow...."

- The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap

The Light’s King of the Dead (see Mat essay) got his own people out of the town alive (apart from three soldiers) and therefore out of the loop. Mat called the dead Heroes to battle at Falme, and has worked out how those unable to channel can kill large numbers of people, even channellers. No wonder some people in Andor say that Mat is the Dark One:

No, that was the Dark One. No, Mat was the Dark One!

- Towers of Midnight, The End of a Legend

a blurring of the Light and Dark Kings of the Dead. On the other hand, the Seanchan believe Mat’s band itself may be spirits:

I know we've killed some [of Mat’s soldiers]—the reports claim it, at least—but they don't even leave their dead behind. Some fools have begun whispering that we're fighting spirits." Fools he might consider them, but the fingers of his left hand hooked in a sign to ward off evil.

- Knife of Dreams, A Cup of Kaf

Recently Mat received a letter from a woman thought to be dead, and another from a woman under a double death sentence: so she could betray the Dark One and for being a Darkfriend. Their ‘dead’ status is the first thing each letter affirms. Mat, like Anubis, the Ancient Egyptian god who weighs the dead, has to weigh these women and their requests to choose which to fulfil. This fits in with the Doomsday/Last Judgement theme.

Mat has similarities to real world Kings of the Underworld due to the frequency he has visited the infernal Otherworld of the ‘Finns, his escape from the living dead in Hinderstap, his witnessing of the peddler being dragged alive to the Underworld with the phantom Shiotan village, his survival of hanging and later being struck by lightning, his role as son of battles and the summoner of the dead Heroes of the Horn and the respect he quickly gained from Tuon’s Deathwatch Guard.

In The Gathering Storm, Mat’s consort Tuon as Queen of the Dead actually sent out what are effectively living dead, assassins she declared dead with her blessing to do her bidding as though they were shades from the Underworld. The bloodknives are like the Lord of the Grave’s Grey Men, but are not soulless.

She expects death at every turn and embraces it; she

had been dodging assassinations since she could walk, and she had survived them all. She anticipated them. In a way, she thrived because of them.

- The Gathering Storm,

Only the Queen of the Underworld would thrive on death attempts.

Despite the vigilance of the Deathwatch Guard, Tuon has been declared dead twice before:

Only a few were aware that she had vanished twice before, and had been reported dead, to the very arrangement of her funeral rites, all by her own contriving. Whatever the reasons for her disappearance, though, he had to find and protect her. So far he had no clue how. Swallowed by the storm. Or perhaps by the Lady of the Shadows [Death]. There had been countless attempts to kidnap or assassinate her, beginning on the day of her birth.

- Crossroads of Twilight, The Tale of a Doll

Considering how often ‘three times makes true’ in the Wheel of Time series, there will probably be a third time Tuon is given up for dead. If her ability to channel is discovered before the Seanchan change their attitude to channellers, she, like all damane, will become an unperson, struck from the rolls as though she had never existed. For now, her people will continually wish her as Empress to live forever—the Queen of the Dead does not die? Though when she finally begins to channel, Tuon potentially could live for what seems like forever to the average person.

She declared ‘Tuon’ dead in The Gathering Storm, but Tuon is not exactly dead, her old name is still contained within her new name.

Tuon is not a goddess of death (that is Semirhage, see Semirhage essay, and it is appropriate that the Seanchan refer to death as the Lady of the Shadows, when such a female mass murderer lived among them at their rulers’ side) but she is Queen of the Underworld having been touched by death so many times and lived with death at her shoulder. In many mythologies they are two different roles, as they are here.


Rather than avoiding or eluding them, Rand has destroyed or incapacitated the living dead close by him: Grey Men in the early books, most recently he balefired Semirhage so she can’t be rebirthed by the Dark One, killed the rebirthed Aran’gar thanks to Graendal, and seriously sapped the spirit and energy of Moridin through second-hand pain and despair (an unintended side-effect of Death’s own strategy). Rand has destroyed one long dead city and exposed another. Only the dead at a distance to Rand appeared unhindered by him: for instance the ghostly funeral procession in Arad Doman that Nynaeve, Cadsuane and co saw.

Yet Rand, too, is a dead man walking, being destined to make the ultimate sacrifice for the world and thereby, even more pertinent to this theme, to live by dying. It has brought him to despair and contemplation of mass annihilation once already. If Rand fails in such a way that the Dark One wins, time itself will be killed and Rand’s soul will never be reborn again.

Another example of the blurring of the living and the dead is Rand’s awareness of memories from his past lives, something Nynaeve thinks is not good:

Memories from another life, memories he had no right to. There was a reason the Creator allowed them to forget their past lives.

- The Gathering Storm, A Conversation With the Dragon

Other Asha’man also hear voices from their previous incarnations, which Cadsuane thought was due to the taint on saidin. Moridin, the Forsaken most affected by the Dark One’s touch by virtue of his extensive usage of the True Power, also claims to recall some of his past lives, though not to the extent that Rand has:

I know every name you have used through Age after Age, long before you were even the Kinslayer." Ba'alzamon s voice began to rise in intensity; sometimes the fires of his eyes flared so high that Rand could see them through the openings in the silk mask, see them like endless seas of flame. "I know you, know your blood and your line back to the first spark of life that ever was, back to the First Moment…The battle we two have fought—do you remember any part of that? Do you have any glimmering that we have fought before, battles without number back to the beginning of Time? I know much that you do not! That battle will soon end. The Last Battle is coming. The last, Lews Therin. Do you really think you can avoid it? You poor, shivering worm. You will serve me or die! And this time the cycle will not begin anew with your death. The grave belongs to the Great Lord of the Dark. This time if you die, you will be destroyed utterly.

- The Great Hunt, Kinslayer

That troubled him sometimes, enraged him, what knowledge might be lost in the turnings of the Wheel, knowledge he needed, knowledge he had a right to. A right!

- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances

At the climax of The Gathering Storm, when Rand had his epiphany:

He remembered lives, hundreds of them, thousands of them, stretching to infinity.

- The Gathering Storm, Veins of Gold


In The Eye of the World, Fain merged with the parasitic and long dead soul of Mordeth that lingered as a ghost in Shadar Logoth. Like other Underworld figures in the series, his powers have increased greatly, and he now deals instant death to Myrddraal, but those Trollocs he kills rise from the dead to do his bidding:

The mist struck.
It rolled over the Trollocs, moving quickly, like the tentacles of a leviathan in the Aryth Ocean. Lengths of it snapped forward through Trolloc chests. One long rope whipped above their heads, then shot forward in a blur, taking the Fade in the neck.
The Trollocs screamed, dropping, spasming. Their hair fell out in patches, and their skin began to boil. Blisters and cysts. When those popped, they left craterlike pocks in the Shadowspawn skin, like bubbles on the surface of metal that cooled too quickly…
The corrupted Trollocs climbed to their feet behind him, lurching into motion, spittle dropping from their lips. Their eyes had grown sluggish and dull, but when he desired it, they would respond with a frenzied battle lust that would surpass what they had known in life.
He left the Myrddraal. It would not rise, as rumors said they did. His touch now brought instant death to one of its kind.

- Towers of Midnight, Prologue

It is as though Fain/Mordeth takes the place of the Myrddraal the Trollocs were linked to, but in a far more effective way. In his efforts to fight evil, Mordeth out-Shadowed the Shadow and is now openly using them as his own.

Creatures of the Shadow

The Shadow can and do turn channellers to their side with weaves created by thirteen Dreadlords filtered through thirteen Myrddraal, and like Fain’s turned Trollocs, such turned channellers are both corrupted and dead-seeming:

And he saw what Norley had seen. Something was deeply wrong, something not quite alive inside those eyes. This didn't seem to be a man, but a parody of one. A shadow stuffed inside human skin.

- Towers of Midnight, Something Wrong

Tarna smiled, a grimace that looked completely unnatural on her face. Like the smile on the lips of a corpse…The coldness—almost lifelessness—she'd seen in Tarna's eyes still chilled her.

- Towers of Midnight, Gateways

The eyes are “windows to the soul” and in these people they look dead. This is more than the dazed or fogged look seen on those under heavy Compulsion (see below).

Grey Men are Darkfriends who, in the ultimate act of dedication, give their souls away to the Dark One so they can be more effective as assassins. Alive, but with their humanity extinguished, they blend in with background. As Egwene dreamed in The Dragon Reborn, Fires in Cairhien, they are not really there. They are alive, but lifeless—and we have never heard one speak.

Lanfear tells us that Grey Men and Myrddraal are denied dreams (The Dragon Reborn, Daughter of the Night). Grey Men are not truly alive; Myrddraal are “slightly out of phase with time and reality”. Fain may be a more effective compeller of Trollocs than a Myrddraal because he is most definitely in phase with time, even if he isn’t with reality.

Another example of the living dead are the zomaran, a type of Shadowspawn created by Aginor. They have the appearance of identical, beautiful young men and women but with dead and soulless eyes:

He smiled, but it did not touch his black eyes, eyes more lifeless than simply dead. Most men would have felt uncomfortable having that gaze on them. Moridin merely took the goblet and motioned the servant away.

- The Path of Daggers, Deceptive Appearances

Naturally the dead—quiet or unquiet—hold no fears for Death. He uses Zomaran, who have limited ability to read minds and only short term memory, as servants—and reliable spies.

The gholam is a construct of the Shadow that is almost unkillable, being impervious to magic and most physical attacks. It looks like an ordinary human but is hugely stronger and has no bones. Mat hopes that it is falling endlessly through the void in a living death.

Slayer is a being with two souls in one body after the other body died. Not that we know which lived and which died.

During the merger of Luc and Isam, Slayer was extensively revamped by the Dark One, being given special powers, including the ability to enter Tel'aran'rhiod at will. However, immunity to weapons and poison was not one of these abilities. So both Isam and Luc exist, even though one of them died, but they are not unkillable.


The Forsaken like to overpower the mind and will of people with Compulsion to a greater or lesser degree. A complex weave that is placed on the brain in layers, Compulsion makes the victim feel love, devotion or worship for the channeller. It can be varied in extent from mindless devotion, which erases mind and personality, to subtle influence.

Graendal is a prolific user of all grades of Compulsion and is very skilled at it. After all, she studied mental illness, including that which cannot be treated with the One Power, prior to joining the Shadow. For short term aims she usually uses the mild version of Compulsion, although she struck heavily at Moghedien and Cyndane with it in The Path of Daggers. Her servants however usually have their minds obliterated:

The only minions she’d let out of her sight were under Compulsion so heavy that it would kill them to remove it.

- Towers of Midnight, Prologue

There was no real person in this head, only layered weaves of Compulsion.
Instructions cleverly designed to wipe whatever personality this poor wretch had and replace it with a creature who would act exactly as Graendal wished…
His eyes weren't blank from being dazed as she'd thought; they were more empty than that. When Nynaeve had been younger, new to her role as Wisdom, a woman had been brought to her who had fallen off of her wagon. The woman had slept for days, and when she'd finally awoken, she'd had a stare like this one. No hint that she recognized anyone, no clue that there was any soul left in the husk that was her body.
She'd died about a week later…
"You needn't bother," Rand said. "He is dead."
Nynaeve confirmed the death for herself. Then she snapped her head up, looking at Rand. What right did he have to look as exhausted as she felt? He had done barely anything! "What did you—"
"I did nothing, Nynaeve. I suspect that once you removed that Compulsion, the only thing keeping him alive was his anger at Graendal, buried deeply. Whatever bit of himself remained, it knew the only help it could give were those two words. After that, he just let go. There was nothing more we could do for him."

- The Gathering Storm, A Conversation with the Dragon

Consequently Rand considered Graendal’s pets already dead before he killed them:

"There looked to have been dozens, maybe hundreds, of people living in that palace!"
"Each one made into an idiot by Graendal's Compulsion," Rand replied. "She never lets anyone close to her without destroying their mind first. The boy she sent to work the jail barely knew a fraction of the torture most of her pets receive. She leaves them without ability to think or act—all they can do is kneel and adore her, perhaps run errands at her command. I did them a favor."

- The Gathering Storm, A Force of Light

Living dead, and considering what happened to Kerb when Nynaeve removed Graendal’s Compulsion he had a point.

The Forsaken are part of the theme of the living dead. Four of them were reincarnated. Rand and Ishamael are linked by the way they have witnessed each other die—and been a crucial participant in that death:

"You [Ishamael] are dead," Rand repeated stubbornly.
"So are you. I watched you die, you know. Lashing out in a tempest, creating an entire mountain to mark your cairn…[after he brought Lews Therin the knowledge of what he had done]
Another name for the Dark One was Lord of the Grave. Yes, it was true, even if Rand wished he could deny it. Why should he be surprised to see his enemies return, when the Dark One could restore the dead to life?

- The Gathering Storm, A Place to Begin

As Cyndane and mind-trapped, Lanfear wishes she were dead, or perhaps had stayed dead. Death tortures her each day and Heals her when she is about to die—or so she claims. After losing a battle of wills with Egwene in Tel’aran’rhiod, Mesaana is now living dead. She is as mindless as Trayal.

The death goddess Semirhage was killed in The Gathering Storm. She tortured an entire city during the War of Power, made thousands of people assist in breaking each other slowly, just for the Hell of it.

Even prior to his reincarnation as Moridin (Death), Ishamael told Rand “The dead belong to me!" in The Eye of the World,, The Stag and Lion, and he did manipulate Howal Gode’s shade after Rand killed the Darkfriend.

The Death god Moridin not only now wishes he were dead, he wishes for everything to be annihilated. As Ishamael, Moridin once thought the end of time would liberate him and grant him power:

The death of time will bring me power such as you could not dream of, worm."

- The Eye of the World, The Stag and Lion

But now that he is Death, he hopes that the end of time will mean the end of everything, including him:

"The only path is to follow the Great Lord and rule for a time before all things end. The others are fools. They look for grand rewards in the eternities, but there will be no eternities. Only the now, the last days."
He laughed again, and this time there was joy in it. True pleasure.

- The Gathering Storm, A Place to Begin

After all, if there is nothing—when all is dead—there is nothing that can die. Death is no more:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou thinkst thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me…
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppies or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke. Why swellst thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die!

- John Donne

As an example of how both sides have been affected by the Dark One’s efforts to undermine the Pattern and manipulate all to his side, Death, the Lord of the Grave’s champion and his opposite, the Creator’s champion, companionably sit and listen to rats dying in the heat of a corrupt fire:

Moridin snorted softly, but said nothing. Rand turned back to the flames, watching them twist and flicker.
They formed shapes, like the clouds, but these were headless bodies, skeletal, backs arching in pain, writhing for a moment in fire, spasming, before flashing into nothing.
Rand watched that fire for a time, thinking. One might have thought that they were two old friends, enjoying the warmth of a winter hearth. Except that the flames gave no heat, and Rand would someday kill this man again. Or die at his hands.

- The Gathering Storm, A Place to Begin

And now we are at the Last Moment, “as close as an assassin, breathing his foul breath upon your neck as he slides his knife across your skin“ as Rand described it (The Gathering Storm, A Halo of Blackness), poised between living and dead.

These posts take quite a time to prepare, longer than a simple read-through post. I don't know when the next one will be finished, hopefully within the week, but it is on the theme of Wrongness.


Anonymous said...

"These posts take quite a time to prepare, longer than a simple read-through post. I don't know when the next one will be finished, hopefully within the week, but it is on the theme of Wrongness."

And they are awesome :) That was very interesting and enlightening !

t ball said...

Indeed they are awesome. I enjoy reading your in-depth posts nearly as much as the books themselves, because they delve into topics examined by many great books, philosophers and religions, etc. Deep thinking as I sip my Old Fashioned.

Anonymous said...

these are killer. do the wolves also exist, in part, outside of time? Do all our heroes have deathly or otherworldly connections?

Anonymous said...

Make that a +1 from me, Linda. Happy it is I am when post a new entry you do. Always well thought out and exhaustively researched. Thank you for offering greater depth to the series.

Um, don't click on 'camgirls' you won't much like what you find. I'm thinking it was an automated posting.

Keep smilin' people

sloth-knits said...

Hi, thanks for posting this. I really enjoy both your read-throughs and your analyses. There are so many motifs I wouldn't have noticed on my own!

Woodroofe_Pepsi said...

Yet another fine post, I wonder what region of the world map Robert Jordan got his NPCs (Non Player characters) from, even if it is a book instead of VG,

Probably Europe to America or England to America

btw, Toast to Nelly Furtado America
that was the early noughties (start of the millenium)

sorry had to say

Linda said...

Thanks very much all! I appreciate the encouragement, I'm working very long hours these days.

Anon: I don't know if the wolves partly exist outside of time. I don't think so, but they do exist in Tel'aran'rhiod as well as the waking world.

Mat, Rand and Tuon have underworld/dead connections. Perrin far less - his link to Isam and the Grey Men he killed in Illian. He has never been to the Finns' world, for instance.

Moiraine has connections with the underworld.

Dressageboy: the blog is being hit by spam bots again, unfortunately.

Molly said...

Love you long posts Linda! They always make me re-examine the books and hanker for another read-through. I look forward to your next posts!

Linda said...

Thanks Molly. :) My Wrongness post is taking longer to write than I anticipated.