Sunday, October 2, 2022

Character Parallels: Moiraine and Thom

By Linda

Moiraine and Thom are a magical duo: one an adept magical user, the other a master of sleight of hand, music and Story. Story and music spellbind their audiences and music is particularly regarded as magical in its effects. Skilled musicians and magicians alike were believed to have sold their soul to the devil—to have links with the underworld.

Moiraine’s entire career was dedicated to searching for the man who would save the world from the Dark One. Thom was drawn in by his attraction to Moiraine and his desire to help the Emond’s Fielders survive the attentions of an Aes Sedai as he was not able to do for his nephew Owyn. Both were excellent mentors to the young people, mesmerising and inspiring in their knowledge and skills and the way they led by example. Moiraine willingly sacrificed herself to save Rand from Lanfear, knowing she would end up in the Otherworld of the Aelfinn and Eelfinn. Thom was willing to risk his life to rescue her from that Otherworld and guarded the entrance to the underworld of Shayol Ghul while Moiraine went inside to play her part.

The parallels of Moiraine and then Thom will be discussed in turn. Here is the outline:

Arthurian Parallels
Greek Myth
Troubadour and Bard

I’ll start where Jordan started his story: in Arthurian myth.


Arthurian Parallels

Grail Maiden

The Holy Grail or San Greal, the ultimate quest in Arthurian legend, arose from the ancient Celtic sacred objects known as the Thirteen Treasures of Britain, which comprised a crock (earthenware pot), cauldron, dish, hamper, knife, drinking horn, sword, chariot, halter, whetstone, coat, mantle, and gwyddbwll board. Sa’angreal are parallels of the San Greal, and of the Thirteen Treasures, but so are other hallowed objects in the series. In Arthurian myth, a grail maiden often accompanies the San Greal, while in the Wheel of Time world it is the women who are able to use hallowed objects of the power safely—until saidin is cleansed. Jordan’s grail maidens can be grail achievers.

Moiraine was the only person to find the Eye of the World twice. Much sought after by questers, the Eye was a hallowed place that could appear anywhere in the world if the quester was worthy and their need great. It contained a well of pure saidin, and thus could be likened to the sacred crock of the Celts.

Regarding the gwydbwyll game board of the Thirteen Treasures, King Arthur and his knights played gwyddbwyll in the Welsh Mabinogion. It is a hunt game rather than a war game like chess. Moiraine is a master of go (stones), rather than gwyddbwyll (sha’rah). Only gamemaster Moridin is a master of sha’rah.

After helping restore Mat with Vora’s sa’angreal, Moiraine fought in the Stone of Tear and distracted and killed Bel’al so Rand could take the sword sa’angreal Callandor. Callandor is a parallel of Excalibur (also called Caliburn), King Arthur’s sword, itself derived from the sword Caladbolg of Irish mythology and the Celtic sword of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain. As his name indicates, Rand al’Thor is a parallel of King Arthur and just as Merlin urged Arthur went to the Lady of the Lake to receive Excalibur, so Moiraine urged Rand to take Callandor:

”You must take Callandor…it is your birthright. Better by far that you knew more before your hand held that hilt, yet you have come to the point now, and there is no further time for learning. Take it, Rand.”

- The Dragon Reborn, What is Written in Prophecy

It is no wonder that Rand took Moiraine and her sister grail maiden Nynaeve with him in his ultimate quest to battle the Dark One (and his own self) and seal the Dark One away. The two Aes Sedai are grail guardians and achievers, having protected the Land and its people with more hallowed objects than any other women.

After her sacrifices to save the world, Moiraine achieved a strong angreal bracelet by her own efforts.

Moiraine’s advice to her King Arthur Rand to take the sword that dispels doubts of his birthright shows Moiraine as a strong analogue of King Arthur’s magic-wielding advisor, Merlin.


There were no lack of Merlin figures advising Rand on what he should do, or how: the Amyrlin (A-Merlin), Moiraine and a few other Aes Sedai, Thom Merrilin (see below), even Moridin (whose name is derived from the Welsh spelling of Merlin, Myrddin).

In fact, Rand began his hero’s journey with two Merlin figures guiding him, often in different directions. From the first, Moiraine and Thom recognised each other and respected each other, even feared each other, a little, but they never imagined they would become a duo. But then, unlike King Arthur’s Merlin, who had the gift and curse of prophecy, and knew that he was fated to fall in love with Nimue, the woman who would be his undoing, Moiraine obtains her glimpses of the Pattern from the Prophecies of the Dragon, the ter’angreal rings, the Aelfinn and the Seer Min. It was from Min’s viewings that Moiraine learned that she and Thom would marry—the two Merlins would become as one by the Warder bond—instead of experiencing the foreknowledge of being captive to a Nimue figure as the Arthurian Merlin did. In contrast, Thom was a Merlin who was unconscious of his fate.

Moiraine disappeared and “died” as Merlin died, depriving Rand, of her guidance just as Merlin vanished from King Arthur’s court, trapped in a cave from which he could not escape despite his magical powers. Unlike his parallel King Arthur, Rand knew that Moiraine crashed through to an Otherworld, but believed her lost and dead. Rather than Merlin’s fate of being fatally trapped by the woman he desired, Moraine saved Rand from Lanfear, the woman who intended to capture and destroy Rand out of thwarted desire for him. Both Moiraine and Lanfear were trapped in the Otherworld together—this was fatal for Lanfear, and nearly so for Moiraine.

Interestingly, Merlin was believed to be the child of the devil (or alternatively an incubus) and a nun because he was such a powerful magic wielder, and Aes Sedai have strong parallels to 15‒16th century nunneries and are believed by Whitecloaks to be in league with the devil. About 22‒3% of the Aes Sedai were Black Ajah, sworn to the Dark One and working for the Forsaken, who are equivalents of incubi and succubi. Lanfear, whom Moiraine was trapped with, is a classical succubus haunting people’s dreams.

For the first few books, Nynaeve and the three ta’veren are not sure if Moiraine is a sage advisor like Merlin or a dangerous manipulator like Morgan le Fay because she switches between the two roles, depending on the situation.

Morgan le Fay

By name and by deeds, Moiraine is similar to Morgaine/Morgan le Fay, the sorceress or fairy witch who tried for good or ill to control Arthur for her advantage. Morgan le Fay was the daughter of King Gorlois of Cornwall and Igraine, the half-sister of King Arthur, and the sister of Morgause and Elaine. In later tales, Morgan was the wife of King Urien and mother of the hero Owain. Moiraine is the half-sister-in-law of Morgase and the aunt of Elayne (see family tree in The Noble Houses of Cairhien article). (She is not related by blood to Rand (a parallel of Arthur) but is the sister of the first husband of Rand’s mother Tigraine—a relationship as tangled as any in Arthurian myth!) Owyn was the ill-fated nephew of Moiraine’s love and Morgase’s former lover, Thom.

After her father Gorlois is killed and her mother Igraine marries Uther Pendragon, Morgan was “put to school in a nunnery, and there she learned so much that she was a great clerk of necromancy” (Le Morte D’Arthur, Book I, Chapter II). Moiraine went to the White Tower to learn the “necromancy” of channeling, and became an Aes Sedai, a person regarded with deep suspicion and fear by many people in the Wheel of Time world.

In the earliest Arthurian tales, Morgan le Fay was described as the chief priestess of a sisterhood of nine ruling the Isle of Avalon. Moiraine was one of the stronger, and therefore important, Aes Sedai in Tar Valon. Morgan used her magic ability to fly and shapeshift, while Moiraine used illusion to make herself appear larger in Baerlon (The Eye of The World, Watchers and Hunters), or the group invisible in the Blight. Both Morgan and Moiraine use their magic to heal others.

Morgan le Fay had her origin in Celtic and Irish myth: the Celtic mother goddess Modron and the Irish battle goddess Morrigan. Moiraine was the mentor and protector of the Emond’s Fielders. Lan described Moiraine as a warrior in the way she relentlessly fought against the Shadow and its minions (The Fires of Heaven, Fading Words). The dark side of this is seen when she declares:

“Before I let the Dark One have you, I will destroy you myself."

- The Eye of the World, Choices

And that she will do whatever necessary for the Shadow to be defeated. She had few qualms about overturning the lives of the Emond’s Fielders, and also that of Lan.

In later Arthurian tales, Morgan le Fay was malevolent and an enemy of Arthur and Guinevere. In keeping with this theme of the necessity of balance, Jordan has two Morgans in The Wheel of Time, one following the Light and one the Shadow.

Morgan le Fay tried to force Sir Lancelot to be her lover by kidnapping and imprisoning him. The price of his freedom was the ring he wore but Lancelot refused to give it to Morgan le Fay because it was a gift from his beloved Guinevere. Fortunately, a maiden helped him escape his captivity. Moiraine bonded Lan as her Warder, but was not in love with him. She never asked for Lan’s ring of sovereignty, which he later gave to, rather than received from, his beloved Nynaeve, but she held Lan to his oath despite knowing his feelings until she went into the redstone doorway ter’angreal and then his bond passed to Myrelle. Moiraine transferred Lan’s bond without his consent and got Myrelle to promise to pass the bond on to a younger sister, Nynaeve.

The Light’s Morgan le Fay confronted the Dark Morgan Lanfear and pushed them both into the Otherworld of the Eelfinn. Both were reduced there: Lanfear by being killed by Moridin so the Dark One could reincarnate her in a smaller body, and Moiraine by having much of her channelling ability consumed by the Eelfinn.

In some Arthurian tales, it is Morgan rather than Arthur’s half-sister Morgause, who is King Arthur’s lover and who bears his son Modred. One of the futures Moiraine saw in the rings in Rhuidean was sharing Rand’s bed (The Fires of Heaven, A Departure). King Arthur’s son Modred was the ruination of his Kingdom and the cause of Arthur’s death. Moiraine’s surname Damodred—Da-Modred—looks to the above parallel. But Moiraine didn’t go down the path of ruination, just as she rejected her house as unethical and too unscrupulous and avoided becoming an Aes Sedai Queen of Cairhien all those years ago.

Morgan le Fay, Morgan the Fairy, leads naturally into the Fee, the Fair Folk, one of the major parallels of the Aes Sedai, and Moiraine in particular.

The Fair Folk are long-lived and other-worldly beings. When interacting with ordinary people they are unpredictable, capricious and manipulative to gain their own ends—dangerous to know. The name Aes Sedai refers to the Aes Sidhe of Irish mythology, who are comparable to fairies or elves. Aes Sedai are long-lived magic users who set themselves as a breed apart. They cultivate inscrutability and are manipulative of others, especially non-channellers. Moiraine is remarkable among even Aes Sedai—regarded as one of the legendary sisters by other Aes Sedai for her achievements, and an archetypal Blue.

Blue Fairy

In the late 1880’s, there was a move away from pious, sentimental children’s stories, with the publication of collections of folk and fairy tales from around the world. Of these, Andrew Lang’s The Blue Fairy Book (1889) was the first ground-breaking collection in English. A classic, it is still in print. Diminutive Moiraine, the first of the fairy-like Aes Sedai we meet, is of the Blue Ajah and hearkens to Lang’s very popular The Blue Fairy Book.

Even only six years earlier, Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, while influenced by European folk tales, is as preachy as any typical nineteenth century children’s story. One of the book’s main characters is La Fata Turchina or the Fairy with the Deep Blue Hair, who criticises the puppet Pinocchio’s behaviour and ultimately enables him to achieve his wish of becoming fully human. She is as capricious or ambivalent as any of the Fair Folk or Aes Sedai. Sometimes she is even malevolent to teach Pinocchio a lesson.

The 1940 Disney animated version of Pinocchio is simpler and far more sentimental than Collodi’s book. The Blue Fairy is entirely benevolent and freely grants his wishes. She is far less mysterious than the Fairy with the Deep Blue Hair. So with the book and the movie, we have two versions of the Blue Fairy, the stern and the sweetly kind, respectively, just as Moiraine seemed ambivalent in the first few books. While Pinocchio had to earn the Blue fairy’s good opinion, Moiraine and Rand had to earn each other’s regard and trust. As Jordan said, “it’s never simple” in The Wheel of Time.

Pinocchio has picaresque adventures in book and movie and survives assassins and monsters, just as the three ta’veren survive attacks from Darkfriends, Grey Men and Shadowspawn on their treks. The na├»ve and wilful marionette puppet is as rascally as Mat and was also nearly killed by hanging as Mat was, but he also has elements of Rand—that feeling of literally being a puppet of others and not really his own person—and of struggling with his duty. Initially Pinocchio resists the Blue Fairy’s good advice, then later comes to follow her instruction.

Rand was the target of Moiraine’s advice far more than Mat or Perrin. She was quick to admonish his bad or risky behaviour, just as the Blue Fairy did for Pinocchio. From the Blue Fairy’s instruction Pinocchio learns what his duties are and to appreciate and respect others. While Pinocchio’s lies have an immediate and adverse effect on his body, making his nose grow, Rand’s sins—such as balefire and denial of other peoples’ rights—have an adverse effect on the Pattern as well as on his health, due to his links with the Land. The Wheel of Time is cosmic in scale, a macrocosm rather than a microcosm.

Rand felt like a puppet of fate in general and Aes Sedai in particular from the earliest chapters. Justifiably so, although it was quickly seized upon by the Forsaken and used to undermine any relationship between Rand and his blue fairy mentor. Ishamael said to him:

“What glory or power is there for a puppet?”

- The Eye of the World, The Stag and Lion

leading Rand to refuse guidance:

“I am done with Aes Sedai, Egwene. I won't be a puppet for them, not for Moiraine, or any of them."

- The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn

Puppets and their manipulation are a persistent theme in The Wheel of Time as we see in Egwene’s dream of:

A woman playing with puppets, and another dream where the strings on puppets led to the hands of larger puppets, and their strings led to still greater puppets, on and on until the last strings vanished into unimaginable heights.

- The Dragon Reborn, Fires in Cairhien

And Rand’s thoughts on Moiraine:

She had kept too many secrets herself, made him follow her on blind trust too often. Let it be her turn. She had to learn that he was not a puppet. I’ll take her advice when I think it’s right, but I won’t dance on Tar Valon’s strings again. He would die on his own terms.

- The Shadow Rising, Out of the Stone

Rand’s determination to be a real adult rather than a boy like Pinocchio earned some respect from Moiraine and she said to Rand:

"It has been more like wrestling with a bear than pulling strings on a puppet. Do you want an oath not to try manipulating you? I give it."

- The Fires of Heaven, Gateways

Min foresaw that Moiraine was essential to Rand’s success and therefore to the fulfilment of his wish to live an “ordinary” life after achieving his quest.

It was Pinocchio’s grief and guilt at the Blue Fairy’s apparent death that eventually led him to more positive behaviour, which in turn made him worthy in the Blue Fairy’s eyes of being granted his wish to be a real human boy. Likewise, Rand’s grief and guilt at Moiraine’s death was a turning point for understanding that the Last Battle wasn’t all about him, that he couldn’t win alone, and that he must also respect the right of others to make their own sacrifice.

Even Mat, who was negative to channellers and to anyone who impinged on his fun, realised how much they owed the Blue Fairy:

She was the one who had started this all. He had hated her at times. He also owed her his life. She was the first one who had meddled, yanking him this way and that. Yet—looking back—he figured that she had been the most honest about it of anyone who had used him.
Unapologetic, unyielding. And selfless.
She had dedicated everything to protecting three foolish boys, all ignorant of what the world would demand of them. She had determined to take them to safety. Maybe train them a little, whether they wanted it or not.

- Towers of Midnight, The Light of the World

The Blue Fairy and Morgan le Fay were both skilled at shapeshifting and illusion, while the Wheel of Time magic system limits channellers to using only illusion in the waking world. Greek Mythology also had a master shapeshifter.

Greek Myth


Proteus was the Ancient Greek god of bodies of water who embodied change. He knew all things past, present, and future, but strenuously avoided answering questions or telling what he knew. Those who wanted answers from the god had to seize him unawares when he came ashore, and even then Proteus would try to escape by rapidly changing into a variety of forms. His would-be interrogator had to hold on to the god until he wearied of shapeshifting and returned to his own form. The god would then finally answer the question and plunge into the sea.

Moiraine is one of the major agents of change in The Wheel of Time series and she represents knowledge to the Emond’s Fielders and the reader until her disappearance in Cairhien: crucial in discovering the Dragon, starting the Emond’s Fielders on their adventures, removing Forsaken, and intervening at Merrilor. She was very sparing with her answers to the questions of the Emond’s Fielders and they became distrustful of her and very frustrated because she was so uninformative. Rand thought that Moiraine “had kept too many secrets” and Perrin thought she told too little (The Dragon Reborn, Wolf Dreams). When Perrin tried to get more information, he was told:

“Do not question me,” she said coldly. “You do not know which questions to ask, and you would comprehend less than half the answers if I gave them. Which I will not.”

- The Dragon Reborn, Daughter of the Night

The Aes Sedai never considered that the Emond’s Fielders’s questions might inspire a different perspective. Reconsideration can be useful.

Moiraine drew heavily on the Prophecies of the Dragon and on Min’s viewings and thought she knew the likely course of events or shape of the Pattern to a degree. However, the theme of misinformation and false knowledge is important in The Wheel of Time and Moiraine’s ideas—even for the seemingly most straightforward of prophecies—were often profoundly wrong.


As her name indicates, Moiraine has parallels to the Moirae or Moirai, the three Fates of Greek mythology, who allotted to every person their destiny, and directed their steps along the path from birth to death. Their dictates could only be circumvented with great difficulty. From the beginning, Moiraine tried to control the three ta’veren, Egwene, and, to a lesser extent, Nynaeve, and direct their development and deeds. Each had to circumvent her control and found this difficult. It was important for them to do so, however, since ironically Moiraine had assigned their fates wrongly.

Moiraine even warned the Emond’s Fielders that if they, or other people met along the way, acted counter to her plans against the Shadow she would have them killed. Crossing the goddess of fate can be fatal.


With her knowledge and battle skills, Moiraine has some similarities to the Ancient Greek goddess of wisdom and war, Athena, particularly when Athena disguised herself as Mentor.

When Odysseus was tricked into leaving his island kingdom of Ithaca to fight in the Trojan war, he left his wife, Penelope, and his infant son, Telemachus, in the care of Mentor, his old retainer. Twenty years later, after great heroism in the war and dramatic adventures trying to return home, Odysseus was imprisoned in a cave on the Ogygian island by the goddess/nymph Calypso, who was greatly enamoured of him. She wanted to make him immortal and keep him with her forever, but she was forced to let him go. Odysseus’ now adult son Telemachus (a parallel of Rand), also landed on Calypso’s isle while searching for Odysseus. Calypso fancied him too, and offered him immortality if he would stay with her. However, Athena, who had accompanied Telemachus disguised as the family retainer Mentor, encouraged him to repel her advances. When they couldn’t stop Calypso, Mentor and Telemachus leaped from a cliff into the sea and swam to a ship (Bulfinch’s Mythology).

Lanfear was enamoured of both Lews Therin Telamon and Rand; she offered the latter immortality and to rule the world at her side. In order to prevent Lanfear from enslaving or killing Rand, Moiraine, his mentor, leaped upon Lanfear and drove them both through the redstone door ter’angreal.



As well as referring to Arthur’s son and nemesis Modred as described above, Moiraine’s surname, Damodred, is also a combination of Damocles and dread. Damocles was:

a courtier of Dionysius the Elder of Syracuse, in Sicily, tyrant from 405 to 367 BC. The courtier is known to history through the legend of the “Sword of Damocles.”

According to the legend, when Damocles spoke in extravagant terms of his sovereign's happiness, Dionysus invited him to a sumptuous banquet and seated him beneath a naked sword that was suspended from the ceiling by a single thread. Thus did the tyrant demonstrate that the fortunes of men who hold power are as precarious as the predicament in which he had placed his guest. The story is related in Cicero's Tusculanae disputationes, 5.61.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

This is basically the history of House Damodred in a nutshell—great power wielded with little appreciation of the consequences of arrogant actions. The dread in the name merely emphasises the deservedly bad reputation of most of the members of this House. Moiraine rejected ruling the House (and Cairhien) because she was not prepared to be so ruthless.

Moiraine also played a part in changing the historic parallel of the Rand and Lanfear relationship.

Mark Antony

Some time after Julius Caesar (a parallel of Lews Therin) was assassinated, his lover Cleopatra (a parallel of Lanfear) captivated another famous military Roman, Mark Antony, and subtly exploited his unsophisticated and unstable character. Lanfear tried to do the same to Rand, who until his epiphany, was also unstable (due to the taint) and unsophisticated, but thanks to Moiraine, she did not succeed.

The Lanfear/Cleopatra parallel is an important one, not just in showing how history repeats itself, but also in showing the consequences if events were allowed to take their course. Moiraine saw from the rings in Rhuidean that Rand could end up enslaved by Lanfear, or killed by her. Besotted with Cleopatra, Antony forgot about his wife and his planned military campaign in Parthia and returned:

as Cleopatra's slave to Alexandria, where he treated her not as a “protected” sovereign but as an independent monarch.

- Encyclopaedia Britannica

In this Age, Lanfear was determined to be Rand’s equal or superior. She also wanted to make sure that Rand completely forgot about his role as the Light’s champion and also his love of Elayne and Aviendha (and Min, if she had known).

After the Roman armies of Octavian (the future Roman emperor Augustus) defeated their combined forces, Cleopatra realized that she and Antony were doomed. She believed that if he could be induced to kill himself for love of her, they would both win undying renown (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Lanfear planned to use Rand to obtain ultimate power and immortality for the pair of them. However, Moiraine’s bravery thwarted Lanfear’s early plans and Rand was freed of her influence long enough to grow armour against her wiles. This parallel shows what otherwise might have been.


Rand and Moiraine between them completely changed Aiel history. The Aiel were strongly bound by custom, yet Moiraine broke centuries of tradition and spent time among Wise Ones. She was likely the first Aes Sedai since the founding of Rhuidean to go into the Waste and live among the clans. Previously Wise Ones avoided Aes Sedai, but the Dreamwalkers reached out to Moiraine by letter (also surely a first!) to raise the odds of Moiraine going to the Waste. They knew Moiraine was crucial to Rand’s survival, and therefore the Aiel’s survival, as well as the defeat of the Shadow. Moiraine “needed” to go through the three rings ter’angreal and see that she must push Lanfear and herself through the redstone ter’angreal into the Eelfinn’s world. She also needs to make the national leaders see reason and sign Rand’s peace treaty at Merrilor.

The Aiel have strong parallels to the American First Nations and for the Aiel and Rand as Car’a’carn, the meeting of nations at the Field of Merrilor was an equivalent of the founding of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Great Peacemaker, Deganawida, a parallel of Rand, met with Jigonhsasee, an Iroquois woman, and described to her his vision to form a confederacy of the warring nations to bring peace. Jigonhsasee agreed with his idea and to help him realise it worked out which men should be assigned to which positions at the peace gathering. She was considered to be a co-founder, along with the Great Peacemaker and the orator Hiawatha, of the Iroquois Confederacy.

It was Rand who called for all leaders of the nations and influential groups to attend his great meeting at the Field of Merrilor where he would lay out the conditions that were the price for his sacrifice. Moiraine waited outside to gauge the mood and progress of the negotiations—which were not going well. She used the Karaethon prophecy to assign appropriate prophecies to the national leaders to show them that they must agree to Rand’s peace treaty—that prophecy and the Pattern required it:

"These demands are unfair," Gregorin said. "He requires us to keep our borders as they are!"
"'He shall slay his people with the sword of peace,' " Moiraine said, " 'and destroy them with the leaf.' "

It's The Karaethon Cycle. I've heard these words before.

"The seals, Moiraine," Egwene said. "He's planning to break them. He defies the authority of the Amyrlin Seat."
Moiraine did not look surprised. Perrin suspected she'd been listening outside before entering. It was very like her.
"Oh, Egwene," Moiraine said. "Have you forgotten? 'The unstained tower breaks and bends knee to the forgotten sign . . .' "
Egwene blushed.
" 'There can be no health in us, nor any good thing grow,' " Moiraine quoted, " 'for the land is one with the Dragon Reborn, and he one with the land. Soul of fire, heart of stone.' "
She looked to Gregorin. " 'In pride he conquers, forcing the proud to yield.' "
To the Borderlanders. " 'He calls upon the mountains to kneel . . .' "
To the Sea Folk. " ' . . . and the seas to give way.' "
To Perrin, then Berelain. " ' . . . and the very skies to bow.' "
To Darlin. " 'Pray that the heart of stone remembers tears .. .' "
Then, finally, to Elayne. " ' . . . and the soul of fire, love.' You cannot fight this. None of you can. I am sorry. You think he came to this on his own?" She held up the document. "The Pattern is balance. It is not good nor evil, not wisdom nor foolishness. To the Pattern, these things matter not, yet it will find balance. The last Age ended with a Breaking, and so the next one will begin with peace—even if it must be shoved down your throats like medicine given to a screaming babe."

- A Memory of Light, A Knack

Her words—reference to prophecy—spurred rulers to drop their objections by making them seem futile and the impasse in negotiations melted away. Moiraine’s crucial role in the peace treaty at the Field of Merrilor is a parallel of Jigonhsasee’s role in the Iroquois Confederacy. The Wise Ones, led by Aviendha, insisted that the Aiel join the treaty and Rand promised that he would persuade the Seanchan to also sign or else it would be voided.


Writing in the 1980s when all epic fantasy was compared to The Lord of the Rings, Jordan deliberately gave the first one or two hundred pages of The Eye of the World a “Tolkienesque” feel.


Moiraine is a parallel of the wizard Gandalf. Both are rather mysterious and powerful magic-using figures who guide the young main characters for the first book. Both work closely with a warrior who is a hidden monarch (Lan/Aragorn). In The Eye of the World, Moiraine uses a staff, as Gandalf does, although unlike him, her staff is an aid to concentration while his is a symbol of office and a device—and Moiraine discards hers.

Gandalf vanishes before Frodo leaves the Shire and returns in the nick of time to meet him at Rivendell and he dies in truth in the fight with a monster, the Balrog, and is sent back naked to Middle Earth as Gandalf the White, much more powerful, to finish his quest to rally the West for this last battle against Sauron.

Moiraine leaves Rand’s storyline at the camp east of Falme, and again in Cairhien through the doorway into the land of the Eelfinn and Aelfinn. The latter was seen as a death since her bond to her Warder Lan was broken, and with the melting of the doorway ter’angreal there appeared to be no way back. While in the Otherworld of the Eelfinn and Aelfinn, she lost much of her channelling power and gained a strong angreal to compensate. She was brought back naked to earth to aid Rand in uniting the nations in the Last Battle against the Shadow.

Unlike Gandalf, who was part of the forces distracting Sauron while Frodo and Sam went to Mount Doom to unmake the Dark Lord, Moiraine joined Rand and Nynaeve in the Pit of Doom to help seal the Dark One away.


Spreading Tree

The tree of life sigil adopted by House Damodred commemorated the prosperity and power that Cairhien obtained from its pact with the Aiel, who gave them an Avendesora sapling to seal it. As a Cairhienin ruling family, the reward for Cairhien’s kindness in giving aid freely made the Damodreds so prosperous that they became arrogant, which led to their downfall. Yet the Damodreds still keep the sigil representing the tree that they cut down in pride.

Unlike her Damodred relatives, Moiraine has actually seen Avendesora up close in the Aiel Waste. It’s very telling that this family adopted as their own the image of the Cairhienin nation’s deeds and prosperity even after they butchered the tree the sigil depicts. A truly selfish and oblivious family—they are Cairhien and Cairhien is theirs.

Moiraine’s Colour Choice

Moiraine left House Damodred, with its red, green and white stripes, and joined the Blue Ajah. In her mind, blue outweighed red, green and white. Symbolically red is the colour of energy, fire, aggression and war. Green represents nature, growth, fertility, life, and renewal, but is also traditionally associated with money, ambition, greed and jealousy. White symbolises purity, truth and innocence, but on the negative side, it can seem stark, cold, and isolated.

Most Damodreds express the negative aspects of their House colours—aggression, greed and coldness—which is one reason why Moiraine rejected her house (she tellingly said that her ruling relatives had blackened, made dark, their house name) and exclusively embraced the Blues. She refused to become an Aes Sedai Queen of Cairhien, thinking the divided loyalties and resulting suspicion too difficult to navigate well. In constrast, blue represents infinity, eternity, truth, faith, purity, and spiritual and intellectual life (Jack Tressider, Symbols and their Meanings). It is the most detached and least material colour.



As Thom Merilyn’s surname indicates, Thom has some parallels with King Arthur’s advisor and tutor, Merlin. Thom has been an invaluable teacher and guide to Rand and his companions, particularly in the beginning when they were so vulnerable, much as Merlin was for a young Arthur and his companions, and provided the Emond’s Fielders and the reader with an alternate view and in-world lore when Moiraine seemed too manipulative or cryptic.

Merlin and Thom were both fated to fall in love with younger women with great skill in magic, Nimue and Moiraine respectively, women who they would have much rather have avoided.

The important difference is that Thom’s love was returned by Moiraine, whereas Merlin’s desire for Nimue was not, and Thom and Moiraine each behaved very unconventionally as a result. Thom disliked Aes Sedai because they were responsible for the deaths of Thom’s only living kin, his beloved nephew Owyn and his wife. Yet Thom risked his life to help her quest to see Rand reach Shayol Ghul and to rescue his beloved Aes Sedai from an Otherworld. For her part, Moiraine promised to betray to Thom the names of the sisters that broke Tower law in their treatment of Owyn—unheard of for an Aes Sedai, who would much prefer not to shame the Tower, and believe in “benefit of clergy” (separate administration of laws for clerics) for Aes Sedai.

In contrast, after wearying of Merlin’s persistent attentions, Nimue imprisoned him in an Otherworldly cave from which he could not escape on his own. While Thom rescued Moiraine from an Otherworld that she could not escape on her own, this rescue has perhaps closer parallels to Orpheus (see below), not Merlin.

Arthurian myths lead us to the composers and storytellers of such myths: the bards of the Celts and troubadours of the Middle Ages.

Troubadour and Bard

Thom taught Mat how to juggle and Rand how to play the flute. With these new skills they were able to earn their keep as wandering performers along the road to Caemlyn. They were far from troubadours, though—perhaps novice jongleurs.

On the other hand, troubadours were composers and performers of songs in Medieval Europe. They were among the first poets to write in the vernacular languages of their countries so that all their compatriots could understand them, not just those educated in Latin and Greek. Many of the troubadour songs have themes of chivalry and courtly love, including contributions to the Arthurian mythos; others described historical events. More mundanely, these traveling poet-musicians also passed on news and information from town to town.

In the Wheel of Time world, the equivalent of Classical Latin or Greek would be the Old Tongue, the language of the Second Age, a Golden Age in Third Age eyes. Only the well educated learned it. Performers related their tales or songs in the Third Age language in three different “styles” ranging from highly poetic and imagery rich to mundanely vernacular:

It was what the gleeman had called Plain Chant, those nights beside the fire on the ride north. Stories, he said, were told in three voices, High Chant, Plain Chant, and Common, which meant simply telling it the way you might tell your neighbor about your crop. Thom told stories in Common, but he did not bother to hide his contempt for the voice.

- The Eye of the World, Strangers and Friends

Thom’s disregard of the everyday vernacular as suitable entertainment indicates that he is not a jongleur at heart, even though he disguises himself as one in Emond’s Field and also with Valan Luca’s menagerie. And he does a good job not just of necessity but also out of pride, but he feels it is too limiting. Someone with an experienced eye, like Moiraine, for instance, would see through Thom’s disguise even if he had changed his name.

Before he adopted the role of gleeman—a medieval term that covers both jongleurs and troubadours—to earn a living in exile while travelling, Thom was a bard. His regard for the harp, and insistence that Rand’s skills were not fit for it, emphasises this fact.

In medieval Celtic society, a bard was a professional poet, composer, musician, storyteller and oral historian employed by a noble or clan chief. Pre-Christian Celts had no written histories. The bards committed history and notable achievements and events of nation and clan to memory in verse and song and passed this extensive oral tradition from generation to generation. As well as oral archivists, they also celebrated the achievements of their patron and their patron’s family and clan. Bards mastered hundreds of verses and composed their own without writing and their preferred musical instrument was the harp.

Thom related epic ballads of remote historic events and also knew songs of praise composed to earn patronage:

He had to see Rand face-to-face, no matter what he had told him about keeping clear. Perhaps no one would think it too odd if a gleeman asked to perform a song for the Lord Dragon, a song especially composed. He knew a deservedly obscure Kandori tune, praising some unnamed lord for his greatness and courage in grandiose terms that never quite managed to name deeds or places. It had probably been bought by some lord who had no deeds worth naming.

- The Shadow Rising, Strings

which he ironically considered using to gain unobtrusive access to his former student, Rand, whose deeds would be remembered for Ages to come.

Thom also was training Dena as his apprentice bard when she was tragically murdered in Cairhien. Like Thom she had excellent, even perfect, recall. Thom has a vast repertoire of oral tradition which struck me as surprising in a world that not only has writing, but even mechanically printed books—but I guess it saves on luggage. And at the end, he is using pen and paper to compose at the entry to Shayol Ghul.

Thom is an “early modern” bard who recites tales of our distant past as well as our recent history, blurring time lines since time is a wheel in Jordan’s world. The events of the series, that we see an alien historian, Loial, record in writing, appear to be in our future, but have so many references to our past.

Also looking to modern times, Thom’s enthralling solo performances are contrasted with the new forms of dramatic storytelling arising in Cairhien (theatre) and Andor (opera)—much to Thom’s disgust.

Bards were revered, even mythologised in some cases: the Welsh bard Taleisin, for instance, who was court bard to three kings and whose life story was blended with legends of Celtic heroes, even that he was a bard at King Arthur's court. In Irish legend, the bard Amairgin could calm a storm with his music, just like Orpheus in Greek myth.


Orpheus was the best musician and poet of Greek mythology—so much so that his music could charm animals, rocks or trees. His preferred instrument was the lyre, an equivalent of the harp, and he was believed to be either a son or student of Apollo. A large amount of Ancient Greek religious poems were attributed to Orpheus.

Orpheus took part in Jason and the Argonauts’ quest to find the Golden Fleece and was crucial in preventing the sailors from being shipwrecked by drowning out the bewitching song of the Sirens with his playing.

Orpheus was one of the few Greek heroes to visit the Underworld and return. His music and song even had power over Hades, stern god of the Underworld. When Orpheus’ wife Eurydice was fatally bitten by a venomous snake as she tried to escape a satyr, Orpheus mourned her so movingly with his playing that the gods and nymphs wept. They suggested Orpheus go into the underworld and plea for her return. Orpheus made that perilous journey and his playing so moved Hades and his wife Persephone that Hades relented and permitted Eurydice to follow behind Orpheus back to the earth, with the stricture that Orpheus must not look upon her until both of them were in the upper world. In his excitement at reaching the surface, he impatiently glanced back at Eurydice and she returned to the Underworld forever.

Thom knows a vast quantity of songs, stories and music, and his preferred instrument by far is the harp. His performances are outstanding, with his listeners able to visualise and feel the events he describes:

He had heard gleemen, performers and bards. Thom made the entire lot seem like children with sticks, banging on pots.
The flute was a simple instrument. A lot of nobles would rather hear the harp instead; one man in Ebou Dar had told Mat the harp was more "elevated." Mat figured he would have gone slack-jawed and saucer-eyed if he had heard Thom play. The gleeman made the flute sound like an extension of his own soul. Soft trills, minor scales and powerfully bold long holds. Such a lamenting melody.

- Towers of Midnight, The Seven-striped Lass

Mat and Ituralde consider Thom to be the best and Mat makes a point of rating Thom’s performances as superior to those of Asmodean (if he had but known who Natael was):

Natael did a fair job of it; nothing like Thom's sonorous recitals, of course, but the rolling words drew a crowd of Aiel thick around the edge of the fire's light.

- The Shadow Rising, Imre Stand

Asmodean has parallels to the Greek god Apollo, and since The Wheel of Time’s Orpheus, Thom, is the better performer, Asmodean continues to not quite live up to expectations.

The quest to rescue Moiraine from the Otherworld of the Finns is a parallel of Orpheus in the Underworld. Thom’s playing was able to drown out the siren voice of the Eelfinn that tried to lure them into its clutches:

Its voice was hypnotic, soothing. It did make sense. What need had they of fire? It was light enough with that mist. It . . .
"Thom," Mat said. "Music."
"What?" Thom said, shaking a little bit.
"Play anything. It doesn't matter what."
Thorn took out his flute, and the Eelfinn narrowed its eyes. Thomn began playing. It was a familiar song, "The Wind That Shakes the Willows." Mat had intended to soothe the Eelfinn, maybe put it off guard. But the familiar tune seemed to help dispel the cloud on Mat's mind.
"This isn't needed," the Eelfinn said, glaring at Thom…
The creature was obviously trying to lull them again, but its cadence was off, at odds with Thom's playing.

- Towers of Midnight, Gateways

Not only did his performance charm the Aelfinn and Eelfinn, it helped Mat concentrate on recalling his previous visit to the Eelfinn and thus find a way out. Appropriately, the songs Thom sang during the rescue were of mourning or lamentations, as was Orpheus’ preference after his Eurydice died:

Thom, looking desperate, unhooked his harp from his back. He began to play it. Mat recognized the tune, "Sweet Whispers of Tomorrow." A mournful sound, played for the fallen dead. It was beautiful.
Remarkably, the music did seem to soothe the Aelfinn. They slowed, the ones at the front beginning to sway to the beat of the melody as they walked. They knew. Thom played for his own funeral.
"I don't know how I got out last time," Mat whispered. "I was unconscious. I woke up being hanged. Rand cut me down."
He raised a hand to his scar. His original Aelfinn answers revealed nothing. He knew about the Daughter of the Nine Moons, he knew about giving up half the light of the world. He knew about Rhuidean, It all made sense. No holes. No questions. Except...
Thom began to sing. "Oh, how long were the days of a man. When he strode upon a broken land."
Mat listened, memories blossoming in his mind. Thom's voice carried him to days long ago. Days in his own memories, days of the memories of others. Days when he had died, days when he had lived, days when he had fought and when he had won.
"I want those holes filled . . ." Mat whispered to himself. "That's what I said. The Eelfinn obliged, giving me memories that were not my own."
Moiraine's eyes had closed again, but she smiled as she listened to Thom's music. Mat had thought Thom was playing for the Aelfinn, but now he wondered if he was playing for Moiraine. A last, melancholy song for a failed rescue.
"He sailed as far as a man could steer," Thom sang, voice sonorous, beautiful. "And he never wished to lose his fear."
"I want those holes filled," Mat repeated, "so they gave me memories. That was my first boon."
"For the fear of man is a thing untold. It keeps him safe, and it proves him bold!"
"I asked something else, not knowing it," Mat said. "I said I wanted to be free of Aes Sedai and the Power. They gave me the medallion for that. Another gift."
"Don't let fear make you cease to strive, for that fear it proves you remain alive!"
"And . . . and I asked for one more thing. I said I wanted to be away from them and back to Rhuidean. The Eelfinn gave me everything I asked for. The memories to fill my holes. The medallion to keep me free from the Power. . . ."
And what? They sent him back to Rhuidean to hang. But hanging was a price, not an answer to his demands.
"I will walk this broken road," Thom sang, voice growing louder, "and I will carry a heavy load!"
"They did give me something else," Mat whispered, looking down at the ashandarei in his hands as the Aelfinn began to hiss more loudly.
Thus is our treaty written; thus is agreement made. It was carved on the weapon. The blade had two ravens, the shaft inscribed with words in the Old Tongue.
Thought is the arrow of time; memory never fades.
Why had they given to him? He had never questioned it. But he had not asked for a weapon.
What was asked is given. The price is paid.
No, I didn't ask for a weapon. I asked for a way out.
And they gave me this.
"So come at me with your awful lies," Thom bellowed the final line of the song. "I'm a man of truth, and I'll meet your eyes!"

- Towers of Midnight, The One Left Behind

Thom’s performance re-focused Mat’s faded memory and enabled them to escape the Otherworld. Except for one they left behind to buy them time. It was Noal who did not return to the earth, not Moiraine.

In some legends, Orpheus was attacked by Maenads, followers of the god Dionysus, for concentrating his worship on the sun god Helios. Orpheus’ music was so enchanting that the sticks and stone the Maenads threw at him refused to hit him and so the women tore him to shreds with their bare hands.

While satyrs are a major source for Shadowspawn such as Myrddraal and Trollocs, the satyr who indirectly cause Eurydice to be killed by a snake represents Lanfear. Maenads are parallels of the Black Ajah, while Dionysus is a parallel of Balthamel, who as Aran’gar instructed the Black sisters with the rebels on how to further the Shadow’s cause. Apostasy, the renunciation of allegiance to the Light (or the Shadow), in The Wheel of Time is a capital offence on both sides for most groups.

However, Thom did not suffer Orpheus’ fate. He helped fulfill the ultimate quest of the series, by guarding he entrance to Shayol Ghul. His beloved Moiraine went into the Underworld along with Rand and Nynaeve to seal the Dark One away. Thom guarded the entry, not to keep the shades of the dead within as Cerberus guards the gates of the Greek underworld, but to keep the Black Ajah out. He paused in his strumming and composition to knife Black sisters.

Once the Dark One was sealed away, Moiraine, Nynaeve and then Rand all returned to the surface. It was Moiraine who looked back over Thom’s shoulder at the closing of the Bore and of Shayol Ghul:

Moiraine burst into open air without realizing it, and almost ran off the edge of the path, which would have sent her stumbling down the steep slope. Someone caught her.
"I have you," Thom's voice said as she collapsed into his arms, completely drained. Nynaeve fell to the ground nearby, gasping.

Thom turned Moiraine away from the corridor, but she refused to look away. She opened her eyes, though she knew that the light was too intense, and she saw something. Rand and Moridin, standing in the light as it expanded outward to consume the entire mountain in its glow.

The blackness in front of Rand hung like a hole, sucking in everything. Slowly, bit by bit, that hole shrank away until it was just a pinprick.

It vanished.

- A Memory of Light, Light and Shadow

So intent was Moiraine on seeing the closing up of this Underworld that Thom had to save her from a serious, if not fatal, fall. Thom’s role here was to enable his Eurydice’s safe return once she had achieved her quest in the Underworld.

Thom fell from a high position to become a wanderer, and with a need to be on guard but with little social standing and resources, gets by on his wits—a trickster by necessity.


Trickster figures aspire to enter a social group which excludes them, and use their wiles to do so. While Mat Cauthon is the prime trickster in The Wheel of Time, his mentor and fellow trickster Thom taught him some useful skills and supplied him with some useful knowledge.

Trickster are outsiders in society and are very adaptable in their behaviour. They readily ignore social rules to achieve their aims. Thom is a wandering vagabond minstrel outlawed from his country for shouting at Queen Morgase. He is skilled at disguising himself and is able to imitate the conventions and manners of any nation he is passing through to gain social acceptance and find out what is going on. Thom broke the rules in Cairhien first by ‘breaking cover’ and getting involved too openly with Rand’s group, and then by killing King Galldrian in retribution for Dena’s death. He removed a corrupt king, but started a civil war, which set in motion many critical events of the end of the Age.

Thom tricked the Tairen nobles with expertly forged notes to make them attack each other rather than plot against Rand. Thom is more the magician type of trickster and is not as rebelliously dishevelled as the other Wheel of Time tricksters. Or rather, he can be scruffy when necessary to blend in, but polishes himself up very well, as we saw at his audience with Elayne:

How had the man so perfectly transformed from an old scamp of a gleeman into a royal courtier?

- Towers of Midnight, Talk of Dragons


Grey Fox

According to Moiraine, Thom Merrilin was known as the Grey Fox (The Shadow Rising, Deceptions). The fox is one of the most cunning creatures of world mythology, a trickster who may aid or harm mankind. Thom is knowledgeable and manipulative; a skilled player of the Great Game not above a little forgery to help the Dragon Reborn.

In Zoroastrian myth:

the fox has unusual powers including the ability to frighten off demons…[and] in Japan the fox is associated with shapeshifting, trickery and the power to subdue ghosts and vampires.

- John and Caitlin Matthews, Element Encyclopaedia of Magical Creatures

Thom is skilled in disguises and other trickery. He fought a Myrddraal with just a pair of knives and used his skills as a musician and bard to enchant the Eelfinn.

While Thom was named the Grey Fox because he is elderly, it also represents the knowledge and experience he has gained through age. Grey is the colour of neutrality, compromise and negotiations—and more negatively, moral ambiguity. Thom thought he wanted to stand aside and stay out of the way of Aes Sedai and of the Dragon Reborn but was drawn in and used his skills, even his morally ambiguous ones such as forging, to help:

He was glad that he'd not been able to escape, that his attempts to leave Rand, Mat and the others behind had failed.

- A Memory of Light, Two Craftsmen

The colour grey also has connotations of depression and loss, and Thom carries these due to the death of his nephew, Owyn, whom he was not able to help.

Separately and together this magical duo, Thom and Moiraine, mentored a great magus, Rand, and helped him fulfill his Opus to save the world.


Written by Linda, October 2022


EAHC said...

I realize this is really late, so I apologize if it's out of line, but:

Is it possible that for Thom Merrilin there are bits of Thomas the Rhymer (a Thomas poet/storyteller who comes back from fairyland) and Thomas Mallory (a person of questionable background as an epic storyteller)?

Linda said...

Thank you and no need for an apology.

I like your idea of Thomas the Rhymer. I agree that there are bits of him in Thom.

Thomas Mallory wrote a version of Arthurian legend, one of the best known ones. Since Arthurian legend is one of the major origins of the series, Mallory may be more like Loial, who openly writes notes for his book on our Arthurian characters.

Kristi Deming said...

Sorry to disturb you, but I just wanted to point out that Moiraine was not present when Vora's sa'angreal was used to Heal Mat: she was hunting down Rand with Perrin and their group.

I am still in awe at all you've done here!! You're amazing!