Schedule Note: I’m going to Edinburgh for three days on the 20th to play bagpipes and eat haggis and engage in other stereotypes, expect the rate of posts to be effected.
Chapter 9: Tellings of The Wheel
Our chapter image for the day is this thing, which is apparently supposed to be a fang, although it looks more like a talon or a horn to me.
The chapter opens with Rand in the middle of a disturbing dream, which is an experience he and the rest of the cast better get used to because they’ll be having a lot of them. Robert Jordan loved him some dream sequences.
This was not just a place where spring was late in coming; spring had never come here, and never would come. Nothing grew in the cold soil that crunched under his boots, not so much as a bit of lichen. He scrambled past boulders, twice as tall as he was; dust coated the stone as if never a drop of rain had touched it. The sun was a swollen, blood-red ball, more fiery than on the hottest day of summer and bright enough to sear his eyes, but it stood stark against a leaden cauldron of a sky where clouds of sharp black and silver roiled and boiled on every horizon.
Mind you, the dream sequences allow him to step out of his Tolkien-flavoured comfort zone and get weird for a bit. I remember them being the most striking parts of the series until they became frequent enough to get annoying.
In the dream Rand is pursued across a desolate barren hellscape by Trollocs, until he reaches a giant mountain which he senses contains the source of all of his woe. This is probably Shayol Ghul, which is the location of the Dark One’s prison. So yes, the villain lives in an evil hellish country filled with dangerous monsters that’s basically Mordor. Hey, at least it’s not called the Skull Kingdom.
After an encounter with what he believes to be Shai’tan, Rand is transported to Tar Valon, the home city of the Aes Sedai.
He ran, and the ground passed beneath his feet, rolling hills and flat plain . . . and he wanted to howl like a dog gone mad. The city was receding before him. The harder he ran, the further away drifted the white shining walls and haven. They grew smaller, and smaller, until only a pale speck remained on the horizon
I find the depiction of eerie dream logic in these books to be quite well observed.
Next, Rand dreams that he’s inside the city and walking toward a white tower that appears at the end of every street. After some hesitation he goes to it, beckoned on by the city’s inhabitants, only to find a Myrdraal waiting for him inside.
What is all of this supposed to mean? The Dark One shows up in Rand’s dreams to troll him from time to time, so maybe it’s his way of trying to scare Rand away from Tar Valon and plant distrust of the Aes Sedai in his mind. Or, another possibility: Moiraine created the dream (I don’t know if Aes Sedai can do that, but let’s say they can) to try and make going to Tar Valon seem like a totally cool and awesome thing to do, but Rand’s mind inserted the Myrdraal at the end and ruined it.
The reason I’m going through all the trouble of rationalizing this is that as the series goes on the multitude of dreams/prophecies/prophetic dreams the characters have increasingly start to feel as if they’re in there for absolutely no reason other than to have a shit load of portentous dream sequences everywhere. I know a lot of this stuff does actually mean something and some fans have spent time decoding the prophetic images, but at a certain point you have to ask whether having that much egregious foreshadowing really serves any purpose, especially when as far as I can tell a lot of it can only be deciphered in hindsight.
Rand wakes his dad up and explains everything that happened, omitting the Mysterious Utterances that Tam made while under the influence of the fever.
They don’t lie, not right out, but the truth an Aes Sedai tells you is not always the truth you think it is. You take care around her.
Do we every get a reason why Aes Sedai are so tricksy and fond of telling half-truths? I remember there’s something about some sort of magical oath that prevents them from telling lies, but if they can get around it with some clever wordplay then it doesn’t seem very effective.
(And I don’t care what Tam says here, Aes Sedai only “don’t lie” if you use an extremely blunt and literal definition of what constitutes a lie)
Anyway, Tam realizes that Rand will have to leave the Two Rivers like Moiraine wants and accepts it readily, but he again cautions Rand to be careful.
Rand knew little about the bonding between Aes Sedai and Warders, though it played a big part in every story about Warders he had ever heard. It was something to do with the Power, a gift to the Warder, or maybe some sort of exchange. The Warders got all sorts of benefits, according to the stories. They healed more quickly than other men, and could go longer without food or water or sleep.
Basically, Warders are bodyguards who get super-powers and (if I remember correctly) the same longevity that the Aes Sedai enjoy. But since this is Robert Jordan we’re talking about, later books do a lot of coy hinting about the various flavours of naughty sexy-times that may or may not accompany the arrangement.
(And in case you’re wondering, yes, there is at least one example of a female Warder in the series)
“This isn’t much like the stories, Rand, is it?” [Mat] said hoarsely.
Get ready to have this sentiment repeated about a thousand times.
The Kvothe books also did this whole “ah ha ha ha ha, ’tis not like in the stories” song and dance, except in a much more annoying and smug way. It still bothers me here, because I inherently chafe at being told that Real Life Isn’t Like The Stories by a story that is in many ways Just Like The Stories, and more specifically Just Like One Specific Story.
Rand, Mat and Lan exit the Inn to see a pitchforks-and-torches crowd gathered to demand that Moiraine and Lan leave the villiage immediately, having gotten the idea that they somehow brought the Trollocs. I’m not really sure why this is a problem, since they were just about to do that anyway.
The scene is basically this simplistic little morality play where the two Bad Families that the book has been harping on about for the last eight chapters act all villainous and craven and the Good Upstanding Sorts get to flex their muscles (literally in one case) and show the lousy curs what’s what. It doesn’t help that the bad guys’ viewpoint makes no sense, since they all saw Moiraine and Lan fight off the Trollocs and heal people with magic. In fact quit a few of the people in the angry mob would be dead or disabled if not for her magic.
Eventually Moiraine defuses the situation by doing some twirly magic with her staff– Aes Sedai magic here is a lot flashier than I remember from later books, where it mostly seems to consist of mental effort and binding people with air
and psychic spanking and pinching people’s asses— and tells the Emond’s Fielders about their noble heritage and the fact that they’re descended from warrior ubermenschen and are therefore superior to other people.
But they, and their children, and their children’s children, held the land that was theirs. They held it when the long centuries had washed the why of it from their memories. They held it until, today, there is you. Weep for Manetheren. Weep for what is lost forever.”
I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. The Wheel of Time series puts a creepy amount of stock in the importance of bloodlines and who your descendants were millenia ago, to the point that at least one of the main characters we’ve already been introduced to becomes a tactical genius and possesses the ancestral memories of a legendary commander due to his special blood; another one later comes back to the Two Rivers and basically sets himself up as its king despite having zero demonstrated qualities that would make him suitable for the role, beyond the fact that the old blood of Manetheren sings in his veins or whatever.
Now, you may be thinking here that our main man Rand wasn’t born in the area and doesn’t fit this pattern, but just you wait. There’s all kinds of bullshit in his backstory that we’ll get to in due course.
As the series goes on it also demonstrates the obsession with kings and monarchy that a lot of fantasy novels have, where you get the feeling that the author was getting all misty-eyed and wistful about the whole Ancien Regime deal and rather wishes these new-fangled political systems hadn’t come along and ruined things.
I think American and British authors tend to go in for this for similar but different reasons; in the US the attitude stems from a kind of exotified view of monarchies that’s wrapped up in ideas about old world charm and sophistication coupled with a strong authoritarian streak, whereas in Britain the root cause is a yearning for a (largely fictitious) national golden age that I think is common with older generations in particular. In both cases the idea of an absolute leader who rules by right of blood and possesses some innate quality that makes them superior to others seems appealing, possibly because the author in question imagines that they, or someone like them, would be that leader.
From my own perspective, growing up in a country that’s never had its own monarchy but which is close enough to ones that do to see how farcical the entire idea is in modern times has pretty much sapped any mystique or romantic appeal out of the concept, so that when I think about kings and queens I picture doddering old people trundling around making PR appearances instead of righteous golden-blooded titans altering the course of history through their mighty deeds.
…BUT ANYWAY BACK TO THE BOOK, I have to say that I’ve always rather liked the many digressions into myth that Jordan makes. They tend to get kind of ridiculous and overblown– look at the part I quoted above for a sample– but they’re fun to read and it turns out Jordan can spin an entertaining yarn when he’s limited to the space of a few pages and can’t take time out to describe people’s clothes or repetitive body language tics.
This was the real beginning, leaving the inn and following the Warder into the night. . . .
I know, The Fellowship of The Ring takes ages to get going. It annoyed me too.