Let’s Read The Wheel of Time: TEoTW ch. 9

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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.

 

 

 

 

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16 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Wheel of Time: TEoTW ch. 9

  1. AJ

    God all these names are terrible. Shaitan is the Hindi(an Indian language) for Satan. All he did was take common names and add a crapload of apostrophes everywhere.

    Reply
  2. Mr Elbows

    the whole “secret royalty” thing is so weird to me, because in Austria royalty was this exalted thing you never got to be a part of ever, even if you were aristocracy. you can’t exactly articulate the fantasy that maybe one day *you* could be king when the dynasty hasn’t been challenged in over 600 yrs 😛

    (also monarchy is dumb)

    Reply
  3. Ida

    Yes, there is a reason for the whole “Aes Sedai never lie” bit, and it’s kind of convoluted. Spoiler ahead? In order to become Aes Sedai, they have to take three oaths by a partiuclar magical object, and one of them amounts to “Don’t lie”. The reason for this was because of the mistrust channelers faced after the Breaking of the World (since they caused it, and all), and was supposed to make sure people knew that they could trust their word. Jump ahead 2000 years and the Aes Sedai have lived all by themselves, spent a lot of time playing out countries against each other and being involved in all sorts of political shenanigans, and they have become very good at getting around that pesky little detail by speaking in riddles. But on the other hand, when an Aes Sedai says “Yes” or “No”, you know they mean it (unless they’re Dark Ajah, of course, and this becomes an important plot point later). Interestingly, the rods used to bind them to the oath were originally used on criminals, to force them to stop comitting crimes. End spoiler.

    Ah, dreams. If there was one thing Jordan was good at, it was writing atmosphere. I always loved whenever he got the chance to explore other dimensions, like the Dreamworld, the Ways, and whatever strange world some characters ended up in in the second book. (I’m sure that if it was called anything, it would be capitalized as well; he liked giving things Important-Sounding Names, preferably with at least one apostrophe).

    Yeah, the One Power was… strange in the first book. I think Jordan hadn’t fully built up the magic system by then, because it doesn’t fit in with what we later learn about it, which is really annoying.

    That pitchfork scene is weird. In fact, it’s downright stupid and I hate it. Still, it’s more tolerable than the one from Wizard’s First Rule, because at least it doesn’t end with Moiraine pretending to castrate the villagers. Small favours.

    Reply
  4. Toastehh

    I think it’s simply very easy to jump from thinking an aristocracy is a good setting to thinking an aristocracy is good, period.

    It’s possible to enjoy Lord Whoever as a hero while acknowledging that it’s pure luck that they turned out to be a good ruler. But it moves the story away from pure wish fulfilment and requires readers (and authors; fantasy writers tend to as reluctant as their readers) to switch their brains on a little more.

    Reply
  5. Blueriver

    I’m wondering if the English yearning for monarchy it stems from the way we are taught history. We learn about Kings and Queens in primary school, with massive focus on the Tudors, and the whole thing is taught like a story (or at least it was that way 20 years ago when I was at school). You then grow up thinking of honor and chivalry being important virtues, and you can’t have knights without Kings. Somehow even Henry 8th comes across looking like a good guy). And we’re all taught about Queen Elizabeth I and how she didn’t marry because she was married to England etc. Reading about monarchy in high fantasy is then just like reliving that period of childhood when history was fun

    Plus, we get good tourism out of monarchy nostalgia – I’m from Leicester, and we’re certainly trying to eke out as much money as possible from Richard III

    Reply
  6. Andrea Harris

    Huh, compared to Wheel of Time, Fellowship of the Ring jumps right into the action. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating just a tad, but I found the whole setup to be tedious and that’s why I didn’t read more than that 1/3 of the first book.

    Re the bloodline thing: I don’t know, maybe I grew up in that window of time when it was not the “thing” in the US to be in love with royalty or whatever that is, but I was somehow shielded from the idea that “blood” was important. Maybe it’s because I was adopted and raised in Miami which was full of immigrants from all over, but that always sounded like nazi garbage to me. And kings and queens and stuff were clearly of the past or for those other countries in the Old World that was left behind, or the stuff of Disney cartoons and so of course not real. And then Princess Di came along and suddenly I was surrounded by people in love with the idea of royalty. It was sort of gross, and strikes me as that way still. I can accept it in a fantasy story here and there, because that’s fantasy. But it has no place in real life, and in fact it’s made most fantasy unreadable to me.

    Reply
    1. Aaron Adamec-Ostlund (@AaronAO)

      I think the US’s obsession with royalty is a reaction to our other national myth about egalitarianism giving everyone the opportunity to become filthy rich. Aside from not being true, this myth means that there’s nothing separating the rich and poor other than luck and circumstance. Since the rich, especially the descendants of people who could be argued to have actually done something to earn their wealth, don’t like the thought that they aren’t inherently superior to those around them and so they long for a feudal system where status is immutably entrenched in law. But given the egalitarian pretensions of the US, everyone thinks that they could somehow wind up in the nobility and run everything.

      Reply
      1. braak

        Yeah, a key part of the US’s obsession with royalty is always marrying into it or discovering you’re a secret part of it or something, or crashing in and claiming kingship for yourself (R. E. Howard loved that one). It’s not just the idea that some people are inherently superior, it’s the idea that *I* could be inherently superior.

        America as a nation of temporarily embarrassed monarchs.

        Reply
      2. Andrea Harris

        I dunno, I don’t understand the whole princes/royalty/marry a royal obsession, it’s probably just my weird quirk. I’m much more into fantasy that’s about running off into the wilderness to experience adventure, what happened to that kind of fantasy, where did it go, why do we have all this grim dutiful stuff about Restoring The Kingdom and crap like that.

        Reply
    2. Elisabeth

      “And kings and queens and stuff were clearly of the past or for those other countries in the Old World that was left behind, or the stuff of Disney cartoons and so of course not real. And then Princess Di came along and suddenly I was surrounded by people in love with the idea of royalty.”

      I felt the same way about people fawning over William and Kate’s wedding. It was embarrassing to see grown women buying so much into the princess fantasy. The only age where it’s acceptable to believe in that fantasy is when you’re under the age of five or six and you have no idea how the world works. It’s a sexist ideal, and one that doesn’t belong in today’s world. I live in Canada, and while the queen is technically our monarch, the monarchy has no influence over our lives beyond symbolism.

      Reply

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