Let’s Read The Wheel of Time: TEoTW ch. 25

isbn9781857230765

Chapter 25: The Travelling People

Hey, have you guys been missing the Wagon Bros from the Kvothe books? Well hold onto your butts, because here come their predecessors.

Bela walked along placidly under the weak sun as if the three wolves trotting not far off were only village dogs, but the way she rolled her eyes at them from time to time, showing white all the way around, indicated she felt nothing of the sort.

Could you get a horse to walk “placidly” behind predators like this? They’re extremely skittish unless they’ve been specifically trained to avoid frightening stimuli (eg war horses trained not to bolt at gunfire). Then again Bela is apparently a total badass, so maybe it depends on the horse personality. I used to ride them, but was never on one around large dogs or anything similar.

The rest of the pack was far distant; he could have told her that.

Why is Perrin able to sense the wolves all of a sudden? We were told that wolves aren’t uncommon in the Two Rivers area, so if he was born with this skill surely he’d have experienced it before. And it can’t be because this pack is used to communicating with humans and easier to sense, because then he would have noticed them following him and Egwene for the last few days. It’s like Elyas telling him about being a Wolfbro activated the ability.

Then again, the same complaint could be levelled at Mat and Rand, who also have magical in-born talents that conveniently come to life the moment they head out on an adventure where such things would be useful.

When they had started out Egwene insisted that everyone take a turn riding, and Perrin did not even bother to argue.

I’m really getting tired of Perrin’s fedora-m’lady chivalry shite. Why does he think Egwene needs to be on horseback all the time? They’re both rugged Two Rivers people, used to traipsing around the countryside. Is he worried her dainty lady-legs are going to snap in half?

He knew when they left the pack’s usual hunting grounds, and Dapple sent the pack back to wait for her.

If you’ve been keeping track of The Sciences you might know that the whole “alpha wolf” idea beloved of many varieties of asshole is actually BS. A matriarchal wolf pack led by a single female is also incorrect (they generally consist of a breeding pair and adult children), but I do like that Jordan went against the grain a bit in his depiction of how they operate. This is one of the few instances where his claim to be inverting gender power dynamics in fantasy comes across as anything more than a fig-leaf hiding something a lot more self-serving.

Perrin is continuing to deny that he’s a Wolfbro, but his newfound powers do have one advantage: he’s stopped dreaming of Ba’alzamon, as it seems the wolves are somehow guarding his sleeping mind. Because the wolves are benevolent, and, like, hate the Dark One, man.

He was not sure how Egwene felt, but he would have been willing to go hungry if he could do it without the wolves.

Oh my fucking god, first you people were complaining about travelling with the Aes Sedai who saved your entire village, and now this shit. Show a little gratitude.

After a few days of wandering the party comes across a stand of trees that shows signs of being inhabited. But as they approach SCARY DOGS ATTACK!

dav

Wait, that’s not a scary dog. It’s Eve, my adorable Belgian Shepherd/Lurcher puppy. Let’s try that again.

dav

That’s Eve again. One more time.

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Okay, just picture a scary dog. Like, really scary. And there’s three of them. But it’s okay, Elyas manages to calm them down.

“There’ll be Tuatha’an here. The Traveling People.” They stared at him blankly, and he added, “Tinkers.”

It beats the hell out of “Edema Ruh” I guess.

So let’s unpack this. If you’re not familiar with Irish Travellers (and I gather most of you probably aren’t), give that Wikipedia article a once over. The short version is that they’re the local equivalent to the Roma elsewhere in Europe and are commonly referred to as “Tinkers”, although the label is now considered derogatory and seems to be falling out of use (other, just as offensive terms are not).

The clue that Jordan based them specifically off of Irish Travellers and not any similar group comes from their name in Fantasese: Tuatha’an seems to have been derived from the Old Irish word Tuatha, which refers to a grouping of people smaller than a kingdom; it’s probable he encountered the word via the Tuatha Dé Danann, pre-Christian Celtic deities.

(While we’re on the subject, I discovered that another name for the Tuatha Dé Danann is Aes Dana, which is obviously similar to Aes Sedai;  apparently Jordan didn’t just plunder Arthurian legends for his names)

The use of these cultural aspects in this context makes me somewhat uncomfortable, as it did in the Kvothe books, since real-life Travellers face a huge amount of hardship and prejudice in Ireland and are nearly invisible to the wider world. Importing them into a fantasy setting as a twee band of merry wanderers is extremely off-putting, especially when they’re continually referred to by a derogatory title.

Anyway, this is all just window dressing since Jordan’s Wagon Bros have basically nothing in common with their inspiration apart from a nomadic lifestyle and a reputation among the communities they interact with for stealing things. In fact, as we’ll see they’re actually a band of wandering pacifists.

Perrin suggests camping with the Wagon Bros for the night. Elyas reluctantly agrees, but cautions them in a vague and non-specific way not to be taken in by anything they say.

Their wagons were small houses on wheels, tall wooden boxes lacquered and painted in bright colors, reds and blues and yellows and greens and some hues to which he could not put a name.

Wow, they invented new colours? That’s pretty impressive.

(Note to authors: be careful how you phrase things)

Confusingly, this business with the brightly coloured caravans seems to be a Roma stereotype. It’s actually possible Jordan wasn’t aware that Roma and Travellers aren’t the same thing; a lot of people conflate the two, which is why you sometimes get clueless Americans who visit Ireland and worry that “gypsies” are going to steal their luggage on arrival (seriously). Or alternatively he knew and just didn’t care.

By the way, this is the tip of the fucking iceberg when it comes to the poorly-applied stereotypes in these books. Wait until we get to the not-Japanese in book two.

Four or five men in different places around the camp played fiddles and flutes, and a few people danced like rainbow-hued hummingbirds.

Do these guys just dance and sing constantly in case protagonists show up looking for a meal?

For a moment there was no sound at all, then a wiry man, gray-haired and short, stepped forward and bowed gravely to Elyas. He wore a high-collared red coat, and baggy, bright green trousers tucked into knee boots. “You are welcome to our fires. Do you know the song?”

The Wagon Bros have a quasi-religious quest going on were they’re constantly looking for this magic song, or something. I don’t think it becomes relevant until around book four or so, so I won’t go into it in detail.

After this a whole load of twee bullshit happens, but basically the Wagon Bros are all super duper friendly and welcoming, and there’s a Hot Dude who Egwene starts falling for on sight, which for some reason gets Perrin mildly bent out of shape.

“Those dogs of yours,” Perrin said loudly, and Egwene gave a start, “look as big as bears. I’m surprised you let the children play with them.”

Aram’s smile slipped, but when he looked at Perrin it came back again, even more sure than before. “They will not harm you. They make a show to frighten away danger, and warn us, but they are trained according to the Way of the Leaf.”

The Way of The Leaf is a pacifistic philosophy, combined with a heavy dose of fatalism. The Wagon Bros eschew violence entirely, even in self-defence, believing that they must be As The Leaf and accept whatever may befall them.

This causes a brief debate between Hot Dude and Perrin, who argues that violence is sometimes justified. Despite my general dislike of Perrin, I agree with him on this one: while I think people should eschew violence as a way to solve their problems, I also think they have a right to defend themselves. Complete pacifism is a nice ideal, but it only holds up if everyone else in the world is willing to abide by it as well.

(Note that I’m speaking only of individuals here; things get more complicated when you’re dealing with entire countries and their military attitudes. In particular, the idea of striking back to discourage further attacks and of intervening to save someone who’s being attacked– both situations, I’d argue, where violence can be justified– becomes infinitely trickier)

Jordan was in the military, so he’s clearly on Perrin’s side with this as well, but the text treats the Tuatha’an and their ideals very sympathetically all the same (contrast with how, say, Michael Walsh would have handled the same material).

Raen turned back to Elyas. “My old friend, how many times must I tell you that we do not try to convert anyone. When village people are curious about our ways, we answer their questions. It is most often the young who ask, true, and sometimes one of them will come with us when we journey on, but it is of their own free will.”

The Wagon Bros don’t believe in evangelising, so while they shake their heads sadly at Perrin’s axe (they shake their heads sadly, sigh sadly, and intone sadly all the fucking time) and have some tension with Elyas due to his violent Wolfbro lifestyle, it doesn’t cause too much friction. Because god forbid some drama would lighten up this chapter.

I think I can confidently say that this is the first time we’re seeing the most egregious of Jordan’s bad habits– his tendency to waste the reader’s god damn time. This entire interlude with the Tuatha’an ends up being completely pointless, only serving to set up worldbuilding chaff that doesn’t pay off for another three books and allow Jordan to indulge in some personal interests. Later in the series this becomes business as usual, but here, where the plot is relatively  focused and streamlined, it stands out.

The only thing of actual note that happens is some exposition that could easily have been delivered elsewhere: the head Wagon Bro tells a story about some other Wagon Bros, who crossed the Aiel Waste two years ago and had a strange encounter with a dying Aiel warrior:

But she seized the Seeker of that band by his coat, and this is what she said, word for word. ‘Leafblighter means to blind the Eye of the World, Wagon Bro. He means to slay the Great Serpent. Warn the People, Bro. Sightburner comes. Tell them to stand ready for He Who Comes With the Dawn. Tell them. . . .’ And then she died. Leafblighter and Sightburner,” Raen added to Perrin, “are Aiel names for the Dark One, but I don’t understand another word of it. Yet she thought it important enough to approach those she obviously despised, to pass it on with her last breath.

Yes, the Aiel speak the same language as the Wagon Bros and everyone else we’ve met so far. As far as I know everyone in this setting apart from the Trollocs shares a common language, including a group we’ll meet in book two who spent thousands of years on the other side of a huge ocean.

When I saw you walking into our camp, I thought perhaps we would find the answer at last, since you were”—Elyas made a quick motion with his hand, and Raen changed what he had been going to say—“are a friend, and know many strange things.”

Huh. Can’t remember what that’s about.

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Wheel of Time: TEoTW ch. 25

  1. Signatus

    Reveen, while playing D&D I was handling a mage. When the moment came to choose a familiar I said; “I want a dog.”. Everyone looked at me as if I had gone crazy. I explained that dogs are accustomed to humans, they have been selected for millenia to be around people, to be trainable even by the stupidest of humans (more or less), and to be friendly and reliable. Wolves are wild, they need a very experienced hand to “tame” them, and keep them more or less under control (and that backfires pretty often). Why the heck would I want a wolf around me?

    I get why a 15 year old would want a wolf or a tiger as a “pet”, they are pretty awesome animals. Why a 30 year old would want a tiger is beyond me. Dogs are made to be with humans, and more or less, most of them get adapted just fine to living with us. Exotic animals are cool, but they get abandoned by the hundreds when people realize their new pet is not a dog in a racoon pelt.

    Dogs get overlooked a lot in fiction. I am working in a book where I want to portray the important role of dogs in human history (figuratively speaking). We always forget how important they have been for us, and they are still, doing many tasks we wouldn’t be able to do as efficiently without their help.

    Reply
  2. Ben

    zephyrean: Yeah, one of the more stultifying things about this Let’s Read has been seeing all the little things that Rothfuss lifted wholesale from Jordan and then made his own by stuffing in literary fluff and covering in grace notes.

    Reply
  3. reveen

    I don’t really get why wolves are so fascinating to writers when dogs are around. Dogs are pretty much wolves except with more variety and the actually care whether we live or die. Except in Game of Thrones wolves get to be the protagonists and dogs are relegated to the local pathetic anti-hero and his psychopath brother.

    Reply
  4. sanderrp

    The wolf thing is basically ripped straight from David and Leigh Eddings, who wrote the most trope-tastic and problematic-racist-depiction-filled books ever, but at least they wrote some spiffy feggin’ dialogue, gave their characters actual personalities and kept up the pace, unlike Robert Jordan. The Eddings wolves were a bit more fun, too.

    I dunno what’s up with fantasy authors and wolf-packs, anyway. GRRM loves that stuff too. I like wolves and all, but come on folks, be original.

    Reply
  5. Toastehh

    To be fair, one of the strongest themes in TWOT is, er, ‘all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again’.

    I mean it’s no excuse for throwing ethnic caricatures into the story wholesale, but it does go to explain why people named after Irish demigods use the five neopagan elements to fight s(hai)atan under a yin-yang banner.

    Reply
  6. Signatus

    “A matriarchal wolf pack led by a single female is also incorrect”

    There was a pack where an adult female bonded with two male brothers. Her name was Number 6, because, scientists. While the main structure was as you mention (adult mating pair and pups), she had more “power” than the two younger and more inexperienced brothers, so she was practically the one leading while her mates preferred to be followers. Like I said, this is an exception, but wolf pack structures can be more diverse and complicated, sometimes being joined by errants (normally young males split from their packs), sometimes with more than one female reproducing, etc. Also, the super alpha theory is BS.

    Wolves are awesome.

    I do like the way Jordan is not treating wolves as evil beasts or bloodthirsty predators that attack humans as soon as they enter wolf territory. I’m not saying wolf are bigger, cooler versions of labrador retrievers. But while being wild animals, and potentially dangerous (as any animal, wild or domestic), the chances of being mauled by wolves is rather small due to their innate fear of humans. You might go into wolf territory, the wolf will know you’re there and you might never even sense its presence. Wolves are not ferocious, rabid beasts as portrayed everywhere, including Disney (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, etc), they are actually very intelligent, social creatures.

    “my adorable Belgian Shepherd/Lurcher puppy.”

    Your dog is very cute. :3

    Reply
  7. zephyrean

    > Why does he think Egwene needs to be on horseback all the time? They’re both rugged Two Rivers people, used to traipsing around the countryside.

    Riding horseback is harder than walking for the same period of time. The advantage of riding is that travel takes less time — if everyone is riding. Since Wolfbro walks, Egwene’s ass must hurt like hell.

    > The Way of The Leaf is a pacifistic philosophy, combined with a heavy dose of fatalism.

    More stuff Rothfuss “reimagined”.

    Reply
    1. Mr Elbows

      I was thinking the EXACT SAME thing! is this what happens when fantasy authors only ever read *other* fantasy authors?

      Reply

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