Let’s Read The Wheel of Time: TEOTW ch. 40

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Chapter 40: The Web Tightens

We open this chapter with Rand in the middle of another freaky dream sequence (I had forgotten how many of these there were) where Ba’alzamon shows up and is all spooky and shit. It only lasts for like a paragraph and nothing happens, so I’m not sure why it’s here instead of just having Rand wake up after falling off the wall and clonking himself on the head.

Once that’s done with, it’s time to meet a princess:

A deep blue velvet cloak lined with pale fur rested on her shoulders, its hood hanging down behind to her waist with a cluster of silver bells at the peak. They jingled when she moved. A silver filigree circlet held her long, red-gold curls, and delicate silver rings hung at her ears, while a necklace of heavy silver links and dark green stones he thought were emeralds lay around her throat. Her pale blue dress was smudged with bark stains from her tree climbing, but it was still silk, and embroidered with painstakingly intricate designs, the skirt slashed with inserts the color of rich cream. A wide belt of woven silver encircled her waist, and velvet slippers peeked from under the hem of her dress.

Check out that big ol’ hefty chunk of description. Don’t worry, we’ll be getting lots more like it later.

Also, she’s really hot, but, like, in a different way from Egwene, but also in the same way.

She was perhaps two or three years younger than he, tall for a girl, and beautiful, her face a perfect oval framed by that mass of sunburst curls, her lips full and red, her eyes bluer than he could believe. She was completely different from Egwene in height and face and body, but every bit as beautiful.

She may have a perfectly oval face, but she doesn’t have perfectly almond-shaped eyes or perfectly-formed breasts. You can do better, Rand.

A dude jumps out of the tree after her, and they address each other by their first names for the reader’s convenience:

“We will never hear the end of this, Elayne, if mother finds out,”

[…]

“Be quiet, Gawyn.”

Then Elayne uses a bunch of medicinal stuff to heal Rand’s scalp, acting very authoritative and forceful all the while.

“Most of the time they do exactly what she says,” Gawyn went on with an affectionate grin at the top of her head. “Most people. Not Mother, of course. Or Elaida. And not Lini. Lini was her nurse. You can’t give orders to someone who switched you for stealing figs when you were little. And even not so little.”

Do mine eyes deceive me, or is this the first of Jordan’s domineering female characters who gets subjected to corporal punishment or some other humiliating treatment off-camera? I thought that shit didn’t start until the second book.

There’s a really long, rambling conversation where Rand doesn’t realize that he’s talking to the princess and prince of the kingdom, which I think is meant to be funny except that it goes on for about five times longer than it needs to due to Jordan’s tendency to waffle.

Just then, a Hot Dude arrives!

The young man who stood there was the handsomest man Rand had ever seen, almost too handsome for masculinity.

I have no idea what that means. And is everyone connected to the royal family ridiculously good-looking?

The newcomer is Galad (I assume I don’t need to explain where that name came from), Elayne and Gawyn’s half-brother. He’s all like “that dude is dangerous” and Elayne is like “no he’s not” and Gawyn’s like “totally is” but Elayne is like “I’m the princess shut up.”

Elayne growled an oath, and Rand’s eyebrows shot up. He had heard that one from the stablemen at The Queen’s Blessing and had been shocked then.

See you can tell Elayne is cool because she knows swears.

This entire scene is a gigantic pile of cliches. Elayne even has that thing going on where she likes taking in stray cats and birds and treating their injuries, which is the laziest way in existence of implying that a woman is kind-hearted in a traditionally feminine way.

A bunch of soldiers arrive on the scene and Elayne has a bit of brinkmanship with them– this part is actually well done– which she loses, resulting in all three of them being brought to the Queen.

They watched Rand as if they expected him at any moment to snatch his sword and try to cut his way to freedom.
Try anything? I won’t try anything. Unnoticed! Hah!

We get fascinating insights into Rand’s internal thoughts during this whole sequence, which consist entirely of some combination of the following: Light! Burn me! The princess! Light! I’m in the grounds of the castle! So much for staying unnoticed! Burn me! Light!

I don’t think I ever noticed before how boring Rand is as a protagonist. His default mode from the very beginning of the flight from Emond’s Field, apart from a few lapses where he starts acting weird due to using the Power, has been to alternate between panicking and complaining about wanting to go home. We’re over 3/4 of the way through this very thick, very long book, well past the point where I want the reluctant protagonist to start displaying some sort of determination or personal agency. His only animating motivation at the moment is a conviction that Egwene and the others are still alive, but acting on this consists of hanging around in one place and thinking “Light! They have to still be alive! They must be alive! Burn me! light!”

“You don’t have rats?” he said in disbelief. Every place had rats.
“Elaida doesn’t like rats,” Gawyn muttered vaguely. He was frowning worriedly down the hall, apparently already seeing the coming meeting with the Queen. “We never have rats.”

That’s pretty creepy. Elaida is the Queen’s Aes Sedai advisor, in case you’ve forgotten.

A bluff, blocky man stood bareheaded by the Queen’s right hand in the red of the Queen’s Guards, with four golden knots on the shoulder of his cloak and wide golden bands breaking the white of his cuffs. His temples were heavy with gray, but he looked as strong and immovable as a rock. That had to be the Captain-General, Gareth Bryne.

Oh boy, it’s Gareth Byrne. We’ll be seeing lots more of him in later books.

The Queen is also present, and she’s all radiant and shit by virtue of being a Queen, because epic fantasy novels like to regurgitate ideas about royalty that were all the rage back at the turn of the last millennium.

If she had been a widow in Emond’s Field, she would have had a line of suitors outside her door even if she was the worst cook and most slovenly house keeper in the Two Rivers.

It sure is cool how this world is a matriarchy where women occupy important positions of authority.

Light, thinking about the Queen like she was a village woman! You fool!

Light! Burn me! Light!

If I did not know just how hard your lessons will be in Tar Valon, I would send Lini along to see that you obey. She, at least, seems able to make you do as you must.”

Okay, Jordan. We get it.

“From the Two Rivers?” she said. She reached a hand toward his head; he pulled away from her touch, and she let her hand drop. “With that red in his hair, and gray eyes? Two Rivers people are dark of hair and eye, and they seldom have such height.” Her hand darted out to push back his coat sleeve, exposing lighter skin the sun had not reached so often. “Or such skin.”

Ah the Aiel, light-skinned, red-haired desert dwellers.

Much later we find out they’re descended from the Tuatha, who seem to be vaguely Irish, but that just makes me wonder why there was no one else living in the Waste earlier.

Elaida notices that Rand has a heron-mark sword and everyone flips their shit, but then Gareth Byrne announces that it makes sense because Rand is totally awesome in a non-specific way.

“I do not know, Morgase,” Bryne said slowly. “He is too young, yet still it belongs with him, and he with it. Look at his eyes. Look how he stands, how the sword fits him, and he it. He is too young, but the sword is his.”

This is so lazy. Rand has done sweet fuck-all to prove himself by this point, so I guess Gareth can just see Destiny hanging over him like a cloud or something. Maybe it’s another Ta’veran thing.

Elaida makes a bunch of vague spooky pronouncements about Rand and the Shadow that puts everyone on edge, but Morgase decides to let him go for reasons that don’t make any sense (basically, she concludes that his story is so preposterous he must be telling the truth).

“If I had told Mother I think you are handsome, she certainly would have had you locked in a cell.” Elayne favored him with a dazzling smile. “Fare you well, Rand al’Thor.”

[…]

Rand nodded absently. Handsome? Light, the Daughter-Heir to the throne of Andor!

Light! The princess! Light! Handsome! Light! Look at how befuddled I am! Light!

Before Rand leaves Gawyn tells him that he looks exactly like an Aielman, which causes his befuddlement to deepen ever further. He goes running off back toward the inn, most likely so he can sit around and think about things and be befuddled some more.

 

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14 thoughts on “Let’s Read The Wheel of Time: TEOTW ch. 40

  1. Aaron A.O. (@AaronAO)

    Ah the Aiel. How I hate those mono-dimensional Irish-Fremen. Their a lot like the emotionless people who are great at kung fu don’t know how babies are made from the Kvothe books. In fact Rothfuss probably just copied them from the Aiel. At least Frank Herbert let the Fremen be POC. It’s like later authors liked the idea of a culture of unbeatable bad ass super soldiers, but didn’t like that they weren’t white.

    Reply
  2. braak

    I always liked Mat the most of the Three Protagonists, because even though he’s a smarmy asshole, at least he has a personality. He likes doing things! He gets drunk and gambles and flirts with women and gambles; it’s a cliche personality, sure, and again, he’s kind of a gross dude, but at least it’s something.

    (I kind of even like his contrarian-ness for that same reason? Yeah, like, it doesn’t make SENSE that he’s going to go do something just because someone told him not to, but at least he’s going around and doing stuff.)

    Reply
    1. Ben

      The first time I read the books, I also liked Mat’s responses to his past lives. All three of the main dudes suffer from extreme ambivalence, but at least Mat seemed to be genuinely freaked by the blurring of his memories with the genetic memories he inherited, even as he began to accept and use them. It’s lightyears better that Perrin hating on his own wolf-brother skills because a couple of people told him they’re a sign of evil or Rand’s incredible blandness before he begins to go crazy.

      Reply
          1. Aaron A.O. (@AaronAO)

            The biggest downside is that his magic wolf eyes are readily identifiable and socially stigmatized, but that’s not the sort of thing that leads to lots of internal conflict so much as it makes people fear and hate him.

  3. Ida

    Ah, yes, Jordan’s infamous endless clothing descriptions. I usually skim them. Since I have absolutely zero fashion sense, I wouldn’t know what they’re supposed to look like even with the descriptions. Also I don’t care. Cut them out and the books would be a hell of a lot shorter.

    This is a great re-read chapter (assuming you care about the series at all, I guess…), since it shows Rand’s being all ta’veren, and it will affect every single character in this chapter way down the line. Pretty much everything that happens to them from now on can be tracked down to Rand falling down into their garden like the little idiot he is. This chapter also introduces two of my least favourite characters in the entire series, which is less yay. (I still tend to fly into frothy, visceral rage every time I see the name “Gawyn” and that is only a small exaggeration. I hate this character with a passion.)

    The Aiel aren’t really *descendants* from the Tuatha’an as much as having the same roots. The Tuatha’an have been around for a long time and unlike the Aiel they aren’t in a voluntary exile, so they’ve been mixing with other people for thousands of years. As for the Aiel Waste, it didn’t become a desert until after the Breaking. The people living there probably left when it happened and nobody felt like returning, because there was plenty of room elsewhere and living in the Waste wasn’t exactly great, especially when you’re not used to it.

    It should be noted, though, that interestingly enough Rand got most of his looks from the non-Aiel part of his heritage. The only overtly Aiel part of him is his height. I’m not sure Jordan had decided for this when he wrote this book, though. In a later book, we get to meet his non-Aiel uncle and he is described as looking like an older, “meaner” Rand. If Rand had just been slightly shorter, few would have thought him to be Aiel.

    The characterisation of Elayne here is pretty… off, in comparison to what she’s like in later books. She’s described – with the subtlety of a steam train – as kind and soft-hearted and a lover of every living thing and whatnot. In later books, she’s more, uh, I would say pragmatic and foolhardy, less kind. As for Rand’s characterisation, well, he doesn’t really have one yet. He becomes a little more defined later, especially when he starts losing his marbles. So far, all we’ve got is that he’s kind of an idiot, spends most of his time being confused, and doesn’t want to be here. There is more, but it doesn’t come out very well. I could write a whole essay about how Rand’s personality is affected by what he is and should be, but I won’t, because I don’t think you care.

    I think what Jordan was going for re: everyone thinking Rand is the coolest thing ever wasn’t so much “Rand is totally awesome and everyone can see it” as “Rand is The One and everyone can sense it but they don’t know what it is so they just make wild assumptions about him”, but he wasn’t doing a very good job at showing that. Rand is shaping the Pattern by, well, existing, and it’s made clear later that people are aware that it happens but can’t do anything about it. At this point, they don’t know who he is, so they don’t know exactly what it is that makes them believe he is the bees’ knees. At least that’s always what I’ve felt about this scene. Everything in this chapter – from him meeting Elayne to Morgase letting him go – is a result of him being ta’veren. In later books, people are going to complain about it, and Rand will be all “I don’t do it on purpose!”

    Reply
    1. Ben

      I think that characters being unconsciously attracted to a Chosen One and each coming up with their own excuses for why they’re attracted to them could be really interesting, but Jordan’s just not good enough with his characters’ psychology this early in the series for it to work at all and later, when he’s acquired some more skill as a writer along with his ever-growing raft of bad habits, the seeds of bullshit have already been sown and can only be walked back so far, so the ta’veren thing still wafts of narrative convenience.

      Reply
    2. Nerem

      Ehh, it’s kind of tomatos tomahtos with regards to the difference between “Everyone knows he’s awesome instinctively” and “Everyone knows he’s the Chosen One instinctively” since a large part of being the CHosen One is being awesome.

      Reply
  4. A. Noyd

    Whose perspective is Jordan even using for the description of Elayne’s dress? I hate it when authors describe shit using details that the viewpoint character either wouldn’t know or wouldn’t notice and/or care about. Like, how in the everloving eff is a farm boy from the backwater-to-end-all-backwaters going to know silk from any other fine cloth? And who the hell takes note of another person’s clothes piece by piece, material by material, as if reading off an inventory sheet? Ugh.

    Reply
  5. Andrea Harris

    For some reason fantasy authors are sure everyone loves a main character that can’t stop whining about wanting to go home. I blame The Hobbit, where Bilbo does a whole lot of that for most of the book, until he comes back home with a heap of money and realizes he can’t stand the place. (That last bit might be my interpretation.)

    Anyway, I think the idea is, homesickness makes characters “relatable,” because god forbid we be allowed to forget this is “fantasy, not real, so do your homework okay?” I propose that good fiction actually avoids being “relatable” as much as possible. That’s what I think, anyway.

    Reply
    1. Ben

      Yeah! Also, from my own experience with writers’ circles, there’s a strong pressure not to have the protagonist do anything that makes them seem eager to hurt people, either physically or emotionally, since that makes them “unsympathetic.” Oftentimes, it seems, unwary writers overcompensate and make protagonists that are perpetually paralyzed with indecision and ignorance.

      Reply

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