Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Eye of the World, chapters 1 and 2, in which nothing happens

Sorry about missing last week's post; hope you all enjoyed seeing the blogqueen back in action.  I was in the American South, where it's apparently reasonable for train stations to have signs that expressly forbid all weapons "except firearms (with a permit)", which says all that is necessary about that.  On the plus side, I spent some more time with my American friends, makers of the excellent YouStar web series.  (I play EruditeConnoisseur64 and try to keep a straight face.)   So the risk was acceptable.  Everyone was very nice and I met very few huge racists.

Now, back to the Wheel of Time.

(Content: gender essentialism. Fun content: how excited are you about blatant theft from random cultures, languages, and mythologies?  No?  What about Mallory Ortberg?)

The Eye of the World: p. 1--31
Chapter 1: An Empty Road

There's a lot of advice out there about how to start your book: with action, with things happening, with decisions being made, with whatever the real inciting event is.  Famously, fantasy novels are bad at this, spending endless quantities of time meandering about with farm chores and pub crawls to be more like Lord of the Rings before they get around to the plot.  I am unsurprised that EOTW is a great example of the latter.
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
Nice for them as likes it, I guess.

Our Hero, Rand al'Thor (and his dad) are walking down the Quarry Road that I thought was a river but in fact just ends at the start of a river, feeling uncomfortable in his wet cloak on a blustery day, other hand on his bow in case of wolves.  Summarising the first three pages: wind, trees, foresty, cold, Dad al'Thor is a tough salt-of-the-earth man, Mom al'Thor is long dead (although it's preemptive, I'm still going to call that Fridged Women Tally: 2).  Four pages in, Rand sees a mysterious black rider on a black horse on the road behind them, who has disappeared by the time Rand points him out to dad.  They agree they need to go smoke and booze in a warm house, and dad suggests Rand wants to see Egwene, the mayor's daughter, though Rand silently disagrees because she makes him feel funny in his bathing suit area without even meaning to.
He we hoping his father had not noticed he was afraid when Tam said, "Remember the flame, lad, and the void." 
It was an odd thing Tam had taught him. Concentrate on a single flame and feed all your passions into it--fear, hate, anger--until your mind became empty. Become one with the void, Tam said, and you could do anything. Nobody else in Emond's Field talked that way. But Tam had won the archery competition at Bel Tine every year with his flame and his void.
Now we've got this randomly introduced pseudo-zen thing from Tam, but also an obvious reference to Beltane, so evidence continues to lean towards this story randomly hodgepodging cool things from various cultures however Robert Jordan whims.  Is there an actual reason this farmer dude is a zen archer?  I'm hoping so, but I'm also worried it's going to be terrible.

They arrive in Emond's Field, where the heads of houses are called "goodmen" and "goodwives" and gender roles are enforced by cosmic law.
Whether or not leaves had appeared on the trees, no woman would let Bel Tine come before her spring cleaning was done. [....] On roof after roof the goodman of the house clamebered about, checking the thatch to see if the winter's damage meant calling on old Cenn Buie, the thatcher.
I feel like I'm in the medieval fantasy version of Pepperidge Farm, except that would probably be more like Mallory Ortberg's Letters from Chris Kimball, which are masterpieces of sothothic horror.  Someone named Wit Congar stops the al'Thors to complain about the Wisdom of Emond's Field, Nynaeve, who is apparently a person and chosen by women.  She apparently badly mispredicted the severity of the last winter, and Wit wants the Village Council to overrule the Women's Circle, but he gets called out by his wife Daise, "twice as wide as Wit, a hard-faced woman without an ounce of fat on her", so as we can see when people don't conform to their expected gender positions they are whiners and nags.  The al'Thors book it before Daise notices them, because they are both single men and therefore the women of Emond's Field would like nothing more than to set Tam (and now Rand) with a widowed friend or someone's daughter.  Rand is much too stubborn to allow himself to be set up with any farmgirl he likes, or something.

I'm skipping a lot of description of the layout of the grounds and of Pepperidge-Farm-remembers type narrative, like the Pole (obviously a maypole): "No one knew when the custom began or why--it was another thing that was the way it had always been--but it was an excuse to sing and dance, and nobody in the Two Rivers needed much excuse but that."  ITS FOLKSY, GOT IT?  DO YOU GET IT?

They're also very excited about the prospect of fireworks for the first time in a decade.

The al'Thors arrive at the al'Veres' place, home of the mayor/innkeeper, and they all talk grumpily about the weather and the prospect of next winter never ending and everyone freezing to death, et cetera.  Rand instead talks with his buddy Mat, who plans to set an old badger loose in town to scare the girls, but by sheer coincidence he also immediately brings up that he recently saw "a man in a black cloak, on a black horse [...] and his cloak doesn't move in the wind" , just as Rand did, and then he vanished as soon as Mat looked away.
"I actually thought--just for a minute, mind--it might be the Dark One." He tried another laugh, but no sound at all came out this time. 
Rand took a deep breath. As much to remind himself as for any other reason, he said by rote, "The Dark One and all of the Forsaken are bound in Shayol Ghul,beyond the Great Blight, bound by the Creator at the moment of Creation, bound until the end of time. The hand of the Creator shelters the world, and the Light shines on us all."
Well, that's one way of getting exposition out of the way.  Just so we're clear on this, that's Shayol as in the Hebrew Sheol, and Ghul as in demon.  Jordan must have spent at least half an hour creating his mythology.

Mat gets roped into helping unload the booze from the cart, with the promise of then getting to go see the visiting gleeman, who is apparently made of awesome.
To have one there actually during Bel Tine, with his harp and his flute and his stories and all... Emond's Field would still be talking about this Festival ten years off, even if there were not any fireworks.
I'm going to assume that 'gleeman' is a euphemism for 'marijuana dealer'.  Nothing much else happens for the rest of the chapter as far as I can tell, beyond talking about how much people will be excited and how much the fireworks cost.

Chapter Two: Strangers

The Village Council (which appears to be all men--please tell me that the neutrally-named council isn't the male counterpart to the Women's Circle, please please please) are gathering in the mayor's home, looking grim and smoking and suchlike.  The mayor's wife arrives with food, of course, and Rand likes her because she doesn't try to set his dad up with anyone.
Toward Rand her motherliness extended to warm smiles and a quick snack whenever he came by the inn, but she did as much for every young man in the area. If she occasionally looked at him as if she wanted to do more, at least she took it no further than looks, for which he was deeply grateful.
The mayor's wife wants to jump our teenage hero, but she only gawks, so he's grateful for the relative lack of inappropriate actions.  Le sigh.  That is not how gratitude is supposed to work.  I suppose/hope Jordan just means grateful in the sense of glad, but the connotation is not the same.  Rand and Mat finish hauling in the booze kegs and meet a younger boy, Ewin, who tells them all about the strangers in town.  Not the black rider:
"And his cloak is green. Or maybe gray. It changes. It seems to fade into wherever he's standing. Sometimes you don't see him even when you look right at him, not unless he moves. And hers is blue, like the sky, and ten times fancier than any feastday clothes I ever saw. She's ten times prettier than anybody I ever saw, too."
I'm kind of charmed by the way everyone in this book at the same time has no familiarity with magic but are constantly like 'Did you see someone teleporting on the road today?' 'Yeah, and the dude in the inn can turn invisible!'  It's almost like magic realism, minus the realism.  Also, while the dudes thus far have been characterised with their skills, their philosophies, their senses of humour, their jobs, all that jazz, all of the women have been characterised based on their interactions with men and/or their physical attractiveness.  That's a lot less charming.

Oh, wait, no, we play Six Degrees of Bechdel Separation, because Rand hears from Ewin who overheard the visiting lady Moiraine talking to the village Wisdom, Nynaeve, who got all huffy because Moiraine called her "child" while asking for directions.  She apologised upon realising she was talking to the Wisdom, and asked a bunch more respectful questions.  So our two plot-relevant living women have now been characterised by their failure to get along and Nynaeve's uncontrolled temper.

Outside, Rand gets another unpleasant feeling of being watched, which apparently comes from a raven on the roof of the inn.  He and Mat both whip stones at it, but it sidesteps them, and then takes off when Moiraine appears and calls it "A vile bird [...] to be mistrusted in the best of times."  Harsh, gal.  #notallravens

Moiraine is indeed the tiny woman from the cover, only as tall as Rand's chest, young but "there was a maturity about her large, dark eyes, a hint of knowing that no one could have gotten young".  Her clothes and jewelry get a half-page of dedicated description.  They all trip over their tongues introducing themselves, and Moiraine explains that she's a historian, come to Two Rivers as "a collector of old stories".  There's some rambling chatter about the Wheel of Time and the Great Pattern and how the names for things and people change over time,and then she leaves,"appearing to glide over the ground rather than walk, her cloak spreading on either side of her like wings."

So far I have no reason to believe Rand is a more interesting protagonist than Moiraine would be.

They finally spot her bodyguard, Lan, standing by the inn, stealthy and hard-faced with a hand on his sword.  Ewin guesses he's a Warder, but Mat shoots this down because Warders are 1) fictional and 2) covered in gold and jewels and spend all their time slaying monsters in the Great Blight up north, which... look, are they real or not?  If your case is 'that's not real', maybe just stick with that, rather than adding the details of the not-real thing you're saying doesn't exist?

Moiraine hired them all as assistants while in town, and pressed a silver coin on each of them that Rand estimates is worth a good horse.  They each agree that it seems like it would be wrong to spend it, and will keep it as their bond with Moiraine, and then they see a huge eight-horse wagon rolling into town, the peddler.
It was going to be the best Bel Tine ever.
Christmas is going to be ruined and I'm legitimately looking forward to it.

So, apart from the rubbish representation of women so far, what I'm noticing is mostly that if I had actual affection for this story, instead of the cold stony husk that is my unbeating heart, I could imagine finding this crawlingly slow opening rather relaxing, the kind of thing that I would look forward to rereading on days when I just wanted something soothing and familiar to dwell in, the literary equivalent of petting a cat.  However, it should probably be noted that I recently started some really great antidepressants and I find damn near everything soothing compared to how I felt a month ago, so maybe I'm not the most unbiased opinion on such matters.


  1. I can't buy into Rand's mother's death as fridging as its not motivational. I think that's a key element to the fridge trope.

    As for all the borrowings from our culture, well, that's kind of the over arching point of the series, so I'm prepared to give them a bit of a pass.

    As for the gender essentialism… I'm just waiting for the parts when it gets REALLY bad. =D (And while the essentialism is subverted more than a little as the series progresses, the gender binary thing is so central that introducing a non-binary person would probably make the universe explode.)

  2. Ugh, the exposition in this book. It says something that my fingers kept wanting to type "explosition" instead. Or maybe it should be exspewsition, since the characters will just barf out huge paragraphs of it at times.

    I actually forgot just how much this rips off Lord of the Rings. We've got a Ringwraith, fun-loving hobbits, a Ranger, and the fireworks business all in one go, and that's not even all of it.

  3. Yeah, the first half of The Eye of the World is pretty much The Lord of the Filed-Off Serial Numbers.

    About the mayor's wife, I don't think it's quite as bad as that. I'd say that Rand's description of her is in the context of complaining about how most other women keep trying to set him up with girls, and gratefully noting that MW doesn't, despite being the mother of Totally-No-Pantsfeelings-Here-Egwene.

  4. Rand al'Thor. I see we're in for some Fantasy Apostrophes. This is a trope (?) I just don't get. Isn't "Rand Althor" good enough a name for a fantasy character, even IF "al-" is a prefix meaning "of the house of-"? Perhaps I'll do some research and figure out how FA's originated. I can see why someone (who?) might have hit on them as a way of making fantasy names seem exotic, but why they caught on is beyond me. Are we supposed to pronounce them - adding a hesitation between syllables? - or are they just visual markers of "fantasy-ness"?

    I wonder if overall there's a difference in quality between fantasy books with and without the FA. Hmm .... Lego'las. Bilbo ba'Gins. el'Rond.

  5. I think the only place I've seen it used that it made even the littlest sense was in McCaffery's Pern books. The apostrophe replaced a vowel in the person's original name and it was a status symbol that not everyone was allowed to do. Probably wasn't her intention but it did away with all the "milord"ing and "sir"ing that might otherwise have eaten up her word count :P

  6. I did a little bit of reading up on Fantasy Aprostrophe, and McCaffrey did get a large mention, with the same observation (that it made sense; it wasn't just the fantasy equivalent of a spray-on tan). The article noted that one of the earliest uses was in Lovecraft (R'lyeh), but there was also good discussion of glottal stops and ... other ... terms (sorry, they fell right outa my head) that can be indicated by an apostrophe, with "Muad'Dib" from Dune being an example. Specialized terms aside, I can see the function of the apostrophe in that name, as "Muad Dib" and "Muaddib" would be read quite differently from Herbert's chosen spelling.

  7. Is this village supposed to be a place where people from several cultures settled, or do we have a case of Aerith and Bob going on? We've got Rand and Tam al'Thor, Egwene al'Veres, Cenn Buie, Wit and Daise Congar, Nynaeve, Mat, and Ewin all hailing from the same small town. I've seen worse, sure, but those names don't sound like they all come from the same culture. And if you hadn't mentioned Beltane, I'd have parsed "Bel Tine" as a name in that first quote.

    Sure, this sort of thing is common in fantasy (and sci-fi, for that matter), but it seems like Jordan could have avoided it fairly easily, either by having a more consistent feel to the villagers' names or by starting us off in a city, where names from assorted background wouldn't seem out of place. Or, if some of them are supposed to stand out as immigrants, then the rest need to sound more consistent.

    covered in gold and jewels and spend all their time slaying monsters in the Great Blight up north

    Oh, sure, those are two things that clearly go together. Not only are Warders both real and not-real, but they're fabulously wealthy people who risk their own lives fighting monsters? That's...unusual. Unless they're D&D characters (or MMO characters), slaying monsters for their gold and jewels.

    And why is the village Wisdom (something like a wise woman, I'm guessing?) young enough that a visitor would call her "child"? Is this a position for people who have magic? Wait, no, we seem to be pretending there isn't magic. Why isn't an older woman the Wisdom, then? Wise women/elders/whatnot tend to be, well, elder.

    And yeah, this has got a bad case of "Oh! Oh! I want to be Tolkien!" about it. Though, honestly, as a reader what would really put me off isn't the names or inconsistent bits or slow start... it's the (so far low level) sexism. It's not quite as bad as that awful bit in Guardians of the Galaxy where our "hero" somehow manages to forget he came to a planet with a woman on his ship, but the way this book is handling the female characters gives it the same sort of "for boys" stamp.

  8. There has been much talk (I guess I skipped most of it here) about how Nynaeve is too young to be Wisdom, having failed to accurately predict the severity of last winter. She is supposed to be magical, listening to the wind, but how effective this gets isn't clear.

  9. I am having a really hard time trying to figure out why everyone in this place is trying so hard to set up Rand with a romantic partner. As far as I know, fantasy villages are known for gossip, not matchmaking. Are we supposed to believe that the Women's Circle spends all their time discussing the eligible prospects and who is best suited for them while the menz do all the Real Work?

    And what makes the Wisdom such, anyway?

  10. Mhmm, in the case of the spray-tan usage I generally assume that the author saw it somewhere, thought it looked cool and didn't spend a lot of time working out the practical use of it. Same as copy-pasting little isolated bits of cultures without consideration of the use/meaning/history within the larger culture (although that example has other issues attached as well). Unconsidered enthusiasm, "Looks cool so I'll use it!"

  11. [i]"I actually thought--just for a minute, mind--it might be the Dark One." He tried another laugh, but no sound at all came out this time. [/i]
    This is something that's always puzzled me - they're not unaware of the existence of Shadowspawn or evil wizards, it's just that magic stuff is out of place in their lives, so why go straight to "SATAN!!!" the first time they see a creepy guy in black? Maybe it's just me...

  12. We find out later that Nynaeve is a herbalist/doctor, and iirc she's notable for cowing people with her anger so it seems to be the wannabe Granny Weatherwax job.

  13. My impression was that this was supposed to be a callback to Irish surnames since the whole early series is about making unsubtle winking references to the real world...

    Of course, why use an apostrophe (O'Bryne) and not mixed caps (MacAngus) or as you say, run it together (Johnson, Jónsson/Jónsdóttir) other than to exoticize...

  14. Our Hero, Rand al'Thor (and his dad) are walking down the Quarry Road that I thought was a river but in fact just ends at the start of a river, feeling uncomfortable in his wet cloak on a blustery day, other hand on his bow in case of wolves.

    Because wolves are stealthy solitary ambush predators that like to leap on you from the trees, and you must have a hand on your bow at all times so you can snap off a .75-second quickdraw or you're doomed! No, wait, that's drop bears.

    Rand instead talks with his buddy Mat, who plans to set an old badger loose in town to scare the girls


    Are badgers in this world venomous and laser-visioned or something? Because man-eating wolves, monsters, ominous ravens, and Satan are all apparently real things, and I'm not sure why rural peasants who grow up coping with that reality are going to freak out at a badger. It reads like he took a heartwarming anecdote from a 1900s small town and spliced it into the Middle Ages for no reason. Next week, Mat smuggles a live frog into Sunday School!

    he recently saw "a man in a black cloak, on a black horse [...] and his cloak doesn't move in the wind" , just as Rand did, and then he vanished as soon as Mat looked away.'

    That kind of makes it sound like the horse is the one that can teleport and deflect the wind, and the dude is just along for the ride. If S'hai'ta'n hasn't bred a line of demonic shadow-warping horses that can be repurposed for dressage after the great war is over, I'll be very disappointed.

    He and Mat both whip stones at it, but it sidesteps them, and then takes off when Moiraine appears and calls it "A vile bird [...] to be mistrusted in the best of times."

    Again, this is a particularly odd sentiment in a world that actually does have magical animals infected with evil. Are ravens actually viler and more untrustworthy than, say, the wolves who occasionally try to kill and eat you for natural reasons? If you trust a raven, will it seduce your boyfriend and raid your savings? Are ravens neglectful parents and abusive spouses? And if so, why? Were ravens genetically engineered to be vile by the Big Bad? Or did they all collectively decide one day that undermining human society would be more fun than just flying around finding food and avoiding predators?

    I mean, I get treating corvids as an ill omen, especially in Europeanish settings where they're the most common large scavengers. If a raven's hanging out with you, there's a reasonable chance that it thinks you will either drop something edible, or die and become something edible. But it's not actually going to be the thing that kills you, and I would think people in this universe would know the difference.

    However, it should probably be noted that I recently started some really great antidepressants and I find damn near everything soothing compared to how I felt a month ago

  15. Given that the Myrrdal (I can't be bothered to look up the spelling) are also known as Fades, I would have thought they would go straight to "Fade!" Since this village is supposed to be so remote and peaceful they think Trollocs, etc are myths, seeing something disappear ought to bring to mind something with a nickname that means disappear.

  16. Except that Granny earned her crankiness by fighting her desire to be evil while Nynaeve is angry for.... no particular reason I can see. She not only has notable and/or unusual skills/powers, her village recognized her worth and gave her a position of power. So she gets mad because people don't bow and scrape? They do stupid stuff that requires a healer? Or the author couldn't handle a woman with power and a nice personality so he had to make her angry and willing to express it on everyone?

  17. Were ravens genetically engineered to be vile by the Big Bad?
    Yes. Yes they were. Ravens are all spies for the forces of evil.
    I'm not kidding.
    (Which makes certain elements of Seanchan culture rather puzzling, but Robert Jordan never met a mythical motif or bit of folklore he didn't force into these books somehow. Except for a female creator-deity, because god knows when you gender-divide your world right down to the force that powers the endless recurrence of time itself, it makes total sense for both the Creator and the Dark One to be universally referred to with male pronouns.)

  18. Pretty much, iirc.

  19. Sooo... if she's too young to be the Wisdom, why is she? Most powerful wind listener in the village? Daughter of the greatest wind listener? Or is this just some nice informed attribute specialness?


    Yeah, that kind of baffled me as well.

    And if ravens are literally part of the Forces of Evil (tm), do you really want to throw rocks at them? Even if the raven itself can't get revenge (though even real ravens are pretty smart), isn't there a risk of it calling in something that can? I mean, I wouldn't go around throwing rocks at a Sith Lord's pet raven, ya know.

  21. Yes. Yes they were. Ravens are all spies for the forces of evil.
I'm not kidding.

    Hmm. You know, ravens are awesome, but if I was commanding the forces of supernatural evil, I don't think they'd impress me that much. In fact:

    Scene: The National Institute For Breeding Unholy Abominations, during the Age of Legends. A RESEARCHER is making a report to his SUPERVISOR, concerning his latest work.

    RESEARCHER: "Mwahaha! finest creation! The crow!"

    SUPERVISOR: "Huh. I have to say, at first glance it doesn't look very monstrous. How'd you make it?"

    RESEARCHER: "Well, it's basically a bluejay I warped and twisted through dark magicks. Now it's significantly larger! And black!"

    SUPERVISOR: "Great. So what's it do? Can it tear a man's face off or spit acid? Where its shadow falls, do plants wither never to grow again?"

    RESEARCHER: "Well, no, not really. Crows can peck pretty hard if you try to grab them, though. Sometimes they even draw blood!"

    SUPERVISOR: "Any reconnaissance value, then? Can it see in pitch darkness, and shrug off any arrow that's not crafted from mistletoe and dipped in a sacred spring at midnight?"

    RESEARCHER: "Afraid not, their night vision is worse than ours and you can pretty much knock them out of the air with a slingshot. But it's black! And it can talk, kind of! Not as well as that H'yacin'th Mac'Aw I created last month, I admit. But it's black!"

    SUPERVISOR: "...okay, look. You know Aginor, in the lab across the hall? This quarter alone, Aginor invented enormous cannibal beast-men and some eyeless dudes who can walk through shadows and these immortal hellhound things that leave no footprints except when they're walking on solid rock, I don't even know how that trick works but it's amazing at parties. Give Aginor a hamster, an alembic and fifteen minutes, and he'll hand you a lethally venomous Hamster of Woe that can stuff a human baby into each cheek pouch.

    "Meanwhile, you've invented...a bird. It's not even an ugly bird. If it liked to roll around in the snow or something, it'd probably be adorable. And this is why Aginor has tenure already but you're still an Assistant Research Professor of Evil."

    RESEARCHER: "Fine, fine, you've made your point. Therefore, behold...the raven! Like the crow, but about 50% larger! And it habitually devours the flesh of the dead! "

    SUPERVISOR: "Oh, for Sha'I'ta'n's sake. Everything devours the flesh of the dead, except for moose and vegans. Does it do anything actually evil?"

    RESEARCHER: " likes to pull tails? That's pretty annoying, you know? If you've got, well. A tail. Or shoelaces, at least."

    SUPERVISOR: "Hold on, hold on...shoelaces? That's brilliant! We've been trying to force the armies of the Light to switch to velcro for decades now! They'll look ridiculous! Get this thing into mass production, stat!"

    Except for a female creator-deity, because god knows when you gender-divide your world right down to the force that powers the endless recurrence of time itself, it makes total sense for both the Creator and the Dark One to be universally referred to with male pronouns.

    Yeah, it's a bit of an accomplishment to rip off Zoroastrianism and Manichaenism this hard, yet still manage to ignore their idea that the divine has both masculine and feminine aspects. Congratulations on being 2000 years behind the times, Jordan!

  22. I guess it's realistic, psychology-wise. Lots of Christians have believed in witches and a vast army of lesser demons, but still didn't hesitate to blame Satan himself for giving them boils or making them covet their neighbor's ox or whatever. If you're going to be metaphysically paranoid, you may as well dream big!

  23. I'm not sure the Forces of Evil here actually do revenge. They're already irredeemably committed to the destruction of all that is good and holy, so it's probably hard for them to be any nastier to you if you bean them with a rock first.

    I'm more confused by what it means for an entire animal species to be allied with evil. Like, you wake up in the morning, preen yourself, feed the chicks a vole or two, and then spend the day perched above some virtuous political leader, reading his documents and telepathically relaying them to the Source of All Foulness? That's a lot of time and effort for not much reward. I guess Shao Kahn can pay you in delicious corpses, but when his long-term plan is to kill everybody, you're basically screwing yourself out of a food source. Ravens ought to be smarter than that.

  24. Well, honestly, I'm not sure you can dis-improve interactions with Sith Lords either. It's more a matter of whether or not you want to speed up your date with lightning, or, in this case, destruction. Though I suppose it's not very heroic to want to move your date with the villain out as far as possible... "No, no, really, I think I can squeeze you in in about forty years. Is that good for you, Lord Emperor Darth McEvil, Destroyer of Everything?"

    But, yeah, I've always had problems with the whole "entire species allied with evil" thing. I can believe that individuals [people, animals, whatever] can somehow be confused about the "and then we destroy everything" part of the plan, but a whole species? With sapient species it's particularly bad, but even with animals it's hard to buy. And it raises a whole other can of worms. If the animal isn't sapient, does it know it's working for the side of evil? And if it doesn't know that - if it isn't capable of being good or evil - then isn't it kind of a dick move to throw rocks at it?

  25. You describe many people I grew up with, and so I find it hard to argue the realism of this particular oddity -_-

  26. See, to me, the whole badger thing is kind of terrifying. A lot of badgers are fairly large and cranky, and they can lock their jaws shut. So if it bites you, getting it to let go is going to get messy. From that perspective, setting a badger loose to "scare the girls" comes off downright misogynist. Though if I remember correctly from what I've heard about the rest of the series, Mat really is a douche when it comes to women.

  27. Oh god yes, I definitely wouldn't go hand-to-hand with a badger if I could avoid it. But unprovoked badger attacks are awfully rare (though not nonexistent.) If you don't corner them, they usually just snarl, make a display charge if you get too close and leave. Unless Mat's planning to actually chuck the critter at somebody's head, I'd expect the average peasant girl to go, "Oh hey, a badger. Lemme grab this broom just in case, and now I'll wave my hands around and yell a bit and...okay, bye, badger."

    (Now if it was a honey badger, the villagers would obviously have to evacuate immediately, abandoning their sick and elderly, and construct a replacement town several miles away. But that's different.)

    None of this rules out Mat being a misogynist douche, of course. I remember basically nothing about him, but is he one of those supporting characters who's extra-douchey just so the main dude will seem comparatively decent? IOW, Crombie to Rand's Bink?

  28. Well, honestly, I'm not sure you can dis-improve interactions with Sith Lords either.

    I know the ancient Sith from the books were extra-super-duper-evil (and tended to have super-duper-evil names, like Darth Holocaustobabyexplodus). But Vader and Palpatine were reasonably easy to get along with, weren't they? Sure, they could unilaterally alter their relationship with you at any time and you should pray they do not alter it further and so forth, but if you were a respectful and competent minion they'd treat you pretty decently. I'd rather be a high-level official in the Imperial High Command than in the North Korean government, anyway.

    Was destroying everything a long-term goal for them? Like, if they'd crushed the Rebellion, would they just start vaporizing every planet in the galaxy for the lulz?

  29. It's not the entire species. Mostly, the ravens are just birds, but Fades can temporarily mindcontrol them into spying and/or attacking. (They can do the same with rats and crows as well; don't ask me why it apparently doesn't work with, say, bears.)

  30. ISTR that in one of the later Black Company books by Glen Cook, one of the (magic user) antagonists had been using crows as spies for a while.

    Crow populations fell dramatically after a couple of years of this. If you're spending most of your time spying, you're spending way too little time finding food for yourself and raising the next generation. That is one thing that Glen Cook did think through.

  31. No, Vader and Palpatine were pretty much rule the galaxy with an iron fist sorts. No plans to destroy it that I'm aware of. But they were pretty unforgiving of mistakes and I certainly wouldn't want to be their enemy. Still, you're right, as far as Sith Lords (and evil rulers in general go) they were fairly reasonable, and a hell of a lot easier to get on with than their predecessors. (Especially compared to Old Republic Sith Lords, where destroying the galaxy could be found on the to do list and torturing people for the lolz was definitely standard practice.)

  32. So our heroes chuck rocks at birds on the off chance that they might be being mindcontrolled by minions of the big bad who they may or may not believe in? We're off to an awesome start here.

  33. I don't remember him being particularly terrible? His job is to be Generic Roguish Guy and iirc he's the only main character with a sex drive that includes people who aren't a True Love - which, this being Robert Jordan, possibly includes all kinds of awful that I've forgotten.
    He does get raped, though, and it's treated as "ugh, that pushy queen with her pantsfeelings".

  34. I wouldn't call the Black Company books perfect, but I'm pretty confident Glen Cook put about forty times as much thought into his plot and settings as Jordan did.

  35. "Ugh, the exposition in this book. It says something that my fingers kept wanting to type 'explosition' instead. Or maybe it should be exspewsition, since the characters will just barf out huge paragraphs of it at times."

    "Exploitation, possibly?

  36. Al'Thor = "Author." JMO.

  37. Consider traditional attitudes towards black cats. Sure, there's no guarantee they are a witch's familiar, but one can't be too careful...

  38. David Quammen once proposed the theory that crows have more intelligence than they need, and therefore spend most of their time being bored.
    I assume, therefore, that they took up being evil because it gets them out of the house and gives them an interest in life, and besides they meet lots of interesting people.

  39. I once volunteered at a wildlife rescue facility. In the winter the injured turkey vulture from the associated education center lived there, and he would nibble your shoelaces, which seems like fairly demure behavior for a bird of that size.

  40. I want a fantasy series where the bad guys dress in, I don't know, maybe some sort of orange-sherbet pastel, or magenta, or a nice chestnut-brown, or maybe one of those misty in-between colors, gray-purple, the sort of thing that shows up on cars more these days. You know, so nobody refers to them as the Dark Anything.
    I'm afraid I missed most of the secondhand Tolkien the first (only) time I read these books. I mean, fireworks! Shouldn't his brain have at least thrown up an excessively-obvious substitution, like jugglers or unicyclists?
    This is assuming that the fireworks are actually from the book, not a sarcastic reference. I am not digging the book up to find out.

  41. Harry P'Otter. Huh. Looks like Random Fantasy Language for "son of the otter".

  42. Aashyma Never WouldNovember 5, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    I'm just amused by the fact that the guy they elect as mayor is the dude licensed to sell booze.

  43. It's more likely to be "Arthur" - see also Nynaeve and Egwene Al'Vere (and later Gawyn, Galad, Morgase, Elayne...)

  44. Oh, no, really? Egwene Al'Vere? That's HORRIBLE.

    I know it's not the author's intent, but the words I hear in my head when I read "Rand al'Thor" are "Randall Thor".

  45. Oh, it's not implausible. It's just that we're sort of lacking in reasons to go "woo, heroes!" at our heroes at this point. Our main character: wins archery competitions, doesn't want to get married, likes festivals, is superstitious, and throws rocks at birds. Yay?

    I'm not saying that you couldn't make an interesting and heroic main character out of that. Just that, so far, Rand isn't really chalking up anything that makes it clear why he's the dude this book is about. He's just kind of...there.

    (And I'm not overly thrilled with the author's decision to make real animals "evil" and okay to throw rocks at.)

  46. Can't we have a three-way pun?

    I read about four or five books in this series a long time ago. I wasn't that fond of the series so I banished most of the recollections of it from my mind. How closely do Rand's adventures match up with Arthur's? (I don't remember if in fact I ever noticed.) The effects of saidin on him along with his fighting prowess seem to give him a parallel with Lancelot.

  47. He takes Callandor from the Stone of Tear, his biological mother is named Tigraine, and apparently there's a vision of him lying dead and attended by three women which seems to have come before I gave up but I don't remember it at all. You could maybe make a case for the head of the Aes Sedai being the Amyrlin Seat but besides that Jordan just threw in a bunch of names with fantasy spellings (listed here ( if anyone cares - I got sick of it round about when Artur Paendrag showed up).

  48. I think I got tired of it before that point. Thanks for the fill-in.

  49. Good on you--and New World vultures are fairly demure in general, to my knowledge. They really don't know how to push around anything that's still breathing.

    I held a black vulture once. Found it injured on the road but couldn't find a rehab facility within driving range, which sucked. It was beautiful, though. (And smelled bad.) Sorry, vulture.

  50. I am seriously curious if you could cause the Dark One to taint an Aes Sedai's soul by covertly injecting her with testosterone.

  51. If it's a coming-of-age story, the hero needs to start out self-centered and boring. And, in most of them, remains so but does heroic things along the way, but oh well.

  52. Rand's blandness at this time is something I'm OK with. Imagine if Tolkien wrote a prequel to The Hobbit, also starring Bilbo Baggins.

    The whole book would be about Bilbo visiting with his neighbours, having good meals, enjoying walks around the countryside, avoiding the Sackville-Bagginses, etc. Nothing he did before TH was remotely heroic. And yet, by the end of TH, he was a Hero.

  53. "I am having a really hard time trying to figure out why everyone in this place is trying so hard to set up Rand with a romantic partner."

    Yeah...especially since this is a fantasy, not a piece of vintage science fiction where it's the hero's duty to spread his genes in order to improve the breed.

    I suppose you could classify it as post-apocalyptic in a way, but it happens in a universe-or-multiverse in which apocalypses are periodic and inevitable. You'd think the native would have gotten used to them by now.

  54. I am so thrilled you are tackling this one. I started it in high school and couldn't get past the endless walking. It was so boring! Then a few years later I was working in a bookstore and heard several trusted reader friends recommend it. I was tempted to try again figuring it just suffered from Bilbo's Birthday Syndrome. Then Jordan did a book signing at our store and was awful and arrogant and awful some more. He was incredibly rude to his fans saying they always ask the same things so he wasn't going to bother taking questions. I always wondered where the love of these books came from, but not enough to get over my distaste for the author. Reading these posts gives me just the loophole to my principles I was looking for.

  55. Later events do seem to point at "gendered souls" or some such.

  56. I found some research on it here:

    It also references the meme that the fantasy apostrophe should be pronounced "boing", so it's Rand Alboingthor.

  57. I think the main reason it strikes me as weird now is that I grew up with video games. No, silly, you don't face the boss monster at first level.