Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Eye of the World, chapters eleven, twelve, and thirteen, in which Rand's protagonism is revoked

It seriously takes them a chapter and a half to cross a ferry.  We pause for the anti-Sesame-Street moment about hating on strangers, and I see at least some indications of why this is considered a more feminist story than Tolkien--though frankly, these chapters also make it obvious that Egwene would have been a vastly better protagonist in every way.

The Eye of the World: p. 148--191
Chapter Eleven: The Road to Taren Ferry

For a couple of pages, Rand recaps where everyone is in their formation of horse-riders fleeing the monsters, and resolves to hang back to protect Egwene if her horse (his old reliable Bela) falls behind, because he is Brave and Chivalrous and suspects Moiraine and Lan don't really care if she makes it or not.  They reach Watch Hill and Mat and Perrin start talking about spending the night at the inn, and I can't decide if this is meant to be ironic.  Fellowship of the Ring, as I've noted before, basically starts with a weeks-long pub crawl as Frodo very slowly moves out of the Shire, sometimes spending months at a new place before shifting another town over.  Mat and Perrin seem to think they might be on a similar sort of journey, and Lan is all 'lol no, we keep going'.  In a welcome moment of realism, Rand points out that the horses are already run to exhaustion, but Moiraine is also all 'lol no, I cast Mass Empower Horse'. and they're instantly refreshed (though she exhausts herself).

Then they are overtaken by a flurry of similes:
A scream ripped the darkness, a sound like a man dying under sharp knives [....] The wind of the Draghkar's wings beat at Rand with a feel like the touch of slime, like chittering in the dank dimness of a nightmare.
I am 100% guilty of writing like this sometimes, I love a good simile like Haruka loves Michiru, but I like them to make sense, and I'm not sure how wind can beat at a person like chittering.  The idea of slimy wind is also weird but comprehensible, and that would have done the job.  (Also, how much does Rand know about what people sound like while being murdered with sharp knives?  Has he been hanging out with Wickerman al'Summerisle?)  The horses panic, but Lan gets everyone going again, and Rand hopes no one notices that he instinctively drew his sword like he was going to fight the draghkar.

More fleeing and monster shrieks:
Egwene's face in the moonlight was smiling in excited delight. Her braid streamed behind like the horses' manes, and the gleam in her eyes was not all from the moon, Rand was sure.
Is he implying that her eyes are literally glowing?  Because that would be suspicious.  More likely it's supposed to indicate that she's enjoying this way too much, which: Rand, I am demoting you to sidekick and giving the role of protagonist to Egwene, because so far she's way cooler than you.

Moiraine cloaks them all with thick noise-cancelling fog (Rand spends half a page angsting about the health risks of breathing in girl-magic) until they ride into Taren Ferry, a town we are told full of snobby folk who look down upon Rand's villages, and coincidentally are all thieves and cheaters themselves.  No sense of irony here, I guess, but that's what happens when your protagonists are Objectively Honest Rural Folks--other people just have to cope with their own inadequacies and jealousy.  An introspective sort of person might wonder if perhaps their own preconceived notions about strangers aren't reflected in the preconceived notions held by strangers, and whether the obvious wrongness about the slander strangers spout doesn't hint at the possibility that one has unthinkingly absorbed prejudices oneself.  There are no introspective people here.  Lan tracks down the ferryman and pours gold into his hands until he agrees to take them across immediately.

Chapter Twelve: Across the Taren

As they march to the boat, Rand overhears Moiraine talking about the ferryman remembering "too much as it is", and not wanting him to see more of her.  I don't know if there's meant to be an implication that Moiraine can erase people's memories, but I'm going to assume she can and that she doesn't want to, which is a point in her favour.

Thom, Mat, and Perrin are all muttering about food, but Egwene continues pleased:
There must be a difference in what you saw, it seemed to him, depending on whether you sought adventure or had it forced on you. The stories could no doubt make galloping through a cold fog, with a Draghkar and the Light alone knew what else chasing you, sound thrilling. Egwene might be feeling a thrill; he only felt cold and damp and glad to have a village around him again, even if it was Taren Ferry.
I love meta and all, but this just drives home the point I mentioned above, that Egwene should be the protagonist here and Rand is unnecessary.  Fantasy is already full of reluctant farmboy heroes, and I don't think Rand is breaking new narrative ground with his grumpiness.  Give me a scared but enthusiastic hero, please.

We get a full page of the menfolk making their weapons obvious to the burly ferry-pullers, including the gleeman parlour-tricking a dagger into his fingers from nowhere, eliciting claps and giggles from Egwene and smiling from Moiraine, I kid you not.  The dudes are acting tough and the gals are applauding.  That's what's happening right now.  I want to bite someone.

They cross over slowly, and--oh, really?  Rand asks Lan if he really thinks the ferry crew was thinking about robbing them, and Lan basically says 'Hey, I heard the rumours in your town; I thought you knew these guys were all thieves' and Rand feels bashful about not believing it.  That's our moral of the story: rumours about Rival Town are true and it's silly to think they might just be okay folks like us.  (None of Rand and company have ever been here before, so they have zero personal experience, just optimism to work from.)

On the far bank, Lan pays up, tips the pullers individually, and pays more when a 'freak whirlpool' obliterates the ferry they've just stepped off, such that, as Moiraine unsubtly points out, no one else will be able to cross for a while.  Mat starts to ask if she did it, but Moiraine is very 'I'm getting you to Tar Valon, don't make me justify everything I do'.  She does, however, take a minute to brag about how she extended her fog miles down the river, which will convince the Fade that they fled by boat rather than land, and she is super smart and talented.  Rand reminds us again that "He did not think the shine in [Egwene's] eyes was all from moonlight."  Girl's apparently got LCD retinas.

They stop at a tree grove where Lan apparently previously predicted they might need to rest, and so left dry wood and such.  There is much camping, angsting about the threat of having Moiraine magically re-energise them, and the dangers therein.  Moiraine is busy talking to Egwene about magic, male saidin and female saidar that make up the One Power, the evil taint on saidin, and how she sees in Egwene the potential to be a natural wielder.
"You are very close to your change, your first touching. It will be better if I guide you through it. That was you will avoid the... unpleasant effects that come to those who must find their own way."
Moiraine and Egwene practice together with a crystal, and Egwene manages to get a tiny flicker of light out of it, to Rand's deep dismay and her own exultant joy.  I'm so glad I made Egwene the protagonist, because Rand is just a twerp now.  Egwene just got told "You're a wizard, Harry" and Rand is busy anger-moping because a woman just helped his crush better understand her first touching and now it's like they don't even need men at all.  (Lan quietly contemplates telling Rand to lay off the Axe bodyspray and fedoras.  Mat quietly contemplates asking Perrin if he likes stories about gladiators.)

Chapter Thirteen: Choices

Moiraine goes to each of them in turn and gives them Magic Headrubs that purge their aches and exhaustion.  She can't do the same for herself, and she refuses food (oh my god can we have one book where wanting food sometimes isn't treated as a weakness) and curls up by the fire.  They all wake up super-rested and take off, Mat and Perrin still talking about how soon they'll get to go home, and then it's time for a week of travel montage.  Lan also starts teaching them combat; they're all already amazing archers (this is so improbable) but there's plenty to learn about the axe and sword.  Lan visibly fails to react when Rand explains that he already knows 'the flame and the void' that Lan starts explaining.  In case we forgot that Rand's adoptive dad was a super fencer.

One morning Egwene wakes up, unbraids her hair, and brushes it out a hundred times, to Rand's consternation.  (He counted the hundred strokes.)  Egwene just says that Aes Sedai don't braid their hair unless they want to, so, implicitly, screw village traditions.  Rand continues to be uncomfortable with his non-girlfriend's acceptance of her own body and attributes, and implies all non-Moiraine Aes Sedai are minions of Satan.  They end up shouting at each other until shushed by Lan.  Mat and Perrin discuss turning south up ahead to go on adventures, since they obviously ditched the monsters for good back at the ferry, but Indisputable Badass Moiraine informs them that they're still hunted by the Dark One, she opposes anything the Dark One wants, and therefore she'd rather kill them all herself than let them be captured.

Next night, Rand snoops on Egwene's magic lessons, and overhears a listing of the Five Powers, "Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, and Spirit".

But is this the true face of the Dragon... or of the Dark One?

Egwene wants Moiraine to confirm it was only male wizards who screwed up the world, and Moiraine refuses to answer, instead talking about fear and potential and unsubtly indicating that Egwene was not the only potential wizard in her village.  Egwene refuses to be thrown off, anen:
"Well, it was the men, but they were no more wicked than any men. They were insane, not evil."
LOW BAR SURPASSED!  This is the least ableism we've had since Ender's "I'm crazy but I'm okay" line, but here it's explicitly stated as a fact relevant to morality and to understanding the context of actions!  (There's no space given to the idea of degrees of culpability, the distinction between 'fully sane' and 'responsible for one's actions' or 'trustworthiness', but like I said: low bar.)

They finally arrive at the city of Baerlon, which leaves all the farmboys agape at its vastness, though Lan scoffs at calling it a city.  Moiraine says the dangers is greater here, what with magic-haters and Darkfriends about, and so they'll have to go about hidden under cloaks and using fake names.  Yes, good, everyone pull your cloaks up on this sunny day.  That will avoid attracting attention.

Just waiting for the bus, don't mind me.  Need to drop by the bakery.  For pie.  Yeah. 

The gatekeeper recognises Lan and Moiraine, already knows their fake names, and warns them that there are Children of the Light in the city (people who, Rand has heard, hate Aes Sedai and Darkfriends equally).  He's also heard that the Aes Sedai who went to fight the false Dragon have suffered casualties, and that the Dragon marches on the fortress called the Stone of Tear.  Apparently this is relevant to "the Karaethon Cycle", also called "the Prophecies of the Dragon", which says that "the Stone of Tear will never fall until the People of the Dragon come" and "the Stone will never fall till the Sword That Cannot Be Touched is wielded by the Dragon's hand".

I'm so glad this chapter is almost over.

Said untouchable sword is in found in the Heart of the Stone of Tear, and no one knows what it is or whether it's a sword at all.  Rand questions how it can be wielded by the Dragon before the city falls if he can't get at it until he's already conquered, and gets brushed off, because Rand at least continues to have his gift for genre savviness and has detected an obvious prophecy twist coming.  (My guess is that Rand will wield the sword in hopes of defending Tear from the false Dragon, but they'll lose the city anyway for some reason.)

They finally pick the lock on a gate to an inn (that seems unnecessary) and the innkeeper happily welcomes them (with their fake names) to the Stag and Lion, and the women excitedly rush for baths.  Women, with their hatred of filthiness, ugh.

Next month: I'm not sure what posting schedules will be like through December, what with weekend RPGs and visiting family and all that, but I will endeavour to keep up the usual weekly pace.


  1. personally I'm finding it easier to take this by inserting random bits from Bored of the Rings. Next up in the inn, Rand orders four Orca Colas when the waiter-wraith asks if they want anything to RING oh I mean DRINK

  2. In fact, since some parts of the later books are from Egwene's point of view, she is the protagonist sometimes. As the series goes along, sooner or later, every character in the team right now has storylines of their own where they're driving the show.

  3. Oh, weekend RPGs! How I miss you!

    I had a character generation session with my friends in September. We have yet to actually play the game-- everybody's so busy with other things.

    What's your RPG of choice?

  4. My head canon now includes this book being printed in about a size 16 or 18 font so that when Rand recaps everything that JUST happened for a couple of pages, it's a lot shorter, Still completely unnecessary, but shorter. Why didn't Jordan's editor edit?
    Why does Rand secretly hope no one noticed him drawing his sword when the draghkar shows up? Does he think it would be better for everyone to see him as too afraid to move? Or some other reason for not being willing to attempt to defend himself rather than trying, however ineffectively?

  5. The book about Egwene the Chosen One is a much better book. I kind of just want to read the book about what Bela is up to the whole time. She keeps showing up at improbable moments.

  6. I dunno, I feel like if Egwene were the protagonist the story would turn into wacky over-the-top misandry:

    Well, it was the men, but they were no more wicked than any men.

    I'm actually getting flashbacks to *(^^% Xanth. The series that proves misandry can go hand in hand with traditional sexism against women.

    (And no, Firefox spell-checker, I don't see what "Melisandra" has to do with anything.)

  7. If you think this is misandry just wait until the Slytherin Red Ajah turns up.

  8. (Also, how much does Rand know about what people sound like while being murdered with sharp knives? Has he been hanging out with Wickerman al'Summerisle?)

    Well, Lovecraft was the king of similes that had nothing to do with what he'd actually encountered in his personal life. Maybe Rand's the same way--nervous, jumpy and prone to imagining every bad thing that might be happening in gory detail. Would help to explain why he's not a natural hero...

    Moiraine cloaks them all with thick noise-cancelling fog (Rand spends half a page angsting about the health risks of breathing in girl-magic)

    I'm going to assume that she generates the fog from her swimsuit region, by opening and closing her knees really fast. Just to mess with him.

    There must be a difference in what you saw, it seemed to him, depending on whether you sought adventure or had it forced on you. The stories could no doubt make galloping through a cold fog, with a Draghkar and the Light alone knew what else chasing you, sound thrilling. Egwene might be feeling a thrill; he only felt cold and damp and glad to have a village around him again, even if it was Taren Ferry.

    I find it interesting that Rand can only imagine self-centered reactions to the situation. Either you think adventures are fun so you're thrilled, or you think adventures are scary and uncomfortable so you're grumpy. It hasn't occurred to him that Egwene might not be particularly interested in adventure either; maybe she's more interested in whether their plan is working or not. She could be happy to see the Draghkar, not because getting chased by Draghkars is fun, but because it means that the bad guys took the bait. In which case they probably won't go back to scour the countryside and and murder everyone she's ever known.

    Of course, self-centeredness would not necessarily reflect terribly on Rand. They're both teenagers, but Egwene's a teenager apprenticed to a local political leader and public servant. She's probably had a lot more practice thinking in terms of social responsibility than he has.

    On the far bank, Lan pays up, tips the pullers individually, and pays more when a 'freak whirlpool' obliterates the ferry they've just stepped off, such that, as Moiraine unsubtly points out, no one else will be able to cross for a while.

    ...Does this imply that the roving armies of evil don't know how to cross a river without the help of a human ferryboat? This does not improve my opinion of the Shadowspawn.

    (It seems kind of dickish if there's likely to be further violence in the countryside, too. How are human refugees supposed to escape across the river now?)

  9. the thousand lakesDecember 2, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    And in broad strokes, Egwene's story is one of the cooler ones, though sadly marred by the series' greatest flaw - Jordan's apparent belief that everyone behaves like a high school gender stereotype forever. With perhaps some bonus aggravation for sneaking personal fetishes in just because, which sometimes undermine the author's stated feminist intentions.

  10. Well, running water was frequently seen as something that evil creatures/spirits could not cross in folklore. Since Jordan has taken every bit of myth and folklore he could find and thrown it into a blender for his worldbuilding, I'm not totally surprised that that bit shows up here. But it doesn't really make sense here without any further explanation.

  11. Yeah, I don't have a problem with it as a generic weakness of supernatural evil critters (though it seems a little...earthy? for the sort of extradimensional, transcendental power that the Dark One embodies.)

    But when those critters are deliberately engineered, mass-produced super-soldiers--no, fail. Go back to regular humans, who may be more stabbable but can also do amazing things like "wading."

    By the way, since channelers can manipulate water, can they imprison Shadowspawn armies by weaving a moat around them?

  12. Finished the series. It was dumb. I'm almost not even mad any more.

    No, that's not true, I'm super mad. Where do I even find other people who were ridiculous enough to read the whole thing, but also hate it like I hate it?

  13. "Earth, Wind, Fire, Water, and Spirit"
    Wow, it must have taken Jordan YEARS to work out the intricacies of this magic system.

  14. Seems like the story would work better if the evil armies or their makers just volunteered, and the Dark One was largely indifferent to them.

    "So you made me soldiers that can't cross water? Aren't you a precious little thing! Now go and play with Yahu-Wahu, I've got adult business to take care of."

  15. If no one has written a comedy fantasy where the Forces of Darkness are trapped by waterbender moats, someone really should. :D

  16. Bored of the Rings. <3

  17. As a lifelong fan of Animal Man's ability to solve all situations with dubiously appropriate documentary-proven abilities, I think the Forces of Darkness should be trapped in an off-axis ring of expectorating archerfish.

  18. BTW, as I understand it Tolkien originally wanted to have the ringwraiths fear all running water--but after thinking about the logistics for a while, he realized this would be pretty ridiculous if they're supposed to be traveling all over the continent on Sekrit Evil Missions. So instead they're just vulnerable to huge-ass magical floods, and they can still hop a regular river without a problem.

  19. Huh, that is really interesting! Do they dislike running water in the final draft, or am I remembering that wrong? Maybe it's just that orcs can't swim or something, I forget.

  20. the thousand lakesDecember 6, 2014 at 8:03 AM

    I'm thinking of a battle in the silmarillion where the orcs are hemmed in between armies and a river, resulting in mass drownings. Which, admittedly, is just sort of how that tends to go with medieval battles, but I think there's a line afterwards along the lines of "and that's why orca hate water, kiddos". I think Aragorn mentions the river would slow the wraiths down, which I'm conflating with their eventual watery doom, but you're right - rivers DO tend to slow horses down for reasons that are less than supernatural, so his comment just makes basic sense.
    Yeah, the Nazgul are actually a lot more interesting than the myrdraal. It's the subtle things that make them creepy. Whereas with Fades the way people react to them is really interesting and superstitios and so on, but they get less interesting the more you learn about them. Trollocs are very unevenly written. When they aren't around main characters they get some legitimately horrifying scenes, only to turn into wet cardboard and rags when someone important shows up.

  21. That kind of thing really annoys me - either write consistently horrifying minion critters who are a genuine threat to the heroes and capable of actually harming them and frightening them, or write wet cardboard minion critters who are only dangerous in that they are minions of the big bad. I know it's a common problem in fantasy (and adventure and...well, pretty much anything with fight scenes), but come on. You can show that your heroes are more highly skilled - if they are - without reducing your monsters to tissue paper.

  22. Trollocs are an interesting study in evoking writing goals. At the very least Jordan seemed to be aware of the issue, since there are eventual in text explanations for their fluctuating power levels. I rate the retcons as "noticeable, somewhat clumsy, relatively logical".

    The myrdraal are more consistent and make for an interesting barometer for how badass the heroes are becoming. So that's nicely done. But then they end up feeling pretty superfluous, which on the one hand ok great, our hero is Superjesus and the tension in the story isn't "but is he the strongest!!!?" but rather "people suck and politics are hard". Which is interesting, but then you have these weenie nazguls running around looking ridiculous, the sense of threat goes right out the window in a lot of scenes.

  23. Bela has better characterization than half the human women in the world.

  24. I kind of had this conversation in the next most recent thread. Bela seems better characterized because her character is never actively offensive. She's a horse. She is a stout and good-hearted horse who pops up at improbable moments throughout the series.

    In many ways having all of the women in these books be equally inoffensively characterized would be better. I would have had a better reading experience and not felt violently angry all the time. However it would have been, more or less, the solution of just not writing about women.

    Bela isn't a character at all, she's a prop. She's a pleasant and inoffensive prop. It would be at least as offensive to have all of the women in the books be pleasant props as for them to be horrifying caricatures at least half of the time. It would have just been somewhat easier to read.

    Mostly I just meant the adventures of an ordinary farm horse at the end of the world would be a thing I'd enjoy reading.

  25. I think my view of this series is warped because the Sanderson books are the only ones I've read in years, and they're sort of lightyears ahead of where the Jordan ones were. The female characters are a lot less broadly drawn and much more interesting to read (no endless braid-tugging). I really haven't touched the Jordan books in ages and I only barely remember them.