Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 21, 22, and 23, in which girls get put in their places a lot

In an unexpected twist this week, we get three straight chapters with no Rand at all.  It turns out Perrin is not an improvement.

The Eye of the World: p. 314--347
Chapter Twenty-One: Listen to the Wind

For our second perspective swap, we wake up in Nynaeve's head, giving us our first opportunity to see how Jordan thinks woman work on the inside.  She didn't meet up with any of the rest of Our Heroes in their frantic dash out of the city of murder-fog, so she awakens sitting up against a tree when the sunlight stirs her sleeping horse and it shakes the reins in her hand.  I would like to note again that the last time Our Heroes slept properly was that first night in Baerlon, and that was also their first rest in like a week, so everyone is hella sleep deprived, but she still curses herself for falling asleep at all, and for thinking the others might not have survived.
Not even Winternight, or the battle before Shadar Logoth, had prepared her for last night, for that thing, Mashadar. All that frantic galloping, wondering if anyone else was still alive, wondering when she was going to come face-to-face with a Fade, or Trollocs.
I'm generally of the opinion that an author shouldn't need to tell us when one of his action scenes was way more intense than any of the other ones.  Did he realise how hard it was to take the creeping fog tendril seriously, compared to wraiths and beast-people appearing in the middle of the night to torch your whole village?  This is blatant shilling and it's not a good sign when you need to do that halfway through book one of fifteen.

I'm not clear on why Nynaeve was worried about getting caught by trollocs while asleep, since she also tells us how she ran into a pack of them last night, outside the city, and when they recognised her they turned and ran in another direction, since their mission is to capture the Important Boys.  Nynaeve sets out with her elite tracking skills and fails to find the boys' trails, but does locate Moiraine and Lan by the smell of their campfire.  She eavesdrops for a while--they are incredibly roundabout, but the point is Lan is worried the bad guys have regained the old Mass Teleport magic and are using it to move troops--before Moiraine calls her out of hiding.

Their new argument begins with a nonsensical rejoinder:
"No, I don't want any tea. I would not drink your tea if I was dying of thirst. You won't use any Emond's Field folk in your dirty Aes Sedai schemes." 
"You have very little room to talk, Wisdom [....] You can wield the One Power yourself, after a fashion."
I--wait, what?  'You're using my neighbours in your wizardly plots!' 'Well, you're a wizard too!'  That is not a convincing counterargument, Moiraine!  That looks like an admission of guilt!  Do better.  Nynaeve scoffs at the idea of her wizardry and Moiraine rants a bit about how she obviously is magic, and insists that's why she could detect Nynaeve's presence.  Nynaeve's too young to be such a good healer and wind-reader--"Oh, it has nothing to do with the wind, of course. It is of Air and Water", not that we're told how that's different--and then Moiraine speculates at Nynaeve's backstory, at some early incident in life when she accidentally used magic to save herself or a friend and then later felt shakes or numbness.  She also must have, I quote, "used the Power to Heal either Perrin or Egwene", because you can always sense people you once healed, and that was how she figured out so fast which inn they had stayed at in Baerlon.  You can tell it's magical because there are so many capitalisations.  If you think Healing is impressive, wait until you trying HeAlING.

(If the bond is that strong and long-lasting, why in blazes didn't Moiraine quickly Heal a bruise on the rest of the party so she'd be able to find them at will for the rest of forever?  That business with the silver coins was unnecessarily roundabout and fallible.)

Obviously, Nynaeve eventually is forced to admit that everything Moiraine said is true, including stories about other Wisdom girls dying with symptoms that match her description of people who don't learn how to safely touch the True Source and burn out instead.  She then completely falls for reverse psychology ('Well, I guess you won't be coming south with us', 'Oh, no, I'm headed south too, towards the sacred valley of FUCK YOU LAN') and they plan where to go next, with further sniping at Moiraine of the 'I know you're right but I'm petty and stubborn' variety.  Further points to Nynaeve, though: she wants to find Egwene quickly and make sure she's safe, while Moiraine is all 'Eh, wevs, she's probably fine'.

The complete decimation of her arguments pushes Nynaeve to tears, obviously, and when Lan's eyes widen in his blank face, she silently accuses him of mocking her and whirls away to wipe her cheeks.

There you have it, folks: we've had precisely two mentions of crying from Our Heroes so far, and they've been Egwene when she 'realised' she was in real danger instead of just an adventure, and Nynaeve when she 'realised' that she was wrong about everything and she had no choice but to do exactly what that witch said.  Is it too much to ask that a story that's supposedly setting out to say things about gender equality maybe try not to associate femininity with weakness and irrationality?  I realise Moiraine is a woman as well, but apart from having breasts and a pretty dress, she's been characterised mostly with the traits lauded in male heroes: brute force power and Doing Her Job and Making The Hard Decisions.  So far this feels about as progressive as hating Sansa Stark.  (Friends don't let friends hate on Sansa Stark.)

Chapter Twenty-Two: A Path Chosen

Now we're back to Perrin, who napped under some branches after losing Egwene crossing the river.  Perrin displays a unique gift for blankness by talking for several pages without actually revealing anything new about his personality, history, or desires.  I'm trying to remember which writer said never to have a character just 'read a newspaper': have them flip to the business section or personals or comics or fashion, anything to show the reader more about who they are.  Perrin is the embodiment of the generic newspaper.

He wanders until he finds horseshoe prints, specifically matching the design used by his teacher back home, and follows them to Egwene and Bela the horse in their own nook, warming themselves by the fire.  You know what this is reminding me of?  The latter half of Walking Dead season four, when every fricking episode was 'a couple more cast members find each other and despair and find the strength to keep going'.  That wasn't why I stopped watching TWD (that was the atrocious season finale), but it didn't help, either.

Perrin and Egwene discuss whether everyone else might be dead and where they can go,and especially whether they won't just walk into a pack of trollocs if they head for their supposed next destination (Whitebridge).  Perrin is constantly described as speaking "slowly", in case we forgot he's the Very Deliberate Thinker, and he lays out why every option they seem to have is a bad idea.
"But every time we think we are free, Fades and Trollocs find us again.  I don't know if there is anyplace we could hide from them. I don't like it much, but we need Moiraine." 
"I don't understand then, Perrin.  Where do we go?" 
He blinked in surprise. She was waiting for his answer. Waiting for him to tell her what to do. Egwene never liked doing what someone else had planned out, and she never let anybody tell her what to do.
Faith and fucking begorrah, what am I reading?  Perrin basically says 'We can't do any of the things, so we have to do this thing', Egwene responds with 'I don't get it, what do you mean?' and he interprets that as proud stubborn Egwene asking him to lead her?  Are we supposed to think Perrin is thick as a post for his analysis?  Or are we supposed to take the narrative at face value and see this as Egwene, in her desperation, finally letting a man direct her?  Is there some reason Jordan thought it was important to introduce his female lead as an enthusiastic adventurer and then grind her down into despair right away?

They agree to go to Caemlyn, Perrin asks for more food and Egwene just says they need to ration it, and Perrin concludes that "there were limits to how much leadership she was willing to accept".  This is the only part of our fragmented party where there's any talk of 'leadership' and there are only two of them.  I hate everything.  Perrin gets ready to start walking (still damp), and puts out the fire, having decided that "If he was the leader, it was time to start leading".  Changed my mind again, Perrin is not too good for Mat; they're both useless.

Chapter Twenty-Three: Wolfbrother

With a title like that, I can only assume we're going to meet the Beorn ripoff in this chapter.  I immediately begin to pray we do, as the first page is Egwene being a Bitchy Feminist and Perrin literally putting her in her place.  They argue over who'll ride Bela: Egwene insists they share, Perrin says he's too big and he'd rather walk, Egwene says she's just as good at walking and he'll probably expect her to take care of him when he's ruined his feet from his stubborn marching, and she only relents and gets into the saddle after Perrin says she rides first or he'll heave her into it himself.

It's like Tolkien, but feminist!

They do some pretty typical implausible fantasy wilderness camping (they have time to locate rabbit runs and set snares in the area, and Perrin slings down a single "scrawny rabbit" and declares that they'll eat well that night).  Egwene clearly read last week's post and tries to use magic to start a fire, but Perrin freaks out and makes her promise not to.  They scavenge badly before the next few days, before finally creeping up on the smell of a cooking fire again, where predictably Perrin is silent but the man covered in furs knows he's there anyway, and has been watching them both starve for days.  Furry dude is named Elyas Machera, predictable professional loner who doesn't like cities and people, and the 'friends' he keeps mentioning who are on their way turn out to be a pack of wolves.  (Elyas has yellow eyes, just like the wolves, which raises further questions about narrative convenience and genetics.)  Apparently he used to be a normal village dude, and then one day wolves started showing up around him, normal people started avoiding him, and he moved out to hang with them.  The wolves are the ones with a gift for understanding him, not the other way around, which is at least a different take.  This is one of those chapters that's just fun fantasy, with much talk of how wolves speak in feelings and have names that can't be put into words because they're too complicated, and I hold some vague hope that Elyas won't just be a pointless cameo.

The wolves apparently have ancestral memory, back to the dawn of history when they used to hunt alongside wolves, and they say--oh, balls.  They say that you can't learn to communicate with wolves, you have to be born with the gift, and Egwene doesn't have it but Perrin does.  Heavens forfend we spend any length of time focused on the wizard girl without making sure the boys have badass magic powers too.  Perrin is boring, wolves!  Y'all can find a better packmate!

Egwene gives their cover story for how they ended up wandering the wilderness, which they've been prepping for days and Perrin thinks sounds brilliant, but of course "Dapple says she smelled Halfmen and Trollocs in your minds while were telling that fool story" and with a low howl they're surrounded.  Egwene of course looks to Perrin to save the day, and he instead tells the real story, which calms them more, although Elyas hates Aes Sedai and claims to have killed Warders to escape them.  There's one worldbuilding point:
"They don't like that either, Aes Sedai. Old things coming again. I'm not the onlyone. There are other things, other folk. Makes Aes Sedai nervous, makes them mutter about ancient barriers weakening. Things are breaking apart, they say."
I'll give this to Elyas: when he's talking, I do not hate this book.  He agrees to take them south, with the pack, and hunt any monsters they find along the way, because apparently wolves are the anti-crow and have an eternal feud with Trollocs and the like.  (I've skipped yet more snarking with Perrin telling Egwene off for making decisions without talking to him first, because it sucks and it gives us nothing, but it's important to note that it's still there because it's everywhere and we can't have nice things.)

Next week: Does anyone feel like it's been too long since we had a dream sequence?  Rand is here to solve the problem that we didn't have.

28 comments:

  1. I remember the wolves as being one of the best parts. I know it can be very, very hard to write a non-human character that isn't a human in a funny mask. It seems like Jordan put some thought into what communication would be like for a species that doesn't actually have a verbal language. Admittedly, they still communicate mind to mind is words just fine.

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  2. Rand's arc after book six can be summed up with "slowly discovers toxic masculinity does not equal strength," which is a nice message agonizingly long in resolving. At one point him breaking down and letting himself cry literally saves the world. Comes with the usual caveat that Jordan's prejudices often get in the way of his own messages.

    The wolves are handled very nicely. Perrin even mentions that he's mentally translating wolf telepathy into words, and translation issues crop up occasionally.

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  3. I don't like it much, but we need Moiraine."
    "I don't understand then, Perrin. Where do we go?"

    This reads to me like "We need to find Moiraine." "Well, how the fuck do we do that, genius? We all scattered in different directions from a terrifying carnivorous murder-fog! Do you have the first clue where she went?" But Perrin's apparently too stupid to recognise an insult when he hears one or Jordan doesn't realise he's written one, and so Perrin starts on his Special Leadership Of Special destiny that inevitably leads to the interminable Shaido Plot Of Doom. Gah.

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  4. "face-to-face with a Fade"
    You know, "Fade" is actually a pretty unthreatening name, with its implications of "going away." Jordan should have picked a stronger name for those things.

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  5. Are wolves particularly magical, that they can communicate with humans and are all telepathic amongst themselves as well as humans? Luckily for the plot Perrin is a wolfbrother and not a bunnybrother or butterflybrother.

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  6. Yes, yes they are. Also they can enter the dreamworld, because reasons. Don't ask why the same doesn't apply to dogs. (And don't ask why proto-Odin gets the association with ravens but it's proto-Thor who talks to wolves, maybe Jordan's corvidae can hang out with Disney's hyenas and plot a dread revenge on ignorant writers.)

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  7. We need to find the wizard, her magic is the only thing that can keep us safe. But don't use your magic, it scares me!

    It's this kind of mixed message that runs through all of the books.

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  8. "stories about other Wisdom girls dying with symptoms that match her
    description of people who don't learn how to safely touch the True
    Source and burn out instead"


    Shouldn't the Aes Sedai be doing something about this? IIRC they deliberately monopolize the knowledge of how to deal with magic and survive; it seems to me that that implies some responsibility to find and teach the people who have the talent.

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  9. So, the conversation has gone like this:

    Women: Rar! We are strong women, unlike those useless princesses and damsels. Watch us have powers!
    Men: But it's still our story, right? We get to be in charge, our powers will be cooler, and at all the right times, they'll collapse and be useless and need saving, right?
    Narrative: Right. On you go, then.

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  10. Unless they want to keep the supply of magical talent artificially low for some reason, to make it rare, valuable, and mysterious. Personally, I would think they want everyone they can get, so as to take over and rule again, but the narrative probably has told us by now that it's a Bad Idea to have the wimmins in charge because misogyny.

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  11. In theory, this is one of their responsibilities. In practice, iirc, there aren't enough to spare from their very important duties of advising monarchs and petty inter-faction squabbling to find every potential channeler.

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  12. Apropos of nothing particular, one reason I can't take trollocs seriously, besides their obvious incompetence, is the name. It mixes "trollop" and "frolic" in my head, somehow, and makes them sound like merry pranksters.

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  13. ...buuut wolves and crows and ravens get along really well in real life. In theory they should be best buds. I even own a book called 'Wolfbirds' (or close to it, the word at least is in the title, have to dig it up) that's all about how ravens are built by evolution to be uncomfortable around kills unless they see another hunter eating at it, and can't even tear open heavy carcasses for themselves. And they like to lead hunters to kills.

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  14. You have just made this book 40% better.

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  15. It's safe to say Jordan didn't actually research anything, of any kind, ever, for this book, but that is really cool. Corvids are a constant source of delight for me.

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  16. Haha, yeah.

    also, funny line in the book, pg.318 : 'if you watch the wolf too hard, a mouse will bite you on the ankle.'

    which is a terrible metaphor. at least use, like, a snake or something. Mice aren't predatory. Unless it's that desert/prairie mouse that howls and eats scorpions, but, that isn't going to go after a human.

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  17. The wolves are the ones with a gift for understanding him, not the other way around
    Oh, that's sort of interesting. So this particular pack of wolves have some sort of magic to them, then? They can understand any human, but they'll only accept and communicate with specific people for their own reasons? Or maybe it's easier for them to understand certain people than others, like anyone can talk to them if they train themselves to think wolfy, but people who are naturally wolfy-minded can get on pretty fast. That's fun, it's unexpectedly broad-minded for this kind of fantasy, to not have humans be the only special-

    They say that you can't learn to communicate with wolves, you have to be born with the gift
    ...Oh. So it IS just a random magical inborn talent for humans, then. So what was he talking about earlier? Was he just being facetious? "I'm just a strange and inexplicable wildman, even these wolves have to be strange if they can get along with me"? Did it even mean anything at all?

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  18. In a world where male magic users all go mad and rampage, having any kind of special talent like that is going to be something people fear and distrust. And something you'd distrust in yourself. Which is why Elyas says all that.

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  19. There are several overlapping problems which have combined to create this state of affairs:
    1) There are only 1000 Aes Sedai and not many reliable long-distance communications methods and even those are slow (carrier pigeons, mailmen on horses, etc). If every Aes Sedai did nothing but look for this problem, they couldn't cover all the ground adequately and responding to calls for help would mostly lead to arriving too late.
    2) Failure to recruit very well has led the Tower to have such dwindled numbers.
    3) Most Aes Sedai have other duties that keep them pretty busy.
    4) The Whitecloaks very existence gives Aes Sedai an incentive not to go out in public too much because there are people looking to kill them everywhere, which contributes to Aes Sedai isolating themselves.

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  20. Mice of Caerbannog?

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  21. Yes, that's it. It is excellent. :3 The fellow raised several raven chicks, set up hidespots he had to stand in for hours just for the chance to watch birds at a kill, it's just a fun read. My evil side liked the part where a raven cawed to lead a bear to try and kill a human, and the human thought the raven was trying to save them by alerting them to the bear... no, the raven was likely trying to murder you, mwahaha.

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  22. Unthreatening... until they FADE YOU, mwahaha.

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  23. Murder is such an ugly word. I'm sure the raven preferred "arranging the death of".

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  24. I tend to read the word in my head as Bollocks. Which is also more fun.

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  25. The capitalization bit reminded me of a game I played recently which had 'Resurrection' and 'ReSURrexIOnnN'. (In the context of the character that was using it, it surprisingly worked and came across as quite creepy, at least to me. Typing this now, it sounds like it should just be ridiculous, but for some reason it wasn't.) So, those super-weird capitalizations can work out.

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  26. "Don't ask why the same doesn't apply to dogs."

    Who says it doesn't apply to dogs? Except that the dogs are wolves in their dreams, ergo more wolves, that's all. Simple.

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