Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 26 and 27, in which there is a shocking and unpredictable death

We come at last to the end of the beginning: this book is 782 pages long, which means the middle is page 391.  To recap for those who fell asleep sometime in the late 1990s when I'm pretty sure I started these posts: Rand al'Thor is a Simple Farmboy (adopted by a master swordsman) who was born at the right time for a prophecy, so he and his besties and his not-girlfriend Egwene (the real protagonist) and his neighbourhood witch have run away from home, under guidance of a wizard and her bodyguard, to escape the hordes of the devil and take refuge in Wizardopolis.  They are also accompanied by a crotchety old bard who has been helpful but formed no close personal bonds with any of our cast members, so I'm sure he'll live to see the end of the book.  Everyone has magic powers and the devil haunts the three boys' dreams.  Girls are scary but okay as long as they know their place.  Our Heroes got split up but are making their separate ways toward the same city.  Ballads are cool, and so are apostrophes.

Is there anything of real substance in the last 400 pages that I actually missed out on, there?  Things that a reader would be confused not knowing if they jumped in now?  I suppose I could detail more prophecies, or the specifics of their magic, or speculate on exactly what 'the sundering' was, but honestly we've only been told fragments of those things already, and they're mostly easily intuited stuff that would take the average reader about four sentences to pick up on.  'The dark lord was fought once before and sealed away but some of his power leaks through and that's how he's able to have armies of minions'--well, fricking obviously.  In terms of Epic Fantasy, that's like saying 'gold can be exchanged for goods and services' or 'none of the protagonists are black'.  There are certain things a reader learns to take as given.

The Eye of theWorld: p. 378--413
Chapter Twenty-Six: Whitebridge

On the boat still, Thom the gleeman and Mat have exactly the same conversation they had last chapter, about Thom taking his 'pretend the kids are your apprentices' story too seriously.  Rand is shocked to hear Mat speak matter-of-factly about the possibility the rest of their party is dead, but then a voice pops into his head asking if he thinks this is all a cheerful fireside story:
The heroes find the treasure and defeat the villain and live happily ever after? Some of his stories don'tend that way. Sometimes even heroes die. Are you a hero, Rand al'Thor? Are you a hero, sheepherder?
FORESHADOW FORESHADOW.  They turn a bend in the river and finally see the White Bridge, a huge smooth white-stone bridge with implausibly thin supports and no seams, and one end in the town of Whitebridge.  We're told it looks like glass but it's never slippery, and it's apparently indestructible, a remnant of the Age of Legends,when apparently Aes Sedai just did this kind of thing regularly.

There's a lot of generic ship-crew-work described, the captain fires the token sailor we hate (who kept trying to get rid of Rand and company), and gives them back the money they paid for fares, plus some, because of all the morale-boosting work Thom did.  (Silver coins from Moiraine: recovered.  Oh no, our heroes almost actually lost something.)  The captain wants them to keep sailing with him, down to some bard competition in Illian, but Rand insists they have friends to meet nearby.  Thom warns them all to be stealthy and cautious, and then completely forgets that his patchwork cloak marks him as a gleeman, the most exciting thing to ever happen to any of these peasants in their whole lives.  (I'm not clear on why gleemen are such a big deal.  Storytelling is important stuff, but folks in this book act like Thom is one in a million.  It played much better in Backwoodston back in chapter two than it does here at a major shipping junction.)

Times are hard in fantasyland:
Hawkers [...] tried to interest the passersby in their skimpy trays of fruit or vegetables, but none was getting much interest. Shops selling food had the same pitiful displays of produce Rand remembered from Baerlon. Even the fishmongers displayed only small piles of small fish, for all the boats on the river.
I... no, that's the opposite of how famine works.  If the best anyone can get is 'hardly anything' then even really unimpressive cabbages are going for heaps of cash and no one can keep them in stock.  People are desperate for any fish at all--meat; real meat!  The only reason for people to ignore the food for sale is if they already have enough themselves, which they can't if the grocers can't get any better than this.  What are these people eating?  (Please say it's tourists.  It's time for something proper scary; let's have a town full of desperate folks eating adventurers.)

Thom leads them to an inn where they can decide on a course of action.
Rand wondered idly if all innkeepers were fat and losing their hair.
It take some chutzpah to write interchangeable self-parodying stereotypes and then have your characters comment on how These People Are All The Same.  After some more meandering, Thom shakes news out of the innkeeper that Logain, the guy who said he was the Dragon Reborn, has been captured by Aes Sedai and they're taking him to Tar Valon via Caemlyn, where the Queen lives.  (These people have a queen?  But--wait, is this feudal?  Are they serfs?  Do they pay taxes?  Are they granted military protection?  Who governs the territory around Two Rivers?  I thought every town was an independent body in a semi-anarchic city-state sort of model.  You can't just stick a queen on top of that and just act like it makes sense!  Why was the first concern of Two Rivers not to inform their marquess or baron or something?  HOW DOES THIS WORLD FUNCTION.)

We also hear that a proclamation has gone out asking everyone to sign up for book two--I mean, swear their lives to the Great Hunt for the Horn of Valere,which must be found before the final battle with the devil.  At last, Thom carefully describes the rest of Our Heroes to the innkeeper, asking if anyone has seen them, and the innkeeper does a full about-face and tells him to literally get out of town.  Apparently first a locally-known 'madman' asked about them, and then a Fade started appearing out of nowhere to ask people about the three farmboys, although by cleverly keeping its hood up all the time it prevented anyone from noticing that it was an eyeless hellspawn brimming with evil powers.  Our Heroes disagree further about whether they should go to Caemlyn as planned or continue to Illian, which Thom would have us believe is the Greatest City Ever, and Mat is near to shanking him with his Evil Knife when that one sailor we hate arrives in the inn and they have to book it quickly.

Thom swiftly exposits to the boys that the reason he's trying to keep them away from Tar Valon is because he was too slow (busy with work) to save his nephew Owyn, who "got in trouble" and within a few years "you could say Aes Sedai killed him", which Rand figures means Owyn had Illegal Boy Magic.  Thom, who is no Abed Nadir, doesn't seem to realise that giving us his poignant backstory is like turning both keys simultaneously on his personal doomsday device, but he disappears briefly and returns in a black cloak that freaks Rand and Mat right out.  They make their way out of town, and half a page later the actual Fade shows up in the middle of a marketplace.  Thom rushes it, daggers out, and yells for them to run, then screams a lot in blue light while everyone everywhere runs away.  Outside town, Rand and Mat agree to follow Thom's instructions (go to a Caemlyn inn called the Queen's Blessing), and off they go, harrowed by the series' first Named Character Death.

Today's aesop: If you have to shoehorn in a character's sad backstory in the last two pages before their death in order to give it any kind of emotional impact, you should probably workshop that character a bit more.

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Shelter from the Storm

Back to Perrin, Egwene, Wolfbrother the Brother of Wolves, and the Irish Rovers Travellers.  Because carelessness and laziness are not in any way problematically coded for Travellers and Romani (I'm not clear if Jordan knew the difference) we are told that they make slow time, never getting moving until mid-morning and sometimes stopping mid-afternoon if they find a nice spot.  Le sigh.

There's actually a huge amount of exoticism going on with the Travellers, who are one and all "joyful on their feet", constantly dancing or singing or otherwise making music.  Sweet Non-Allegorical Lion-Jesus, I just caught sight of a paragraph two pages later where it's still talking about how every last one of them "went about a myriad domestic chores as if they had not a care in the world".  The kindest guess at authorial intent here is that the Travellers are analogous to Tolkien's elves, who were much the same in their song and dance, except that with the elves it was supposed to highlight how otherworldly and implausible they were, so here, applied to a particular human culture, it serves more to Other them as shallow flights of fancy with none of the serious thoughts or concerns that weigh down Our Heroes.  And Aram, with whom Egwene spends much of her time dancing, is thus the most sexualised man we've encountered so far, if only because it's the first time a named girl has been blatantly attracted to anyone.  (Egwene's belligerent sexual tension with Rand does not count, since we've seen exactly zero forms of healthy human affection pass between them.)  Oh, joy, and then on the next page Perrin sees some Traveller women dancing for the first time and he gets the most turgid boner of his entire life.  Othered, exoticised, and sexualised.  I'm like a goddamn prophet.

Perrin tries to talk Egwene out of enjoying herself (and at least nominally Perrin is worried about bringing trollocs down on a pack of pacifists) but she counters that this might be their last chance to do so before Wizardopolis.  There is much distress about pacifism and Perrin insistently carrying his axe, and he's increasingly aware of the thoughts of their wolf entourage as well, et cetera et cetera no plot development.

Perrin hasn't had any devil dreams for some days, but at last he does again, and in it Ba'alzamon incinerates his wolf guardian and throws a raven into his head, declaring "I mark you mine".  He wakes, screaming (as are the wolves), and Elyas finally declares it's time for them to leave.

We're more than halfway through this book and pretty much every plot arc has been 'our heroes arrive somewhere comfy, our heroes try to settle in, the devil Does A Thing, our heroes decide they must run faster'.  Please, for the love of sugar gliders and slow lorises, let them get to Tar Valon soon.

They have a rushed but extended farewell with literally everyone in camp, Perrin gets more boners from hugs from every girl (twice), Egwene refuses to stay with Aram, and when Raen gives them their formal farewell, Elyas replies formally as well, swearing that someone will find the song and it will be sung soon: "As it once was, so shall it be again, world without end."  That... is a really weird choice of moment to toss in a King James Bible reference.  The Travellers echo it back, and off they go, with Elyas gruffly explaining he was just being polite about the ceremony.

The wolves bring Elyas up to speed on Perrin's dream (they call the devil Heartfang, pretty badass) and they try to explain to Perrin that he'll only be safe when he accepts them, but Perrin makes bad decisions and forces the wolves out of his brain fully.  There's a final gender joke, when Perrin asks Egwene what she was always talking to Aram's grandmother about ('advice on how to be a woman', she says, which I assume in context means flirting and maybe some HJ pointers), and he says no one needs advice on how to be a man, which Egwene says is why they're so bad at it.


Instead, I share with you an exchange related to me via ye olde tumblre, between a girl and her mother, bemoaning menstruation.
Mother: You're not really a woman until you've got blood on every pair of pants you own. 
Girl: What about women who don't have periods? 
Mother: I didn't say it had to be your own.
Next week: More Nynaeve, no Rand.  Still some Perrin, but I'll take what I can get.


  1. Who governs the territory around Two Rivers?

    This will be addressed in detail in book four! But it’s a Perrin plot so even if you get that far you’ll be eating your own eyes.

    although by cleverly keeping its hood up all the time it prevented anyone from noticing that it was an eyeless hellspawn brimming with evil powers… but he disappears briefly and returns in a black cloak that freaks Rand and Mat right out

    I don’t really have anything to say about this, it just reminded me of the wonderful bit in Thor: The Dark World where Loki’s prison break requires Thor to dress up in a black hooded cloak because Asgard honours all the finest traditions. (Also that Malekith in that film has much more of a motivation than Shai’tan and most people on Team Evil here.)

    (Nyfb, lbh fjrrg fhzzre puvyq, guvaxvat nalbar ba Grnz Tbbq vf npghnyyl qrnq.)

    and he says no one needs advice on how to be a man

    Oh sweet merciful gods, is this foreshadowing for his lessons in Saldaean gender dynamics? You know what, fuck it. Team Shadow/*finn/anything not powered by saidin/saidar. I don’t know how the Creator ever graduated from creation school.

  2. He imprisoned his instructor at the center of his creation as part of his final project and the rest of the judges were too damn terrified to point out how silly it was to have a universe where the only thing that stopped the end of the world at one point was... well, anything we learned of the Age of Legends at any point in the series. It was like Team Good and Team Evil were in a friendly competition and kept helping each other.

  3. "a paragraph two pages later where it's still talking about how every last one of them "went about a myriad domestic chores as if they had not a care in the world"."

    To me, this totally says that they in fact had at least one HUGE care in the world, namely daily survival. Even if the world might end tomorrow, you still need to eat, the baby still needs changing, sick people need care, animals need feeding, etc. A myriad of domestic chores desperately need doing every day to survive in the kind of world this supposedly is.

  4. As Thomas Keyton pointed out, the governmenting is described in more detail in book four, so if you want to avoid worldbuilding spoilers, look away now.

    These people have a queen? Yes.
    But--wait, is this feudal? In theory, yes; it's hardly ever mentioned, but the towns are governed by mayors and the countryside by local nobility.
    Are they serfs? No.
    Do they pay taxes? In Whitebridge? Yes. The Two Rivers, not so much.
    Are they granted military protection? See above.
    Who governs
    the territory around Two Rivers?
    The Councils and Women's Councils of the various towns.
    I thought every town was an
    independent body in a semi-anarchic city-state sort of model.
    Most aren't. Andor (like most other countries) is a centralized monarchy, but it's been several generations since the central government had any resources to spare to take an interest in the more peripheral regions.

  5. We're more than halfway through this book and pretty much every plot arc has been 'our heroes arrive somewhere comfy, our heroes try to settle in, the devil Does A Thing, our heroes decide they must run faster'.

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. Actually, I'm not sure it does get better, I gave up before I found out. I just know that the next leg of Rand and Mat's journey is like the most boring round of D&D played by the most incompetent 12-year-olds ever.

  6. Andor, eh? If only it'd been called Butif.

  7. It does. Actually, Will: you might seriously want to consider just skipping past all Rand/Mat chapters until they get to Caemlyn and the plot picks up; you seem to suffer enough as it is getting through the reading, and those parts really aren't anything other than arrive somewhere cosy, get attacked, run away. (Also, their journey from Whitebridge to Caemlyn is told in a really confusing set of nested flashbacks.)

  8. I must shamefully confess that I had to google that before I got it.

  9. Just a comment to say I followed the link to the Abed Nadir page. Is that something from a real TV show, because it looks like it would be the world's most boring soap opera. I thought first off it was an elaborate satire of some sort: someone self-parodying their lack of an actual life, but now I'm not so sure. (Immediately after posting this I will google the name only to discover it's the most talked about tv show of the decade and I have been living under a rock.)

  10. And to reply to myself, yup, it's on NBC. Is it any good? *climbs back under rock*

  11. I had forgotten or missed the part about Ba'alzamon flinging a raven into Perrin's head and marking him "mine." Does that have consequences later? To me it sounds like Perrin has been bugged in a covert ops kind of way, but I don't recall any consequences arising out of it...I have read up through most of book 3 now.
    I must say I am really enjoying the books, thanks to this blog turning me onto WoT. Long ago I read maybe the first 4, but I have absolutely no recollection of 99% of what I am re-reading. Meta-reading this blog, other blogs, and character guides on the net has really helped in my comprehension of the story's events as so much of it is oblique and obtuse (to me) at first read without an external crutch.

  12. Yeah. And Mat turns into Gollum. And Rand utterly fails to notice. To the point that I actually laughed out loud at the (supposedly dramatic) scene with Moiraine and Mat latter on.

    (to paraphrase)

    Enaq: Bu, lrnu, Zng, ur'f hc va gur ebbz gheavat vagb Tbyyhz. Ab ovt qrny.
    Zbvenvar: JGS!? *ehfurf hc fgnvef* Lbh vqvbg, ur'f boivbhfyl cbffrffrq! Abj V'yy unir gb svk vg.
    Zng: *npgf cbffrffrq*
    Enaq: *ybbxf inthryl pbashfrq*
    Zbvenvar: Bu sbe shpxf fnxr. *svkrf Zng* Rira erny Wrqv qba'g unir gb qrny jvgu fuvg guvf evqvphybhf.

  13. If people reading your first book are going to be distracted by trying to figure out how the world works, you might not want to hold off on the explanation til book four.

  14. Community? Yeah, it's really good. Personally I prefer the first 3 seasons only. They end on a good note, and changes in writers and cast make seasons 4 and 5 less enjoyable for me.

  15. the thousand lakesMarch 6, 2015 at 1:56 AM

    It's more early rennaissance than medieval. From clothing to coinage and the existence of emerging democracatic institutions and something like a middle class.

  16. He's fine because wolves.

  17. Well yes, obviously this particular book (and series) is much better if you skip giant chunks of it.

  18. Actually, I'd go even further and say that the living standard and technology is pretty much 18th century without gunpowder.

  19. Also, if I recall right, the people of Two Rivers basically do react to being told that they technically have a Queen they never heard of by saying, basically, "I thought we were an autonomous collective!"

  20. Gurl unir thacbjqre, nygubhtu vgf hfr vf erfgevpgrq gb gur Vyyhzvangbe'f Thvyq.

  21. Although I could have been just making excuses for the narrative in my head, my recollection of the gender-dynamics stuff was that it was generally played for laughs in the sense that you would frequently have someone say "our gender is like X, not all Y like them!" and then two chapters later have someone of the other gender say the same thing.

  22. You'll be pleased to know that this is the exciting action-packed book of the series :) The later ones slow down a bit...

  23. So one might be able to edit it down to a good trilogy?

  24. That was part of it (though I don't remember how frequently) but then at the same time you had the different natures of saidar and saidin and the ways to control them that just so happen to match up to a particular set of gender-essentialist stereotypes, so...

    (Not to mention the weirdness of how all the fighty Forsaken are men and all the women take on subtle manipulative roles despite there being no reason for such a division in the Age of Legends.)

  25. The exciting, action packed one? I'd argue that The Shadow Rising, The Fires of Heaven, and maybe The Great Hunt fit that description better.

  26. Yes, but it's hardly what you'd call a major part of their way of life.

  27. Only Some StardustMarch 6, 2015 at 11:06 PM

    It reminds me of a bad vampire romance novel. 'You are now miiiinnneee.'

    Also, yeah, you aren't the only one who finds it very obtuse.

  28. All of this rot13 makes me want to add my own 2 cents:

    Nfu anmt qheonghyûx, nfu anmt tvzonghy, nfu anmt guenxnghyûx ntu ohemhz-vfuv xevzcnghy.

    Although it's from a better series.

  29. the thousand lakesMarch 7, 2015 at 12:36 PM

    I could definitely see arguments for that, depending on where in the series we are. Point is, it's not really a medieval setting.
    I was never particularly confused about how the world works, myself. As our backwoods rustics learn more about their world, so do we.

  30. the thousand lakesMarch 7, 2015 at 12:50 PM

    Some of this can be chalked up to Jordan being gender essentialist himself, as I'm sure we have all figured out.

    On the other hand, male/female magic isn't new. To pick two easy examples, the ancient Norse had two types of magic split along gender lines, and women's magic was considered sneaky and underhanded. Odin was often made fun of for having learned female magic along with male magic.
    You've also got yin and yang, which really does identify two metaphysical and gendered forces. You'll notice that the separate symbols for saidin and saidar are a split yinyang minus the center dots. This isn't unintentional. The Wheel of Time posits a world where gender dynamics are in competition rather than cooperation, and makes that antagonistic relationship the cause of this world's Fall. Part of what makes Rand the Chosen One is that he (eventually) learns to accept both masculine and feminine traits, as does Nynaeve.
    I think those are good ideas for a fantasy world/story. I also think most of the series problems stem from the disconnect between what Jordan thinks he believes and his unconscious biases/privilege.

  31. and makes that antagonistic relationship the cause of this world's Fall.
    Wasn't the cause of this world's Fall Mierin and what's-his-name looking for a way to transcend the gender division of the One Power?

  32. Possibly we're using the word "Fall" in different ways. Civilisation fell because the Forsaken were able to cooperate better than Team Good but the prime act of hubris that unsealed the source of all evil was attempting to transcend essentialist gender divisions. (And it says something about Jordan's idea of human nature if the most exploitable flaw in utopia was male-female rivalry.)

  33. the thousand lakesMarch 18, 2015 at 3:04 PM

    I'm confusing my author interviews with the actual, in-book flashbacks, I'm pretty sure. Let's see if I can make sense of this: Men and women working together create a paradise. Some people don't like the limitation of needing both genders working together to get more powerful results, and try and tap the True Power, releasing the Devil. Men go crazy and destroy the world. Eventually, we end up with a world where women are in power. With the sexes unbalanced like this, the world has lost most of its magic, is wracked by distrust and war, and is unable to fight off Mr. Satan. Rand tries to unify the world by force, becoming hyper-masculine in the process (he won't let himself feel pain and adopts a strict sense of chivalry). This sort of works for a while, but it's made obvious that if he's successful the result won't be much better than if he loses. A series of powerful women teach Rand to embrace his feminine characteristics as well as his masculine ones, which allows him to become a healthy and whole person who is able to save the world - not by totally destroying his enemies and forcing things to be how he wants them, but with compassion, compromise, teamwork, and peace. Men and women are on more equal footing now, and set to go about creating a more just world for themselves. The final Fancy Fake Bible Quote suggests that the cycle of Dragon vs. Satan continues forever, but that Rand has made the next age a better place and changed people's ideas of who the dragon is for the better, presumably making the next dragon's victory easier.

  34. the thousand lakesMarch 18, 2015 at 3:26 PM

    tl,dnr: I don't think we're supposed to take Mierin at her word on that. I think the implication is that the people looking to transcend the gender division were for the most part motivated by ambition and hoping for a way to make uber-magic by themselves, without the limits that come from needing both genders working together to make uber-magic. Like, Rand's whole arc is about becoming a spiritual hermaphrodite. Warlike thunder god Rand can defeat the forces of the dark one but can't save the world, whereas BuddhaJesus Rand can both win the war and save the world. That said, I can definitely see where people on the "so these books are saying anything other than strictly defined gender roles comes from the devil" are coming from, because as much as Jordan believes that the genders should be equal, he also definitely believes that they're entirely separate.

  35. tl,dnr: I don't think we're supposed to take Mierin at her word on that.
    Maybe not, but it's so boring and uncomfortably Harry Potter-esque if the ambition to change the world invariably stems from selfishness and a hunger for power. No need to worry that maybe Mierin could have meant well and been a better person if she'd got over her ex-boyfriend, the rot was in her from the start! (She was wasted as a character in other ways, imo, but this is the one that really annoys me.)

  36. the thousand lakesMarch 18, 2015 at 6:40 PM

    I'm with you on this one. I feel like the books sort of flirt with the idea of Mierin not being irredeemably evil, but nothing ever comes of it. Maybe it's just hard to write a fallen world/remnants of a golden age sort of story that isn't inherently conservative. Doubly so if you want to try that Garden of Eden schtick. If basically everything in your whole world is perfect, then the only options available to kickstart your fall are pride, inherent evil, or some combination of the two. I wouldn't mind seeing some stories with more proactive heroism though.

    Harry Potter is probably best left unexamined. It just gets so weird and ethically unpleasant once you start digging into it. Like really, does Ron have any redeeming features besides "has a cool family, is loyal to Harry?"

  37. He doesn't even have a cool family. Just one that's mostly loyal to Harry.

  38. the thousand lakesMarch 18, 2015 at 7:17 PM

    Harry thinks they're cool, so the reader is supposed to. I tend to waffle a bit myself, depending on how willing I am to suspend my disbelief. If you form a mental image of what they're like based on what we're told they're like, as opposed to what we're shown, I see the appeal. Percy is one of the worst examples of ambition always being bad that I can think of (your world needs more wizard engineers, Rowling! He can pick up an interesting hobby after he's moved out and gotten himself comfortably into his career if that's so important). If his family and the narrator would only leave him alone, he'd be the best person in the family.

    Ok, they just have a cool house.