Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 34, 35, and 36, in which Rand is literally the centre of the universe

I LIIIIIIIIIVVVVE.

Quick explanation of the last two months: my antidepressants are letting me down, I am tired all the time and I feel lucky if I get six hours' sleep, and there was a three-week break between my first and second therapy sessions because I picked a bad time to start.  Thus, not so much with the energy and willpower to create blogposts, or write much of anything.  But I am by nature a writer and rambler and ranter, and it was long ago foretold that I would eventually be compelled to return.  Fortunately, the blogqueen also saw fit to establish a new posting regimen and nudge me as needed to get material ready in time.  Victory.

Let us now return to that rock of stability: the directionless meandering of Egwene And Her Amazing Pals towards an actual plot development.  Wait.  Dammit, Egwene isn't in this week's chapters.  Instead it's another Randathon as they finally reach Caemlyn without befalling any plot events that would actually engage me in this story.

The Eye of the World: p. 512--556
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Last Village

The eponymous village is Carysford, over the river Cary, and it looks normal enough to Our Weary Heroes, by which I mean it's got a bridge and no other discernible features.  They end up sleeping in haystacks again:
Heroes in the stories never had to sleep in haystacks, or under hedges.
I only have so much patience for characters in books thinking about how their lives aren't like books to begin with--it was probably clever the first time someone did it, back in the Triassic, but it's pure cliché now at the best of times.  At the worst times, like this, when people start thinking 'heroes in stories are never uncomfortable' I just start wondering what kind of unspeakably bland literary traditions this world has been saddled with*.

In the morning they join a slow parade of young men and token girls who are all apparently on their way to see the False Dragon in Caemlyn.  There's an encounter with an angry speeding merchant and a mounted guard that I don't fully understand, in which someone appears to call Rand 'Darkfriend' in a way that they intend to convey 'jackass'.  On the one hand, this makes some sense for people who haven't seen much in the way of apocalyptic cultists for many generations; on the other hand, it also seems linguistically uncreative, and this is a usage that we haven't seen in the previous 500 pages.

Sweet Eru Iluvatar, this is a slog.  I mean, I started this post half an hour ago thinking 'it's been forever; I am totally ready to dive back into the Generic Fantasy Adventures of WOT', but this is truly inedible word-paste.  (And let me add that I wrote this paragraph and then failed to get any further on this post for another two weeks.  Yesterday I climbed 26 flights of stairs for the hell of it, and I have an active World of Warcraft subscription, but Wheel of Time is a grind too far.)

Skim skim skim.  I don't know to what extent Robert Jordan popularised this method of characterisation, but as is my standard operating procedure, I hold him fully accountable for his contributions of human suffering: when Jordan wants to quickly make someone sympathetic and 'deep' even though we're never going to get to know them personally, he gives them a catchphrase and makes them ramble.  Rand and Mat overhear someone looking for them (big bounty on their heads) and then hop a ride with a guy who infodumps at us for a couple of pages, constantly repeating the phrase "I'm a good Queen's man" to shore up his credibility.  I threw the torrent of verbal meandering into the centrifuge and here's what came out:

  • This country strictly has ruling queens, but is not called a queendom, I guess because that's the sort of thing a crazy feminist would do?
  • Tradition states that the crown princess (or "Daughter-Heir" in WOT speak, because that's so much smoother) studies with the Aes Sedai and the eldest son studies with the Warders.
  • This got the last prince killed and the princess disappeared before her coronation, leading to civil war a few decades ago.
  • Queen Morgase also has an Aes Sedai grand vizier advisor whom many people suspect of Scheming.
  • Robert Jordan thought it was reasonable to write "a queen is twice a woman, wed to a man, wed to the land" and no one stopped him.

The quantity of rambling done by minor characters in this book is amazing, and it irritates me, because it doesn't make them seem more realistic--it makes them seem like information nodes where our heroes just Press A To Talk at worst, and naive, scatterbrained inferiors at best.  The protagonists are far too wise to prattle on like that, and when they talk, they say important things, while extra after extra keeps jabbering, to the vexation of smart listeners like Rand and Mat.  The only positive I can spot is that Jordan has white guys doing this, not just women and brown people, but that would also require him to have more women and brown people, and in case you didn't notice he already has three women in this book and a queen who is like two women so obviously we're pretty close to capacity already.

Chapter Thirty-Five: Caemlyn

Our Heroes have finally arrived at the vast gated community metropolis, a fortress-city protected by fifty-foot walls of white stone and silver, the beacon of civilisation in dangerous lands and dangerous times: GondorCAEMLYN I meant--I meant--to say Caemlyn.  It is very unfathomably big and crammed full of people. I note that amongst all the many things about the city and its crowds that startle Rand, he doesn't talk about varied dress or skin tone, which makes me wonder if Caemlyn is a great big homogeneous blob or if it actually allows foreign people inside.

To remind us who's the real protagonist, Mat despairs how they can ever hide with so many people around, and Rand has to point out that they'll be impossible to find among so many people.  I assume this is meant to be Mat's evil dagger making him grouchy and hopeless, but how are they still alive, and is there any good reason that we had the details of their convenient journey chronicled for us for so many pages rather than montaged?  Mat keeps despairing for a few pages, but Rand is determined to find an inn called The Queen's Blessing that the gleeman mentioned before he died to show that the situation was serious.  Seeing that the local fashion involves sword hilts and scabbards wrapped in cloth, Rand finally strikes upon the incredible genius move to cover up the herons on his signature weaponry, although of course this takes two full pages to occur rather than getting summarised in a sentence so we can move on to actual action.  They finally find the inn, where the innkeeper is friendly and cautious and refuses to believe Thom is dead but otherwise accepts their story.

They're warned not to talk too badly of Aes Sedai (lest they draw the attention of royal guards) nor too positively (lest they get mobbed by Whitecloaks) and not to mention Thom, who PLOT TWIST used to be the queen's personal bard and possibly lover right after she was widowed.  Then Thom got tangled up in undefined business and spoke rudely enough to the queen to get a warrant on his head, because "he said some words, all right [...] words you don't say to any woman with Morgase's spirit. [....] And the Queen never forgets anything. You ever know a woman who did?"

Would any lady readers like to comment on this constant stream of WOMEN AMIRITE as compared to Tolkien's unyielding manscape in terms of women in classic high fantasy?  This is an atrocious choice: don't exist, or exist as caricatures and showpieces that explore the variety and complexity of women with all the nuance of open mic night at Judd Apatow's comedy club.

Chapter Thirty-Six: Web of the Pattern

The innkeeper predictably supplies them with the minimum necessary food and shelter and mentions the plague of rats lately, which Rand ties to being the devil's spies.  The maid gives Rand level five giggly eyelash batting, but he is too shy to say anything and she can't talk because she's set dressing.  Oh, no, she does finally talk when Rand asks for a private dining room, and she directs him to the library, where he meets an Ogier for the first time, which looks almost exactly like a trolloc, apparently.  The ogier, Loial, is very polite and very old (but still immature by his standards) and I'm beginning to think they're the elves of the setting--if so, ten points to Jordan for making them 'ugly' by human standards?  He's been hiding in the inn for four days after people tried to mob him in the streets, and there's a lot of the type of hard-to-parse dialogue that comes up whenever Jordan is trying to worldbuild subtly, but by the sound of it Loial ran away from home because official processes to let him set out at the tender age of ninety were taking too long.  He just wanted to see the world, and the Great Trees and you must shape the vision to the land and not the land to the vision et cetera et cetera.

Ogiers apparently built most of the cities for humans after we broke the world.  Nice of them.  Not clear on why.  They can't leave their home steddings for long, also not clear on why, and thus they're content to leave the majority of the planet to humans. Which: this is very convenient for a writer who wants to have non-human characters but still wants basically everywhere to be Humanville, and it's also kind of uncomfortably similar to the way a lot of white people seem to think of people of colour: sure,they're fine, as long as they stick to their enclaves and don't show up too often in our gated communities walled cities.  And yes, clearly we're supposed to like Loial, but so far he's the model minority.  He fully agrees that it's good and right that ogiers are bound to their stedding, he is willing to stay out of sight rather than make people uncomfortable by walking around in the street as if he's normal, and he's just a little bit more 'human' than the other ogiers--he got all hasty and ran away rather than wait years to get permission.

I eagerly wait to see if any of my expectations here steer me wrong.

Rand and Loial bond, and Rand ends up spilling the whole truth to the dude, who sums it up by declaring that Rand is ta'veren.  Y'all, this is the best thing.  Check it:
"...sometimes the Wheel bends a life-thread, or several threads, in such a way that all the surrounding threads are forced to swirl around it, and those force other threads, and those still others, and on and on. That first bending to make the Web, that is ta'veren, and there is nothing you can do to change it [....] Artur Hawkwing was ta'veren. So was Lews Therin Kinslayer, for that matter, I suppose."
LOIAL HAS IDENTIFIED RAND AS PLOT-RELEVANT.  Rand is very literally and metaphysically a main character and everyone else really is a background character swept up in the course of his fate.  I had heard rumours about this but I did not realise how blatant it would be.

In true RPG fashion, Loial immediately declares that he wants to travel with Rand, but Rand refuses because Loial is ten feet tall and less than stealthy, but they agree to hang out as long as they're both in Caemlyn, and hope to meet up again in Tar Valon.

And that's as far as I can make it this week, but come back next Wednesday for the blogqueen's next post, and tune in again in two weeks to catch up at last with Nynaeve.

---

*There was some book I read around age 10 with kids going camping and getting into a competition with their girl-nemeses culminating in some kind of capture-the-flag battle, and the clearest thing I remember about it is near the end, when the protagonist and his buddies are drenched and muddy, in a standoff with their opponents, and he thinks to himself how silly it is to try to look like some grand champion in such a state.  Even as child-me read that, I thought Yes, that is how a champion looks: exhausted, battered, reaching for the pinnacle of the thing that is so difficult everyone would have thought it was impossible.  There's a quote from George Bernard Shaw:
"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap"
...Which isn't for everyone, obviously, but is something that's always resonated with me.  I learned this last week that my great-grandfather was Shaw's bartender.  Neat.

33 comments:

  1. Even looking past the obvious Gondor knockoff aspect, it's the great city of
    Caemlyn
    Caemyln
    Caemylot
    Camelot
    ruled by

    Morgase
    Morgause
    JORDAN: Cree-ay-tive-i-tee? What's that?

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  2. Ogiers! They're like ogres, just ogier! I guess?


    More seriouserly, er, seriously, what are these things? They look like trollocs, but aren't, so I'm wondering if there's a family relationship. Are trollocs corrupted ogiers? And somehow I'm surprised to hear that the ogier is 10 feet tall ... if trollocs are also that size, then wasn't there something about them jumping into Rand's house through the windows, and if so ... how? Or maybe that was Rand escaping by busting out.

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  3. I think that the mistaken-for-a-trolloc thing is supposed to show that the city people really aren't much less ignorant than the farmers and villagers in the countryside, rather than Ogier and trollocs being particularly similar. It would tie in with the general theme of knowledge being lost over time (specifically, it's been two thousand years since the Shadow mounted anas well as show the reader just how isolationist the Ogier are.

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  4. Ogier have only a passing resemblance to trollocs, which leads to Rand
    freaking out for a moment and then quickly realizing his mistake. For
    the people of Caemlyn, however, they've never seen a trolloc so they
    don't notice the obvious differences. Ogier have big, mane-like hair,
    animal-like ears and noses, and are huge. Most people only know that
    Trollocs are big, hairy animal-men so it's pretty understandable that
    they wouldn't realize what they're looking at. Trollocs are still really big, and while I believe Ogier are bigger, Trollocs are closer to Ogier than humans in size.

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  5. @Will:
    I'm sorry you've been having a bad time; depression and sleep deprivation suck, almost literally. Sympathetic mugs of tea if you want them, and loud cheering at the victories.

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  6. Oh god, his name is Loial? Loyal? Are we getting his entire character summed up in is name? That's so very efficient.
    If only rand had been name Boirn Proitagoneste.

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  7. Sorry to hear you've been having a rough time of it, Will. :(

    The whole "this isn't like the stories!" whining is not only boring but kind of out of place. For one, MOST stories are usually all about the hero befalling one problem after another, usually increasingly awful problems. That is standard in even the oldest stories. Maybe the old stories don't focus on how wet and uncomfortable and bug-bitten the heroes are... but that's probably because they didn't NEED to. The audience knew how hard life could be. I feel like it's only a modern audience, used to hyper-clean, bug-free, climate-controlled houses that needs reminding that hey, living outdoors is actually pretty uncomfortable and gross a lot of the time.

    RE: Tolkien vs. Jordan -- honestly I prefer Tolkien's approach. LotR only has a few female characters, but the two we see most of (Galadriel & Eowyn) are so awesome that it kinda makes me forget how alone they are, and I think I just sort of... mentally filled in a bunch of women in the background doing stuff. It actually reminds me of Star Wars-- I recently rewatched the first film, and it only just now occurred to me that Princess Leia is pretty much the ONLY woman we see (besides a little of Aunt Beru in the beginning.) Leia's presence is so strong that I never noticed we don't see any other women. While obviously I'd prefer to see movies with lots of women characters, I'd rather have LotR or Star Wars where I can fill in the gaps myself rather than suffer through a world where every character is harping about how awful women are. The latter is a lot harder to ignore.

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  8. It sounds more like Camlann to me, so presumably there'll be a large battle there at some point. (At least I hope there will, otherwise the name becomes as pointless as calling someone, say, Graendal and making her a sexy manipulator.)

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  9. constantly repeating the phrase "I'm a good Queen's man" to shore up his credibility.


    Isn’t it great that Rand somehow knows the queen isn’t a capricious dictator? Am I forgetting something or is Rand’s loyalty to the monarch he didn’t even know technically ruled him just as arbitrary as it sounds?


    Tradition states that the crown princess (or "Daughter-Heir" in WOT speak, because that's so much smoother) studies with the Aes Sedai and the eldest son studies with the Warders… Queen Morgase also has an Aes Sedai grand vizier advisor whom many people suspect of Scheming.


    And yet Whitecloaks are still allowed free movement throughout the country. Consistency!

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  10. Hiro Protagonist... by some coincidence, also wields a katana. Really, labelling characters like this is usually not a good idea if you want people to take your novel perfectly seriously (as Jordan apparantly intended, but the author of Hiro Protagonist [Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash] pretty much did not).

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  11. Sorry to hear about your troubles, Will. Depression sucks balls.

    The one book where the whole "this isn't like the stories" made sense to me was a YA book that went into how difficult and unpleasant travelling on dirt roads is (especially in the rain). That's at least something a modern, urban 12-year-old doesn't necessarily know.

    In defense of Tolkein, while his stories are certainly sausage fests, you at least can get the impression that women are doing cool things off screen in the setting: Gandalf knows Bilbo because he took his Mom and her sisters on adventures in their youth; Galadriel is the Middle-Earth's most powerful elf--and one of the more powerful beings, full stop--and nobody even treats this as odd. Eowyn mentions being from "a long line of shield-maidens;" and even the one mention of female dwarves (in one of the appendices) explains that female dwarves are known to go traveling in drag, so for all we know half of Thorin's company were women and Bilbo either didn't know or was too gentlemanly to out them in his memoir. That's way better than Jordan.

    In (mild) defense of Jordan, the ta'veren thing at least explains why the bad guys couldn't just let the hero grow up as a normal, harmless farmer: fate literally won't let that happen, so the dark one might as well take a shot at taking him out early. (Though recruitment might have still been a viable option.)

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  12. Ogiers are Elves crossed with Ents.

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  13. Not to excuse the story Tolkien actually published, I've read recently that the story he wanted to publish was "The Lay of Leithian," (known to those who braved the Silmarillion as the story of Beren and Luthien) which is about Luthien using wit, cunning, magic powers, and general awesomeness to rescue her boyfriend Beren from captivity in the tower of the evil dark lord. Apparently his agent/ publisher said no one would buy that story.

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  14. Seems like if your goal is to take out one farm boy, there are way more subtle and more effective ways to do it. Instead of sending an army of really obvious monster guys to attack this kid's village, maybe send one human spy to settle in the village, and then, like, just poison the family's food. Maybe hit all three of the potentially plot-important kids. A small village isn't going to have great resources; people are probably eating half-rotten meat and getting very sick or dying of food-borne illness all the time. Or you can arrange an 'accident' with local farming equipment/animals, or just curse someone with the plague. People died from those kinds of things *all the time* back in the day, no one in the village would even bat an eye.

    Obviously that wouldn't make for an epic story, but if the Epic World-Conquering Evil wanted to actually be competent instead of flashy...

    Of course, it would actually require research and some knowledge of history on Jordan's part, not just stealing pieces from every fantasy story ever. :/

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  15. Thanks for the info!

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  16. And it increases the likelihood of a Noble Sacrifice of this NPC's life to save Main Character Rand by at least 77%.

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  17. My impression was Ents crossed with Wookiees, but Elves could be in there, too.

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  18. I want to to know what the heck kind of stories Rand's been listening to. Sleeping in haystacks and under hedges is pretty much the norm for heroes on adventures. Did he gloss over the unpleasant bits? *sigh* No, that would be actual characterization. And we can't have that.

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  19. I'd go with recruit him.


    Hell, I'm pretty sure you could make a good story out of that. Or several.

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  20. Only Some StardustJune 4, 2015 at 11:22 PM

    So, if he's fate-chosen, does that mean he basically has literal plot-armor?

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  21. There's a little dwarf in there, too. What with all the stone shaping and the axe wielding. I'm very fond of Loial, comparatively. Even though he is also awful. Big slow things that love books are my people.

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  22. I think there's an interesting contrast here. When Tolkien invokes legends, it's Sam's speech about "the great stories, Mister Frodo. The ones that really mattered," and it goes back to older heroes who
    suffered and prevailed and could have turned back, but didn't and the hobbits take strength from it.

    In WoT, it's just one more thing to whine about.

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  23. Yup. If you tried, you could make a decent drinking game out of the times one of the heroes stumbles over his own feet just as a sudden arrow goes flashing by.

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  24. Yeah, he made my comparatively all right list, too. Even if he felt very "helper race," which is hella problematic. And I fully expect him to die to save our bland trio of No Really, Even In Universe They're The Main Characters, which means I have to take away several thousand from Gryffindor.


    (Oddly enough, despite my impression being Ent-Wookiee, I don't feel like either of those species were handled that way in their respective cannons. Hm, let me amend that to -most of the time- when it comes to Wookiees. Many writers and all.)

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  25. Tolkien also has Bilbo comment on reality vs legends, but it's in terms of how unpleasant the unpleasantness is when it's happening to you. Which is a much more sympathetic complaint (at least in my opinion), partly because it doesn't seem so implausibly clueless, partly because I care about Bilbo (actually having a personality and some characterization makes so much difference), and partly because its a complaint that one can relate to.


    "Wah, heroes in stories don't sleep in haystacks!" just isn't a complaint that should be coming from someone over the age of, I don't know, ten? Younger than Rand is, anyway. Adult characters can compare themselves to heroes in stories without sounding like privileged brats, but that is so very not the way. It sounds too much like "I'm important, I shouldn't have to put up with this." And that's before you get to the fact that he should know that heroes in stories do sleep in haystacks, even if it's not mentioned in the stories. Especially at this point in his own "adventure." Seriously, how does he think those heroes traveled? Accompanied by a bunch of servants who carried their fourposter bed? Why is a farmboy having this delusion????


    It's just all kinds of wrong.

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  26. Oh yes, there will be "MEN AMIRITE". One of the things I remember most about these books are the repeated scenes of men talking about how all women are utterly unreasonable, though some of them are annoyingly cute. Followed by scenes of women talking about how all men are utterly idiotic, though some of them are annoyingly cute.

    It's like everyone is undergoing perpetual puberty: Finding the opposite sex to be baffling, infuriating, but still strangely attractive. And they are very confused by these feelings.

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  27. Only Some StardustJune 6, 2015 at 2:05 PM

    It kind of sounds like all his stories of heroes were of royal princes and high ranked knights, who would in fact have had the royal treatment. This is not too farfetched if this is a 'kings are almost always out on their tents and horses out for war' world. If so, it doesn't bode so well for his morality or that of the people on the side of 'good'; that was not a pleasant time period.

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  28. Rand is basically a walking Infinite Improbability Drive. Any plot-convenient coincidence can be explained away by saying "ta'veren". Except that in Hitchhiker's Guide the Infinite Improbability Drive was a satire of ridiculously contrived plot solutions, just like the Babel Fish was a satire of universal translators. When we hear about the Infinite Improbability Drive, we laugh because the author just told a joke. But ta'veren we are meant to accept as a serious bit of world-building.

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  29. Also Bilbo is established as someone who very much likes to live a comfortable life, so his whining about the rigors of travel doesn't seem so out of place. Beyond that, it's clearly intended to come off as irritating -- it irritates his companions -- and he eventually gets over it as part of his character development.

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  30. My recollection was that Rand wasn't really that loyal to her, although it's been ages.

    > And yet Whitecloaks are still allowed free movement throughout the country. Consistency!

    The power and reach of the Whitecloaks never really made any sense. They're a private force in some tiny country somewhere, yet they seem to be able to effortlessly project military might anywhere in the world and nobody can do anything about it. They're treated a bit like Templars or some other militant religious order, with the vague implication that anyone who doesn't work with them must be a Darkfriend, but this world doesn't really have an organized religion that would compel nations to let them in.

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  31. Going along with that, Bilbo was dragged off on an adventure in search of gold, not because horrible monsters attacked his home town. It's a different sort of situation entirely. In a weird sort of way (at least to me) the fact that his adventure is less important makes his complaining seem less childish. There really aren't any stakes. It's not like he should be focusing on something more important. The whole excursion is, arguably, anyway, frivolous.

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  32. Rand may not be particularly loyal to the queen, but he seems to have absorbed the cultural value that if someone inherited their power, it makes them the "rightful ruler".

    ...this world doesn't really have an organized religion that would compel nations to let them in.
    This world doesn't really have properly patrolled borders, either. Many countries seem like they have hardly any army, and what they do have sticks to the cities most of the time. Large sections of the world exist in a power vacuum, where anyone who can put together an army can go wherever they please. Unless they call themselves Dragon Reborn, in which case the Aes Sedai will take them down.
    Come to think of it, the existence of Aes Sedai could be the reason why nobody bothers with armies much. Why shoulder the cost of a standing army, when there is a class of superhumans who can stomp everyone else if they so choose? As I recall, in the Age of Legends there were no armies at all until they needed to establish some to fight the forces of darkness. These people are so used to solving major problems with magic that military tradition is a relatively rare phenomenon.

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  33. Heroes in the stories never had to sleep in haystacks, or under hedges.
    In fairness, I do remember the Odyssey being about a guy who fought in a war and sailed around for twenty years while being really comfortable. The swedish massage scene at Scylla & Charybdis' five-star island resort is particularly gripping.

    Actually, it'd be fun to try to come up with a list of legendary heroes who didn't have to live in uncomfortable and humiliating conditions at some point. Achilles, I guess--a brief life of nonstop glory and noble treatment was kind of his schtick. Rama, maybe?

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