Thursday, July 2, 2015

Eye of the World, chapter 37 and 38, in which Egwene is best at everything

Apologies for the delayed post; it was my country's birthday and I had a torrential rainstorm to get caught in.

The Eye of the World: p. 557--581
Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Long Chase

The long chase?  Really?  I've been struck by a prophetic vision that this chapter will include lots of running around to create the illusion of plot development.

I have also formed a hypothesis there's some kind of rule every chapter must start with four pages that don't do anything to advance the plot or reveal character in any way.  Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Lan continue on Perrin's magic trail (not that they know which farmboy they're after) and eventually find the Whitecloak camp where we left him and Egwene.  Nynaeve snarks at Lan for implicitly impugning her willingness to face peril to save a neighbour, or her knowledge of wolf behaviours, which is presumably supposed to be a reminder of what a capable and courageous Lady Heroine Woman she is.  Personally, I think it'd have played better if Lan had been all 'You're a village Wisdom despite your youth and you've stuck with us this far, so obviously you're a colossal badass, here's what I need you to do'.  In fact, why hasn't Lan internalised that yet?  He's bonded with Moiraine; he knows better than to underestimate someone just because they're a woman or small enough to fit in his backpack.  Do better, Lan.
"There are two guards on that side of the camp, beyond the picket-lines, but if you are half as good as I think you are, they'll never see you." 
She swallowed hard. Stalking rabbits was one thing; guards, though, with spears and swords... So he thinks I'm good, does he? "I'll do it."
There's something ironic that the one skill of hers he is willing to notice is her ability to not be noticed.  Also, hasn't Nynaeve been fighting trollocs?  A few unwary guards don't strike me as unusual threat for her these days.  But she still freaks out a bit as she creeps in, dodges patrols, and starts cutting the ropes to loose the horses for purposes of distraction.  She almost runs after she's cut four out of five, and thinks for a moment about how Lan wouldn't judge her for running away now (given that she's just a little mortal), but Nynaeve is struck by a vision that if she leaves any horses secure, some of Our Heroes will die in the escape, and so cuts them loose too.  (The possibility that she just got an actual prophecy further freaks her out, because Nynaeve was trained to use magic but she didn't think it was Capital Letters Magic, I guess?)  The final group includes faithful horse Bela and another friendly one, and Nynaeve flees into the night with them as Moiraine starts fulminating the camp with a rain of lightning (go Moiraine), and wolves join in the fight, confusion, running, et cetera.

Well, that chapter wasn't nearly as prolonged as I expected it to be.  It helps, of course, that on my first read I accidentally skipped about a third of it and didn't notice.  Which is a reasonable measure of the breakneck crawl we're proceeding at.  Let's savour this opportunity to talk about Nynaeve, because she's one of my favourite characters so far.

We're more than 550 pages into the book, and Nynaeve's motivations are starkly few.  She chased after Our Heroes because she had no patience to sit around and wait for a Manly Decision, and she's stuck with them because it's her job to protect her neighbours.  That takes a hell of a lot of dedication.  She's been told that she has incredible potential to wield earthshakingly powerful magic, but she doesn't appear at all tempted by the prospect.  Admittedly, she doesn't have great reasons not to trust Aes Sedai, but tell the average person 'By the way, I can teach you to perform miracles' and see if that doesn't shake their convictions even a little.  Nynaeve doesn't even know that she's plot-relevant; she's just here because she knows who she is (or who she wants to be) and that person won't let her neighbour brats run off to get murdered on their own.

And somehow the main gorram character of this book still isn't her, but the brat who thinks it's insufficiently heroic that he has to sleep in haystacks while everyone tells him how incredibly important he is (quarry of the Darkfriends, warper of the Pattern of reality, first-name-basis with the fricking devil who hangs out in his dreams).

Rand al'Thor might be (shpoilersh) the Dragon Reborn, but as far as I'm concerned he's a case study in mediocre men inexplicably drawing attention away from extraordinary women.  I'm sure he's going to get 'character development', but I'm not at all convinced that said development will consist of him actually gaining sympathetic qualities to compare with Nynaeve's fierce loyalty, courage, and conviction.

Anyway, let's get back to Nynaeve and Moiraine saving the day.

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Rescue
Perrin shifted as best he could with his wrists bound behind him and finally gave up with a sigh.
Do y'all know why this book is precisely seven hundred million pages long?  Because Jordan thinks that it's quality storytelling to give us an unnecessarily long depiction of rescuers catching up with hostages, making plans, enacting plans to save the hostages, and then leaping backwards in time to show us yet more of what things were like for the hostages before they got rescued.  Surely we could just have Egwene recap for Moiraine what their captivity was like afterwards?  (If we get all this description and then a recap as well, I will burn down the sun.)

General advice: if you can timeskip something in a story and not leave the reader confused about how you got there, there's a good chance you should timeskip it.  More specific advice: if you can timeskip something in a story, for the love of gay shipping, please don't pretend to timeskip it and then go back to explain.  This is like episodes of TV shows that start with a Dramatic Scene, go to opening credits, and then come back with Three Days Earlier... which never fails to annoy me.  (Not least because it's used to set up shocking swerves like Why Are These Two Bros Pointing Guns At Each Other and then forty minutes later we discover they were both actually aiming at ambushers behind each other.)


BUT BACK TO PERRIN.  He's spent the last few days walking tied to a horse and getting regular updates from Byar about the inventive ways the Questioners will torture him into confessing when they get to Amador.  They're also in a rush to Caemlyn, though, and one day Byar shows up, tosses him a sharp rock, and says it'd be much more convenient if Perrin somehow managed to cut himself loose and vanish into the night.  Perrin rolls just well enough to realise that there's something fishy about this generosity, but not quite enough to realise that if he makes a getaway they'd have ample reason to just kill him on the spot and wrap matters up that way.  He gets a telepathic ping from Dapple that there's a rescue coming, and stalls long enough for Lan to arrive and karate the guards into submission.

Lan, Egwene, and Perrin meet up with Moiraine, who reports that she's lost track of Nynaeve, whom she fears has "done something foolish".  Hey, why hasn't Moiraine given the rest of the party those tracker coins like she did the boys?  Can she only maintain three of that charm at once?  It's not like they haven't had time for her to make more.  Anyway, Lan turns and almost charges back to find Nynaeve, but Moiraine tries to stop him:
"Some things are more important than others. You know that. [....] Remember your oaths, al'Lan Mandragoran, Lord of the Seven Towers! What of the oath of a Diademed Battle Lord of the Malkieri?" 
Perrin blinked. Lan was all of that?
Lan was all of those things that we don't understand and have no context for and therefore I don't care about?  ASTONISHING.  (Also, I see Jordan is one of those authors who thinks that bemusement is best identified by a character's blinking, which strikes me as particularly weird in this high-tension high-action scene where presumably they're running around a lot and blinking away sweat or dust from one's eyes might be expected rather a lot.  Suggestion: if a character's shock is so understated that it can best be expressed through blinking while they flee homicidal religious zealots, maybe you're not dealing with as dramatic a moment as you'd like to think.  Shout something gaspworthy, at least.)

Nynaeve returns with the horses and as she leaps off to embrace Egwene she gets intercepted by Lan who just grabs her arm for an intense second.  He wants to tap that, if we hadn't noticed yet.  He wants to tap that like he's sending a telegram.  Nynaeve has picked up on this, as highlighted by the way she gives "a low laugh" as she runs to hug Egwene, which Perrin figures doesn't have "anything to do with happiness at seeing them again".

Let us take a moment to contemplate the situation: our split party has just started to mend itself after eight thousand chapters of running around scattered, they're being hunted by religious zealots, and this is the moment that Jordan has decided to drop in a romantic subplot with all the grace and versimilitude of a new fanfic author.  We got none of this last chapter, when Lan was actually talking to Nynaeve about sending her into danger, but now they're reunited and there is Needful Tension.  Priorities, Jordan.  Lan is the male character I hate least, but that's such a low bar.  Try to remember you had a plot in here somewhere.

They make their getaway, and the wolves leave Perrin with a mental note that they are ordained to meet again someday.  The next day, Nynaeve tends their wounds, treating us to a scene in which she rubs ointments all over Perrin's bare chest--he's been gruesomely bruised, but his ribs were protected from breakage because he's so incredibly ripped.

If you unlock the secret ninth ab, you become fireproof.

Nynaeve's ointments basically heal his mangled torso instantaneously, which either means they have some really sweet herbs in this world or she should have realised she was a gorram sorcerer a long time ago.  Nynaeve notices Perrin's wolf eyes, but doesn't know what they are; Moiraine does, but doesn't say what it means; Nynaeve is upset that Moiraine won't 'heal' Perrin's eyes, but is weirdly uninterested in knowing what's actually going on.  Lan just hears the name Elyas MacWolferson and says he used to be a Warder until the Red Ajah came after him, and assures Perrin that communing with wolves isn't of itself satanic.  He does note how improbable it is that Perrin would have the ancient gift and meet someone who was capable of teaching him:
"The Pattern is forming a Great Web, what some call the Lace of Ages, and you lads are central to it. I don't think there is much chance left in your lives, now."
In fairness, if Jordan doesn't find a new word to capitalise every four pages, his keyboard will explode.  Lace of Ages?  Honestly, at this point I almost want to congratulate him on so thoroughly committing: he actually made it an emphatic plot point that incredibly convenient coincidences and contrivances swarm around our heroes.  That's so much more audacious than just trying to make the story feel plausible.

I also feel like this chapter highlights a certain weakness of prophecy: Lan claims that Perrin's life is basically already set in the world, but it's only thanks to Lan's intervention just now that Perrin's life wasn't a very brief sprint in the night or several long days of torturous dying at the hands of the inquisition.  So, Perrin has no choice in what happens to him next, but Lan apparently does, since he had the option of turning and running.  Or a lucky whitecloak could have murdered them all with a few quick sword strokes.  At what proximity to Our Heroes do people stop having choices?  If there are certain people who bend fate around themselves, shouldn't the Dark One's central plan be to stay the hell away from those people as much as possible and stick to working with the people who have no fates at all and therefore might be capable of anything?  Lan implies that the Dark One can manipulate events a little, but when he says the three boys are definitely super-prophesied for either good or evil, he doesn't make it clear whether he thinks that has been determined yet.

Basically, what I'm saying is that there are at least three kinds of prophecy and it matters a lot which kind we're dealing with.  There's contingent prophecy ("If/unless this happens, this other thing is guaranteed to happen"), total predestination (choice is an illusion and all future events are fixed), and fate in the ancient Greek style ("No matter what choices you make, sooner or later you're going to X").  Lan doesn't appear to believe in predestination, but his talk about the lack of chance in Perrin's life implies that fate is a thing, except that he obviously still thinks Rand and Mat can be and need to be saved from evil, which suggests that his non-predetermined actions still matter.

Jordan could have saved me a headache by dropping the vague prophecy talk and just saying "The universe has willed that the three of you are main characters, so please do better".

That's it for me; come back next Wednesday to see if I managed to convince Erika to watch Bring It On for her next post!


  1. "Chapter Thirty-Seven: The Long Chase More of the Same"

    That's it, I'm calling this Wheel of Tedium from now on.

  2. How did this get published? This is not a rhetorical question. How, exactly, did this convince a publishing house to spend the time and money to edit and then publish this? I just had a really horrible thought: if this is what it is like after editing, what was it like before editing? Maybe the editor only did spellcheck? Because I'm at a loss to explain how 70% of this book wasn't redlined by an editor.

    Jordan's use of 'prophecy' always struck me as really inconsistent as well. He seemed to use whichever of the 3 variants you described depending on whichever will upset the relevant character the most at that particular moment.

  3. So, how long would the abridged version of this book be at this point? It sounds like the relevant plot and action might compose to about 100 pages at this point, if we're lucky. It would also probably make a much tighter story to follow.

  4. It would depend on what one considers "relevant plot". The main story after all is pretty basic: Ancient evil threatens the land, a farm boy is destined to defeat it. And thanks to the whole ta'veren business, any plot critical events will inevitably happen, whether the characters are actively pursuing them or not. The story settles into a routine where majority of the action is spent on various side plots, until sufficient page count is reached, which triggers the end boss fight for that book. I'm not sure that an abridged version would really make much sense, since the side stories are the main attraction.

    I think it might be misleading to consider Wheel of Time as an epic fantasy in the style of Lord of the Rings. It's more a collection of loosely related adventure stories, set within a framing story. Like Scheherazade telling stories to stave off her execution. One night we get "Escape from the City of Murder-mist", on another "Perrin and the Wolves", and then "The Road to Caemlyn and What Rand Discovered There".
    Or perhaps a better analogy would be to say that it is structured like a TV series. Every week the heroes face some new adventure, and at the end of each book you get your big two-parter season finale. Next year you get a new season, which is mostly more of the same. There is some overarching plot, which is occasionally addressed, but you kind of know it's never going to be resolved. Unless the series is about to get cancelled and the script writers are told to wrap things up.

  5. In fact, why hasn't Lan internalised that yet? He's bonded with Moiraine; he knows better than to underestimate someone just because they're a woman or small enough to fit in his backpack.

    And it's not just Lan, it's the world in general. For the last few thousand years, women have been the only ones who can safely use magic. And yet this world has ended up with fairly traditional gender roles. When you have a group of women who can blow stuff up with their mind, and everyone knows that they can do that, you'd think over generations that would have an effect on cultural attitudes about women. But apparently not.

    The Pattern is forming a Great Web, what some call the Lace of Ages
    If this was Wikipedia, I'd expect to see that "references needed" superscript there: "...what somewho? call the Lace of Ages." Because that's what I want to know. Who exactly calls it the Lace of Ages? Because it doesn't sound like the sort of thing you just slip into conversation.
    "Well, that was certainly rather unusual."
    "Yes. The Pattern seems to be forming a Lace of Ages."
    "Or it could be aliens."
    "Mulder, not everything is caused by aliens. A Lace of Ages is a far more rational answer to what we are seeing here."

  6. Uh, is it just me, or is there no chase at all in the chapter titled "the long chase."

  7. Ah, so we should think of this as the Dragon Ball Z of literature, then. Still, it would seem that if you're going to use this kind of device, you would want to have the frame made explicit, and then you'd need to make a decision about which stories are going to be the ones that make sense for the tales of a thousand nights and one night. Otherwise, you end up with filler arcs taking over the show, which is what is already what's going on in the first book.

  8. That's an interesting concept, and one that I'm relatively on-board with, except that each 'episode' we're getting here lacks substantive content. We're not seeing character change or revelation, we're not seeing relationships form or change, we're not even learning about individual backstories that might shed light on who these people are and how they interact. Two or three times now there have been vague references to Lan's apparent lordly backstory, but we haven't actually learned anything about him except that he's gruff and (suddenly) he apparently wants to jump Nynaeve.

    The characters themselves don't engage with the side plots in a way that would make them meaningfully episodic, because they keep marching onwards with mantras of 'it'll all be okay once we get to Caemlyn' or wherever's next on their list.

    Over on, she's doing an extensive analysis of the Narnia books, including her series on Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which very clearly fits into that sort of episodic storytelling. Lewis understood that an episode needs to have a beginning, middle, and end. The last time we got a story that was in any real way 'concluded', it was their escape from the death fog in Scarytown, and even then it was pretty clear (or I took it as such) that the important thing was that Mat had skeeved a cursed dagger, but that was about twelve hundred pages ago and it hasn't had any further plot relevance except to make people notice that Mat is a jerk.

  9. NGL, that was hilarious. But I think that it's supposed to be some kind of technical metaphysics term, rather than a word for everyday conversation, like "the categorical imperative, which some refer to as the Golden Rule".

  10. It's a metafictional chapter title, referring to the reader desperately tearing through the book trying to hunt down the plot.

  11. That's what gave it such a chronicles of a D&D game feel to me - all of the the little sub-adventures that often didn't get wrapped up so much as were just forgotten as the next thing happened. (Along with things like Mat apparently being such a lousy person that he can carry a cursed dagger that (supposedly) makes him worse, except his best friend barely notices.)

  12. One book, I can understand getting published. Lots of terrible books get published. But how did this book get so popular that the publisher justified publishing FOURTEEN of these endless, boring books that are like 800+ pages each? I mean, I read six or seven of the Sword of Truth series in middle school, and those books are seriously terrible in a lot of ways, but at least shit happens in their 800 pages.

    I mostly hear people say that they really liked the first three WoT books, and then they got bad. So apparently the problem only gets worse as he wrote more, not better. D:

  13. "If we get all this description and then a recap as well"
    That's what you'd get in Left Behind.