Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 41 and 42, in which questions are often raised and never answered

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.  This is how we live now: reading the Wheel of Time (Book One), which we are more than three-quarters of the way through and yet somehow only just finishing what feels like the prologue.  Sometimes the chapter numbers seem to change when I'm not looking, sneaking down lower, shuffling themselves around.  Did I already read this part, or are they just going into round one of recapping?  Maybe the things they're recapping haven't happened yet.  Maybe they happened a long time ago, too.  We are beyond the ideas of past and future now.  There is only this page, standing at the forefront of the legions that surround it.  There is only ever this page.

The Eye of the World: p. 619--645
Chapter Forty-One: Old Friends and New Threats

Rand returns to the inn, finds his latest plot-recruited helpful innkeeper playing a game with Loial the elf-ogre, and spends several pages recapping the spectacularly improbable events which we literally just read in the previous two chapters.  The innkeeper is at first skeptical, while Loial just mutters 'ta'veren', listens intently, and asks to join the quest.  Rand and Mat must leave the city immediately, apparently?  I'm not clear on why, but they seem pretty sure that Chief Wizard Elaida is going to send guards to hunt Rand down again imminently, despite the queen declaring him innocent and setting him free.  Does Elaida regularly ignore the queen's decisions?  Do we have a precedent?  This is an important thing to know in any circumstance, but no one says anything like 'she'll have you grabbed quietly in the night, just like that shady diplomat who vanished off his boat two days away from the city'.  Is this just part of typical anti-Aes Sedai mistrust and propaganda?  I mean, Rand is specifically running to Tar Valon, which is basically the Greater Wizardtropolitan Area, so isn't he in at least as much danger there?  For that matter, might Elaida not be very interested in helping him get there, if he explained that it was Moiraine's idea?  Does Rand have any idea what faction of wizard Elaida is from?

Only Robert Jordan could raise this many questions (and answer none of them) for no good reason in such a short period of time while mostly talking about rats and those vile vile anti-monarchists.

Rand get outright angry when Loial uses the same phrasing as Elaida, saying that "The Pattern weaves itself around you, and you stand in the heart of it".  I feel like after 600 pages Rand should have picked up enough characterisation that I would know why he's angry at the prospect of having a really dramatic fate.  Is he so intensely humble that the notion of being important offends him?  Is he scared to death of conflict and wants to believe that once he gets to Tar Valon everything will be peaceful and boring forever after?  Did he have hopes and aspirations for his life that he feels have been taken away from him?  Is he just really opposed to the notion of destiny overriding free will?  Throw me a bone, Jordan.

We have a brief and unnecessary interlude with whitecloaks in the inn's common room, who are armed and armored and angry but are inexplicably driven out by the out-of-nowhere, natural-20-intimidation-check warnings that the innkeeper gives them.  (We do get the informational tidbit that the whitecloaks "hold no writ in Caemlyn", though it's not clear to me what that means.  Are they not tax-exempt?  Do they have to obey all of the laws instead of only some of them?)

The whitecloaks are also very dismissive of the queen, which is clearly supposed to further outline how villainous they are, but to my mind it raises yet another damned question: why do we like Queen Morgase?  She's apparently abandoned substantial tracts of her queendom for generations, even as the number of monsters roaming the world increases.  She allows religious extremists to wander her cities harassing people at random.  She has no great diplomatic successes we're aware of.  She does apparently maintain some kind of substantial food security program within the capital, although the rules under which it functions aren't clear and we have no indication if it helps on other issues of health, shelter, or safety.  The two things we really know about her for certain are that she decided to let Rand go literally right after her Chief Wizard said he was super plot-relevant, and that she regularly receives prophecies from said wizard that are so mystically vague that no one has the slightest clue what they mean.  Neither of these choices reflect well on her as a protector of her realm and its inhabitants.  Near as I can tell, we're supposed to like her because she's got a crown, her family is attractive, and she was nice to the protagonist (sort of).

Just saying it's possible the white-flag revolutionaries have a point.  Of course, they don't seem to have any ideas about what they want instead of the queen, because they are evil and therefore heavily organised around the idea of taking things apart, not creating something new.  Those are the rules.

Let's get a move on, plotwise.  The moment we're done with the whitecloak interlude, someone else shows up looking for Rand and Mat, and at gorram last it's the rest of the party: Moiraine, Lan, Egwene, Nynaeve, and Perrin.  Rand hugs the girls (who of course bury themselves face-first in his chest) while also shaking Perrin's hand AS MEN DO, and the innkeeper falls all over himself for a couple of pages in subservience to Moiraine.  Rand takes them all to see Mat, and praise Buddha they immediately identify that there's something the fuck wrong with him as he hacks at them like Gollum bingeing on conspiracy theory websites and The Exorcist.
"How do you know they're really who they look like? [....] Perrin?  Is that you? You've changed, haven't you? [....] A Wisdom isn't suppose to think of herself as a woman, is she? Not a pretty woman. But you do, don't you? Now. You can't make yourself forget that you're a pretty woman, no, and it frightens you."
Nynaeve just thinks he's got a fever, but Moiraine arrives and all but leaps on him.  She quickly infodumps all the stuff we already knew about Shadar Logoth being cursed, and Mat attacks her with the knife he stole, gets stopped by Lan, and Moiraine sets about wizard medicine.  The knife is apparently a beacon of evil as well, and thus why Rand and Mat have been endlessly plagued by darkfriends and trollocs on their journey, and why (Lan informs us) the Fades are building a trolloc army outside Caemlyn in preparation to take the city.

You had one job, Rand.

Chapter Forty-Two: Remembrance of Dreams

Leaving Moiraine to exorcise Mat, Rand introduces the party to Loial in the Double Secret Parlour, where Perrin immediately starts asking Loial about steddings and whether they're really magic havens.  I have to assume at this point that Robert Jordan was badly distracted by something, or perhaps looked up from the keyboard and realised thatthe manuscript was due tomorrow, because it's only been two pages and Moiraine shows up with Mat, a bit spaced and embarrassed but otherwise completely cured of his evil possession.

Well.  That de-escalated quickly.

Moiraine quickly and quietly explains to Rand that Mat still has the knife and it's still magically bound to him, but she has purged the evil from Mat's system for now and they can get a permanent fix in Tar Valon, but Moiraine is vague about whether that's where they're going next after all.  She also warns Loial that all of the other Aes Sedai are Red Ajah, which--okay, screw it, there's a glossary in the back of this book and I am tired.
Ajah (AH-jah): Societies among the Aes Sedai, to which all Aes Sedai belong. They are designated by colours: [Blue, Red, White, Green, Brown, Yellow, and Gray]. [...] The Red Ajah bends all its energies to finding and gentling men who are attempting to wield the Power.
Well, they did just bring in the Renegade Man Wizard Logain, so maybe that's not startling, although surely Elaida isn't included in "every one but I".  I can't imagine that spending all of her time giving vague advice to the queen counts as bending all her energy to 'gentling' men.

There is yet more recapping again as Rand tells the rest about meeting the queen, and if I were running with my theory of 'the queen is actually not inherently good by right of being the queen', I would get Manchurian Candidate vibes from the way Rand spaces out as soon as he thinks of her:
"Can you imagine me meeting a Queen? She's beautiful, like the queens in stories.  So is Elayne. And Gawyn... you'd like Gawyn, Perrin."
Very nice wingmanning, Rand.  Your buddy just got into town and already you're trying to hook him up with a hot prince. (Egwene, of course, is quietly very jealous that Rand said the princess was cute, because Robert Jordan solved feminist fantasy forever.  Egwene, whom we may recall was cheerfully all up in that Traveller boy's business a few... weeks ago?  I'm fuzzy on timelines here.)  Perrin mentions the Travellers, which sets Loial talking about the Travellers who wanted to learn the tree songs from the ogiers back in his home stedding of Shangtai--


I can cope with a lot of this nonsense, I really can.  I can roll with Mosk and Merk the warring giants, and I will roll with the cool descriptions of places and vitally important magical locations and objects that we'll apparently never see again, but when the ever-helpful non-human servitor-race guy comes from a place called Shangtai I just want to bite through someone's neck.  I desperately hope that's just a throwaway thing and not an indication that the ogiers are going to be the fantasy Asians here.  It's bad enough Rand is apparently a pasty redhead of the noble desert tribes.

Loial gets around to repeating a story that the Dark One seeks to blind the Eye of the World, and Egwene and Perrin mention hearing the same from the Travellers, and the boys finally get around to admitting to Moiraine that they've been having dreams with the devil hassling them.  Praise be to Gargamel, no more attempting to draw out tension by having people just not talk.  (For now.)

Moiraine concludes that all three boys are ta'veren (what, not Egwene and Nynaeve, previously described as potentially the most powerful wizards of the age?) and they need to leave Caemlyn immediately by unorthodox means.  She also gives us this destiny explanation:
"Sometimes being ta'veren means the Pattern is forced to bend to you, and sometimes it means the Pattern forces you to the needed path."
So... how is that different from regular free will and chance, then?  People are self-evidently bad at prophecy, so it's not like you can tell in advance whether you're making a choice because you choose to or because you've been chosen to, so what are the practical consequences of this?  It sounds like an excuse to go about your life in a normal way but make regular exclamations about how mystical it all is.  "You stole my last cupcake!" "No, I was fated to eat the last cupcake."

Actually, that could be a fun way to live.  Try it out and report back in the comments.

Speaking of which, Moiraine and Loial debate for about a page on how to leave the city, using the Ways that they can reach from a Waygate that is probably buried under the New City and will lead them to Fal Dara that was once known as Mafal Dadaranell.  (That deluge of unexplained capitalisation is a taste of what this book is like without me as your buffer.  I do actually sometimes appreciate Jordan's persistence in giving things names that change over time, like how Mafal Dadaranell's name clearly got abbreviated, but good lord, does everything on this planet have a business card the size of a surfboard?)  Loial exclaims that if they enter the ways they will all die or "be swallowed by the Shadow", and on that no-context salvo of 'dun, dun, DUNNNNNNN', the chapter abruptly ends.  The next chapter starts up immediately on the next line, no scene break or anything, which makes that a really, really odd point to choose to cut us off, but I think I can live with it.

Next time: backstory, dimension-tunnelling, and Moiraine's instincts for manipulating the narrative.

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