The Eye of the World: p. 348--378
Chapter Twenty-Four: Flight Down the Arinelle
This chapter again begins with a dream sequence as Rand is running around a fantastical maze, and the scenery as described is all very pretty but it does basically zero to advance the plot. He's being hunted by the devil, he runs into the devil, he screams that it's all a dream and wakes up, but his finger is still bleeding from a thorn he touched in the dream. I just gave you several minutes of your life back. Then it's boat time again:
The Spray made haste slowly down the Arinelle.FIGHT ME ROBERT JORDAN.
(There's also a note that all the sailors go barefoot because "boots could slip on a wet deck". I don't--are human feet covered in suckers like octopus tentacles in this world? I'm pretty sure humans are capable of creating boots with higher coefficients of static and kinetic friction than our feet.)
Most of this chapter appears to be filler--we get rundowns of the cyclical ire of the crew, between working hard to escape trollocs and grumbling that they've left the trollocs far behind; we get descriptions of how Thom keeps up the pretense that he's apprenticing Rand and Mat; we get talk of how Mat is constantly creeping away to 'be alone', which would be more sinister if Mat weren't a fairly typical teenage boy. Mat does seem to have developed something of a treasure obsession, but since it has no plot relevance yet, I don't care.
Captain Domon rambles for a few pages (I am not exaggerating) about the wondrous things he's seen in the world, cursed metal towers and skeletons of ancient beasts. Same old same old: instead of any kind of actual depth to the structure of the world, we're 356 pages in and the vastness of this land with its perfectly rectangular borders is being emphasised to us through endless lists of one-off wonders that we'll never hear of again. There's mention in there of a crater somewhere with a giant silver spike in the centre that kills anyone who comes within a mile of it, and I spent a few minutes struggling to think of any reason that the existence of an instant-kill magic zone wouldn't be extremely important and interesting in a world with a lot of monsters that seem to have trouble properly dying. These are all cool notions to throw into the world, but it bugs me that everyone's apparently just happy to let these things be completely mysterious untouched curiosities rather than actually incorporating them into their lives. It doesn't feel more like a great big world to me; it feels like a weird museum for the protagonist to wander.
There's then a detailed explanation of how Rand messes about on top of the mast one day, freaks out the crew, Thom comes to get him, and he inexplicably nimbly clambers down again, in the perfect place to see why Mat keeps sneaking off all the time--he is, as anyone could have guessed, playing with his dagger. Oh, an actual dagger? Okay then. It's very fancy and golden and he took it from Shadar Logoth, but it wasn't a gift so he's sure he didn't accidentally release that incredibly evil ghost-dude Moiraine warned them about. This, obvs, is the source of his new obsession with treasure, but Rand agrees not to tell anyone, because Rand failed his Genre Savviness check today. Rand talks about all the cash they'll get by selling it and Mat just says 'if we have to'. He is also reluctant to admit he's been having more dreams, like Rand, and then they Don't Talk About That for a while. Rand also retroactively freaks out about the stunts he pulled on the mast, and becomes more convinced that something is messing with his head.
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Traveling People
Oh fuck, are we going to get Fantasy Romani now? This is gonna suck. Egwene and the horse, Bela, do not particularly trust the wolf pack now just hanging out with them as they stroll onwards. I thought for a moment that this was actually from Egwene's perspective, but no, that would be silly because she is a girl and therefore a distraction from serious, slow, thoughtful Perrin the cool dude who can, like, talk to wolves. Egwene tries to get Elyas to share in riding Bela, like she and Perrin do, and he refuses:
She took a deep breath, and Perrin was wondering if she would succeed in bullying Elyas the way she did him, when he realized she was standing there with her mouth open, not saying a word. Elyas was looking at her, just looking, with those yellow wolf's eyes. Egwene stepped back from the raw-boned man, and licked her lips, and stepped back again.We know Elyas is cool because he can make girls shut up just by looking at them, when they try to 'bully' him with their logic and courteous offers.
It's like Tolkien, but feminist! (Also, raw-boned? What does that even mean?)
Perrin is slowly adjusting to his new wolfdar, constantly pointing out their presence to him, but he's comforted by his dreams, which no longer feature Ba'alzamon--they're normal dreams like he had back home, except that there's always a wolf in the background, facing away from him like a watchdog. This is probably one of my favourite mystical things we've seen so far: and it's remarkably succinct and understated rather than getting three pages of explication. I don't think that's coincidental.
And yet, because Perrin is a useless sack, he also resents and fears the wolves that speak to him, guard him, and bring him food, and thinks he'd be willing to go hungry if they'd just go away. He also almost takes a shot at some giant mastiffs that leap out of a copse of trees, but Elyas calms them and explains that there are Tuatha'an camping within, and because everything has like fifty names in this world, they're also known as Tinkers or the Traveling People. Okay, not Fantasy Romani, then, but Fantasy Irish Travellers. Egwene immediately brings up the stereotype that they're all thieves, and Elyas shuts her down. Elyas remains the Best Dude, but really, can Egwene just not have nice things anymore? Perrin has heard about the their legendary tinsmithing skills and wants to check it out. One point to House Useless Sack.
(We pause now to talk about demonyms. I note that Jordan here uses most of the common terms for Travellers except for 'gypsy', which is a racial slur, specifically against the Romani and related peoples. I would give points for that, except that I'm guessing he didn't use it because it sounded too Earthlike, while 'Tuatha'an' is just, like, Dog Gaelic. WOT hereafter refers to these people mostly as 'tinkers', but the interwebs inform me that this is also sometimes used as a pejorative against actual Irish Travellers, so I'm going to skip that for the sake of simplicity and courtesy.)
Elyas leads them into the trees, and while Perrin has never seen Travellers before, their camp is exactly what he expects from stories, because stories about exotic ethnic minorities are always perfectly accurate and don't overstate anything. (Except for the stealing, apparently.) The camp is exactly what a stereotypical Traveller or Romani camp looks like, with giant brightly-painted wagons and clothes with eye-hurtingly contrasting vivid colours. Well, I say vivid colours, but the other obvious reason to base these people on Irish Travellers instead of Romani is that we were in great danger of accidentally including brown people in this story. Dodged a bullet there.
They sit down for a meal with the elder and his wife, and a grandson who shows up to hit on Egwene. (Perrin admits he's cute but figures he's like that player back home who dates all the girls at once.) We also get some infodumps on Traveller pacifism (they're very pacifist) and Aram takes Egwene away to dance. The elder relates a story of news from a couple of years ago, some warning that a Traveller band got from a dying Aiel warrior while crossing the Wastes, saying that the Dark One is coming to blind the Eye of the World and kill the World-Serpent. Perrin spends most of this time baffled at the notion of a society where female warriors are common and accepted. Egwene dances with Aram until it's late, snaps at Perrin that Aram is a sweet fun boy and not just a player, and then breaks down in tears and begs him to tell her that the others are still alive, before she kisses him on the cheek and heads to bed down among the women.
Why in the world is Perrin our POV character here? He has, like, two emotions and no direction in life. Egwene frequently acts like a real person and has a vastly more interesting potential storyline, but she's too busy getting saddled with the role of overemotional token chick who needs a man to support her. At least if their roles were swapped Perrin wouldn't have any personality to waste on his overwrought outbursts.
I'm also curious about the pacifism the Travellers expound, because the narrative certainly treats them like they're sensible rather than naive fools, but the narrative is also totally onboard with Our Heroes beheading enemies all over the place. The elder would have Perrin believe that the spiritual self-harm that results from doing violence to other people is much worse than the physical violence that they're doing, but he's saying this in a world with a malevolent ancient god that works tirelessly to destroy all of existence, which makes 'running away' a questionable plan at best. I mean, I guess it's supposed to be an even presentation of the options, but it feels rather more like 'I beat a bad guy to death with another bad guy this morning, but I appreciate pacifism, so you know I'm a good dude'. Whereas Egwene, who supports this pacifist notion much more strongly, is an overemotional wreck who needs to deal with her emotions by shoving her tongue down hot nomad boy's throat like it's an ovipositor.
I'm saying that Ender's Game was supposedly about peace and mercy too, and that's full of people who are all about that genocide, 'bout that genocide, 'bout that genocide, no trouble. Pacifism in fantasy would be more interesting if it were ever brought up with more depth than 'foolish idealism' or 'theoretical notion that we don't actually need to engage with'.
Next week: Rand arrives at Whitebridge, at the end of the White Bridge, which I can only assume is some kind of gated community with a lot of dentists and financiers.