The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: The Fires of Heaven, Part 23

Greetings, fellow WOTians! Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Re-read!

I apologize for the blip in the schedule, mostly because it makes me a liar, most likely; I said we were going to finish The Fires of Heaven this week, and, well, that’s looking problematic at this point.

As a side note, I would like you to know that this week is officially fired. I swear, it’s like all the retarded crap in the world can smell when your vacation is coming up, and is like GERONIMOOOOOOOOO *boooge*

Gah.

Ergo, this post, which is only covering Chapter 53. However, this is not to imply you aren’t getting your money’s worth, because it turns out that I had… rather a lot to say about Chapter 53. Oh yeah.

Possibly not unrelatedly, y’all are gently reminded that this is a happy fun blog. Debate, yay; flames and attacks, nay. Do not taunt Happy Fun Blog.

As for the rest of the book, I wanted to finish it before I went on vacation, but given all the explodedness going on I just don’t know if that’s going to happen, especially because I feel the need to do this particular Big Ass Ending justice, commentary-wise. So, schedule is pending. I will keep youse guys posted in the comments.

Anyway. Previous posts are here, and there are spoilers all up in this thing for all currently published novels in the Wheel of Time series, so be warned. Got it? Good. Go!

Chapter 53: Fading Words

What Happens
Rand watches Moiraine and Lanfear fall through the doorframe numbly as lightning crackles around it. Lan lurches toward the wagon, and Rand catches him in flows of Air, telling him there’s nothing he can do. Lan answers that he knows, hopelessly. The wagon is catching fire, now, and Rand weaves a chimney of Air around it to funnel away the smoke as the ter’angreal melts, then releases Lan.

“She is gone. I cannot feel her presence.” The words sounded ripped out of Lan’s chest. He turned and began walking down the line of wagons without a backward glance.

Rand sees Egwene on the ground, with Aviendha holding her and Mat and Asmodean hovering over them, and runs to them as the Wise Ones arrive and begin examining her. Egwene is alive, but in great pain, and Melaine tells Rand she cannot go with him to Caemlyn; Egwene tries to protest and is firmly ignored by Bair and Sorilea. Aviendha says she can still go; Lanfear had not held her as long as she had Egwene. Rand says “Of course”, hollowly, and Aviendha adds she did not see everything that happened. Rand tells her that Moiraine and Lanfear are both dead, and Egwene begins to cry. Amys stands and tells him he is a fool.

He turned away from the accusation in her eyes. Moiraine was dead. Dead because he could not bring himself to kill one of the Forsaken. He did not know whether he wanted to cry or laugh wildly; if he did either, he did not think he would be able to stop.

Rand looks around at all the wounded, now with no one to Heal them. He notices again that there are no Maidens anywhere, and that Dobraine is there, watching him; not far off Talmanes, Daerid and Nalesean are watching Mat as well as him. People line the walls, too, all watching. Rand goes to Lan and apologizes to him, and Lan answers that Moiraine was just as much a warrior in her way as he, and she always knew this could happen, and “It was a good day to die.” Rand tries to get him to stay, but Lan explains to him about Moiraine passing his bond to another sister, and now he must go to her. He mounts, hesitates, and tells Rand that if he sees Nynaeve again, to tell her that he’s found someone else, that he left to be a Green sister’s lover. Rand replies that he’ll pass on the message, but doesn’t know whether she will believe him.

Lan bent from the saddle to catch Rand’s shoulder in a hard grip. Rand remembered calling the man a half-tame wolf, but those eyes made a wolf seem a lapdog. “We are alike in many ways, you and I. There is a darkness in us. Darkness, pain, death. They radiate from us. If ever you love a woman, Rand, leave her and let her find another. It will be the best gift you can give her.”

He salutes Rand, which Rand returns in kind, and gallops away. Rand suddenly can’t stand all the eyes on him, and hurries into the dockmaster’s hut, where he curses himself for not seeming to be able to mourn. He pulls out Moiraine’s letter and opens it. In the letter, she warns him that the writing will fade once it leaves his hands, and that if he is reading this, then events at the docks have happened as she hoped they would; she’s known since Rhuidean that one day news would arrive in Cairhien of Morgase, and each time that news led to the docks the next day. There were three possible “branches” from that, but if he’s reading this, then she is gone, and so is Lanfear.

Rand’s hands tightened on the pages. She had known. Known, and still she brought him here. Hurriedly he smoothed out the crumpled paper.

The other two paths were much worse. Down one, Lanfear killed you. Down the other, she carried you away, and when next we saw you, you called yourself Lews Therin Telamon and were her devoted lover.

I hope that Egwene and Aviendha have survived unharmed. You see, I do not know what happens in the world after, except perhaps for one small thing which does not concern you.

She continues that she could not tell him, for it seems that men of the Two Rivers share many traits with their Manetheren ancestors, and she could not risk that he would place her life above his own. She asks him to deliver Thom’s letter safely, and to tell Lan that what she did was for the best, and hopes he will understand one day. She also writes that he should “trust no woman fully who is now Aes Sedai”, and he should be as suspicious of Verin as Alviarin.

We have made the world dance as we sang for three thousand years. That is a difficult habit to break, as I have learned while dancing to your song. You must dance free, and even the best intentioned of my sisters may well try to guide your steps as I once did.

[…] Lastly, be wary too of Master Jasin Natael. I cannot approve wholly, but I understand. Perhaps it was the only way. Yet be careful of him. He is the same man now that he always was. Remember that always.

May the Light illumine and protect you. You will do well.

Rand is flabbergasted that she knew about Asmodean all along, and yet had done nothing. He ruminates about the other items in the letter, and reflects that true to her heritage, as Aes Sedai and as Cairhienin, she had “wrapped herself in mystery and manipulation to the end.” Her last words, “you will do well”, cut him to the quick. Sulin enters with three spears, and asks why he weeps alone; he glares at her and denies it, and asks what she’s doing here; he thought all the Maidens had abandoned him. She answers that it is he who has abandoned them, and takes one of her spears and snaps it in two with her foot. He asks what she is doing, and she ignores him and picks up her second spear. He puts his hand over her foot and repeats his question.

“Will you put us in skirts, and make us marry and tend hearth? Or are we to lie beside your fire and lick your hand when you give us a scrap of meat?” Her muscles tensed, and the spear broke, scoring his palm with splinters.

Rand curses and snatches back his hand, and protests that he meant no such thing, just because he kept the Maidens out of the fight with Couladin. Sulin is incredulous, and replies that they kept him out of the dance, not the other way around; the Car’a’carn has no right to risk himself needlessly. And now he goes to battle this Forsaken; it is a dance he must risk, since unlike before no one but him can fight it, but he chose warriors from every other society except the Maidens. Far Dareis Mai carries his honor, and now he takes it away. Rand confesses to her that it rips him up to see a woman die, and he would rather go against Rahvin alone than see one of them get hurt. Sulin replies that this is foolish. She tells him she forgets sometimes that he was not raised Aiel, and to listen when she tells him that this – she raises her last spear – is what she is.

“Sulin —”

“Listen, Rand al’Thor. I am the spear. When a lover came between me and the spear, I chose the spear. Some chose the other way. Some decide they have run with the spears long enough, that they want a husband, a child. I have never wanted anything else. No chief would hesitate to send me wherever the dance is hottest. If I died there, my first-sisters would mourn me, but not a fingernail more than when our first-brother fell. A treekiller who stabbed me to the heart in my sleep would do me more honor than you do. Do you understand now?”

“I understand, but…” He did understand. She did not want him to make her something other than what she was. All he had to do was be willing to watch her die.

He wants to snarl, but instead tells her to choose out her Maidens; they will have as many as any other society. Sulin smiles in pleasure, and he stalks out of the hut to find a line of Maidens waiting outside, each with three spears in her hands, stretching back all the way into the city, and when they see Sulin with spear intact, all of them smile with the same pleasure as she had shown. Amys, standing nearby, smiles too, with a nod as if to congratulate him on stopping foolish behavior. Mat, leaning on his spear, comments that he thought maybe they were taking turns kissing Rand out of his misery, and Rand asks how he can be so cheery. Mat snaps back, because he’s alive, all right?

“Burn me, if we’re going to do this thing, let’s do it. Dovie’andi se tovya sagain.”

“What?”

“I said, it’s time to roll the dice. Did Sulin stop up your ears?”

“Time to roll the dice,” Rand agreed. […] Done was done, and he had to live with it. Death would be a release from what he had to live with. “Let’s do it.”

Commentary
I feel sorry for Rand at many points in this series (because as I’ve said before, WOW his job sucks), but this is one of the chapters that really made my heart just ache for him. Given his well-established tendency to blame himself for things he couldn’t control, the fact that his guilt here actually has some basis in fact just has to make it ten times worse.

Mind, I’m not blaming Rand for Moiraine’s death… precisely. But the fact remains that if he had just been able to bring himself to kill Lanfear, none of this whole scenario would have happened. And so once again we are brought to one of Rand’s central handicaps as a character: Chivalry as Crippling Mechanism. And yes, I view his chivalry as a handicap. Chivalry is a handicap, period.

Ah, I can hear some of your brains going sproing! from all the way over here. Chillax, dudes and dudettes.

Hear me out. Read, think, then react. This is all I ask.

I think a lot of people (both men and women) do not really understand the feminist objection to chivalry. And I think it’s understandable that they are confused, because it’s a subtextual objection, which not everyone knows (or cares) about looking for. They are only looking at the surface of chivalry, which on the face of it seems to have nothing remotely objectionable about it. How, they think, can anyone have a problem with a code of conduct that demands you treat women as precious, and protect them at all costs from harm? Those are good things, right? So how can they be bad?

Because, I answer, it makes the woman in question less. And that is not acceptable.

First of all, before we go any further, we must define our terms so that we’re all talking about the same thing. “Chivalry”, boys and girls, is NOT, I repeat NOT, an interchangeable term for “courtesy”, “good manners”, “honor”, or any of that. “Chivalry” is often used to mean those things, but I reject that definition, because it clouds the issue and makes it impossible for me to say “I object to chivalry” without some clown accusing me of meaning that I object to good manners or “being nice”.

Let me be perfectly clear: I like good manners. I, in fact, adore good manners. I think good manners are peachy keen. I think “being nice” is positively spiffy, y’all. For true.

If a man opens a door for me, generally speaking I have no issue. If a woman opens a door for me, generally speaking I have no issue. But if I open a door for someone and they refuse to go through it because it is a woman performing the courtesy? Oh, we got issues, honey.

(And before you say anything, know that this has happened to me, more than once. And I am not alone.)

The reasons behind opening doors for women and pulling out chairs for women and carrying bags for women are rooted in historical assertions of women’s weakness, and that it is a man’s role to take care of her. Same thing with money: the man is supposed to pay for the date because historically, women could not acquire their own wealth, and it is the man’s role to take care of her. The equation of women with children made here, as weak lesser beings that need care and protection, is not accidental, and it is, in a word, insulting and degrading. (Okay, that was two words.)

However.

That being said, the practice of shaking hands is (supposedly) historically rooted in the need to make sure that your opposite number was not holding a weapon, and I suspect most people who shake hands today are really not thinking about checking if the other guy is packing, but are just doing what they’ve been taught to do, which is that when you meet someone, the polite thing to do is shake hands. So, too, I suspect that most guys who open a door for a woman are not thinking ZOMG must open the door for her because her fragile little hands might BREAK OFF!!1!!eleventy!, but are merely being polite in the manner in which they have been taught.

In other words, the possible negative historical associations of a tradition, in my view, do not necessarily invalidate that tradition automatically. And, you know, it’s nice when people open doors for you, especially if your hands are full.

HOWEVER, that does not mean those associations can be forgotten, or fail to be addressed. And by way of addressing the essential non-equal tradition that these types of courtesies grew from, I have no objections to said courtesies – but only as long as they are equally applied to either sex.

If you want to be courteous to me because being courteous is a nice thing to be to people, a collective group of which I am a member, that is good manners and I will be pleased to have some. If you want to be courteous to me because I am a woman and you are a man, that is chivalry, and I do not want it.

In other words, I totally don’t mind if you want to open the door for me, my guy peeps. But you really better not give me any shit if I want to, in turn, open the door for you.

Seriously, just go through the fucking door.

Which brings us back to Moiraine and Lanfear. (Ba dum dum.) I’ve been using the relatively innocuous example of opening doors to illustrate my point, but mere courtesy (and the intentions behind it) is far from the only thing chivalry covers, and in this chapter and the one preceding it we deal directly with what this is really all about. Which is that chivalry, as I’ve defined it and as Rand practices it, is about choices, and how chivalry is at root a very polite and courteous way of taking those choices away.

This is what both Moiraine and Sulin address in what they communicate to Rand here. Moiraine’s letter is a little less direct (as is her wont), but they are both essentially saying the same thing: Rand’s determination to protect Moiraine and the Maidens (and every other woman) from harm is laudable on the surface, but in effect what he is doing is attempting to take away their choice to fight.

And not only to fight in a generic sense, but to fight against Ultimate Evil, an evil that MUST be defeated at all costs, an evil that will destroy the women just as much as it will destroy the men if not defeated. So it’s insulting AND it’s stupid. Yay, not.

Moiraine also knew (and says in the letter) that Lan has this same problem (though not to Rand’s extent, perhaps, or possibly just in a different way), which is why he tells Rand all this bullshit here about leaving his loved ones for their own good. And it is bullshit, because again it’s all about taking the women’s choices away from them. Who died and made Lan (or Rand) arbiter of what Nynaeve/Elayne/Min/Aviendha do with their lives? Chivalry! Bad!

(Not to mention, Rand DOES NOT NEED fuel for his psychoses vis-à-vis romantic relationships, dude! Not helping!)

Moiraine, in her awesomely devious way, decided to sidestep the problem of Rand’s chivalry by simply not giving Rand the opportunity to take her choice to fight Lanfear away from her. Sulin, by contrast, confronts him head-on, and demands that he acknowledge that that is what he is doing, and that it is not right for him to do so. And it is to Rand’s credit that once it is explicitly stated to him in that way, he acknowledges (however painfully) that Sulin is right.

And she is right.

(Why, yes, that is a gauntlet you see before you.)

It follows, therefore, that if women have the right to fight, then they have the right to be injured or killed doing so. Freedom means accepting the consequences of that freedom, and this is precisely what Sulin demands and Moiraine simply arranges to take. They are, essentially, demanding the right to be grownups, with all the possible ugliness and harsh realities that adulthood confers.

And it sounds a little deranged, but it also follows, therefore, that if Lanfear has the right to choose to be evil, she has the right to be treated like any other evil person and be killed with extreme killedness. Sheesh.

Of course, this particular aspect of the anti-chivalry argument is a lot harder for many people to swallow than most of the rest of it. In other words, to open a door or not to open a door is one thing, but women in combat, that’s a whole ‘nother question.

Given that, I had something of a revelation when recapping Rand’s scene with Sulin, which may or may not be correct, but it rings true to me, so what the hell, I’ll share it. And that revelation is: sometimes an author’s personal voice leaks through his or her stories, and I think this is one of those times.

This is a little “huh?”, maybe, since WOT is all Jordan’s voice, seeing as he, you know, wrote it. But what I mean is, the conversation Rand and Sulin have in this chapter strikes me as being a more or less direct transcription of the dilemma Jordan himself had with this issue, that of women in combat.

Whatever criticisms one may (legitimately or otherwise) make about Jordan’s portrayal of/experiments with gender politics in WOT, there can be no doubt that he was writing from an at least nominally feminist perspective. By which I mean, it’s clear to me that he generally believed that female and male power (in whatever way you mean that term) should ideally be complementary; not the same, and not never in conflict, but also never one ascendant to the other. Whenever that does happen in WOT (one gaining more power than the other), the world doesn’t work right; it’s only when the two halves work together equally that harmony can be achieved. This basic philosophy is reflected, obviously, in the magic system he constructed for the series. (More or less; we’re not getting into my issues with the whole saidin:fight::saidar:surrender thing today.)

Where it is less perfectly reflected is in the “real”, or physical world of Randland, where there are imbalances that are not addressed or accounted for. These are many, but the one we’re talking about at the moment is the issue of female fighters, and that for all the gestures Jordan makes in that direction, it remains that they are not the norm in any culture in Randland proper.

This, by the way, includes the Aiel. As commenter “welltemperedwriter” pointed out, yes, Far Dareis Mai are a society of female warriors, but their unique status among the societies indicates that they are an exception, rather than a rule. A fully accepted exception, true, but an exception nevertheless, and one that still manages to categorize them based on their gender first, and everything else second. A male Aiel warrior has many choices about which society he may join; he can be a Stone Dog or a Thunder Walker or etc etc. A female Aiel warrior has one; be a Maiden, or not.

This is not me saying Oh, the poor Maidens, they are so downtrodden. I am saying that it’s an imbalance, one that at least partially contradicts Jordan’s basic tenets of male and female being complementary halves of a whole. And one that gets exponentially more problematic when you expand to include the other cultures in Randland, where women in combat are frowned upon where they are not outright forbidden. (The Seanchan are an exception, true, but their status as the “exotic other”/outsider culture in WOT is… not helpful to the argument, I’m afraid.)

And I think this is due to a conflict Jordan himself had in this particular arena, in that (I believe) he intellectually believed men and women should be equal in all ways, but viscerally he had a problem adhering to it when it comes to women in combat.

I also believe he was aware of this contradiction, and the scene here with Rand and Sulin pretty much explicitly addresses this dilemma. And again, I give Jordan credit (as I did Rand, as Jordan’s voice) that he understood that the impulse to protect women may be anchored in noble intentions, but that does not change what it is, which is an attempt, however unconsciously, to take her choices away. To make her less.

I could wish that he had seeded this acknowledgment a little more thoroughly throughout Randland, and I do wonder why he appeared to consider Far Dareis Mai to be a sufficient sop to the notion, but I appreciate the acknowledgement, at least. It’s more than you get from most quarters.

I have no proof that any of what I’m postulating about what Jordan really thought on this subject is true, of course, but this was how it came across to me, and since I’m the one riding this here hoss, you got to hear about it.

…at length, evidently. Ahem! So, in conclusion, this chapter made me think some things, and these are the things I thought. About these things. Hopefully they have caused you to think some things, too. You may not think the same things that I thought about these things, but I hope that you have at least thought about my thoughts on these things.

And now, I think I will go *thunk*. Whew.


And that’s our post for today, kids! Be as excellent in commentage as you consistently have been for this here blog, and for which you get many warm fuzzies from me, and watch your karma embiggen. See you – uh, well, soon. More As It Develops. Fin!

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