The Wheel of Time Reread

The Wheel of Time Re-read: Towers of Midnight, Part 6

Close the beaches and open the drive-in, kids, ’cause it’s a Wheel of Time Re-read, coming soon to a blog near YOU!

Today’s entry covers Chapters 6 and 7 of Towers of Midnight, in which there is tea and sharks and appalling baby talk, and I finally get a chance to use my degree. So thank God for that.

Previous re-read entries are here. The Wheel of Time Master Index is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general, including the upcoming final volume, A Memory of Light.

This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.

And now, the post!

 

Chapter 6: Questioning Intentions

What Happens
Morgase serves tea in the large pavilion tent to Perrin, Faile, Elyas, Tam al’Thor, Balwer, Grady (Neald is still too sick from the snakes to be there), Seonid, Masuri, Annoura, the six Wise Ones, Gallenne, Berelain, Alliandre, and Arganda. As they discuss the strange village and Blight-like vegetation the Wise Ones had destroyed, Morgase reflects how Faile’s air of leadership seemed to have been enhanced by her time as a prisoner, and how while she had been equal to Faile and Alliandre in captivity, now she and Faile are firmly back to being mistress and servant, while Alliandre seems unsure of how to treat Morgase anymore. She reflects on how Seonid and Masuri seem to have accepted their roles vis–à–vis the Wise Ones, which Morgase finds galling, as it reminds her of how much a change in a person’s situation can change that person.

Gaebril, then Valda, had taught Morgase that lesson. The Aiel captivity had been merely another step in the process.

Each of these experiences had moved her farther away from the Queen she had been. Now she didn’t long for fine things or her throne. She just wanted some stability. That, it seemed, was a commodity more precious than gold.

[…] Morgase was no longer the person she had once been. She wasn’t sure what she was, but she would learn how to do her duty as a lady’s maid. This was becoming a passion for her. A way to prove to herself that she was still strong, still of value.

In a way, it was terrifying that she worried about that.

Perrin announces that they are to follow Gill et al on foot for now and hope to catch them before they reach Lugard. Morgase reminds herself that Perrin is a rebel against Andor, even if he had taken the Manetheren banner down, and that even if she wanted to reveal herself she shouldn’t give him advice anyway. She also admits to herself that Faile can advise Perrin just as well as she in any case. Alliandre asks why, if he is planning to send her and her men back to Ghealdan, why he has continued to recruit her countrymen for his army. Perrin counters that he’s not recruiting, just not turning people away, and both Alliandre and Berelain agree that he should keep what he has in preparation for the Last Battle, not break his army up. Alliandre adds that she swore to Perrin, not the Dragon Reborn, and wants Ghealdan to go to the Last Battle under his command. In answer, Perrin summons Wil al’Seen, carrying the wolfshead banner, and orders him to burn it and every other one like it in camp.

Wil paled. “But—”

“Do it,” Perrin said. “Alliandre, you’ll swear to Rand as soon as we find him. You won’t ride beneath my banner, because I won’t have a banner. I’m a blacksmith, and that’s the end of it. I’ve stomached this foolishness for too long.”

Wil leaves, looking betrayed, and Morgase is surprised to realize she feels a little the same. Masuri tells Perrin bluntly that he is a fool, and Tam points out that that banner means a lot to the Two Rivers men. Perrin tells him that is the problem, and that the Two Rivers men are returning home as well. He tells Berelain that he supposes he “can’t be rid” of her, and so she will go with him to Rand. Berelain doesn’t take that well, and observes that Perrin wasn’t so reluctant to have her men around when it came to rescuing his wife. Perrin replies that they did a good thing in Malden, but that’s over now.

“If you want to go on to follow Rand, I’m sure he’ll have you. But my Asha’man are exhausted, and the tasks I was given are complete. I’ve got these hooks inside of me, pulling me back to Rand. Before I can do that, I need to be done with all of you.”

Faile suggests, then, that maybe he should at least start with those who want to leave first, like the refugees. Perrin wants to move everyone, but Grady explains that it will take days to move the whole company at his and Neald’s current level of strength. Faile also suggests that he send messengers to the Lord Dragon and ask for more Asha’man; Seonid says he was last in Cairhien that they heard; Perrin says he isn’t there anymore, but flounders and backtracks when asked how he knows. Balwer then suggests they send scouts to ascertain the situation before they send the refugees anywhere, and Perrin agrees. Grady is still worried about exhausting himself excessively, and Edarra says that the apprentices (meaning Seonid and Masuri) have spoken of something called a “circle”; if they could form one with the Asha’man, they could lend him strength for larger gateways. Perrin demands to know why she hadn’t mentioned this before.

“You seem hardly interested in your position as chief, most of the time,” Edarra said coldly. “Respect is a thing earned and not demanded, Perrin Aybara.”

Morgase held her breath at that insolent comment. Many a lord would snap at someone for that tone. Perrin froze, but then nodded, as if that were the expected answer.

“Your Asha’man were sick when I first thought of this,” Edarra continued. “It would not have worked before. This is the appropriate time to raise the question. Therefore, I have done so.”

She insults Aes Sedai with one breath, Morgase thought, then acts just like one with the next.

Seonid and Balwer both arrange for themselves to go with the scouts to Cairhien, and Morgase wonders again whether Balwer has told Perrin who she really is, and whether she should have approached him to find out what his price for silence would be. She reflects that at first she had hoped to find her way back to Andor to help Elayne, but now she realizes how important it is to stay away and remain “dead,” so as not to undermine Elayne’s position, especially considering how many enemies she made before she left, which she still does not understand why she did that.

Niall had told her that Gaebril was dead, and al’Thor held Caemlyn. That would have prompted Elayne to return, wouldn’t it? Was she queen? Had the Houses supported her, or had they acted against her because of what Morgase had done?

As the meeting breaks up, she sees Tallanvor is outside, waiting for her as always, and feels guilty that she can’t make herself reject his devotion. Perrin stops her as she goes to leave and calls Tallanvor in as well, and tells them that he was given a suggestion a while back that he should marry them, and after watching them “moon” over each other lately he has decided to do so, now, and “get this silliness over with.” Morgase is first panicked, then enraged, and tells him she is his servant, but Andor’s subject, not his, and that furthermore even the Queen of Andor would not force two people to marry like this.

“If I choose to marry a man, I will make that decision on my own. For a man who claims he doesn’t like being in charge, you certainly do like giving commands. How can you be sure that I want this young man’s affections? Do you know my heart?”

To the side, Tallanvor stiffened. Then he bowed formally to Perrin and strode from the tent. He was an emotional one. Well, he needed to know that she would not be shoved around. Not anymore. First Gaebril, then Valda, and now Perrin Aybara? Tallanvor would be ill-served if he were to receive a woman who married him because she was told to do so.

Morgase tells Perrin that there are some things even a lord shouldn’t meddle in, and that in future he should talk to his wife about these things first. She leaves, intending to find Tallanvor and smooth things over, but then she notices a group of Maidens entering camp and heading for Perrin’s tent. She follows in time to overhear Sulin tell Perrin that there is a large force of Whitecloaks on the road directly ahead of them.

Commentary
As I’ve probably mentioned ad nauseam by this point, I always tend to be a sucker for “outside POV” chapters. Morgase isn’t exactly an outsider, per se, but she is enough of one to get the job done, especially since she still doesn’t consider herself a true part of Perrin’s coterie.

That said, when I first read this chapter I could not for the life of me figure out whether it was trying to say that Morgase should forget her past Queen-ness and get on with being Maighdin, or whether she shouldn’t and was just erroneously trying to convince herself otherwise. Not that it is necessarily bad that it was ambiguous, but it was a tad surprising. Usually — at least to my recollection — when characters are conflicted about a course of action in WOT it’s pretty obvious which path they ought to take; it’s just a matter of getting them to see it.

See Perrin’s entire plot arc in — well, in the whole series, really, but especially in TOM for a prime example. It’s perfectly obvious throughout which path Perrin ought to take — namely, accepting his wolfness and leader-ness both and shutting the hell up about it already — it’s just a question of how much Perrin will jack things up before seeing that. Which, I might add, he is doing a RIDICULOUSLY good job of doing in this chapter. Grrr.

But concerning Morgase’s “right” path, it’s not obvious at all, at least not in my view. What happens later with Morgase only muddies the issue further as I recall it, but since my recollection of that bit is pretty fuzzy, rather than make an ass out of myself expounding on it I’ll just wait till we get there to discuss it further.

So instead let’s talk about Perrin, and the absolutely spectacular job he does in this chapter of inserting his head up his own anal orifice, twice, in less than ten minutes’ time. I mean, that’s just super special, right there. He ought to get whatever the opposite of a merit badge is for that. A demerit badge, maybe?

Because, SERIOUSLY, Perrin. At the risk of inserting modern-day politics into WOTish ones (because I never do that!), you may have the right to burn the flag your people believe in, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t basically a giant dick for doing it. And as Jesus Rand says, “Don’t be a dick.

There, that paragraph shouldn’t offend anyone. Whee!

And THANK YOU, Edarra, for calling him out on how he keeps telling everyone he’s not a leader, and then firing off ten thousand orders to everyone two seconds later. Walk it like you talk it, dude, or else shut up. Sheesh.

And let’s not even get me started on the marrying Morgase and Tallanvor episode, which had all the grace, charisma and tact of a diarrheic rhinoceros on acid in a Wedgwood outlet. I mean, good God. It’s like Perrin is trying to offend the sensibilities of every last person in range of his “leadership skills”…oh, wait.

At least Morgase thoroughly told him off, which I greatly appreciated even as I kind of raised my eyebrow at her equation of what Perrin did to what Gaebril and Valda did to her. Because, yeah, okay, that was a total dick move on Perrin’s part, no question, but there’s being an insensitive ham-handed clod, and then there’s being a brainwashing rapist. And yes, Valda counts on both scores just as much as Rahvin did; his methods were just more mundane.

And yes, Morgase still doesn’t really get what happened with Gaebril/Rahvin, but she certainly can’t be under any illusions as to what happened with Valda, so I really kind of question the… I dunno, the appropriateness of drawing that parallel. And I’m not even sure, really, whether I’m leveling the accusation of inappropriateness at Morgase the character, or at the way she was written here. If that makes any sense.

On a more random note, why didn’t Balwer ever tell Perrin about Morgase’s true identity? I mean, it’s pretty easy to speculate on why he might choose not to, despite how thoroughly he seems to have thrown his hat into Perrin’s ring, so to speak, but I can’t recall if we ever find out definitively why from the man himself. Not that it matters much, I suppose, but I remain vaguely curious.

 

Chapter 7: Lighter Than a Feather

What Happens
Bulen urges Lan (calling him “Master Andra” at Lan’s insistence) to turn south at the crossroads, but Lan replies that the easier road is also the more traveled road, and refuses. He is grateful to Bulen for inadvertently forewarning him of the stunt Nynaeve pulled, but wishes he wouldn’t talk so much. They pass an inn, Lan intending to keep traveling through the night, and three men lounging in front of it mount their horses and follow. Lan thinks them highwaymen and prepares for a fight, but Bulen tells him two of the men are wearing the hadori. As they pass, Lan recognizes all three of them and asks one, Andere, what he thinks he is doing. Andere pretends to be surprised to see him there, and the three ride on. Lan glares and takes an alternate route, but soon the three are behind him again.

Lan pulled Mandarb to a halt, teeth gritted. “I’m not raising the Golden Crane!”

“We didn’t say you were,” Nazar said. The three parted around him again, riding past.

Lan kicked Mandarb forward, riding up to them. “Then stop following me.”

“Last I checked, we were ahead of you,” Andere said.

Lan commands them to turn back, and Rakim laughs and says they don’t have to obey him. A king, on the other hand… Lan says there can be no king if he doesn’t have a kingdom, and Nazar points out that yet, he rides to this nonexistent kingdom anyway. Lan says it is his destiny, and the others shrug. He says his path leads to death, and Rakim replies that if so then the trail will be easy, for death is lighter than a feather.

Lan gritted his teeth, but what was he to do? Beat all three of them senseless and leave them beside the road? He nudged Mandarb forward.

The two had become five.

Byar comes to Galad’s tent to report that the army the captives told them about is a few days’ ride from them, and fly both the flag of Ghealdan and Mayene. He says that though the wolfshead banner had been taken down the day before, he is sure Goldeneyes is there. Galad asks if he really killed Bornhald’s father, and Byar confirms it. Galad is intrigued to hear that the man comes from the Two Rivers, where al’Thor is said to be from as well, and Byar tells him it is “a dark place,” crawling with Darkfriends. Galad sighs, but Byar insists he has proof, and Galad tells him to explain.

Perrin eats his mainly meat-based breakfast, which Faile finds amusingly disgusting before she leaves the tent. He’s decided to stay camped on the road until he has more news from his scouts about the Whitecloaks. He thinks uneasily of his visions from the wolf dreams, and wonders if the Whitecloaks are part of them. Gaul enters, and Perrin sits on the ground with him, momentarily dismayed by his urge to forego his utensils and tear the meat with his teeth.

Byar tells Galad of how he and Bornhald fought Trollocs in the Two Rivers, hundreds of leagues from the Blight, while Goldeneyes was raising the flag of Manetheren in the villages and gathering an army – of farmers, true, but some are surprisingly skilled with staff and bow.

“I am aware,” Galad said flatly, recalling a particularly embarrassing lesson he’d once been given.

Byar is convinced that Aybara had been bringing the Trollocs into the Two Rivers to scare the people into joining his army, and then tells Galad of his first encounter with the man two years ago, when he was running with wolves “like a wildman”, and killed two of the Children and then escaped before he could be hanged. He also adds that Aybara was at Falme, and that the Light has delivered him to them for justice.

Gaul tells Perrin that Gill and the others are definitely among the Whitecloaks, according to Elyas and Sulin both, but appear to be unharmed. After a brief digression to complain about dealing with Bain and Chiad as gai’shain (“Almost better to have Sightblinder himself as a gai’shain than those two”), Gaul also reports that the flag the Whitecloaks are flying indicates that the Lord Captain Commander himself is with them. Perrin reflects that he had never met the Lord Captain Commander, but the last time he had met with a Lord Captain, that had been the night Hopper died, a night that haunted Perrin.

That had been the night when he had killed for the first time.

Byar asks what other evidence Galad needs, and Galad agrees that it is their duty to bring “justice to the wronged.” Eagerly, Byar tells him that the Queen of Ghealdan has sworn fealty to Goldeneyes, and that this could present an opportunity for them: a chance at a new home.

“You speak of the Last Battle, but it could be months away. What if we were to free an entire nation from the grip of a terrible Darkfriend? Surely the Queen—or her successor—would feel indebted to us.”

Galad points out that this is only if they can defeat this Aybara, but Byar is confident that even their smaller force can take a army of mostly farmers. Galad observes that he just said these farmers can be dangerous, but Byar counters that Aybara won’t have his “little village fortifications” to hide behind this time.

Perrin wonders if this is part of ta’veren, his inability to escape what had happened that night, and whether he will continue to run into Whitecloaks until he had faced and dealt with them. Gaul tells him there are some twenty thousand soldiers in the Whitecloak army, plus servants and camp followers, and further points out that they have no Aiel and also no channelers, male or female. Perrin tells him Whitecloaks think anyone who uses the One Power is a Darkfriend.

Byar asks if they are to move against Aybara, and Galad replies that they have no choice, but says they need more information. He intends to ask Aybara to meet with them first openly, on the field of battle.

Perrin tells Gaul to send more scouts and find them a better place to camp. He will offer parley, but says there is no way he’s leaving Gill et al in the hands of Whitecloaks.

“We’ll give the Children a chance to return our people. If they don’t…well, then we’ll see.”

Commentary
Aw, Lan, you and your attempts to not have an army are adowable. Who’s my favorite widdle samurai-king? Yes, you are! Oh, yes, you are!

(Wow, sometimes I am evil.)

Also, Mat taking a level in Badass shoutout! I love it.

Moving on, I am totally intrigued by this chapter on a geeky narrative structure level, because it is what they call in screenplay parlance an intercut scene, where the action cuts back and forth between two (or more) locations in which things are happening more or less simultaneously, rather than showing them in sequence (i.e. showing the entirety of the events in one location, and then backing up to show the entirety of events in the second location, and so on).

Which is something I am about 99% sure has never really happened in WOT before, and I can say that with a fair amount of assurance because I’ve recapped about 95% of WOT and it’s never gone like this, except for maybe one or two of the Big Ass Ending scenes, to an extent, but certainly never for this kind of non-action scene, and this is pretty much (in my opinion) entirely because WOT is now being written by someone about half the age of the original author.

This is a theory of mine which may be entirely unsupported by anything more than anecdotal evidence and my own strange brain, but I feel it strongly so you’re getting it inflicted on you anyway (and I really hope I haven’t pontificated about this before, and if I have I apologize), and feel free to tear it down if you want, but I sincerely believe it is almost always extremely easy to tell when an author grew up before the movie Jaws came out, and those who grew up after the movie Jaws came out. Robert Jordan, obviously, belonged to the former group, and Brandon Sanderson, also obviously, belongs to the latter group, and this chapter is a sterling example of the difference.

And I know, you’re like, Jaws, what the hell, Leigh, why are you talking about a 70s horror flick centering around an animatronic shark in reference to plot structure in an epic fantasy novel? But see, if you are a former pretentious film major like me, you know that Jaws was not just a 70s horror flick centering around an animatronic shark, it is also widely considered the seminal example of the phenomenon known as the blockbuster film, and changed forever not only the way Hollywood made and marketed movies, but how those movies were written and directed – or, in other words, how the most widely seen and talked-about stories in the world got told. It is also, and just as significantly in my book, the movie that put Steven Spielberg on the map.

Blockbuster era means a lot of things depending on who you ask, but to me it means one thing, and that is the entrance of Steven Spielberg (and soon after, George Lucas) into the movie industry. Lucas and Spielberg between them did about a million things to turn the entire industry on its ear, but in the context of this discussion the most significant thing they did was speed things up.

Beginning with Jaws and then most especially in the Star Wars trilogy, and then even more in the Indiana Jones movies, Spielberg and Lucas’s formula for success was that everything goes faster: dialogue, plot, editing, effects, everything. (It was also everything gets bigger, but that’s a different discussion.) Never let the audience calm down, keep them on the edge of their seats, one thing after the other, bang bang bang, keep it moving at all costs.

(If you don’t believe me that Spielberg and Lucas basically invented speedy storytelling in movies, go and try to sit through The Towering Inferno, which was made the year before Jaws came out, and then attempt to convince me you didn’t think to yourself “Oh, for Christ’s sake just set the damn building on FIRE already!” at least once. Seriously, to a post-Spielberg audience the pace of that film is GLACIAL; when I watched it, by the end I didn’t even care about the climax of the film except in the sense that I was relieved that it was over and I could go do something else.)

And, less cynically perhaps, it was also the philosophy that speed creates a dramatic tension that, if maintained properly, builds to a much more satisfying narrative climax than otherwise. And, plus, you know, means more story can be told in less time.

There are plenty of things to be said about this story-telling philosophy, both good and bad, but one thing that cannot be denied about it is the HUGE influence it unavoidably had on the generation of storytellers and story consumers who grew up watching it. A group which includes me, and probably at least 80% of the people reading this right now. And, as well, Brandon Sanderson.

Mind you, I’m not saying this was the only or even the primary influence on all writers born in the seventies or later, or on Brandon in particular, but I am saying that to me, there is a definite move-it-along, building-dramatic-tension, quick-cut, blockbuster movie sensibility to the way this chapter is constructed that hearkens directly back to The Empire Strikes Back and E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark and all the million imitators and spiritual descendants they spawned, and that I tend to doubt that it would ever have occurred to Robert Jordan to write this scene quite this way, whereas to someone in my generation or later, to write this scene this way seems intuitively obvious.

*shrug* Call me crazy, but that’s what I see. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I loved The Empire Strikes Back and E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark and all (well, many) of the million imitators and spiritual descendants they spawned. I’m just saying.

There is a point, of course, at which speed becomes a detriment to the story (and we will definitely run into a few of those in this book), but at this stage of the game, let’s just say I am not averse to a philosophy which amounts to let’s take the shortest possible narrative route to setting this damn building on fire already. You know?


Yeah, you totally know. Or you totally disagree, and look! There’s a little comment box right below for you to tell me why! Share and Enjoy, and I’ll see you next week!

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