I choose YOU, Wheel of Time Reread! You know why? BECAUSE I CAN.
Today’s entry covers Part 11 of Chapter 37 of A Memory of Light, in which we discuss luck radii, possibly random betrayals, and <reverb >THE MEANING OF LIFE.</reverb >
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Chapter 37: The Last Battle [Part 11]
Rand wonders why the threads of possibility he was weaving into this world resisted so, but he forces them to coalesce into the reality that he wants: a world that does not know the Dark One. He enters at Caemlyn, which is gorgeous and filled with sunlight, and heads to the palace, which has no guards at the gates; a child asks what his sword is, and Rand tells her, “a relic.”
IS THIS PERFECTION FOR YOU? The Dark One’s voice felt distant. He could pierce this reality to speak to Rand, but he could not appear here as he had in the other visions. This place was his antithesis.
For this was the world that would exist if Rand killed him in the Last Battle.
“Come and see,” Rand said to him, smiling.
[…] All things turned and came again. That was the meaning of the Wheel of Time. What was the point of winning a single battle against the Dark One, only to know that he would return? Rand could do more. He could do this.
He asks the servant at the palace doors if he can see the Queen, and the servant tells him she is in the gardens. Rand heads there, reminding himself not to get complacent and end up trapped in this world, which was not real yet. He knows that no one here has used a weapon in over a generation, and there is no theft or poverty anywhere, and that concepts like nations and borders are largely relics of the past. He lingers at a portal which shows his own grave for a moment, then continues on to the gardens. He finds Elayne alone, seeming to have not aged even though a hundred years have passed. She thinks his appearance is a trick by her daughter, and smiles. Rand thinks there is something off about her, but can’t figure out what. Elayne simpers vapidly about inviting Aviendha for a feast.
Rand looked into Elayne’s eyes, looked into them deeply. A shadow lurked back there, behind them. Oh, it was an innocent shadow, but a shadow nonetheless. It was like… like that…
Like that shadow behind the eyes of someone who had been Turned to the Dark One.
Horrified, Rand shouts at the Dark One, demanding to know what he’d done. The Dark One answers that he has done nothing, but Rand has, by removing him from their lives.
Yes, he saw it now, the thing behind [Elayne’s] eyes. She was not herself… because Rand had taken from her the ability to be herself.
I TURN MEN TO ME, Shai’tan said. IT IS TRUE. THEY CANNOT CHOOSE GOOD ONCE I HAVE MADE THEM MINE IN THAT WAY. HOW IS THIS ANY DIFFERENT, ADVERSARY?
IF YOU DO THIS, WE ARE ONE.
“No!” Rand screamed, holding his head in his hand, falling to his knees. “No! The world would be perfect without you!”
PERFECT. UNCHANGING. RUINED. DO THIS, IF YOU WISH, ADVERSARY. IN KILLING ME, I WOULD WIN.
NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO, I WILL WIN.
Rand screams and the reality he made—which he now recognizes as a nightmare—shatters. The Dark One attacks again.
Mat sits on a dead Trolloc and reflects on the situation, which is bad. Demandred had declined to take Mat’s bait at the ford, meaning Mat’s plan to sweep the Heights and attack from behind has failed. They are holding for now, but Mat doesn’t know for how much longer. He can’t tell if his luck is with him anymore.
The Pattern did like to laugh at him. He suddenly saw its grand prank, offering him luck when it meant nothing, then seizing it all away when it really mattered.
[…] Well, if they could not have a lucky Matrim Cauthon, they would at least have a stubborn Matrim Cauthon. He did not intend to die this day.
He sees something going on with the Aes Sedai in the distance; he doesn’t know what is happening, but it appears to be setting Sharans on fire, so he decides he likes it. He finds Karede and rejoins the battle.
Olver hunches under his pack of arrows as Faile’s caravan approaches the supply dump, having ambushed a Darkfriend merchant convoy earlier and taken its place. Aravine pretends to be a Darkfriend who had stabbed the former merchant and taken over. One of the guards singles Faile out for rough attention, and Olver is surprised when she takes it meekly, maintaining their cover. They are left to wait, and Olver is terrified when a Fade looks them over, searching for channelers, but it soon leaves them be. Finally, they are sent via gateway to a ramshackle camp filled with Trollocs, near a battlefield on a plateau. He sees a soldier fall in the distance, bearing the banner of the Band.
“Faile!” he whispered.
“I see it.” Her bundle concealed the sack with the Horn in it. She added, more to herself, “Light. How are we going to reach Mat?”
Mandevwin asks Faile how they’re going to get away, and Faile says they’ll scatter and run, and hope some will escape. Then Aravine comes through the gateway with the channeler who’d created it, and points at Faile. Faile is instantly bound with Air, and the rest of the convoy shortly thereafter, except Olver, who seems to have been overlooked. Aravine apologizes to Faile and takes her sack. She is shocked when she looks inside.
“I had hoped,” she whispered to Faile, “to leave my old life behind. To start fresh and new. I thought I could hide, or that I would be forgotten, that I could come back to the Light. But the Great Lord does not forget, and one cannot hide from him. They found me the very night we reached Andor. This is not what I intended, but it is what I must do.”
She starts arguing with the channeler, and Olver thinks to himself, what would Mat do? Then he leaps up and stabs the channeler in the back, releasing Faile et al’s bonds, and pandemonium ensues.
Go, Olver, go!
Well, that channeler obviously never read the Evil Overlord List. It might not be word for word, but I am dead certain there is a rule that says, more or less, “When you tie your enemies up, tie ALL your enemies up. Yes, including the ugly/adorable young boy who looks like he wouldn’t hurt a fly, because that ugly/adorable young boy will inevitably turn out to be perfectly capable of fucking your shit up.” And if there isn’t a rule like that, there should be.
And, I guess Faile and Co. are out of the Blight now. Which… wow, that was easy.
Well, okay, not easy, obviously, but I still blinked a little at the suddenness of how that complication was resolved. But admittedly, in a world where you’ve got at least semi-reliable access to instantaneous methods of travel, you’ve also got plausibly fast resolutions to situations of the “Oh crap we’re stuck in Hell’s ‘Hood” variety. So, okay. And hey, they’re out of the Blight! Yay!
…Sure, they’re still surrounded by enemies and just had their cover blown and are possibly all about to die, but at least it won’t be because a tree ate them, amirite?
(Just Trollocs! No prob!)
Speaking of blown covers and/or things coming out of left field, I just racked my brains trying to remember if we’d had the slightest amount of foreshadowing that Aravine was actually a Darkfriend before this point, and am unable to come up with a thing. Whether that’s because there genuinely were no hints of this beforehand and therefore it really did come out of nowhere, or because I’ve just never paid that much attention to Aravine and therefore missed it, I couldn’t tell you.
*shrug* Either way, it sucks. Boo, Aravine!
(Also, this is random and unimportant, but during her Confessional of Suckitude Aravine says “They found me the very night we reached Andor”, and maybe this is dumb but I cannot figure out what she is referring to. When were Faile and Aravine ever in Andor together? They met during the PLOD in Ghealdan, and as far as I know Faile has not been to Andor since then, so what the hell, over. Well, probably I’m just forgetting something. Certainly wouldn’t be the first time!)
Mat’s POV is very short, and is basically just to remind us that the Situation is Very Dire, in case we’d forgotten, but there’s probably a whole debate to be had, if you wanted, on whether magically-induced luck for an individual has a limited blast radius (so to speak), or if it would extend to any of his or her endeavors. In other words, is the entire Last Battle subject to Mat’s luck, or just the parts of it that are happening in his immediate vicinity? DISCUSS.
I’ll leave that to y’all, because I want to get to the big thing in this section, which is of course Rand’s disastrous attempt to Solve Everything, and how it represents a turning point in his battle against the Dark One.
I have to say that if there is any one scene in AMOL that made a bigger impact on me than this one, at least in philosophical terms, I can’t recall it offhand. Which probably isn’t surprising, since the thing Rand learns here (and which I believe is further explicated later on, but what the hell, we’ll talk about it here) is the central metaphysical conceit on which the entire Battle Between Good and Evil™ in the Wheel of Time, er, turns.
It’s hardly a new idea, of course. Practically any mediation on the nature of good and evil has at least addressed the notion that one cannot exist without the other; that the two concepts, in fact, define each other, and are meaningless without the other to fill their respective negative space, if that makes any sense. And this is always a thing that has made sense to me, because “good” can just as easily be defined as the rejection of doing bad things as it can be defined as the acceptance of doing good things. So, too, can “evil”, in reverse. How can you be “good” if you don’t have a “bad” to compare it to?
Concurrent with this is the concept of free will, and that’s actually what we are talking about here: doing “good” things is meaningless unless you’ve been given the option to choose to do them. If I fail to run you over with my car because my car is on rails and I don’t actually control where it does and does not go, then I can’t reasonably claim to have done a “good” thing by not running you over, because it wasn’t up to me. For me to have done “good” by not running you over, I must have access to the option to, in fact, run you over, and consciously choose not to do so.
Which, of course, is the big conundrum, because if we have the freedom to choose to do the good thing, we obviously also have the freedom to choose to do the bad thing, and just as obviously, there will always be people who will choose to do the bad thing, and how can something that makes the world suck so much be an ontological necessity of existence?
Just about every religion and philosophical movement (and fictional epic fantasy, natch) ever has wrestled with this problem—especially those (like WOT) which postulate a benevolent Creator, because of course that’s where it becomes particularly thorny: how can a divinity which supposedly loves us all equally allow so many of us to suffer so drastically?
And in this scene and those which follow postulate the answer: that suffering and evil must be allowed, because the alternative is worse.
I (like, I imagine, most people) have very conflicting feelings about this idea. On the one hand, the impulse is to say that’s bullshit, because human suffering is, well, terrible and I want it to not happen—to me or to anyone else. On the other hand, I have an intensely visceral aversion to the idea that I should not be allowed to control my own life, to make my own choices and direct my own fate as I see fit. So many things are already out of our control when it comes to life—our genes, our origins, the random things life throws at us—but the one thing we can all control is what we do with the choices we’re given, how we respond to the things that happen to us.
That is, perhaps, just about the only thing we can absolutely control. And if that one thing is taken away, then what was the point in the first place?
And that, of course, is exactly what Rand, all unknowingly, tried to do with his evil-free theoretical world, and it is vastly to his credit that, having been naïve enough to try it, he realized almost immediately why it was horrific and thoroughly rejected it. And it’s easy to say well of course he did, he’s the hero, and perhaps that’s true, but I can think of far too many extremely well-meaning people who would have been all over that world like white on rice, and it makes me shudder to think on it. Think of what would have happened if, say, Elaida or Niall Pedron had been there instead of Rand. (eek)
The larger implication here—that this is a battle which can never be definitively won, because winning is in fact losing—is, admittedly, fairly depressing, but it does have the benefit of meshing very nicely with the central conceit of the Wheel of Time, which is that everything is circular and everything cycles around to its beginning again, and the whole shebang just keeps on spinning. Would be kind of hard to do that if you just metaphorically stuck a pole in the spokes and made the universe go SCHPLADOW! like that motorcycle Nazi chasing Indiana Jones.
And… yeah. There is obviously a lot more I could say on this topic, because it is the extraordinarily frustrating existential dilemma that just keeps on giving, but I think I will let it rest for now, because there is no doubt that we will be talking about this more in future posts. Also, I just managed to use the expletive SCHPLADOW! in a serious philosophical discussion, and I feel like I should bask in the dubious glory of that accomplishment for a bit.
So here’s where I CHOOSE to stop, my chickens! Because free will, fuck yeah! Talk amongst yourselves, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!