What up, yo: Welcome to the next installment of The Wheel of Time Re-read. Today’s post will cover The Eye of the World, Chapters 19-26. Previous entries can be found here.
As always, beware spoilers for the entire series below the cut. Share and Enjoy.
Chapter 19: Shadow’s Waiting
The party enters Shadar Logoth, Rand agog at the scale of the city. They set up camp in one of the buildings. Referring to the words he shouted during the battle earlier, Mat says he doesn’t like the idea that a dead man is speaking with his mouth. Thom hushes him, saying that the dead can take a living body and it’s not something to speak of lightly. He reassures Mat it’s just the old blood of his ancestry, and not anything like that. Thom moves off, and Mat urges Perrin and Rand to come take a look around. Perrin and Rand are hesitant to leave without telling Moiraine first, but agree to go. The boys explore for a while, and are arguing over whether to go back when a strange man addresses them from the shadows. The man says his name is Mordeth, and says that he’s found treasure, more than he can carry. He offers them a share of it if they will come help him get it to his horses. Mat charges after him, and Rand and Perrin follow reluctantly. Mordeth leads them deep underground to a chamber overflowing with gold and jewels. Rand then notices that Mordeth has no shadow, and when he points this out, Mordeth swells to the size of a giant and reaches for them, but then suddenly screams and shrinks back. Mordeth shrieks that they are “all dead” and then appears to turn into smoke, and escapes through a crack in the wall. Rand and Perrin drag Mat out of the treasure room. On the street, they feel eyes watching them as they hurry back to the camp, but once they come in range of the camp the unseen eyes disappear. The boys blurt out what happened to Moiraine and the others, and Moiraine tells them the story of Mordeth and Aridhol, and how its own hatred of the Shadow killed the city, and caused it to birth something just as bad—Mashadar. Later, Lan comes back from scouting and tells them that there are Trollocs within the city; Moiraine says they must leave and get to the river.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned reading sf, it’s that the second anyone mentions treasure is the second you run the hell away. It just never ends well when treasure is involved.
My irritation with Mat continues to grow, as he becomes more and more that guy in horror flicks you want to smack upside the head, because he does all the things you KNOW will get everyone brutally murdered. I’m amazed he didn’t suggest the three of them split up while exploring, at the rate he’s going.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an explanation of why exactly Mordeth freaks and runs in the treasure room. If I had to guess, I would say it’s something similar to why the Myrddraal didn’t kill Rand in the inn in Baerlon; the boys are marked in some way as having the personal attention of the Dark One (or of Ishamael, at least). I just think it’s slightly odd, if this is the case, that Mordeth can see it too, since technically he is not of the Shadow at all.
Which brings me to the story of the fall of Aridhol, and another thing Jordan has made a point of playing with throughout the series, which is that even in epic fantasy, people are not a black and white affair, morally speaking.
You have the obviously good guys and the obviously bad guys (polarized, admittedly, to a far greater degree than in real life – this is a cataclysmic battle between good and evil, after all), and then you have a third group, which falls into a category I (and most everyone else, I’m sure) instantly recognize, but which I’ve had a very hard time tracking down an appropriate label for.
“Little Eichmanns” comes closest, I think, though it’s still not the exact correct term to apply to the people of Aridhol, the Whitecloaks, or Elaida (the three most egregious examples of this concept in WOT). Regardless, we all know what I’m referring to here: These are the guys who think they’re the good guys, but their actions only end up aiding the evil they profess to be against. Because they are idiots.
The Whitecloaks, Elaida, and their ilk are, to my mind, among the worst villains in the series, for paving the road to hell for everyone else through their intolerance, rigidity, and pride—all qualities I mentally shorten to “willful stupidity”. Few flaws are worse, at least in my opinion. At least the Forsaken are smart enough to know what side they’re on.
Chapter 20: Dust on the Wind
The party heads out of Shadar Logoth, but Moiraine and Lan get separated from the others by a tendril of Mashadar. Moiraine tells them Mashadar will kill them instantly if they touch it, and that they will have to go by another route. She instructs them to meet her and Lan by the river. Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve and Thom try to find an alternate route around, and run headlong into Trollocs. Everyone gallops off in separate directions; Rand is pursued by Trollocs and a Fade, but is saved unexpectedly by Mashadar devouring them. He runs back into Mat, and the two of them make it outside the walls of the city. Then Thom hurtles past, pursued by more Trollocs, and the three of them gallop off. Meanwhile Perrin is debating whether to make a run for the gateway out of the city when Egwene finds him. They hear Trolloc horns, and race out of the city, and right off a cliff into the river. Perrin loses Egwene and his horse, but manages to make it to the far bank. Elsewhere, Rand, Mat and Thom are chased onto the deck of a riverboat. Rand is about to be skewered by a Trolloc when suddenly the boom swings around and knocks the Trolloc into the river. The boat captain, Bayle Domon, initially do be wanting to throw them into the river, too, but Thom (and the boys’ silver coins from Moiraine) convinces Domon to give them passage to Whitebridge.
Dammit, now I have that song stuck in my head.
Speaking of horror movie clichés: Well, at least they didn’t split up on purpose.
I didn’t remember that the first time we get a POV other than Rand’s (it’s only been twenty chapters! Still think Mat or Perrin is The One?), it’s Perrin who gets to do the honors. I suppose it’s only fair, since of all the party members so far, Perrin’s had the least amount to do/say.
Re: the second time Rand channels—I’m pretty sure I knew something was up by this point the first time around, but then this is a lot less subtle than the Bela thing (deliberately so), so maybe I shouldn’t pat myself on the back too hard.
Chapter 21: Listen to the Wind
Nynaeve wakes up alone in the woods. She remembers encountering Trollocs the night before while escaping Shadar Logoth, but they only sniffed the air and left her alone; she is not happy that this implies Moiraine was right about the boys. She sets out to track down where everyone had gone, and soon comes upon Moiraine and Lan’s camp. She sneaks up to eavesdrop on them. Moiraine and Lan talk about the impossibility of how many Trollocs had shown up to hunt them, and how Moiraine’s “bond” with the boys had been broken. Then Moiraine senses Nynaeve’s presence and invites her into the camp for tea; Lan is astounded that Nynaeve managed to sneak up on him. Nynaeve demands answers, and Moiraine counters by confronting Nynaeve with the fact that Nynaeve can channel the One Power. Nynaeve scoffs at this, but Moiraine recounts exactly what happened when she started to channel without knowing it, and eventually Nynaeve is unable to deny it any longer. Moiraine and Lan make ready to leave, Moiraine explaining about the coins she gave the boys, and Nynaeve insists that she is coming along. She vows to herself that if they do not find Egwene and the boys, that Nynaeve would make sure Moiraine paid for it.
I think, when I first read this and realized that this chapter was from Nynaeve’s POV, that I said something like “Aw, crap” out loud, because I realized then that she was A Major Character, and that I wouldn’t be getting rid of her anytime soon.
I may have mentioned that I was busy hating Nynaeve in TEOTW. However, that said, I may have also mentioned that I am a total sucker for these self-realization moments. The general awesomeness of this chapter, therefore, was enough to reconcile me to Nynaeve for a while.
Chapter 22: A Path Chosen
Perrin wakes up alone in the woods, and worries over Egwene. He finds his way down the river, and finds Bela’s tracks, which leads him quickly to Egwene. They discuss the situation, and decide it’s too risky to wait around for Moiraine to find them. Perrin suggests bypassing Whitebridge and going straight on to Caemlyn, and if Moiraine doesn’t find them there, to go on to Tar Valon. Egwene agrees, and they set out.
Yeah, there’s… not a whole lot to say about this chapter; it’s just setup for the Next Big Thing, and we all know what that is: the next chapter is titled “Wolfbrother”. Dun!
Chapter 23: Wolfbrother
Perrin and Egwene travel , arguing over who gets to ride Bela and whether Egwene should try to use the One Power to light the campfire. They run out of food quickly, and Perrin is worried about the wisdom of his plan to go straight to Caemlyn. Then they smell roast rabbit, and Perrin sneaks up to the campfire to see a strange man clothed in animal skins waiting for them. He introduces himself as Elyas Machera, and admits he’s been watching them for the past couple of days. Perrin is shocked to see that Elyas’s eyes are yellow. As they eat, Elyas warns them to be still, as his friends are coming. Four wolves enter the campsite, and Perrin and Egwene try not to panic. Elyas explains that he talks to them, after a fashion. He says that once men hunted with wolves, but it was so long ago even the wolves barely remember it. He also says that Perrin can talk to them, too. Then he asks what their story is. Perrin and Egwene give him the carefully constructed tale they had agreed on previously, and Elyas tells them the wolves say it is lies from start to finish. There is a tense moment, until Perrin caves and tells him almost the entire true story. After, Elyas says he doesn’t care for Aes Sedai, and says they’d be better off staying with him, particularly Perrin. Perrin denies that he can talk to wolves, though he can already tell the wolves apart, and declares they are going to Caemlyn. The leader of the pack, Dapple, has a brief confrontation with Burn, another of the wolves, and after Burn leaves Elyas tells Perrin and Egwene that he and the wolves will travel with them.
Um, so I recently read A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear, and all I’m gonna say is that puts the whole Perrin/Elyas/Wolfbrother thing in a… different light? My mind may be warping, a little? Help?
That aside, one of the things that annoyed me about Perrin throughout the book (the series, really) was his reluctance over the whole Wolfbrother thing. I don’t think it’s a justified annoyance, because Perrin’s issues are really perfectly understandable; I think it’s more of a kneejerk geekout response: dude, you get to TALK TO WOLVES. How can you not think that’s awesome?
Chapter 24: Flight Down the Arinelle
Rand dreams that he is trapped in an endless three-dimensional maze of bridges and ramps and thorny hedges, while Ba’alzamon chases him. Rand touches a thorn and pierces his finger, and realizes the stones of the walkway are all skulls. He evades Ba’alzamon for a while, but then runs right into him; Ba’alzamon tells him that he cannot escape forever, and that the Eye of the World will not serve him. Rand shouts that this is a dream, and the maze and Ba’alzamon disappear, to be replaced by a thousand mirrors reflecting him. Rand sees Ba’alzamon hunting him in the mirrors, and then:
He found himself staring at the reflection of his own face, pale and shivering in the knife-edge cold. Ba’alzamon’s image grew behind his, staring at him; not seeing, but staring still. In every mirror, the flames of Ba’alzamon’s face raged behind him, enveloping, consuming, merging. He wanted to scream, but his throat was frozen. There was only one face in those endless mirrors. His own face. Ba’alzamon’s face. One face.
Rand wakes, and finds that his finger is still bleeding from the thorn that pricked him in the dream.
Domon’s boat travels slowly down the river. Floran Gelb, the man who had fallen asleep on watch when the Trollocs attacked, is reviled by everyone on the crew; he watches the passengers, especially Rand, with hatred, and tries continually to lay the blame on them instead. Thom keeps the crew entertained by teaching Rand and Mat gleeman’s tricks. They sail by many strange and wondrous things, like statues of kings and queens carved into bluffs, and a tower made of metal that does not rust. Domon tells them that he’s seen many more artifacts from the Age of Legends in his travels. Mat’s only interested in whether treasure is involved. Four days into the trip, Rand climbs to the top of the mast and balances on top of it, laughing, not hearing Thom and the others shouting at him; when Thom climbs up after him and asks him to come down, pretty please, Rand slides down the forestay and lands in the bow next to Mat. He then sees that Mat is toying with a richly jeweled and gilded dagger. Rand asks if it came from Shadar Logoth, and Mat says yes, but he took it rather than was given it by Mordeth, so it “doesn’t count” in Moiraine’s warning. Rand agrees to Mat’s plea not to tell anyone about it. Thom comes up and asks Rand what the hell his problem is, whereupon Rand looks up at the mast and realizes with shock what he had just been doing. He thinks to himself that he must get to Tar Valon and find out what’s happening to him “before he really did go mad”.
Damn but a lot happened in this chapter.
Rand and Ba’alzamon and mirrors: Yeep. (Mirrors freak my shit out; just wait till we get to That Scene in The Dragon Reborn.)
I suppose the whole “blending faces with Ishy” thing could be foreshadowing of Min’s later vision about Rand and another man touching and merging into one, but I kind of doubt it. Min’s vision is pretty clearly about the Lews Therin thing, at least if reader consensus is anything to go by. I tend to think the mirror thing above was just an especially freaky way for Ba’alzamon to indicate to Rand that Your Ass Will Be Mine.
Um, you know. So to speak. Annnyway.
Mat still needs smacking. Have we learned nothing? Treasure equals Material Wealth equals Greed equals Sin equals (buh-buh-buh bum!) CERTAIN DEATH. Didn’t these guys go to Sunday school? Sheesh.
(…Okay, fine, or equals Certain Severe Memory Loss. Whatever.)
I’ve got to hand it to Jordan: there are things mentioned here that don’t come into play for almost a decade in real-life time: the Choedan Kal statue on Tremalking and the Coramoor most particularly. (The Tower of Ghenjei comes up a bit earlier.) Also, I still don’t know what “a crystal lattice covering an island, and it hums when the moon is up” could be, other than a particularly nifty fever dream of Nikola Tesla’s, but it sure sounds purty.
The talk with Domon about the relics of the Age of Legends brings to mind one of the many many discussions I have had about WOT, during which someone opined (unfortunately I can’t remember who, otherwise I would credit appropriately) that these kinds of stories are always set in a Third Age.
Meaning, in a time during which civilization in general is on the wane, fallen from the period of greatness that preceded it, usually because of some major war/disaster/bad thing that the people never quite recovered from, because it was never quite finished with. ‘Scuse me while I whip this out.
*puts on Big Idea Hat*
I would venture to opine that this isn’t really true of epic heroic tales written before the twentieth century, but it is definitely (mostly) true from Tolkien onwards. Or, to trade effect for cause, it’s true post-WWI; or in other words, since these stories started being written by authors living in a time where it’s clear that the human race really could potentially destroy itself. Art reflecting life, and all of that.
This is not a criticism at all, by the way. If you ask me, to a twentieth or twenty-first century audience, tales of epic heroism are simply easier to believe when set in a vaguely-to-explicitly post-apocalyptic society. Not only has the resultant breakdown of civilization (and, usually, the concurrent drastic reduction in population) made it more plausible that the Fate of the World could rest on just one person’s shoulders, but it makes that world much easier for the author to imbue with sufficient verisimilitude. This is true of everything from The Wheel of Time to The Terminator.
Not to mention, the very presence of such a massive tragedy in the world’s past (whatever that tragedy may be) engenders a mood that automatically resonates with a modern audience, and lends authority and gravitas to the setting: a grand, overarching sense of loss, fostered by the sad beauty of desolation.
*takes off Big Idea Hat*
Also, you get to have lots of ruins. Ruins are cool.
(“Imbue with sufficient verisimilitude.” Check me out.)
Chapter 25: The Traveling People
Perrin and a very nervous Egwene travel with Elyas and the wolves. Perrin tries not to think about how he knows where the pack is even when they’re not in sight. He hasn’t dreamed about Ba’alzamon since the wolves joined them; instead he has perfectly normal dreams, except that in every one there is a wolf with its back to him, guarding. After three days, three giant mastiffs burst from a copse of trees and threaten them, but Elyas dog-whispers them into friendly submission. He says the dogs belong to the Tuath’an, or Traveling People, or Tinkers. Egwene thinks they should move on, since everyone knows Tinkers steal, but Elyas scoffs at this, and says Tinkers steal no more than anyone else does. Perrin suggests they stop and visit, and Elyas agrees somewhat reluctantly. They enter the Tinkers’ colorful camp and everyone stops and watches them warily, until their Seeker (leader) Raen comes to greet them. In a ritual greeting, he asks if they know the song, and Elyas replies that they do not. Raen invites them to join the camp, and Elyas explains that the Tuatha’an’s purpose is to seek “the song”, which they claim they lost during the Breaking . They meet Raen’s wife Ila and their grandson Aram, who takes (in Perrin’s view) an inappropriate interest in Egwene. The Tinkers explain to their visitors about the Way of the Leaf, and Elyas, Perrin and Raen have a brief debate about the practicality of pacifism. After the meal, Raen tells Elyas about something curious that happened to a band of Tinkers in the Aiel Waste two years ago: they found a group of Far Dareis Mai (a society of female warriors among the Aiel) which had clearly been in the Blight; they were all dead except one. Though the last Maiden was mortally wounded, and normally the Aiel avoid Tinkers at all costs, she crawled to the Tinkers’ wagons to pass on a message with her last breath:
[Raen:] “‘Leafblighter means to blind the Eye of the World, Lost One. He means to slay the Great Serpent. Warn the People, Lost One. Sightburner comes. Tell them to stand ready for He Who Comes With the Dawn. Tell them . . . ’ And then she died.”
Raen adds that “Leafblighter” and “Sightburner” are Aiel names for the Dark One. Elyas muses over the message, but says it makes no sense to him. Raen says he thought Elyas might know what it means, since he was - but Elyas cuts him off before he finishes. Perrin wonders about that, but more about the part about the Eye of the World, remembering it was mentioned in his dreams.
At the risk of kicking a hornets’ nest:
Something Jordan did really well (in my opinion) in constructing the various peoples of WOT is taking various characteristics of often unrelated real-world cultures and airbrushing them together into shapes that still resonate while being distinct unto themselves. The Tuatha’an are a particularly good example of this process, combining aspects of several disparate nomadic cultures, especially the Roma/gypsies, Irish Travellers (also called Tinkers), and the Israelites of Biblical times.
I’m not going to go much further with this, in the interests of not fanning the flames of the recent cultural appropriation imbroglio that’s been going on recently on these here Internets, but nevertheless I wanted to point out that one thing in particular Jordan made a point of with his own cultural construction efforts was to incorporate it into his other big theme, of the mutability of legend and rumor, and how that contributes to misunderstanding, mistrust and outright bigotry toward other peoples/societies.
So, we see (for example) that the Tinkers of WOT preach their Way of the Leaf to young impressionable villagers, who sometimes run off and join them as a result, and by the time your Aunt Gwynnie al’Busybody gets around to telling you about Tinkers, it’s that they steal babies and anything else that isn’t nailed down. The parallels to the racism endured by the groups from which Jordan drew inspiration for the Tinkers are obvious.
Chapter 26: Whitebridge
Mat, Rand and Thom arrive at Whitebridge, Mat acting more suspicious and cynical all the time. Rand is amazed at the bridge which gave the town its name; Thom says it is a remnant of the Age of Legends. The first thing Domon does when they make dock is throw Gelb off the boat; Gelb leaves with murderous stares Rand’s way. Domon tries to convince them to stay on with him till Illian; Thom is tempted, but Rand firmly refuses and hustles them all off the boat. Thom takes them to an inn, and pumps the innkeeper, Bartim, for news. Bartim tells them that Logain has been captured by Aes Sedai after a big battle near Lugard, and now the Aes Sedai are displaying him at every town and city on their way to Tar Valon, including Caemlyn. Furthermore, Bartim says, there was a messenger from Illian come through with a proclamation that Illian is calling the Hunt for the Horn of Valere. Impatiently, Rand asks if there have been other strangers in town recently. Thom looks irritated, but supplies descriptions of Moiraine and the others. Bartim stands and tells Thom he’d appreciate it if they left his inn, and Whitebridge altogether if they know what’s good for them. When pressed, Bartim admits there have been two men asking for the same people: one was a crazy weaselly fellow who alternately groveled to and then made imperious demands of everyone he talked to, and the other was clearly (by Bartim’s description) a Myrddraal. Bartim leaves, and Thom advocates getting the hell back to Domon’s boat and going to Illian; Rand refuses flatly, saying they have to go on to Caemlyn. Thom appeals to Mat, who tells Thom that he and Rand can take care of themselves, and to feel free to go to Illian alone; Rand notices that Mat is gripping the dagger from Shadar Logoth as if he means to use it. They realize then that Gelb is in the inn, just hidden from view, talking loudly about Domon and the Darkfriends he harbors on his boat. Thom says scratch going back to Domon now, and divides up their coin between them. They ease out the back of the inn into an alley, and Mat demands to know why Thom is sticking with them. Thom tells them he had a nephew named Owyn who got in trouble with Aes Sedai a while back, and Thom was too busy at the time to do anything about it; he thinks maybe helping Rand and Mat might make up for that. Thom gets them disguises, and they start sneaking out of town, only to run straight into the Fade. Rand and Mat freeze, and Thom mutters something about Owyn, gives Rand his harp and flute, and tells them to run to Caemlyn and go to an inn called The Queen’s Blessing. Then Thom charges the Fade, screaming for Rand and Mat to run. They run out of Whitebridge, Rand consumed with remorse. Mat urges him on, and they get on the road to Caemlyn.
Damn, but these summaries just keep getting longer.
I can’t remember now if I thought Thom had really died the first time I read this. If it had happened later on in the series I probably wouldn’t have bought it for a second, but at this point I wouldn’t have yet known WOT’s penchant for not letting anyone die, ever.
So, is this “nobody dies” thing a flaw in WOT? Objectively, yes; realistically, in eleven books at least some of the major Lightside speaking roles should have snuffed it. Not only has that not happened, but the bad guys who do get killed won’t even stay dead. Mostly!
(Anyone who mentions Asmodean at this juncture will be beaten and stuffed in a wine pantry. I’M WARNING YOU.)
In Jordan’s defense, though, it’s pretty clear that his aim in writing WOT was not to deconstruct or subvert the epic fantasy genre; he was playing it straight, so to speak. (This is in contrast to, say, George R.R. Martin, and his crazy trope-subverting “kill off anyone in the slightest danger of becoming a protagonist” thing. Also, I NEVER exaggerate, ever.) So the Tolkienesque low mortality rate for top billing Good Guys in WOT is appropriate, from a certain point of view.
(ObStory: I went to see Return of the King with a friend who had never read the books, and when we got out afterward he said the movie disappointed him. Asked why, he replied, “I thought more of them would die.” I’m sure you can see why I found this amusing.)
Aaand this is our stop. Tune in next time for Part 4 of the TEOTW re-read, where we will cover Chapters 27-35. Whoot!