To Re-read, or not to Re-read, that is – well, actually that’s not in question, is it? Nope! Yay!
Today’s entry covers Chapters 3 and 4 of The Gathering Storm, in which it’s existential crises for everyone! Including me, sort of!
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 newest release, Towers of Midnight.
This re-read post contains spoilers for all currently published Wheel of Time novels, up to and including Book 13, Towers of Midnight. If you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Chapter 3: The Ways of Honor
Aviendha, Heirn, Rhuarc, and five other Aiel scouts are watching a group of Domani refugees straggle by near the manor where Rand is staying. Aviendha reflects on the strange ways of wetlanders, and is surprised to feel pity for them, which she thinks is due to Elayne’s influence. She is struggling with her own role now that she is no longer a Maiden but not yet a Wise One, knowing she must be a leader too some day, but is not sure how to do it in this time of change. Rhuarc decides that the refugees are no threat, and they continue on. Aviendha thinks of Rand al’Thor and her determination to marry him, but not until she has honor to bring to the marriage. She is puzzled by her treatment by the Wise Ones since they had summoned her from Caemlyn; they are punishing her, but she cannot figure out what she has done to earn that punishment.
Asking would—of course—only bring more shame. Until she unwove the problem, she could not meet her toh. Worse, there was a real danger of her making the mistake again. Until she sorted out this problem, she would remain an apprentice, and she would never be able to bring an honorable bridal wreath to Rand al’Thor.
Her party returns to the main body of Aiel, and meets with Amys, Bair, Melaine, and Nadere. Rhuarc mentions that the clans are uncertain of what Rand al’Thor wishes of them regarding Arad Doman; he asked them to “restore order,” but not to conquer, and Aiel are not city guardsmen. Melaine opines that it is still better than idling in the treekillers’ land, and they set out for the manor. Bair chastises Aviendha for going scouting like a Maiden, and Aviendha worries that they think she has grown soft in Caemlyn, and that it might be true. Amys asks what Aviendha thinks of Rand’s demands of them in Arad Doman, and Aviendha says she thinks it a strange request, but that Rand has strange ideas even for a wetlander; she doubts that Rhuarc is uncomfortable himself, but is merely voicing the concerns of others.
“And al’Thor himself?” Amys asked. “What do you think of him?”
“I love him,” Aviendha said.
“I did not ask Aviendha the silly girl,” Amys said curtly. “I asked Aviendha the Wise One.”
“He is a man of many burdens,” Aviendha said more carefully. “I fear that he makes many of those burdens heavier than they need be. I once thought that there was only one way to be strong, but I have learned from my first-sister that I was wrong. Rand al’Thor... I do not think he has learned this yet. I worry that he mistakes hardness for strength.”
Amys questions Aviendha’s certainty that she will marry him, and Aviendha tells her of Min’s viewings about them, but then admits that the viewings do not guarantee she will marry him, only that they will love each other. Amys accepts this, and proposes to discuss Aviendha’s punishment. Fishing, Aviendha supposes that her time in Caemlyn made her weak, but Amys disagrees, saying that she thinks it made her stronger, in fact. Aviendha is confused, then, as to why she had been given no more lessons, only set punishments.
It was almost as if the punishment was the thing the Wise Ones wanted her to learn, but that could not be. She was not some wetlander who needed to be taught the ways of honor.
Amys then sets her a humiliating punishment: to separate and count the different colored seeds in a sack. Aviendha is astonished, for this is useless work, and therefore much more shaming than being set to hauling water or something similar; it is almost as if the Wise Ones are calling her da’tsang. Aviendha chokes back tears, and renews her determination to discover what her mistake had been.
I’ve seen comments to the effect that some people didn’t much care for Aviendha’s story arc in TGS, but I have to disagree, personally. I had a suspicion of where this pointless punishment thing was going from the beginning, but not in a “crap, that was too easy to guess” way — rather it was in pleasant anticipation of events folding the way they needed to. Aviendha’s “graduation” into full Wise One-ness is woefully overdue by this point, so I was happy to see it finally set in motion.
I’ll talk more about this later, no doubt. The thing that actually caught my attention most in this chapter, though, was Aviendha’s remark to Amys about Rand, which I quoted above.
Hardness vs. strength is a comparison that crops up over and over again concerning Rand, and in Jordan’s worldview (one which is continued via Brandon) it is no accident that it is continually the female characters who bring this issue up. (Though that is not an absolute; if I recall correctly Bashere also said something similar about Rand at some point.) This is one of the gendered points he made that I do actually agree with, conditionally.
I tend to be very leery of endorsing sweeping generalizations about either gender in terms of personality traits applied across the board, but nevertheless I do feel there is a certain germ of truth in the contention that men and women (in Western society, anyway) are… encouraged, shall we say, to have different approaches as to what constitutes “strength.” Nynaeve summed it up a few books ago (I think in TFOH) when she quoted the proverb (which was a WOT-ization of a real-world saying) about the willow that bends with the wind, versus the oak that refuses to, and thus breaks before it.
I think there is a tendency to believe, when brute strength is at one’s disposal, that sheer muscle can prove a remedy to all problems — whether that be actual muscle, or military prowess, or social clout, or monetary superiority, or whatever. If there is an obstacle in your way, knock it down, this mentality says; let nothing stand in your way. And since all of these versions of strength have been those historically more readily available to men than to women, well, there you go.
The problem is, there are some obstacles which cannot simply be knocked down or muscled aside. And if everything you have is invested in simply bulling through whatever is in your way, what happens when you encounter something which does not submit to such treatment?
Food for thought.
Chapter 4: Nightfall
Gawyn watches the village below as a small company of Gareth Bryne’s soldiers gather the villagers in the square and inspects the village. He notes that the soldiers are very respectful; nothing is taken without being paid for, and no young men are pressed into service unless they volunteer. He is grateful that this group has no Aes Sedai with them. Next to him, Jisao thinks they should attack, but Gawyn decides against it, fearing it would lead Bryne back to Dorlan where the Younglings are holed up in between raids on the rebels’ army.
There was only so much you could do with three hundred men, however. Particularly when you faced one of the five Great Captains.
Am I destined to end up fighting against each and every man who has been a mentor to me?
Gawyn thinks of Hammar and Coulin; he had thought he was over their deaths, but fighting against Bryne had resurfaced his guilt over killing them. Gawyn still doesn’t understand why Bryne had joined the rebels instead of being in Caemlyn to help Elayne, though he acknowledges the same could be asked of himself. He is beginning to realize that he might be fighting on the wrong side. He had tried to convince himself that Elayne and Egwene had had no choice in being on the rebels’ side, but now he is not so sure.
[Egwene] had chosen a side. Hammar had chosen a side. Gareth Bryne had, apparently, chosen a side. But Gawyn continued to want to be on both sides. The division was ripping him apart.
Rajar pulls up next to him as they head back to Dorlan, and Gawyn asks him where they went wrong, but Rajar doesn’t understand the question. Gawyn says they are in a hole, and Elaida does not seem anxious to get them out of it, but Rajar opines that their place is not to question the will of Aes Sedai. Gawyn thinks that their assignment is a deathtrap, and futile besides, and that it seemed almost as if the Amyrlin only wanted the Younglings out of the way. He wonders, then, why he continues to follow Elaida’s orders. He hopes that the Aes Sedai back in Dorlan will have a better suggestion on how to proceed.
Second-guessing things is an annoying but fundamental aspect of human behavior, and this chapter is a sterling example of it, both literally, in terms of Gawyn’s thought process, and on a meta level, in terms of my thoughts about it re: our change of authors in the series.
‘Cause on the literal level, here’s Gawyn, finally having the doubts that we’ve all been yelling at him to have only since freakin’ Book Four, but on the meta level I’m almost kind of like, and isn’t that convenient?
Which I’m pretty sure — no, I know — isn’t fair on my part, and yet.
One thing I can tell I’m going to have a lot of trouble with from now on in this Re-read is exactly this kind of second-guessing: is something happening because it’s at long goddamn last time for it to be happening, or is it happening because Brandon is just as big a fan as I am (or more), and this is the thing that WOT fandom has been clamoring for since forever and a day?
The thing is, I’m positive that this is a bullshit claim to make, because Harriet and Alan and Maria, let alone Brandon, would never be so cavalier with Robert Jordan’s work as to change a character’s entire arc from wherever Jordan originally intended it to go just because anyone else thought it should go a different way. Obviously, the mere idea is just plain stupid, and I truly believe that.
But I would be lying if I said it didn’t ever cross my mind, even so.
Especially in this instance, where Gawyn has been, prior to this, SO maddeningly stubborn in clinging to his loyalty to Elaida in the face of all the overwhelming evidence that he was an idiot to do so. I guess to have him suddenly, finally, exhibit signs of actual sanity after nine books of the polar goddamn opposite… well, it’s a sharp enough gear shift that maybe I can be forgiven for having sort-of-existential doubts about the provenance of it.
Even if they are unfounded. And they are unfounded. So there.
On a less uncomfortable topic, I am digging how to-the-point these two chapters are — relatively speaking. I’m pretty sure anyone who wasn’t a WOT fan would probably find that statement rather astounding, but for us, oh yeah. It’s like, why hello there, succinctness! Fancy meeting you here!
Goes to show, not all changes are bad ones.
And that’s what I got for this installment, me chickens! Enjoy your week, and I’ll catch you next time!