Welcome to the Wheel of Time Roundtable! In this new weekly mini-series from Tor.com, we’ll be asking a panel of Wheel of Time experts a number of questions that look at the upcoming final volume in this long-running fantasy series: A Memory of Light.
The questions will range from the specific, to the silly, to the broad, eventually encompassing the Wheel of Time’s legacy itself.
Each week a different question will be posed to our panelists, then you, the commenters, will be invited to join in. Let’s meet our panel, and read the first question, below.
Our experts are:
Jason Denzel: He of the internet’s premiere comprehensive Wheel of Time fansite: Dragonmount.
Matt Hatch: He of the Wheel of Time online think tank: Theoryland.
Jennifer Liang: She of Dragonmount, as well as the chair for JordanCon and director of Wheel of Time content at DragonCon. She also hosts the Wheel of Time Tor.com Facebook and Twitter portals, both of which aggregate Wheel of Time content across the web.
Time and again, these four have proven their talent at dissecting and studying the huge world of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. Knowing that, we set them loose on the first roundtable question:
In Knife of Dreams, The Gathering Storm, and Towers of Midnight, the forces of light have turned the shadow at nearly every opportunity. Semirhage, Mesaana, and Graendel have been sent packing, the Black Ajah have been rooted from the White Tower, the Prophet has been dispatched, the hordes of the Dark have been met in battle at the edge of the Blight, and perhaps most importantly, Rand is no longer crazy enough to dissolve
the world around him in despair.
The forces of the Shadow seem unable to stand against the momentum that Rand and co. are sustaining, but Moridin’s ultimate plan has yet to be revealed. Do you think the Shadow on the ropes or are our heroes close to springing the ultimate trap?
Jason Denzel: There’s no doubt that the good guys have finally caught a few breaks. But I don’t necessarily think we can say they have an advantage. There’s still a massive hoard of Trollocs up in the blight. Caemlyn has apparently fallen. The Black Tower is ready to implode. And who the heck knows where Demandred is, right? Padan Fain is creepier and deadlier than ever. You can sum his evilness up in two words: Undead Trollocs. I mean, really... how can UNDEAD TROLLOCS possibly spell good news for the heroes?
Oh, and don’t forget that there’s this... you know.... invincible evil God of Evil about to break loose on the world. A God of Evil who, just by rattling the bars of his cage, corrupts the laws of nature.
No, sir. I think the good guys have got their work cut out for them still. But I suppose it’s nice that they managed to kill off some of the weaker Forsaken, like the Evil School Teacher Mesaana (no offense, Jenn), and managed to convince Rand to get some mountain-top therapy and stop hurting little puppies.
Mark my words, folks: The Last Battle will not be without heroes’ bloodshed, and surprises we never dreamt of. If the heroes win, it won’t be without a huge cost.
Jennifer Liang: If you’d asked me this question before I’d read the end of The Gathering Storm, I would have said that things looked pretty dire for Team Lightside. The corruption in Rand’s heart, mirroring the corruption in the land, were so extensive and so severe that it seemed like even Rand’s victory would be a terrible thing to contemplate. The Shadow had managed to infiltrate to the highest levels of the White Tower and distract the Aes Sedai with internal problems, making them unable to effectively fight back. The largest nations are torn by civil wars. All the large scale institutions are in a state of collapse.
While Rand’s epiphany on Dragonmount doesn’t change that an enormous amount of resources and manpower were spent already fighting large-scale entropy, it does give some shred of hope that survival is possible. Rand’s presence now seems to hold the Shadow at bay, rather than increasing entropy around him. And his friends have begun to take command of the remains of the large scale institutions like the White Tower, or nation states like Andor and Cairhien. Steps like this don’t assure the Light of victory, but they make it possible.
Leigh Butler: Well, obviously I think there is some endgame here that we do not know about yet. Additionally, while TGS and ToM had some decisive victories for the Light, there were also plenty of indications that there are more, and probably worse, obstacles yet to be overcome.
For one, there is Lanfear’s extremely ambiguous reappearance at the end of ToM, which could represent a temptation or at least a severe distraction for Rand even though he’s apparently gotten over his jag of Crazy. It’s long been acknowledged (by me, but I’m not the only one) that Rand’s love of chivalry as an extreme sport is one of his biggest Achilles’ heels (if not the biggest). So there’s definitely a potential problem there.
Secondly and very ominously, Moridin has been conspicuously scarce for most of the second half of the series, and even the other Forsaken apparently have no idea what he’s been up to, by and large. However, vague references to “building forces,” and the fact that Moridin seems to have shacked up in the Blight for the duration, are certainly very suggestive, er, suggestions of what he might have been up to all this time. I’m thinking “vast numberless horde of Shadowspawn” (possibly heralded by the imminent incursion into Caemlyn we learned about at the end of ToM) is enough to put a major crimper in anyone’s day.
Last and definitely not least, there is Rand’s inadvertent use of the True Power to kill Semirhage in TGS, and all that implies. Which is to say, nothing good AT ALL. This to me is the single most worrying development in the entire latter half of the series, and I maintain that that event and its eventual consequences will be the pivotal factor in the entire Last Battle.
How? Well, I ain’t sure yet. I guess I’ll have to Read And Find Out.
Matt Hatch: I see an arsenal of guns being dusted off, and a few ripped down from mantles, to blow holes in the best laid plans (and theories).
Let me explain. Other than the very palpable moments of Rand’s madness in The Gathering Storm and reintegration on Dragonmount, I’ve never felt that either side was close to the proverbial knock-out. Although, I guess, since it’s the final book I should pick a side. And considering the boredom that ensues anytime someone (me) mentions the Wheel as the mechanism for determining why something happened and what may happen in the future from a plot/necessity perspective, I’d rather talk about a Forsaken and a Creep. (No, not Lanfear and Valan Luca.)
Demandred is the bazooka leaning up against the mantle. The Man from Snowy River (he could have been hiding out in Australia, it’s possible). Ever since his glory days as Taimandred and his adoring fan freaks, I’ve been bothered by his absence. It’s too obvious, like the Black Tower going unresolved until the final book. I get it. He’s important. He’s going to kill Ishamael... (Okay, that’s just what I hope happens, much better than seeing Rand fight Ishamael for the fourth time in a single Age.)
I’m sick of wondering when he is going to show up; I’ve hit snooze on that alarm a thousand times since Lord of Chaos. Thankfully, the wait is almost over but now we are in an induced labor situation, so this better be good! Hell, I’ve started wishing with delight that Jordan was screwing with us and that, in fact, Demandred really has been Taim this entire time. Stranger stuff has happened. Like Graendal being...whatever....
Of course, as far as the Shadow is concerned, Demandred is only one piece in the Ishamael sha’rah conundrum. Lanfear plays another key role in pushing/pulling the Fisher along (which just so happens to fit a pet theory), so her resurgence is timely and suspicious and wonderful. And we can’t forget the the Dark Prophecies, the “blank in the Blight,” the Black Tower, the role of the tendrils of the Dark One still deeply entrenched in Rand’s mind thanks to that open slap to the reader’s face from Nynaeve, Rand’s recent use of the True Power and his ongoing and disturbing connection to Ishamael. Oh yeah, and that Creep Fain. Considering the last time they tangled, Shadow versus Shadow and Fain’s growing powers, it’s hard to imagine anything but a darker, devious and destructive tone to the final chapter in this saga, with a few kinky twists.
Oh, just had a fun thought: Fain and Shaidar Haran are the equivalent of a Dark Cain and Abel story...I’m writing that one up!
...it’s a slow slide into madness, I promise.
Chris: Great answers! It seems pretty obvious now that Rand and Co. have only managed to get past level 1 of the Shadow. (Undead Trollocs? Geez...)
Now that our heads are steeped well in the tea of darkness, I’m curious... if you were leading the Shadow’s forces, at this point in the narrative, how would you destroy the Lightsiders/the world/all existence?
Jason Denzel: If I were leading the Dark One’s Evil Forces of Evil™, I’d get smart about it. I’d put complete focus on taking out the Very Important Heroes. I’d force the Forsaken to cooperate, and send them to take out the major threats one as a time. For instance... have them team up to take out the likes of Perrin. None of this “Send Slayer alone” stuff to do the job. I’d send Demandred, Cyndane, and... uh... wow, the rest are dead or out of the picture now, huh? Hmmm. Drat. Scratch that. (Moridin is around, but I’m assuming he doesn’t get his hands dirty.)
I can tell you what I wouldn’t do though. I wouldn’t destroy all of creation. I mean, what’s the point? I’d fall into the category of Forsaken that wants to enjoy the spoils of victory. Once I conquered the world, I’d want to have minions. I’d have Jenn Liang check my email for me. Matt Hatch to ensure my DVR records the right shows. And Leigh Butler to fold my laundry. ’Cause that is worth abandoning the Light and going to the Shadow for.
Chris: I have to be honest, I’d probably use my dark powers to get my laundry done more easily, too. Interesting that you would amass forces on the ta’averen, Jason. Leigh has a different tactic....
Leigh Butler: I would use frickin’ sharks with FRICKIN’ LASERS ON THEIR HEADS. *pinkie*
...Oh, you were wanting a serious answer?
Well, sadly the answer seems pretty obvious (and utterly awful) to me: quit trying to kill the Superboys directly, and instead just kill everyone close to them. Min, Aviendha, Elayne, Faile, Olver, Nynaeve, Tuon, Bashere, Loial, Thom — anyone they rely on for emotional support and/or they care about or love. Tripod falls apart, bam, Light loses.
There. Now I need to go take a shower, and then rescue a puppy or
donate to charity or something.
Chris: I personally would love to see what happens if the Shadow accomplished that. Although there is some definite allure to Jennifer’s approach....
Jennifer Liang: Old school folks at Dragonmount will expect me to drown the world in chocolate pudding, or at very least enslave everyone in my pudding mines. However, I think the real Dark One would take a less whimsical approach. At this point in the story, infiltration isn’t working as well as it once did. Egwene knows who the Black Ajah sisters are, Rand can seemingly spot Darkfriends on sight, and the Shadow in general isn’t doing as well as pretending to be on Team Lightside as they used to. Corruption isn’t working either, Rand is all warm and fuzzy now.
So that leaves outright destruction. The Dark One can try touching the weather again. Or, perhaps he can do something with plate tectonics? A nice earthquake/volcanic eruption/tsunami would do nicely. Barring that, sending wave upon wave of Shadowspawn out of the Blight to burn the world would seriously fuck some shit up.
We’ll close on that note this week. (Total destruction being a note one would typically close on.) Chime in below with your own ideas and check back with us next Wednesday as we look at the non-Shadow threats to Rand and company!