Ahoy, mateys! (Or, as my four-year-old nephew Remy puts it, “A boy, ladies!”) Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Reread Redux!
All original posts are listed in The Wheel of Time Reread Index here, and all Redux posts will also be archived there as well. (The Wheel of Time Master Index, as always, is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general on Tor.com.)
The Wheel of Time reread is also now available as an ebook series, except for the portion covering A Memory of Light, which should become available soon.
All Reread Redux posts will contain spoilers for the entire Wheel of Time series, so if you haven’t read, read at your own risk.
And now, the post!
Chapter 3: The Peddler
Enter: PADAN FAIN. Dun!
I… am going to wait till later to talk more about his final disposition in the story, but I will say that it never occurred to me from his initial introduction to think that he would become such a major character in the overall series. That was genuinely a surprise, I think.
It occurs to me, perhaps randomly, to say something again about how good Jordan was at names—not just in using them to make sly cultural references, as in “Egwene al’Vere” (which it took me way too long to realize was a bastardized version of “Guinevere,” probably because it took me way too long to realize that it was meant to be pronounced Eh-GWAINE rather than Egg-WEEN, but hey, at least I got the syllable emphasis right), but in more subtly conveying hints about the characters themselves. “Rand al’Thor,” for instance, besides being a much more blatant reference to a certain hammer-wielding deity, instantly conveys (to me, anyway) a sense of strength and general hero-like mien—even though my admittedly scant familiarity with Norse legend suggests that the mythological Thor was not nearly as “heroic” in the traditional sense as, say, the Marvel version the world has gotten a lot more acquainted with in the last few years. But even so.
Jordan didn’t do this with all of his character names, of course, but I thought of it because the name “Padan Fain” struck me as really quite clever, for the reason that it was only subtly ominous on first viewing, but obviously became much more so over the course of the story. Fun fact: “fain” in old English means to be happy or pleased to do something, but carries a second meaning of being obliged, constrained, or compelled to do something. Which may or may not be intentional on the author’s part, but is certainly apt for our Darkfriend peddler, as we will eventually learn.
Fain grinned, and Rand had the feeling he was mocking the villagers’ isolation from the world, and their ignorance.
Well, and that’s because he was, of course. I point this out because, ironically, on subsequent readings after the first one I felt kind of contemptuous at their cluelessness myself. I still waver a bit, honestly, on whether I believe that their extreme naïveté about certain things (like the Aes Sedai, for instance) is still believable, or more a product of Jordan not having entirely worked things out about the larger world of Randland at this point. That’s probably uncharitable of me, but there you are.
Cenn looked around defiantly, trying to stare down the glowers, and raised his voice. “I didn’t hear Fain say this was a false Dragon. Did you? Use your eyes! Where are the crops that should be knee high or better? Why is it still winter when spring should be here a month?”
The most hilarious thing about these kinds of stories is how everyone who spouts the kind of crackpotty, tin-foil-hat-wearing paranoia nonsense that you would be totally correct to mock and/or ignore them for in the real world, are the ones who inevitably turn out to be completely right in the story. I’m not sure if that’s irony, but it’s definitely A Thing.
[Rand:] Still, it must be different out there, beyond the Two Rivers, like living in the middle of a gleeman’s tale. An adventure. One long adventure. A whole lifetime of it.
And I don’t know what I was thinking in the “best line” I identified for this chapter in the original post, because this one is obviously much better. Silly past-Leigh.
As for Padan Fain’s speech-slash-fear-mongering performance, and all that came of it, this all seems like excessive infodumping to me now, but I’m fairly positive it didn’t the first time, because I now think that about 60% of my initial dislike for Nynaeve stemmed from the fact that her very first (actual) appearance in the narrative consisted of her interrupting the Superboys’ expository powwow in this chapter and making them shut up about it. Which suggests that it was definitely a thing that I wanted to hear more of, at the time.
The other 40% of that dislike (and my dislike for Egwene, for that matter), probably, was due to how she dismissed everything they had to say out of hand. Which I think was also uncharitable, because unlike still-basically-a-teenager-me of my first reading of WOT, I now have a far greater appreciation (or rather, lack of appreciation) of just how obnoxiously full of crap teenage boys can be, and therefore how much more understandable I now find it that Nynaeve and the others were inclined to, well, dismiss what they had to say out of hand. Which either makes me an old fogey, or finally possessed of some wisdom. Or both. Or neither. Blarg.
Chapter 4: The Gleeman
I was, on the other hand, completely right about what was the best line in this chapter:
“Battles interest me,” Mat said.
“So. I thought I recognized Padan Fain in there.” His voice was still deep, but the resonance had gone, replaced by scorn. “Fain was always one to carry bad news quickly, and the worse, the faster. There’s more raven in him than man.”
“Tales of great wars and great heroes, for the men and boys. For the women and girls, the entire Aptarigine Cycle.”
I had not noticed this mention of the “Aptarigine Cycle” before, and coming as it does just before Thom (and the villagers) start dropping 20th century references like they’re hot, I wondered if it meant anything. But Google only came back with references to the Wheel of Time itself, so I guess it’s just a word Jordan made up to mean “a collection of romance stories.”
Speaking of which, it’s a little kneejerk of me, maybe, but wow did Thom’s remarks about Nynaeve and Egwene and their “prettiness” in this chapter grate—specifically, the implication that their looks were (or should be) the most important thing about them. Though it does seem to be true to character, at least; I remember getting annoyed later at his genderist aphorisms re: men vs. women as well, so points for consistency, I guess. But given that I personally would probably have been just as (if not more) interested in the tales of war and heroism “for the men and boys” as I would have been in tales of love and romance supposedly for the women and girls, I resent the dichotomy. Who says you can’t want both, no matter who you are?
Anyway. This chapter is notable, in retrospect, for being one of the only places in the series that Jordan drops significant hints (in the canon material, anyway) that the world of WOT is in fact a past (or future) version of our own. The old WOTFAQ summed them up fairly well:
- : “Tell us about Lenn,” Egwene called. “How he flew to the moon in the belly of an eagle made of fire. Tell about his daughter Salya walking among the stars.” (Eagle has landed…/Lenn may be a merger of LEM (lunar module) and Glenn)
- Salya: Sally Ride? Or Salyut, the space station.
- Moscow, ICBMs: Mosk the Giant, with his Lance of Fire that could reach around the world.
- America: Merk the other giant.
- Queen Elizabeth: Alsbet, queen of all. (Remains of British Empire/Commonwealth?)
- Mother Theresa: Materese the Healer, Mother of the Wondrous Ind
- Anne Landers: Anla, the wise counselor?
(That’s all a direct quote from the FAQ, by the way.) I honestly can’t say how many of these I actually caught on first reading, though I think I had at least an inkling of the John Glenn reference, and possibly the Queen Elizabeth one too, but I’m pretty sure I missed the rest. Which is just one of the many reasons discovering the online fandom for WOT was such an amazing thing. Nothing like a hive mind to catch all the many many things you missed yourself, I always say.
These do, however, tend to date TEOTW a bit, now, sad to say. Though I think it is probably tragic that a lot of people today would have no clue who John Glenn was is (dude, he’s still alive!), or Sally Ride either, the fact is that interest in the space program nowadays is practically nonexistent—and, therefore, in its history as well. People still know who Neil Armstrong was (and maybe Buzz Aldrin), but that’s about it. And references to the Cold War were undoubtedly a lot more relevant in 1990, less than a year after the Berlin Wall came down, than they are almost 25 years later.
You can argue about that, of course, but nevertheless all of these references taken together (with the exception of Queen Elizabeth, whether he was talking about I or II) have a very definite flavor of just-post-Eighties “modernity” to them. Which, of course, is exactly what they were. But damn if they weren’t super cool to read about at the time (or, in my case, seven years later).
And, as I remarked in the original post, the next chapter is where Shit Starts To Happen, so we will stop here for now. Have a week, why dontcha, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!