Γει? σου! 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 7: Out of the Woods
If nothing else, this chapter is an excellent depiction of the kind of numb shock that descends upon ordinary people when disaster strikes in places formerly considered “safe.” Intellectually, of course, we all know that no place is truly safe from catastrophe, but still somehow many of us don’t seem to be able to process that viscerally, until it actually happens.
This is a phenomenon which, I would venture to propose, Americans in particular are prone to. I sometimes wonder if people who are not from this country truly understand how… unconnected to the rest of the world many Americans feel themselves to be, unconsciously or otherwise. I mean, to some extent that’s just pure geography. It’s sometimes very hard to truly worry about what’s happening on the other side of the planet when you yourself can (in many circumstances) travel a thousand miles in almost any direction and still never leave a land that is basically exactly the same as yours—a land which hasn’t seen true war within its own boundaries in over a hundred and fifty years.
The people of the Two Rivers may not be exactly analogous to that situation in reality, obviously, but their isolation and insulation from the happenings of the wider world definitely rings that same bell, to me. It’s sort of like, then, imagining the reaction of a small town in Kansas to being suddenly invaded by Nazis, or something. There’s all the normal reactions to death and devastation, but there’s also this added layer of stunned WTF—like, how did this even happen?—that you probably wouldn’t see elsewhere.
The closest understandable analogy, then, for most Americans, would be not war but natural disaster. I read the description of Rand’s dull incomprehension of what had happened to his home, and remembered the way I felt watching the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and what it had done to my New Orleans. And maybe that’s not exactly the same thing as seeing your childhood home torn apart by demonic supernatural monsters, but it’s kind of close, if you ask me.
“An Aes Sedai,” Rand muttered, trying to make the woman who had smiled at him fit the stories. Help from an Aes Sedai was sometimes worse than no help at all, so the stories said, like poison in a pie, and their gifts always had a hook in them, like fishbait. Suddenly the coin in his pocket, the coin Moiraine had given him, seemed like a burning coal. It was all he could do not to rip it out of his coat and throw it out the window.
Still the most striking and memorable (and damning) summation of Aes Sedai the series ever provided, in my opinion. It’s very difficult for me to remember now what I thought of the Aes Sedai thing at this point on first reading, but I suspect there was a lot more awe and a lot less eye-rolling involved.
Possibly undeserved eye-rolling, too. Over the course of the series we get very intimately acquainted with how the Aes Sedai were distinctly not all-knowing all-powerful pinnacles of perfection, but perhaps credit is deserved, in retrospect, for how well the White Tower held together for however many thousand years even with the canker of the Black Ajah gnawing away at them from the inside out. I guess it’s a matter of perspective.
In the original commentary I used the above quote as a jumping-off point to talk about the adulteration of stories over time and how that is a major theme of WOT, but I think it still stands pretty well for itself, so I’m not going to get into it again at this time. Later, perhaps. It’s not like it doesn’t crop up again, after all. (Major themes tend to do that.)
“Death comes sooner or later to everyone,” the Warder said grimly, “unless they serve the Dark One, and only fools are willing to pay that price.”
Huh. I don’t think I realized before that the whole Villain Resurrection Jamboree that happened in LOC and beyond was foreshadowed this early. It… doesn’t reconcile me to all of that, exactly, but it does make me impressed at how much Jordan had apparently hammered out about his basic WOT plot (ha ha, “WOT plot”) in advance.
But then, I am amused by “WOT plot,” so maybe what I’m impressed by isn’t all that… er, impressive. OR MAYBE IT IS. Or maybe I’m just very punchy right now, YOU NEVER KNOW.
Chapter 8: A Place of Safety
“That’s of no consequence now,” Moiraine said. “I will not have the boy thinking he is to blame for something when he is not. I am as much to blame. That accursed raven yesterday, the way it behaved, should have warned me. And you, too, my old friend.” Her tongue clicked angrily. “I was overconfident to the point of arrogance, sure that the Dark One’s touch could not have spread so far. Nor so heavily, not yet. So sure.”
What I especially enjoy about these early chapters—especially with the benefit of hindsight—is that they are a great example of what someone I read or listened to (Jo Walton? Steven Brust? Someone) called “in-cluing.” By which, he or she meant, the process of giving the reader information about the world and background of your story in a way which is organic and (hopefully) non-info-dumpy, and gives just enough information to make it possible to follow along while leaving the full picture tantalizingly incomplete, with the promise of full understanding to come if one just keeps reading. Gratification and lure both, it is, and it’s fun for both the reader and the writer if done right.
“There is a place of safety,” Moiraine said softly, and Rand’s ears pricked up to listen. “In Tar Valon you would be among Aes Sedai and Warders. Even during the Trolloc Wars the forces of the Dark One feared to attack the Shining Walls. The one attempt was their greatest defeat until the very end. And Tar Valon holds all the knowledge we Aes Sedai have gathered since the Time of Madness. Some fragments even date from the Age of Legends. In Tar Valon, if anywhere, you will be able to learn why the Myrddraal want you. Why the Father of Lies wants you. That I can promise.”
“In-cluing” amid a whole lot of horse manure, of course.
I wonder if either Moiraine or Lan ever felt any guilt for how much they blatantly manipulated Rand in this scene, and lied to him without actually lying to him as well. ‘Cause, yeah, Rand could learn why the Fades want him in Tar Valon—or, you know, Moiraine could have just told him herself, right there in that inn, because she already knew. I mean, I get why she didn’t tell the Superboys the actual reason why she was more-or-less abducting them at this point, but that doesn’t really change how deliberately misleading she was being. And we wonder why Rand developed trust issues later down the line.
I even love how Moiraine avoided saying outright that Tar Valon would be safe for Rand specifically. Because we know, of course, that it would most definitely have not been, once the Aes Sedai found out he could channel. Again, I get the reasoning, but I would defy anyone not to be at least a little angry when discovering how they’d been played like that, no matter how worthy the cause.
Though I do give Rand props for at least partially verifying Moiraine’s story about which farms had been attacked, even if he only did so after agreeing to go, which was kind of foolish of him. But then, I don’t think Rand’s upbringing exactly primed him towards the inherently distrustful mindset that the Cold War-like atmosphere of the Game of Houses (not to mention the White Tower itself) engendered in Moiraine for her entire life. Still didn’t keep me from cringing a bit at how he so easily accepted her word on both what the Trollocs were after and how his departure was the only solution for the problem.
Also, it’s still amusing to me to remember that after all of this build-up, Rand never once set foot in Tar Valon until the very last book in the series, and then only for a hot second.
And last but not least, from my original commentary:
In other words, if Zeus decides to turn himself into a duck or whatever and swoop down and have his way with that shepherd over there, it really doesn’t have much to do with whether the shepherd’s a nice kid or not.
(Context schmontext, because that’s probably not an argument worth having again, but let’s just say that the Ancient Greeks appeared to be quite firmly in the habit of not expecting much in the way of leniency or mercy from their gods, and while this may be regarded as being a rather cynical outlook, it probably kept unpleasant surprises down to a minimum. So there’s that.)
And that’s what I got today, kiddos! Have a lovely week, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!