Welcome back to the Wheel of Time Reread Redux, y’all: the Reread so hip, it has difficulty seeing over its own pelvis. For REALZ. *nodnodnod*
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 12: Across the Taren
There must be a difference in what you saw, it seemed to him, depending on whether you sought adventure or had it forced on you. The stories could no doubt make galloping through a cold fog, with a Draghkar and the Light alone knew what else chasing you, sound thrilling. Egwene might be feeling a thrill; he only felt cold and damp and glad to have a village around him again, even if it was Taren Ferry.
This is going to sound contradictory, maybe, but Rand’s continual disenchantment with his “adventure” is a pretty strong signal to me (and, probably, to anyone even remotely genre-savvy) that he is absolutely the right person to be having one. Just as, later on, his instinctive discomfort with the trappings of power are what indicates that he is the right person to be wielding it—and why, later still, his growing expectation that his power is owed to him is a glaring red flag that he is starting to not be the right person to wield it. It may almost never work out that way in real life, but in fiction there is generally no greater sign that someone is suited to be a hero/leader/powerful person than their inherent lack of comfort or interest in being one.
I never saw anyone sum up this phenomenon better (or at least more amusingly) than Douglas Adams:
The major problem—one of the major problems, for there are several—one of the many major problems with governing people is that of whom you get to do it; or rather of who manages to get people to let them do it to them.
To summarize: it is a well-known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it.
To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.
Trope? Cliché? Probably (definitely). But I like it anyway, or at least find it fascinating, because I think it plays to a need we have in the modern world for a way to reconcile two conflicting desires: on the one hand, our longing for heroic strong leader-type people to look up to and to save us, and on the other, our need to believe that all people are fundamentally equal, and that no one is inherently “above” anyone else—or at least, to believe that anyone who is “above” anyone else doesn’t believe that they should be. In other words, we want a Type-A hero without the Type-A personality.
Or, we want a fairytale. Sigh.
Rand’s reluctance to accept that he is special, even in the face of growing and ongoing evidence that he is special, subconsciously assures us that at heart he is just an ordinary guy, who would have the same doubts and insecurities as any of the rest of us, even as it is contradicted by the fact that he is self-evidently not “an ordinary guy.” And I don’t mean by the fact that he is a channeler, either, but in that he proves to be not only a natural leader, but a person of extraordinarily strong fortitude and moral character, who withstands tests of body and mind that we intellectually accept would cripple or destroy most other people, but viscerally want to believe that anyone could weather. We want to believe Rand (and Mat, and Perrin) are exceptional, at the same time that we want to believe that we all could endure such burdens of specialness as well as they could, even as logically we must accept that most of us probably couldn’t.
With a cry of delight Egwene threw her arms around the Aes Sedai. “Oh, thank you. Rand, did you hear? I’m going to be an Aes Sedai!”
It is interesting to observe that with the possible exception of Nynaeve, none of the Supergirls really seem to experience this “crisis of specialness” at all—as evidenced, for example, by Egwene’s unmitigated joy in this chapter at discovering she can become an Aes Sedai. And even Nynaeve’s crisis isn’t with the concept of wielding power per se (she’s certainly plenty comfortable enough with the idea of being the Wisdom, which is more or less the most powerful female office in Emond’s Field), but more with being associated with a type of power she’s been conditioned to find repugnant. Granted, Rand’s discomfort at discovering he can wield tainted and deadly saidin is unavoidably different from Egwene discovering she can wield untainted and sanctioned saidar, but that doesn’t explain Mat and Perrin’s (mostly) more mundane power-related hang-ups.
I have some nebulous thoughts on how that lack of discomfort with their own power has contributed to the Supergirls being viewed with more resentment by the readers than the Superboys have, which I will probably return to in due time.
“With the fog to hide them… well, when what they do is hidden, men sometimes deal with strangers in ways they wouldn’t if there were other eyes to see. And the quickest to harm a stranger are the soonest to think a stranger will harm them.”
Okaaay, yes, I certainly see the point Lan is making here, and the first part of the sentiment is undoubtedly true, but the latter statement strikes me as a particularly privileged observation, made by someone who has rarely or never been in a position of true vulnerability. Those without swords or axes or magical powers (or the wherewithal to wield them) can absolutely be automatically suspicious that strangers will harm them, without also being the kind of person inclined to harm those strangers in turn. For some of us, that’s just how you have to be to survive. I’m just saying.
Rand stood staring at the hidden river. It could have been happenstance. No whirlpools, he said, but it . . .
Dude, seriously. There’s a river here, but yours is called Denial.
Chapter 13: Choices
Man, I want that erasing tiredness thing to be real. (Well, okay, it is real, sort of, it’s called 5-Hour Energy, but I want it to be real without also feeling like I did something chemically heinous to my body at the same time.)
Rand’s argument with Egwene about the Aes Sedai thing is annoying, and I think I always found it annoying even before I definitively learned in-universe that “Aes Sedai” did not equal “Darkfriend,” because it (deliberately) smacked of every unexamined assumption about the Other I’ve ever heard in my life. All Aes Sedai are Darkfriends, all Muslims are terrorists, all gay people are promiscuous, all women are bad drivers, all Americans are stupid, all black people are lazy—it’s a rhetoric that’s tarred with the same ignorant brush of lumping entire groups of people into one (inevitably negative) category based on nothing more than the “everyone knows that X” lore of people who, like the Two Rivers folk, have very frequently had little to no actual contact with the groups they are rampantly generalizing about. And I guess it’s human nature to do so, considering how universally it seems to happen, but that doesn’t make it any less shitty. And annoying.
Viewed from the outside, therefore, (i.e. from Moiraine’s POV, rather than Rand’s), it’s possibly a little less surprising that she is kind of, well, mean to the Superboys during TEOTW (exemplified by her threat here to “destroy them herself” rather than let the Dark One have them). She knows that they won’t trust her regardless, after all, because of their cultural assumptions, so she goes for fear to keep them in line instead. It’s ultimately an approach that will introduce more problems than it solves, as time will prove, but one can see why she would go for it as a stopgap solution to keep them in line. It’s not the right decision (or so I think), but it’s an understandable one, somewhat.
Moiraine’s conversation with Egwene that Rand eavesdrops on in this chapter points to Jordan’s awareness of the point he was making vis-à-vis unexamined lump assumptions and the essential humanity of Aes Sedai:
“You want to know that Aes Sedai are good and pure, that it was those wicked men of the legends who caused the Breaking of the World, not the women. Well, it was the men, but they were no more wicked than any men. They were insane, not evil. The Aes Sedai you will find in Tar Valon are human, no different from any other women except for the ability that sets us apart. They are brave and cowardly, strong and weak, kind and cruel, warm-hearted and cold. Becoming an Aes Sedai will not change you from what you are.”
There’s a lot of general world-building and infodumping in both of these chapters, as I mentioned in my original commentary, which is great because we’re right at the point where infodumping is exactly what the reader wants. I’ve almost certainly said it before, but it bears repeating that infodumping has an often unfairly bad rap. It’s definitely horrendous if done wrong, no doubt, but when it’s done right it’s awesome, especially in these kinds of stories. And infodumping during an otherwise mostly-uneventful “travel” chapter like this one is what chapters like this one were made for.
Speaking of world-building, I sort of forgot that the Whitecloaks were mentioned this early on, but now I remember that the way they were introduced here pleased me in a bizarrely negative way on first reading. Which is to say, I definitely didn’t have any good feelings about the Whitecloaks themselves on learning about them, but I definitely did have good feelings about the fact that Jordan’s views on autonomous militant religious organizations were as evidently negative as mine were (and are). I would have had to be very suspicious of him as an author otherwise.
(And if you’re wondering about the difference between lumping autonomous militant religious organizations into one category versus the other groups I was talking about earlier, the key difference is voluntarism. In other words, you can choose to be a Whitecloak; you can’t choose to be black (or not black). And so on. And while yes, you can technically choose to be Aes Sedai or not, you can’t really choose whether or not to be a channeler, and since the “all Aes Sedai are Darkfriends” thing can be generally understood to mean that “all channelers are Darkfriends.” the same reasoning applies. In My Arrogant Opinion, Of Course.)
And I’m sure no one will disagree with me, amirite? Why, look, it’s a commenty box thingy right below for people to tell me why I’m wrong! (Or right!) Who thought of such a crazy thing, I swear. So go to town, kids (but be nice, as always), and have a lovely week in the meantime, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday!