Wheel of Time Reread Redux! Whoo!
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 31: Play for Your Supper
Alternate chapter title suggestion: “Hard Times and Confusing Flashbacks.”
I think the main reason the flashback-within-a-flashback thing was so befuddling was not only the nested flashbacks, but that they went on so long (across three chapters!) that it was very easy to forget you were in fact in the middle of them.
Especially since Jordan made the decision not to change from the simple past tense to the pluperfect. I get why he didn’t, because it would have been incredibly annoying to read two-to-three whole chapters of “Rand had said” this and “Mat had had the crazy eyes” that, but keeping the simple past tense makes it much easier to get confused about where you are chronologically in the flashback—and when it stops being a flashback.
So much like home, but you’ll never see that again, will you?
Hm, I don’t think he ever does go back to the Two Rivers, does he? I mean, I think I remember there was a scene during his epic meltdown in TGS where he kind of lurked on the edges of Emond’s Field while contemplating how deeply sucky his life was, but I don’t think Rand ever actually returns returns to his home town in the entire course of the series. If I’m wrong, I’m sure someone will tell me, but if I’m right, that’s very sad-making.
(I know, Mat never went home either, but the difference is that Mat never seemed to care. Leaving home is only sad if you didn’t want to go.)
I wonder if Rand will go back post-AMOL. He’d better, if for no other reason than that if he doesn’t have enough consideration to clue in Tam to his still-being-aliveness, I will have to write a fanfic for the sole purpose of having someone smack him upside the head for it.
*tilts head* That whole thing I just said makes no bloody sense whatsoever, does it. I mean, if I was going to write fanfic about smacking Rand for not going to see his father, then I could just write the version where he does go see his father in the first place, couldn’t I? Sheesh, me.
“Why are you so anxious to sell it?” Mat demanded angrily. “I found it, after all. You ever think I might like to keep it? For a while, anyway. If you want to sell something, sell that bloody sword!”
Rand rubbed his hand along the heron-marked hilt. “My father gave this sword to me. It was his. I wouldn’t ask you to sell something your father gave you. Blood and ashes, Mat, do you like going hungry?”
[…] They stood like that in the middle of the road until Mat suddenly gave an uncomfortable shrug, and dropped his eyes to the road. “Who would I sell it to, Rand? A farmer would have to pay in chickens; we couldn’t buy a carriage with chickens. And if I even showed it in any village we’ve been through, they’d probably think we stole it. The Light knows what would happen then.”
You have to admit, even dagger-addled Mat is pretty quick on the uptake. His reasoning isn’t even wrong. I am not a jewel thief (I am automatically disqualified by reason of not being able to do the flippy thing with the lasers), but even I know that the biggest problem with Jewels Of Unusual Size isn’t stealing them, but finding someone willing to buy them from you afterward. Because seriously, what would a random villager or farmer do with a giant ruby?
I guess in some contexts, “priceless” means the other thing that word can mean.
(Why was the heron-mark sword icon used for this chapter? It seems like using the dagger icon would have made more sense, given that Mat’s steadily rising dagger-induced paranoia is what drives most of the plot here.)
In any case, I remember really disliking this chapter, but not in a bad way. Which probably doesn’t make any sense outside my head, but what I mean is the chapter very effectively set up the unease and sense of desperation that will get screwed to a fever pitch in the next. You really feel for Rand in this chapter, not just because of the privation and hardship of their travels, which would be bad enough, but because of how Mat is visibly moving from being Rand’s ally to being his liability, and it’s easy to see how short a path that is to becoming Rand’s enemy.
And the worst part of that is how Rand knows it too, but still doesn’t understand why it is happening, whereas by this time I think even the densest of readers will have caught on to the source of Mat’s increasing Crazy. So you also spend this whole chapter wanting to shake Rand until his teeth rattle and yell IT’S THE DAGGER YOU BLITHERING MORON GET RID OF IT HAVE YOU NEVER READ ONE OF THESE STORIES ARGH.
It’s all very stressful, you guys! And then of course it gets worse.
Chapter 32: Four Kings in Shadow
So, unless I’m seriously forgetting something (always possible, my brain is a sieve these days), technically Gode’s thugs in the alley in this chapter are Rand’s first (human) kills. You can have an argument, of course, about whether they truly count when Rand didn’t even know at the time that he was responsible for the lightning that killed them, but technically, that’s what they were.
You could probably also have a debate over whether your first kills being unconscious ones makes them better or worse things to have on one’s conscience.
I don’t think I recall Rand ever thinking about these guys again, much less having guilt over them, so I guess in that sense the latter question is answered, but I’m not sure I would agree if I were Rand. In a way, it’s sort of worse if you kill someone by accident than if you kill them deliberately. At least consciously choosing to kill someone implies that there was a reason you decided to do it—hopefully a good one, obviously, but either way, at least there’s the sense that you got to own your own shit in choosing the act. But killing someone without meaning to is just… awful, all round.
Of course, these particular accidental kills were a bunch of dudes who had literally signed up to be literal Evil Henchmen™, and clearly meant to do Rand and Mat harm, so that probably eliminates a lot of the guilt, there, but still.
I also have to hand it to Jordan on the description when Rand called the lightning in this chapter, on maintaining such marvelous ambiguity on what the hell actually happened. I’m still not sure, on first reading, whether I truly understood what had happened at the end of this chapter until I got it in retrospect at the end of the book. Nicely done.
And then there’s this:
“I’ve got a man plays the dulcimer,” the innkeeper said sourly.
“You have a drunk, Saml Hake,” one of the serving maids said. She was passing him with a tray and two mugs, and she paused to give Rand and Mat a plump smile. “Most times, he can’t see well enough to find the common room,” she confided in a loud whisper. “Haven’t even seen him in two days.”
Without taking his eyes off Rand and Mat, Hake casually backhanded her across the face.
The patrons were free with their hands, too, when one of the serving maids let herself grow unwary. More than once Jak or Strom had to rescue one of the women, though they were none too quick about it. The way Hake carried on, screaming and shaking the woman involved, he always considered it her fault, and the teary eyes and stammered apologies said she was willing to accept his opinion. The women jumped whenever Hake frowned, even if he was looking somewhere else. Rand wondered why any of them put up with it.
Okay, so obviously all this, along with the brawling and filth and general ickiness of Hake’s establishment and Hake himself, was intended to set an atmosphere of wrongness and evil and general tension, not just in that particular inn but in the whole of Four Kings. Which it did, quite adroitly in fact. I said before that this chapter was dreadfully tense and unnerving, and that is still true.
However, this time around I find myself viewing this particular aspect of the ways Jordan chose to convey that badwrongness with… not censure, exactly, but more as… a continuity error, almost.
Because, as I and others have observed quite often, part of WOT’s core thematic set-up is the idea that sexism is flipped on its head from the real world version. In Randland, male channelers broke the world; male power/saidin is tainted with evil, and ergo to some extent all men are tainted by association, and that comes through in cultural mores, attitudes, etc. Sort of a reflection of how, in Christian theology in our own world, Eve’s sin in succumbing to temptation and eating the apple brought evil upon the world, and therefore all women are tainted by association with the first woman’s failure.
You know the drill—and, hopefully, agree that the latter is just as much bullshit as the former. At any rate, Jordan clearly agreed it was bullshit, to my mind; hence the reason for his gender role reversal play in the first place, to highlight just how much bullshit it is. This scene in Hake’s inn, therefore, now strikes me as a distinct (and, I think, unintentional) deviation from that core theme, in a way that rather mucks it up, in fact.
In narratives set in our own reality, men being casually abusive towards women is a depressingly common shorthand to indicate that they are Unsavory Characters. It is so common, in fact, that generally no one even questions it as a trope; it is just The Way Things Are. And while I have no issue in theory with associating unsavoryness of character with beating on/harassing women (though I can and do have issues with the trope for other reasons), in the context of WOT that is, actually, backwards. Or it should be, logically.
Because if you were actually truly flipping sexist behavior on its head, then what this scene should actually have been would be everything happening exactly the same way, except that Hake would be a woman, and the long-suffering serving maids would all be boys.
And I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking that that sounds absurd. It even sounds a little absurd to me, and I have a lot more experience than I believe a lot of people do in thinking outside the traditional gender role box. And, I theorize, it probably also seemed absurd to Jordan—or actually, it didn’t, because the concept is so far outside the wheelhouse of how we have all been culturally trained to view the traditional power imbalance between men and women that it may not have even occurred to him to extend the role reversal to that, well, extent. And yet, if you’re really going with the idea that men in WOT are the oppressed gender, it is rather necessary to consider it.
This opens up a whole host of issues connected with the question of whether a true reverse sexist culture can actually exist that gets super hairy, fast. And I have enough conflicting feelings about that question that I’m really struggling with how to articulate them. Not to mention that you could argue that this chapter actually casts doubt on the entire theory that Jordan was aiming for gender-flipped commentary in the first place. (I don’t think that holds up, since the implied commentary is just way too pointed elsewhere to be coincidence, but you could argue it.)
So, I’m almost certainly going to come back to this issue at some point (probably many points, because who are we kidding), but for now I leave it to you guys to (respectfully!) discuss: should this scene have been gender-reversed as I have proposed above, in order to fit with the overall theme of the series, or does it still work within the context of the world Jordan has built? Either way, why do you think so? SHOW YOUR WORK.
And that’s all for now, kids! Come back next Tuesday for the next installment! Cheers!