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 available as an e-book series! Yay! 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.
Prologue: In the Shadow
It shall come to pass that what men made shall be shattered, and the Shadow shall lie across the Pattern of the Age, and the Dark One shall once more lay his hand upon the world of man. Women shall weep and men quail as the nations of the earth are rent like rotting cloth. Neither shall anything stand nor abide…
Yet one shall be born to face the Shadow, born once more as he was born before and shall be born again, time without end. The Dragon shall be Reborn, and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth at his rebirth. In sackcloth and ashes shall he clothe the people, and he shall break the world again by his coming, tearing apart all ties that bind. Like the unfettered dawn shall he blind us, and burn us, yet shall the Dragon Reborn confront the Shadow at the Last Battle, and his blood shall give us the Light. Let tears flow, O ye people of the world. Weep for your salvation.
—from The Karaethon Cycle: The Prophecies of the Dragon,
as translated by Ellaine Marise’idin Alshinn,
Chief Librarian at the Court of Arafel,
in the Year of Grace 231
of the New Era, the Third Age
And that, my friends, is how you set a tone.
Although, in retrospect, it does seem a little unfair to Rand. I mean, sure, he broke up individual parts of the world, some more deliberately than others, but it’s not like he didn’t have help. (I’m looking at YOU, Seanchan Empire!) But that’s prophecy for you, always with the poetic license and tons of room for misinterpretation. Silly prophecy.
And, you know, it’s not like it didn’t end up true in the aggregate, more or less. So. Ahem. Moving on!
And, well, my original commentary is not wrong: this is probably my favorite of the Prologues (aside from TEOTW’s, but I’m not even sure I count that as a regular Prologue so much as an entirely separate thing unto itself), purely for its blessed brevity. Only one scene? That’s CRAZY TALK. Heh.
I also called this scene “the infamous Darkfriend Social” and then didn’t bother to explain what I meant by that, because I think back then I was still sort of subconsciously (and erroneously) assuming that the bulk of WOT fandom was at least somewhat familiar with my own particular subset of it, which is (or was) the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan.
This was a silly assumption on my part, of course. As You Know, Bob, Usenet had its origins waaaay back in the wilds of the 1980s, when it was unlikely that anyone other than programming geeks were aware it existed; by the mid-to-late 1990s, when I stumbled onto it, Usenet had expanded into a thing that programming geeks and college students were aware existed, but was still largely incomprehensible to the public at large. By 2009, though, (when the original commentary was written, and wow that still blows my mind sometimes) rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan, not to mention Usenet itself, was pretty thoroughly dead, driven into obsolescence by the rise of the World Wide Web and a commercial graphically-based Internet, and also by most major ISPs’ decisions to stop offering access to Usenet on their servers in the wake of several scandals involving child pornography in the alt.binaries groups—and also, I think, just because no one else was really interested in Usenet anymore. Usenet and rasfwr-j still technically exist, but in 2009 I don’t think they were at all on the radar of most folk online—nor in WOT fandom particularly. And I’m fairly sure “Darkfriend Social” was a bit of fandom jargon peculiar to the newsgroup—certainly in how the term evolved, I think.
So when I said it was “infamous”, I was probably only correct in that it was infamous to the former denizens of rasfwr-j, and even more specifically to a group within that number, who starting in the late 90s began holding “Darkfriend Socials” of their own, i.e. gatherings to meet up with the Scary Internet People we’d met through our fandom and friendship in the newsgroup. It’s a tradition which endures to this day, though nowadays it’s much more about a bunch of old friends getting together than it is about anything specifically to do with fandom. Still, we owe our origins to the existence of the Wheel of Time series in general and, in a peculiar way, this Prologue in particular, so.
And maybe this is a lot more niche-focused than it should be, but hey, this is my perspective we’re looking at here, and those Socials and the people I met through them remain some of the most important and beloved folks in my life, so therefore I think it merits mention. So There.
I remember there was a lot of debate back in the day on where or what exactly this fake palace was they’re meeting in, which is something that got cleared up fairly definitively in the latter third of the series with the explanation of dreamshards. Ba’alzamon claims it is “in the shadow of Shayol Ghul”, but all other evidence points to that being a lie—unless he means it’s in the shadow of the Dreamworld version of Shayol Ghul, in which case I’ll allow it.
We got sort of introduced to dreamshards earlier, in (I think) LOC when we first saw the Forsaken meeting up to be conniving at each other, but their nature (and name) was left ambiguous until Rand figured them out in (again, I think) TOM. So that’s nice to have cleared up in retrospect.
Suddenly his eyes narrowed, fixing on a woman enveloped in black till nothing showed but her fingers. On her right hand rested a gold ring in the shape of a serpent eating its own tail. Aes Sedai, or at least a woman trained in Tar Valon by Aes Sedai. […] almost immediately he spotted another woman swathed from head to toe in black and wearing a Great Serpent ring. The two witches gave no sign that they knew each other. In the White Tower they sat like spiders in the middle of a web, pulling the strings that made kings and queens dance, meddling. Curse them all to death eternal! He realized that he was grinding his teeth. If numbers must dwindle—and they must, before the Day—there were some who would be missed even less than Tinkers.
I always think rank bigotry would be hilarious if its consequences weren’t so serious. I mean, really, in light of the fact that Bors aka Carridin is a Darkfriend who presumably wants nations and monarchs to fall, his kneejerk Whitecloakery against similarly evil Aes Sedai who are working to do precisely that makes no logical sense at all. But that’s the thing about prejudice: by definition, logic or reason has nothing to do with it. And that’s why it’s both laughable and scary at the same time.
I mean, it’s just so… so stupid. And yet, it’s a stupid that can ruin (or end) lives. Pfeh.
I also don’t think it is an accident that the first time in the series we are inside the head of one of the villains of the story (even such a minor one), he is revealed to be such an obtuse, intolerant, selfish, and undeservedly arrogant person. Jordan clearly had a pretty specific picture of the core traits of the kind of person he thought would be likely to deliberately choose to be on the side of evil, and we will see those five fundamental flaws repeated over and over again in different ways as we meet more of the bad guys through the series. It is a picture I have a hard time arguing with, personally.
Also hilarious and scary (and stupid) is Bors’s (and, by extension, most Darkfriends’, it seems) reaction to hearing that Tarmon Gai’don is really coming, which can probably most accurately be summed up as oh, shit, NOW? Because it makes a pathetic sort of sense to suppose that people might align themselves with a cause that promises short term power and wealth and such, as long as they believe that the real ultimate end result wasn’t going to happen in their own lifetimes. So the reactions of various Darkfriends in WOT can be somewhat hilariously categorized as dammit, this was supposed to happen AFTER I was dead! Crap!
(Although, given that the Dark One apparently owns your soul well beyond the grave once you give it to him, that’s an even stupider assumption than one might first assume. What makes you think that being dead would get you out of it? Did none of these idiots read the fine print? APPARENTLY NOT.)
“The Dragon Reborn! We are to kill him, Great Lord?” That from the Shienaran, hand grasping eagerly at his side where his sword would hang.
“Perhaps,” Ba’alzamon said simply. “And perhaps not. Perhaps he can be turned to my use. Sooner or later it will be so, in this Age or another.”
First of all, shut up, Ingtar. And second of all, hmm. I remember there being a (very logical) question posed by this statement (and Ishy’s later ramblings on the general subject), which was: has there ever been an iteration of the Last Battle in which the Dragon did turn to the Shadow?
There was a lot of argument about this back in the day, because it seemed that logically, if the Dragon ever had been turned, then the Dark One would have won, the Wheel would have been broken and we all wouldn’t be here, fictionally. But I seem to recall that there was a signing or interview somewhere where Jordan answered this question to say that there had been times where the Dragon turned, but that those times ended, not in victory for the Shadow, but in a stalemate. I could be totally hallucinating that, though.
If he did say that, though, I have to admit I find it a bit disappointing. Seems to kind of lessen the impact of Rand’s struggle a bit, doesn’t it? I would much rather suppose that the Dragon’s refusal to give in to the Dark Side, over and over, has always been what the whole thing hinged on. Human triumph and all that.
And that’s where we stop for now, kids! Talk Amongst Yourselves, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!