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.
And now, the post!
Chapter 8: The Dragon Reborn
It’s sort of hard to remember, at this point, how tense this chapter was to read the first time, when I didn’t know what the outcome would be. But I’m pretty sure that on that first read I was more or less literally on the edge of my seat.
As they approached the women’s apartments, Lan suddenly snapped, “Cat Crosses the Courtyard!”
Startled, Rand instinctively assumed the walking stance as he had been taught, back straight but every muscle loose, as if he hung from a wire at the top of his head. It was a relaxed, almost arrogant, saunter. Relaxed on the outside; he certainly did not feel it inside.
Aw, yeah, baby.
I’ve tried multiple times to try and picture what this walk actually looks like, and I’ve found it’s rather difficult to keep my mental picture from sliding into something ridiculous, but actually what I seriously think of now is Charlize Theron’s explanation of how to walk like a queen, which is a deliciously fulfilling way to get people to clear out of your path on a crowded sidewalk.
Um, or so I hear. *cough*
The murder queen walk isn’t quite right either, of course, but it probably comes closer than anything else I can think of offhand. What Rand doesn’t articulate about the walk (because it doesn’t occur to him at this point) is that it is the walk of someone who is dangerous, and not even necessarily physically. Because in the normal scheme of things, no one in Randland would ever walk that way unless they knew the precise extent of their own worth and purpose in the world, and judged it to be pretty darn high. Basically, it is the walk of someone who is not to be fucked with. Which is why it is awesome.
This is not something Rand really realizes until later, but when he does, he uses it to great effect. So it is a damn good thing that Lan taught this to him early on, even before he knew he’d need it.
As to The Scene with Siuan and Rand: yep, still awesome, yep, still one of my favorites in the series. But this was kind of a given. What interests me more about this scene this time around, actually, is how amazingly well it encapsulates Jordan’s larger theme of demonstrating the effects of gender prejudice, by flipping the standard power imbalance from male to female. I’m not even sure, in fact, whether Jordan himself realized how deftly this scene does this.
Look at the elements: Rand is obliged to walk into an enclave of women, into a deeply intimidating space where his own gender is unwelcome at best and blatantly excluded at worst, to confront an entire passel of women whom he knows hold absolute power over his fate. And their power over him is not just socially and politically mandated, but physical as well; Rand may be destined to have Phenomenal Cosmic Powers, but at this particular moment any Aes Sedai in the castle could tie him in a knot without breaking a sweat, and he knows it.
And they know it, too, and that is reflected in all kinds of ways, both overt and subtle, in the first part of this scene. Siuan’s use of the dismissing diminutive “boy” to address him. The Aes Sedai’s ever-so-slightly derisive commentary on “Warder ways,” like, oh, those silly men and their little traditions, how amusing. The way they talk around Rand rather than to him, making him the object of the conversation rather than a participant. True, this was in part because Siuan was testing him (or at least that’s what she claims), but to someone who is regrettably more than familiar with these kinds of microaggressions in the reverse form in the real world, it is part and parcel of the way someone behaves to another person whom they see, either consciously or otherwise, as inherently inferior to themselves.
And I don’t know how many times I’ve seen this sort of scene played out in the “standard” manner, where the female protagonist must walk into an enclave of men (i.e. the world) and be obliged to prove herself worthy of her implicit demand to be taken seriously by doing so.
Jordan is not the first SF author to do this, of course, and in fact more than a few people have accused him of ripping off, for example, Frank Herbert’s Dune series, which features (among other things) a powerful, secretive, and manipulative female organization with extraordinary powers (the Bene Gesserit) and a male Messiah figure (Paul Atreides) who has access to these powers even though they are generally forbidden or not available to men. However, any close reading of the Dune series will reveal that there are far more differences between Jordan’s and Herbert’s work than there are similarities, and that both authors drew the elements of their work which are similar from a vast communal body of literary and mythological references which precede them both by hundreds or thousands of years.
That said, both authors clearly recognized the visceral impact it would have to reverse (to greater or lesser extent) the power dynamic between the genders, and Jordan, at least, did not hesitate to employ that fact to make a point. If Rand had been female and the Aes Sedai male in this scene, but it had otherwise played out the same way, it is quite likely that very few readers would have even noticed the sexism on display (especially not twenty years ago), or even if they had, would have considered it normal and expected behavior. But switching it around (sadly, perhaps) makes it stand out like a sore thumb.
So I can love that Jordan flipped his gender power dynamics in such a way that it makes it so much easier to point out the subtler aspects of sexism to those who might not ordinarily perceive it, while at the same time lamenting the ironic sexism in the fact that we are so well-conditioned to identify with the male viewpoint over the female that it is necessary to do so in the first place. Sigh.
“I told you the truth, Rand,” Moiraine said. She sounded as if they were having a pleasant conversation. “Those who could teach you, the male Aes Sedai, are three thousand years dead. No Aes Sedai living can teach you to touch saidin any more than you could learn to touch saidar. A bird cannot teach a fish to fly, nor a fish teach a bird to swim.”
“I have always thought that was a bad saying,” Verin said suddenly. “There are birds that dive and swim. And in the Sea of Storms are fish that fly, with long fins that stretch out as wide as your outstretched arms, and beaks like swords that can pierce… ” Her words trailed off and she became flustered. Moiraine and the Amyrlin Seat were staring at her without expression.
Rand took the interruption to try to regain some control of himself. As Tam had taught him long ago, he formed a single flame in his mind and fed his fears into it, seeking emptiness, the stillness of the void.
Heh. Who knows if this is wishful thinking or what, but I will totally consider this Verin’s sneaky way of helping Rand by deliberately disrupting Siuan and Moiraine’s mind games. Secret Ally Verin rocks!
“You are the Dragon Reborn.”
Rand’s knees gave way; he dropped to a squat, hands slapping the rug to catch himself from falling on his face. The void was gone, the stillness shattered. He raised his head, and they were looking at him, the three Aes Sedai. Their faces were serene, smooth as unruffled ponds, but their eyes did not blink. “My father is Tam al’Thor, and I was born… ” They stared at him, unmoving. They’re lying. I am not… what they say! Some way, somehow, they’re lying, trying to use me. “I will not be used by you.”
“An anchor is not demeaned by being used to hold a boat,” the Amyrlin said. “You were made for a purpose, Rand al’Thor. ‘When the winds of Tarmon Gai’don scour the earth, he will face the Shadow and bring forth Light again in the world.’ The Prophecies must be fulfilled, or the Dark One will break free and remake the world in his image. The Last Battle is coming, and you were born to unite mankind and lead them against the Dark One.”
And then there are some things which aren’t about men and women, really, and are just about, well, as I’ve said before, being tapped on the shoulder one day and told, “Hey, you get to save the world and wreck it too, all at once! SUCK IT, SUCKER.” I think we can agree that that is a universally not-fun announcement no matter who you are.
Well. At least, not for the person receiving it. For the person reading about it (i.e. us), it was pretty much completely badass. Ahem.
As for Nynaeve, yep, the mashiara scene still tugs goopily at my heartstrings. And since we’re evidently going with a theme today, I should mention (even though I’m sure I already have at one point or another) that a lot of what I love about Lan and Nynaeve’s dynamic is that theirs is a relationship that should be wildly imbalanced, for all the reasons I listed above, and yet weirdly isn’t, even before they took their wacky Sea Folk marriage vows in ACOS.
This is mainly because, I think, that where each of them would (in their own way) have run roughshod over any other partner, with each other, their jagged edges just… catch and hold, like interlocking ridges. Irresistible force meets immovable object, and it is hilariously beautiful. You know?
Tears blurred [Egwene’s] vision as she threw her arms around [Rand]. “You take care of yourself,” she said fiercely into his chest. “If you don’t, I’ll—I’ll…” She thought she heard him murmur, “I love you,” and then he was firmly unwrapping her arms, gently moving her away from him. He turned and strode away from her, almost running.
I know Rand and Egwene spend quite a lot of time together again between now and the end of the series (sniffle), but this still feels like their second-most important goodbye. Because this is, I think, where they both really say goodbye to any hope that they will be anything other than friends.
“I don’t think you should call me Wisdom any longer,” Nynaeve said suddenly.
Egwene blinked. It was not required, exactly, and Nynaeve never insisted on it unless she was angry, or being formal, but this… “Why ever not?”
“You are a woman, now.” Nynaeve glanced at her unbraided hair, and Egwene resisted the urge to hurriedly twist it into a semblance of a braid. Aes Sedai wore their hair any way they wanted, but wearing hers loose had become a symbol of starting on a new life. “You are a woman,” Nynaeve repeated firmly. “We are two women, a long way from Emond’s Field, and it will be longer still before we see home again. It will be better if you simply call me Nynaeve.”
“We will see home again, Nynaeve. We will.”
“Don’t try to comfort the Wisdom, girl,” Nynaeve said gruffly, but she smiled.
And just to complete the theme, because why not: Robert Jordan, people—passing the Bechdel Test with flying colors since 1990! Yay!
And that’s the post, y’all! Have a lovely Fourth of July weekend if you’re of the American persuasion, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday!