It’s NAKED Wheel of Time Reread Redux! Everybody HIDE!
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!
Scheduling Note: Owing to vacation-y Labor Day type activities, there will be no Redux Reread post on Tuesday September 8th, but there should be one next Tuesday (the 1st). Mark your calendars!
Chapter 23: The Testing
“To speak no word that is not true. To make no weapon for one man to kill another. Never to use the One Power as a weapon except against Darkfriends or Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme of defending your own life, that of your Warder, or that of another sister.”
Nynaeve shook her head. It sounded either like too much to swear or too little, and she said so.
“Once, Aes Sedai were not required to swear oaths. It was known what Aes Sedai were and what they stood for, and there was no need for more. Many of us wish it were so still. But the Wheel turns, and the times change. That we swear these oaths, that we are known to be bound, allows the nations to deal with us without fearing that we will throw up our own power, the One Power, against them. Between the Trolloc Wars and the War of the Hundred Years we made these choices, and because of them the White Tower still stands, and we can still do what we can against the Shadow.”
I don’t think it’s been explicitly addressed in the series at any point, but when all’s said and done, I do have to wonder how much of the Shadow’s influence was involved when it came to the institution of the Three Oaths. My suspicion, in hindsight, was that it was pretty significant.
Certainly what we learn later about the origins of the Oath Rod ter’angreal(s)—namely, that they were used to bind criminals—suggests that someone had a deft hand for irony, and also an evil sense of humor, literally. In other words, I’m betting that someone (probably Ishy) on the Shadow side thought it was pretty damn funny (not to mention useful) to convince the Aes Sedai that the only way to keep the peace was to hamstring themselves and their own power.
There’s a whole debate to be had there, of course, over whether it was or was not a good thing to have the Aes Sedai’s power curtailed by the Oaths, but given the fact that the entire purpose of having the Oaths was to get people to trust them more, and the fact that that aim failed entirely, I’d say the whole thing ultimately did more harm than good. Tell me why I’m wrong!
Hastily [Nynaeve] removed her clothes, her shoes and stockings. For a moment she could almost forget the arches in folding her garments and putting them neatly to one side. She tucked Lan’s ring carefully under her dress; she did not want anyone staring at that. Then she was done, and the ter’angreal was still there, still waiting.
The stone felt cold under her bare feet, and she broke out all over in goose bumps, but she stood straight and breathed slowly. She would not let any of them see she was afraid.
We make a lot of fun of Jordan for how often he insists his female characters do things naked, and that criticism is warranted for (most likely) unintentionally sexist double standard reasons. Just saying, I highly doubt that, for example, the Whitecloaks have promotion ceremonies that involve getting their kit off, and no other male-dominated organization in WOT that I’m aware of ever makes that demand of its members either.
That said, it is also worth appreciating, as Jordan no doubt did, the psychological impact of nudity in terms of evaluating how a person handles stress. Basically, if there’s anything more effective in exacerbating the stress of having to face a threat, physical or otherwise, than having to do it while also being stark naked, I can’t think of it offhand.
That dream that most of us have had at one point or another about being called on in class and then realizing we’re naked/in our underwear? Not a coincidence that it’s one of the most common anxiety dreams in the Western world. Given our general cultural hang-ups and taboos about the human body and the display of it thereof, the connection between stress and unintentional/forced nudity is more or less inevitable. Clothes are armor, both literally and socially, and being forced to go without that protection would be highly unnerving to just about any of us.
Therefore, double standard aside, using it in an extreme stress test like that of the Acceptatron™ (awesome ter’angreal moniker of awesomeness copyright David Chapman, I believe) is entirely apropos. Doesn’t mean I still won’t snigger at it a little.
“I am Aginor,” he said, smiling, “and I have come for you.”
Her heart tried to leap out of her chest. One of the Forsaken. “No. No, it cannot be!”
“You are a pretty one, girl. I will enjoy you.”
Suddenly Nynaeve remembered she wore not a stitch. With a yelp and a face red only partly from anger, she darted away down the nearest crossing passage. Cackling laughter pursued her, and the sound of a shuffling run that seemed to match her best speed, and breathy promises of what he would do when he caught her, promises that curdled her stomach even only half heard.
I still agree with Past Leigh that the Forsaken in the first test ring should have been Balthamel instead of Aginor. Not only was Balthamel the one who actually attacked Nynaeve at the Eye, he was also the one who was supposed to be the big lecher/molester guy of the two, so this entire rapey exchange would have been far more fitting coming from him than Aginor, who is largely only characterized as Mad Scientist Dude. Not that mad scientists can’t also be creepy perverts, but you know what I mean. I basically regard the fact that it wasn’t Balthamel to be an uncorrected gaffe of the early books, even if it’s never been confirmed as such.
Both the second and the third test pass here, I felt, were masterful in how convincingly they made their case for Nynaeve to stay. I’ve said before that one of Nynaeve’s defining traits is loyalty, and given that, the second test in particular was tailor made to test her resolve. It would have tested mine as well. I’d like to think it would have tested anyone’s, but for someone like Nynaeve in particular, it would have been a torture to abandon a situation like that unchallenged, especially paired with the perception that it was her fault it had come about in the first place.
And oh, so diabolically clever to contrast that with the lure of the third test: simple happiness. I do love that Jordan left it entirely ambiguous as to whether the rings were actually meant to be a test of the testee’s resolve, or merely an offer to find an alternate universe in which either they can be the hero that saves their people, or live in a place where all their dreams have come true. I like that Nynaeve (and we) will always be left to wonder whether she would have lived a long happy life with Lan in Alternate Malkier if she had stayed.
Of course, there’s a fairly good chance she’ll have at least a mostly happy long life with Lan in Restored Malkier, now, so that’s some pretty good compensation as these things go.
Chapter 24: New Friends and Old Enemies
“But if you break too many dishes because you are daydreaming when you should be washing, if you’re disrespectful to an Accepted, or leave the Tower without permission, or speak to an Aes Sedai before she speaks to you, or… The only thing to do is the best you can. There isn’t anything else to do.”
“It sounds almost as if they’re trying to make us want to leave,” Egwene protested.
“They aren’t, but then again, they are. Egwene, there are only forty novices in the Tower. Only forty, and no more than seven or eight will become Accepted. That is not enough, Sheriam Sedai says. She says there are not enough Aes Sedai now to do what needs to be done. But the Tower will not… cannot… lower its standards.”
In other words, boot camp. Don’t even try to tell me it’s not.
And like actual boot camp, I am, like most civilians, alternately fascinated and horrified by its practices. It’s a sort of ethical/existential dilemma that I really don’t feel like I personally have an answer to. It seems impossible to deny that the crucible of deprivation and hardship burns away the bullshit to reveal a person’s true character and worth, but finding the line between tempering a person and simply torturing them is often damnably difficult to determine.
“She has a theory. She says we have culled humankind. You know about culling? Cutting out of the herd those animals that have traits you don’t like?” Egwene nodded impatiently; no one could grow up around sheep without knowing about culling the flock. “Sheriam Sedai says that with the Red Ajah hunting down men who could channel for three thousand years, we are culling the ability to channel out of us all.”
My knowledge of Mendelian genetics is waaaay outdated and vague, but assuming that channeling ability is a dominant trait (and really, why wouldn’t it be?), and especially if “learned optional channeling” is dominant over “spark-inherent involuntary channeling”, then I’m thinking that actually culling it out of the human race would be pretty damn difficult, especially if you’re not absolutely controlling who breeds with whom, as you would with, say, a flock of sheep.
Still, it’s a theory that sounds legit on the face of it, so it’s not surprising that some Aes Sedai would be using it as a political weapon against the Red regime, so to speak. Of course, that an argument I fundamentally agree with (a) is being wielded by a sister who later turns out to be Black and (b) turns out to be based on (probably) faulty science, is a tad disturbing, I will admit.
“The false Dragon!”
“He has been gentled, Egwene. He is no more dangerous than any other man, now. But I remember seeing him before, when it took six Aes Sedai to keep him from wielding the Power and destroying us all.” She shivered.
Egwene did, too. That was what the Red Ajah would do to Rand.
“Do they always have to be gentled?” she asked. Elayne stared at her, mouth agape, and she quickly added, “It is just that I’d think the Aes Sedai would find some other way to deal with them. Anaiya and Moiraine both said the greatest feats of the Age of Legends required men and women working together with the Power. I just thought they’d try to find a way.”
“Well, do not let any Red sister hear you thinking it aloud. Egwene, they did try. For three hundred years after the White Tower was built, they tried. They gave up because there was nothing to find.”
I have no doubt that Jordan intended that the greatest tragedy of the post-Breaking world was that men and women were no longer able to work together to achieve the great things that they did in more idyllic times. Whatever else I may have to say about his failures or successes regarding his portrayal of gender politics in WOT, it is worth remembering that Jordan constructed his imaginary world on the fundamental assertion that true harmony could only ever be achieved there when men and women worked together, as equals. Even if he stumbled on occasion in putting that into practice, that it is the premise of his world-building is still pretty darn awesome.
In league with that, shoutout to both of these chapters for being absolutely chock full of female characters passing the Bechdel Test, and even more of a shoutout for this being an entirely unremarkable occurrence in this series as a whole.
Despite herself, Egwene asked, “What do you see when you look at me?”
Min glanced at her. “A white flame, and… Oh, all sorts of things. I don’t know what it means.”
“She says that a great deal,” Elayne said dryly. “One of the things she said she saw looking at me was a severed hand. Not mine, she says. She claims she does not know what it means, either.”
A white flame, indeed. *sniffle*
Soooo, Elayne’s “severed hand” prophecy still ended up being Rand’s severed hand, right? Or did I misremember something from AMOL?
Assuming I didn’t, I still think this viewing was a bit wonky. Yes, Elayne would have cause to be concerned with Rand losing a hand, considering he’s her woobie and all, but given that she wasn’t even there when it happened, I still don’t see how Rand’s severed hand is relevant to her specifically.
*shrug* Another unresolved thread, perhaps.
I should probably give a shout-out to Gawyn in this chapter, for the sole reason that I think this is the last time in the entire series that he doesn’t at least partially piss me off. Why couldn’t he have stayed this cool and froody the entire series, I ask you? Sigh.
Well, we can’t always be really amazingly together guys, I guess, so here’s where we stop! Have a thing, and I’ll be back! Yay!