Happy Idus Martiae, Tor.commers! Try the Caesar salad!
What? Oh, fine. Here, have a Wheel of Time Reread Redux, instead!
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 24: Scouting and Discoveries
Yep, still heart this chapter. Mat Cauthon Takes A Level in Badass, and the world is a better place for it. Whee!
I’m surprised; I could have sworn I linked to the relevant TV Tropes page in the original commentary, but apparently I didn’t. For shame, me, because if ever there was a quintessential example of that trope fulfilled, it’s right here. Makes my geeky little heart go pit-a-pat every time.
I vaguely remember that some people argued, back in the day, about the realism of Mat’s duel with Galad and Gawyn, and whether “a farmer with a quarterstaff” could really beat two skilled swordsmen in a fair fight. And I suppose that if you leave out all the unfair metaphysical advantages Mat had—unnatural luck, being a protagonist ta’veren—then yes, on the surface it might seem a little improbable.
However, there are a couple of things to take into account.
First is that Jordan was an avid student of military history, and of the art of swordsmanship in particular, so one can probably assume that he wouldn’t make such a claim in the first place unless there was at least some evidence to back it up.
And, in fact, that evidence is referenced in this chapter, or at least it seems so:
Hammar moved to stand beside Galad, still groaning on the ground and trying to push himself up. The Warder raised his voice to shout, “Who was the greatest blademaster of all time?”
From the throats of dozens of students came a massed bellow. “Jearom, Gaidin!”
“Yes!” Hammar shouted, turning to make sure all heard. “During his lifetime, Jearom fought over ten thousand times, in battle and single combat. He was defeated once. By a farmer with a quarterstaff! Remember that. Remember what you just saw.”
I don’t know offhand if Jordan himself ever confirmed it, but most fans think Jearom is a reference to Miyamoto Musashi, arguably the most celebrated swordsman in Japanese history, who supposedly fought over 60 duels in his life and never lost—except once, to a samurai named Musō Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi, who was a famed staff fighter and was said to have specially designed a new kind of staff to defeat the legendary Musashi.
Most accounts of that duel (at least the ones I’ve read) grant the same benefit to the staff fighter that Mat displays fighting Galad and Gawyn—that the longer reach and greater versatility of a staff, in the hands of someone who knows how to use it, is an advantage that even a highly skilled swordsman—or even a pair of them—would be hard-pressed to overcome, particularly if they were not prepared for it. Granted, the historical accuracy of the details of Musashi and Gonnosuke’s duel is disputed (hell, whether it ever even occurred is disputed), but even so, the physics of it seem to check out, at least as far as I can tell.
(It also seems to be the general conclusion of that other famous fictional two-swords-vs.-one-staff duel y’all might have heard of, although mentioning “physics” in the same sentence as that scene is probably pretty offensive to physics. But, you know.)
So, yeah, all that, plus the previously mentioned ta’veren-and-luck advantages on Mat’s side, makes it highly unlikely that he wouldn’t have won the fight. In fact, one of the commenters on the original post pointed out that since Mat’s luck never seems to allow him to lose truly high-stakes wagers, the fact that he bet on the outcome means it may actually have been impossible for him to lose.
Which is amusing, but I do personally prefer to think that Mat’s skill and cunning at least played some part in his victory. Hmph.
So, in conclusion, Yay. Great scene, easily in my top ten favorite scenes of the series, and possibly in my top five, though I would have to think about that.
Also featuring the last time Gawyn behaves in an entirely headdesk-less manner for the rest of the series. Well, probably. It’s possible there’s a couple of canoodling-with-Egwene-in-Cairhien scenes later on I’ve forgotten about where I don’t want to flick him in the forehead, but I’m skeptical about that, frankly.
Chapter 25: Questions
Jeez, I know I was crunched for time back in the day, but I’m still rather startled that I didn’t even mention in the original commentary that this chapter is where Egwene’s actually prophetically useful Dreams first kick in. Ah, how much fun we used to have arguing over what they meant.
At the time of the original commentary, in fact, quite a few of these Dreams had not yet been fulfilled. They’re all done now, obviously, though some are ambiguous enough that you could still have a fight over what exactly they are referring to.
Rand walking into Shayol Ghul and Mat placing his own eye on a balance scale is pretty obvious in retrospect, for instance, but the “nightmarish” one about Mat and the Seanchan could refer to… well, just about any aspect of his interaction with them, really. Up to and including his marriage to Tuon, depending on how snarky you want to be about it. (I generally prefer to be pretty snarky about it. I know, you’re shocked.) And I’m still not sure if the one about Perrin leading a giant pack of wolves refers to Dumai’s Wells in LOC or the Last Battle in AMOL, since from what I can recall the wolves never assemble on that large a scale in AMOL, but are more just scattered everywhere.
Also mysteriously-unmentioned-by-me is the list of the stolen ter’angreal, at least some of which, like the alabaster figurine, I don’t think ever appeared again or got used in any significant way—though some very much did, obviously. I do wonder why the chance-twisting spotted dice ter’angreal in particular gets brought up only to never appear again, though. It’s such a pointed association with what’s simultaneously happening with Mat—enough so that Nynaeve specifically comments that Mat would love it, even!—that it seems a very odd choice to merely leave it as a red herring. I wonder if there were plans for that ter’angreal that just had to get shunted by the wayside for whatever reason.
And of course, the one part I did mention in the original commentary was Lanfear, which… I don’t so much care about now. Though I should say that I do still think she used a very brief burst of Compulsion on Egwene here.
Oh, and also that I am relatively sure that I totally missed that Lanfear was disguising herself as Else Grinwell in these two chapters until I got online and entered the WOT fandom and read someone else talking about it. Whoops. In my defense, at this point we didn’t know that disguising yourself with the Power was even a thing, so there’s that, but still.
And that’s where we stop for now, my dears! Try not to stab anyone in a toga, and I’ll see you next Tuesday!