Goooooooood MORNIN TOR.COM!! Hey, this is not a test, this is a Wheel of Time Reread Redux!
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!
Before we begin, a reminder that the format of the Reread Redux has changed: from now on I am only going to be commenting on chapters in which my reaction has changed significantly from before, based on the knowledge I had at the time. However, there’s no skip from last post this time, so it’s all good!
BUT, I do want to note that this, apparently, is the first time in the original Reread that I paused to express my feelings about the cover art on the final post for that book. Just for fun, here’s the full cover art:
And I’m just gonna quote what I said in the original commentary here, because it is still (a) accurate and (b) hilarious:
…my least favorite of all the WOT covers (in which The Little Woman cooks for Random Archer Guy and his friend Eighties Sweatband Guy, who clearly fell through a time warp from a Richard Simmons workout tape onto the Oregon Trail, where he never got a chance to learn how to wear them old-fangled coats before they all died of dysentery).
LOL. For modern-day commentary, I will note that that link serves to remind me that Busted Tees is apparently still a going concern eight years later, which is pretty cool. And also that eight years later, I should probably link to a more cogent explanation of what the hell my Oregon Trail reference is about, because get off my lawn.
Re: the cover itself, I was going to say that it’s probably not my least favorite cover anymore, but on reflection, actually it probably still is. Not because it’s necessarily worse than some of the others (Winter’s Heart and Knife of Dreams being particular standouts on that score), but because this one also has just that little extra soupçon of unconscious sexism that puts it over the top.
That said, the full cover art reminds me that, once again, while Mr. Sweet’s human figures are never going to be my favorites, his skill at choosing gorgeous palettes for and painting fantastical backgrounds is still amazing.
Chapter 57: A Breaking in the Three Fold Land
[In this chapter: Rand arrives at Alcair Dal to make his bid for leadership of the Aiel, only to find that a charlatan beat him there:]
Couladin ranted on, waving his arms to make sure all saw. “ . . . will not stop with the lands of the oathbreakers! We will take all the lands to the Aryth Ocean! The wetlanders cannot stand against—” Suddenly he became aware of the silence where eager cries had been. He knew what had caused it. Without turning to look at Rand, he shouted, “Wetlander! Look at his clothes! A wetlander!”
“A wetlander,” Rand agreed. He did not raise his voice, but the canyon carried it to everyone. The Shaido looked startled for a moment, then grinned triumphantly—until Rand went on. “What does the Prophecy of Rhuidean say? ‘Born of the blood.’ My mother was Shaiel, a Maiden of the Chumai Taardad.” Who was she really? Where did she come from? “My father was Janduin, of the Iron Mountain sept, clan chief of the Taardad.” My father is Tam al’Thor. He found me, raised me, loved me. I wish I could have known you, Janduin, but Tam is my father. “ ‘Born of the blood, but raised by those not of the blood.’ Where did the Wise Ones send to look for me? Into the holds of the Three-fold Land? They sent across the Dragonwall, where I was raised. According to the prophecy.”
[…] Couladin’s confidence never wavered; he sneered openly at Rand, the first time he had even looked at him. “How long since the Prophecy of Rhuidean was first spoken?” He still seemed to think he had to shout. “Who can say how much the words have changed? My mother was Far Dareis Mai before she gave up the spear. How much has the rest changed? Or been changed! It is said we once served the Aes Sedai. I say they mean to bind us to them once more! This wetlander was chosen because he resembles us! He is none of our blood! He came with Aes Sedai leading him on a leash! And the Wise Ones greeted them as they would first-sisters! You have all heard of Wise Ones who can do things beyond belief. The dreamwalkers used the One Power to keep me from this wetlander! They used the One Power, as Aes Sedai are said to do! The Aes Sedai have brought this wetlander here to bind us with fakery! And the dreamwalkers help them!”
“This is madness!” Rhuarc strode up beside Rand, staring out at the still silent gathering. “Couladin never went to Rhuidean, I heard the Wise Ones refuse him. Rand al’Thor did go. I saw him leave Chaendaer, and I saw him return, marked as you see.”
“And why did they refuse me?” Couladin snarled. “Because the Aes Sedai told them to! Rhuarc does not tell you that one of the Aes Sedai went down from Chaendaer with this wetlander! That is how he returned with the Dragons! By Aes Sedai witchery! My brother Muradin died below Chaendaer, murdered by this wetlander and the Aes Sedai Moiraine, and the Wise Ones, doing Aes Sedai bidding, let them walk free! When night came, I went to Rhuidean. I did not reveal myself until now because this is the proper place for the Car’a’carn to show himself! I am the Car’a’carn!”
Lies, touched with just enough flecks of truth. The man was all victorious confidence, sure he had an answer for anything.
For no particular reason, noted public policy scholar and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently posted a list of warning signs of impending tyranny that I found myself irresistibly reminded of when reading this passage. A number of his points apply to Couladin’s strategy here, but the biggest two are, I think, also the most sinister. Not to mention the most frustrating.
First of these tactics is Couladin’s appeal to the Aiel’s entrenched xenophobia. Xenophobia is generally defined as “an intense or irrational fear of foreigners”, and this is a fault the highly insular Aiel certainly possess in spades. Even more damagingly, it is coupled with a long-cherished belief that Aiel culture and people are inherently superior to “wetlander” culture and peoples, and in the near dearth of influence from the wider world, there’s sadly never been any reason for them to dispute this assumption.
Such a combination can make it difficult in the extreme for anyone tarred even slightly with the brush of “outsider” to gain traction among them, a fact which Couladin and Sevanna (and Asmodean, I suppose) take full advantage of in their ploy to steal the Aiel’s loyalty right out from under Rand’s nose. “Wetlander!” Couladin cries, pointing to Rand, in full faith that that accusation alone may be enough to win him the day. And he almost was not wrong. But fortunately Rand was able to provide a certified account of his birth that proved Couladin wrong—at least for those who were willing to believe him.
The second and even more insidious aspect of Couladin’s attack is his blatant manipulation of the truth—his willingness to tell such grand and bold falsehoods that they serve to confuse and obscure his audience’s sense of what is true and what is not. And good lies, as everyone knows, are the ones that are seeded with just enough truth to confuse the issue completely. And the best lies are the ones that also play to their audience’s preconceived notions and prejudices.
Who are you gonna believe? Couladin says. Some dreary wetlander who wants us to face up to the lies we’ve all told ourselves about our supposedly glorious past, or a good ol’ Seia Doon boy who’s promising you the triumph and splendor we Aiel all most definitely deserve, and screw who we hurt to get it?
Because it must be true, right? Surely no one, no matter how arrogant, would so brazenly twist the truth out in front of everyone, with such confidence, right? And even if they did, surely no one would then cling to such barefaced untruths in the face of direct contradiction from the Wise Ones and clan chiefs, the trusted elders and leaders of the Aiel nation, would they? Surely not.
Well, as it turns out, he would. And don’t call me Shirley.
And the fact that he did it, means that the Aiel nation becomes fundamentally and irrevocably split down the middle; divided into those who accept the truth, however reluctantly, grit their teeth and get on with dealing with it, and those who decide pride and profit and willful blindness trump all else, and then proceed to make life miserable for everyone else for like seven more books before finally fucking off and leaving the rest alone at last to finally fight evil properly like we were TRYING to do this whole time, God.
So, you know. Good times. GOOD TIMES FOR ALL.
Chapter 58: The Traps of Rhuidean
Aaaand then Lanfear, and Asmodean, and big fight, and the end of the book, for the first time without Ishamael getting all up in Rand’s Kool-aid first, which is a nice change of pace. Hurray!
I opined at the end of the original commentary here that TSR was not my favorite of the books, but probably the best written of them, and that evaluation… still basically stands. I do still think that TSR contains some of the best and most memorable writing of the entire series, as well as being one of the best structured overall. But certain especially beloved moments in ACOS still compel me to keep it at the top of my list of favorite WOT books. Even though I know how many people were disappointed in it when it came out, I can’t help it, it’s still my fave.
But, that said, TSR is still the bomb diggety in the WOT oeuvre, y’all. Never doubt it.
And that’s where we drop the mic, Mike! But come on back in two weeks when I start The Fires of Heaven, wontcha? Yay!