Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading The Wheel of Time: Mistrust Fractures the Fellowship in Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World (Part 5)

Robert Jordan has talked about how he intended for The Eye of the World to include some reference and homage to Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and since these resemblances have often been remarked upon (sometimes positively, sometimes less so) by readers, it seems fitting at this moment to circle back around to the themes I addressed in the first week of this read. Then, we talked about questing stories and the formation of a fellowship. Now, it is time to talk about what happens when that fellowship is inevitably broken.

Welcome once again to week five of Reading The Wheel of Time. I’ve always really loved the Mines of Moria section of The Fellowship of the Ring, and I think that Chapters 19 and 20 of The Eye of the World just might be my favorite to date. Something about the world-building for Shadar Logoth really clicked for me, and it feels like the story is starting to properly pick up now. Although I enjoyed the prologue and the rat dream (“enjoyed” is maybe the wrong word to use about rat torture, but you know what I mean) there are still too many pieces of information missing for me to really understand the full weight of these events. With Shadar Logoth, however, I feel like the atmosphere, the creepiness of Mordeth, and the danger of the Mashadar are built up perfectly. Like the wights of the Barrowdowns in The Fellowship of the Ring foreshadowing the Ringwraiths, I imagine that the darkness we encounter in Shadar Logoth will probably set up more world-building to come. And in the meantime, well, I definitely got chills.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Moiraine and Lan lead the others down the Caemlyn Road, hoping that they will be able to stay ahead of the enemy they now know is pursuing them. But when Lan drops behind to investigate the sounds of horns behind them, he discovers hundreds of Trollocs, led by several Myrddraal, running hot on their trail, and the winding of horns further up the road ahead of them lets them know that their enemies are closing in on both sides. Lan makes a veiled suggestion to Moiraine about a place where even Trollocs won’t go, but she rejects his idea and they leave the road instead, hoping to cut through the hilly, forested area and escape capture. But it isn’t long before they happen upon a mass of Trollocs, a Myrddraal at its head, and are forced to fight. Luckily, when Lan beheads the Myrddraal the Trollocs collapse, howling and flailing and tearing at themselves. The groups escapes, but soon they are confronted by even more Trollocs, and three Myrddraal. This time it takes Moiraine’s power, amplified by her angreal and staff, to stop them, as she makes the ground roll and toss like waves, and then puts a huge column of flame between the party and the Myrddraal. They once again escape, but Moiraine is weak with exhaustion, and this time she bends to Lan’s desires, and lays a false trail for the Trollocs to follow as the party sets out for the mysterious place where they will, apparently, be safe. Eventually they reach the ruins of a city, once called Aridhol, but now known as Shadar Logoth.

The Two Rivers folks are in awe of the size of Aridhol, and Rand even feels a little foolish for being impressed by the much smaller Baerlon. Despite her continued dislike of Moiraine, Nynaeve is eager to help her with her exhaustion, and Mat and Perrin and Rand take care of their horses and those of Moiraine and Lan while the others set up camp in one of the buildings. Once the boys’ work is done, however, Mat goads the others into going out to explore the city while there is daylight left. They wander the ruins for a while, in awe of the size of everything, but they only find crumbling architecture and dust. Still, Mat insists that there must be treasure somewhere in such a place, and only a moment later they encounter a man in the shadows who claims to be a treasure hunter. He gives his name as Mordeth, and tells the boys that he has found more treasure in the city than he can take out with him. If they help him take his share to his horses, he promises they may have whatever they like of the rest. Before anyone can be thoughtful about the offer, Mat charges eagerly into a building after Mordeth, forcing the others to follow into a hallway and down a pitch back staircase until they come to a room lit by torches and filled with gold and treasure. All three of the boys are mesmerized by jewelry and goblets and richly-decorated weapons, but then Rand notices in the torchlight that Mordeth doesn’t have a shadow. He blurts out the observation and suddenly Mordeth changes, his body swelling large enough to block the door to the room, reaching out apparently to grab them. But instead of attacking, he suddenly shrieks and pulls away, changing into a wisp of smoke and disappearing through a crack in the wall while screaming that they are all dead.

The boys race back to the camp, feeling unseen eyes on them as they travel through the streets, and find Moiraine waiting angrily for them. Lan is gone, out looking for them, and after they explain what happened Moiraine becomes alarmed at the name Mordeth. She asks the boys if Mordeth touched them, gave them anything, or had them do anything for him. They answer no, and Mat whines that this place was supposed to be safe.

Moiraine explains that once a horde of Trollocs camped within the walls of Aridhol and only bits of blood and armor were found after, so now Trollocs and other servants of the Dark One avoid the place. But Moiraine has the ability to ward against the shadows dwelling in Shadar Logoth; had the boys stayed in the camp to be protected. Then she tells the story of Mordeth, and how he came to the city of Aridhol and, through a position advising the King, influenced the people of the city. In the name of fighting the war for the Light, they became dark and evil. No one knows exactly what eventually happened to the people, but eventually they were found to be gone, and a dark presence waiting instead. Moiraine calls it Mashadar, a force created from suspicion and hate, and it consumes all people it touches, save for Mordeth, who is instead ensnared by it. Moiraine tells them that if Mordeth can ever convince someone to accompany him to the walls of the city, the boundary of Mashadar’s power, then he will be able to consume the soul of that person and leave the city wearing their body. The boys are horrified, realizing that Mordeth must have been attempting exactly such an act by asking them to carry the treasure “to his horses,” but Moiraine promises they are safe inside her wards and that in the morning it will be safe to leave because things like Mashadar cannot stand the sunlight and will be hiding underground. They all try to sleep, until Lan returns and tells them that there are Trollocs inside the walls of the city, that somehow the Myrddraal forced them to come. Moiraine tells everyone they must leave at once, despite the danger of the night, and get to the river before the Trollocs and Myrddraal find them.

Moiraine and Lan lead the others through the streets as stealthily as they can, but suddenly Rand realizes that they are falling behind the Warder and the Aes Sedai. He’s about to spur his horse through a tendril of fog when Moiraine calls out to stop him; just in time, as the fog is actually Mashadar, and if they touch it, they will instantly die. A mindless power, but one that can sense its food, Mashadar wanders the streets at night, and now the companions are separated from their protectors. Moiraine tells them they must find a different street that is clear of Mashadar and to follow a red star in the eastern sky toward the river, where she assures them she will be able to find them again.

They all try to do as instructed, but as they’re searching for a clear street they stumble upon a pair Trollocs, and although Rand tries to lead everyone, they all scatter in different directions. Rand is nearly caught by some Trollocs and a Fade, but the creatures don’t know not to touch Mashadar, and when they step into it to attack Rand it consumes them, wrapping around them like tentacles that dive down into their mouths. Rand rides away, and nearly takes Mat’s head off in the dark when he mistakes the silhouette for that of a Trolloc. They make their cautious way toward a gate that leads into the forest beyond, and hesitate to pass through it until Thom rides up from out of nowhere, shouting at them to go, the sounds of pursuing Trollocs close behind.

Perrin and Egwene meet up as well, and are similarly chased by Trollocs out of the city and through the woods. In their haste in the darkness they ride right off a bluff into the river, and Perrin loses track both of Egwene and his horse. Shedding his cloak in the icy water, Perrin struggles to swim to the far shore, and just manages it.

Rand, Mat, and Thom have slightly more luck, at least where the river is concerned, as they discover a boat moored for the night. Thom is able to take out a few Trollocs with the daggers he keeps hidden in his sleeves as the creatures focus their chase solely on the boys. This gives them a chance to find the boat and Thom believes he can bargain for passage with the Captain. And then more Trollocs appear and the three race onto the boat, shouting to warn the crew. A few Trollocs manage to board and one takes Rand down, knocking the wind out of him. It raises its pole as if to stab him through but just then the boat lurches and a boom swings out of the darkness and straight into the Trolloc, knocking it over the side of the boat.

Thom, Rand, and Mat meet the captain of the boat, Bayle Domon, who isn’t too sure how he feels about his newest passengers. Thom tells them a fake story about what they are doing there, introducing Rand and Mat as would-be gleeman’s apprentices, but Domon tells them he would never give anyone, even his own brother, a free ride. The way he talks, mentioning that he should throw them all overboard, alarms the boys until they offer him both the silver coins that Moiraine gave them back in the Two Rivers, and the Captain agrees to give them passage to Whitebridge, where they can only hope their friends will also turn up.

 

It sounds to me like Mashadar could be born out of the Children of the Light next! One of the strongest themes about the fight against Evil-with-a-capital-E that can be found in almost every epic fantasy story is the insidious ways in which Evil corrupts. In The Lord of the Rings, the One Ring and its counterparts are symbols for how darkness can sneak into good people; Boromir, for example, is seduced by the ring to the point of attacking Frodo because of his fears for Gondor. Saruman, on the other hand, is seduced by greed and lust for power. Both are great warriors on the side of Good who ultimately slip up due to these weaknesses. Boromir is able to redeem himself, before the end. Saruman not so much.

So far in The Eye of the World, power seems the main corrupting desire. Although we haven’t gone into enough detail to understand much about their motivation, the way the Children of the Light conduct themselves, their clothes, their threats, the way they throw their weight around, certainly speaks to the corruption of power. It’s all very Catholic Inquisition, the way they threaten everyone who doesn’t completely agree with and comply with them, the way they speak of Questioners and threaten the gatekeepers with “questioning” in order to convince them to turn over Rand and company instead. They may or may not actually believe that they are serving the Light their title references, but they are certainly not good guys, and indeed, are ready to torture the real good guys from the moment the narration encounters them.

When Moiraine tells the story of what happened to Aridhol, I was immediately thinking about the Children and their immorality in the name of serving Light. Moiraine even says that Mordeth gave the people of Aridhol the battle cry “The victory of the Light is all” that they “shouted it while their deeds abandoned the Light.” Given that Aridhol was once a notable opponent of the Dark One, it is probable that they continued to believe that they were fighting for the Light, even though they no longer were. Mashadar, she says, was born of suspicion and hate, and the idea of people on the side the Light hating and distrusting others who also fight for the Light sounds about right when you consider all the hatred and suspicion around the Aes Sedai. Moiraine talks all the time about how she opposes the Dark One and everything he wants, but meanwhile everyone we encounter distrusts her at best and considers her a Darkfriend at worst. Mistrust, suspicion, and in-fighting definitely seem to serve the Dark One’s purposes well.

So I really love having Mashadar as a physical manifestation of hatred and mistrust. It’s interesting that it devours the Trollocs and Myrddraal as indiscriminately as it would have the companions; Mashadar doesn’t care who you serve. It is a mindless destructive force, evil but not, you know, capital-E Evil. In some ways that makes the Shadar Logoth chapters even better than the Mines of Moria adventures in The Fellowship of the Ring, because thematically it touches on something that has already been set up and which I imagine will continue to grow in importance as the story continues. Plot-wise, Mashadar is serving the function of the Balrog in Fellowship by forcing the companions apart, but thematically it is more like Grima’s influence over King Theoden in The Return of the King. If Gandalf had not come to kick Wormtongue out and galvanize Theoden back to his old self, Rohan might have gone exactly the way of Aridhol–just consumed itself and faded away.

But getting back to the Moria analogy: Poor Mat and the boys don’t have the benefit I do of having read The Lord of the Rings, but as soon as Lan and Moiraine disagreed about seeking shelter Aridhol, I knew something was going to go wrong, just like it did when Aragorn and Gandalf disagreed about taking the path through Moria. Nobody got killed in Shadar Logoth, but the party did get separated, and I imagine there will be some consequences of that; Moiraine is no longer with any of the the boys, and Rand and Mat gave their coins away! I mean come on, obviously those were her link to them. And even if she can find them again, the fact that the group is split up will mean that she can’t protect all three of them anymore.

And I’ll tell you what else–I’m not sure we’ve seen the last of Mordeth (Literally his name is “more death”. Mat, why the heck would you follow a guy like that anywhere, especially into a dark building?) either. After all, we still don’t know why Mordeth suddenly stopped reaching for them and fled off into the wall instead. I wouldn’t be terribly shocked if he’s managed to catch one of our boys somehow, and there are too many questions left unanswered about the encounter. Who made that scream that Rand heard, and why? What did Mat do with the dagger he picked up? There’s a mention of him holding it and a mention of him still wanting to take some of the treasure, but at no point is it said that he drops it or that Perrin or Rand take it away. As the Pippin character he’s the one most likely to try to walk out of there with something he shouldn’t have touched, (thinking of the Palantir now) even after Moiraine’s warnings. But then again, maybe I’m not giving him enough credit. Time and more chapters will tell.

So now we have a divided party. Moiraine and Lan separated from everyone, Thom, Rand, and Mat sailing away from the others downriver, Perrin on the other shore, maybe possibly with Egwene, and we don’t even know where Nynaeve is. But wherever she is, you know she is going to be furious that she got separated from the Two Rivers folk. Next week we will find out what fate dictates for our fractured companions, and perhaps learn the consequences for taking and/or giving away treasure.

And as always, don’t forget to watch your spoilers in the comments!

Sylas Barrett is starting to need a chart to keep track of the fact that everyone in this story has six names. He’s also pretty sure that if he encountered Moiraine and Mordeth on opposite ends of a dark alley, he’d be able to tell which one was the evil guy.

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