Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Memories of What Was Lost in Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World (Part 7)

Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to manage a story once the party divides? I remember the first time I read The Lord of the Rings as a young person (I think I was nine?) and being incredibly frustrated at each change of perspective once I got to The Two Towers. You’d spend so much time with a set of characters, sinking into their journey, and then you’d be dropped at a cliffhanger and move to a different group for the rest of the book. I hated having to wait so long to have the suspense resolved. Thinking about that now, though, a big chunk of time spent with each group might be preferable to the way The Eye of the World has been jumping perspectives each chapter. I don’t know why but it makes the pacing of the story feel a little jarring to me.

That being said, I am still enjoying being in different people’s heads, and I am really enjoying the addition of Elyas into our cast of characters. Seeing him basically take up a parallel role to Thom, each looking after two of the young people, is really interesting.

Good morning and welcome, fellow travelers, to week seven of Reading The Wheel of Time. Today we are tackling chapters 24-26. There is something sort of sleepy about this section of the book. The peril is still there of course, but there aren’t any Fades or Trollocs actively popping up until the very end of Chapter 26, and so it sort of feels like we’re spending time world building and setting up for the next stage of ‘everything is going wrong’ fight-or-flight action.

Rand has another dream about Ba’alzamon in which the Dark One is chasing him through a bizarre maze of stone ramps and spires that go on and on without reason or end, surrounded by thorny briars and walkways that are paved with skulls instead of stone. He is aware that he cannot escape but can only keep moving endlessly, aware that Ba’alzamon will catch him if he stops for too long, but also aware that the Dark One may be around any corner. He is also faintly aware that he is dreaming, but avoids thinking about it clearly, because the dream threatens to dissolve around him and hold him in place when he does.

Eventually he does run into Ba’alzamon, but before the Dark One can hurt him, Rand thinks of a way out and shouts that he is dreaming. With that, both Ba’alzamon and the maze surrounding hem disappear, replaced by a mirror-like place where Rand can see his own reflected image everywhere he looks, and somewhere behind, Ba’alzamon searching for him. At last the image of the Dark One starts to draw closer until his face and Rand’s become one image. One face.

Rand awakes on the Spray, the boat he and Thom and Mat boarded to escape the Trollocs, and is momentarily relieved that the nightmares are over for another night; until he realizes that the finger he pricked on a thorn in the dream is bleeding in real life.

Traveling down the river is mostly occupied by Thom performing for the boat’s crew Mat and Rand receiving gleeman’s training to keep up their cover of being Thom’s apprentices. Thom is also concerned about the crew mutinying as the danger from the Trollocs seems to fade into the distance but Captain Domon continues to drive hard down the river. Rand is more concerned by Floran Gelb, however, who is clearly hoping to stir up resentment against the unexpected passengers, albeit with little success.

They also observe great statues and a strange metal tower, relics of bygone ages, and Domon tells them stories of other great mysteries from around the world. Domon speaks of wanderlust, how the horizon will pull one from adventure to adventure, but Mat only seems interested in where he can find treasure, and Rand finds himself more concerned with insisting that he will go home one day, to be a shepherd like his father.

Four days into their trip Rand is up on top of the mast, watching the men working below and enjoying his odd, bird’s-eye view. On some strange impulse he tries balancing without holding on with either his legs or his arms, and finds the experience exhilarating. Suddenly he realizes that Thom has climbed up with him and is entreating him to come down, and Rand does so by sliding down a line of rope and dropping neatly onto the deck. Rand’s feeling of euphoria at his stunt doesn’t ebb until Thom points out that he was able to convince the Captain that it was part of gleeman training and that everyone thought Rand might have gone mad. Then Rand is suddenly horrified and actually falls over to sit on the deck in awe of his own actions. He cannot understand what happened to him, thinks perhaps he really did go mad, knows that he must get to Tar Valon.

But Rand also has other things to worry about, like the fact that he discovered Mat in possession of a jeweled gold dagger from Shadar Logoth. Mat makes Rand promise not to tell anyone, even Thom, insisting that the only two Emond’s Fielders can only trust each other. Rand agrees, although he insists to Mat that the others are still alive.

While all this is happening, Perrin and Egwene are traveling with Elyas and his wolves. Perrin continues to be aware of the wolves’ feelings and where they are eve when he can’t see them. He does his best to ignore these feelings, but he also no longer dreams of Ba’alzamon. Instead he has normal dreams about normal things, but in each one a wolf is there guarding him.

After several days of traveling they encounter a group of people known as the Tuatha’an, also called Tinkers or Traveling people. These people have a bad reputation for the folks from Emond ’s field as thieves and vagabonds, but Elyas scoffs at this and the three join the Tinkers for a while. Elyas has met their leader, the Seeker, before, and is friendly with him. In their time with the Tinkers they learn about “the song” which they believe was lost during the breaking of the world, and if found again, will restore the good times of the Age of Legends. They also learn of the Tinkers’ devotion to pacifism, which they call ‘The Way of the Leaf’ and Egwene develops a close relationship with the leader’s grandson Aram, spending more time dancing and eating with him than she spends near Elyas and Perrin, much to Perrin’s chagrin and worry. They are also told a strange story, about a group of Tinkers who traveled into a place called the Aiel Waste and encountered a dying female warrior there. Although the Aiel people despise the Tinkers and would normally never speak to them, the injured woman gave her last breath to pass on a message.

“Leafblighter means to blind the Eye of the World, Lost One. He means to slay the Great Serpent. Warn the People, Lost One. Sightburner comes. Tell them to stand ready for He Who Comes With the Dawn. Tell them….”

The Seeker, Raen, admits that neither he not any other Tinker can make sense of the words, and that this troubles them, since it was clearly so important to the woman who passed on the message. He says that he had hoped Elyas would know the answer but Elyas cuts him off before he can give his reason for such a hope.

When the Spray arrives at Whitebridge, Captain Domon kicks Floran Gelb off his ship, then asks Rand, Mat, and Thom to stay on the ship and travel down to Illian. Despite Thom’s urgings that this plan will keep them safer and that Rand shouldn’t trust the Aes Sedai, Rand insists that they are going to continue on to Tar Valon. Still, he is having his own misgivings, a voice whispering in his head that he is foolish to believe that the others are still alive, to consider himself a hero from one of Thom’s stories. A voice that whispers that Rand will spend the rest of his life running.

Thom takes the boys to an inn to gather information, hoping to hear world of Moiraine and Lan, and maybe the others as well. Thom engages the innkeeper in a slow and rambling conversation, having admonished the boys to let him handle the questioning. They learn that the False Dragon, Logain, had been defeated and captured (with help from the Aes Sedai) and that refugees were flocking away from the battle even as townsfolk flocked to see the prisoner as he was transported from town to town on his way to Tar Valon. This way everyone would see that he had been defeated and the world was safe again. The fact that Logain did have some kind of ability interests Rand, as does all the news, but when Thom starts subtly angling for news about their companions, he grows impatient with news that the people of Illian are having another hunt for the Horn of Valere, which must be found before the last battle with the Dark One, and with the innkeepers repeated efforts to engage Thom’s services in his inn. He abruptly steers the conversation on to the subject of wanting to meet friends, and when Thom describes the party, the innkeeper’s demeanor changes at once. He tells them all to leave as soon as they can, and, when Thom presses him to elaborate, admits that a “weaselly” and possibly crazy man came into town asking for some people of the same description; a fighting man, a woman in silk, and three country boys. But worse than that, the next day another person came.

It’s easy for Rand and his friends to recognize the description of the “other one” to be a Myrddraal, and this time he was also asking after a girl and a “white-haired gleeman.” The innkeeper urges them to leave as soon as they finish their wine, and insists that he has never seen anyone fitting their description.

Thom tries again to convince them to go to Illian, but Rand continues to refuse, despite the danger, despite the voice still whispering in his head. He is certain that there is no safety for them anywhere, even far away in Illian. He tells Thom to go and leave them, and Mat, he is shocked to see, is ready to back up Rand’s words with his hand on the secret Shadar Logoth dagger.

Just then they hear laughter and talking on the other side of a partition where they sit. Floran Gelb is telling other inn patrons about the Trolloc attack, and worse, suggesting that Rand, Thom, and Mat were darkfriends in league with the Trollocs. Thom springs into action, knowing that Gelb’s stories will be reaching others in the village and that the three of them are no longer safe together or on the Spray. He divides his money between the three of them in case they are seperated and the three climb out the window into an alley.

Thom tells the boys to wait for him, and Mat demands to know why Thom is helping them. The gleeman explains that he once had a nephew named Owyn, who “got in trouble” with the Aes Sedai. Thom regrets not trying to help the boy until it was too late, and hopes that he can make up for failing that boy by getting Mat and Rand to Tar Valon. Then he leaves them in the alley, while Mat and Rand discuss the tale. Mat is very suspicious of Thom, and when Rand asks him about it, the other boy admits that the running and strange people have made him frightened and suspicious of everyone. Rand says that he is too frightened to be suspicious.

Thom comes back wearing a new, different cloak and is satisfied with his disguise when it takes even Rand and Mat a bit to recognize him. They leave the alley separately, keeping each other in sight but acting like strangers, but all their precaution is for naught when a Fade appears in the town square. Knowing that they cannot outrun it, Thom shoves his possessions into Rand’s arms, tells them the name of an inn in Caemlyn, and orders them to run.

Thom attacks the Fade, who is so surprised by the unexpected action that Thom gains a momentary advantage. Mat and Rand run, along with pretty much everyone else in the square, right out of the city gates in a terror-filled mob of people. For a moment Rand is tempted to go back for Thom, and then the two turn away from the gates and start again on their long journey.

 

This leisurely traveling section has allowed the narration to show us more of the world, not just in terms of towns and cities that Rand and his friends have never seen before, but in terms of what once was. The description of the giant statues carved into the cliff faces reminded me of the statues at Argonath in The Lord of the Rings, but I was even more interested in the description of the mysterious metal tower and of the White Bridge itself. In some ways, The Eye of the World follows a typical sort of “Third Age” narrative in the vein of LotR and other epic fantasy novels; the characters and the narration look back on an earlier age where people were stronger, life was better, and great cities and monuments were built. But the way those old ruins are described in this section reminds me a little more of The Dark Tower series than more traditional epic fantasy.

(Quick note: slight spoiler for the ending of The Dark Tower at the end of this paragraph.). In The Dark Tower, references are made to a past that was more technologically advanced than the present. While the statues at Amon Hen or the great city of Minas Tirith were incredible, there is no suggestion in The Lord of the Rings that their builders had access to cranes or jackhammers or laser technology. A lot of epic fantasy looks back to a sort of idealized medieval time as the height of civilization, and part of the quests is often trying to reclaim that old greatness. But in the Dark Tower references are made to things that we the readers would consider modern technology, and little hints are dropped in about those sciences even before we learn about the Old Ones, and there is even a theme of fusing magic and technology. Meanwhile, in this section of Eye of the World, Rand sees sights the people of his time don’t entirely understand, like the metal tower and the White Bridge, made out of its mysterious substance. It is evidence of a time gone by, a great time with better technology and more wealth, and, of course, a better connection to magic. I can’t help thinking about the fact that both stories involve some kind of time loop and how that changes the tales’ perspectives about what the past really is, and what exactly we are trying to reclaim.

In addition to the world building of the physical world, I feel like I learned more about the One Power this time around as well. Back in week three I had some theories of what or who might be influencing Rand’s bizarre behavior around the Children of the Light, and wondered if Ba’alzamon might be manipulating him in some way. Now I think I might have realized the true explanation. In Chapter 21, Moiraine described the after-effects of touching the One Power for the first time: “Headaches and numbness and exhilaration all mixed together, and… taking foolish chances or acting giddy.” All that describes both how Rand acted with the Children, and how he acted on top of the mast of the Spray. If my theory that he used the Power to help Bela run is correct—and I suspect it is—then all this oddness would be perfectly explained. Also, if I am right, that means that both Rand and Nynaeve touched the Power for the first time to protect Egwene, who herself is also possessed of that ability. I’m not sure what that will mean going forward, but it is an interesting observation. I guess it also means that Rand is now on a deadline until totally insanity.

There is a distinct parallel in these chapters between Perrin and Egwene being looked after by Elyas, and Rand and Mat being looked after by Thom. Rand and Mat are even learning some gleeman’s skills, just as Perrin will clearly eventually gain Elyas’s connection to wolves. These lanky older gentleman are both knowledgeable and very private, and right from the beginning you get the sense that there is more to them than meets the eye. I have been waiting for the missing piece of Thom’s story since we met him.

Poor Thom! I guess this was his Boromir moment, making up for letting Frodo Owyn down by protecting Merry and Pippin Mat and Rand. There is something symbolic I think, about him giving his cloak and bundle to Rand, and a part of me wonders if he might not survive somehow. Thematically it makes sense for this to be a true death, but something about the rushed way the Owyn story was presented right before it was important seemed, well, not very Robert Jordan. If there’s one thing this author doesn’t do, it’s fail to set things up well ahead of time. So I guess I will hold out hope for now; maybe Mat was right to question Thom’s story, even if he is being weird now and possibly possessed by Mordeth.

Speaking of weird, creepy guys, I’m guessing that the weaselly man who asked about the group is probably Padan Fain. His strange behavior in Baerlon was never explained, and although it’s not exactly unusual for people to be suspicious of Moiraine, his repeated insistence to Rand that she could not know about him seems relevant. It would not surprise me at all to learn that he was working with the enemy somehow, either voluntarily from the beginning or possibly under duress after nearly being killed in the Trolloc raid on Emond’s Field.

It’s been really interesting learning a little bit more about the world, and the complexities are starting to come to the surface now. I’m getting a little worried about Rand, to be honest. I find the character suffers a little in the way that main heroes sometimes can in epic stories, especially at first, in that his personality and quirks aren’t as interesting as a lot of the others. But in some ways I think that fact is actually building the suspense around his identity as both a person with the gift and as the Dragon reborn. I’m starting to feel like he’s on the cusp of something, just waiting to discover himself and become a full person. I am also really curious about Elyas and his secrets.

Next week (Chapters 27 and 28) we’ll spend more time with the Traveling people, as well as get back to see what Nynaeve, Lan, and Moiraine are up to. Hopefully their travels are less fraught than Rand and Mat and Thom’s, but I highly doubt it. In the meantime, join me in the comments and let me know what you think of this week’s read, or white out your spoilers and laugh with each other over all the things I guessed wrong in this post. The choice, gentle readers, is yours.

Sylas K Barrett works as a writer and actor, lives in Brooklyn, and has nothing clever to say this week. Cheerio!

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