You’d think that—1. Having read the entirety of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time fantasy saga. 2. Working at Tor.com, home of Leigh Butler’s amazing Wheel of Time Reread. 3. And writing deep-dives that wonder just how far Aviendha saw into her future—that the very first book in the series wouldn’t hold any surprises for me.
Sylas K. Barrett’s Reading The Wheel of Time has shown me the error in my thinking.
For those unfamiliar, Sylas has been reading Jordan’s Wheel of Time for the first time and chronicling his reactions and thoughts along the way. For experienced readers of the series like myself, the weekly column has been simultaneously tense and refreshing. Sylas is REALLY good at weaving together disparate hints into working explanations of the world, which makes one just want to squee and yell out the whole explanation; especially since, in some cases, the entire explanation won’t appear for eight whole books.
But we hold off (mostly), because reading Sylas encounter scenes and reveals for the first time is lovely. And it often turns up hints or perspectives you may have always missed.
During this breath in between Sylas’ readthrough of The Eye of the World and his forthcoming readthrough of The Great Hunt, I thought I’d share some of the things in the first book that I’d always missed…until now.
SPOILERS AHEAD for the entirety of The Wheel of Time series. (Sorry, Sylas.)
1. It Really Does Seem Like There Should Be Dual Saviors.
In Reading The Wheel of Time (Part 2), Sylas hits at an immediate absence in the metaphysical structure of Jordan’s world:
After all, if there are two sides to the One Power, shouldn’t there be two Dragons, one for each side? I feel like part of the theme of the series is going to be about re-achieving balance, but if it’s only Rand responsible for fixing his previous incarnation’s mistakes, I don’t feel like that is true balance at all.
It’s notable that this gap is so apparent this early to a first-time reader. And while it’s not a new argument for fans of Jordan’s series, I’ve never seen it presented quite as succinctly. As the series continues we learn that there is something of a triad in play between saidin, saidar, and the True Power. But while saidin spins out a champion in the form of the Dragon, and seemingly spins out an anti-Dragon in the form of Ishamael, we don’t have anyone who openly claims, or even expects, a champion for saidar.
Did Jordan ever realize this gap in his system of metaphysical balance? The author and fans of series have previously entertained discussions that the role of Dragon could switch to a user of saidar after sufficient revolutions of the Wheel of Ages, leading to Robert Jordan stating unequivocally that the Dragon is always male. This is, seemingly, as close as we get to the issue from the author’s perspective. If Jordan’s thinking extended to the question at hand—that of saviors representing both saidin and saidar—then he never gave any indication of it.
Which is a shame because Sylas’ question could arguably be addressed by the events of the series. There are a number of saidar-using characters in the series who make momentous world-spanning changes. Moiraine intuitively guides events as if she is ta’averen herself. Lanfear’s domination threatens the stability of the Dragon himself. Nynaeve heals madness and is instrumental in removing the taint from saidin. Tuon is Empress of nearly half the world and eventually compels the Dragon to bend knee to her.
These are all good candidates, but really it’s Egwene who emerges as saidar‘s champion. Her personal growth and journey to leadership throughout The Wheel of Time series parallels that of Rand’s, and she exhibits the same uncanny timing and strength of will that Rand himself does, going from Accepted Puppet Amyrlin of exiled Aes Sedai to the Amyrlin of a newly unified and bolstered Aes Sedai, then subsequently going on to create a weave that literally heals reality. In action, Egwene is just as much a savior, a Dragon, as Rand. It would not have been difficult for Jordan to hint at this later on in the series. Jordan could have even given Egwene a prophesied title similar to “the Dragon,” perhaps to bolster her siege campaign as the rightful Amyrlin, or as a touching send-off in THAT CHAPTER from Verin, or as a late-game reveal that she dismisses as too much of a distraction from the armageddon at hand.
Egwene and Rand certainly act like dual saviors, but was that Jordan’s intent, or did the story itself call for Egwene’s character to rise to the fore? We may never know.
2. Being told you’re a channeler as akin to being forced to “come out”.
The Eye of the World came out in 1990, but the book still brings up a present-day struggle in its first half: The act of “coming out”. Sylas explains in Part 6:
Nynaeve’s attitude to being told about her gift is a much more deliberate rejection. As a queer person, it’s impossible for me not to draw a parallel between Nynaeve’s reaction and my own struggle with my personal identity. I can perfectly imagine Nynaeve, as a young apprentice Wisdom, having a sense of something different about herself, a feeling that she shies away from recognizing.
And just…wow. I’m a bit ashamed to have never caught this even though it’s right there and the more we find out about the complicated relationship Nynaeve has with her own anger, her own intuition, expression, and power the more this analogy continues to just be right there. Sylas expounds further on this in the above link, so check it out.
3. Robert Jordan is way better at pivotal character scenes than I ever realized.
This doesn’t come up until near the end of The Eye of the World, but I never would have noticed the dramatic skill that Jordan demonstrates in this exchange between Nynaeve and Lan unless Sylas hadn’t isolated it:
Nynaeve tells Lan that she should have known that he was a king, but he disagrees, calling himself just a man without even a farmer’s croft to his name. Nynaeve insists that some women wouldn’t care about having land or a title, just the man; but Lan replies that a man who would ask her to accept so little would not be worthy of her.
“… You are a remarkable woman, as beautiful as the sunrise, as fierce as a warrior. You are a lioness, Wisdom.”
“A Wisdom seldom weds.” She paused to take a deep breath, as if steeling herself. “But if I go to Tar Valon, it may be that I will be something other than a Wisdom.”
“Aes Sedai marry as seldom as Wisdoms. Few men can live with so much power in a wife, dimming them by her radiance whether she wishes to or not.”
“Some men are strong enough. I know one such.” If there could have been any doubt, her look left none as to whom she meant.
“All I have is a sword, and a war I cannot win, but can never stop fighting.”
“I’ve told you I care nothing for that. Light, you’ve made me say more than is proper already. Will you shame me to the point of asking you?”
“I will never shame you.” The gentle tone, like a caress, sounded odd to Rand’s ears in the Warder’s voice, but it made Nynaeve’s eyes brighten. “I will hate the man you choose because he is not me, and love him if he makes you smile. No woman deserves the sure knowledge of widow’s black as her brideprice, you least of all.” He set the untouched cup on the ground and rose. “I must check the horses.”
Nynaeve remained there, kneeling, after he had gone.
Sleep or no, Rand closed his eyes. He did not think the Wisdom would like it if he watched her cry.
That isn’t dialogue, that is a dance. Nynaeve jokes, and Lan demures. Nynaeve counters by being heartfelt and Lan dismisses it with a compliment that seems too hyperbolic to be true but is actually just as heartfelt. Nynaeve is nonetheless knocked back by the dismissal and tries to place herself once more at a remove by bringing up societal standards. Lan, eager for such an out, plays along with this but goes too far, saying that no man could withstand the glory of an Aes Sedai/Wisdom. This is such an attack on Nynaeve’s sense of self that it forces her to defend her new status as a channeler, which she does, with a ferocity and immediacy that the reader already identifies as unique to Nynaeve. Her anger escalates and Lan suddenly reveals just how deep his feelings are for her. It is clear that only Nynaeve could move Lan to such open emotion. These two are perfect for each other and now, look, Lan is walking away. Having taken us to these dizzying emotional heights, Jordan has ended the scene, leaving us just as gutted as Nynaeve.
The entire scene is only about 300 words and it propels their relationship through 14 books. Jordan himself wrote, in his words, “bodice rippers” before tackling his fantasy saga, and you can tell that he’s flexing his romance-writing muscles here. Once the Wheel of Time TV series comes around, I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of the scenes that is adapted from the book verbatim. This is when Nynaeve and Lan both become the people we know they’re going to be throughout the rest of the series.
4. Almost everything you need to know about cleansing saidin is in the first book.
The eponymous Eye of the World is such a bizarre artifact, even for The Wheel of Time, that it’s easy to forget. Its importance isn’t entirely clear until much later on in the series, and even then you still have to stretch your imagination to make it that way. It seems like a good way to hide the Horn of Valere: Put the Horn in a pool of pure saidin so that intruders vanish into the pool and the Horn isn’t corrupted, put the pool of saidin in a vanishing vacuole/sub-world-ish thing guarded by an immortal being, and then PRESTO! The Shadow now can’t summon all the heroes of legend to fight on its side.
Doing those kinds of mental gymnastics makes it easy to overlook that we’re also given a description of just how the pool of pure saidin is created:
The Green Man tells them that about how the Eye was created by male and female Aes Sedai working together, as all the greatest works of the Aes Sedai were made. They made it because of the breaking of the World, and they “died, all, to make it pure.”
The Eye is therefore proof that the Dark One’s taint can be filtered out from saidin and that filtered saidin can stay pure as long as it is kept separate from the entirety of saidin. The process for doing so discovered by the Aes Sedai who created the Eye is imperfect: It creates a sizable amount of saidin (enough for one powerful male channeler to match the Forsaken in strength and lay waste to an army) but doing so kills ALL of the channelers involved. The implication is clear: The taint can be fully cleansed only if you have an unlimited supply of channelers. Otherwise you will run out of channelers before you’re able to filter the entirety of saidin. To The Dark One’s mind, this is clearly a feature, not a bug.
But there’s still some important foreshadowing being done here on Jordan’s part: Filtering saidin works, it’s just the process that needs perfecting. Something else is needed to draw and nullify the taint once it’s filtered out of the One Power. Something that attracts and attacks the Dark One’s taint. Something that the Age of Legends would not have had access to, but which our heroes encounter almost immediately after leaving home: Mashadar.
The cleansing of the taint in Winter’s Heart seems to come out of nowhere, but almost every piece of the puzzle is right here in the beginning.
5. Mat needs mittens.
It’s just a small comment…
Somebody should glue that boy’s hands into his pockets, although I guess that wouldn’t do much good in a dream.
…but seriously, if Mat wore mittens then The Wheel of Time would be very, very different.