Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Many Worlds, One Wheel in Robert Jordan’s The Great Hunt (Part 8)

This week while I was reading the Wheel of Time, I learned that I didn’t understand the Schrödinger’s cat theorem as well as I thought it did. Granted, I am not really a math and science person, and I’m still not sure I understand what quantum superposition is except in the very broadest sense, but what I do now understand is that Schrödinger’s thought experiment ultimately suggests the many worlds interpretation of physics over the idea of waveform collapse; Basically, Schrödinger was trying to say that every possible outcome of an event creates a new universe, and that there are an infinite number of universes created by every possible outcome.

How does this relate to The Great Hunt? you might ask. (Well, you’re probably not asking that because you’ve already read this weeks’ chapters, but please permit me the rhetorical device.) This week, Rand, Loial, and Hurin have accidentally traveled to a universe outside their own—an “if” world—and they have no idea how to get back.

Chapter 13 opens with Rand awaking somewhere that seems like the same hollow he fell asleep in, and yet is different. Instead of on one side of the hollow, he, Loial, and Hurin are sleeping in the middle of it, at the base of a huge stone covered in strange markings. The quality of their surroundings is also different, paler and distant-seeming; even the sun is strangely pale in the sky, despite a complete lack of cloud cover, and the hollow is paved with stones and rings like steps up to a lip ringed by fire-ravaged trees. Perhaps worst of all, everyone, except for the three of them and their horses, has disappeared.

Rand, hoping that he’s dreaming, shakes Loial and Hurin awake. Hurin is immediately panicky, but the Ogier looks over the stone and declares that he believes it is the same one that they went to sleep by last night, though at the time it was toppled and half buried, weathered by the elements. He explains to Rand that he once read a book that had a picture of this Stone, and some bits of information. He believes that the Aes Sedai, in the Age of Legends, used such Stones to travel to to other worlds along what they called “the lines of ‘if’.”

Loial is uncertain of his hypothesis that they have entered another world, though; even if the Aes Sedai did use the Stones in such a way, as far as he knows they have no one among them who can channel. But Rand’s conscience pricks at him—he remembers the void forming just as he was falling asleep, and although he tries to push the thought aside, he decides that the fact that they are here must be his fault. Hurin turns to him in alarm, calling him my Lord and begging him to make sure they get home, because his wife couldn’t handle not ever knowing what happened to him, or at least having his body to “return to the mother.” Rand wants to refute the title, but he realizes that Hurin is taking comfort from trusting Rand, as a Lord and the designated leader, and since Rand believes that it’s his fault they are in such a mess, he can’t bring himself to take away that security. He promises Hurin that he will figure out a way to get them home, and Hurin is immediately comforted, although Rand insists that there will be no bowing.

He goes to the Stone and lays his hand on it, struggling past his fear to form the Void. There he sees the light he now recognizes as saidin, and he manages to stretch out to touch it. But he cannot hold it, and as he tries he finds the taint clinging to him instead. He forms a mental image of the hollow as it was before, with all of Ingtar’s men and Perrin and Mat, and tries to bring it into the light somehow. It makes his head hurt, and as he continues to struggle, the void shatters and drives into his mind like sharp points of broken glass.

Thrown out of his concentration, Rand opens his eyes and struggles to remain outwardly calm as he recovers, the pain real enough that he’s surprised not to find blood at his temples. He notices how calm Hurin is, how he trusts that Lord Rand is doing something because that is what lords do, protect the people. Loial is watching Rand curiously, and Rand wonders what the Ogier is thinking as he tells them that it was worth a try. He’s trying to keep the worst-case-scenario thoughts out of his head when Hurin cautiously suggests that they could find the Darkfriends and make them show Rand and co how to get back. Rand is confused at first, but Hurin explains that he can still smell the trail, although it is oddly faint, like everything else in that world.

Rand, knowing that they must find the Horn and especially the dagger for Mat, and knowing also how much he fears to try to channel again, decides that they will go after the Darkfriends, to recapture the Horn if they can, and to have their location to provide to Ingtar if they can’t. He sends Hurin ahead to double-check the trail as he and Loial pack up, and the Ogier questions Rand as to his intent with the Stones.

“Rand, that fragment said the Stones came from an older Age than the Age of Legends, and even the Aes Sedai then did not understand them, though they used them, some of the truly powerful did. They used them with the One Power, Rand. How did you think to use this Stone to take us back? Or any other Stone we find?”

Thinking quickly, Rand suggests that if the Stones were so old, perhaps they did not actually need the Power at all to be used; after all, the Darkfriends also traveled using them, somehow, and they certainly weren’t channeling. Loial seems doubtful, but accepts Rand’s reasoning, and they ride out, trying to ignore the strange way the land seems to shift and throw off their senses of distance and perspective as they ride south, following Hurin, following the trail.

Meanwhile, back in the original world, Ingtar is demanding how three men, one of them his loyal sniffer, could have disappeared from camp without a trace. Mat suggests that they might have run away, and when Ingtar reacts incredulously, Mat starts to mention something about Rand. Perrin is concerned that Mat is going to give the secret away, and wishes he could throw something at him to stop him, but fortunately Mat comes to his senses and just says that it’s possible. Ingtar answers that Loial is free to go as he wished, but that he knows that neither Hurin nor Rand, who knows his duty now, would run away. But the fact remains that they cannot figure out where the three disappeared to, and Ingtar stomps off, angrily muttering to himself about the impossibility of it all and wondering how he can track the Darkfriends without Hurin.

Perrin is worried about Rand, but he realizes that such thoughts are doing nothing to follow the Darkfriends, to find the Horn and the dagger that Mat needs to live. And he also realizes that there is a way he can help follow that trail, as much as he has been shying away from the idea. He doesn’t believe Rand would have run away while Mat was still in danger, and he himself cannot run away from the truth for the same reason.

Thinking about how it serves him right to be unable to run from his truth after telling Rand that sometimes you can’t run, Perrin closes his eyes and lets his thoughts reach out to the wolves. To his brothers, which he acknowledges as such, even though he does not want it. They respond, surprised and pleased to find a “two-legs that talks,” saying that they have heard of such things returning. They ask if he is Long Tooth, sending him images that Perrin recognizes as Elyas. He offers a picture of himself instead, and is surprised when the wolves say that they have heard of him.

It was not the image he had made, a young man with heavy shoulders and shaggy, brown curls, a young man with an axe at his belt, who others thought moved and thought slowly. That man was there, somewhere in the mind picture that came from the wolves, but stronger by far was a massive, wild bull with curved horns of shining metal, running through the night with the speed and exuberance of youth, curly-haired coat gleaming in the moonlight, flinging himself in among Whitecloaks on their horses, with the air crisp and cold and dark, and blood so red on the horns, and. . . .

Young Bull.

Perrin is so shocked that they have given him a name that he loses contact for a moment. He doesn’t want to remember the night he killed two Whitecloaks, has been doing his best to move past the guilt and pain he feels over that action, but he reaches back out to the wolves anyway. He gives them the smell of the three missing men, but the wolves tell him only that they last smelled Rand and the others in the camp at night.

Then, reluctantly, knowing that he will have to tell Ingtar if he gains any information, Perrin asks the wolves about the smell of Fain and the Trollocs. For Perrin, the scent of Fain is so horrible he can barely stand it; for the wolves, the scent of Trollocs belongs to the Twisted Ones who are their greatest enemy, who they would go even through fire to kill, who they would bite and take down even though their flesh tasted terrible and their blood burned the tongue. And like Perrin, they recognize that the scent of Fain is far worse.

The soldiers and horses hear the wolves howling in the distance as they react to the scent, offering Perrin images that let him glean that the Darkfriends are still traveling south. The wolves urge Young Bull to join them in the hunt, to take down the Twisted Ones that have invaded the wolves’ land, and Perrin feels their fury and eagerness fill him, feels himself snarling and moving to join them, but he pulls back from the contact instead. Mat asks if he is sick, seeming both genuinely worried and also angry, and offers to make him some willow-bark tea, but Perrin assures him that he is fine, and goes to find Ingtar.

Taking Ingtar aside where no one else can hear, Perrin confesses that, while he has no idea where Rand and the others went, that he knows that Fain and the Trollocs are headed south. When Ingtar asks how Perrin knows, he tells the truth, answering simply “Wolves told me.” He expects either derision or fear, to possibly be accused of being a Darkfriend, and resolves that no matter what Ingtar does, Perrin will not be drawn to kill again. But Ingtar only nods thoughtfully and says that he has heard rumors of such things. He has even heard about a Warder who had such an ability, Elyas, and Perrin confirms that he has met Elyas. Ingtar is more concerned about finding the Horn than he is about what helps him do it, so when Perrin confirms that the wolves will track the Darkfriends for them, Ingtar agrees to the new plan. He doesn’t think that they should tell the others the truth, however; while wolves are considered good luck in the Borderlands because Trollocs fear them, some of the men might not understand Perrin’s abilites. This suits Perrin, who never wanted anyone to know, just fine, and they agree to tell everyone that Perrin has Hurin’s talent instead.

That information is generally accepted by Ingtar’s men, who have noticed Perrin’s sensitive nose already, but Mat is incredulous about the whole thing.

“A sniffer! You? You’re going to track murderers by smell? Perrin, you are as crazy as Rand. I am the only sane one left from Emond’s Field, with Egwene and Nynaeve trotting off to Tar Valon to become—” He cut himself short with an uneasy glance for the Shienarans.

Eventually Uno finds Trolloc tracks that confirm that Perrin is following the right trail, but Perrin has no time to worry about Mat’s disparaging remarks or anything else, because he has to hold the wolves back from attacking the Trollocs. He’s worried that the wolves, who don’t care about Darkfriends any more than other humans, will allow the them to escape with the Horn and dagger while they are busy taking down Fain and the Trollocs, and there will be no way to track them. He’s still having his argument with them when he receives some images that make him feel sick.

The wolves have found the slaughtered village, the mangled corpses strewn about, the earth bloodsoaked and torn up by human feet and Trolloc hooves, the vultures feasting on severed heads and piles of bodies. Perrin has to break contact before he throws up, and he cautiously informs Ingtar that there is something bad ahead of them, that he believes that the Trollocs killed the people from the village. Everyone buys this because sniffers can smell killing, but before they can investigate, Ingtar tells them that someone is following them.

Mat is hopeful that it’s Rand, but the lone rider following their trail at a mad gallop turns out to be Verin. She tells Ingtar that Moiraine sent her, and that she had a very hard ride trying to catch them. She has seen the village with the murdered Fade, and babbles on about it and the flies and how she wished she could have examined the body until she breaks off suddenly and asks where Rand is. When Ingtar explains about the three missing members of their party, Verin surprises him by knowing that Hurin is a sniffer. Ingtar explains that he has a new sniffer, Perrin, and invites Verin to ride with them, although he doesn’t seem like he really likes the idea.

Verin gives Perrin a suspicious look, remarking about how “providential” it is that Ingtar acquired a new sniffer right when he lost his old one, but ultimately she is more interested in Rand’s disappearance than anything else, and she decides to ride with Ingtar so that she can question him about it. Mat observes that Verin is after Rand, not the Horn, and Perrin agrees. He thinks privately that Rand might actually be better off wherever he is.

 

The basic idea of the many worlds interpretation have been used a lot in recent science fiction, especially in movies. It can be a convenient device for writers to explore “what if” scenarios, where characters are confronted with questions about themselves or their world view by being thrown up against something that is almost-but-not-quite their reality. Splinter realities are also common plot devices, in which time travelers change something and cause a new reality to branch off from the one the time traveler belongs to, like Captain Nero does in the 2009 Star Trek film, or as happens to Donna Noble in the 4th season Doctor Who episode, “Turn Left.” But the world Rand, Loial, and Hurin have found themselves feels less like a fully formed reality and more like a hazy mirror image of the one they come from. The fact that everything seems pale and hazy and unreal suggests this to me, as well as the quote Loial gives Rand:

If a woman go left, or right, does Time’s flow divide? Does the Wheel then weave two Patterns? A thousand, for each of her turnings? As many as the stars? Is one real, the others merely shadows and reflections?

Of course, there are no answers to the questions posed by this text, and what seems like a bizarre alteration of the laws of normal physics in one world may be totally normal in an other. But those burnt trees gave me (and Rand) pause, and I wonder if there won’t be some terrible secret about this world that is eventually revealed; like it’s a place where the Aes Sedai of old came to conduct dangerous experiments, or it’s a world that has given over to the Dark One, or a world that died out in nuclear annihilation.

I wonder how the existence of the Creator and the Dark One factors into the world-building of The Wheel of Time. I can see how a Creator god could have an infinite number of universes over which they preside, but somehow it’s harder for me to imagine the Dark One being concerned with more than one world. His desire to overtake Rand’s universe and remake it in his image, to kill Time itself, seems so… petty? small?—if he is aware that there are many other universe that will continue on, unaffected by his actions in one. Maye there is a Dark One for every universe, making it possible that some universes triumph over the Dark while others fall to it? That would certainly put Rand’s journey into a very interesting perspective, but I don’t think there would be a Wheel for every universe. And if there is only one Wheel of Time for all the universes, if the Dark One succeeded in destroying it, that would affect the whole multiverse, as it were.

It also seems unlikely to me that the Darkfriends are actually in this world with Rand and Hurin and Loial. Until we learn more, I’m sticking to my theory that this world is an echo or reflection of the “real” one, and that what Hurin is smelling is also a reflection of the real thing, following the exact path that exists in the other world. I also have one important piece of information that Rand doesn’t have, which is that Egwene dreamed of the woman standing over him, the evil woman, who is probably the person actually responsible for their arrival in this place. In the passage describing the dream, Egwene’s sense of a trap waiting to close on Rand began after she saw them all disappear. So there’s definitely something bad waiting out there for them.

But it’s significant to see Rand accepting the title of “lord” from Hurin, even if it is under duress. Looks like Ingtar’s prediction about Rand rising to do his duty is already coming true, and I don’t think Rand has realized that the drive of the Pattern is going to be the thing that constrains him and directs his choices a lot more than any plans that Moiraine might have. It says something interesting about the idea of destiny though; Rand did have the opportunity to deny that role. He didn’t have to allow Hurin to keep the illusion that Rand is a lord, didn’t have to assume the mantle of leader. But he is a good man, and he recognized that it was the right thing to do for everyone’s sake, so he chose to do it. Replace the word “lord” with “hero” and you get a very profound thought from Rand as he muses over Hurin’s confidence in him.

That was what [heroes] were for. They protected the land and the people with their bodies and their lives, and when something was wrong, they set it aright and saw fairness and justice done. As long as Rand was doing something, anything, Hurin would have confidence that it would all come right in the end. That was what [heroes] did.

You could pull the same trick and replace “lords” with “Dragons.”

But Rand is not the only one facing the question of accepting a destiny that he doesn’t want for the sake of others. Perrin would keep denying the wolves for his own sake, but because of Mat’s predicament, he has to make a different choice. I was really proud of him in this chapter, and I liked the parallel between him and Rand. (Can y’all tell that parallel journeys are my jam?) I really hope that eventually he can overcome his fear and desire to be “normal” and find pleasure in being a wolfbrother. The struggle of the different morality when it comes to killing may never leave him, but there is much more to a wolf’s life than that, and I think Perrin would like to run free with a pack, to be seen as they see him rather than as the slow thinker that so many humans consider him to be. I really want Perrin to get a chance to be comfortable within himself.

Mat is starting to get on my nerves, though. I was pretty fond of him, foolishness and all, in The Eye of the World, but in the last few chapters of The Great Hunt, I admit I’ve started to get irritated. His fear is making him snippy and bitter, but he’s just being rude at this point, and I think his suffering is making him become more self-centered. Rand could be kidnapped or dead, but Mat seems half convinced that Rand ran off because he didn’t care about what happened to him, which is particularly silly since Mat knows that Rand only came along in the first place because he wanted to help find the dagger. For that matter, if Rand had just up and abandoned the hunt for Fain, it would be hard not to point fingers in Mat’s direction, since his response to learning about Ran’d abilities was basically “Thanks for wanting to help me I guess, but I’m going to stay as far away from you as I can, you walking deathtrap.” He’s super far away from you now, Mat. Maybe you should be more careful about what you wish for!

It’s also pretty unfair of Mat to suggest that Perrin and Rand are the “crazy” or abnormal ones while he is the only “sane” normal one; he’s attached to a possessed evil dagger! The fact that it’s an outside influence that he contracted accidentally instead of something innate in himself is a difference, but it’s not that big of a difference, and it’s also more Mat’s fault that he’s in trouble he’s in than it is Rand’s or Perrin’s fault for what they are. But maybe Mat knows this, and he’s saying all these things to convince himself otherwise, and to distract from his own fears. I hope we get a chapter or a section from Mat’s point of view soon; it’s always easier to empathize someone when we get to be in their head.

While we’re setting up some dreams, I’d love to be in Ingtar or Verin’s head, because there’s a lot going on with each of them that no one knows about. I have the weirdest feeling like Ingtar’s hiding something, although I don’t have much to back it up besides the fact that he seems like a much more flexible person than he was in the first book, and that I’m probably jumping to think everyone’s a Darkfriend just ’cause I know anyone can be. And as for Verin, the more she talks, the more it becomes clear that she is playing chatty fool to cover up her own keen intellect, and I am very certain that she has her own agenda, whether Moiraine sent her after Rand or not. And why would Moiraine suddenly think that Verin should go find Rand after she and the Amyrlin made such point of telling him he would not be hindered by them. The only reason I can think of is that Moiraine got wind of a plot against Rand, and Verin arrived too late to prevent it. Which may be the case. But I suppose we will see.

The upcoming chapters will finally begin to make good on the suspense that has been building since we left Fal Dara, and I can’t wait to cover them with you. Next week’s power will be Chapters 15 and 16; in the meantime, I await some people who know a lot more about physics than me to add their theories about alternate universes in The Wheel of Time. Just remember watch those spoilers please! Y’all are the best.

Sylas K Barrett imagines that the alternate universe Rand finds himself in looks a lot like that movie camera trick where you move the camera in the opposite direction while you zoom in or out. Hollywood vertigo, baby!

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