Reading The Wheel of Time

Reading the Wheel of Time: Arrogance, Knowledge and Fear in Robert Jordan’s The Dragon Reborn (Part 1)

It is a big day for Reading of the Wheel of Time. We’re just five days past the anniversary of the first post in this series, and today we start in on the third book, The Dragon Reborn. It seems that Robert Jordan is determined to make me face my prejudice against prologues and epilogues, as each one has been more critical to analysis than the last. Of course, the Prologue of The Eye of the World is actually incredibly important, but there was no way to know how when I had just begun reading the book. The Prologue of The Dragon Reborn, however, widens the reader’s perspective of proceeding events even more than the Prologue of The Great Hunt did, providing information on some of the players in The Great Hunt. I even suspect we have a recurring appearance from “the man who called himself Bors” in the character of Inquisitor Jaichim Carridin.

Captain Geofram Bornhald has, until now, been our only real window into the thinking of the Children of the Light, and now we are seeing their functions in a whole new light, through the perspective and machinations of the Lord Captain Commander himself, as well as through an Inquisitor who is really a Darkfriend. I always suspected that the political machinations of the Whitecloaks would be both fascinating and appalling, and I find my suspicions more or less borne out in this one prologue alone.

The Prologue opens with Pedron Niall, Lord Captain Commander of the Children of the Light, interviewing Jaret Byar about the deaths of Geofram Bornhald and his legion, and the advent of a new man declaring himself the Dragon Reborn.

He is an old man, but Niall is nevertheless still strong, his audience room sparsely furnished like a soldier’s, except for the gold sunburst in the floor. Niall cares little for the wealth he walks across, and is more concerned with the age in his hands as he unrolls the parchment of a drawing. He thinks about how little time he has left, and how he has to make it be enough.

The drawing shows of a young man with gray eyes and red hair, possibly tall, but mostly unremarkable save for his coloring.

“This… this boy has proclaimed himself the Dragon Reborn?” Niall muttered.

The Dragon. The name made him feel the chills of winter and age. The name borne by Lews Therin Telamon when he doomed every man who could channel the One Power, then or ever after, to insanity and death, himself among them. It was more than three thousand years since Aes Sedai pride and the War of the Shadow had brought an end to the Age of Legends. Three thousand years, but prophecy and legend helped men remember—the heart of it, at least, if the details were gone. Lews Therin Kinslayer. The man who had begun the Breaking of the World, when madmen who could tap the power that drove the universe leveled mountains and sank ancient lands beneath the seas, ” “when the whole face of the earth had been changed and all who survived fled like beasts before a wildfire. It had not ended until the last male Aes Sedai lay dead, and a scattered human race could begin trying to rebuild from the rubble—where even rubble remained. It was burned into memory by the stories mothers told children. And prophecy said the Dragon would be born again.”

It was a rhetorical question, but Byar answers it anyway, explaining how thousands of people have already proclaimed for this new false Dragon, and how Arad Doman and Tarabon are in civil war and there was fighting all along Almoth Plain until the full cold of winter set in. Byar has never seen unrest spread so quickly, and he expects it to rise back up again as soon as winter abates.

Niall raises a finger, interrupting a story Byar has already told him, twice. He asks if Byar is certain that Bornhald and his legion were destroyed by Aes Sedai, fighting openly, and Byar answers that he is. He explains how he saw “two of the Tar Valon witches” and tells how the ground exploded beneath the Children’s feet and how lightning struck their ranks from a clear sky. Niall can see the conviction in Byar’s face, a man of honesty though not of imagination. This fits with how Bornhald has described him.

Niall knows that there have been no male Aes Sedai since the breaking of the world, but he sees the women as being almost as bad. Now he can see that the Three Oaths of the Aes Sedai—“to speak no word that was not true, to make no weapon for one man to kill another, to use the One Power as a weapon only against Darkfriends or Shadowspawn”—are lies just as he always believed them to be. No one, he thinks, could want such power as the Aes Sedai wielded, except to challenge the Creator and fight for the Dark One.

He asks after the ones who destroyed Bornhald and the legion, and Byar explains that they called themselves Seanchan, and that Bornhald called them Darkfriends. Byar loyally explains that Bornhald and the legion may have died in their efforts, but that they also succeeded in driving the Seanchan back. Byar also reminds Niall that he was commanded by Bornhald to stand aside from the battle and observe, and Niall distractedly reassures him that no one doubts his honesty or courage. As Byar stands to go, however, he has to bring something else up again: the fact that they were betrayed.

“By this one Darkfriend you spoke of, Child Byar?” He could not keep an edge out of his own voice. A year’s planning lay in ruins amid the corpses of a thousand of the Children, and Byar wanted to talk only of this one man. “This young blacksmith you’ve only seen twice, this Perrin from the Two Rivers?”

“Yes, my Lord Captain Commander. I do not know how, but I know he is to blame. I know it.”

Niall assures Byar that it will be addressed, and dismisses him as Byar tries to keep talking. He wonders what had Byar so obsessed with Perrin; there are too many Darkfriends to be so focused on just one.

He shifted on the hard chair, trying to find comfort for his old bones. Not for the first time he thought vaguely that perhaps a cushion would not be too much luxury. And not for the first time, he pushed the thought away. The world tumbled toward chaos, and he had no time to give in to age.

He let all the signs that foretold disaster swirl through his mind. War gripped Tarabon and Arad Doman, civil war ripped at Cairhien, and war fever was rising in Tear and Illian, old enemies “as they were. Perhaps these wars meant nothing in themselves—men fought wars—but they usually came one at a time. And aside from the false Dragon somewhere on Almoth Plain, another tore at Saldaea, and a third plagued Tear. Three at once. They must all be false Dragons. They must be!

Niall thinks of the other signs he has become aware of. Sightings of Aiel, who have only come out of the Waste one time since the Breaking, during the Aiel War. The Sea Folk ignoring trade and seeking signs and portents but refusing to explain. The Great Hunt for the Horn called in Illian, seeking the Horn of Valere which, prophecy says, must be present at Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle. Even the Ogier, who almost never leave their steddings, are said to be traveling between them to meet with each other.

And then there is the issue of the Aes Sedai. Niall has heard that some Aes Sedai were sent to confront one of the other false Dragons, Mazrim Taim, who can channel the One Power. Even Niall acknowledges the benefit of having the Aes Sedai deal with such a man, but now they have apparently given their support to the man in the drawings. He can find no other way to understand the facts he has been presented with.

Niall can see chaos building, and is certain that these signs mean that the Last Battle really is coming. This has disrupted his “plans that would have secured his name among the Children of the Light for a hundred generations,” but he does see new opportunities in the current turmoil, as long as he has the time to act on them.

His thoughts are interrupted by the arrival of Jaichim Carridin, an Inquisitor of the Hand of the Light, whom Niall summoned earlier. He tells Carridin of the news from Falme, which the Inquisitor is already aware of, despite the fact that no one besides Niall is supposed to have heard it. Niall muses if the Questioners really consider themselves part of the Children at all. Carridin tells him that there are Darkfriends in Falme.

“Darkfriends?” Niall’s chuckle held no amusement. “A few weeks gone I was receiving reports from you that Geofram Bornhald was a servant of the Dark One because he moved soldiers onto Toman Head against your orders.” His voice became dangerously soft. “Do you now mean me to believe that Bornhald, as a Darkfriend, led a thousand of the Children to their deaths fighting other Darkfriends?”

Carridin refuses to be baited, pointing out that they can never know if Bornhald was a Darkfriend because he died before he “could be put to the question.” Nevertheless, he is certain that those in Falme were Darkfriends and Aes Sedai, acting in support of a false Dragon, and that the One Power was used against Bornhald and against the armies of Arad Doman and Tarabon. He is also dismissive of the suggestion that the invaders in Falme came from across the Aryth Ocean. He explains that, of the few ships that ever tried to sail across the Aryth Ocean, those that returned did so because they were going to run out of food and water, and even the Sea Folk do not sail across the Aryth Ocean, despite being willing to sail to the lands beyond the Aiel Waste. Therefore, he argues, even if there are lands beyond the ocean, it would be impossible to carry an army across them. In addition to this information, he explains that the armies in Falme had “monsters” fighting for them, which is obviously how uneducated witnesses would describe Trollocs and other Shadowspawn.

Niall asks after the drawings next, how dangerous Carridin believes the man to be, and whether he can channel. Carridin doesn’t know the answer to the latter, but imagines that the Aes Sedai could make it look like he can, in any case. Any false Dragon is dangerous, he continues, but he is not so dangerous now as he can become, given how scattered his forces are. Carridin promises that, once the spring comes, he will lead the other half of Bornhald’s legion—the half he did not take to Toman Head—and hunt down the false Dragon before summer comes.

Niall asks why Carridin didn’t take his own forces to Falme, why he tried to stop Bornhald, and whether there was an army of Darkfriends there.

Carridin blinked, but his voice remained steady. “At first they were only rumors, my Lord Captain Commander. Rumors so wild, no one could believe. By the time I learned the truth, Bornhald had joined battle. He was dead, and the Darkfriends scattered. Besides, my task was to bring the Light to Almoth Plain. I could not disobey my orders to chase after rumors.”

“Your task?” Niall said, his voice rising as he stood. Carridin topped him by a head, but the Inquisitor stepped back. “Your task? Your task was to seize Almoth Plain! An empty bucket that no one holds except by words and claims, and all you had to do was fill it. The nation of Almoth would have lived again, ruled by the Children of the Light, with no need to pay lip service to a fool of a king. Amadicia and Almoth, a vise gripping Tarabon. In five years we would have held sway there as much as here in Amadicia. And you made a dog’s dinner of it!”

Carridin protests that there was no way he could have known what would happen, but insists that he can still salvage the situation and find the false Dragon. But Niall cuts him off, telling Carridin that his plans are done and even suggesting that the High Inquisitor would not object if Niall put Carridin forward for questioning. Carridin, visibly nervous at last, observes that Niall is implying that there is another option, and reminds the Lord Captain Commander that he is sworn to obey his orders.

Niall feels a sense of danger, knowing that the gambit on which he is about to embark is risky and may result in his own quiet assassination if it gets out. He tells Carridin to find the false Dragon but not to kill him, rather to keep him alive, although any Aes Sedai getting near him should be killed. Using the analogy of a lion in the streets, he explains his plan to allow the Dragon to roam free long enough to scare people, and then to have the Children swoop in at the last moment. By putting themselves in that position, Niall believes they can subtly take control and gain acceptance for the Children as saviors, and therefore leaders.

Carridin asks if Niall means to take Tarabon and Arad Doman as well as Almoth Plain, but Niall only commands him to carry out his orders. He also tells Carridin that if the false Dragon dies, or if any accident or even natural death befalls Niall himself, Carridin will be next.

The door closed behind the Inquisitor. Niall rubbed his hands together. He felt cold. The dice were spinning, with no way of telling what pips would show when they stopped. The Last Battle truly was coming. Not the Tarmon Gai’don of legend, with the Dark One breaking free to be faced by the Dragon Reborn. Not that, he was sure. The Aes Sedai of the Age of Legends might have made a hole in the Dark One’s prison at Shayol Ghul, but Lews Therin Kinslayer and his Hundred Companions had sealed it up again. The counterstroke had tainted the male half of the True Source forever and driven them mad, and so begun the Breaking, but one of those ancient Aes Sedai could do what ten of the Tar Valon witches of today could not. The seals they had made would hold.

Niall believes that the “real” Tarmon Gai’don will be a huge, efficient attack, with Trollocs pouring out of the Blight and Myrddraal and perhaps new Dreadlords coordinating the efforts of the Shadowspawn. He believes that humanity is too scattered, too busy fighting amongst itself, to withstand such an attack, but that he can unite everyone under the banner of the Children of the Light, and that it will be Pedron Niall, not the Dragon Reborn, who will be recorded in the annals of history as having fought Tarmon Gai’don, and won.

Just then, the thoughts he is speaking aloud are interrupted by the arrival of a thin man with a large nose, who enters the chamber through a hidden panel. Niall tells the arrival, Ordeith, that the secret passage was only for Ordeith to use to enter the room unseen by the rest of the fortress, not so that Ordeith could spy on Niall’s personal conversation.

“Ordeith” answers smoothly that he only just arrived, and heard only the few words that Niall was just muttering aloud to himself. Niall notes the half-mocking smile that he has never seen absent from the man’s face. He knows, of course, that Ordeith is not the man’s true name; in the Old Tongue it means “wormwood.” The man arrived in mid-winter, somehow managing to talk his way through all the guards and to Pedron Niall himself. He has proven to know more about the events on Toman Head than even Carridin’s reports or Byar’s story. He was also clever enough to point Niall’s attention to the emerging pattern of chaos.

Still, Niall is annoyed at the man’s unsummoned arrival, and at the way Ordeith unrolls and stares at one of the drawings, his smile deepening to a grimace. He asks if Ordeith finds a false Dragon funny, and Ordeith laughs.

Ordeith admits that he knows the man in the drawing, that his name is Rand al’Thor, that he comes from the Two Rivers in Andor, and that he is a Darkfriend “so deep in the Shadow it would make your soul cringe to know the half.” Niall recognizes the name of the Two Rivers as the place where Byar said Perrin was from, prompting Ordeith to ask whether he means Matrim Cauthon or Perrin Aybara. He tells Niall that, while in the city Darkfriends must hide their true nature from those around them, in the country they can all be Darkfriends without fear of discovery.

“How is it you know the names of three Darkfriends, Ordeith? Three Darkfriends from the far end of forever. You keep too many secrets, Wormwood, and pull more surprises from your sleeve than a gleeman.”

“How can any man tell all that he knows, Great Lord,” the little man said smoothly. “It would be only prattle, until it becomes useful. I will tell you this, Great Lord. This Rand al’Thor, this Dragon, has deep roots in the Two Rivers.”

“False Dragon!” Niall said sharply, and the other man bowed.

“Of course, Great Lord. I misspoke myself.”

Niall notices that Ordeith is crumpling the drawing in his fist, and angrily orders him to stop. He takes the parchment, finding it damaged but the face still somehow intact. He remarks that perhaps he should make plans for the Two Rivers, once the snow clears.

Meanwhile, Carridin is returning to his room, furious, not even noticing the fine and expensive furnishings he usually takes a great deal of pleasure in. He shouts for his servant, but when he turns to confront the man he finds not a man at all, but a Myrddraal.

Terrified, Carridin tries to compose himself, but doesn’t really succeed. He asks the Myrdraal why it is there, and it replies that it likes to keep an eye on those who serve it.

“I ser… ”

It was no use. With an effort Carridin jerked his eyes away from that smooth expanse of pale, pasty face and turned his back. A shiver ran down his spine, having his back to a Myrddraal. Everything was sharp in the mirror on the wall in front of him. Everything but the Halfman. The Myrddraal was an indistinct blur. Hardly soothing to look at, but better than meeting that stare. A little strength returned to Carridin’s voice.

Still, it takes effort for him to say aloud that he serves the Great Lord of the Dark, knowing that even the faintest whisper of those words could condemn him in a fortress of the Children of the Light. But he manages it.

The Myrddraal asks why Carridin isn’t on Almoth Plain, and isn’t happy when Carridin replies that he was summoned by the Lord Captain Commander. He reminds Carridin that he was ordered to find Rand al’Thor and kill him, before and above all else, and demands to know why Carridin is not obeying the orders. Carridin tries to explain that things have changed, that matters are not as much in his control as they were, but the Myrddraal only reminds him that he forswore his oaths to the Light, and that he will be required to keep the new ones.

Carridin, confused, says that that he thought that the Great Lord of the Dark meant to use Rand al’Thor, not kill him.

“You question me? I should take your tongue. It is not your part to question. Or to understand. It is your part to obey! You will give dogs lessons in obedience. Do you understand that? Heel, dog, and obey your master.”

The Myrddraal attacks him, grabbing him up by his jaw and hoisting him into the air; he dangles in its grip, unable to make a sound past a gurgle, as the Myrddraal threatens him. He tells Carridin that, for every month that Rand al’Thor remains alive, it will kill one of his family members, and if it goes through all his blood without Rand dying, Carridin will be taken to Shayol Ghul. Carridin can’t respond until the Myrddraal drops him.

“I… I hear and obey,” Carridin managed into the carpet. There was no answer.

He turned his head, wincing at the pain in his neck. The room was empty except for him. Halfmen rode shadows like horses, so the legends said, and when they turned sideways, they disappeared. No wall could keep them out. Carridin wanted to weep. He levered himself up, cursing the jolt of pain from his wrist.

Just then, his servant, Sharbon, returns with a basket of fruit, and when he asks if Carridin is alright, receives a backhand across the face. The servant apologizes meekly, and Carridin tells him to fetch him pen and parchment. He must send orders, but privately he is stymied as to which ones he should, or can, send. He stares at the table, where the Myrddraal dragged its nails through the wood and left gouges behind.

 

“I hear and obey.”

Carridin says the same words both to Pedron Niall and to the Myrddraal. Of course the obviousness of the parallel draws attention to the fact that this servant of two masters has received two sets of contradicting orders with two rather similar threats (in style, if not in actual degree of substance). Carridin—who is very probably also the man who called himself Bors, who we met in the Prologue of The Great Hunt—seems to be in an impossible situation, and one suspects that this is a bit of a new experience for him. The man who called himself Bors was a very confident, even cocky man, and even if Carridin is not Bors, Niall’s opinion of him, and the careful way he handles the man, also fits this assessment. Arrogance seems to be a part of the Darkfriend experience, whether it’s Gode or Lanfear or Ba’alzamon/Ishamael himself; no doubt Carridin thought he could avoid this kind of situation, playing Pedron Niall as he saw fit and turning his Children of the Light duties to his true master’s Dark purposes.

And now he’s in really hot water. It will be interesting to see how he handles his situation.

What I love about this Prologue is how seamlessly it reintroduces us into the world of The Wheel of Time. It is a very tricky thing in sequels and series to remind the reader of everything they technically learned in past books but may have forgotten while waiting for the next to come out, without being repetitious, trite, or boringly obvious. It’s usually just something you have to put up with in series (and something I was particularly bracing for given that I’m reading these books back-to-back rather than waiting in between publishing dates) but Jordan has managed it rather beautifully here in the opening of The Dragon Reborn. Sure, there are a few paragraphs where he just repeats the standard explanations of who the Dragon is supposed to be or what Myrddraal look like, but over all he uses the device of switching perspectives to make even old information fresh. If this prologue had been written as a chapter at the end of The Great Hunt, it would not have seemed superfluous at all. Pedron’s understanding of what happened on Almoth Plain is important to us, and the revelation of Carridin’s predicament is fresh information, even as it also reminds us of how being a Darkfriend works and what the plans were for Rand in the last book. We’ll see this skill of Jordan’s again next week when we cover the first proper chapters of The Dragon Reborn, which are narrated from Perrin’s point of view.

We’re also learning a lot of true names today; this is the first time we’ve encountered Byar’s first name, and I feel kind of weird about it. I do not like Byar at all, he’s a perfect example of how stubbornness and extremism go hand-in-hand with lack of imagination, and I can just imagine what damage he might do to our heroes in his need for revenge against the Darkfriends who “betrayed them.” It may never occur to him that there could be another explanation, that there could be other people besides the Children who are fighting against the Dark, even if that evidence comes up and smacks him in the face. Which, you know, I hope it does. The creepy obsession the man is starting to develop with Perrin feels like it’s going to become our wolf brother’s own version of what Padan Fain is to Rand. If he pursues a personal vendetta against Perrin, he’ll become the same kind of stalker, blaming the boy for all his problems even though any part that Perrin played in Byar’s fate was entirely unwitting and unintentional, just as Rand was in Padan Fain’s. But it’s easier to make a young man a scapegoat for your own fears and failings than to face a more complicated truth, and although Fain is obviously much more horrible than Byar, Byar also doesn’t have the excuse of all the damage that was done to Fain’s brain by his experiences in Shayol Ghul and under Mordeth’s influence.

I found it interesting that “Ordeith,” or whatever he’s actually calling himself in his own head these days, seems to be settling into his new identity; there doesn’t seem to be much left that is distinctly Fain, and the Mordeth-born impulses to pull his old tricks seems to be taking the forefront in this personality. I was wondering what happened to him during all the commotion in Falme, and I was also wondering if he was having the kind of success he wanted with High Lord Turak. The thinking of the Children of the Light certainly seems much more susceptible to Mordeth’s manipulation than Turak’s honor-and-rules-driven cultural mindset, and I’m really not surprised to find him getting his nose into Pedron Niall’s business.

And Niall’s line of thinking is, well, mind-boggling to me.

I wish we’d had a moment or two in his head in the last book, just so I could know if some of the flaws in his logic were put there, or at least encouraged, by Ordeith (I’m just gonna keep calling him that until the narration gives me something else or reverts back to Padan Fain), because the man prides himself as being logical and a tactician, and yet he makes some really short-sighted, dare I say deliberately ignorant, assumptions here that I just can’t understand.

Niall believes he can see the approach of the Last Battle in the increased amount of chaos and in-fighting in the human realms. Fair enough. But although the appearance of the Aiel traveling outside their homes, the fact that not one war but three different ones are wracking the lands, and the declaration of three different men as the Dragon Reborn are enough to convince him that the Last Battle is coming, somehow it’s not possible in his mind that the rest of the prophecies concerning that battle could be true. The narration doesn’t explain his logic here, doesn’t give a reason that he would accept some signs and not others, or why he thinks it’s so impossible that the seals on the Dark One’s prison might not hold forever.

He’s willing to decide unilaterally that none of the Aes Sedai of the present day could have a reason for seeking the power they wield other than to oppose the Creator and fight on behalf of the Dark One, but he believes that those Aes Sedai who made the seals can be trusted? His reason to believe the seals to be so unbreakable is that those Aes Sedai were so much more powerful than the ones of his lifetime, but by his own logic those Aes Sedai would have to be even more evil than the ones he knows today, given how much power they had. It would make much more sense to me if he believed some Darkfriend Aes Sedai deliberately designed the seals to break eventually, or even set some kind of timer on them, so that the Dark One could break free at the opportune moment.

As a side note, this isn’t quite the first time we’ve gotten information of how there came to be a hole in the Dark One’s prison, but it’s finally gotten my attention here in this moment. The “patch” or “seal” on the prison is mentioned a few times in The Eye of the World (and further explained in the glossary entry on the Dark One, which mentions that he was imprisoned by the Creator during Creation and that “an attempt to free him from that prison brought about the War of the Shadow, the tainting of saidin, the Breaking of the World, and the end of the Age of Legends.”). In The Great Hunt, the point is made early on that the seal is human work, as compared to the original prison made by the Creator; then, when Moiriane shows Min and Rand the broken seals after the battle on Toman Head, she observes that “once all seven are broken, perhaps even before, the patch men put over the hole they drilled into the prison the Creator made will be torn asunder, and the Dark One will once more be able to put his hand through that hole and touch the world. And the only hope of the world is that the Dragon Reborn will be there to face him.” (tGH p. 630)

One has to assume that it was the Forsaken who drilled into the Dark One’s prison, hoping to free him, but given how much flack Lews Therin Telamon gets for what happened, I wonder if there isn’t more to the story of how there came to be a hole in the prison. Certainly, given how terrible the destruction of the Breaking was, it’s hard to expect a lot of even-handedness when it comes to placing blame for the taint. But perhaps it wasn’t just Darkfriends who were responsible for the danger of the Dark One escaping. Perhaps some Aes Sedai tampered with the prison, not knowing what it truly was. Perhaps Lews Therin or someone else got too cocky and thought they could get in there and kill the Dark One, nearly setting him free instead. Perhaps there’s another explanation, but I do wonder why it was that no female Aes Sedai chose to go with Lews Therin, unless there is more to the story than we know. The taint on saidin was a terrible blow to the world, but not as terrible as it would have been if the Dark One broke free, right?

Anyway, getting back to Pedron Niall. He doesn’t want Carridin to know it, but he agrees with the man’s assessment that there can be no way to reach lands beyond the Aryth Ocean, even though the logic here basically just boils down to “if it were possible, we, specifically, would have heard about someone doing it.” Which is pretty flimsy logic, right? Those who returned alive did so by making sure they turned back in time to have enough rations for the return journey, which means if they had been willing to risk it, they could have sailed roughly twice as far as they did. That’s a lot more ocean to cover, and yes, no one has made it back from finding those lands, but Niall could still entertain the possibility that the armies of Artur Hawkwing, who were provisioned during a time of much greater prosperity, meaning better ships, better food, and who knows what else, did make it. If that’s true, he has a possible alternative explanation to what happened to those other ships. Maybe they all died at sea, or maybe they reached those lands and simply weren’t allowed to return for some reason! For a “brilliant tactician,” Pedron Niall certainly doesn’t want to consider any but the obvious answers to questions.

Whew. I don’t know why this is all making me so heated. It gets back to the arrogance thing, I think, and also to Pedron Niall burying his head in the sand. When he thinks about the three false dragons on the Almoth Plain, in Saldaea, and Tear, he puts special emphasis on thinking that they must be false Dragons. There is no room in his mind for the possibility that he might be wrong, that there could be a real Dragon and a real battle with the Dark One coming. At the end of the day, I think that’s because that prospect is too frightening for Pedron Niall, or probably any of the Children, to face.

And one can certainly understand that, to an extent. No one can easily face the idea of the Dragon’s return, even if they believe that it is inevitable. The Dragon is supposed to Break the world again: His coming will bring death and destruction, and the results of the Last Battle don’t exactly seem guaranteed, either. That would scare anybody, and the Children are at a disadvantage because they have set themselves up as the only true champions of the Light. They believe the Aes Sedai are deceptive at best and Darkfriends at worst, and the existence of the Dragon challenges that position. And while the Children might believe they can be a match for all Darkfriends and even for Aes Sedai (surely Carridin is far from the only one to favor the knife in the dark approach), but against the actual Dark One, free to touch the world? I doubt even their arrogance would hold up well under that threat. So what you have here is Pedron Niall standing in a position of power and striving for more, refusing to see any possibilities but the ones that will serve his purpose, even though by doing so he’s actually helping along the very thing he fears the most. It’s kind of like climate change denial; people don’t want to accept that it’s real because it’s a terrifying thing and combating it will require a set of struggles and sacrifices very different from the ones we prepared ourselves for. But the other option is worse, and the longer we spend pretending it doesn’t exists, the closer our own doom creeps.

In contrast, consider Moiraine. She is always very cognizant of the things she doesn’t know, even though, ostensibly, she has more knowledge about what is really going on than anybody we have encountered so far. She is confident enough to point out when she has more knowledge and experience than other characters, to trust her own research and knowledge as far as it can take her, but she is also careful to consider what she does not know and to strive to accommodate new information, rather than trying to force it into the truths she already believes.

Moiraine points out plenty of times that they can only guess at the Darkfriends’ plans. They cannot know for certain exactly how much power the Dark One is able to exert on the world or the Pattern, and cannot interpret the Prophecies of the Dragon with any kind of guaranteed accuracy. This is what allows her to be flexible and adaptable in a crisis, such as when she realizes the threat to the Eye of the World and diverts the party accordingly. Pedron Niall might be able to come up with a Plan B for making his name carry on after his death, but he’s not as clever as he thinks he is, and Ordeith is only going to make that worse for him, whispering ideas into his head that aren’t his.

It’s been pointed out several times by commenters that I never really question Moiriane’s loyalties. When she claimed that she never sent Verin to help Rand and Ingtar, I was quick to take this as proof that Verin was a liar, and therefore probably a Darkfriend, but I never really questioned whether Moiraine was, in fact, the one who was lying. And I may turn out to be wrong, but the way Moiraine approaches problems, allows herself to be led by the Patterns, trusts her own knowledge but always verifies it, and changes her mind when it seems to be incorrect or incomplete, makes me trust her. Thom is similar this way, I think; we see a lot of adaptability from him in The Eye of the World; he knows a lot more than most of the characters he interacts with but he never (or at least, rarely) lets that influence his choices. He trusts, but cautiously. He knows, but is aware that there is much more outside his own experience. And since Thom is sort of one half of the Gandalf-style wise guide and Moiraine the other, this makes sense.

After all, the reason Gandalf was the best of the Maia is because of his adaptability; sure he was also quite fallible and didn’t always make the right decisions, but he held onto truth because he was able to grow and accept new knowledge. Meanwhile Sauron got corrupted and Radagast turned into a hermit who couldn’t handle the job he was sent to Middle Earth to do.

But this is kind of a digression. Sorry about that.

Next week we will cover Chapters 1 through 3 of The Dragon Reborn, where we will see more awesome world-building and world-reminding-of from Jordan, and in which both Perrin and Rand will struggle with adaptability and accepting new knowledge that scares them. See you all again soon!

Sylas K Barrett is thinking about how all these books start with the wind doing something weird. It is very windy outside his window today, and he hopes that doesn’t mean the Dragon is coming.

citation

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