Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Eye of the World - Chapters 48-53

In this final section, enemies more powerful and numerous than any seen before are faced and defeated.
In the last act of a story, the stakes are typically raised significantly. Any part that wasn’t full of action, was full of revelation. In terms of heightened danger, Rand once fled Trollocs, and now trounces a Trolloc army. He ran from lone Myrddraal, and now vaporizes a handful of them.  The group clashes with living trees and deformed blight-creatures. Strange new foes like worms and Forsaken are encountered.  And of course, Ba’alzamon is met on uneven terms that favour Rand for a change.
What makes all this possible is the Eye of the World. We aren’t told what it is until just before the final confrontation. Learning what it is sooner would have made it that much easier to guess that one of the boys, Rand most likely, can use the One Power. There were clues, but most of the build-up around men using the One Power has indicated they must be stopped. The reader has been told that a male channeler is a villain. The first time you read it, some events are perplexing. On a reread (or eight of them) it’s incredibly obvious each of the five (count them) times Rand uses the One Power in desperation, looking for some way to escape. His behavior perfectly matches Moiraine’s description of how girls learn. But we’ve spent the entire book thinking of him as a lucky hero. Now it turns out it was the One Power all along. Many of my complaints about missing a chance to explain the quest, turn out to have been purposefully done to conceal (or not admit) that Rand can use the One Power. This is epic fantasy, and we can all guess that Rand is the Chosen One, even as we play along with the mystery. While the intent is clear to me now, I think without the rousing bits of adventure and excitement, the payoff might not be worth the suspense.
So what is the Eye of the World? One hundred Aes Sedai used their lives to filter the taint away from Saidin, and place it in a well which came to be known as the Eye of the World. Beyond the Power itself, the Eye of the World has protections built in that allow one to channel more than they could unaided, like an angreal. Rand can’t already be at Aginor’s strength, or Ba’alzamon’s, so it must be that. The Eye of the World also is preferentially attuned to the Dragon, otherwise Rand would never have been able to wrest control from Aginor and incinerate him.  The Eye also places knowledge in the mind of the one who uses it. Up until now Rand has instinctively used the Power for simple applications, but is now able to Travel, make a sword of Power, and destroy opponents in various ways. Rand does a lot of spontaneous learning later, usually attributed to Lews Therin’s knowledge. I think the Eye of the World is an equally plausible means of explaining his ability to learn whatever he needs on the spot.
Perhaps most importantly, the Eye of the World overrides Rand’s actions and destroys every creature of Shadow in the vicinity. After broiling Aginor, Rand Travels to Tarwin’s Gap, and sees the forces of Shienar on one side. That is the last time his name appears for two pages, with one exception, after that he is simply called ‘he’. Everything ‘he’ does after, from decimating the Shadowspawn army until ‘he’ arrives in the room of stone faces, is impersonal, and not under his control. The Eye of the World shows him what it can do, and then, as Ba’alzamon confronts him, ‘he’ finds the void. In the void he finds Manetheren, the truth about himself, and free of doubt, Rand is now in full control.  
The use of doubt as a tool of Ba’alzamon and the enemy of willpower is well demonstrated. Ba’alzamon lies, exaggerates, takes undue credit, and dismisses every choice or conclusion Rand would make on his own, but for one: the choice to serve him. Everything he says could be true, yet Rand decides to trust himself instead of accepting that doubt back into his heart. His steadfast refusal to give in through all his trials has finally given him the Power to destroy those doubts for good, in the person of Ba’alzamon.  
The exception for Rand’s name appearing in the Tarwin’s Gap sequence is when the ALL CAPS voice speaks. We are told that it’s not Rand’s thought, but it is like a thought booming in his head. Whether it’s the voice of those who programmed the Eye of the World, or the voice of the Creator itself, it seeks a condition that is not met. It is not here, at Tarwin’s Gap. The Horn? The Dragon banner? Something else? It seems fairly certain that the Eye of the World was intended to be used at the Last Battle. With the condition not met, the voice packs up and leaves, giving Rand one last bit of help by sending him to the room of stone faces. Will the voice come back in A Memory of Light? Or is mankind on its own now, waiting for the Chosen One to do what must be done, if he so chooses?
Is the room of stone faces in the World of Dreams? Grudgingly, I must say that evidence indicates it is. How Rand manages to get there, leave there, and whether he was there in the flesh, is unclear. The Eye of the World drew him back when it ran dry?
As the group rode into the Blight, I couldn’t help but feel this was the end of Lan’s lifelong quest, and of his life. He has spurned Nynaeve, he alone has not yet passed the torch to the Two Rivers ‘sheepherders’, he can save Shienar to atone for surviving the end of Malkier, he wants to die fighting the Shadow, he has fulfilled his oaths to Moiraine. There seemed to be many reasons to believe he was a goner. As a blank canvas through much of the story, his origin and the choices he must make as Shienar faces destruction still pull at the heartstrings. Moiraine and Lan’s quest, begun in New Spring, partially ends here as they leave an empowered Rand free to go where he pleases.
The Blight is a bizarre ecosystem, where everything exists to kill each other. The Dark One really hates life. How does anything live there at all? They must spawn by the thousands, like insects or frogs. Or Trollocs. There’s no other way to keep that many living things around, is there?
The Green Man would have been a great resource to tell us about the Age of Legends, despite only being reliable for context, not facts. He gives some obscure clues about the Aiel origin and Wolfbrothers.
Egwene and Nynaeve’s enthusiasm about feeling Moiraine channel reveals their thoughts of the future in Tar Valon. Egwene is eager, Nynaeve is cautious and considering.
Nynaeve has more reason to be antagonistic towards Moiraine. Lan hardly knows which way to jump. Their budding romance was subdued enough that a reader hardly notices it, even on a reread. That may be intentional so as to not detract too much from Rand and Egwene, whose romance began uncertainly, and is ending a bit more certainly.
Sensing Mat’s dagger appears to be how the Forsaken found the Eye of the World. Is Shadar Logoth and Mordeth their ‘old friend’ because it betrayed Manetheren, even while it opposed the Shadow?
Almost the first words out of Aginor's mouth were to reveal that the Forsaken do not get along and will try to undercut one another. Aginor and Balthamel were mentioned by name earlier, but with little other context than they were powerful male Aes Sedai who serve the Dark One, and their names are used to frighten children. The confrontation with them was exciting enough to overcome their seemingly random appearance. A lot more could have been done to build them up. See my post on the Big White Book Chapters 2-5 for an awesome back story that is completely left out of this book.
Writing Lessons:
Keep building up the thematic elements that are most important to your story, consistently throughout the story.

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