Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Strike at Shayol Ghul

The short story titled The Strike at Shayol Ghul (found here: http://www.lobring.com/books/shayol.php) was written in 1996, around when A Crown of Swords was released. It fills in a gap in the backstory that many fans were clamoring for (why did only men attack the Bore in the War of Power?), and is presented as an in-story historical document.

The tainting of Saidin and its eventual cleansing are just about the most major events in the Wheel of Time, with world-spanning consequences. The Strike at Shayol Ghul doesn't give anything away regarding the cleansing, and while it adds detail, it doesn't tell us a lot we didn't already know. So the short story doesn't seem necessary, it's just a bit of fun to share with fans as suggested in the author's note.

Some of the fun is in how the source of the information is given to us: a reliable and trustworthy narrator is giving us his best interpretation of some seemingly reliable, but fragmented sources. Footnotes and a bit of barbed commentary remind us that there is little certainty about events that transpired so long ago. Ironically, this means that the mad voice of Lews Therin may be the best source of information the heroes ever find. He can be trusted at least as far as Moridin, right?

The story also ratchets up tensions about male-female channeler relations, at a time when Rand has just started up his Black Tower. The Strike describes how hardening relations between the sexes led to the fatal tainting of Saidin, and how everything might have gone so much better if they had only worked together. Back in the main sequence of books, we watch the gender lines harden as wedges are driven between Rand ans the Aes Sedai.

I'll note that around this time, RAFO responses became de rigueur. Jordan clearly preferred to be cautious about what he revealed ahead of time. This short story provides an example of how that approach may have allowed a bit more control over reader expectations. Of course, then the internet really took off, and trashed the idea of control altogether.

Final note: The Big White Book version matches the language in the short story much better than I recalled. The short story's narrator makes it a little less dry than the Big White Book, which has several additional paragraphs of detail, but feels more like dusty 'fact'. Amazing how those tiny snippets of narrator POV change my perception of the subject matter. The short story ends with the narrator's commentary on how these events shaped the world, while the Big White Book cuts off before that, with a dangling tease line for the next chapter. If you're going to read either of these, read the other as well, and see if you notice a difference.

Writing Lessons: Flashbacks are not just info-dumps. They can be used to create tension and expectations, highlight themes, and add dimension to your world. Every word you write or word you say is an opportunity to set ideas in the reader's mind. Be conscious of what your goals are with ancillary stories, interviews and other non-sequence story-related material. Beware the info-dump.

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