Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Fires of Heaven - Chapters 43-46

In this section, Rand and Mat go through the biggest battle since Hawkwing’s time, from beginning to end.
The section continues the alternating points of view, from Rand to Mat and back to Rand again. Although Egwene is involved in the battle, the intent was to keep the focus tight on the battle leaders, not the soldiers, which is the role Egwene plays in the battle. As the battle progresses, we get to see the different emotional phases of a battle leader displayed by one or the other of the heroes or their followers:
Rand: Grim preparedness and resolve. Everyone finds their place, including Rand.
Mat: Resignation. Eagerness
Rand: Changing circumstances as battle develops. Difficulty. See the battle as a personal one.
Mat: Surprising circumstances. Take a big gamble.
Rand: Confusion. Exhaustion.
Mat. Celebration. Relief. Recovery. Desire to claim glory.
Rand: Recriminations. Blame. Learn the outcome. Distribution of rewards and spoils. Taking stock of cost. Learn that the battle is larger than you, you are only human.
This was the first major battle fully described not with such a focus on the scale of the battle. Tarwin’s Gap lasted a page or two; the large scale battle in Falme was over in a few pages; The Stone of Tear was taken in a chapter; Perrin’s skirmishes in the Two Rivers ended with a ten-page battle. For the biggest battle since Hawkwing’s time, the author felt that a proportional amount of time should be spent building up to and describing this battle.
 While Rand contrives to meet Couladin in battle, Mat is eventually the one who faces him, and makes it a personal battle even though he never sought it out. Lan points out that he is not the Dragon Reborn, the world does not rest on his shoulders, so he can act with machismo and go into battle and take risks. How can Rand acknowledge that yet still feel he has the respect of men with so much bravado? He is caught in a mental trap of his own making. Elaida, even Moiraine would keep him as far from danger as possible, while Rand is sure the Aiel and Lan will only follow if he puts himself in danger.
Mat’s battle with Couladin is described in a brief one-paragraph flashback. The first time I read it, I felt cheated. Why would this pivotal and exciting battle not be shown? The answer is that it is not pivotal. The outcome of the battle did not turn on Couladin living or dying. The point was to show the scope, drama, and emotion of a large-scale battle. Couladin symbolized nothing of that. His head hanging from a pole does symbolize some sort of futility, the unimportance of one man in such a large conflict, which is more in line with the author’s intent.
The Maidens want the freedom to die in the way they choose. Rand still gets all soft-hearted about women, and maintains his sexism that women should be protected from danger. He cannot even order a woman to her death. It is as realistic a weakness as is possible, and as dangerous to him as can be, since some of the people trying to kill him are women. Mat shares this affliction and he’d prefer to face hordes of Shaido than one disgruntled Melindhra. At least he can fight back against another man.
As Rand changes customs, and breaks bonds, and ‘brings change to everything’, it seems he is giving freedom to everyone. Initially discomfiting, once people give up their former ways of life, they can grow accustomed to new ones, such as when the Aiel join their societies but leave their clans. I’ve pointed out that in several ‘bad’ cultures (Darkfriends, Whitecloaks, Aridhol, and Seanchan), strict adherence to rank or ideals reduces freedom to nothing. The Dragon represents freedom to choose. Ishamael’s philosophical bent reinforced the idea that choice of who to serve is an important theme. In order for people to choose freely in the Last Battle, Rand first has to destroy whatever constrains their choices now.
Mat says something with far greater meaning than his current situation. ‘Each step had seemed so small, so necessary.’ Keeping in mind the constraints characters both good and evil are under, this line covers so many situations. For example, it describes a Darkfriend’s mentality. No one becomes pure evil overnight, it is a process of tiny steps that seem insignificant, but accumulate until there is no way back, and you are trapped, just as Mat is trapped in his new role as general.
A simple sentence explains how Mat acquired a peculiar item, and explains some character traits of him and another: ‘Kin Tovere liked the dice’. Such an elegant explanation for Mat suddenly whipping a spyglass out of his pouch.
Mat feels the dice rolling on his head again, indicating a battle coming, or a gamble to be taken, for he is waiting to see which pips are showing, and whether he will win. This removes a lot of earlier interest in the question of whether his dicing with the Dark One had a more sinister explanation than that revealed in The Dragon Reborn. The dice in his head are merely symbolic of an impending battle or luck-related choice.
If Rand was so exhausted from his use of the Power in battle, did Sammael exhaust himself as well with his strike in the log tower? He had to be within range of Rand’s strikes, right? Similarly, Egwene and Aviendha are very powerful channelers compared to the other Aes Sedai. Moiraine used an angreal against Trolloc hordes but quickly exhausted herself. How useful are channelers likely to be in a battle anyway if they are so weak?  
Writing Lessons:
Is the scene you are building up to the right one? Does it need to be built up to at all? Will it work best as detailed action, or a quick summary?

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