Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 2-5

In this section, the heroes slowly begin to think of the future beyond the Last Battle.
Egwene, forced to live as a Novice, must serve dinner to her antagonist, Elaida. Often, downcast roles of scullery maid or other menial roles showcase the hero’s ethics, hard-working, and struggling against odds, increasing the reader’s respect, which is probably why rising from a lowly birth station is an element in many traditional fantasy stories. Egwene’s struggle in the Tower is just such a plot, showing Egwene’s mounting ability to overcome physical abuse. Facing Elaida directly and being subjected to a more subtle and insidious mental abuse offers a different opportunity to do the same thing.
 Offering an example of what Elaida’s direct attention can do, we are shown Meidani, caught in a trap from which she cannot escape. Since Beonin betrayed Meidani’s identity, Elaida wasted no time in bringing her into proximity, so she can fully humiliate the woman, forcing her to research the very punishments she’ll have to endure once her true allegiance is revealed. Egwene realizes that direct confrontation with Elaida will end her crusade, but as soon as she decides to take a meek stance, Meidani is there to show the results. Elaida torments Meidani, a supposed confidante, relishing her power over the other woman. When Egwene arranges a distraction so she can also confide in Meidani, her gentle strength is in stark contrast to Elaida’s. Repeatedly, examples contrast Egwene’s behaviour with Elaida’s, almost always ending with someone considering what they have seen, comparing the two women. Egwene is being measured against Elaida, but no one has completely committed to her except for those with no choice in the matter.
Egwene understands by the end that physical pain is of no concern when compared to the pain of the spirit that comes from seeing what you love being rent by careless or bullying hands. This in turn stands in contrast to Rand’s plot, where he has been subjected to great physical pain, and is about to be put through an emotional wringer.
Similarly, Aviendha is being put to shaming work, as though she had no honour at all. She struggles to understand what the Wise Ones want of her, but is too proud to ask, and it is against her cultural upbringing in any case. Aviendha must figure it out on her own, as Egwene already have.
Gawyn has a short chapter, in which he questions whether he is on the right side. His reluctance to admit he chose wrongly when the Tower split has delayed this introspection. The realization that he faces his old mentor is presented as the instigating reason why he has reached a moral impasse, and must choose sides for once and for all. Earlier encounters with Egwene, and Min and Siuan forced him to make allowances for his behaviour, but pride as strong as Aviendha’s has kept him from switching allegiance completely. Gawyn serves as a proxy for Rand, whose pride is greater than anyone’s. The moral quagmire in which each of them finds himself makes them feel lost. The contrast between Rand and Gawyn and the choices and consequences they face will be more evident as the story progresses.
In Arad Doman, Rand is angry that despite all his efforts, no one easily believes that he has accomplished one of the greatest wonders ever. This angry and petulant attitude rings truer than introspective moments shared with Asha’man. But in those moments Rand begins to see beyond the immediate needs of the Last Battle, to the future and the legacy he will leave. I’ve contrasted this series, an American fantasy, to American History, beginning with the War for Independence, through the uncertainty of Vietnam, and the difficult choices of the 21st Century. This is the first we’ve seen of anyone thinking to the future, beyond the modern era. Rand has begun to realize, as have Aviendha and Egwene, that the Last Battle is not the end of everything, their hope is that it is the beginning of something, and they must begun to prepare for it.
Elsewhere, Cadsuane realizes that breaking Semirhage is nearly impossible, and is forced into introspection about how she could be broken, hoping to use the answer against Semirhage. She feels the pressure of time, worrying privately that she won’t be able to prepare Rand for the Last Battle. She contrasts Rand with Semirhage, admitting to herself that her progress with him is not much better than her progress with the Forsaken.
Writing Lessons:
It’s not always bad to follow a well-established writing convention, there is usually a good reason it is used so frequently.

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