Monday, 12 November 2012

The Gathering Storm - Chapters 21-23

In this section, one of the most intense scenes in the series unfolds.
This blog had its 10,000th visitor last week while I was facing writer’s block over this extra-lengthy post. Thanks for reading! Don't be shy, contact me if you have feedback, questions, or suggestions.
First, on a much less intense note, Perrin and Faile have a minor squabble as they try to reintegrate their lives together in the aftermath of her abduction and possible dalliances on the side for both of them. What intensity exists is quickly dissipated as Faile overlooks the odd, sorrowful gaze in his eyes, tells Perrin she does not believe the rumours about him and Berelain, and bluntly admits in her own thoughts that she did not sleep with Rolan. She explains that she is jealous, in one of those moments where the author lays bare the truth about how men and women act with each other.
I am bothered by the blunt treatment of this revelation. Throughout the series, I’ve shown how Robert Jordan consistently made almost every character, background, action, and description fit a theme and represent more than just the action on the surface. Masema was unbridled adherence to a code of behaviour, and Faile killed him in secret. Does that really mean nothing more than tying up a loose end? Galina, even as a Black Ajah, was truth, and she made a jumble of dirty timbers trap Faile. Did that mean nothing more than the betrayal it was? If Faile considered sleeping with Rolan for the possibility of escape, is it not possible that Perrin could do the same to tie Berelain to him and use her to free Faile? For those events to be devoid of deeper meaning  would signify that Robert Jordan had gone against the behaviour he exhibited over ten earlier novels, suddenly deciding that it was no longer appropriate to create layers of meaning so he could rush towards the end. That possibility rings far less true than Faile’s declaration that she did not sleep with Rolan. Sanderson’s writing style does not easily allow for unreliable narrators, given that he typically reveals emotions as facts, and not through the prism of that character’s world-view.
So, I’m left with the uncomfortable possibilities that either the text means exactly what it does on the surface, or that Sanderson deliberately or erroneously overlooked the cheating that took place off the page. I fully recognize that I am in the throes of one of those theory-making episodes spurred by having emotionally committed to a position in earlier posts, in fact, blogging in this format without complete knowledge of what is coming lends itself to this type of mania. Once you are committed to a point of view, even blunt evidence refuting it tends to be dismissed for the simple reason that it inconveniently contradicts what you know in your heart to be true. This sort of thing happened regularly at Theoryland, and really opened my eyes to how people think and why they think that way. But the disparity remains, and in my mind can only be resolved in favour of Jordan’s original intent. It is unfortunate that a blunt statement is given when it seems to me Jordan went out of his way to pointedly never show Perrin or Faile directly addressing what happened, choosing instead to focus on what other characters think happened. It strongly undermines the efforts put into several books covering their trials, unless you adhere to the point of view that Faile is lying even to herself.
Faile and her followers gather to remember the kindness of Rolan and the Brotherless. Her explanations and feelings fit perfectly with the stated facts. She keeps Rolan's turquoise stone, for remembrance, not regret. The Saldaean proverb is equally fitting for what the women remember as it would be had Faile actually slept with Rolan. The past was a field of embers and ash, the remnants of the fire that was the present. Faile's story arc is complete, she has proved what she will do to save Perrin, including keeping secret the facts about Rolan's death that would undermine Perrin's faith in himself. It's worth noting that Rolan's fate is similar to Rand's, dying to save the one he loves, willingly accepting his own destruction.
Just to reiterate one more time, I find the topic of unreliable narrators never revealing whether certain events ever took place fascinating, especially given the intense quote-based scrutiny fans apply to the text.
In any case, Faile’s character arc is complete, and there is nothing left to add except the obvious moment in the Last Battle when Perrin must choose between her and his duty to Rand. Jordan frequently used the technique of setting up several examples of growing significance before getting to the final version. Perrin made tough choices to save Faile in the Two Rivers, upon returning to Cairhien, and again when freeing her from the Shaido. The same scenario will crop up again in the Last Battle, and Min’s Viewing tells us something bad will happen to Rand if Perrin isn’t there. Perrin will not be there, and the bad thing will happen to Rand, because Perrin has consistently chosen Faile over all else. Don’t be sidetracked by Sanderson’s text stating that Perrin thinks only the Last Battle matters.
Semirhage’s collaring of Rand is the most intense version yet of Rand being held prisoner by fate. Ishamael ranted about this repeatedly in the early books, and Rand denied being trapped by the Wheel. Rand was captured by Aes Sedai and beaten, yet broke free. Rand was locked away in darkness in Far Madding, and was freed. And now, Rand is finally, utterly trapped. The Black collar and bracelets are the latest, and most potent, representation of the eternal theme of will vs. fate. As one in a series of such events, the build-up to this moment is part of the fabric of the series, beyond the particular words used in this book building up to this scene.
When Rand frees himself, he does so by using the True Power, the Dark One’s own abilities, accessed through a surprising link between himself and Moridin. The True Power allows reality to be reformed according to the user’s will, typically by replicating alternate versions of weaves the user already knows. Unconstrained by any force, Rand is able to do whatever he wants, unlimited by anything so far as he can tell. This is the power of freedom, and free will.
Cadsuane represents the Light, and Semirhage represents living completely outside the Light. When the confrontation is done, Rand has decided to live outside the Light, relying solely on his newfound power. Let's take a closer look at the symbolism and how it is subtly presented.
Semirhage sat alone in the small room. They had taken away her chair and given her no lantern or candle. She is literally cut off from the Light. What light she desires is man-made: glow-bulbs.
Semirhage considers resisting Cadsuane in the same manner Egwene resists her captors. Unlike Egwene who sees each punishment as an opportunity to show resistance, Semirhage has no victory to claim from each punishment. She can embrace pain easily, it is torture of the spirit she is unprepared for since her focus is entirely on the physical, not the spiritual. 
Shaidar Haran lists her failures, not least of which is the loss of the entire Seanchan Empire as pawns.   Rand was not to be killed, but is that by the Dark One's order, or out of concern for the link with Moridin? Even Moridin wasn't fully aware of their link until Rand lost his hand, so keeping him alive must have been part of the Dark One's plan.
Semirhage's cold detachment established her usual behaviour, so when she is anxious upon hearing Shaidar Haran's voice, and she holds her breath opening the door to her cell, tension is immediately created. Returning to her prior state of mind as she learns her captors are dead, she has an ally, and the black bracelets and collar are in her hands, the tension increases even as it shifts targets, for readers must recognize the immediate danger to Rand.
A time-honoured technique in horror is to tell the reader what awful event is about to take place, and then to delay showing it for as long as possible. As soon as Rand's name begins the next section, readers expect the confrontation, but the author delays it by showing Rand engaged in mundane affairs in Saldaea. It is more effective that Rand's affairs are ordinary, simply giving orders to his generals, rather than being riveting or action-oriented. The reader could understand if Rand is surprised because he is distracted by important affairs, but the feeling of being blind-sided is more palpable when he is going through, what are for him, everyday motions.
Rand reflects that the most dangerous enemies are those who you thought you could trust, while Lews Therin rails that none of the Asha'man can be trusted, they will turn on him. This sets up his frame of mind for embracing the True Power later and also for blaming Cadsuane. Rand thought he could trust the Pattern, and the Light to guide him, and has been sorely disappointed so far.
Rand reflects on invasions, both the physical ones in Saldaea and Arad Doman, as well as the metaphysical presence of Moridin in his dreams. Semirhage waits to conduct a personal invasion into Rand's quarters, and the reader can't help feeling that Rand will now be blind-sided as he ponders the very thing he is about to face.
Rand focuses on the one person he does trust, wondering if he can trust her far enough to do as she says and not become hard. The reader can’t tell if this scene takes place before, during or after Semirhage’s escape, so far all they know Min has already become a pawn of Semirhage’s. The uncertainty created by keeping that detail from the reader heightens the tension further.
There is no coincidence in the timing or nature of the argument between Rand and Min. Rand worries that Cadsuane is trying to manipulate him through her, and mistrusts her motives. On the verge of turning on Min because of her possible association with Cadsuane, Rand is in fact contemplating turning his back on the Light itself. And then Semirhage collars him. Language relating to constraint and feeling trapped is used frequently in horror scenes, telling readers that the outcome is terrible, yet dragging them inexorably towards that outcome. This scene plays out bit by bit with visceral and literal horrific constraints placed on Rand and Min.
The collar itself forces obedience to the will of the woman wearing the bracelet, in this case Semirhage. Rand is forced to act according to her logic, a logic that places no value in the emotion of love. He is forced to destroy Min, for she serves no purpose in a world with no love. Even though Rand is able to free himself of Semirhage’s constraints, he has still embraced her way of thinking, shutting down his emotions, closing himself off from love and the Light.
When Rand uses the True Power, Lews Therin’s rantings about it replace tension with dread. How can it be worse to use the True Power than to murder his own loved ones?
Rand banishes Cadsuane, saying he never wants to see her face again, completing his metaphorical rejection of the Light. Following a logic focused on the outcome, not the means, Rand teaches balefire, insisting on its use.
Writing Lessons:
Guide the reader’s emotions as you building towards a climax by using the right language, establishing similar scenes to frame context, and pushing your characters beyond their limits.

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