Friday, 4 January 2013

Towers of Midnight - Chapters 46-50

In this section, a glimpse of the future is given.
Faile participates in negotiations with Perrin and Elayne over the fate of the Two Rivers. Elayne cannot enforce her writ, so she avoids being a tyrant or a fool and creates bonds to tie the fledgling nation of the Two Rivers to Andor. Elayne soon does the same with the Cairhienin, binding their fates together with an exchange of lands and nobles.
Fortuona questions Elaida, and the Seanchan gain Traveling. Ominously, she decides to use this tool to subjugate the remaining Aes Sedai in an attempt to get Rand to serve her as prophesied.
Mat explains his quest to Perrin.
Aviendha goes through the glass columns in Rhuidean, in another fan-favourite scene. I’ll contrast this scene with the similar scene in Chapters 24-25 of The Shadow Rising, when Rand originally went through the glass columns to learn the history of the Aiel.
The glass columns scene in The Shadow Rising sets expectations for Aviendha’s visit. It isn’t possible to surprise readers with the mystery of Rhuidean, or the Tree of Life, or the visions because they are already all well known. The fog has lifted from Rhuidean, and there are no more mysteries. The author wisely decides to skip over what is known and expected, instead leaving Aviendha questioning “is that all there is?” Rhuidean is mundane now, just like the decisions which led the Aiel to pick up spears and fight.
Restoring a bit of mystery, Aviendha wonders about whether the columns have more capabilities that only what use they have been put to in Rhuidean. The mundane is made extraordinary again, and the weighty purpose of the columns is hinted at, but kept shrouded.
Aviendha’s first vision builds on prior knowledge of how she experiences the lives of the people seen in the columns.  Unlike with Rand’s earlier visit, there is no crafting of links between Malidra and Aviendha, no emphasis on how these two are really one. This first vision contains several links to the present and the familiar, referring to the Waste, Aiel, and a railroad which brings the steamwagons to mind. The mystery is about why Aiel are living like scavengers and why is Aviendha seeing life through the eyes of a random Aiel girl? The revelation is not only the details in the vision, but the fact that this vision exists at all. A need is established immediately, but it is mundane, a quest for food, instead of the character oriented need of Mandein in Rand’s visions. There is no firm historical link between Aviendha and Malidra yet, largely because Malidra has no character or identity, she is simply a scavenger looking for food.
As with Rand’s visions, each subsequent vision establishes more detail, eventually revealing that the visions are linked along Aviendha’s, and Rand’s future bloodline, containing links to each other, and to the current day. Whereas Rand’s visions began as known to be his personal and cultural history, of which he was then learning the details, Aviendha’s reverse this by showing the details and then establishing that this is her personal and cultural legacy.
Rand’s visions used parental relationships to convey the passing down of cultural responsibility from one generation to the next, giving great weight to the losses suffered by each of the lives he lived, and great importance to the sacrifices. Aviendha’s visions are bereft of such attachment to identity of the next generation, as shown with the casual indifference to the loss of children. In each of Aviendha’s visions, the women try to maintain the culture of the Aiel, at the cost of the people, overlooking that sacrifices are made for family, not only for the sake of sacrificing itself.
The lives of the women take on personal importance to Aviendha. Each of their failures is hers, and Rand’s. While so much of the history of this world has built towards the day when Rand faced the Dark One, until recently there was little attention to what happens after the Last Battle. Rand is not the end point of the cross-generational burden, he is a link in a chain which extends as far into the future as into the past.
Once again, the reverse chronological order the visions are presented in is effective in drawing the reader in, and the revelation puts the emphasis back on Rand and Aviendha to correct mistakes.
How can Aviendha find a new identity for the Aiel and overcome the Seanchan menace, or even craft an alliance with them that outlasts the Last Battle? One possibility is the Aiel clan chiefs and Wise Ones singing the lost Tinker Song, since they all learned it in the glass columns. The song is an act of creation, and can overcome the blight afflicting the crops of the world. Such a life offers an honourable and productive alternative to clan warfare. The Aiel once sealed a promise with a sapling of the Tree of Life, and they could do so again with the Seanchan, even offering them Avendesora itself. What good could come of Seanchan nobles walking through the glass columns, seeing the mistakes and errors of their ancestors? With this insight, the Seanchan and Aiel should be able to avoid some of the decisions Aviendha saw in the glass columns.
Writing Lessons:
Withholding context while establishing links to other parts of the story creates effective mystery.

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