Thursday, 23 January 2014

A Memory of Light - Chapters 44-49

In this section, Rand defeats the Dark One.

Perrin awakens after the battle is done. He argues with Chiad about why she won’t bend the rules for gai’shain, given that it is the Last Battle. “What good is honor if the Dark One wins the Last Battle?” Perrin snapped, pulling up his trousers. “It is everything,” Chiad said softly. “It is worth death, it is worth risking the world itself. If we have no honor, better that we lose.”

Perrin’s surrogate father Master Luhhan comes to check on Perrin’s health, and formally acknowledges that Perrin has grown into a man, one he is quite proud of.  Upon learning of Fain’s role in the murder of Perrin’s family, Luhhan says “What? Are you certain?” Questioning the truth of Perrin’s statement is odd on the heels of everything else Luhhan said. The author could easily have substituted other incredulous statements such as “The Peddler? How did you learn this?” or “Fain? How could he?” Either of these would have supported Luhhan’s faith in Perrin and allowed further discussion of the Whitecloaks, or even segued into Fain’s nature, which would surely have been useful since Fain’s appearance is imminent.

Masuri offers to Heal Perrin, but she must first confess and receive Perrin’s absolution for her actions with the Prophet. This again presents Perrin as a fully grown man of power and moral character, standing in judgment of high-ranking figures. His character arc is now complete.  

Thom protects the entrance to Shayol Ghul, sitting in for the author since they have the same concerns about how to describe the events unfolding around them. These pages offer a peek directly into the author’s mind as he wrote this final chapter of the Wheel of Time. ‘Epic’, ‘momentous’, ‘climactic’, ‘perilous’ and ‘terrifying’ aren’t right, but he eventually settles on ‘exquisite’. That’s a wonderful word to describe completing this epic.

Mat gets a Gateway opened to bring him near Shayol Ghul. Bringing Olver is part of the tugging he feels, but there is more, some greater role he must play.

Shaisam is a new name for Padan Fain, which means Destroyer of the Shadow. Shaisam is a creature vaster and far more powerful than before, living in every tendril of mist. And no wonder, for Rand’s intent to destroy the Shadow is greater than ever before. Shaisam kills friend and foe indiscriminately, for only one thing matters to him. As much as killing Rand and the Dark One balance each other as goals, he can accomplish both by rooting himself deep in Rand’s breast, in a host which can destroy one enemy and be destroyed in the process. Even now as the end approaches, there is a vagueness to Shaisam’s motivations, since the author has never, even now, come right out and explained them directly. This deliberate sidestepping of a key fact that provides context has been used throughout the series, and has provided the most fertile ground for fan theorizing, for both good and ill.

Gaul and the wolves defend the entrance to the Pit of Doom against Slayer in Tel’aran’rhiod. Perrin arrives, then Slayer monologues to fill in plot and character gaps. Seeing the look in his friend’s eyes,  Gaul senses it’s time to skedaddle.

Mat flies a to’raken into the valley of Thakan’dar, and senses Fain in the mist below. He crashes, and Olver blows the Horn. The clouds above form the ancient sign of the Aes Sedai, reflecting that Rand stands even with the Dark One at the moment.

Rand re-enters the Pattern, and swipes Callandor at Moridin. He tells Moridin that he doesn’t matter any more. Moridin responds by flinging a knife at Alanna.

Nynaeve’s herbs gave Alanna enough awareness to release the bond. This is a symbol of Rand being free of what Alanna represents. Since she bonded him forcefully, it simply means Rand is free of influence, and is free to choose his path. His ploy foiled, Moridin stabs his own hand causing Rand pain through the bond they share, and Rand drops Callandor, losing access to the torrents of the One Power it provides.

Perrin and Slayer battle, flipping between worlds. Perrin recently became a full-fledged adult in Luhhan’s eyes, and is therefore more confident and more sure of his identity than ever before. He has the confidence to truly unleash his fury on Slayer, and also has superior control over Tel’aran’rhiod. The killing blow sends Perrin spinning through Mirror Worlds. Unlike his past experience with the Portal Stones, when he saw variations of himself, in this instance all versions of Perrin act the same, and achieve the same victory as a result. All possibilities collapsed into one, the one where Perrin knows exactly who he is. Perrin brings survivors of the battle to the cave entrance to defend against the Darkhounds. Even as they face certain death, hope springs about them in the form of growing plants. The Horn summons wolf Heroes as well as human to fill out their ranks, and the odds are no longer so grim.

Mat approaches Perrin, who is concerned about Faile. Mat lies and offers Perrin hope, for what else could he say? As he reveals Fain’s presence, Mat is stabbed through the chest by Fain’s tendril. Mat’s death is so sudden in comparison to Egwene’s, and the manner of it so final based on all prior evidence, that readers are likely to be shocked out of the complacency that has been building since the Shadow was routed at Merrilor.

Aviendha holds off Graendal’s shield. She takes a chance, unraveling her Gateway despite that the effects are unpredictable, and may not help her at all. Graendal casts her Compulsion just as the Gateway explodes. Aviendha actually made a mistake in her haste, picking the wrong thread, which is a poor turn of phrase since she would have to botch the unweaving deliberately in order to have a chance of achieving the effect she is looking for. The threat of Compulsion is terrifying, and enthralls the reader with the horrible story possibilities that may come about if it succeeds.

Fain comes across Mat, who is not dead after all. Mat grabs Fain by the throat and stabs him with the dagger. Fain and Mordeth die, and not coincidentally, this embodiment of the all-consuming desire to achieve the end goal at any cost meets its demise just before Rand makes his decision on how to defeat the Dark One for good. Mat’s explanation that if you catch a disease you cannot catch it a second time is an awkward introduction of modern medical knowledge into the story in an attempt to have the reader accept this unforeseen immunity. Perhaps Mat is merely paraphrasing what the Amyrlin told him after he was healed of the dagger’s influence, or what Nynaeve has told him at some point, but the wording used suggests a strong level of in-world familiarity with disease that just hasn’t been featured before. Taking out the word ‘disease’ and having Mat speak in terms of his own immunity rather than a general statement about illnesses would have been more believable.

Perrin abandoned Mat on a gut feeling from the look Mat gave him. ‘Look’ may not have been the best word, given that Mat only has one eye, but the meaning is understood. Interestingly, Perrin had no angst about leaving Mat whereas he has wrung his hands over many of his friends and followers throughout the series. It is partly his newfound maturity, partly that he is more concerned with Rand here and now than he can allow himself to be for anyone else, even Faile. Perrin finds Gaul and returns him to Merrilor to rest. Then, acting against his desire to seek out Faile, he returns to guard Rand’s back yet again.

Moridin picks up Callandor and attempts to channel with it, falling into Rand’s trap. Moiraine and Nynaeve, duty and conscience, take control of Moridin, then link with Rand. Rand is shielded from any taint by combining the powers and using Moridin’s link to touch the True Power. The three powers are combined and wielded against the Dark One, turning the Dark One’s own power on himself. Rand holds him fast in a gauntlet of Power. In terms of Rand’s identity, he is turning doubt and negativity against his own doubt and negativity, looking at them with scorn and dismissal.

The following sections together show how Rand’s final victory and assertion of his identity affect the world. Rand’s past, present and future all figure, as well as his chronicler, and his successor.

Elayne surveys the carnage. The nearby plateau collapses, like the foundation of Rand’s old identity.  The bond lets her sense Rand’s strength, control and domination. She sees a beam of light far to the north, marking the end.

Thom sees the light up close. If Thom still represents the author, then he is in awe of the ending.

Min sees a brilliant lance of light, clearing the clouds. The wounded shield their eyes from the bright future Rand is making.

Aviendha sees the light and senses Rand winning, and it revives her. Graendal has been self-compelled by the unraveling gateway and begs to serve Aviendha. Since Aviendha represents the past, this is an indication that reverence for tradition and memory of this light and what it means are part of what the future holds.

Logain lost his prize in the collapse of the Heights, but saved the refugees, and they accept and welcome him, aspire to have their children join him. The Asha’man are no longer cursed for Lews Therin’s sins, but are seen as talented for Rand’s redemption of those sins. The light reminds Logain of his duty. He breaks the seals, another symbol of the old making way for the new.

Perrin sees the light in Tel’aran’rhiod, and observes the World of Dreams disintegrating and collapsing. Dragonmount is being drawn towards Shayol Ghul, all points coalescing into one, and then this realm of possibility will be gone. This was an unexpected development, which pertains to Rand’s transformation.

Perrin encounters Lanfear in the cavern. Her words still carry a sense of wonder that leads us to think she’s on the good side. “It is the end. Something amazing just happened. This might be the most important moment for humankind since we opened the Bore.” Perrin is compelled by Lanfear to help her kill Nynaeve and Moiraine, yet he resists. Lanfear has been working towards her true objective all along, at whatever cost. This is a trait shared by all of the Forsaken, the Mordeth-like motivation to do anything at all to achieve their heart’s desire.  Focusing on Faile, a far more powerful motivation than any dislike of Moiraine, Perrin’s will is stronger than Lanfear’s mere Compulsion weave. In Tel’aran’rhiod, this means he is able to reassert his identity and change himself back to the way he should be. He kills Lanfear, yet still loves her, she who represents the thirst for glory and power. Perrin may still want those things in some fashion, but not at the expense of the one he loves most.

The Dark One is freed yet cannot escape as Rand has him clutched tightly. He sees the Dark One as pitiful, tiny, insignificant, and above all, a liar. Rand pulls the Dark One into the Pattern, where he can be killed. But before he can kill him, Rand remembers that the vision he created with no Dark One was no better. Realizing his error, he thrusts the Dark One back outside of the Pattern and reforges the prison using braided saidar and saidin in a pure form and the True Power to keep the Dark One’s touch at bay by shielding the Bore.

He understood, finally, that the Dark One was not the enemy. It never had been. Rand’s own heart was the only enemy that could harm him, for as all the heroes have learned, ultimately, whatever befalls them is by their own choice.

Moiraine pulls Nynaeve out of the cavern. Looking back, she sees silhouettes of Rand and Moridin, Light and Shadow, vanish in the all consuming light. The last thing she sees, the last words which end the book, is the Bore being closed, a metaphor for Rand locking away in his heart the Dark One and the dark desires and ambitions he promotes, never to torment him again.

Writing Lessons:

End your story on a high note, right after the critical moment. 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A Memory of Light - Chapters 38-43

In this section, in the most critical scene of the book, Rand can’t win by himself

Rand sees Lan fall, reinforcing the fact of his apparent death. Through Egwene’s voice, he is reminded that the responsibility was not his, it belonged to Lan himself. Rand could easily have imagined Egwene’s voice in his head, but her recent death adds some doubt as to its nature. Rand changes the purpose of his list of names, from one of victims, to one of heroes, who died for causes they believed to be noble. Relieved of guilt, he finds his strength returned.

Just as Rand is no longer pridefully taking responsibility for the actions of others, the author flips back to the battlefield as the Sharan princess shrieks that Bao the Wyld is dead. The six line interjection reveals little, its main purpose is in the symbolism of Rand’s pride being removed, since Demandred embodied pride. 

Refusing to give in, ever, Rand begins to see the Dark One for what he really is. The Dark One’s attacks lost meaning. If they could not make him yield, if they could not make him relent, then what were they? The author breaks Rand’s confrontation into very short sections, shuffling them between other perspectives which ever so slowly reveal what is happening. Rapid flashes between characters works well to slow down the action at this critical juncture, and may not have worked so well with the traditional Robert Jordan long section in a single point of view. Could the traditional Robert Jordan long section approach even have been used for the Last Battle? Or would he have opted for breaks as shown here, mimicking the breakdown of the Pattern itself?

With Demandred dead, Mat raises a cheer for Malkier, which the soldiers eagerly take up. The Sharans are stunned by the news, and the heroes have a resurgence of hope.

Rand’s voice switches to all caps, an indication that he is now on even footing with the Dark One. Adding in a few explanatory details to tie up loose ends, he states that even though the story has centered on him, it is really about all of his friends and acquaintances, about everyone. It is about their common desire to fight on no matter the circumstances, to stand when they should be broken. The Dark One taunts Rand with Lan’s death. Rand holds the whole world in his hands as his conflict magnifies its focus on Merrilor.

Mat strains to gain an upper hand, and hears the Dark One in his head. The Dark One’s titles for the heroes attempt to diminish them, and continue to show the overriding pessimism in his every thought and action. Arganda mirrors that pessimism with his perpetual negative outlook. Mat has never had a better chance to win this, he just needs an opening to give him some momentum.

Rand tells the Dark One he is wrong…

Olver raises the Horn to his lips…

Mat hears Rand’s voice now too. Everyone can hear it. Three critical and emotionally resounding elements combine: Rand shouts “That man still fights!”, Lan rises with Demandred’s severed head, and  the Horn Of Valere resounds across the battlefield. It is a potent combination and is likely the core scene that everything else was built to support during the writing of the book.

For a brief moment, Elayne remains in peril, until Birgitte returns to save her. Her perfectly timed arrival is heralded by an arrow to Mellar’s chest followed by another to the head. She announces the arrival of the Heroes, and it feels awesome.

Mat takes advantage of any superstitious or cowardly hesitation on the part of the Shadow to lead a charge. The contrast between humanity’s desire to fight even unto death and the Trollocs’ instinctive desire to avoid death helps explain away much of the battle’s details. Any parts which get skipped over can be explained by a stereotyping statement which the reader is all too eager to embrace, as they are riding high on a wave of relief and excitement. Mat meets Hawkwing, swears at him, laments women like Nynaeve, and leers at a female Hero, all in keeping with his character even as the inner workings of Horn sounding are explained.

Noal comes back for Olver, providing a warm response to all the loss and death. He had lost so many people, but one of them… one… had come back for him. This links directly back to the idea that when both Manetheren and Malkier fell, no one had come to their aid. Olver’s salvation shows that this time, help came, and that made all the difference.

Elayne joins the fight against the Darkfriends, and following a brief attempt to keep her out of the larger battle, she and Birgitte go to battle, together. Birgitte is overjoyed her memories have returned.

Aviendha meets Elyas as the Wild Hunt streams into the valley. Before she can gather channelers to repel the Darkhounds, she senses Graendal and summons Cadsuane and Amys. Outnumbered and outmatched by Graendal’s circle, it is Aviendha’s original ability to stalk silently that protects her until her allies arrive.

Elayne joins the fight waving a sword to little effect other than the inspiration it offers her soldiers. By putting herself in danger and taking up the battle directly, as one of them, her soldiers feel they have no choice but to return to the fray.

Demandred’s death is the card upon which Mat is ready to bet everything. He still faces ten to one odds in numbers, but the enemy is in disarray. Mat faces a desperate fight to push the Sharans off the heights into the Trollocs below, and just as he most needs them, the Seanchan join the fight, flying through Gateways in the air to assault the Shadow below and marching in rhythm onto the Heights. Having Mat imagine and predict the Seanchan movements once gain saves the author from having to explain or show it in any detail.  A mysterious detail is presented, leaving the reader to wonder what other trick Mat has in store.

Grady follows Mat’s orders without understanding them. His Gateway to Hinderstap allows the same people, cursed by a bubble of evil, to make use of that very curse to surprise their foes. With the Dreadlords down, Grady bursts the dam, releasing the river Mora.

Androl wants to hunt the Dreadlords instead of pursuing Logain’s quest for sa’angreal. He and Pevara concoct a plan.

Moghedien impersonates Demandred to rally the Sharans, having apparently practiced impersonating each of the other Forsaken, which explains several peculiar orders from Forsaken throughout the series. Moghedien now has full access to the True Power, and uses her advantage by ordering the death of the meekest and weakest on the field of battle.  A gateway opens and Dragons fire on her.

Talmanes enjoys firing dragons to kill the Trollocs from a hidden location.

At Shayol Ghul, the storm is out of control, unleashing lightning on friend and foe alike. The fabric of reality is breaking down as a grand bubble of evil envelops the valley. Aviendha notices Trollocs fighting each other and an odd mist which heralds Padan Fain. The clouds above form the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai, and other impossible signs portend Rand’s conquest of his foe. As she creeps towards Graendal, she is attacked and kills her foe Rhuarc, seeming to contradict her earlier belief that any of her former allies would rather die than be used by the Shadow.

Dreadlords bicker amongst themselves and are tricked into following Androl’s imitation of Rand into a stedding. Mishraile expresses the only overt sexism that I can recall in the series, scoffing at the notion that a woman could be placed above him when the entire world is rife with examples of women leading men.

The Ogier will attempt a few decades of stedding-derived therapy to rehabilitate their new captives. Returning to the battlefield,  Androl and his friends find Trollocs slaughtering refugees and wounded.

Aviendha recovers from the shock of killing her former clan chief. Aviendha is wounded as she leaps into the air and plunges her spear into Graendal’s side, disappearing along with her as she Travels.

Logain feels threatened and seeks a sa’angreal to keep him powerful, and feels intense paranoia that others are trying to tear him down. Androl tells him of the Trollocs slaughtering the weak. Logain must choose between gaining strength or protecting the weak.

Mat watches the Trolloc horde get split by the river, then decimated by Seanchan and resurgent armies, as he battles alongside the Heroes of the Horn. For about a page, the text feels like an omniscient narrator describing the entire field of battle, no matter where Mat was standing at the moment. Because the focus is exclusively on military matters and takes place in a Mat perspective, it is a little easier to accept. Had it been written from any other perspective than Mat’s or Rand’s, it would stand out even more as a large deviation from the accepted form of third person limited narrator.

Mat asks Artur Hawkwing to speak with Tuon on his behalf while he goes to Rand’s aid. Perfectly placed punchline at the end of the section.

Rand speaks in all caps, like the Dark One, and reveals that nobility will always beat him, that death is no threat, and that he has never inspired love in any one. The Dark One sputters in response. Rand hurls himself into the blackness to bring Shai’tan’s death.

Aviendha can barely fend off Graendal. Isolated from her allies, she is able to open a Gateway before Graendal takes control of the situation, cutting off Aviendha’s possible attempt to kill herself before being enthralled by Compulsion. Graendal isn’t in great shape, but Aviendha can’t even keep hold of her belt knife.

Writing Lessons:

Design your story around the most important scenes.