Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A Memory of Light - Epilogue

In this final section, glimmers of the future are shown and loose threads are tied up.

Rand’s quest ended on exactly the last page of the story, and the epilogue has a scant sixteen pages to wrap up many loose ends, which it does quite successfully.

Rand is blind and burdened with weight. After escaping the Pit of Doom, Rand realizes an unfamiliar woman is kneeling next to him, guiding him on what to do. The major clue to her identity comes in the following paragraph with the juxtaposition of two ideas in successive sentences: He blinked, his vision fuzzy. Was that Aiel clothing? An old woman with gray hair? Her form retreated, and Rand reached toward her, not wanting to be alone. Wanting to explain himself. Rand not wanting to be alone refers to his attaining adulthood, which firms up the link with his mother, Shaiel. She is offering him final words of encouragement as he enters the world alone, and he is expressing his final regrets about leaving the dependence of childhood behind. It is reasonable that the last to let go of a child who grows into a man is his mother, and since there has been much ado over Rand’s father figures, it is appropriate for his mother to have her brief time on the page as well.

Shaiel’s death was only ever confirmed by Tam, and that came in a fever-dream. If she somehow survived Rand’s birth, it seems implausible that a woman of her renown could have returned to Aiel society without being recognized. She might have intentionally lived alone in the wilderness for two decades, if so motivated by Gitara’s original Foretelling. More likely is that she is a Hero of the Horn, which explains her appearance in Aiel garb and her apparent knowledge about what Rand should do. It does not however explain her appearance at Aviendha’s side when she was tested at Rhuidean, if she is the same woman, as seems likely.

Rand ambiguously reveals what he asked the Aelfinn. Rand had asked the Aelfinn how to win the Last Battle and survive, and the answer had been “The north and the east must be as one. The south and west must be as one. The two must be as one. To live you must die.” Given that this is the moment where Rand is dying, his newfound understanding of how to live and die could be what he is explaining to the Aiel woman, but the link is tenuous. His second question on how to cleanse the taint from saidin has been resolved. Was Rand’s third question to ask what his fate was and receive the answer ‘to choose’?

 “I see the answer now,” he whispered. “I asked the Aelfinn the wrong question. To choose is our fate. If you have no choice, then you aren’t a man at all. You’re a puppet…” 

The concept of free will has been present since the beginning of the series, and the revelation of Rand’s third answer from the Aelfinn at this late point in the story infuses the concept with even more importance. While the Wheel forces Rand to come to a certain place at a certain time, it cannot force him to do anything; it can present him with choices, but can’t compel him to choose one path over another. Even when the choice is to die or take another action, it remains a choice.

In the same Mat paragraph, the pleasantness of the sun is contrasted with the stinking blackness of Fain’s body. Mat wins every gamble he takes, yet even he won’t touch the cursed Shadar Logoth dagger. As the most reckless character, Mat is associated with the most instinctual behaviour, and he clearly rejects the path set out by Fain. Believing that the end justifies the means is the gamble that can’t be won; there is no way to preserve yourself when you start down that line of reasoning. The final phrase’s use of mess carries psychologically symbolic meaning: Behind, the dagger, ruby and all, melted away into the mess that had been Padan Fain. Again, this idea that absolutism is bad has been incorporated into the series from a very early point, and is reinforced by its placement here at the end of the story.

Perrin surveys the losses and celebration of victory in the camp, still worrying about his duty to protect Rand. He sees Rand dying in the tent, with the two best healers unable to prevent him dying. Perrin stands equal with Nynaeve: “Dogs obey that command, Nynaeve,” Perrin said, “not wolves.” He consoles her over Egwene’s death. Moridin is also in the tent, dying. Lan also sees Perrin as an equal. No one has seen Faile.

Loial’s walk through the camp, like Perrin’s, allows a couple of small plots to be resolved, including succession to a throne, naming surviving Aes Sedai, and planting straightforward clues to something odd: None of Rand’s loves seems to care that Rand is dying. Amusingly, Loial frets over the correct way to record dates after the Last Battle, an indication that with the Last Battle done, concerns are swiftly turning back to the everyday and mundane.

Mat is renowned amongst the Sharans, but when he calls the fireworks display the best in the history of “my land or yours”, he reveals that he does not see himself as one of his wife’s people. For Mat, being off the hook seems to imply he is free to leave. Tuon’s threat makes it clear that Mat can choose to do whatever he wants, but there will be consequences if he angers his wife. It is a ridiculous and funny predicament to leave him in at the close of the story.

Perrin faces the insurmountable task of finding Faile’s body amongst the hundreds of thousands of dead. Exhausted, he falls into sleep.

Moghedien has survived the Last Battle and no one knows that she lives. She too is free to act as she chooses with the Dark One imprisoned again, and she begins by strangling a worker and assuming her appearance. She thinks she can rule the world within a few years. Her own subterfuge works against her as a sul’dam captures her and deduces from her skulking that Moghedien will not be missed after she is dragged back to serve the Seanchan. Her poor selfish choices dictated her fate.

Nynaeve announces Rand’s death. She tries to corner Aviendha and bully her into revealing why she doesn’t seem upset, but Aviendha deflects her question. Aviendha, always representing Rand’s past, has been wounded and will never fight again, another metaphor of his having grown into adulthood. The fate of the Aiel, and of a couple of kings is revealed in passing.

When Perrin was last in Tel’aran’rhiod, Dragonmount was drawing near Shayol Ghul as the world shrank and large portions of it were destroyed and pulled up into the sky. That damage has seemingly been repaired with Rand’s victory. Perrin travels easily across the countryside as a wolf, lamenting his loss, struggling to understand why he has lost Faile when he did everything his duty compelled him to do. A clue draws him to Faile, whose wounds are healed in moments with Perrin’s creative use of the Wolf Dream to bring her back to the camp quickly. Their reunion is immensely rewarding despite its brevity, and also shows that Perrin’s decision to follow duty was well made.  Perhaps brevity is what makes this scene work; after having tormented the reader with doubt that Faile survived, once she is healed what further point is there in saying anything beyond ‘they lived happily ever after’?

Birgitte asks Elayne a blunt question in the same vein as that which Nynaeve posed to Aviendha, and gets a noncommittal response. She tweaks Elayne’s nose by telling her Olver and the Horn have been sent away, which Elayne recognizes was the best outcome for all. With a mature outlook, she agrees that there is little need to keep a powerful instrument of war such as the Horn as a deterrent. Birgitte is being reborn, and it turns out her interpretation of Gaidal as a young child somewhere out there was correct. Birgitte too gets her reward of being with the one she loves.

Tam notes signs of life in Shayol Ghul, a place that was once feared above all others. He reflects on what all humanity has been given by his son, how all men stand equal: In the evening, even with his light, it was hard to tell Aiel from Aes Sedai, Two Rivers man from Tairen king. All were shapes in the night, saluting the body of the Dragon Reborn. Tam stands next to Moiraine and Thom, pride and reverence in his heart.

Min stands with her two friends watching Rand’s body burn. Her Viewing fulfilled, they discuss the future and she nods agreement to the idea that they will make sure that the world believes Rand is gone. Leading toward the final revelation, she senses her bond pulsing stronger each moment.

Rand awakens alone, rested, healthy, and whole. The mirror shows Moridin's face, with a single saa held motionless in his eye, representing that Rand will always be able to see things with a bit of the Shadow's nihilistic or selfish point of view. But that dark viewpoint is held motionless; Rand will know it, but it will not drive him or affect him, he is in control. In effect, he now has a mature outlook on life, no longer carefree or innocent, one which acknowledges a wider array of possibilities, both good and bad.

Alivia has left him clothing and money, and a horse as means of transportation. He has Laman's sword. Shayol Ghul is blooming and full of life. From a distance he watches as his old body - Moridin's body now - is cremated. He leaves as the onlookers watch his funeral pyre. All but one whom he acknowledges with a nod of his head before heeling the horse away.

From that, Cadsuane deduces that inexplicably, Rand is in Moridin's body. She thinks she may be able to use this information in some unexplained fashion, but then is ambushed by four Sitters. They have decided that Cadsuane will be the new Amyrlin. This is quite appropriate, as Cadsuane has closely represented the Light itself, and now the Light is being forced to take up the responsibility of caring for humanity, the logical outcome of Rand choosing Light over Shadow. It is also the logical outcome of filling the void left by Rand’s death, for he would have been the obvious choice to lead the world under the Light. There will be no further abdication of leadership by the Light, no further manipulation of Rand, for Cadsuane and the Light have a more direct role to play in shepherding humanity.

Rand sees the world with a hint of Shadow, but has acknowledged the Light, and no one has impeded his departure. He has everything he needs, and is now completely free, with no restrictions over him from any person or agent.

Representing this ultimate freedom, he lights his pipe by thought alone, a matter of willing it to be so, just as if he were in Tel'aran'rhiod. The choice of a pipe in this symbolic act is appropriate, since smoking is often portrayed as a deliberate act of defiance and freedom in today's world. He inspected it for a moment in the darkness, then thought of the pipe being lit. And it was. This scene potently completes Rand's evolution from an uncertain youth into a grown man who can now literally do anything he puts his mind to.

While Rand embodies this new Power, and may be unique in using it, the story in its entirety implies that with the right driving forces and moral bearings to guide someone, they too can manipulate reality and get what they want. For physical explanation, the most logical is that some characteristics of Tel’aran’rhiod now exist in the waking world, and Rand is the first, perhaps only one, to have unlocked the secret of using them. Or perhaps Rand unlocked the secret for everyone, and the ultimate choice of what each person will do with it comprises their own eventual personal Last Battle.

Rand wonders which of his three lovers will follow, and which he might pick. As his past, present, and future, he is completely unable to pick one over the others; they are all a part of him. He can't leave his past behind (Aviendha), he can't simply live for the moment (Elayne) and he can't only dream about the future (Min).

With his newfound freedom, Rand is pleased to have the leisure to explore and experience the world as he sees fit. Funnily, he sees the royal trappings of powerful rulers he has seen as just one thing out of many to experience, not as the end point that many of the Forsaken sought. The final wind that rises showcases the duality that pervades Rand’s mental state and so much of the story: The wind rose high and free, to soar in an open sky with no clouds. It passed over a broken landscape scattered with corpses not yet buried. A landscape covered, at the same time, with celebrations. It tickled the branches of trees that had finally begun to put forth buds. The wind blew southward, through knotted forests, over shimmering plains and towards lands unexplored.

Writing Lessons:

Keep the story alive in your reader’s mind by inciting them to imagine what happens next.

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