Tales From the Mad Monk

I write stuff. You might like it.

Sometimes A Story Is About Making The World Better

Sometimes A Story Is About Making the World Better

I’m a freelancer and have been reading and watching fantasy for more than forty years, so when I read that the protagonist of Rachel Aaron’s Minimum Wage Magic was a freelance mage, I was tickled.

I had previously read Aaron’s Eli Monpress stories and her Heartstriker Series so I was confident I’d love Minimum Wage Magic and I bought it on the spot.

I was not disappointed.


What if the First Oath Meant You Couldn’t Lie to Yourself?

What if the First Oath Meant You Couldn’t Lie to Yourself?

This post is supposed to be about the eleventh chapter of New Spring, but in re-reading it, I learned something important. Nothing in this chapter is remotely interesting.

It’s the chapter in which Siuan and Moiraine are raised to the shawl. There’s a ceremony, they take the oaths, and other than fan service, I suspect the narrative purpose of the chapter is to emphasize just how close Moiraine and Siuan are. Fine, whatever.

I found the chapter title interesting. It’s “Just Before Dawn” and is a reference to the time at which they leave for the ceremony. It only interests me in juxtaposition to the idea of He Who Comes At Dawn. Here we have a quest-goer-onner who achieves validation by going to something before dawn. Later we’ll have a quest-fulfiller who achieves validation by returning from something at dawn. I don’t know if that was deliberate—I suspect it was—but it was slightly interesting.

So WTF am I going to do with this post? I’m going to go off on a tangent and wonder what might have been if things had been different. As soon as Moiraine takes the first oath—the one that prohibits lying—she thinks a lie.

What if she couldn’t? What if the First Oath made it impossible to lie to yourself? What if, in any question where there is an objectively true answer, that you could not think something that contradicted reality?


New Spring Ch. 10: It’s Supposed to be Good, but The White Tower is Divisive as Hell

It’s Supposed to be Good, but The White Tower is Divisive as Hell

The Shadow wishes it could divide the forces of the Light the way the White Tower has. It drives wedges between almost literally everyone.

Okay First…the Test Isn’t Lame

I said in the post on the previous chapter that the test seemed lame, especially compared to Elaida’s torture. It seems I forgot some details and that the test got a lot worse physically as Moiraine left the test exhausted and with several injuries.

The Divisions of the White Tower

The White Tower drives everyone apart.

In Moiraine’s last test, she is forced to leave her family in dire circumstances. When Egwene and Nynaeve go through the test to become Accepted, they are also forced to repeatedly abandon those they care about the most to become Aes Sedai.

There’s some sense to this. As channelers, Aes Sedai are going to live much longer than their non-channeling families, so they have to get used to the loss. In addition, by living so long, they’re forced to think of the long-term because they will live to see the consequences of their actions.


New Spring Ch. 9: Only Madmen Entered the Blight Willingly

Only Madmen Entered the Blight Willingly

This chapter feels almost entirely like fan service. It depicts the start of Moiraine’s trip through the testing ter’angreal but doesn’t reveal much—if anything—about her nature that we didn’t already know.

The last chapter ended with her getting the call, so this one begins as she’s escorted to the testing. She’s afraid she’s going to fail but realizes that if she fails, she still has her book of names and the resources of the scion of House Damodred. She resolves that she’ll begin the quest for the Dragon Reborn in a few days regardless and this alieves her anxiety about the test.


New Spring Ch. 8 The Hard is what Makes it Good

The Hard is what Makes it Good

This chapter has always been a strange one for me in that the only thing that happens—Elaida tortures Moiraine and Siuan in the guise of practicing for the test—and it seems disconnected from everything else that happens in the story.

From a story structure perspective, it ramps up the stakes right before Moiraine is called for the test. This is so clearly the entire point of the chapter that everything from the Foretelling to this incident happened within seven days. Two more days pass before they see Elaida again, then on the tenth day the weather breaks and the snow melts. Moiraine is called nine days after the thaw. Everything from the thaw to the time Moiraine is called happens in one paragraph.

The big question about this incident is always whether Elaida is trying to help them succeed at the test or whether she’s trying to get them to fail. I’ll talk about that in a moment, but first I want to address some of the details that bookend the incident.


New Spring Ch. 7: Thrones, Schmones, This Game is for Whole Houses

Thrones, Schmones, This Game is for Whole Houses

On a casual read, this feels like one of those chapters that are relatively meaningless. It’s the one where Siuan and Moiraine are sent with letters to assorted Aes Sedai from which Moiraine concludes that the Reds aren’t to be trusted and that the Amyrlin intends to keep the whole matter a secret.

This is, of course, important because that’s precisely what Siuan and Moiraine do.

If you read just a wee bit deeper, though, this chapter is about two things: breaking the rules and showing Moiraine’s strengths.


New Spring Ch. 6: Siuan Looks Ahead. Moiraine Looks to Run

Siuan Looks Ahead. Moiraine Looks to Run

I confess that in previous re-reads of New Spring, I’ve often skipped this chapter. For those of you who don’t know the contents of every chapter in the entire series off the top of your head, a) shame on you, and b) it’s the one where Siuan and Moiraine start copying over names of the women who gave birth.

The previous chapter ended with Merean informing Moiraine that her uncles—King Laman and his brothers—had been killed by the Aiel. This chapter begins with Merean telling Moiraine that she’s spoken with the Amyrlin and they agree that because Moiraine isn’t in a horrific depression, she must be in shock and thus should stay home from the name gathering.

There are a couple interesting things here.

Moiraine isn’t all that broken up over her uncles because she knows they were terrible people who weren’t kind to her father. The Aes Sedai—who are as famously un-emotional as Jedi—think her lack of emotion is reflective of shock instead of a perfectly natural reaction to some bad people dying.

That’s weird.


42 is More Important than That

42 is More Important than That

When I mention to people that my favorite number is 42, I am generally met with some sort of Hitchhiker reference, and that’s…fine. Tribes need their cultural touchstones, and I am a Hitchhiker fan, so it would be churlish of me to take offense at that recognition.

And yet, for me, 42 is much more important than a mere cultural touchstone.

The Absurdity of Human Conduct

One of the hallmarks of Douglas Adams’ work is commentary on the absurdity of human action.

To illustrate that point, I’ll merely point out that immediately before the destruction of Earth, Arthur Dent was lying in the mud in front of a bulldozer trying to protect his house from destruction. He was talked out of it by a friend who wanted to go for a pint, and who talked the demolition manager into lying in the mud instead.


What followed was the destruction of the planet, the escape of Dent and his friend by dint of an electronic thumb and with the cooperation of some cooks who liked to piss off their bosses.


And remember, the entire narrative thread resulting in 42 involves humankind building an enormous computer, pouring data into it, and letting it cook for millions of years without ever giving it a proper question.


The Wheel Weaves the Future out of the Past

The Wheel Weaves the Future out of the Past

While the first four chapters of New Spring follow a predictable formula, the fifth and sixth chapters are dedicated to giving us a further understanding of our two protagonists by showing us their strengths and weaknesses.

These strengths and weakness stem primarily from the way they were raised. Siuan was raised as a woman on a working-class fishing vessel where the work came first, and politeness and decorum were a secondary or tertiary consideration if they were considered at all. If she wanted something done, she had to take charge and make sure it got done.

Moiraine on the other hand, grew up in a palace with a long list of people there to help her get whatever she wanted and a very short list of people who could tell her what to do.


Prydain is Better for your Kids than Narnia

Like many of us who read fantasy as adults, I got my start on Narnia. My first-grade teacher read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe to the class. It was wonderful. Wardrobes with new worlds hidden in them, talking animals, magic, and a classic confrontation between good and evil where evil wins—what more could you ask for?

I devoured the rest of the books, and while I thought it was weird that they skipped through different characters and different periods, the fact that they were Christian allegory went entirely over my head.

Then I re-read them in junior high and picked up on the fact that they weren’t just an allegory for Christianity, they were an allegory for a particularly loathsome form of Christianity that prioritized obedience to authority and punishment for wrongdoing over being a decent person. I was discomfited.