6 Ways the EOTW Prologue Spoils Everything
The Wheel of Time is one of those series that sliced open my gullet and made a home in my innards. I’ve been reading—and re-reading—it off and once since the early 90s and have spent more time listening to narrators Michael Kramer and Kate Reading than is accepted by polite society.
On many of those re-reads, I made the mistake of skipping the prologue. Prompted by news of the upcoming show, I re-read the whole thing again and realized that it is, almost literally, all there in the prologue.
So here, to start the most epic of re-reads, I’m digging into the prologue and spoiling everything.
That Whole Duality Thing
We begin with a description of the damage Lews Therin Telamon has done to his palace. There are rents in the walls, scorch marks, soot fallen on fine art, and “The dead lay everywhere, men and women and children struck down in attempted flight…” I truncated that sentence for reading and writing ease. The very next sentence begins “In odd counterpoint…” and points out that the tapestries and paintings were undisturbed save where the broken walls had pushed them out of their normal position.
It is setting up a clear distinction inherent in the observable reality. The palace is in shambles, but the art is virtually untouched. Beauty and the ugliness of destruction and murder coexist in a single image.
Duality is present in much of the series. Maleness and femaleness are treated not just as polar opposites but as the only options, and that distinction determines which part of the One Power they’re capable of using. Even when a “male” person is put into a “female” body (for punishment because ugh), that person uses the male half of the force.
Of course, the force’s male and female halves are entirely different, requiring an altogether different set of skills to manipulate. It’s gender essentialism, and it’s bullshit.
Where were we? Duality? Oh yes.
This duality leads to one of the most dramatic plot points in The Last Battle, when Egwene Al’Vere realizes that as balefire is just a weave, it must have an equal and opposite weave. So she invents the Flame of Tar Valon with absolutely no consequences whatsoever.
And it’s right there at the beginning.
The Madness of the Dragon
The second paragraph is all about the madness of Lews Therin Telamon.
He wanders his palace keeping his balance amid the aftershocks while searching for his wife and ignoring the death and destruction he caused. Interestingly, for another post I haven’t written yet, his madness takes the form of being unable to see the damage he has caused.
Lews Therin looks in a mirror, so the first time we’re introduced to the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai, it’s reversed. Everything he looks at is reversed, and many of the events that follow in the prologue are reversed in the series.
After spending a moment looking at the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai and himself all decked in beautiful clothes covered with dust and ash, “Lews Therin began to chuckle, then threw back his head; his laughter echoed down the lifeless halls.”
Laughter is an important thematic element for the Emond’s Fielders. When they laugh, it’s often a throwback to before Winternight when they weren’t involved in a fight to save everything. It’s a throwback to when their lives were normal, and everything was okay.
Rand has to learn how to laugh again because he becomes brittle, and if he’s incapable of allowing others to choose their own destinies—even if they end up getting hurt—he won’t be able to defeat the Dark One.
But what’s interesting here isn’t just that Lews Therin laughs before he is awakened to the devastation he has caused, but how that laugh ends. He laughs until Elan Morin Tedronai shows up and speaks, at which point “The laughter cut off as if it had never been.”
Rand laughs at a few things early on, so the absence of laughter is part of being the Dragon. I haven’t investigated whether Rand laughs after he learns he’s the Dragon Reborn because the word “laugh” appears 1870 times in the series, and there’s a limit to how much time I’m willing to spend on research.
This laugh is a counterpoint to the laugh we eventually see on Dragonmount in Veins of Gold. That’s the last chapter of the 12th book referenced in the prologue to the first book. Or, as Robert Jordan no doubt said once, “Foreshadow that, motherfuckers.”
In researching how to spell “faugh,” I found the first instance of it in the series, and it wasn’t Cadsuane who said it. Who was it, and when did he/she/they say it?
Answer at the end of the post.
Ishamel Being an Insecure Little Shit
Elan Morin Tedronai, as we still know him, is more than a bit scornful. He mocks not just what Lews Therin looks like but how far he has fallen, and it’s still not enough. He has to make Lews Therin know. “I am the greater, now.” he says, “I will not let you die without knowing that. When you die, your last thought will be of the full knowledge of your defeat, of how complete and utter it is.”
He’s every schoolyard bully and tinpot dictator of a boss who ever lived. He’s not interested in his success nearly as much as he is in everyone else’s failure. He was well respected as a philosopher and theologian but butt-hurt because he wasn’t as popular as Lews Therin.
His petty obsession with his failure to live up to an absurd standard—being the best at everything—led him to misunderstand the concept of circles. He concluded that the Dark One would have to win eventually even though the nature of infinity means that as much time has passed as there is to come. Everything that can happen not only will happen but already has happened.
That’s a lot of butt-hurtedness for a guy who has had a truly remarkable life. In the prologue, it leads to him healing Lews Therin not out of generosity of spirit or compassion for a fellow man but out of spite.
I think the difference between healing with the One Power and healing with the True Power is a significant indication of the differences between good and evil, and I suspect there will be a post coming on that at some point.
The Price of Opposing Shai’tan
Ishamael refers to Lews Therin’s murder spree as “the price of opposing Shai’tan,” and that echoes through the way many of the Emond’s Fielders respond to the whole bloody mess.
Perrin’s arc is almost entirely about his willingness to accept the burdens of leadership. He doesn’t want to because he knows he’s just a guy without special leadership skills, and he’s afraid he’s going to hurt the people he cares about.
Rand responds by protecting people by caring about them as little as possible, keeping his inner circle as small as is possible, and never showing even a hint of interest in the place and people he came from.
Mat famously tries to protect people even when they don’t need it.
It’s all masculinity that’s so very toxic in a condescending, paternalistic sort of way, but hurting the people you care about is the price of opposing Shai’tan.
The end of AMOL is confusing to some, but it works like this. Rand and Moridin are connected in some metaphysical way.
What’s important here is that when we get to that last moment after the Dark One has been defeated, Moridin wants not to exist. He doesn’t just want to die because the Dark One can bring him back if he dies. He wants to face the oblivion of not existing.
Rand, on the other hand, wants to live. Moridin dies in Rand’s body while Rand lives in Moridin’s for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear. Rand lives because he wants to. Moridin dies and will likely get punished by the Dark One in a new age by being brought back to life.
What we have at the end of the prologue is the exact opposite. Remember, Lews Therin threatened to balefire Elan Morin Tedronai, and Elan Morin was very not up for that.
Lews Therin, on the other hand, has just destroyed everyone he loves, and once he faces that reality, he feels guilt and grief the likes of which very few people will ever experience. He goes to the middle of nowhere and soaks in so much of the One Power he essentially obliviates himself, forming a volcano and an island that have no sexual imagery whatsoever.
What we see in this prologue is a reversal of how things play out in the series. The good guy does incredible damage, can’t see the damage he’s done, gets healed, and when faced with that damage, dies by an epic suicide. Then he’s reincarnated as a guy who goes to extreme lengths to avoid hurting the people he cares about, doesn’t see the damage that causes, see’s the light and ultimately lives thanks to an epic suicide.
And remember, one of the first things Lews Therin does is look at an object that shows him an image reversed from reality.
The first person to say “faugh” was Moiraine just after they left The Ways for the firs time as she was discarding her staff.
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