All the Greatest Adventures Begin with Paperwork, Right?
September 6, 2019
All the Greatest Adventures Begin with Paperwork, Right?
When I first decided to do this re-read project, I asked Twitter whether I should start with New Spring or The Eye of The World and Twitter overwhelmingly recommended TEOTW so obviously I did the opposite.
It wasn’t just my congenital inability to do as I’m told. I generally start re-reads with New Spring, and I thought I would take a look at them both to see what might make for a good beginning.
I didn’t get past the Table of Contents.
I’m a bit of a story nerd, and I’ve read more books on story structure than is healthy. There’s a part of every story where the hero is in their ordinary world before they get called to action and everything goes to hell.
That part of the story is often called The Hook and there, sitting in the Table of Contents was a first chapter titled “The Hook.”
The wheel weaves as it will and all that.
The first parts of most stories have the same structure. The hero is in their normal world. Something happens that changes everything. The hero is called to action. They leave their normal world for a world of adventure where they face new dangers.
That’s the first four chapters of New Spring.
Chapter Two—the First Plot Point
I mentioned in my discussion of the second chapter that the Inciting Incident for this whole adventure took place off-screen with the birth of the Dragon Reborn. The Inciting Incident is the setup for the First Plot Point. That’s the point where something happens that forces the hero out of their comfort zone.
In New Spring, that’s when Moiraine and Siuan hear Gitara Moroso’s foretelling.
Chapter Three—The Call to Action
Chapter Three is the Call to Action, and it’s pretty explicit here. At the end of the chapter, Moiraine and Siuan are called to a gathering where they are explicitly ordered to leave the city and begin the search for the Dragon Reborn. Most of the Accepted don’t know that’s what they’re doing, but Siuan and Moiraine do.
Chapter Four—Leaving the Tower
This is what I want to talk about today because it’s rare that an author makes it so explicit when the heroes leave their normal world for the world of adventure. But this chapter is titled “Leaving the Tower” because as Accepted, Moiraine and Siuan are rarely allowed out of the tower—it’s their normal world.
We’re given a description of Tar Valon from the eyes of someone who is used to big cities but hasn’t been in one recently. The streets are wide and full of a wide array of people—a Tairen noblewoman, Kandori merchants, Murandian dandies, a Saldaean tradesman, Taraboner men, a Borderman, a Sheinaran, Cairhienin, Altaran men and women, Tairens, Andorans, Domani, and Arafellin are all mentioned.
There’s even a “charcoal-skinned fellow” whose presence I mention only so I can point it out to the guy on Twitter who responded to the casting news by saying that there were “literally zero non-white characters in the entire series” and call him a fucking wanker.
This isn’t just filler; it accomplishes two crucial world-building goals. It establishes that there’s a big world out there and that Tar Valon is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in it.
There’s an additional characterization goal accomplished here. There’s a mention of Moiraine being uncomfortable when someone gawks at her. That demonstrates that despite her enormous privilege and relatively cosmopolitan upbringing, that there are things in the normal world that she’s not entirely comfortable with. She’s much more sheltered and naïve than the woman we see in later books.
This whole sequence is wrapped up by the statement that, “It was so…normal.”
The Abnormal in the Normal World
All of that stuff—nationalities aside—is normal for the real world. Go to Boston, New York, Chicago, or any city of any size, and you’re going to see people of all types going about their business.
But New Spring doesn’t take place in the real world*. It takes place in a fantasy world so what’s normal for it isn’t necessarily normal for us and immediately following this declaration of normality, we get some things that are normal for Randland but not our world.
*Debatable, but only by tedious pedants. Don’t @ me.
Immediately after the normality declaration, we’re told that the White Tower “rose from the center of the city, a thick bone-white shaft climbing almost a hundred spans into the sky” because obviously, the home of the most powerful women in the world must be phallic as fuck.
We’re then told about the Ogier-built buildings and the Ogier themselves because the wondrous and weird is normal in this world.
The Bridge Between Worlds
The point of this entire chapter is to get Moiraine and Siuan across the bridge. It’s a literal bridge across the river and a story-structural bridge from the normal world to the world of adventure. The Aes Sedai made it very clear the bridges are the line between Tar Valon and the larger world.
“The sisters impressed deeply on every novice that so much as setting foot on the bridges constituted an attempt to run away, which was the worst crime a novice could commit short of murder. The same held true for Accepted; they just did not need to be reminded.”
The point of the world of adventure isn’t just that it’s unknown, it’s that it’s dangerous, and what happens when Moiraine, Siuan, and their escorts go over the bridge?
At the highest point of the bridge, more than fifty paces above the river, Steler abruptly drew rein.
Then she saw the cluster of horse-men at the foot of the bridge, nine or ten of them, staring at the city walls. Why the trumpets had gone silent no longer seemed so worrisome. The riders’ burnished breastplates and helmets shone like silver, and they all wore long white cloaks, spread across their mounts’ cruppers.
The Whitecloaks don’t do anything, of course. That’s not what the coming chapters are about. They’re just there to point out that the larger world has dangers. It has people who will hurt our heroes just for being who—and what—they are.