New Spring is not the beginning of the Wheel of Time. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
And it begins with Lan Mandragoran going around waking up sentries which might be the most borderlander thing ever. In the borderlands, they’re overwhelmingly aware of their duty to stand between the Blight and the rest of humanity. Lan Mandragoran is often presented as a distillation, the platonic ideal of what it means to be a borderlander.
Obedience to Duty
That means absolute obedience to duty above all. We are told repeatedly that duty is heavier than a mountain, and yet not once does Lan try to escape his. We see him acknowledge a debt to dead Malkier even though it died when he was an infant. There were oaths sworn in his name and without his consent that he honors.
That obligation to honor promises made by someone else is a theme throughout the series. The most prominent, of course, is that of Rand Al’Thor who, as the Dragon Reborn, is fated to fight the Dark One with the fate of everything at stake. It’s a responsibility he takes seriously even though he knows he’ll die in the process and there are multiple plotlines about how well he’s handling this at any given moment.
Spoiler alert, “Not well” is the case for about thirteen books.
Mat and Perrin
To a lesser extent, Mat Cauthon and Perrin Aybara do the same thing. They don’t want to be thought of as leaders—Mat decries nobles at every chance even after he becomes one, and Perrin doesn’t stop telling people not to call him “Lord Perrin” until Towers of Midnight.
And yet, whenever they are presented with the opportunity to “do the right thing,” they feel a responsibility to do it. Sometimes it turns out to be the wrong thing, as with Mat and his dealings with Elayne and Nynaeve and Perrin misunderstanding how Faile needs to be treated.
But in all cases, they accept the responsibility of leading when people need to be led. To some extent, it’s merely a matter of what they choose. To another extent, it’s the workings of the Wheel. We can’t know how much is one and how much is the other and that’s a thing that has always bothered me.
The Chosen One Sucks
One of the few things that bother me about Epic Fantasy as a genre is the Chosen One trope. It might merely be an offshoot of my congenital inability to do what I’m told, but I loathe when people are given a destiny and given the false choice of accepting it or not. We all know they’re going to accept it because the consequences of not accepting it are catastrophically dire and no decent human being would do that.
Nynaeve, Egwene, and Aviendha
I much prefer the devotion to duty we see in Nynaeve al’Meara, Egwene al’Vere, and Aviendha. At the start, Nynaeve has accepted a position of responsibility for the people of Emond’s Field. Her job is to keep them safe, and she proved herself willing to chase down the crew that left Emond’s Field just because she thought they were at risk. It wasn’t a responsibility imposed upon her, but one she willingly accepted.
The same is true of Egwene. To be sure, she was given a position of responsibility primarily because she was relatively unknown and absent from the Tower at the right time, but she could have permitted herself to be a puppet. Even if she couldn’t allow that, she could have chosen to favor one side of the Tower conflict over the other and she didn’t. She fell in love with the Tower and the concept of the Aes Sedai as truly being servants of all and accepted the responsibility for making the tower whole. More than that, she accepted the responsibility of bringing in other female channelers from the Aiel, Sea Folk, and Kin as well. That she pissed off all of them, including both sides of the Tower conflict suggests that nobody else would have been in a position to do so.
Aviendha is much like the boys in that she accepts the responsibility of the position before she accepts the trappings of the job, but in her case, it’s not because she doesn’t want the trappings, it’s because she doesn’t feel she’s worthy. When she finally accepts that she’s worthy, she has to go back to Rhuidean to learn about the future which feels significant.
In all of these cases, the characters accept responsibility for some monumental decisions, and that’s why they’re the main characters in an extraordinarily long series, but it very much feels like Robert Jordan set out to explore the different ways people could do that.
I think that means it’s something I should be keeping an eye on as I go through the series.