New Spring Ch. 8 The Hard is what Makes it Good
October 9, 2019
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.
- The gossip in the Accepted’s quarters turns to talk of men who behaved heroically and who (and what) would make a good Warder. I think this is the only foreshadowing of Moiraine’s selection of Lan as a Warder later.
- Moiraine faces some petty pushback from Aes Sedai who are butthurt that they have to give novice lessons because the Accepted are out taking names. While these Aes Sedai will give other Accepted lessons at night, they refuse Moiraine who, being exempt from the name taking, could give novice lessons. This rather clearly presages Elaida’s animosity that’s made explicit later.
- Aes Sedai serenity is bullshit. It’s presented as being calm in the face of a storm so you can make decisions using logic and the wisdom that accumulates when you can live to be well over a hundred years old. But when Aes Sedai use that calm to beat the snot out of people and make petty-ass decisions, it’s revealed to be a simple mask to hide emotions and motivations. That’s not useless, of course, but it’s a lie.
- For all the hard-core-ness of Aes Sedai in general, and Siuan Sanche in particular, it’s interesting to note that after Elaida gives Moiraine a single round of torture, Siuan tries to break in and stop it. She cares for Moiraine rather a lot, and sometimes we lose sight of that fact.
- After the torture, there’s some rubbing of ointment on bruises that only happens after Siuan and Moiraine get naked. I think this is a little odd, but it shows that nudity in the Tower is more casual than it is in the regular world. The test comes in the next couple chapters, and Moiraine is famously conscious about nudity there, but not in her quarters with a handful of other Accepted.
- I have some qualms about how the previous bullet point is going to play out in the TV show. There’s plenty of nudity in the books—every conversation in a sweat tent for starters—and that’s fine, but I don’t want this series to just toss naked boobs at people whenever possible.
- The fact that there are laws against disciplining initiates with the Power, and yet every single Novice and Accepted has had their ear flicked or their butt swatted with the power is suggestive that the laws are useless.
Discussions of Elaida and her motivations always remind me of the time Sirius Black told Harry that the world isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters. Elaida is so clearly a villain that we’re meant to question her motives. Siuan and Moiraine do, so how could we not?
And yet, at the end of the chapter, there’s a bit where they encounter Elaida while walking to dinner. Elaida fumes silently, and Moiraine concludes that Elaida clearly believes it was Siuan and Moiraine that went to Merean and caused Elaida embarrassment. More to the point, Moiraine concludes that they’ve earned an enemy for life.
That happens AFTER the incident, and with it being explicitly stated to happen then, it should be clear that Elaida doesn’t have any particular dislike for Siuan and Moiraine before then. All the prickliness is just Elaida being an asshole.
Consider this. Elaida had a foretelling about the ruling family of Andor being crucial to the last battle, so she’s one of the few who knows that the last battle is coming soon.
Other than Elaida herself, Siuan and Moiraine are the most potent initiates of the tower in forever, so if Elaida is going to be in place to fight the last battle, so are Siuan and Moiraine. I think it’s entirely likely that Elaida is trying to help them pass the test.
That raises a question, though. Why would Elaida think that sheer brutality is the way to prepare someone for the test? We see Moiraine take the test and there’s no brutality involved. The most significant attacks are on her modesty, so clearly the test is tailored to the people taking it.
Was Elaida’s test particularly brutal physically? It seems likely, and the only reason would be that Elaida feared that kind of brutality. Was she beaten as a child? It’s pure speculation, of course, but I suspect she was, and I think it colored her outlook on everything.