Perrin and Faile Sitting in a Tree S-P-A-N-K-I-N-G
Many people don’t like Perrin and/or Faile and I think those people are bug nuts who don’t understand what the two of them are all about. So I wrote this.
Perrin, His Background, and His Arc
Perrin was always bigger than the other kids and it almost cost the world everything.
We first meet Perrin like this:
“I had been thinking you were going to stay out on the farm through the whole festival,” Perrin Aybara shouted at Rand over the clamor. Half a head shorter than Rand, the curly-haired blacksmith’s apprentice was so stocky as to seem a man-and-a-half wide, with arms and shoulders this enough to rival those of Master Luhhan himself. He could easily have pushed through the throng, but that was not his way. He picked his path carefully, offering apologies to people who had only half a mind to notice anything but the peddler. He made the apologies anyway and tried not to jostle anyone as he worked through the crowd to Rand and Mat. [emphasis added]
That’s the first sign we have that Perrin cares more about not harming someone else than his own convenience, and we’re all going to just pretend there isn’t a sub-textual elephant in the room about masks and vaccinations because we’re trying to be polite and not deviate from the subject too much.
Similarly, we’re introduced to Perrin’s utter lack of an expectation of leadership when he finds Egwene in the aftermath of Shadar Logoth. They’re talking about the best way to find the others—or make themselves findable by the others—when we get this bit:
“I don’t understand then, Perrin. Where do we go?”
He blinked in surprise. She was waiting for his answer. Waiting for him to tell her what to do. It had never occurred to him she would look to him to take the lead.
To be sure, part of his lack of expectation of leadership is the fact that Egwene is averse to being led, but that is characterization of Egwene as much as anything else.
But that’s Perrin’s arc. When the story begins, Perrin goes to great lengths not to hurt people and has no expectation of leadership. By the end—and it doesn’t really come until the middle of Tarmon Gaidon—Perrin is a war-leader ready to unleash holy hell when he has to.
Two other things deserve a mention here. The wolf thing and that bit where Perrin decides to kill Egwene.
The Wolf Thing
I think it’s pretty obvious that the Wolfbrother thing is all about Perrin fighting the part of himself that is willing and able to commit wanton violence. As a literary theme, it goes back to fucking forever and with the emphasis on duality and balance in The Wheel of Time, it had to be there in some character or other, but there are still a couple things I want to mention.
There is an aspect of Taoism called the Principle of the Uncarved block which, to oversimplify, means that you have to be who you naturally are, and that fighting against aspects of yourself will never really work.
It’s why the whole pray-away-the-gay thing could never work, why I’ll never be a morning person, and why Perrin accepting his wolfishness isn’t a surrender to his baser nature, but an acceptance of who he has been all along.
The Bit Where Perrin Decides to Kill Egwene
I think this is a thing many people forget happened because it’s kind of stuck in the middle of some more exciting things, but in The Eye of the World Chapter 29, Eyes Without Pity, a couple significant things happen.
Perrin, Egwene, and Elyas have just left the Tinker caravan and are being chased by an enormous horde of ravens. Two things happen here.
First, Perrin openly acknowledges that he can hear the wolves for the first time. The wolves tell him and Elyas about the ravens and Elyas just stares at Perrin until he tells Egwene about them and they run for their lives.
The second thing is obviously his decision to kill Egwene and the details of it are important. When running, they see the corpse of a fox that has been pecked to death by ravens and Perrin decides it’s a slow and terrible way to die.
When he realizes the ravens are going to catch them and they’re all going to die this horrible death, he thinks about how he can keep Egwene from suffering. If a horrible death is inevitable, the only way to prevent it is a better death sooner.
Elyas was watching him again, saying nothing. He must know, but he did not speak. Perrin looked at Egwene again and blinked away hot tears. He touched his axe and wondered if he had the courage. In the last minutes, when the ravens descended on them, when all hope was gone, would have the courage to spare her the death the fox had died? Light make me strong! [emphasis in the original text]
Obviously he doesn’t kill Egwene, because the trio arrives in an abandoned stedding that the ravens won’t enter. We all breathe a sigh of relief, but Perrin thinks:
Not quite an hour till dark. If not for the stedding, all of you would be dead now. Would you have saved her? Would have cut her down like so many bushes? Bushes don’t bleed, do they? Or scream, and look in your eyes and ask why?
Perrin drew in on himself more. He could feel something laughing at him, deep in the back of his mind. Something cruel. Not the Dark One. He almost wished it was. Not the Dark one; himself.
This is obviously part of Perrin’s fight with his more animalistic self, but I think there are two important things to recognize here. First, that there are different standards for people who are close to him than those who are not. He has no thoughts about killing Elyas to spare him the suffering. Egwene is his friend, from his village, and the one that looked to Perrin to lead. Elyas was… not.
Just as importantly, though, is the fact that in extreme circumstances, Perrin will take extreme steps to care for those that are close to him.
This incident is left unresolved because it’s early in the story and Jordan wanted us to wonder. For all his willingness to contemplate doing something so drastic, would he be able to go through with it when the time came?
This theme returns over the course of Perrin’s arc, from the time he freed an Aiel from a cage, called on the wolves to help rescue Shadowkiller, and dealt with his missing wife both in The Slog and after the Last Battle.
Enter Faile Bashere
I think many people completely misunderstand Faile, attributing to her some motives she does not possess. So let’s look at her backstory before we meet her in Remen.
She was born into Saldean nobility. On the day she was born, there were five people between her and the throne of Saldea, a regent, the underage heir, Tenobia, Davram Bashere, and two older brothers who I don’t think are ever named. For Faile to become queen, the regent has to not steal power and many people have to die before they have children. It’s fairly unlikely that Faile will become queen.
But by the time Faile yeets herself out of her family situation, the regent has ceded power to Tenobia, Tenobia has made it perfectly clear she has no intention to marry or have kids, and Faile’s two older brothers die. That leaves two people between her and the throne, one of them being of a previous generation and thus likely to die first. Suddenly it’s likely that Faile becomes queen in her life.
More immediately, as the eldest child, she’s expected to learn all the skills necessary to run a noble household, be married off for political purposes, and be prepared to support her future husband in his adventures.
She thinks this is bullshit. It’s not that she objects to running a household, getting married, or supporting her future husband in her adventures, it’s just that she doesn’t want to be forced to do a thing. She wants to live her life her way and have her own bloody adventures.
She yeets herself off to Illian, takes the oath of a hunter, travels with some yahoos, and ultimately meets a young man in a town called Remen. He’s got yellow eyes, shoulders to die for, a willingness to release an Aiel in a cage, and he’s traveling with an Aes Sedai, Warder, and Ogier. She rightly thinks that this is a group of people who can lead her to adventure.
Let’s Dispense with this Nonsense Right Away
Faile didn’t manipulate Moiraine into letting her join the party. To be perfectly blunt, Faile couldn’t manipulate Moiraine to do a goddamn thing.
Faile is about 17 and has been schooled in the arts of nobility in the borderlands where they think the Game of Houses is for pretentious southerners who don’t have any actual problems.
Moiraine is in her forties and trained in the game by Cairhienin nobility AND the White Tower. She will not be manipulated into shit.
She can, however, be convinced that someone can help her achieve her ends. Initially, it’s just her, her warder, and the three boys who will leave Emonds Field. Then we add Egwene, Thom, Loial, and Faile.
Moiraine allows Egwene to come along because she can channel, Loial knows The Ways, Faile is the falcon Min mentioned, and we can only assume that Thom has well-turned calves.
The Fundamental thing about Faile
I think the misunderstandings about Faile stem from two things. She is adamant that Perrin express himself when he’s upset with her and an overly literal reading of the meeting between Perrin and Faile’s parents.
Let’s deal with the parental meeting first because it will make the post flow better.
It’s really two meetings and while both are bizarre, neither is as bizarre as their juxtaposition.
Faile’s father comes across as an angry would-be father-in-law who wants to make sure the prospective son-in-law will treat his daughter right. That’s fairly normal, but it angers Perrin because he and Faile are already married.
They have a little macho standoff where Davram Bashere says that if Deira doesn’t approve of the marriage, he’ll take Faile back. Perrin says he’ll find her. Bashere says he has an army. Perrin says if he takes Faile, they’ll find out if soldiers die like trollocs because that’s not a foreshadowing of anything at all.
Convinced that Perrin is a strong enough man, Davram tells Perrin that you have to hold a woman half as strongly as you think because they’re delicate doves. Perrin thinks he’s a bloody lunatic who may never have met Faile.
Bashere closes out the conversation by saying:
One thing you have to be aware of. Just because a woman says she believes something doesn’t mean it is true. Oh, she’ll believe it, but a thing is not true just because a woman believes it is.
They arrive at Deira’s apartments just as Faile and Deira slap each other. Perrin can hear it through the door, but Davram can’t. Perrin is expecting a frail, mousy woman, but Deira is anything but. Deira grills him about how he’ll treat Faile, saying women want a man stronger than themselves, and that they’ll come to despise a weaker man. She pokes—literally—Perrin until he’s had enough of her bullshit and stops being polite.
And that’s the crux of the whole thing. Saldeans—or at least the ones we meet—value honesty extremely highly. It’s not in what they say, it’s in what they do.
Davram Bashere plays the overprotective father-in-law until he pushes Perrin past the point of politeness to where Perrin reveals how much he truly cares about Faile. Deira takes a different tack to do the same thing. They both want a son-in-law who is both good enough for and completely devoted to their daughter.
And if you go back and look at all those times where it seems like Faile wants Perrin to yell at her or even hit her, you’ll find that it’s in situations where Perrin isn’t being entirely honest. He’s hiding his anger and treating Faile more like a dove than a falcon. It’s stupid sexist bullshit and Faile won’t put up with any of it.
She demands to be treated as a fully functioning human being who doesn’t have to be protected from the emotional volatility that comes with any relationship. She doesn’t have to be protected from loud voices. She doesn’t want a man who refuses to be honest about what he’s feeling.
When you’re in a relationship with someone, you’re going to have arguments. Someone is going to get angry. Someone is going to get defensive. And sometimes it’s going to be over the most superficial nonsense. If you’re honest about what you feel and why, you can get past it. If you’re not, you won’t.
Putting It All Together
The centerpiece of Perrin’s arc is his desire to avoid harming people. When the story starts, he’s willing to hurt people and things that are trying to hurt him and those he cares about. By the end of the story, he has to put people he cares for and feels responsible for in harm’s way, knowing that some of them are going to be injured and killed.
Faile forces him to get that ability. It’s in his nature to feel like expressing anger or frustration towards her is going to harm her. It’s in her nature to demand that he be honest with his feelings. Resolving the larger arc means resolving this smaller—but all-important—relationship.
And that’s why the subplot where Faile is captured by the Shaido is so important. At the beginning of that arc, Perrin is a responsible, though reluctant leader who goes after the goal while trying to protect his people.
During that subplot, Perrin abandons his larger responsibilities, tortures someone who is neither shadowspawn nor darkfriend and poses no immediate threat, joins forces with an enemy only slightly less evil than the Dark One, allowing them to enslave non-Dark channelers.
He learns from that, though, as his encounter with the Whitecloaks shows. He goes to desperate lengths to avoid a fight. He shows the Whitecloaks how strong his forces are to warn the Whitecloaks not to fight, and the argument he uses is that the Last Battle is coming and every man is going to be needed.\
In the end, he does exactly what he was going to do all the way back in The Shadow Rising, and surrender himself for a trial he knows will go against him, and that he knows will leave him up to their judgment.
What happens after the trial is important. He goes into the Wolf Dream to retrieve the Dreamspike that is preventing his channelers from making gateways. He gets into a fight with Slayer because of course he does, and he returns with the Dreamspike destroyed and Hopper dead.
Then we get to one of my favorite chapters, “A Making,” Chapter 40 of Towers of Midnight. It begins like this:
Perrin sat alone on a tree stump, eyes closed and face to the dark sky. The camp was situated, the gateway closed, and reports taken. Perrin finally had time to rest.
That was dangerous. Resting let him think. Thinking brought him memories. Memories brought pain.
He smells the world and realizes it’s in really terrible shape. He wants to beat Slayer to death with his fists. He feels a cold rage, which is unusual for him. His rage is usually a hot, in-the-middle-of-a-fight rage.
He doesn’t realize it, of course, because he’s too emotional but by combining his hurt about Hopper, his rage at Slayer, and his sick feeling at seeing the world dying, he puts himself in a position to rededicate himself to the main task at hand—fighting the last battle.
That happens a few paragraphs later when, after Perrin says his men are fools to follow him, Faile lets her anger show. “You’d really have them do that? Cower someplace while the Last Battle happens? Didn’t you say every man would be needed?”
Perrin sends his channelers to check on the Whitecloaks and works off some of his angst at an anvil. He feels the need to create something to balance the destruction he’s caused and we’re given a long train of thought while Perrin makes the first power-wrought weapon in millennia.
He wonders if he could allow himself to be consumed with rage when it was required and keep balance in the other parts of his life. He realizes he doesn’t want to go back to his simple life. He wants Faile. He wants complexity. If he abandoned his people and they fell, it would be his fault. He hadn’t asked to be a leader, but he had a responsibility. Then he had this realization.
“If someone had to be lord of these people, he wanted to do it himself. Because doing it yourself was the only way to see that it was done right.”
He finishes his hammer, asks Wil to dig out the wolf banner, tells his men that he will lead them and that they have a task that night. He names the hammer Mah’alleinir and goes off to save the Whitecloaks from a trolloc ambush.
In the Last Battle
From then on, Perrin is dedicated to winning the Last Battle, and willing to trust Rand to know what he’s doing. He joins Egwene at the fields of Merrilor, but not to prevent Rand from breaking the seals.
When the Last Battle starts, Perrin dedicates himself to keeping Slayer from killing Rand because he’s the only one that can do it. He fights Slayer off several times before getting a final insight in a conversation with his father figure, Master Luhhan: “It’s time to stop holding back.”
And with that, Perrin can break down that last barrier between his human self and wolf self and to chase down Slayer by slipping in and out of the Wolf Dream as necessary.
And, of course, the whole time he’s worried about Faile, that nobody has heard of her since the bubble of evil sent her to the Waste, but he keeps his eye on the big picture and stays on task until the whole thing is over.