The Wheel of Time is Woke as Fuck and Always Has Been
The regressive elements of geek fandom are out in force complaining that the television version of The Wheel of Time has been ruined by the forces of Wokeness and I want these people to do two things.
- Learn how to read
- Get the fuck out of here with that shit
There is a school of thought in literary analysis that exists in my head, if nowhere else that suggests that if you want to know what a story is really about, you look at two things, the turning point and the climax.
The turning point in The Wheel of Time is clear. It’s Rand’s epiphany on Dragonmount in Veins of Gold. Other characters have turning points in their arcs—that’s how arcs work—but as Rand is the chosen one, and his mindset is the one that most affects the outcome, his turning point is the turning point.
And what happens? He’s at a low point. He almost killed his father, discovered that his enemies aren’t entirely terrible, and he’s wondering what the point of it all is. Why do we continue to suffer, live again, and suffer again?
The answer comes to him from the voice in his head. We’re born again so we can do better. It’s a revelation to him. It can get so bad that we question whether it’s worth it to continue. It can look like there is no hope.
Hope of something better is so central to The Wheel of Time that the primary human antagonist—Ishamael—is known as the Betrayer of Hope. He turned to the Dark One because he realized that with infinite turnings of the Wheel, the Dark One would have infinite chances to escape, and that he’d only have to escape once to break the Wheel and rule forever.
I’ll eschew the fact that he’s wrong and point out that he didn’t betray hope; he abandoned it. He had a moment where he looked at how shitty things are, and how he’s not as popular as he wants, and chose despair over hope.
Rand al’Thor, our Car’a’carn, had a similar moment of doubt. He’s atop Dragonmount, holding as much saidin as anyone has ever held, and is on the brink of destroying everything when the Kinslayer—THE KINSLAYER—tells him things can be better.
Clearly, the hope that things can be better, and the decision to choose hope over despair, is central to the story.
But What About the Climax?
Obviously at the climax, Rand defeats the Dark One, shoving it back into the hole whence it came and sealing it anew, but it’s important to look at the details. Here’s the text from A Memory of Light:
Rand hurled the Powers forward with his mind and braided [emphasis in original] them together. Saidin and saidar at once, the True Power surrounding them and forming a shield on the bore.
The power of the Light and the power of the Dark channeled by the human champion of the Light through the human champion of the Dark to put a seal on the Dark One’s prison and keep hope alive.
Clearly, hope is best achieved when we all work together.
This might be best illustrated by Rand’s speech in Those Who Fight:
YOU CANNOT FATHOM IT, CAN YOU? Rand demanded of the darkness, IT IS BEYOND, YOU BREAK US, AND STILL WE FIGHT! WHY? HAVEN’T YOU KILLED US? HAVEN’T YOU RUINED US?
What better revenge against death than life? What better revenge against violence than peace? What better revenge against despair than hope?
It is, I think, a uniquely human ability to stare despair in the face and hope for something better. Rand does it on Dragonmount, and takes that into his battle with the Dark One, but it’s not just the chosen one that matters.
A bit later in that speech, Rand talks about how it was never about him and starts listing off all the major characters and how it was about them. The man that love forsook. The woman with a secret. A woman who refused to believe she could not help. A man whose family was taken from him. A hero who insisted he was no such thing. A woman who would not bend. It was about them all.
But how did he start?
It was about a woman, torn and beaten down, cast from her throne and made a puppet—a woman who had crawled when she had to. That woman still fought.
That’s Morgase. She’s not the most important character. She’s not in the top ten, and maybe not in the top hundred most important characters. Her impact on the Last Battle is almost entirely in the values and abilities she taught her daughter. So why is she here?
Until I saw Lezbi Nerdy’s video on Morgase, I asked that question, but the answer is simple. She’s not there because she’s a queen. She’s not there because she raised Elayne. She’s there because the fight against the Dark—the fight against despair—isn’t just in the Big Battle at the End ™ but in the everyday decisions we all make.
It’s in the decision to crawl out of bed when you really don’t want to. It’s in the decision to keep moving forward when everything you do seems to fail. It’s in the decision to seek help when you need it. It’s about recognizing that not only are we important, but everyone else is, even those who have been mistreated and forgotten.
It’s about us—all of us—choosing the hope of something better over despair. It’s about collective action to make a better world, and if there’s a better definition of “woke” I haven’t seen it.