Tales From the Mad Monk

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The Wheel of Time is one of the foundational fiction franchises of my life and the reality of the upcoming TV show has re-kindled my love for this story and this world in ways that are probably disconcerting to normal people.

But screw normal people. This is the Wheel of Time. It is a story with a depth and breadth that is often breathtaking. It’s a story that has engendered more discussion about what are sometimes relatively trivial things than just about anything else I’ve ever seen.

It is a story about love and duty and the prices we pay to honor both our past and our future.

For reasons that pass all understanding, I have decided to re-read the entire series and blog about the experience. I’m going to try to look at it as both a fan of the story and as a storyteller and I reserve the right to speculate wildly about what will or won’t be in the TV series.

When I originally conceived of this project, I asked the Wheel of Time community on Twitter whether I should start with The Eye of the World or New Spring and they overwhelmingly voted for The Eye of the World.

I’m starting with New Spring either because the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, or because I saw some interesting start-of-narrative stuff in the first chapter that felt like a compelling starting point.

I started my re-read with New Spring because I’m a contrary bastard and because the first couple chapters dealt with some thematic things I’m going to be looking at throughout the reread.

If you’re not up on every detail of every chapter, you can find chapter summaries courtesy of TarValon.net.

Wheel of Time Prequel: New Spring

Chapter One: The Hook

Chapter Summary

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.

Chapter Two: A Wish Fulfilled

Chapter Summary

In the second chapter of New Spring, we see the rebirth of the Dragon as Foretold by Gitara Moroso, and while I was initially planning this post, I was thinking of it as the Inciting Incident for the four-million-plus words that follow.

But that’s not right.

It’s not the foretelling that’s the inciting incident; it’s the rebirth of the Dragon itself. That realization made me question why Robert Jordan would present us the information this way. To be sure, at publication, we already knew the bare facts, and this chapter was all about introducing Moiraine Damodred, Siuan Sanche, and the Aes Sedai.

But there’s more.

Chapter Three: Practice

The third chapter of New Spring deals with Siuan and Moiraine in the immediate aftermath of hearing the foretelling about the Dragon Reborn. As such, it deals a lot with their reaction to the news—Siuan is excited and Moiraine is terrified—as well as their relationship. It sets up a scene coming up with Elaida and introduces several ancillary characters we see later in the series.

I’m not talking about any of that.

The Dragon Reborn is a man who can channel. Tower Law says Men who can channel must be brought to the Tower and gentled lest they go insane and do immense damage to the world. The prophecies are iron-clad law and say that the Dragon Reborn is the only one who can defeat the Dark One AND that he’ll do immense damage in the process.

The Right Thing to Do™ is to ignore Tower Law and do what’s necessary to save the world from the Dark One. I think we understand this instinctually. When all the options are terrible, you take the least terrible and do your best to live with it. See also the Trolley Problem.

This wouldn’t be a problem if we could all agree on the Right Thing to Do™ but we can’t. We can’t even agree on what’s real.

It still wouldn’t be a problem if breaking the rules didn’t come with dire consequences so often. When breaking the rules to do the right thing fails, you don’t get a traffic ticket; you get authoritarianism. Sure, not always, but often enough.

Chapter Four: Leaving the Tower

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 Five: The Wheel Weaves The Future Out Of The Past

While the first four chapters of New Spring follow a predictable formula, the fifth and sixth chapters are dedicated to giving us a further understanding of our two protagonists by showing us their strengths and weaknesses.

These strengths and weakness stem primarily from the way they were raised. Siuan was raised as a woman on a working-class fishing vessel where the work came first, and politeness and decorum were a secondary or tertiary consideration if they were considered at all. If she wanted something done, she had to take charge and make sure it got done.

Moiraine on the other hand, grew up in a palace with a long list of people there to help her get whatever she wanted and a very short list of people who could tell her what to do.

New Spring Ch. 6: Siuan Looks Ahead. Moiraine Looks To Run

I confess that in previous re-reads of New Spring, I’ve often skipped this chapter. For those of you who don’t know the contents of every chapter in the entire series off the top of your head, a) shame on you, and b) it’s the one where Siuan and Moiraine start copying over names of the women who gave birth.

The previous chapter ended with Merean informing Moiraine that her uncles—King Laman and his brothers—had been killed by the Aiel. This chapter begins with Merean telling Moiraine that she’s spoken with the Amyrlin and they agree that because Moiraine isn’t in a horrific depression, she must be in shock and thus should stay home from the name gathering.

There are a couple interesting things here.

New Spring Ch. 7: Thrones, Schmones, This Game Is For Whole Houses

On a casual read, this feels like one of those chapters that are relatively meaningless. It’s the one where Siuan and Moiraine are sent with letters to assorted Aes Sedai from which Moiraine concludes that the Reds aren’t to be trusted and that the Amyrlin intends to keep the whole matter a secret.

This is, of course, important because that’s precisely what Siuan and Moiraine do.

If you read just a wee bit deeper, though, this chapter is about two things: breaking the rules and showing Moiraine’s strengths.

Ch. 8 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.

Only Madmen Entered The Blight Willingly

This chapter feels almost entirely like fan service. It depicts the start of Moiraine’s trip through the testing ter’angreal but doesn’t reveal much—if anything—about her nature that we didn’t already know.

The last chapter ended with her getting the call, so this one begins as she’s escorted to the testing. She’s afraid she’s going to fail but realizes that if she fails, she still has her book of names and the resources of the scion of House Damodred. She resolves that she’ll begin the quest for the Dragon Reborn in a few days regardless and this alieves her anxiety about the test.

It’s Supposed To Be Good, But The White Tower Is Divisive As Hell

The White Tower drives everyone apart.

In Moiraine’s last test, she is forced to leave her family in dire circumstances. When Egwene and Nynaeve go through the test to become Accepted, they are also forced to repeatedly abandon those they care about the most to become Aes Sedai.

There’s some sense to this. As channelers, Aes Sedai are going to live much longer than their non-channeling families, so they have to get used to the loss. In addition, by living so long, they’re forced to think of the long-term because they will live to see the consequences of their actions.

And yet, the folks taking these tests are often teenagers or people in their early 20s who have literal decades to go—and a lifetime of wisdom to earn—before they are faced with the reality of this kind of loss.

It seems needlessly cruel and divisive.

What If The First Oath Meant You Couldn’t Lie To Yourself?

This post is supposed to be about the eleventh chapter of New Spring, but in re-reading it, I learned something important. Nothing in this chapter is remotely interesting.

It’s the chapter in which Siuan and Moiraine are raised to the shawl. There’s a ceremony, they take the oaths, and other than fan service, I suspect the narrative purpose of the chapter is to emphasize just how close Moiraine and Siuan are. Fine, whatever.

I found the chapter title interesting. It’s “Just Before Dawn” and is a reference to the time at which they leave for the ceremony. It only interests me in juxtaposition to the idea of He Who Comes At Dawn. Here we have a quest-goer-onner who achieves validation by going to something before dawn. Later we’ll have a quest-fulfiller who achieves validation by returning from something at dawn. I don’t know if that was deliberate—I suspect it was—but it was slightly interesting.

So WTF am I going to do with this post? I’m going to go off on a tangent and wonder what might have been if things had been different. As soon as Moiraine takes the first oath—the one that prohibits lying—she thinks a lie.

What if she couldn’t? What if the First Oath made it impossible to lie to yourself? What if, in any question where there is an objectively true answer, that you could not think something that contradicted reality?

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