Tales From the Mad Monk

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The Wheel Weaves the Future out of the Past

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.

This couldn’t be more perfectly illustrated than by how they react to the unruly mob of women that gathers when they arrive to take names. While Moiraine thinks that she never had to handle anything like that and that her clerks had probably never had to handle anything like that, Siuan stands up, yells at them to quiet down and be orderly or they won’t get what they want.

Moiraine is used to giving orders. Siuan is used to taking action and playing off what the people she’s dealing with want. It has to be something of a survival instinct when working as a woman in a man’s field. Moiraine, who almost always had the right to give orders to whomever she was talking to wasn’t quite able to repeat the tone of command that Sian had no doubt used for years to get people to pay attention.

Observation and Analysis are Sexy, I’m Told

These are both intelligent women who are capable of analyzing abstruse situations, but they do so in different ways that are in some part exemplified by the interaction with Susa Wynn. Her child was too old to receive the bounty, but she was hungry to the point of emaciation and her child was sick.

Moiraine confesses to having nothing but a clinical knowledge of the birthing process—noblewomen don’t spend much time rearing young children—and is about to send Wynn away when Siuan—who was talking to someone else entirely—puts her hand on Moiraine’s arm.

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It’s a seemingly trivial action, but I’d like to take a look behind it for a moment.

For Siuan to do that, she had to look at Susa Wynn and see more of the truth of her situation while dealing with the person in front of her than Moiraine did while able to give Ms. Wynn her complete attention.

That makes it clear to the reader that Siuan is not only much more observant than Moiraine but that she knows it. By putting her hand on Moiraine’s arm, she’s indicating that she knows Moiraine can see what’s going on if only she takes another look. She also knows that Moiraine will see the same thing she does and come to the same conclusion.

She’s right, of course, but then Moiraine gives Wynn a coin because the child is sick now while the bounty won’t arrive for a while. Siuan is annoyed, suggesting that with the bounty to come, the Reader would have provided credit, another indication that Siuan knows more about doing without than Moiraine.

We’re Talking about Two Kinds of Competence

While Siuan is presented as the puzzle-solver in New Spring, Moiraine is presented as the master of daes dae’mar. The differences aren’t obvious and, frankly, have given me a little trouble as I planned out the posts on these two chapters.

Siuan sees what is and deduces what happened in the past to cause it. We’ll talk about it more in the next chapter, but Moiraine often sees what isn’t and uses a combination of what is present and what isn’t to deduce the motivations behind actions. That, in turn, gives her a good handle on what’s going to happen next.

In this chapter, it plays out with the woman who brought them tea and said some kind words about how they dealt with Susa Wynn. Moiraine works out that she knows they aren’t Aes Sedai, deduces that she must have seen both Aes Sedai and Sisters in person to know the difference. She comments to Siuan that the woman had been at the tower and Siuan “gave her a sideways look, as though she had said water was wet.”

This difference will play out more in the next chapter where we’re given more of Moiraine’s strengths and later in the story when the two of them are dealing with the reality of the Black Ajah’s actions.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that these events take place roughly 20 years before the start of the main series. While many Aes Sedai have had many decades for their personalities to change between their childhood and their actions in the series, Moiraine and Siuan have had much less—a period that is entirely comprehensible to those of us who don’t live for a century.

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