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My Big Wheel of Time Philosophical Theory Cannoli Send a noteboard - 13/11/2021 06:15:37 AM

For lack of a better name.

Anyway, with the TV show coming to not-television next week, I have been thinking back on the series and I would like to try to get down in words my overall conception of the story and the underlying ideas, if for no other reason to be able to articulate the ways in which the show is screwing it up. Though I of course, I am going to watch with an open mind and not at all assuming they are going to screw it up. They’re totally going to screw it up.

Choices and Communication
So what I come down on is, Wheel of Time is about choice and communication, and how those two things relate. I go back and forth between knowledge and communication, but really knowledge is a sort of objective thing and the point in WoT is that no one ever knows the whole picture, and has to muddle through as best they can. People actually say this in the story, but no one ever listens, because it’s Wheel of Time and listening is part of communication.

For the purposes of this theory, communication is the issue rather than knowledge, because communication is the receiving and promulgation of knowledge, and how characters choose to communicate or not relates to their choices and the choices others have to make. And choice and communication are good, if all-too-infrequent things when they occur in the narrative. Ultimately, Rand’s victory over the Dark One, to the extent that Brandon Sanderson is able to properly convey the concept, rests on choosing in favor of further choices.

Good and Evil
Thus, Rand’s correct move in the Last Battle is to not kill the Dark One. I tend to find this choice philosophically suspect, although narratively sound. I don’t buy into the idea, expressed in song in the South Park movie “without evil there can be no good, so it must be good to be evil sometime.” Good and evil are not scales to be balanced or compared. There is only an ultimate ideal of Good and evil is measured by distance from that ideal. There is no force for darkness or cold, there are only degrees of absence of light and heat and that’s how it is with good and evil.

So what is the Dark One, if he’s not the source of evil and a necessary balance to the Light? He’s what the Architect in “The Matrix Reloaded” calls Neo. The Dark One is the sum of a remainder of an unbalanced equation, an eventuality of an anomaly. He’s the extreme manifestation of total free choice that the Creator built into Creation. If you are going to be able to choose, evil is a choice too, and given the role of probability and its extremes in the story, the Dark One is the embodiment of the ultimate freedom, to reject and oppose the purpose of Creation.

The Creator vs The Dark One: Dawn of the Pattern
Basically, the Creator is one of two things – God and all that is implied, that is, the originator of everything and an ultimate personification of good and right, in which case, the Dark One is not the Creator's equal or counterpart, but a rebellious creation. Or, the Creator is just another agent of the Wheel, like Rand, a being brought into existence in order to facilitate the overall purpose, in this case by making the world and everything. Only in the latter instance could the Dark One be a peer of the Creator, and in that case, a kind of equal and opposite reaction to the Creator’s existence and activity, and he has to be contained in order for things to work out right. The Dark One is the personification of entropy, of blowback and reaction to the benevolent forces at work in creating and establishing the Pattern. So it’s not like he needs to exist for balance, just that destroying Shai'tan would ultimately be futile since he or something like him is going to keep manifesting.

I would argue, the struggle against the Shadow serves to keep choice alive, by redirecting the anomaly in a system of free choices, into a form which can be resisted and fought against, instead of widespread resistance to the Pattern that is impossible to eradicate. Just like the Matrix gives everyone a choice so they’ll play along, but giving everyone a choice means some will say no, and statistically speaking, eventually one of them will reject the Matrix hard enough to beat it. So instead, they build the potential for a super-powered individual into the Matrix, so he can be targeted and redirected to serve their purpose, to basically reboot the whole thing and start again, by tricking him into believing he has no other choice. The Dark One, likewise is going to do his thing, but it inspires vigilance and determination and the blowback reaction to the Shadow, which is love. The Pattern/Creator/whatever, redirects the blowback of their work, to generate more of the same, in a counter-reaction. Like Iluvatar telling Melkor that he can’t mess up Iluvatar’s plans, because anything he does, Iluvatar can make work for his greater glory.

So I think that evil is going to manifest just as a reaction to the Pattern and Creation, but it’s up to the people and their choices to empower that evil. The Dark One is the main type, the most prominent of such manifestations, but Shadar Logoth and attendant personnel or phenomena like Mordeth and Mashadar are another one.

Freedom and Constraint in the Pattern
And that brings us back around to choice and freedom as being the important concepts in the world of WoT. The Pattern is made of threads that are lives and the way the threads go are determined by the choices people make. Now, ostensibly with things like Prophecies and Foretellings laying out the future, it seems like those choices don’t matter, and there are also ta’veren, which would appear to override those choices. But I don’t think that’s how it works. I think that stuff just amplifies and highlights personal choices.

The Foretellings are simply very accurate predictions of how those choices will go. Min’s Viewings and other characters’ Dreams or Foretellings are obscure or only tell part of the story because the rest hasn’t been determined yet. Elaida can say that Andor marches toward division and Rand stands at the heart of it, not because they have a destiny written in stone, but because Rand is ta’veren, so his choices are going to be consequential, and because the situation in Andor as it then stands is untenable, and is going to fly apart under the stress when the Dark One begins to affect reality. Elaida’s Foretelling is not as specific as Morgase could wish, because the choices that create the division have not yet been made.

Shortly before Elaida makes that Foretelling, Loial explains the concept of ta’veren to the readers Rand. Rand’s example of how choices are limited because the Pattern cannot accept them is that an acceptable choice is his dwelling place, but he cannot simply “choose” to be a king. But why can’t he? Because the Creator has decided it’s not his destiny? No, because people will not accept him as king, they will not obey him or do homage or swear fealty. That’s how the Pattern limits your choices – not by imposing a narrow course on an individual, but because the Pattern is made up of the aggregate of millions and billions of choices, in this case, the choice to follow someone other than Rand as king.

And why don’t they choose to accept Rand as their king? Because of what I want to call, for the purposes of this theory, clutter. Clutter is why Andor is heading toward division. It’s why the world is circling the drain and why Rand and the other ta’veren are needed to rescue it. Clutter is the consequences of all sorts of other choices. People do not accept Rand as a king, because they already have an idea of who or what the king is, and it’s not Rand. Later he does get acclaimed as a king, for the reason that, in large part, he conforms to those ideas.

Clutter is the paradox of free will and choice. It seems to people like free will is an illusion, because they don’t get what they want from a choice, or because their choices are so constrained. But all choices have consequences, especially consequences we cannot anticipate. Because choices are consequential, they place restrictions on further choices. By choosing one path, you limit your options to what you encounter on that path. And sharing existence with other people means their own freedom of choice necessarily curtails yours. For Rand to choose unilaterally to be a king would negate everyone else’s choice of whom to follow as king. And you might think we don’t have a choice in that, because the king is picked according to someone else’s rules, but it’s our acceptance of the social constructs that make those rules work. At some point, people agreed with the concept of a kingdom and who would lead it and how that person would be designated and selected, and people since then have gone along with their idea. So even if a person in WoT hates the idea that Morgase is queen and Rand is not king, they are still choosing to accept that she is the queen, even if they think she should not be.

That might not seem like a choice, but it is. The consequence of choosing otherwise seems harsh and ugly, it means living outside of society, fleeing the adherents of Queen Morgase who look to enforce compliance with their view, but membership in society is not a guarantee. All the things one will be giving up by refusing to recognize Morgase as queen are not some sort of inherent birthright, they are the product of a society, of the aggregate choices of many other human beings. If one would share in the consequences of those choices, one must make the same choice oneself.

This is kind of what is meant when Rand and Sulin argue about the Maidens’ role, when he says “you aren’t giving me a choice,” and Sulin contends that he has a choice, but there is only one acceptable option to pick. Rand can choose to reject Sulin, to tell her and the Maidens where to head in, but he has to live with what they choose to do in response. Rand is placed in the bind of either way having to see Maidens die not because he lacks choice in the matter, but because a whole bunch of choices led him to this one. It’s not that he’s impotent, but that he is so powerful he has built this box for himself, without knowing it. This particular choice is before him, because of the clutter accruing from his other actions.

Rand can rail that Sulin and the other Maidens are not giving him a choice, but Sulin is correct when she points out that there is only one possible choice according to their respective values. She frames it in terms of ji’e’toh, because while readers and wetlanders think of ji’e’toh as a particular code of conduct, the Aiel are not that bright or philosophically-minded, and it being the only framework with which they are familiar, they see all choices and right and wrong itself in that framework. Sulin’s only possible choice is to follow through with her long-ago decision to be a Maiden and put her warrior vocation ahead of other concerns. If Rand won’t let her do it, if she accepts Rand’s authority to do so, she is surrendering control over her choices, and a crucial tenet of ji’e’toh is ultimate responsibility for your actions. So she makes the only one she sees possible – to die to prevent herself from letting Rand dishonor her. For Rand, there is only the choice to accept that the Maidens’ decision to risk their lives in battle is theirs and theirs alone. The only choice he can make is what he does. He can live with the consequences of forbidding them to fight, which is their mass suicide, or he can live with letting them live their lives as they chose.

By the way, this is not to say that Sulin and the Maiden’s response to Rand taking away their choices is remotely sane or moral. But Rand does have to accept that people want different things than he does and he has to respect those decisions to some degree, if not morally so, then practically. In any case, when it seems like there is an unfair choice, where the only “good” choice is death, that is generally not a choice of your actions in that moment, but your commitment to something else, to a bigger idea.

How Choices Matter
Let's look at the case of a borderlander soldier facing a Trolloc invasion he can’t stop, that will only get him killed if he holds to his post and adheres to his sworn oath. One might rationalize his desertion as giving him the opportunity to do more good at a later date, in more favorable circumstances, and still fulfil his oath to protect his nation and people from the Shadow. But it’s not just the fight he swore to, it’s a bigger idea, that some protection from the Shadow exists, because people will draw a line and refuse to back down from it. By dying at his post, even if no tactical purpose is achieved, he commits to the agreement to protect people from the Shadow to an absolute degree. And that’s really all the borderland nations are, an agreement of people to a certain arrangement intended to protect the greater number. That idea that the Shadow is worth fighting and people are worth protecting is not a calculated trade of a number of lives. Lan’s parents died, while sending him to safety instead of going themselves, because of their commitment to the idea of Malkier, and over a dozen men died to save Lan’s life, not because his life was worth more than theirs or because they foresaw what a practical gain his survival would be to the fight against the Shadow or any real hope. If baby Lan died of SIDS a week after reaching safety, it would not invalidate their deaths, because they didn’t choose to die to bring about Lan the Unstoppable Juggernaut, they chose a commitment to the shared idea of Malkier.

And choices similar to that, are choices to contribute to a particular image of the Pattern. They are good, in the senses of both “beneficial” and “morally correct” in the fight against the Shadow, not because they result in a certain number of dead Trollocs and assets lost to the Shadow, but because the Dark One needs people to be evil for his world to work. An ultimately unselfish choice ruins that. Each person who makes a choice of that kind is making his own version of the choice Rand made at the end of Tarmon Gaidon, to shut the Dark One away and prevent him from harming the world. And while in the case of one who dies to reject the Shadow or dies rather than betray the Light, he is only shutting the Dark One out of his own personal life, in effect it’s the same thing.

In the world of WoT, each decision to reject the Shadow, even if you die for it, makes the world a better place, into which it will be better to be reborn. Now of course, lots of people have made more bad choices, so that people who died to make good ones, might find themselves reborn in a worse world than the one they left, but it’s still better than if they had also made a bad choice. The man who died to defend Malkier might be reborn into a world where Malkier is gone and the Blightborder is farther south than in his previous life, but it’s still a slightly better world, a better image in the Pattern, than it would have been if he had abandoned his duty and run off to live in comfort and safety.

The world got to the point where the Dark One is winning, because people made choices that they wanted to make, without knowing the full consequences, which have caused disunion and disorder, which make the Pattern conducive to the Dark One. People can always say “no” but tyrants and slavemasters pile up lots of reasons why they say “yes” even when they don’t want to, and the Dark One, the epitome of a tyrant or slavemaster, whom the author has described as “the ur-control freak” does the same. Tyrants and slavemasters try to make you complicit in your enslavement, because it’s easier to control you if you are helping them, or it assuages their self-images by giving them the illusion of obtained consent. The Dark One needs people to be complicit in his control because that’s how Creation works. But he can ramp up the pressure in all sorts of ways to induce them to make the kind of bad choices that make reality his kind of place.

The fact that ta’veren arise to fix the Pattern and three of them do so when the Dark One is breaking free, is proof that the Dark One, despite Moiraine’s semantic errors when claiming evil is part of the Pattern, is not a natural or acceptable part of the Pattern. Ta’veren are a corrective mechanism, ergo that Dark One’s influence is something that the Pattern moves to correct. Because ultimately, he opposes choice, or at least any choice that does not fit his worldview. In an alternate universe where the Dark One rules, people are encouraged to snitch on each other. It’s choices being presented, and encouraging people to act against one another. Verin says that selfishness is the quality the Dark One most prizes. I think that’s because it’s what makes people act in ways he wants.

Ultimately, society, the interaction of people, is best served when they help, affirm and support one another. That’s the idea in the Pattern, to have all sorts of people working together, so that the threads combine to form a bigger picture than any one of them. The Dark One wants the opposite, to set people against each other, each serving only themselves to their own detriment, because the image produced by that version of the Pattern is going to be a pointillist portrait of Shai’tan. In other words, it is remaking the world in his own image.

But because Creation is structured in such a way as to allow people choices, the Dark One can’t just impose this design, he has to pressure or trick people into using their choices to his own ends. And because human nature is what it is, people are inclined to make such choices, and the accumulated clutter of those choices creates a world where the Dark One has influence.

Consequences of Clutter
People in the alternate evil world Rand is shown during Tarmon Gaidon, can’t work together, can’t resist the Dark One’s rule, because they can’t trust each other. Because they will all turn on one another for short term gains. That is clutter. You make the choice to rat out your fellow men and now your fellow men can’t trust you not to rat them out. In fact, your proclivity for informing makes you a threat, and the easiest way to neutralize such a threat is to inform on you in turn.

Most clutter in WoT is more insidious and some of it is generally harmless. Things like allegiance, personal preferences, social rules, conventions, traditions. Because human beings cannot know everything there is to know, they cannot obtain all the knowledge necessary for informed choices for every option or decision that comes up, so they go with shortcuts, that most of the time, provide a reasonable guideline. Following tradition is not necessarily a lazy path, but the proven one that works most of the time, and gets results people generally think are good. That people find a tradition worth upholding and passing on is sort of a consumer review in action. Although it might not be the conscious process, when people choose to follow tradition, they are saying “the positive experience of most others who follow this tradition can’t be all wrong.”

So for the most part, conventions and constructs and other aspects of clutter more or less work out. Because clutter is the consequences of choices, and people make those choices for a reason. But in this story, the clutter has added up, and some of the innocent and inconsequential or even positive clutter has created barriers between humans and keeps them from working together. A wall has an important purpose in a building, but it separates people. Sometimes that separation of people is necessary and good, but other times it can get in the way of something better. The world and human society is like a structure that has been built gradually, over time and generations, each adding rooms, walls and floors as they see fit, but a lot of flaws in the design process and mistakes by the builders now make the whole thing untenable. This might sound like a description of Algarin’s manor, in which Rand recovers from the Cleansing and awaits for the moment to begin his endgame. That’s probably not an accident. But back to my analogy, this symbolic structure of human society that was once intended to serve in part as a fortress against the Shadow has been perverted into a prison for those who walk in the Light. The walls intended to protect them, now impede their cooperation when they try to defend the structure. Just as Rand has to blow a window out of Algarin’s manor to fight the oncoming Shadowspawn, he has to smash through any number of conventions or social constructs in his mission to defend humanity from the Dark One.

Many readers seem to see ta’veren as a superpower, where things work out for the main characters. More observant readers will point out that things only work out for them in certain ways, that the “working out” actually forces them down a narrow path to their set fate. Others see ta’veren as imposing their will on others via the Pattern and taking away other’s choices or subsuming them to the ta’veren agenda. What I think is actually going on is not compulsion but revelation.

Ta’veren are not prodded along a path. They always have a choice, as we can see from what the Aelfinn tell Mat. They tell him that the consequences of his choices are such that they will be dangerous to him if he makes them wrongly. Because Mat has the power to make extremely consequential choices, those who fear the results of his good intentions – that is, his opposition to the Shadow and standing up for freedom - will try to stop him. So he has to make the correct choices that will preserve his freedom, and by extension, that of others, in order to thwart them. Unlike most people, Mat gets to see which choices are going to, in the long run, serve the agents of oppression and which will curtail important choices. The best way to stop the bad guys is by going to Rhuidean, by giving up half the light of the world to save the world, by dying and living once more a part of what was and by marrying the Daughter of the Nine Moons. So Mat makes choices that bring those things about, not because he is “fated” to do so, but because he is made aware that the choices he makes are important, and he chooses accordingly.

Mat says the words to marry Tuon, and one might argue that the marriage is invalid because he was ignorant of the significance of his speaking that particular phrase and repeating it, but Mat was not requesting a status, nor performing some magic invocation. He was explicitly acknowledging the reality told to him by the Aelfinn, which he has accepted he must do. Cutting through all the fate and mystic jargon, Mat was told that the bad guys wanted to stop him, that they didn’t want him to do important things, and doing these things is the way for Mat to thwart their hostile intentions. And he accepts this concept and acts on it. He bitches and complains the whole way, but he repeatedly acts in conscious acceptance of the choice and those consequences, and the story makes it clear that Mat’s actions (or intentions or beliefs) have little relation to his words. For all his mental insistence that when he finds the Daughter of the Nine Moons, he’s going run, when the moment arrives, he articulates an emphatic acceptance of her as his wife. He might say he had no choice, but when he first heard of that title, the Aelfinn told him that he does have a choice, and if not in so many words, that the best way to fight the Dark One is, among other things, to marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons.

To some people, this is not a choice, when faced with death or slavery or defeat and apparently an arbitrary condition as your only way out. Mat would agree, given his reservations about the oath he swore to the Seanchan. But for the bigger picture, the idea that you are entitled to a good choice that gets you what you want without having to pay a price is wishful thinking. It’s one thing, as, in the case of the Seanchan, for a human being to set an evil price for something to which you are entitled anyway. But sometimes reality imposes choices too, not because an arbitrary God is trying to screw you over, but because of the consequences of your choices or others’. You don’t have a choice when an arrow, either a real projectile, or Karede’s metaphorical one, is flying at you, but you did make an array of choices that put you in the path of that arrow, even if you did not intend for them to do so, even if it’s not fair that innocent or benevolent choices have such a deadly consequence for you personally. But that’s how clutter works.

So back to ta’veren and what they are. Contrary to what many think and say, ta’veren do not have fewer choices than do other people, it is simply that the consequences of their choices are more obvious, so that it is more clear to a ta’veren than to the average person exactly how unacceptable most of their options are. Because Rand is ta’veren, circumstances demonstrate to him how bad the consequences would be of his choice to tell Moiraine where to head in and stay home with Tam to rebuild the village and farm. He says he does not have a choice, but he does. He just does not like those choices. And while it seems like it really sucks to be Rand – leave home and all but three of his loved ones, or see them attacked by Trollocs, he has a choice! Master Luhan, for example, also has to live with the idea of Trollocs attacking his home and loved ones, but there is nothing he can do to prevent it! Arguably, Tam and Abel and Natti and Con and Joslyn have a worse set of alternatives, Trollocs or not see your son again, and it’s still not their choice, because they can’t make it for the boys. Ta’veren are not answering to a Pattern-administrator demanding they follow a path or their lives will be messed up, they have simply been given a power to affect the world, to make choices that have a direct impact, with consequences that stick, and they get the opportunity to know that those choices matter.

Someone on social media said that Robert Jordan wrote a story where plot armor is an actual power and “main character” is an in-universe status. But that’s what a main character is, the character whose actions matter the most. Plot armor is hindsight. If characters did not survive everything the antagonists could throw at them, their story would not happen. So in a way, that’s really what Jordan did. Wheel of Time characters sometimes contrast their experiences with characters in a story, but the fact is, they have the advantage of knowing that their actions matter, because they are, or are working with, ta’veren, just as main characters of stories, and those affecting and affected by them, matter.

And then there is the “power” of ta’veren, their ability to change people’s minds and lives. How does that square in the face of the importance and necessity of choice? How does it fit in a story where things like Compulsion are presented as evil? Because the ta’veren are not really changing their minds. They are not making people do anything. As we see with Egwene, people are free to refuse a ta’veren and resist the apparent impulse to go along. People who don’t refuse or resist are not being made to do so, they are going along for reasons just as real to them as the reasons for any other choice they make.
When she is consciously affected by Rand’s ta’veren nature, Egwene started to agree with him. She cares about his and Elayne’s relationship and Rand asked for something she thought would facilitate it, while also promising to avoid disturbing her other concerns, namely the rebel Aes Sedai. And she hoped that giving him what he wanted would obtain his intercession with the Wise Ones as she had asked. All of these things were reasons presented at once for Egwene to agree to Rand’s request, but in the end, she decided she wanted more to keep Rand separate from the Salidar rebels. Rand did not cloud her mind or disrupt her will, he did not trick her or override he wishes. Egwene’s will is complicated, like most people’s, on most issues. She wants a variety of things, some more than others, and which she wants most can change from minute to minute as her circumstances do.

This is part of the whole thing about clutter. Clutter includes various wants and desires that keep people from doing the best thing. Rand needed some contact with Salidar, in order to keep on doing the Pattern’s work of bringing together threads opposing the Dark One. There are people in Salidar who are part of the struggle Min sees for the whole group of lights against the Darkness, with whom Rand needs to connect in certain ways, and the fact that shortly after Egwene’s refusal, Rand happens to encounter the sisters giving her directions to find the place, is indicative of that. But clutter, such as Egwene’s perception of Rand as unhinged and dangerous, or her fear that the Aes Sedai might react negatively toward him, and her allegiance to the Tower and belief that Rand and the Aes Sedai are better kept separate, all motivate Egwene to withhold the knowledge of Salidar. Rand does not change her mind or go against her will via ta’veren, rather he is able to make his case to her in a way that cuts through the clutter so she wants to give him the information. It’s just not enough for her.

Another example might be his love interests. Jordan has stated that ta’veren is not a lifelong thing, that the characters in question became ta’veren right before the books started. Thus, it stands to reason that they will stop being ta’veren when they no longer are needed. Probably not long after the Last Battle. So does that mean everyone is just going to wake up as if a Compulsion had been lifted and say “Hey, I didn’t really want to follow this guy to the Last Battle! What the hell?!” Jordan isn’t writing the story like that, but as if all the decisions are real, in a way that Morgase’s feelings for Gaebril/Rahvin or Nynaeve’s and Elayne’s obedience to Moghedian are not. So it’s highly unlikely that Elayne, Min, Aviendha, Faile and Tuon will suddenly lose their affection for, and attraction to, their ta’veren partners once those men no longer are ta’veren.

So how did ta’veren make them fall in love, especially at first sight, in the case of Elayne or over considerable resistance, as with Aviendha? The same way Rand almost got Egwene to tell him where Salidar was, or how Perrin got the Two Rivers folk to listen to and follow him. The same way all the single people in one village suddenly started pairing off while Rand was present. The ta’veren nature showed them in a light that made them appealing.

Of all the couples, Rand and Elayne are the most unlikely, given how instantaneous she later claims her interest was, and how their one meeting has had such an effect on them even nearly a year later in “The Dragon Reborn”, where Rand is more upset about her suffering or danger than about people he grew up with, despite not having so much as seen Elayne since their only encounter to that point. In normal circumstances, Rand and Elayne would unlikely to ever get together largely because of the social gulf between them. Not because it’s a real obstacle, but because of all the artificial barriers, the clutter, the world has erected that would prevent them from coming to know and appreciate one another. What ta’veren does is shine a light through all the clouds that might keep a couple apart, it’s just not conscious for them. Rand didn’t consciously see anything that made him want to be with Elayne and neither did she about Rand, but metaphysical forces imparted a clarity on some fundamental level. Similar things were happening with other people he met at the time. Gawyn and Elayne began casually discussing private family matters for the edification of the readers in front of a complete stranger. Why? Maybe because deep down inside, they had already placed him into a category of “one of us”.

We are less well informed about Faile’s thought process on encountering Perrin, but clearly something similar happened there, though unlike Elayne, she initially tries to rationalize her choice to follow Perrin in the context of her search for the Horn of Valere. Ta’veren showed her something more interesting and appealing than what she was doing with her life, and possibly in contrast to the company with whom she was doing it. Earlier on the trip, Perrin encounters the village which had the outbreak of wedding fever, where it’s mentioned that the first pairing was a woman young enough to be referred to as someone’s daughter, rather than by her own occupation, proposing to a man “old enough to be her father and more”, and another was a widow and an old man who had both forsworn remarriages. In these cases, the clutter disposed of by ta’veren consists of obstacles to the relationships. Faile’s oath as a Hunter, or her adolescent rebellion that caused her to reject the life path laid out by the circumstances of her birth and upbringing, which is nonetheless remarkably similar to what she ended up doing: marrying a leader in the fight against the Shadow, and having to undertake onerous leadership duties instead of adolescent trivia cool badass stuff, of the kind that requires a badass name like Mandarb! Faile. The age gap between the weaver’s daughter and the blacksmith or the premature decisions of the Widow Jorath and old Banas never to remarry are clutter. Rand’s or Perrin’s ta’veren nature does not override these people’s wishes, rather, it gives them an out from the box they have built for themselves or that has been imposed, by society telling Rilith that Jon is too old for her, or Faile or Jorath or Banas rejecting the idea of a relationship but then later feeling constrained by that rejection when a new chance arises, but their pride or stubbornness (strange as it might be to attribute that last quality to a WoT character) won’t let them walk back their prior decision.

Rather than force people to do what they want, ta’veren cuts through all the reasons why they think they would not want it. Faile would not want a dull guy who doesn’t posture and show off and make it clear how awesome he is. Elayne would not want a partner with whom she seems to have little in common socially, Min would not want an unsophisticated country boy in place of an urbane, worldly older man, Aviendha would not want a person who wants to have sex with her, especially one from a society that denies her gender’s prerogatives and authority in relationships, Tuon would not want a buffoonish descendant of thieves who hasn’t the vaguest notion of proper respect for her station. Or so they would have said if a poll had been taken on Winternight in 998 NE.

Ta’veren showed Faile Perrin’s strength, courage, insight and willingness to make her happy, it showed Elayne someone as self-effacing and as dedicated to right & wrong, doing his duty and protecting people as she is and got Min, Aviendha and Tuon to stick around long enough to get to know the person underneath all the initial qualities that didn’t recommend them as partners.

It works that way for non-romantic changes of heart by ta’veren forces. Davram Bashere probably had no intention of enlisting with Rand’s cause when he left his troops in Braem Wood, much less with anyone who would be recruiting Mazrim Taim. But somehow something Rand said or did got it through to Bashere that this was a guy who was all-in on protecting the world from the Shadow. The things the Borderland rulers say three books later when preparing to march south correspond with things Rand says to Bashere, suggesting that by chance, he happened to hit on the exact right words to inspire Bashere to take up with him. Deira remains unconvinced and pretty certain that Davram is not making a smart choice, because Rand did not really offer much in the way of proof of his intentions or sureties that would require a political commitment, which Bashere’s decision actually is. But ta’veren got through all the clutter that would stand between a well-connected individual with enormous responsibilities taking service with him. Clutter like his duties to his queen, the need to guard the Blight, the obligation to the well-being of his vassals, the national interest of Saldaea, keeping his men alive, bringing Taim to justice. Clutter seems a poor choice of words to describe all these other demands on Bashere’s attention and time, abandonment of which would also constitute legitimate reasons for Tenobia to execute Bashere as is often hypothesized, but I suspect many readers think is unreasonable on her part. Because when you get right down to it, what matters more than stopping the Dark One, and how else do you do that except by helping the champion designated by the Pattern for just that purpose?

To the readers, who are aware this is a fantasy story, this is obvious. To people who have to do the day-to-day work of serving as Marshall-General of Saldaea and Lord of Bashere, Tyr and Sidona, that is a very abstract concept, and the duties of those offices are a very real thing, with very imaginable consequences if you ignore them. Most devout practicing religious people would say “Of course the purpose of your life is to serve and glorify God, to be a living witness so other people will be inspired to know this by seeing how you live that very purpose and – hey, that asshole cut me off! Fuck you and your mother, I hope you crash in a fiery death! Um, praise the Lord.”

For the people of WoT, Of Course, they want the Light to win and the Dragon Reborn to triumph… but there is a thing right in front of themor something they really want and have been trying to get for a long time, and the world will be fine without their little bit to contribute, won’t it? Maybe most of the time Bashere even rationalizes that hunting down Taim and defending the Blight is his part in the struggle, so if Rand is going to take the former off the table, he might as well get back to the latter, so he tells Rand good luck with his Dragon stuff and continues on his way.

But Rand needs someone with the right perspective to keep him pointed true. So the Wheel uses ta’veren to show Bashere who Rand is, that he needs Bashere and that this is the service the Pattern needs of him right damn now. So he accepts that mission, because that’s who he is, not because Rand or the Pattern is forcing him to.

The Dark One and the Forsaken
Lots of readers are disappointed in the performance of the Forsaken as supervillains and find them dissatisfying adversaries to Rand. Or they use defeats of Forsaken as a performance metric for the good guys. Such people might claim that Moiraine served the Light better than anyone but Rand, because she killed two Forsaken, more than anyone else but he. Others (Hi! I’m Cannoli! ), have a different view. Because in a story ultimately about choice, what does the ability and armament of an adversary really matter? Possibly the fact that the adversary is stronger might matter as it shades the choices of the characters concerning their confrontation, but when they come hunting you, there is only the choice to act in your own self-interest and fight back.

The Forsaken and even the Dark One are not really adversaries of the heroes of WoT. When your story is about choices and reasons behind them, the real conflict is not with a corrupted sorcerer or an evil deity, but Faulkner’s human heart at war with itself. The Dark One addresses Rand as “Adversary” and it’s true for Rand himself as well. It’s really Rand himself Rand has to fight, not Shai’tan or the Forsaken or Turak or Couladin or Elaida or the recalcitrant aristocracy. He fights with his prior self as Lews Therin, he fights with things that appear to be necessary but which offend his sensibilities, he fights against his own limitations and inability to prevent bad things from happening. The Forsaken are generally afterthoughts in whatever book he fights them. How much of “The Great Hunt” is really Rand versus the Seanchan or Ba’alzamon? How much of “Eye of the World” is about Rand in conflict with Aginor? What does Rahvin have to do with most of Rand’s plot in “The Fires of Heaven” or Sammael in “A Crown of Swords”? Very little.

Rand’s struggle in EotW is about coming to grips with who and what he is, as opposed to what he thought he was. It’s a long book of Rand being told “No, you can’t have that, here’s what’s in store for you.” The clashes with the Forsaken are relevant in that it forces Rand to confront that he is a channeler and it has to validate his rejection and denial of Ba’alzamon. That’s the important thing for Rand (and everyone else for that matter), to reject the Dark One and the Forsaken. If defeating Ba’alzamon requires being the ultimate, best-devised, power-fantasy character, denial of evil does not mean much.

From a Doylist standpoint, the role of the Forsaken is as bad examples. They show what the Shadow has to offer, they are the ultimate exemplars of why people choose the Shadow and what they get out of it. Their Watsonian purpose is, I think, more complex than generals and elite operatives for the Shadow. The Dark One, all by himself, is more than powerful enough to lay utter waste and ruin to all the channelers and soldiers on the side of the Light. His shadowspawn armies could overrun the world in spite of whatever tactics or weapons the good guys can devise, regardless of the tactical acumen of the Dreadlords or Forsaken commanding them. He does not need the Forsaken for those purposes, and if that is their function, how does it fit in a story about choices and communication?

Because the Dark One is antithetical to the purpose of the Wheel and the Pattern, he is limited in his ability to affect it. The Pattern is all about people’s choices, so they have to choose the Shadow if the Dark One is to have his way and make the Pattern a thing of the Shadow. We see in the Age of Legends material that there was a considerable time between the Bore being opened and the outbreak of war between Light and Shadow. Even with a sort-of physical way opened to the world, the Dark One didn’t do much against the power structure that would be marshalled in opposition to him. Because the Dark One is not about conquest, or even really destruction. He’s about choices, and making choices conform to his ethos. The political and preternatural power of the Hall of the Servants was irrelevant, because it could be turned to his own designs. And that’s what the Collapse was – the Dark One converting more and more people to the Shadow, by allowing them to indulge their base desires and impulses. All those things that the society of the Age of Legends went to such lengths to train out of the human race were made available once more.

When we see things “created” for lack of a better term by the Shadow, they are horrific, but not really cool. They don’t build much in the way of superweapons or assets. We hear about bloodsports that sound counter-intuitive, such as duels where both contestants have poisoned knives and inevitably kill each other or games with playing pieces made out of human beings. Even the Shadowspawn aren’t all that impressive when you get down to it. The Draghkar are cowardly and weak, Worms are stunted monsters, and Trollocs are lazy and stupid brutes. These are not brilliant inventions, they are degradations. Trollocs might be stronger and more apt at violence, but they are clearly inferior entities in every way but the physical.

This is why the Shadow is not an opposing and equal force to the Light or the Creator. It builds and makes nothing, only degrades people and takes away from them. The only known reward for serving the Shadow is the gifts of the Dark One to the Forsaken, their supposed immortality and access to the True Power. But the True Power is shown to have degenerative effects and the immortality is essentially just a continuation of their vices and dissolution that made them Forsaken in the first place.

What sets the Forsaken apart from another AoL Aes Sedai who, say, spent 3,000 years in a vacuole and popped out in the end of the Third Age, is their connection to the Dark One that gives them their immortality, the True Power and protection from the taint on saidin. But another issue with the Forsaken is the phenomenon where people in the cities they rule exhibit negative behavior. It might be associated with the characteristics of the Forsaken rulers. Mesaana rejected the values of her hierarchy and taught children uncivilized behavior, and the people of Tar Valon apparently give up taking care of their environment, their civilization, under her rule. Sammael, an embittered military man, incites anger and violence, Belal, called “the Envious” causes despair, which could be seen as the ultimate end of envy which can’t be appeased and Rahvin, whose compulsory approach to sexual partners bespeaks insecurity, made the people of Caemlyn turn to suspicious plotting, as if suddenly insecure about their circumstances.

In each case, the behavior is not conducive to ruling a city well, and could hardly be considered an asset or power, even setting aside the point that it makes it easy to identify a city under Forsaken control. But they are the kind of attitudes and divisive behavior the Dark One likes. This, I believe, is the real purpose of the Forsaken, why they are Chosen: to be vectors in spreading the effects of the Shadow, and swaying people more and more into such mindsets. It’s also why the Dark One wants the Dragon. With a ta’veren as a conduit between the Dark One and humanity, how much more influence could the Shadow exert over the human race?

The Dragon Reborn and company
Tarmon Gaidon comes down to Rand’s choice to reject the Shadow. If he did otherwise, the Shadow wins. If he specifically chooses the Shadow, they probably extra-win. It’s also one of the reasons Moridin does not want to kill Rand, as illustrated in his thoughts about the Fisher piece in his game, because Rand’s power to make choices has a disproportionate effect on the outcome. In any case, the Dark One’s agenda is to make the world more evil, because the more evil the environment, the more influence he has, the greater the effect of his evils on people, and the more evil the world becomes. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s why the world needs ta’veren.

Because what the Dark One takes advantage of is the clutter that divides people and diverts their interest and alignment to their worldly concerns. Engaging in politics and following rules and societal guidelines isn’t bad on their own, but it is when it gets in the way of doing the right thing. And people have different ideas of what the right thing to do is, so the walls of the structures of human society that delineate the different approaches, the different functions of society, they get in the way. They act as clutter. This is seen as an example in the White Tower. Some Aes Sedai believe in Healing, others in knowledge or intellectual thought or in proactive efforts, though Blue, Green, Gray and Red sisters all have different ideas about the best course of those efforts.

And although the first description given of these differences in the Tower is a statement that each is trying to fight the Dark One in their own way, they are still the fractures along which the Tower splits. And a large part of that is the lack of communication. To the end of the series, Elaida never learns about the Foretellings that have driven Siuan’s actions, nor she Elaida’s. This is because of the clutter that tells each of them she cannot trust others with her knowledge. Because they might gain an advantage or somehow act to one’s detriment. Clutter. The relative positions and importance of people in the White Tower is like Bashere’s other jobs back home, but it preoccupies minds of sisters, even those who expressly state that stopping the Dark One is the most important thing.

This also explains the positions of the main characters, the heroes, in the greater struggle. Five of the six main characters are outsiders to the structure of society in every way that matters, clutter-wise. They have no rank, position or stake in the conflicts that are diverting the world from the fight against the Shadow. That’s why these people are the heroes and not their superficially more impressive associates such as Moirane, Lan and Thom. Because those characters are already compromised, and have built up lots of clutter that get in the way of doing what needs to be done. Thom, for instance, has his political track record and reputation from the court of Cairhien and his relationship with Morgase. Lan almost didn’t live to see Tarmon Gaidon, because of the clutter he inherited from Malkier and Moiraine’s upbringing by a family so wretched she refuses to use their name has warped her views of leadership which poisons her relationship with Rand. But Egwene is not tied to any faction in the Tower and many of her problems actually come from picking a side. Both Mat & Perrin bring together groups of people from many different nations, and often oppositional factions, because they aren’t a part of them. Nynaeve avoids more than a superficial adherence to any institutions and often finds herself at odds the Tower even as she tries to operate within it and as a part of it.

This too, ties in with Rand’s purpose and role as the designated champion of humanity and the Light. Contrary to certain readers’ expectations, he is not supposed to be a dueler of the Forsaken or the most powerful, awesomest badass in the world. He’s not a general, a king, a warrior or a super-channeler. He’s those things, but that’s not what he’s there for. His actual purpose is to make and enable good choices. Ironically, his growth, as becomes more powerful in the temporal sense, sees him move further away from that true purpose. In the early stages of his career, he simply reiterates his denial of Ba’alzamon in their confrontations, and it turns out that’s ultimately what he needed to do with the Dark One. One of the climactic moments of his arc in The Great Hunt is when he states that saving his friends is a higher priority than the Horn of Valere and in doing so, gets through to Ingtar. He does not make Ingtar come to the Light, or dive on the figurative grenade so the rest of the team can escape, he simply says just the right thing to make Ingtar understand what is right and what is important. The other moment, of course, is his denial of Ba’alzamon’s claims on his and offering up his own life to stop what he thinks is the Dark One, to allow his friends to defeat the Seanchan and rescue one of their number.

This is the motive for Rand in his final boss fights in those early books – to see people free, not necessarily to save them, as passive victims, but to let them go on, free of the Shadow’s chains, even if illusory. He acts to save Egwene, Nynaeve and Kari from Ba’alzamon, he turns the tide of the battle in Tarwin’s Gap, he takes back the power of the Eye of the World from Aginor, he asks the Heroes to free Egwene, while knowing that other people important to him are at stake as well. In the third book, he is driven to take Callandor not for the Power or status, but to ascertain the truth of his identity and role. Callandor is seen as the ultimate proof of the Dragon Reborn, and that’s what Rand wants, to know for sure who he is. In his early days as the acknowledged Dragon Reborn, his instincts are similar. He frees the Tairen commoners from the oppression of their rulers, he spends his time trying to learn, to get answers, to know the truth, and his leadership decision in Tear is, rather than conquest and violence to solidify his control over Tear, is to create bonds between Tear and Cairhien, Illian and Mayene with his treaty, trade policy and famine relief expedition. Then, when he goes to the Aiel, he tells them the truth about their history and origins.

Later on, after he has gained more ability in channeling, secured his authority over at least a part of the Aiel, and now possesses considerable power, he starts to go wrong. He talks of forcing people to accept his peace at spear point, but the only opposition comes not from a position of choice and freedom, but arguing for soft power control over his hard power intentions. Moiraine undertakes to teach him, and he finally agrees to listen, but she spends her time teaching him politics and the Game of the Houses, which is the flipside of his own intention to use violence or the threat of it to induce people to cooperate. Threatening them or tricking them, there’s not much difference when you are supposed to be a beacon against the Shadow. This style of leadership continues, creating increasing frustration and pain for him, until it climaxes during his campaign against the Seanchan, where at his lowest depth of cynical acting, he brings his political enemies and their troops to be cannon fodder, while organizing his army to prevent their cooperation. He ignores well-intentioned advice and acts out of arrogance and pride, not realizing his own flaws and weaknesses or those of the powers he seeks to use.

After this is made clear to him by his self-inflicted defeat, he changes up, to evade his enemies while preparing for a more proactive step of Cleansing the Source. But it’s not a real change for him, just trying a new tactic, and he stalls in frustration in Far Madding, looking for dead men, before being lured into a trap. His plan is inadequate for the purpose he expresses in the beginning, to clear those targeting him to get some breathing room for the Cleansing. He succeeds not through his trickery, or martial skills, but by making connections with other people, who extricate him from the trap and protect him during his work.

It’s connections, not powers or skills or strategies that effect the victories of the good guys. Mat’s campaign against the Seanchan is helped immeasurably by actions Talmanes took to make the Band into the effective instrument it proves. Mat inspires him to do this stuff, and to change his stance on his fellow officer Daerid, from merely “useful” and not someone he cares particularly about saving, to the man he trusts to lead the majority of the Band in his absence, and selects the peer to command who will best cooperate with Daerid. He patronizes a weapon-maker inspired by Mat’s guidance, and willingly recruits foreigners when he had been reluctant to help his country’s nominal allies against the Shaido. Perrin’s defeat of the Shaido, of course, features Aes Sedai, damane and Wise Ones using the Power, while men from ten different nationalities fight, all held together by him. Two of those nations were refugees who came to the Two Rivers, who changed under his leadership. Perrin scoffs in book 1 at the idea of a Two Rivers woman marrying a foreigner, but when he returns, he stirs them against their mentality of protecting only their own families and clinging to their land and buildings, in place of cooperating with their neighbors. He outright makes the point that their material concerns are trivial next to the threat the Shadow poses to the safety of innocents. He gets them to reach out, first to fellow villagers, and then the different villages coming together. From there, accepting the immigrants from Arad Domon & Tarabon is the next natural step and all three peoples come together to fight beside Perrin at Malden.

Nynaeve does not rally an army from the Borderlands to fight for Lan just because of her Aes Sedai status or her authority as Queen of Malkier, but by making a personal connection with the man we see her persuade. Egwene initially tries to assert her authority over the rebel sisters with deception, blackmail and legal procedural tricks, and is captured by trying to act instead of leading. In captivity, she gets down to making connections with the sisters she aspires to lead. Elayne does not secure her throne with her military victory, but by persuading the lords afterward, and by having earned the respect and loyalty of Dyelin. And when she and Dyelin first speak in the series, the most noteworthy aspect is her brutal frankness about her feelings and intentions.

So, in summation. Choices are the important things in WoT, the Pattern does not govern those choices, but rather reflects them, is the aggregate of all of them. Choices are so powerful that the Dark One needs them to succeed, and Forsaken are examples of the ultimate outcome of choosing the Shadow, as well as enablers of others’ choices to do the same. The consequences of blind choices, made due to human limitations and lacking the complete view of the whole picture, constrain people and when the Shadow influences the Pattern, thanks to immoral or selfish choices, those constraints prevent even right-minded, well-intentioned people from making their best decisions. The function of ta’veren is to get past those constraints and help people make the right choices and come together, especially to overcome superficial distances and unite to oppose the Shadow, to help one another stand against the Dark One. They do so by example and by demonstrating to people a higher loyalty or a choice that supersedes the thing they believe are important, which blind them to the critical matters.

P.S. A belated apology to everyone I ever scoffed at for this sort of post way back on wotmania. It takes some of us longer to get there than others, that's all.

“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
This message last edited by Cannoli on 15/11/2021 at 10:02:30 AM
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My Big Wheel of Time Philosophical Theory - 13/11/2021 06:15:37 AM 134 Views
Impressive. Long read but I enjoyed it. - 13/11/2021 06:09:22 PM 22 Views
You steppin' to me, bitch? - 13/11/2021 09:12:33 PM 21 Views
Bah - 13/11/2021 09:23:55 PM 15 Views
Re: Bah - 13/11/2021 10:57:35 PM 22 Views
eh? - 13/11/2021 11:48:58 PM 11 Views
It was in the first edition but seems to have been edited out - 14/11/2021 01:01:41 AM 17 Views
I do recall the Grey Fox moniker. Now I have to try and find my original copy of TEOTW. *NM* - 14/11/2021 02:59:51 AM 11 Views
Yeah, it was from tSR - 15/11/2021 08:01:29 AM 19 Views
Wow. Impressive post! - 14/11/2021 01:58:54 PM 14 Views
Thanks - 15/11/2021 07:58:47 AM 14 Views

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