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  1. You're right, and I'm sorry. It doesn't help you, but I updated the spoiler warning.
  2. Oh, that's interesting... So that ring is the Malkieri Ring of Kings?
  3. You're right--those are Red sisters in the picture. The battle against Logain was costly indeed. (And the attack on Emond's Field, in the book, had surprisingly few casualties and damage. As though the Trollocs were concentrating on only a few selected residences...) Another reader pointed out that the city across the river in the shot of the hills is probably Shadar Logoth, looking decidedly less sinister in the daylight.
  4. Seconded. I knew watching the trailer would be a joy. Watching it with so many others who were waiting for this moment? Joy exponentially amplified.
  5. Rajiv Moté is Dragonmount’s book blogger with a lens on the craft of fiction writing. When he’s not directing software engineers, he writes fiction of his own, which can be found catalogued at his website. Amazon Prime released the much anticipated teaser trailer for its series based on The Wheel of Time, and watching it (with the Dragonmount crew!) was joyful and cathartic. And, of course, we watched it on repeat, frame by frame, to see what had changed and what had stayed the same in the adaptation to the screen. A great deal has changed. While the set locations are familiar as old boots, the trailer features many scenes that were never in the pages of The Eye of the World. The Wisdoms of Emond’s Field In the books, the women who dispensed herbal cures and “listened to the wind” to predict the weather were called Wisdoms. The cures and predictions of the best Wisdoms work uncannily well because, unknown to even them, they’ve figured out a rough, unconscious way to channel the One Power. In the adaptation, Nynaeve the Wisdom shoves her apprentice Egwene into a river (0:02), and we see Egwene calmly floating (0:33). This looks like a visceral (and visual) representation of the Aes Sedai exercise to channel the Power: imagine it as a river, but if you fight it, it becomes rapid and wild. Surrender, and you can control it. Egwene is learning to ride the currents of saidar, the female half of the One Power. This has further implications. In the books, Nynaeve blocked herself from channeling unless she was angry out of fear of the One Power, which was taboo. She eventually breaks through her block when she sinks with a damaged boat, and is forced at last to surrender to saidar. This mirrors the initiation she provides Egwene here. Nynaeve finds her power in going back to her roots. The False Dragon In the books, the false Dragon (a man who can channel the cursed male half of the One Power, doomed to go insane, who declares himself the world’s savior) Logain is captured by Aes Sedai out of scene. We only hear about it, and see him from a distance in a cage. In the adaptation, we see him, perhaps with his followers, fighting against the Aes Sedai trying to capture him and their Warders (0:49, 1:19, 1:31). Showing the taking of Logain is a good way to demonstrate to viewers the danger of a man who channels. It remains to be seen if we’ll see the disaster that Lews Therin wrought in the book’s prologue (maybe they’ll just insert Winter Dragon?), but if they save the Lews Therin flashback for later, the taking of Logain would be a good thematic prologue for the show. The Aes Sedai and the White Tower The White Tower and Aes Sedai other than Moiraine and Elaida don’t appear in The Eye of the World. But they feature prominently in this trailer. If, as the interviews suggest, the adaptation centers Moiraine, then we are probably looking at the Aes Sedai deliberating about how to solve the problem of false Dragons (0:46, 1:24), and some are also wondering about the real Dragon. The Attack on Emond’s Field In the book, we only see the aftermath of the attack on Emond’s Field. The in-scene action is at the al’Thor farm. The adaptation appears to center the action in Emond’s Field, and it looks like Rand is there too. We may lose the iconic scenes of Tam retrieving his sword, the Trollocs breaking down the door, and Narg the Talking Trolloc--not to mention Tam’s revelations in the Westwood. But the story will move faster if everyone is together, and we’ll actually get to see Moiraine and Lan mop up the Trollocs. Scene Breakdown 0:02/0:33 Nynaeve pushes Egwene into a river This is new, and a striking way to introduce us to the show. It’s familiar but different--a sign of what’s to come. The Wisdoms of Emond's Field are no strangers to using the One Power. 0:08 Emond’s Field With the exception of the tiled roofs (poor Cenn Buie!) and the lack of stone foundation around that big tree, Emond’s Field is much as I imagined it. The three ta’veren lads seem to be enjoying themselves at the Winespring Inn rather than shirking their chores, but the adaptation has aged them up. The colors are warm, people are smiling, and the atmosphere is cozy. A good status quo to be shattered by the Trolloc attack. 0:17 Crying over a ring The man crying over a Great Serpent ring is most likely a Warder grieving for his Aes Sedai. We see this man in other scenes, wielding a pair of axes, standing with a pair of Green Aes Sedai and other Warders against a volley of arrows, and leaping to attack someone who is channeling. This is most likely the taking of the false Dragon, and it suggests their effort will carry a terrible cost. 0:20 Egwene rises in a pool of colored stripes The colored stripes that cover Egwene as she rises from the pool clearly point to her fated rise to the Amyrlin Seat. But here, are we seeing Egwene’s prophetic Dream (perhaps as she floats down the river), or Min’s prophetic Viewing? 0:25 Tar Valon The city of Tar Valon, with Dragonmount in the background, is breathtaking, even if it seems Jeff Bezos’s rocket engineers designed the White Tower. Moiraine makes an entrance, pushing open the doors like Aragorn. 0:33 Floating on the river We revisit Egwene’s trip down the river with Moiraine’s voiceover saying that “all over the world there are different names for [the One Power].” This reinforces the idea that Wisdoms are aware, to some degree, that they are channeling saidar, and this initiation is to teach Egwene how to control it. 0:37 The White Tower I always pictured the Hall of the Tower to be longer, but to accommodate the Ajah Sitters and the Amyrlin Seat, it’s as big as it needs to be. Its presence in this first season suggests that we’ll be privy to the White Tower’s deliberations over Dragons, false and true, and the fact that Kerene Nagashi is among them indicates that the 20 year secret search for the Dragon Reborn may be condensed into this season’s plot. 0:39 Moiraine is Healed? Is Kerene Nagashi Healing Moiraine? And if so, is this during the taking of Logain (which didn’t involve Moiraine in the books) or the attack on Emond’s Field (which, in the books, did not involve any other Aes Sedai than Moiraine)? If Kerene makes it to Emond’s Field, that changes the tone significantly--she’d be the senior member of the secret contingent tasked with the Dragon Reborn. 0:43 Power over Emond’s Field Look at that! The One Power being wielded over Emond’s Field, where the buildings are burning. The Eye of the World only showed us the aftermath of the Trolloc attack; but the adaptation will show us the action. 0:45 The Red Ajah Elaida was the only Red Ajah sister in The Eye of the World, but these stern-faced Aes Sedai look ready for business. That business is probably the false Dragon, Logain. 0:46 The Keeper is mad Leane Sharif angrily pounds her Keeper’s staff, calling for order. There is clearly a disagreement in the Hall of the Tower, and given what we’ve seen, it likely involves how to deal with Dragons, False or otherwise. In the books, the Reds tend to act as judge, jury, and executioner, but Siuan knows that if they accidentally sever the real Dragon Reborn from the True Source, the world could be doomed. 0:49 Aes Sedai and Warders do battle A pair of Green Ajah sisters (including Alanna Mosvani) and their Warders defend against arrows from an unseen opponent. The Trolloc attack in the Two Rivers happens at night, so this looks like the fight against Logain and his followers. 0:57 Rocky hills While these rocky hills look like where I imagined Perrin, Egwene, and Elyas hid from the Whitecloaks, Tar Valon is visible in the distance. It’s a different location. This is probably the slopes of Dragonmount, though not a flashback to the birth of the Dragon Reborn, since there’s no snow on the ground. 0:59 Shadar Logoth Shadar Logoth is recognizable and creepy. 1:06 Wolfbrothers-to-be I’m glad the adaptation didn’t go with the Bearbrother idea. 1:08 Sexy times? Rand and Egwene en déshabillé? Well, the adaptation has aged the characters up, and it seems that they’ve tossed out the wide-eyed innocence of these country folk with community-governed moral codes. It changes the character of their relationship in the book, which was more of friends who cared for each other, but who, when freed from the expectations of their community to marry, pursued different dreams. 1:12 Dancing, Death, and Politics The images seem to juxtapose dancing at the Beltine festival with the aftermath of the Trolloc attack at Winternight. The overhead view of the Hall of the Tower completes the third circle, all references to the Wheel, of course. 1:15 The attack on Emond’s Field It looks like Rand will be in town during the attack. I’m a little disappointed if that means we won’t see the attack on the al’Thor farm and the lonely, frightened trek through the Westwood. But it looks intense. 1:19 Lan fights human soldiers During the sunlight, Lan fights human soldiers in the woods. This isn’t the Trolloc attack (unless there are now Darkfriend soldiers too), so it must pair with the arrows flying in 0:49, and the very next shot suggests that this is the taking of Logain, and that Moiraine and Lan were involved, another departure from the books. 1:20 Logain We never see Logain channel in The Eye of the World, but the adaptation shows him breaking his shield and doing some damage. Putting Logain “on camera” is a good strategy for illustrating how dangerous and unpredictable a man channeling can be. He radiates danger, even locked in a cage. 1:24 Moiraine in the White Tower This scene wouldn’t be out of place in the adaptation of The Great Hunt, but Kerene’s words indicate this is setting up the search for the real Dragon Reborn. 1:26/1:39 Trollocs The silhouettes of these Shadowspawn look like the Trollocs on the original book covers which, though they’re not book-accurate, are still iconic in many minds. I look forward to seeing them in detail. They do appear to be more bestial than the book covers, and true to the descriptions. 1:31 Dual Axe Guy versus a channeler This must be a Warder attacking Logain. Is he shielded, or can we see male weaves? Is that darkness oozing along the weaves? This looks to be the same Warder who was crying over a Great Serpent ring. 1:32/1:39 Lan and Moiraine versus the Trollocs In the books, we only heard about how Lan and Moiraine were a whirlwind of death for the Trollocs at Emond’s Field. Now we’ll see it. 1:33 Seven ride to the Waygate As commentary on the show’s poster image confirmed, this is a Waygate. There seem to be seven riders gathered to venture into the dark. Lan, Moiraine, Rand, Perrin, Mat, Egwene, Nynaeve, Loial… Are we missing someone, or are they just not on screen? 1:38 Fade Myrddraal are scary in the book. They’re horrifying in the show. What did you notice in this first trailer for Amazon Prime's The Wheel of Time?
  6. "Official fanfic" is a great description, and one that nicely encapsulates why I'm down on the idea of an Age of Legends movie. It takes something that lives in so many of our imaginations, and canonizes someone's version of it. Someone unconnected with the original work. Yes, we'll still have the version in our heads, but it somehow becomes lesser standing next to a "licensed" version. So much of the mystique of the Age of Legends is that it's... legendary. There are artifacts, there are tales, but the millennia have mythologized the truth so much that it is more a Gleeman's tale than a historical period. That's a whole theme in The Wheel of Time. That's the opening catechism. To nail it down erases some of that malleable wonder. FURTHER, from the description, it sounds like the story takes place after The Strike at Shayol Ghul. At earliest, it's the Breaking of the World, but the mention of the White Tower makes it seem much later. Either way, not the Age of Legends. And if they can't get that bit right, I don't have much hope for this Official Fanfic to be true to its source material.
  7. Rajiv Moté is Dragonmount’s book blogger with a lens on the craft of fiction writing. When he’s not directing software engineers, he writes fiction of his own, which can be found catalogued at his website. I love metafiction: stories that say something about the nature of stories. Stories that are aware of themselves as stories, but still manage to pull us into their reality. Recently in Marvel Studios’ Loki on Disney+, the Norse god of mischief was yanked outside of space and time by the mysterious Time Variance Authority, an organization that made sure characters don’t stray beyond a preordained plot called “The Sacred Timeline.” The TVA bureaucrats and stormtroopers violently edited the story when characters tried to deviate. The ensuing metafictional adventure explored the virtues of predestination versus free will, order versus chaos, a universe versus a multiverse--and who gets to control the narrative. It reminded me of The Wheel of Time. Robert Jordan’s epic builds a universe of cyclic history, without beginning or end, that encompasses all the stories that were and could be, and sets the parameters for how its characters must behave. All Stories Are Part of the Pattern In Umberto Eco’s novel about a conspiracy theory that took on a life of its own, syncretic thinking drives the impulse to see similarities in stories and legends as proof of an occult, underlying connection. It is fuel for cork boards of evidence joined by colored string and push-pins, and the rapturous feeling that one is delving into arcana to find the true, hidden source of what the uninitiated see as coincidence. Syncretism is meta-storytelling: an irresistible urge to see cohesion in unconnected stories. The Wheel of Time’s ambitious conceit is that its story is in conversation with all stories. History, legends, and mythology are echoes of each other in a great cycle. Comparing elements of the story with other myths, legends, history, or current events feeds the notion that it’s all one big pattern of recurring motifs--history that rhymes, as Mark Twain supposedly said. Ann Landers, John Glenn, Sally Ride, nuclear annihilation, climate catastrophe, Moscow and its ICBMs, Queen Elizabeth, Mother Theresa--they all become Gleeman’s tales in the Third Age, where the legend of King Arthur is historical fact. The land abounds with ancient artifacts, from a Mercedes hood ornament to a radioactive spire, pointing to continuity between our real world and the story world. With enough turnings of the Wheel of Time, all stories are real. The Wheel Is the Storyteller In Robert Jordan’s cosmology, the Wheel is the ultimate storyteller. It spins out character threads to weave the Pattern of the plot in recurring motifs. And while Jordan created no multiversal bureaucracy to manage his Sacred Timeline, he does have the concept of ta’veren. Just as the author puts the main characters on a journey, pulling a widening blast radius of other characters and events in their wake, the Wheel spins ta’veren to set the story in motion. The protagonists seem to have an awareness of entering the plot of a story. They contrast what “real life” is, compared with stories. They self-deprecatingly chide themselves for playing the hero in some gleeman’s tale right before doing exactly that. The Dharma of the Wheel But what of free will, in a universe where a cosmic author is spinning out the plot? As Loial’s description implies, the Wheel tolerates minor variations, but prevents large deviations. Those who are ta’veren have less freedom than others, and we see characters like Cadsuane and Tuon resisting ta’veren effects with great effort. But predestination abounds in The Wheel of Time. There are prophecies, Foretellings, prophetic dreams, true answers from dangerous fae-folk, and of course Min’s visions. All are glimmers of the Pattern, and none can be averted. Many of the character arcs revolve around the characters’ struggle with predestination. Rand, Mat, and Perrin each rail in their own way against what they must become. Min is a Cassandra, who can see the approach of doom, but can do nothing to avert it. Aviendha resists first a personal destiny to love Rand, and later the ultimate, tragic fate of her entire people. Moiraine is the heroic exemplar of someone who courageously faces whatever fate decrees, no matter the personal cost, and Lan is an example of someone who resigns himself to what he believes is his doom, but should really have more faith in the benevolence of the Wheel. Nynaeve is someone who cannot reach her potential while she resists the role spun for her, but once she surrenders to it, becomes one of the most powerful characters in the epic. While there is no “religion” in The Wheel of Time, there is a moral law to the universe: align thyself to the Pattern. This is similar to the Hindu concept of dharma, where the cosmic Truth is made manifest through proper behavior in the social order. There are echoes in these scenes of the Bhagavad Gita, where just before the great battle against kin and former teachers, the warrior Arjun despairs of his purpose. The Lord Krishna reveals his divinity to Arjun, and teaches him to align himself to his dharma, which is both duty and fate, through which he will know both peace of mind and singularity of purpose. Those who submit to the will of the Wheel become aligned with a benevolent cosmos. Ta’veren who do so become unstoppable. There is a delightful parallel between Mat embracing his ta’veren-hood and Lloyd Alexander’s character Taran, who learns a lesson from Llonio, the luckiest man in Prydain. On the other side, the Dark One seeks to corrupt the Pattern and break the Wheel of Time. The Darkfriends see the Wheel's predestination as tyranny, and believe the Dark One will weave them new fates of power and stature. To the servants of the Shadow, the Pattern can be rewritten if their master wins. The Hands on the Wheel Understanding the cosmology of The Wheel of Time as both metafiction and a benevolent force in the story world, gives us insight into one of the epic’s most mysterious characters. Nakomi appears as a middle-aged Aiel woman who has two scenes in the entire story. The first time, she shares Aviendha’s fire and tea as the younger woman makes her way to Rhuidean for her final test as a Wise One. She asks seemingly innocent questions about the fate of the Aiel in this new, changed world, something Aviendha ponders deeply when Rhuidean reveals that clinging to the old ways leads the Aiel to ignominy and extinction. The second time Nakomi appears is to make sure that Rand carries Moridin’s body down from Shayol Ghul, the act that allows Rand to live on beyond the Last Battle. Both of Nakomi’s appearances involve decisions pivotal to the Fourth Age, the Age after the Dark One is locked safely away until the Age of Legends comes again. The Pattern is not threatened by the Fourth Age fates of the Aiel or Rand al’Thor. But there is a point of decision between suffering or grace, and Nakomi tips the balance to the latter. If the Creator set everything in motion, but takes no part in the events of the world, and the Wheel spins an endlessly rhyming Pattern, then perhaps Nakomi is the compassionate principle in this divine trinity. Perhaps Nakomi is the lone Norn at the spinning wheel, who makes sure the story has a happy ending.
  8. I love this idea. Hey, if Game of Thrones gets a spinoff in House of the Dragon, then why can't The Wheel of Time get a spinoff like Dragonslayer? It could run parallel to the penultimate season(s) and converge with the introduction of Bao the Wyld.
  9. Rajiv Moté is Dragonmount's book blogger with a lens on the craft of fiction writing. When he's not directing software engineers, he writes fiction of his own, which can be found cataloged at his website. SPOILERS for all things related to Demandred. One of the most dramatic and exciting single-book plot arcs in The Wheel of Time was in Lord of Chaos. Rand al’Thor announces an amnesty for men who can channel the One Power, and a rag-tag group of untrained men, young and old, answer the call. The amnesty also attracts Mazrim Taim, a False Dragon who is cool and confident enough in the face of the Dragon Reborn to propose an equal partnership. Instead, Rand puts him in charge of training the assembled men, and over the course of the book, those men acquire skill, uniforms, ranks, the name “Asha’man,” and an institution: the Black Tower. By the end of Lord of Chaos, they become an elite military unit, rescuing Rand from captivity and crushing both renegade Aiel and Aes Sedai. The balance of power shifts, and the world suddenly becomes more unpredictable and dangerous. The novel is bookended by our first point-of-view sequences from the mysterious Forsaken Demandred. At the beginning, the Dark One summons him to Shayol Ghul to receive secret instructions, and at the end, revels in his apparent success. This framing, along with the details of Mazrim Taim’s mannerisms, made it clear to readers that Demandred had replaced Mazrim Taim and was now in command of Rand’s most powerful army. Robert Jordan’s notes (24:00) confirm that this was the original plan. But sometime before Winter’s Heart, Jordan changed his mind. The details that were originally foreshadowing became red herrings. There’s a burden when using red herrings to mislead readers. The eventual payoff has to be more satisfying than what readers were led to believe. That was a challenge Brandon Sanderson had to take up when he finished the series. When Demandred, calling himself Bao the Wyld, explodes onto the stage in A Memory of Light, he is the most formidable--and most prepared--of the Forsaken. His army of Sharans has the same sort of loyalty as Rand’s Aiel. Their use of the One Power reflects their leader’s long experience of Powered warfare. He wields a sa’angreal mightier even than Callandor. He shows the discipline and focus of a master martial artist, and the skill of the world’s greatest swordsman who does not underestimate an opponent. The rest of the Forsaken look positively frivolous compared to him. What’s better than Demandred in control of Rand’s Asha’man army, disguised as Mazrim Taim? Demandred in control of Rand’s Asha’man through his protégé Mazrim Taim, while bringing into battle another army nobody had foreseen. Fans of The Wheel of Time should consider “River of Souls,” published in the Unfettered charity anthology, essential reading. The short story is a deleted sequence from A Memory of Light set in Shara. It establishes Demandred’s leadership of the Sharans by putting him on a quest to win a missing part of D’jedt, a sa’angreal second only to the Choden Kal. It hints how Demandred became the Sharan’s foretold savior: the Wy-eld. The Dragonslayer. The Demandred pivot from Mazrim Taim to Bao raised questions. How did he command real loyalty, instead of the Compulsion- and deception-based obedience for which his colleagues settled? How did he mobilize the secretive, isolationist Sharans into an army willing to march on a foreign land under the banner of the Shadow? What has this man been up to for the last two years that made him so different from all the other Forsaken? “River of Souls” is an amazing piece of craft. In the space of a short story, it sketches--through allusion and parallels to Rand’s story--an entire epic fantasy running concurrent to The Wheel of Time. As Bao, Demandred had a heroic epic of his own. Demandred nearly falls in love, nearly has friends, and nearly has an arc similar to Rand’s. But instead of learning the hard lesson of reclaiming his humanity by embracing “laughter and tears,” he allowed darkness and hardness to rule him. In his foreword, Brandon Sanderson says that “River of Souls” accomplished its goals too well by introducing too many new elements at the end of a story, and giving a taste of something that will never be sated, setting up too many unfulfilled promises. Bao the Wyld would never get the epic teased by “River of Souls.” It’s a fascinating and insightful calculus. A series has a structure, just as a novel does, and there are things you can’t do when you’re closing a series compared to when you’re opening one. Just as the end must pay off promises made in the beginning, revelations in the end that were never raised as earlier questions feel superfluous, no matter how entertaining. “River of Souls” offered a glimpse at a culture that has a fundamentally different view of the Pattern (the Tapestry, in their parlance) and the Dark One. To Sharans, fate was a shackle, and a victory of the Shadow meant liberation from the repeating destinies that the Wheel wove into the Pattern. The Wheel of Time gives few convincing reasons for a person to pledge themselves to the Dark One, but the Sharans offer a look at a belief system that values self determination over fate, which is the Father of Lies’ promise. But up until A Memory of Light, there was never a question of why an entire culture would follow the Shadow. “River of Souls” sets up Demandred as the most developed and complex of Rand’s adversaries, a more direct opposite number to Rand than Ishamael/Moridin. Perhaps in this, it also succeeded too well. The idea of an anti-Rand, fulfilling prophecies, changing societies, and nearly being a hero on his way to the Last Battle is compelling symmetry. The Wheel of Time contained enough chapters entitled “Threads Woven of Shadow” that it’s not hard to imagine an anti-ta’veren in the Wheel’s cosmology. But Team Jordan’s mission was to finish a story, not launch new directions. The epic of Bao the Wyld must remain apocryphal. “River of Souls” was a great story that came at the wrong time.
  10. I do hope that they go for a weekly release. The Mandalorian and WandaVision have both recently shown the power of an engaged fan base keeping the momentum going from week to week with speculation, memes, and discussion. I'd love to see the same sort of energy around The Wheel of Time--again!
  11. Rajiv Moté is Dragonmount's book blogger with a lens on the craft of fiction writing. When he's not managing software engineers, he writes fiction of his own, which can be found cataloged at his website. The Disney+ show WandaVision just ended, and I’m coming down from a high. It’s not that the Marvel Studios program paid off its every promise--the high had little to do with the ending at all. WandaVision set up a model of intense engagement that reminded me of some of my favorite stories, including The Wheel of Time. I watched, re-watched, theorized, discussed, dissected, and thoroughly immersed myself in WandaVision. There are a few story similarities with Robert Jordan’s epic--a history that spans centuries, pocket realities, glimmers of a multiverse, witches with a prejudice against Wilders--but there’s a recipe both tales have in common that fires all my taste buds and draws me in completely, always chasing that next bite. It goes without saying that a good story, with characters I care about, are prerequisites. But I watched each new episode of WandaVision the way I read each new volume of The Wheel of Time--by revisiting previous installments, asking questions, and speculating what those answers would be. For both I found a community of the like-minded to go deep, to challenge the story and each other. When you do it alone, it’s an obsession; when an entire community does it, it’s a fandom. But what is the recipe that elicits this behavior? Mysteries and Prophecies WandaVision started with the question “why did they make a show with two superheroes starring in a Dick Van Dyke/Bewitched remake?” Each episode added layers, until Agent Jimmy Woo helpfully started listing the pertinent questions on a whiteboard. He hung a lampshade on the show as a puzzle box. We should be asking these questions. The show promised answers. I remember reading the “Dragonmount” prologue in The Eye of the World with the same off-kilter sense of being dropped into something unexpected. It was the aftermath of a cataclysmic war, with a hero taken by madness and a tooth-gnashing villain. They slung around titles and names without explanation, mentioned artifacts like the Ring of Tamyrlin, and then declared that no matter who lived and who died, their battle would rage on until the end of time. It was a lot. Then we got an excerpt from a history, or a prophecy, before we found ourselves in, if not quite the Shire, then a place with enough similarities that we could ground ourselves. Slowly, we found out how Lews Therin Telamon and Elan Morin Tedronai connected to this story, and what it meant for their fight to continue until the end of time. Questions led to answers, that led to more questions. The Wheel of Time hung its own lampshades using symbolic prophecies, dreams, visions, and foretellings. They were promises about the story. Figuring out how they would be fulfilled (or whether they had already been fulfilled) became an intellectual game to play between books. Replay Value In WandaVision, there was an episode that stepped out of the show-within-the-show where it started, to focus on the characters trying to understand the inner show. We watched them react to the scenes we’d already seen, recontextualizing them and inviting us to go back and watch again with our new knowledge. Later, there was an episode that revealed someone pulling strings behind the scenes. Then, yet another episode took us through the parts of the main character’s backstory that informed the show-within-the-show (and its commercials). We saw previous episodes--and even earlier movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe--in new ways. (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Doctor Strange both became more interesting in light of WandaVision.) Some of us even wondered if movies outside of Marvel Studios were being recontextualized. I started reading The Wheel of Time when the fourth book, The Shadow Rising, came out. Thereafter, I reread the series before each new book’s release. Robert Jordan rewarded the rereading. He used third-person limited, and confined the early chapters to the perspective of the hicks from the Two Rivers, so what we learned about the world through their eyes was usually wrong, especially when they encountered new cultures, complicated politics, or the metaphysical underpinnings of reality. We realized that Aes Sedai, under their outward serenity, were as uncertain and desperate as everyone else, and not at all monolithic in their motives. We learned that nine of ten parts of folk wisdom about the Dragon, the One Power, and the Forsaken were myth and superstition, and that the nature of the so-called Last Battle was not what we’d believed. And rereading uncovered so much foreshadowing in the most innocuous passages, a reassurance that this story was carefully planned, and paying attention would be rewarded. A Rich Story World What makes this continual recontextualization work, of course, is having a rich and detailed world for the story. WandaVision had the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as the decades of comic books and even a different movie studio’s franchise to draw from. Sometimes that knowledge was a benefit (like knowing who the comic book characters Agatha Harkness and Monica Rambeau were), and sometimes that knowledge led down false paths (the astrophysics engineer and Evan Peters). But it created a “scholarly” space to answer the questions raised by the show, and to understand the meaning of the many details. There was satisfaction in guessing right. And sometimes disgruntlement in being wrong. Fans of The Wheel of Time are no strangers to a rich story world. While it’s possible to spot inconsistencies, strange one-offs, and missed opportunities, for the most part the Wheel’s cosmology is coherent and even predictive--a hallmark of solid construction. If a technology exists in one place, like a foxhead medallion or an Ogier stedding, it’s likely to be found elsewhere, like a gholam or the city of Far Madding. If there’s a discrepancy in details, like Aes Sedai achieving an ageless look from using the One Power, but not Wise Ones, Windfinders, or damane, there’s probably a discoverable explanation, like the use of the Oath Rod. Healing weaves can be modified to do harm, and Pattern-destroying balefire suggests a Pattern-strengthening Flame of Tar Valon. A trip backwards through the generations of Aiel history not only helps to understand their culture, but the Tuatha’an, the Green Man, the Whitecloaks, Warder cloaks, and even Lanfear’s role in freeing the Dark One. (But yes, I felt miffed that Adeleas’s murderer was not the one who flinched when someone mentioned that a woman could not be brought into a circle against her will, because the Black Ajah know about involuntary rings, after all...) The Wheel of Time lends itself to scholarship--and the wistful sense that if we could apply this much brain power to things that pay the bills, we’d be much better off. Refractory Periods WandaVision released on a weekly cadence. It was not amenable to binge watching, especially for people who wanted to avoid spoilers online. Marvel Studios was excellent about locking down leaks about the show before it aired, which meant that I had a week to think about the latest episode, and speculate about its cliffhangers and mysteries. It turns out that having that time to think is immensely enjoyable and intellectually engaging. Deciphering mysteries, reviewing recontextualized episodes, and the scholarly mining of a rich story world makes engaging with the story an active pursuit, where binge-watching is passive consumption. Given this time, I became a participant in the storytelling, not just a recipient of it. I began writing blog posts to refine my latest theories, and regularly engaged with friends (something I’m normally bad at) to theorize and discuss the pressing matters of the latest episode. It was joyful, and it only happened because I had time between each installment. The pause between books in The Wheel of Time was much longer than a week, and afforded a similar pleasure. Back then, I found like-minded folks on Usenet, and an old friend and I, who had moved to separate cities, carried on an old-fashioned correspondence about The Wheel of Time. When the last few books came out, we booked hotel rooms between our cities, left our families at home, and went on retreats together, reading a chapter, discussing, and then reading the next. It became a pursuit both intellectual and social, and remains among my fondest memories. I’m convinced that a story world can appear to be far richer than it actually is, given a dedicated fandom and time. The Star Wars saga built a galaxy by dropping casual mention of events, places, and characters that became fodder for head-canon and volumes of fan fiction, both paid and unpaid. It’s hard to find a corner of the Star Wars universe that hasn’t been thoroughly explored, and even the nonsensical-sounding “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs” found a canonical explanation. A few details go a long way for pattern-hungry brains. Sticking the Landing Inevitably, a story--by definition--comes to an end. Well, this isn’t strictly true for comic books and franchises, but as we know from The Wheel of Time, if it isn’t the ending, then there must be an ending. “Sticking the landing” is a matter of paying off the level of engagement the work elicited. Attention and engagement is currency on credit, and the ending is when the bill comes due. The work doesn’t need to validate every wild theory, but it needs to emphasize which details were important, and how they came together for a surprising-yet-inevitable conclusion. An ending works in competition with each fan’s head-canon. Did WandaVision’s series finale stick the landing? A Memory of Light? The answers will vary, and may even change with time. Both are topics beyond the scope of this discussion, because if anything, the recipe for joyfully obsessive engagement truly is about the journey. I occasionally write fiction, and though my current discretionary time means it’s short stories, my daydream is to someday write a world that could give readers the sort of joy The Wheel of Time gave me. It’s instructive to draw parallels with other properties that have sparked similar joy, be they epic fantasy series, long-form television shows, movie or comic book franchises, or computer games. It starts with the story, but by no means ends there. The world building must imply so much more beyond the scope of the story. There should be secrets that have a payoff if uncovered by intrepid fan-sleuths. New information should recontextualize what came before. If possible, it should be doled out in doses, feeding the fans without sating them. Create something that’s the fodder for endless daydreams, something that lives on after the last page is turned, or the credits roll.
  12. Rajiv Moté is Dragonmount's book blogger with a lens on the craft of fiction writing. When he's not managing software engineers, he writes fiction of his own, which can be found cataloged at his website. First time readers of The Wheel of Time can be forgiven for thinking that Rand and Egwene will end up together as a couple at the end of the story. Robert Jordan introduced the two with a well-worn trope that fantasy readers recognize. In the eyes of their village, they’re all but betrothed. Rand is tongue-tied and awkward around Egwene. Egwene says and does things that challenge Rand’s entire world view. They bicker, Rand expressing a clumsy protectiveness, and Egwene chafing against it. But underneath, we know that they really care for each other. All they need is to go their separate ways for a while, grow up some, and realize that despite how they’ve changed, they remain meant for each other. Reading The Eye of the World, I remember feeling the vibes of Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, with its coming-of-age romance between Taran the farm boy and Eilonwy the nascent sorceress. Confusion, bickering, then love. Expectations led me to overlook details as obvious as Min’s prophetic warning (shown above), so I was shocked when Egwene told Rand, in The Shadow Rising, that she didn’t love him, and he told her the same. Both Rand and Egwene have atypical heroes’ journeys. Unlike “there and back again” fantasy epics, Rand and Egwene never return to Emond’s Field. Theirs is not a story about the promise of young love fulfilled. Their story--along with a great deal of The Wheel of Time’s--is about leaving old things behind and embracing new ways. Growth is forward, not circling back. Egwene telegraphs her intent in an additional prologue at the age of nine, and also when we first meet her in the first book. While the rest of the Emond’s Fielders are reluctant heroes, dutifully refusing Joseph Campbell’s Call to Adventure, Egwene is fueled by curiosity and ambition from the very beginning. The heart of the bickering between Egwene and Rand is Egwene’s eagerness to surpass the boundaries life set for her, and Rand interpreting her rejection of old ties as a rejection of him. Correctly so. In the world of The Wheel of Time, gender essentialism is a reality, and though men and women can both rise to high positions of authority, their paths and spheres of influence are separate. There are Wisdoms and mayors, Wise Ones and Clan Chiefs, Amyrlins and the Dragon Reborn. During Egwene’s test for Accepted in The Dragon Reborn, Egwene sees glimpses of other possible lives. The test is designed to wash her clean of crimes committed and suffered in the past, false pride and ambition, and false ties that bind her to the world. Each of the three trials requires her to reject Rand: as a husband and father to her daughter, as a friend desperate for help, and as a prisoner needing her merciful judgment. To be Aes Sedai, fate and the Wheel demanded Egwene walk away from Rand and pledge her loyalty to the White Tower. Sadly, that is precisely what the Pattern demands, at least until the very end. In every other alternate world, the Dark One won. Rand saw those other realities, those other failures, as he flickered through the mirror worlds connected by the Portal Stones. Only in the fullness of a series re-read did I see that, by the time they reunite in The Shadow Rising, Rand and Egwene have both seen that they literally have no future together. Rand was the Dragon Reborn. Egwene’s path lay toward the Amyrlin Seat who would unite the White Tower to oppose the Dark One. If Rand represented saidin, Egwene represented saidar, the opposing principle that pushed against Rand and was pushed by him, like the black and white parts of the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai. They were forces in dynamic opposition, keeping the Wheel turning. There was a parallel dynamic in the Age of Legends, between the previous Dragon, Lews Therin Telamon, and a powerful and influential woman named Latra Posae Decume, also known as Shadar Nor, or “the Slicer of the Shadow.” While there’s no definitive evidence that Egwene is Latra Posae reborn, there’s a symmetry in the tipping point as Rand attempted to negotiate The Dragon’s Peace before he went to Shayol Ghul. As Amyrlin Seat, Egwene was Rand’s equal in stature, just as Latra Posae was an equal of Lews Therin’s, and Egwene was prepared to oppose Rand’s plans to break the ancient seals on the Dark One’s prison. Only Moiraine’s intervention made this turning of the Wheel one where men and women worked in concert. If the original sin in The Wheel of Time cosmology was the schism between the genders enacted by Lews Therin and Latra Posae, the eleventh hour accord between Rand and Egwne grants the world absolution, and heals the rift. And as Rand realized in his long, dark night of the soul atop Dragonmount, this was the entire point. To try again, and do better.
  13. Now I'm wondering if, when Rand and Mat "play for their supper" at the Grinwell farm, Rand will sit by the fire and play the guitar for a googly-eyed Else... I can picture it, and it works.
  14. This was a lovely event. Thank you for hosting it, and thank you, Harriet, for speaking to us.
  15. Rajiv Moté is Dragonmount's book blogger with a lens on the craft of fiction writing. When he's not managing software engineers, he writes fiction of his own, which can be found cataloged at his website. For the son to rise, the father must fall. From mythology to Marvel Comics, from Shakespeare to Star Wars, and in almost every Disney story, the parental figure must die before the heir can fulfill their role. The trope is so familiar that participants of Amazon Prime’s book club for new readers of The Eye of the World were sure that Tamlin al’Thor was a goner after Winternight, when Rand was torn between leaving with Moiraine for Tar Valon and staying to take care of his father. Narratively speaking, good parents are obstacles to children facing real danger. They prevent the story from getting started. Clearly, Tam should have gone the way of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, following convention. Happily, Robert Jordan had a different story in mind. Tam al’Thor is no obstacle to his son. While the plot contrived to keep Tam and Rand separated until a pivotal encounter in The Gathering Storm, Tam had more interesting things to do than opening the farm gate for Rand by succumbing to his wounds. I started reading The Wheel of Time in college, as a young man preparing to set out into the world to make something of himself. I read about Rand and Mat playing for their supper, surviving by their wits, and getting out of scrapes with a sense of romance. Everything was potential. What could be. The open road, man. When I finished reading The Wheel of Time, I was a dad. I started looking at Tam with the sense of association I once had for his son. Strong. Solid. Stable. A man whose job was to raise a hero, but had some heroics of his own left to do. Tam was the kind of dad I wanted to be. I’d become a supporting character in a story that belonged to my daughter, but my own story wasn’t yet done. The two facts were not at odds. Tam al’Thor embodied that truth. Tam's “N-shaped” story arc has two volumes. The first, told through flashback and exposition, took him from the Two Rivers seeking adventure, and then back again with a wife and child. The second unfolded in the 14 books of the main series, taking him out of retirement and back into military life, as a warrior and leader of men. But still--most importantly--as a father. Tam left the Two Rivers as a youth, and joined the army in Illian. He fought in the Whitecloak War, two wars against Tear, and the Aiel War, learning a blademaster’s skill under a mentor named Kimtin. He received a Power-wrought, heron-marked sword from King Mattin Steppaneos himself, and rose to the distinguished rank of Second Captain of the Illianer Companions. But the Aiel War was a turning point for Tam in his career. Tam understood that the political machinations of King Laman of Cairhien caused the Aiel to invade, and the bloodshed was prolonged by the nations slow in their arrogance to unite. In the war’s final battle, Tam sought escape from the heat of battle and stink of death on the slopes of Dragonmount, where the Wheel would have him find the newborn baby Rand. Tam was at the pinnacle of his career, but disillusionment, weariness, and fatherhood led him to quit the Companions and take his wife and child to the obscurity and pastoral life of the Two Rivers. Back home, Tam became a man of secrets and silence. None but his wife knew the story of their son, nor did he talk much of his career. His heron-marked sword remained locked in a chest under the bed until a Winternight 19 years later, when the Trollocs attacked Emond’s Field. Teaching Rand the “flame and the void” exercise, rescuing him from the Trollocs, and giving him his sword would have been enough of an ending for most epic fantasy dads. But The Wheel of Time is vast, and can accommodate the rise of many characters, including a comeback for a veteren sword master who retired to raise his son. When Tam recovered from his injuries at Winternight, he and Abell Cauthon journeyed to Tar Valon to find their sons, where they were stonewalled by the Aes Sedai. They returned to the Two Rivers to find that the Whitecloaks used the Trollocs as an excuse to occupy their land and abuse their people. Tam coordinated the underground resistance until Perrin Aybarra returned. Then, something remarkable happened. He ceded leadership to the younger man. (This does indeed seem a fantasy to Americans looking to choose new blood for leadership.) Tam not only stepped aside, but he remained a part of Perrin’s active resistance, training village men to be soldiers and lending experienced advice. Call it ta’veren, or call it character, but there was no power struggle, no internal conflict. Tam, a military man, knew when to lead and when to follow. Under Lord Perrin, Tam became the First Captain of the Two Rivers army, leading them to defeat the Shaido Aiel at the battle of Malden. Tam folded in and trained refugees, amassing a mighty Two Rivers army that fought in the Last Battle. Tam enters the Fourth Age the military leader of a large and powerful nation. In DC Comics, Superman has the power of a demigod, but was raised by good parents with humble, Midwestern values. Superman’s moral upbringing makes him the incorruptible hero he is. Since leaving the Two Rivers, Rand al’Thor shouldered the weight of the world’s hope, as the Dark One sought to tear down that hope with tragedy and pain. Tam al’Thor’s most critical contribution came as Rand was nearly consumed by a darkness born of the need to be hard, at the expense of his humanity. Tam reminded Rand of who he was, and though he nearly died at his son’s hand in that confrontation, he triggered a crisis that reached down through the suspicion and hurt, allowing the good son underneath to climb out. When Rand returned from Dragonmount, he was healed, whole, and an avatar of the Light. He was the man who, remembering who he once was, could win the battle of wills against the Dark One. On his return, when Rand introduced Min to Tam, it was not just the loving rite between a father and his adult son. It was a healing of the wound that had opened back in the Westwood, so long before, when Rand believed that he didn’t have a real father. He had one in every way that mattered. Tam did more than just set the hero on his journey. He kept him true.
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