Let’s Talk About The Tylin Thing
**SPOILERS for A Crown Of Swords ahead**
Ahh, The Tylin Thing. I finished my reread of A Crown of Swords (book seven in The Wheel of Time) a few weeks ago, and, try as I might, I just can’t seem to pick up Book 8. Something keeps bothering me about Book 7 — and has been bothering me since I first read the series two years ago: Mat’s rape by Tylin Quintara, Queen of Ebou Dar.
It’s a controversial topic: half the fandom seems to view The Tylin Thing as I do (i.e., rape), while the other half view it as a humorous break from the more “serious” parts of the book (i.e., as a romcom interlude to the “main” story). I'm aware that there have been other discussions on this topic here before, but I haven't seen an analysis of the issue before, so here is mine.
Today, in this analysis, I want to explain why I view The Tylin Thing as rape. I want to explain it because I find the widespread view of it as a mini-romcom incredibly disturbing. If you want to know why I find it disturbing, you can refer to this video on the treatment of male rape in popular fiction. It’s a solid video and I would really recommend watching it if you haven’t seen it.
And now, on to the analysis: The Tylin Thing, And Why It’s Rape, Actually.
For the purposes of this analysis, I’ll be walking through this part of CoS chronologically, pinpointing relevant quotes to highlight the disturbing elements of this storyline and how they indicate that Tylin’s relationship with Mat is non-consensual and seriously creepy.
Let’s start with Mat’s initial impressions of Tylin: right off the bat, he is uncomfortable around her. These are a few quotes taken from Mat’s first meeting with the Queen of Ebou Dar:
“Tylin’s stare made him nervous.”
“He wanted out of there.”
“Had he thought it would do any good, he would have run. The skin between his shoulder blades prickled so, he almost forgot the dice dancing in his head.”
From their very first meeting, RJ establishes a sense of discomfort in Mat, and an unwillingness to be around Tylin. He’s nervous in her presence and does not want to be near her. The mention of the dice here is also significant — those dice are an all-consuming element of Mat’s character. He absolutely hates them, worries about them constantly, and takes action based on what they signal — so for him to forget about them indicates that he’s seriously rattled.
This sense of discomfort only grows the more time Mat spends in Ebou Dar, and we can see the heights it reaches when Elayne informs Mat that Tylin has requested him to live in the palace, in rooms close to her own. His response is immediate and visceral:
“One look at his face, and Elayne hurriedly channeled to push open a window and empty a washbasin through it. If she had ever seen a man about to lose the contents of his stomach, he was staring red-eyed at her right that minute.”
In fact, Mat’s reaction to the news is so bad that Elayne—Elayne—actively prepares for him to vomit. He didn’t just look like he could throw up—the possibility that he would seemed so real that she actually prepared for it. And, although he does not throw up, his actual response is hardly much better:
“He put his head in his hands again, making strangled noises while his shoulders shook.”
“‘Sacrifices?’ he snarled. ‘If I asked you to make the same, you’d… pull the roof down on my head!’”
He doesn’t view time spent around Tylin as something enjoyable, or even something neutral—he views it as a sacrifice. At this point, Tylin has mostly only behaved flirtatiously towards Mat, and his response to that does not suggest that he’s into it—far from it. Then Mat is moved into the palace, and the situation escalates.
Let’s jump to the first instance of sexual assault. Before I analyze this scene, let me define sexual assault:
“Illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent... or who places the assailant… in a position of trust or authority.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
I’ll come back to that definition later. Let’s look at a series of quotes outlining the scene of the assault.
“Or the larger, gem-studded dagger thrust behind an equally gem-studded belt.”
“Oh, he could have picked her up quite easily. Except that she did have that bloody big dagger in her belt, and he doubted his manhandling her would be as acceptable as her manhandling him seemed to be. This was Ebou Dar, after all, where a woman killing a man was justified until proven otherwise.”
From this we can already see the set-up of threatening circumstances, in which Mat is unable to act as he normally would. These threatening circumstances arise from two main points: Tylin is armed (she has her marriage knife and a dagger), and she is the Queen. Note that Tylin’s status as Queen (and one whose cooperation is vital for Elayne and Nynaeve to achieve their goals) fits in with the dictionary definition of sexual assault, in that the assailant is in a position of authority over the victim.
As for the act of assault itself:
“He thrashed about, vainly trying to fend her off, and she laughed softly. Between kisses, he breathlessly protested…”
“Prying his mouth free, he shouted…”
“Well, it was a shout. A high-pitched shout.”
“...Mat broke in hurriedly. ‘Come in, Thom!’ [...] ‘Juilin, come in!’”
Compare these quotes to the dictionary definition, and we can see that this is literally, legally assault: unwanted sexual (or quasi-sexual, but that’s splitting hairs) contact. ‘Unwanted’ here evidenced by: Mat struggling, protesting, and immediately grabbing onto an out when it is offered (the arrival of Thom and Juilin). The fact that he is very eager to get both Thom and Juilin to enter the room indicates that he does not want to be left alone with Tylin: hence, ‘unwanted’. This is further evidenced by the fact that he *shouts* for them to enter, and that his voice is high-pitched, both indicators of stress and an eagerness to get out of his current situation.
Equally important to the assault itself is its aftermath, and we can see evidence of Mat’s unwillingness in his emotional response following this scene. Here are a few quotes regarding Mat’s actions in the evening, a few hours after the assault:
“He found the key and locked it. Then, for good measure, he jammed a chair under the latch on the door to Nerim’s room. He could do well enough without dinner.”
“He should have been able to sleep soundly after that, but for some reason he lay there listening to his belly grumble. [...] He was safe now, anyway. Tylin would not batter the door down, after all. Would she?”
“Besides she would need a long ladder… and men to carry it… unless she… or she…”
“He never closed his eyes or had a decent thought.”
From these quotes, we can see Mat changing his behaviors in response to anxiety about what Tylin might do. He takes extensive measures to lock up his rooms, and even then, he experiences sleeplessness as a result of this anxiety. From the quotes, we can see that he spends the night thinking up every possible way for Tylin to get into his room, worrying over how she might reach him (I’ve cut the specifics out for brevity). This indicates two things: a fear of Tylin and a distinct unwillingness to be around her. This will be a recurring theme as we proceed through the rest of this storyline.
This anxiety and changed behavior can be seen when Mat is outside the palace, too. Consider this moment the following morning, when he goes out into the town:
“‘We move fast sometimes,’ he said evasively. Nalesean looked at him sideways; of course, he had no idea why they had crept out of a tiny side door near the stables. It was not that Mat thought Tylin might actually leap on him in the halls in broad daylight, but then again, it never hurt to be careful.”
Now Mat’s anxiety over Tylin is spilling into what we could consider his professional life—even though he is leaving the palace, he is still worried about running into her.
In the palace, meanwhile, the situation continues to worsen. Over the course of a couple of days, we can see Tylin’s plans for Mat unfold, and we can see Mat’s reactions to them remain consistently uncomfortable and disturbed. It starts with withholding food:
“He sneaked down to the kitchens like a fox, slipping from corner to corner, flashing down stairs—and found there was no food to be had.”
“Smiling women… put themselves in his way so he could not get near the sources of those wonderful smells.”
Tylin has now restricted Mat’s access to food. The fact that he sneaks to the kitchens, taking care not to be seen, once again indicates a fear of being caught by Tylin. Meanwhile, of course, denying someone access to food is pretty objectively wrong. It suggests that Mat is a prisoner, rather than a guest, in the palace. And Mat responds to this feeling of entrapment:
“He locked the door behind him. A woman who would starve a man might try anything.”
This is the second mention of locking the door, along with written confirmation that Tylin is starving him. This is further confirmed by a note Mat receives from Tylin that night:
“‘I have been told that it is more sporting to take a pigeon on the wing, to watch it flutter, but sooner or later, a hungry bird will fly to the hand.’”
Tylin’s note confirms that her plan is to starve Mat until he is forced to give in to her advances out of sheer necessity. Also… the comment on pigeons is honest to god the kind of thing I would expect to find on r/NiceGuys.
The following night, though, things change:
“Nobody slipped a note under his door that night. Nobody rattled the lock. He began to think things might be better. [...] It might be possible Tylin would find herself a new duckling to chase after.”
This quote tells us two things: one, Mat views his current situation as bad (as he hopes things will be better in the morning) and that he still does not want to be around Tylin (in order for things to be better, he hopes she will find somebody else). So, once again, and I cannot stress this enough: Tylin makes Mat uncomfortable, he has consistently rejected her advances and gone out of his way to avoid her, and, in response, she is actively attempting to starve him until he gives in to her.
This brings us to the rape itself. Again, let’s first define rape. Merriam-Webster says:
Unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person's will.
How does this definition compare to Tylin’s rape of Mat? Let’s take a look.
“His breath froze as the sharp point of her dagger beneath his chin shut his mouth and drove him right up onto his toes.”
“The knifepoint gave a direction. He shuffled backwards on tiptoe rather than have his neck sliced.”
“‘What are you going to do?’ he mumbled… A stretched neck put a strain in his voice. A stretched neck and other things.”
“He could try grabbing her wrist; he was quick with his hands. [...] Quick enough, with the knife already at his throat? That was the question.”
“That was not panic in his voice. He was not in a panic.”
Does being held at knifepoint constitute “threat of injury”? Yes, yes it does.
At this point, Mat is in a panic as he is unsure what she means to do to him. Then Tylin backs him up to the bed, and this is his response:
“Why would she bring him…? [...] No. She could not mean to… It was not decent! It was not possible!”
“‘You can’t do this to me,’ he mumbled at her, and if his voice was a touch breathy and shrill, he surely had cause.’”
First, there’s confusion as to why she has backed him against the bed, which suggests that the idea had not entered his mind until this point. Additionally, there is nothing in the text to indicate that he likes or is even okay with the idea, as he tells her a variation of “no”, and his voice is wavering: the text calls his voice “breathy and shrill”, neither of which are qualities I would expect to hear in the voice of someone who was okay with their current situation.
So: sexual intercourses carried out under the threat of injury against a person’s will? I think it’s safe to say that the definition checks out: it’s rape.
For further evidence, let’s look at what Mat is thinking immediately after the rape:
“All he had on was the foxhead medallion on its chord—much good that had done.”
The medallion is something Mat relies on to protect him — to protect him from women specifically, but that’s a side note. The fact that he mentions it here is significant: the medallion is supposed to protect him, and here, it has failed at that. A lack of protection implies the need to be protected against something, yet more evidence that he was not okay with this situation.
Now, here, we reach something of a turning point in the analysis, because here is where we get to the first quotes that seem, on the surface, to support those who believe that this story is not a story of rape — that Mat’s objection is not to the sex itself but to the reversed gender roles. I believe, however, that if we look beyond the surface, we will find that gender roles are not the real issue here. But let’s take it one step at a time, and look at the next set of quotes:
“For some reason, the notion of walking around bare felt uncomfortable. The bloody woman might leap out of a wardrobe.”
“Not quite holding his breath, he pulled open the… wardrobe. She was not hiding inside.”
These quotes seem significant to me. Mat does not feel comfortable (or safe) in his room — in his own personal living space. Importantly, he does not feel comfortable to walk around naked in his own room. This may not seem like a big deal, but think about who’s saying this: throughout the series, doing what he wants in his personal living space has been a big deal for Mat. We can see it in the instances where Egwene, Elayne, and/or Nynaeve barge into Mat’s room, and he refuses to get dressed on principle — because, in his view, it’s his room, his space, and he is allowed to be naked in it if he chooses. So for Mat to now feel uncomfortable and unsafe in his living space is significant, and suggests that he remains uneasy with Tylin and the situation he is in.
“There was no way he could face anybody knowing this.”
I think we all know that this is a common sentiment among rape victims, especially male victims.
“Light, what was he going to do? Move back to the inn? Burn why the dice had stopped before. Only, he would not put it past Tylin to bribe… the innkeeper wherever he went.”
Mat’s response to his situation isn’t, “These gender roles are weird but I’m not hating this”. His response is, “How do I get out? Where can I go? What can I do?” This indicates two things: a desire to be away from Tylin and feelings of helplessness, as he is sure she’ll track him down. It is also important to note that, once again, Mat is disregarding the dice — those all-important dice — because of his stress in this situation.
So, to recap: he feels unsafe in his living space, he expresses shame at the idea that others might find out about what has happened, and he is immediately thinking about ways to get out. With that said, let’s take a look at some statements that stand out to me. Two support my viewpoint, and two seemingly support that of the opposition.
“‘I’m the one who’s supposed to do the chasing!’”
“Mat put a hand over his eyes and tried very hard not to weep.”
“He nearly wept again. He gave women presents.”
Those references to chasing and presents are what most people cite when discussing this topic — that Mat is more opposed to the idea of the flipped gender roles than to the actual rape. But, to me, that notion just doesn’t fit together with Mat being on the verge of crying — it’s a disproportionate response. Remember, this is Mat. He doesn’t really cry — he doesn’t tend to respond to bad situations by crying or feeling like crying. More commonly, he responds with irritation and anger and avoidance. Knowing Mat and his past interactions with bossy, domineering women, a much more expected response here would be for him to feel irritated or embarrassed — not to want to cry, twice in two pages.
Because of this inconsistency, it seems to me that Mat’s comment about giving women presents is an excuse, of sorts — a means to explain away his discomfort. The world Mat has grown up in is not one where a man being raped by a woman would be seen as a thing that is possible — hell, even in our world, now, too many people still don’t recognize it as possible. So, of course, Mat doesn’t have the words to explain what is making him want to cry, and so this is what he comes up with: it isn’t proper, that’s why. It isn’t decent, that’s why. (And when has Mat ever cared about propriety or decency?) And, of course, the big one: it isn’t the way things are done, so that must be why I’m so uncomfortable with it.
And this is not a stretch. We know that the human brain is remarkably good at justifying the unjustifiable, especially in cases where we simply don’t have the words to attach to what we have experienced, which I sincerely doubt Mat does.
Just to drive home the point that Mat is and remains uncomfortable, uneasy, and unwilling throughout his time with Tylin, here’s a quote montage. I won’t analyze all of these (this post is long enough as is), but I’ll leave them here for your convenience, and it’s a big list:
“Well, if a beggar slit his throat, he would not have to go back to the palace and let Tylin peel him like a ripe pear.”
“He did not quite jump at every sound, but he did give a start…”
“His hands ran along his spear… unconsciously… as if he might need to defend himself. The dice tumbled in his head fiercely, yet that had nothing to do with his uneasiness. The source of that was Tylin.”
“None of them was the woman who had him ready to jump out of his skin.”
“Tylin made him feel… well… helpless…”
“Mat frowned up at the windows […] Not likely Tylin was up there; not likely she would appear in the stableyard. He had been very careful not to wake her getting dressed.”
“[Tylin] had had half a dozen serving women seize him in the halls last night and drag him into her apartments. The bloody woman treated him like a toy!”
“The Light only knew what Tylin would get up to if he remained in the palace all day. The very thought made him want to laugh hysterically.”
“‘Half a week!’ Feeling strangled, he put a finger behind the scarf… and tugged to ease it. Tylin had used [it] to tie his hands last night before he knew what she was doing. Half a week. Or more! Despite his best efforts, his voice became a touch frantic.”
“His heart sank deeper by the line.”
“At least he had some protection against Moghedien.”
“In another minute, he was afraid he might start crying.”
“She’s starved me, bullied me, chased me down like a stag! [...] She threatened to have the servant women undress me if I didn’t let her…”
I believe these quotes all speak clearly for themselves. He is anxious whenever he is in the palace, he feels as though he needs to protect himself from Tylin (“defend himself”, “protection”), he feels helpless because of her, he prefers dangerous situations to being around her, and he appears desperate to get out of Ebou Dar as soon as possible. Do I even need to analyze these? The information is all there.
Finally, however, there is only one quote that really matters in this argument. The most clear evidence, and what I believe to be the only piece of evidence I really need for this analysis, is this line:
“I say no, and she laughs at me.”
“I say no.”
That line is the only line that matters in this argument — I say no.
You can’t get any clearer than that. Mat even says as much himself:
“More intently, he had never chased any woman who had let him know she did not want to be chased.”
Mat is viewed as a no-good playboy by most of the characters in WoT, but this quote is very important: Mat understands the concept of consent. He understands that a “no” means you back off and leave the person alone, and I think it’s time we all understood that — because Mat Cauthon is a fictional character, but the way we interact with fiction is symptomatic of the way we interact with the world, and it is past time for us to recognize that male rape is not a comedic interlude. (real mind blowers, here, guys, i know)
There is one last piece of evidence I need to contend with, one single piece that doesn’t fit into my analysis.
“‘I’ll miss you too,’ he muttered. To his surprise, it was a simple truth.”
Throughout reading this book, I never saw Mat’s situation as anything other than rape, but this line really threw me. I didn’t understand — it made me question everything that RJ had written. Was he really writing a story of rape, written from the perspective of character who couldn’t recognize what had happened to him, as I had thought? Or was this just comic relief for him? Some people point to this line as evidence that it wasn’t rape, some as evidence of Stokholm Syndrome. But the conditions of Stockholm Syndrome aren’t really present here, at least I don’t believe they are based on my understanding of the syndrome — yet, at the same time, I cannot see this line as an annulment of all the horror I’ve read prior to it. This may be an unsatisfying end to this analysis, but, to me, what this last line indicates is that RJ might have written an important and insightful story of male rape — without even realizing it.
If you’ve stuck with me until now, thank you for that. I’ve been needing to get this out of my system for a good two years. Once again, if you haven’t seen Pop Culture Detective’s video on male rape in popular fiction, I would really, really recommend it. He put words to an issue I’ve been struggling to articulate for a long time.
Going into the new year, let’s pay attention to the stories we consume, and the messages they send. It’s a new decade, guys. Let’s make it better than the last one.