Tuesday, 1 April 2014

The Wheel of Time Review

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan is the greatest epic fantasy series written, and will be embraced that way for decades to come because it is not simply about one hero’s battle against evil, it is the inspirational tale of how to battle evil.

The story centers on Rand al'Thor, a kind, intelligent and responsible youth from a remote farm. Narrowly escaping a brutal raid on his home, Rand learns that the malevolent Dark One is seeking him, and he ventures into the world to save his village and ultimately, to fulfill his prophesied destiny and save the world from destruction.

For Rand is the reincarnation of the most infamous man in history, the man titled the Dragon, who pridefully led mankind against the Dark One in a past Age and brought the curse of insanity upon all men who would use the One Power. As his own innate abilities with the One Power grow, Rand too will eventually go mad and endanger everyone he loves.

Rand travels to faraway cities and through hostile wilderness where he meets dozens of complex and well-realized characters from a wealth of distinct cultures.   The Children of the Light see only another madman to be put down, while the factions of One Power wielding women of the White Tower intend to control Rand or sever him from the One Power forever. Kings and Queens seek to capture Rand, subjugate him, exile him, or follow him. Opposing him, the Dark One’s forces include half-animal Trollocs, eyeless Myrddraal, otherworldly tricksters, and thirteen powerful beings released from an ageless prison, all of whom knew Rand in his previous incarnation as the Dragon.

Only a small group of childhood friends and a handful of dedicated allies can help Rand stave off the forces of the Dark One: Perrin, an apprentice blacksmith whose quiet loyalty is continually tested; Egwene, an ambitious young woman who strains against any limits placed upon her; Mat, a rascal who disregards as many rules as he can; Nynaeve, a wilful healer whose stubbornness is matched only by how much she cares about people; Moiraine, a mysterious sorceress from the White Tower who set aside a fortune and a throne to find Rand; Lan, a warrior king sworn to serve Moiraine and avenge the destruction of his kingdom; Thom, a despondent bard who can't resist helping some boys who are in trouble well over their heads. Some of them develop special abilities of their own which combine familiar myths in original ways.

The Wheel of Time balances the narrative between these heroes and many others, expanding to bring in hundreds of characters, all of whom struggle to control their lives against insidious opponents and the tumultuous forces leading Rand towards his ultimate confrontation with the Dark One. Robert Jordan skilfully intertwines the heroes’ quest to shape their identity with the epic scale of a war that puts all of reality at stake, Even the structure of the series matches the characters’ development, as they come face to face with a world that is stranger and more diverse than they ever imagined.

Men and women are equally prominent in principal roles, each sex certain having abilities which are restricted to the other, relationships between the sexes acting as a pivotal part of the plot. Romances play straightforward roles, and are resolved well before the series conclusion, allowing each character to concentrate on defining themselves instead of being defined by their love life.

Robert Jordan developed wonderfully subtle tools to make his world believable, including a highly structured and understandable magic system, repertoires of lost knowledge, inexplicable magic devices with near limitless variations, and characters that bend the laws of probability. Using these tools deftly and sparingly, resolving problems is almost always a matter of character, not magical ability.  Readers have engagingly filled in the blanks where explanations aren’t presented, crafting elaborate theories based on the pieces secreted in the text. Brandon Sanderson brings the series to a resounding climax, easily maintaining the story’s original themes and successfully capturing the elements that made the series beloved to readers.

Each character’s journey mirrors parts of the others’, and each must face the Dark One’s might in their own way, learning the true nature of evil and how to overcome it. Through their violent thrust into adulthood, their loss and fear, their victory and hope, readers will thrill to the adventures of these heroes. The Wheel of Time is rich and exciting, thought-provoking and engaging, and surpasses other epic fantasy stories by being not only enjoyably rewarding, but by establishing a successful model for how to overcome obstacles in life.

This reader’s life turns with The Wheel of Time.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The Wheel of Time - Act 3 - Books 10-14 (part 2)

Having now reread A Memory of Light, I will revisit Act 3 of The Wheel of Time, comprising Books 10-14. The original post on Act 3 is here (http://greatlordofthedark.blogspot.ca/2013/01/the-wheel-of-time-act-3-books-10-14.html), posted before I had read A Memory of Light for the first time. I find it eerily on target, and rather than repeat it, I suggest you supplement this post by reading that one as well.

Act 3 of The Wheel of Time builds on the concept that Rand must not only defeat the Dark One, but he must also defeat him in exactly the right way, or all is lost.

Rand is absent at first, keeping readers wondering about his temperament after being locked away in the dungeons of Far Madding. When he tentatively attempts to stick to the path he must follow, Semirhage’s trickery instead pushes him down a hardened and bleak path. First she foils his alliance with the Seanchan, then she compels him to attack a woman he holds dear to his heart, nearly recreating Lews Therin Kinslayer’s sin.  

Rand thus becomes more and more determined to accomplish his task, alone, with no help except that which he commands from people. His friends in similar command situations have been much quicker to realize the limits of what they will do to achieve their goals or enforce their will on others. Early on, Perrin's attempts to find and free his wife are stymied by his own realization that if he doesn’t free her in the right way, she will not accept the man he has become. Egwene similarly learns that leadership isn’t about occupying the seat of power, but of representing it, even if she must lead by example from the bottom rung of the White Tower’s hierarchy.

Rand falls so far from the path, he even threatens to kill his father rather than let Cadsuane guide his actions. His descent is frighteningly self-reinforcing. He loses his conscience, twisting everything Nynaeve says into a means to deliver a desired end. Only on the verge of destroying the pattern in a fit of balefire does he consider an alternative to taking responsibility for the acts of all humanity. Rand’s epiphany atop Dragonmount is driven by recognizing that what he wants is another chance to get things right. For him, and for all humanity, mistakes are allowed, and can always be corrected.

Following this path he doesn’t help Rand bring the armies and rulers of the world to his cause. It is only when his mentor Moiraine returns that all parties agree to stand together. Building on this success, Rand meets the Seanchan Empress and makes concessions which it will be up to others to live with or overturn. Rand puts his faith in his others and hopes for the best, which is similar to how he wind the Last Battle.

It still amazes me how the Last Battle hinges on subtle character traits and choices made by Rand, and how those literally affect the fate of the world. I do not know of any other story where the personal and world-spanning consequences are so well intertwined. The ending, or the last three hundred pages of it, perfectly encapsulates the themes running through the series, providing logical and fulfilling closure to the series.

Unlike most stories, all of the major romantic storylines have been fully resolved long before the story ends. The prize for winning is not a mate or a partner, but their own identity. The Wheel of Time has mostly presented obstacles of character, not of contrivance, and once the heroes have decided on a love interest, there is little that gets in its way.

The earlier focus on magic items has fallen by the wayside in Act 3. No quests for ter’angreal are undertaken, they have been replaced by insurmountable quests to change the minds of profoundly stubborn people.

Somewhat surprisingly, the heavily featured magical elements of Tel’aran’rhiod and balefire do not play central roles in the mechanics of the Last Battle. Instead, balefire is a temptation that the heroes reject while Rand demonstrates that the reality-shaping power of Tel’aran’rhiod is a prize for staying true to himself.

Following the earlier comparisons of the series to American History, this final act covers the modern era, when America considered the use of nuclear weapons in a cold war standoff. As with Padan Fain’s philosophy, some people’s hate was so strong they seriously accepted the idea of destroying themselves so long as the opponent went down first. The question of how far one should go to win, and whether you lose who you were, continues to be relevant in today’s conflicts.

The obvious bone of contention in Act 3 is Sanderson’s succession of Jordan, and the sharp contrast in their pacing, level of detail, and the number of switches in point of view. Sanderson’s style fits the Last Battle very well, perhaps better than the style which Jordan used throughout the series. The constraints of Jordan’s notes undoubtedly helped the story maintain its focus on the prevailing thematic elements; but it is doubtful Sanderson could have done much to interfere with them given how frequently they recur in the preceding books. Sanderson succeeds in elevating these elements to a fitting level of focus, never letting them dominate, never letting them be forgotten. It is a wonderful balancing act, and worthy of recognition; Sanderson was the right choice to complete the series not only because of his writing skill, but because he understands and correctly interprets these themes.

Writing Lessons:

It is possible to telegraph exactly how your story will unfold, yet still surprise and delight your audience.

Friday, 21 February 2014

A Memory of Light Summary

A Memory of Light brings Rand's epic journey to a cataclysmic end in near perfect harmony with the rest of The Wheel of Time books.

The majority of A Memory of Light is taken up by battle. A few early moments of respite allow the heroes to make their goodbyes before the final confrontation takes their attention, and in many cases, their lives. The clever placement of a scene where Rand crafts a treaty to guide the nations after his death informs readers what the world will be like after the series ends, leaving the remainder of the story free to concentrate almost exclusively on the struggle against overwhelming odds. It makes it possible to end the story at the exact moment of Rand’s final victory.

The buildup to the Last Battle is itself monumental, as capitals are torched and entire nations laid to waste by innumerable hordes of Trollocs. The defense of human lands quickly degrades into a struggle to survive as humanity's leaders are undercut by the hidden influence of the Forsaken. Each of the principal heroes from the early parts of The Wheel of Time has a time to shine, bringing the story full circle, and one new addition has a significant number of pages dedicated to the struggle faced by Rand's successors at the Black Tower.

With reluctance and the haste of necessity, the forces of the Light make allegiance with the enigmatic Seanchan, whose very way of life is an affront to the White Tower. All of humanity sets aside its differences to make a final stand upon the Field of Merrilor.

Unlike the precision with which earlier books carefully followed travel times and offered cues which allowed the timing of events in one locale to be compared to the next, the author uses a convenient explanation of time dilation radiating outward from Shayol Ghul to cause the final confrontations in all locales to take place simultaneously, but at different rates of progression. The battles leading to Merrilor last weeks, while Rand’s confrontation lasts less than a day. This effect is mostly due to the Dark One's touch on the world, yet it could be argued that as Tel'aran'rhiod disintegrates, its relativistic temporal properties are transferring in some fashion to the waking world. It offers the author immense freedom to allow events in any locale to unfold as needed with as much or as little detail as seen fit to include. In particular, it allows three key events to occur at precisely the same time, forming the cornerstone moment around which the rest of the book is centred. The rapid changes in point of view are essential to the build up to that key moment, and are more appropriate here than in the preceding novels. The result is a magnificent and emotional resolution to several pivotal characters’ story arcs, and offers an unforgettable climax to a gruelling build up of tension.

Rand battles the Dark One on a previously unimaginable scale, wielding the force of creation itself, literally able to remake the world as he sees fit. His conflict is not only against the Dark One, but against himself, as even at this late stage he has yet to fully embrace the lessons others have tried to impart upon him. Matching the reality-altering consequences of Rand’s choices to aspects of his character keeps the scale grand even as his battle is personal and intimate. The Last Battle is truly about Rand choosing what kind of man he will be.

The central tenet of the series is well represented in Rand’s reluctant allegiance with the hated Seanchan, his late realization that destroying the Dark One is as bad as letting him win, and in several characters defeating the potential hate and mistrust in their hearts by compromising and accepting alternate points of view.  The absolutism represented by Padan Fain is thus defeated, and so he is dispatched just as simply as each character in turn chooses not to win at any cost, even preferring to lose than change who they are and what they stand for.

Keeping with my ongoing comparison of the series to American history, Fain is akin to the nuclear era, the scorched earth doctrine, the possibility of wielding power enough to destroy oneself along with the enemy just for the sake of defeating them at any cost. Embracing Fain’s philosophy carries heavy consequences.

The concluding pages offer a couple of unexplained mysteries regarding a mysterious woman and Rand’s new ability. For these I offer my suggestion that his mother spoke with him one last time before he entered adulthood, and that Rand’s ability is a literal representation that a man guided by his conscience and his duty can accomplish anything. This new power is the story’s final message, in line with the themes expressed in both this book and the earlier books in the story, and as with many of the story elements readers have grappled with over the years, it is subtle enough to invoke much debate.

A Memory of Light is fulfilling in every way I hoped, surprising me, delivering on promises, shining with heroism and dripping with sacrifice. It has taken me a year to read and reread it and comprehend its magnitude, and its deep personal meaning to me. I don’t want it to be over. Of course, there are no endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time…

Writing Lessons:

End your story right after the critical moment by foreshadowing less important epilogue elements earlier in the story.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

A Memory of Light - Epilogue

In this final section, glimmers of the future are shown and loose threads are tied up.

Rand’s quest ended on exactly the last page of the story, and the epilogue has a scant sixteen pages to wrap up many loose ends, which it does quite successfully.

Rand is blind and burdened with weight. After escaping the Pit of Doom, Rand realizes an unfamiliar woman is kneeling next to him, guiding him on what to do. The major clue to her identity comes in the following paragraph with the juxtaposition of two ideas in successive sentences: He blinked, his vision fuzzy. Was that Aiel clothing? An old woman with gray hair? Her form retreated, and Rand reached toward her, not wanting to be alone. Wanting to explain himself. Rand not wanting to be alone refers to his attaining adulthood, which firms up the link with his mother, Shaiel. She is offering him final words of encouragement as he enters the world alone, and he is expressing his final regrets about leaving the dependence of childhood behind. It is reasonable that the last to let go of a child who grows into a man is his mother, and since there has been much ado over Rand’s father figures, it is appropriate for his mother to have her brief time on the page as well.

Shaiel’s death was only ever confirmed by Tam, and that came in a fever-dream. If she somehow survived Rand’s birth, it seems implausible that a woman of her renown could have returned to Aiel society without being recognized. She might have intentionally lived alone in the wilderness for two decades, if so motivated by Gitara’s original Foretelling. More likely is that she is a Hero of the Horn, which explains her appearance in Aiel garb and her apparent knowledge about what Rand should do. It does not however explain her appearance at Aviendha’s side when she was tested at Rhuidean, if she is the same woman, as seems likely.

Rand ambiguously reveals what he asked the Aelfinn. Rand had asked the Aelfinn how to win the Last Battle and survive, and the answer had been “The north and the east must be as one. The south and west must be as one. The two must be as one. To live you must die.” Given that this is the moment where Rand is dying, his newfound understanding of how to live and die could be what he is explaining to the Aiel woman, but the link is tenuous. His second question on how to cleanse the taint from saidin has been resolved. Was Rand’s third question to ask what his fate was and receive the answer ‘to choose’?

 “I see the answer now,” he whispered. “I asked the Aelfinn the wrong question. To choose is our fate. If you have no choice, then you aren’t a man at all. You’re a puppet…” 

The concept of free will has been present since the beginning of the series, and the revelation of Rand’s third answer from the Aelfinn at this late point in the story infuses the concept with even more importance. While the Wheel forces Rand to come to a certain place at a certain time, it cannot force him to do anything; it can present him with choices, but can’t compel him to choose one path over another. Even when the choice is to die or take another action, it remains a choice.

In the same Mat paragraph, the pleasantness of the sun is contrasted with the stinking blackness of Fain’s body. Mat wins every gamble he takes, yet even he won’t touch the cursed Shadar Logoth dagger. As the most reckless character, Mat is associated with the most instinctual behaviour, and he clearly rejects the path set out by Fain. Believing that the end justifies the means is the gamble that can’t be won; there is no way to preserve yourself when you start down that line of reasoning. The final phrase’s use of mess carries psychologically symbolic meaning: Behind, the dagger, ruby and all, melted away into the mess that had been Padan Fain. Again, this idea that absolutism is bad has been incorporated into the series from a very early point, and is reinforced by its placement here at the end of the story.

Perrin surveys the losses and celebration of victory in the camp, still worrying about his duty to protect Rand. He sees Rand dying in the tent, with the two best healers unable to prevent him dying. Perrin stands equal with Nynaeve: “Dogs obey that command, Nynaeve,” Perrin said, “not wolves.” He consoles her over Egwene’s death. Moridin is also in the tent, dying. Lan also sees Perrin as an equal. No one has seen Faile.

Loial’s walk through the camp, like Perrin’s, allows a couple of small plots to be resolved, including succession to a throne, naming surviving Aes Sedai, and planting straightforward clues to something odd: None of Rand’s loves seems to care that Rand is dying. Amusingly, Loial frets over the correct way to record dates after the Last Battle, an indication that with the Last Battle done, concerns are swiftly turning back to the everyday and mundane.

Mat is renowned amongst the Sharans, but when he calls the fireworks display the best in the history of “my land or yours”, he reveals that he does not see himself as one of his wife’s people. For Mat, being off the hook seems to imply he is free to leave. Tuon’s threat makes it clear that Mat can choose to do whatever he wants, but there will be consequences if he angers his wife. It is a ridiculous and funny predicament to leave him in at the close of the story.

Perrin faces the insurmountable task of finding Faile’s body amongst the hundreds of thousands of dead. Exhausted, he falls into sleep.

Moghedien has survived the Last Battle and no one knows that she lives. She too is free to act as she chooses with the Dark One imprisoned again, and she begins by strangling a worker and assuming her appearance. She thinks she can rule the world within a few years. Her own subterfuge works against her as a sul’dam captures her and deduces from her skulking that Moghedien will not be missed after she is dragged back to serve the Seanchan. Her poor selfish choices dictated her fate.

Nynaeve announces Rand’s death. She tries to corner Aviendha and bully her into revealing why she doesn’t seem upset, but Aviendha deflects her question. Aviendha, always representing Rand’s past, has been wounded and will never fight again, another metaphor of his having grown into adulthood. The fate of the Aiel, and of a couple of kings is revealed in passing.

When Perrin was last in Tel’aran’rhiod, Dragonmount was drawing near Shayol Ghul as the world shrank and large portions of it were destroyed and pulled up into the sky. That damage has seemingly been repaired with Rand’s victory. Perrin travels easily across the countryside as a wolf, lamenting his loss, struggling to understand why he has lost Faile when he did everything his duty compelled him to do. A clue draws him to Faile, whose wounds are healed in moments with Perrin’s creative use of the Wolf Dream to bring her back to the camp quickly. Their reunion is immensely rewarding despite its brevity, and also shows that Perrin’s decision to follow duty was well made.  Perhaps brevity is what makes this scene work; after having tormented the reader with doubt that Faile survived, once she is healed what further point is there in saying anything beyond ‘they lived happily ever after’?

Birgitte asks Elayne a blunt question in the same vein as that which Nynaeve posed to Aviendha, and gets a noncommittal response. She tweaks Elayne’s nose by telling her Olver and the Horn have been sent away, which Elayne recognizes was the best outcome for all. With a mature outlook, she agrees that there is little need to keep a powerful instrument of war such as the Horn as a deterrent. Birgitte is being reborn, and it turns out her interpretation of Gaidal as a young child somewhere out there was correct. Birgitte too gets her reward of being with the one she loves.

Tam notes signs of life in Shayol Ghul, a place that was once feared above all others. He reflects on what all humanity has been given by his son, how all men stand equal: In the evening, even with his light, it was hard to tell Aiel from Aes Sedai, Two Rivers man from Tairen king. All were shapes in the night, saluting the body of the Dragon Reborn. Tam stands next to Moiraine and Thom, pride and reverence in his heart.

Min stands with her two friends watching Rand’s body burn. Her Viewing fulfilled, they discuss the future and she nods agreement to the idea that they will make sure that the world believes Rand is gone. Leading toward the final revelation, she senses her bond pulsing stronger each moment.

Rand awakens alone, rested, healthy, and whole. The mirror shows Moridin's face, with a single saa held motionless in his eye, representing that Rand will always be able to see things with a bit of the Shadow's nihilistic or selfish point of view. But that dark viewpoint is held motionless; Rand will know it, but it will not drive him or affect him, he is in control. In effect, he now has a mature outlook on life, no longer carefree or innocent, one which acknowledges a wider array of possibilities, both good and bad.

Alivia has left him clothing and money, and a horse as means of transportation. He has Laman's sword. Shayol Ghul is blooming and full of life. From a distance he watches as his old body - Moridin's body now - is cremated. He leaves as the onlookers watch his funeral pyre. All but one whom he acknowledges with a nod of his head before heeling the horse away.

From that, Cadsuane deduces that inexplicably, Rand is in Moridin's body. She thinks she may be able to use this information in some unexplained fashion, but then is ambushed by four Sitters. They have decided that Cadsuane will be the new Amyrlin. This is quite appropriate, as Cadsuane has closely represented the Light itself, and now the Light is being forced to take up the responsibility of caring for humanity, the logical outcome of Rand choosing Light over Shadow. It is also the logical outcome of filling the void left by Rand’s death, for he would have been the obvious choice to lead the world under the Light. There will be no further abdication of leadership by the Light, no further manipulation of Rand, for Cadsuane and the Light have a more direct role to play in shepherding humanity.

Rand sees the world with a hint of Shadow, but has acknowledged the Light, and no one has impeded his departure. He has everything he needs, and is now completely free, with no restrictions over him from any person or agent.

Representing this ultimate freedom, he lights his pipe by thought alone, a matter of willing it to be so, just as if he were in Tel'aran'rhiod. The choice of a pipe in this symbolic act is appropriate, since smoking is often portrayed as a deliberate act of defiance and freedom in today's world. He inspected it for a moment in the darkness, then thought of the pipe being lit. And it was. This scene potently completes Rand's evolution from an uncertain youth into a grown man who can now literally do anything he puts his mind to.

While Rand embodies this new Power, and may be unique in using it, the story in its entirety implies that with the right driving forces and moral bearings to guide someone, they too can manipulate reality and get what they want. For physical explanation, the most logical is that some characteristics of Tel’aran’rhiod now exist in the waking world, and Rand is the first, perhaps only one, to have unlocked the secret of using them. Or perhaps Rand unlocked the secret for everyone, and the ultimate choice of what each person will do with it comprises their own eventual personal Last Battle.

Rand wonders which of his three lovers will follow, and which he might pick. As his past, present, and future, he is completely unable to pick one over the others; they are all a part of him. He can't leave his past behind (Aviendha), he can't simply live for the moment (Elayne) and he can't only dream about the future (Min).

With his newfound freedom, Rand is pleased to have the leisure to explore and experience the world as he sees fit. Funnily, he sees the royal trappings of powerful rulers he has seen as just one thing out of many to experience, not as the end point that many of the Forsaken sought. The final wind that rises showcases the duality that pervades Rand’s mental state and so much of the story: The wind rose high and free, to soar in an open sky with no clouds. It passed over a broken landscape scattered with corpses not yet buried. A landscape covered, at the same time, with celebrations. It tickled the branches of trees that had finally begun to put forth buds. The wind blew southward, through knotted forests, over shimmering plains and towards lands unexplored.

Writing Lessons:

Keep the story alive in your reader’s mind by inciting them to imagine what happens next.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

A Memory of Light - Chapters 44-49

In this section, Rand defeats the Dark One.

Perrin awakens after the battle is done. He argues with Chiad about why she won’t bend the rules for gai’shain, given that it is the Last Battle. “What good is honor if the Dark One wins the Last Battle?” Perrin snapped, pulling up his trousers. “It is everything,” Chiad said softly. “It is worth death, it is worth risking the world itself. If we have no honor, better that we lose.”

Perrin’s surrogate father Master Luhhan comes to check on Perrin’s health, and formally acknowledges that Perrin has grown into a man, one he is quite proud of.  Upon learning of Fain’s role in the murder of Perrin’s family, Luhhan says “What? Are you certain?” Questioning the truth of Perrin’s statement is odd on the heels of everything else Luhhan said. The author could easily have substituted other incredulous statements such as “The Peddler? How did you learn this?” or “Fain? How could he?” Either of these would have supported Luhhan’s faith in Perrin and allowed further discussion of the Whitecloaks, or even segued into Fain’s nature, which would surely have been useful since Fain’s appearance is imminent.

Masuri offers to Heal Perrin, but she must first confess and receive Perrin’s absolution for her actions with the Prophet. This again presents Perrin as a fully grown man of power and moral character, standing in judgment of high-ranking figures. His character arc is now complete.  

Thom protects the entrance to Shayol Ghul, sitting in for the author since they have the same concerns about how to describe the events unfolding around them. These pages offer a peek directly into the author’s mind as he wrote this final chapter of the Wheel of Time. ‘Epic’, ‘momentous’, ‘climactic’, ‘perilous’ and ‘terrifying’ aren’t right, but he eventually settles on ‘exquisite’. That’s a wonderful word to describe completing this epic.

Mat gets a Gateway opened to bring him near Shayol Ghul. Bringing Olver is part of the tugging he feels, but there is more, some greater role he must play.

Shaisam is a new name for Padan Fain, which means Destroyer of the Shadow. Shaisam is a creature vaster and far more powerful than before, living in every tendril of mist. And no wonder, for Rand’s intent to destroy the Shadow is greater than ever before. Shaisam kills friend and foe indiscriminately, for only one thing matters to him. As much as killing Rand and the Dark One balance each other as goals, he can accomplish both by rooting himself deep in Rand’s breast, in a host which can destroy one enemy and be destroyed in the process. Even now as the end approaches, there is a vagueness to Shaisam’s motivations, since the author has never, even now, come right out and explained them directly. This deliberate sidestepping of a key fact that provides context has been used throughout the series, and has provided the most fertile ground for fan theorizing, for both good and ill.

Gaul and the wolves defend the entrance to the Pit of Doom against Slayer in Tel’aran’rhiod. Perrin arrives, then Slayer monologues to fill in plot and character gaps. Seeing the look in his friend’s eyes,  Gaul senses it’s time to skedaddle.

Mat flies a to’raken into the valley of Thakan’dar, and senses Fain in the mist below. He crashes, and Olver blows the Horn. The clouds above form the ancient sign of the Aes Sedai, reflecting that Rand stands even with the Dark One at the moment.

Rand re-enters the Pattern, and swipes Callandor at Moridin. He tells Moridin that he doesn’t matter any more. Moridin responds by flinging a knife at Alanna.

Nynaeve’s herbs gave Alanna enough awareness to release the bond. This is a symbol of Rand being free of what Alanna represents. Since she bonded him forcefully, it simply means Rand is free of influence, and is free to choose his path. His ploy foiled, Moridin stabs his own hand causing Rand pain through the bond they share, and Rand drops Callandor, losing access to the torrents of the One Power it provides.

Perrin and Slayer battle, flipping between worlds. Perrin recently became a full-fledged adult in Luhhan’s eyes, and is therefore more confident and more sure of his identity than ever before. He has the confidence to truly unleash his fury on Slayer, and also has superior control over Tel’aran’rhiod. The killing blow sends Perrin spinning through Mirror Worlds. Unlike his past experience with the Portal Stones, when he saw variations of himself, in this instance all versions of Perrin act the same, and achieve the same victory as a result. All possibilities collapsed into one, the one where Perrin knows exactly who he is. Perrin brings survivors of the battle to the cave entrance to defend against the Darkhounds. Even as they face certain death, hope springs about them in the form of growing plants. The Horn summons wolf Heroes as well as human to fill out their ranks, and the odds are no longer so grim.

Mat approaches Perrin, who is concerned about Faile. Mat lies and offers Perrin hope, for what else could he say? As he reveals Fain’s presence, Mat is stabbed through the chest by Fain’s tendril. Mat’s death is so sudden in comparison to Egwene’s, and the manner of it so final based on all prior evidence, that readers are likely to be shocked out of the complacency that has been building since the Shadow was routed at Merrilor.

Aviendha holds off Graendal’s shield. She takes a chance, unraveling her Gateway despite that the effects are unpredictable, and may not help her at all. Graendal casts her Compulsion just as the Gateway explodes. Aviendha actually made a mistake in her haste, picking the wrong thread, which is a poor turn of phrase since she would have to botch the unweaving deliberately in order to have a chance of achieving the effect she is looking for. The threat of Compulsion is terrifying, and enthralls the reader with the horrible story possibilities that may come about if it succeeds.

Fain comes across Mat, who is not dead after all. Mat grabs Fain by the throat and stabs him with the dagger. Fain and Mordeth die, and not coincidentally, this embodiment of the all-consuming desire to achieve the end goal at any cost meets its demise just before Rand makes his decision on how to defeat the Dark One for good. Mat’s explanation that if you catch a disease you cannot catch it a second time is an awkward introduction of modern medical knowledge into the story in an attempt to have the reader accept this unforeseen immunity. Perhaps Mat is merely paraphrasing what the Amyrlin told him after he was healed of the dagger’s influence, or what Nynaeve has told him at some point, but the wording used suggests a strong level of in-world familiarity with disease that just hasn’t been featured before. Taking out the word ‘disease’ and having Mat speak in terms of his own immunity rather than a general statement about illnesses would have been more believable.

Perrin abandoned Mat on a gut feeling from the look Mat gave him. ‘Look’ may not have been the best word, given that Mat only has one eye, but the meaning is understood. Interestingly, Perrin had no angst about leaving Mat whereas he has wrung his hands over many of his friends and followers throughout the series. It is partly his newfound maturity, partly that he is more concerned with Rand here and now than he can allow himself to be for anyone else, even Faile. Perrin finds Gaul and returns him to Merrilor to rest. Then, acting against his desire to seek out Faile, he returns to guard Rand’s back yet again.

Moridin picks up Callandor and attempts to channel with it, falling into Rand’s trap. Moiraine and Nynaeve, duty and conscience, take control of Moridin, then link with Rand. Rand is shielded from any taint by combining the powers and using Moridin’s link to touch the True Power. The three powers are combined and wielded against the Dark One, turning the Dark One’s own power on himself. Rand holds him fast in a gauntlet of Power. In terms of Rand’s identity, he is turning doubt and negativity against his own doubt and negativity, looking at them with scorn and dismissal.

The following sections together show how Rand’s final victory and assertion of his identity affect the world. Rand’s past, present and future all figure, as well as his chronicler, and his successor.

Elayne surveys the carnage. The nearby plateau collapses, like the foundation of Rand’s old identity.  The bond lets her sense Rand’s strength, control and domination. She sees a beam of light far to the north, marking the end.

Thom sees the light up close. If Thom still represents the author, then he is in awe of the ending.

Min sees a brilliant lance of light, clearing the clouds. The wounded shield their eyes from the bright future Rand is making.

Aviendha sees the light and senses Rand winning, and it revives her. Graendal has been self-compelled by the unraveling gateway and begs to serve Aviendha. Since Aviendha represents the past, this is an indication that reverence for tradition and memory of this light and what it means are part of what the future holds.

Logain lost his prize in the collapse of the Heights, but saved the refugees, and they accept and welcome him, aspire to have their children join him. The Asha’man are no longer cursed for Lews Therin’s sins, but are seen as talented for Rand’s redemption of those sins. The light reminds Logain of his duty. He breaks the seals, another symbol of the old making way for the new.

Perrin sees the light in Tel’aran’rhiod, and observes the World of Dreams disintegrating and collapsing. Dragonmount is being drawn towards Shayol Ghul, all points coalescing into one, and then this realm of possibility will be gone. This was an unexpected development, which pertains to Rand’s transformation.

Perrin encounters Lanfear in the cavern. Her words still carry a sense of wonder that leads us to think she’s on the good side. “It is the end. Something amazing just happened. This might be the most important moment for humankind since we opened the Bore.” Perrin is compelled by Lanfear to help her kill Nynaeve and Moiraine, yet he resists. Lanfear has been working towards her true objective all along, at whatever cost. This is a trait shared by all of the Forsaken, the Mordeth-like motivation to do anything at all to achieve their heart’s desire.  Focusing on Faile, a far more powerful motivation than any dislike of Moiraine, Perrin’s will is stronger than Lanfear’s mere Compulsion weave. In Tel’aran’rhiod, this means he is able to reassert his identity and change himself back to the way he should be. He kills Lanfear, yet still loves her, she who represents the thirst for glory and power. Perrin may still want those things in some fashion, but not at the expense of the one he loves most.

The Dark One is freed yet cannot escape as Rand has him clutched tightly. He sees the Dark One as pitiful, tiny, insignificant, and above all, a liar. Rand pulls the Dark One into the Pattern, where he can be killed. But before he can kill him, Rand remembers that the vision he created with no Dark One was no better. Realizing his error, he thrusts the Dark One back outside of the Pattern and reforges the prison using braided saidar and saidin in a pure form and the True Power to keep the Dark One’s touch at bay by shielding the Bore.

He understood, finally, that the Dark One was not the enemy. It never had been. Rand’s own heart was the only enemy that could harm him, for as all the heroes have learned, ultimately, whatever befalls them is by their own choice.

Moiraine pulls Nynaeve out of the cavern. Looking back, she sees silhouettes of Rand and Moridin, Light and Shadow, vanish in the all consuming light. The last thing she sees, the last words which end the book, is the Bore being closed, a metaphor for Rand locking away in his heart the Dark One and the dark desires and ambitions he promotes, never to torment him again.

Writing Lessons:

End your story on a high note, right after the critical moment. 

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A Memory of Light - Chapters 38-43

In this section, in the most critical scene of the book, Rand can’t win by himself

Rand sees Lan fall, reinforcing the fact of his apparent death. Through Egwene’s voice, he is reminded that the responsibility was not his, it belonged to Lan himself. Rand could easily have imagined Egwene’s voice in his head, but her recent death adds some doubt as to its nature. Rand changes the purpose of his list of names, from one of victims, to one of heroes, who died for causes they believed to be noble. Relieved of guilt, he finds his strength returned.

Just as Rand is no longer pridefully taking responsibility for the actions of others, the author flips back to the battlefield as the Sharan princess shrieks that Bao the Wyld is dead. The six line interjection reveals little, its main purpose is in the symbolism of Rand’s pride being removed, since Demandred embodied pride. 

Refusing to give in, ever, Rand begins to see the Dark One for what he really is. The Dark One’s attacks lost meaning. If they could not make him yield, if they could not make him relent, then what were they? The author breaks Rand’s confrontation into very short sections, shuffling them between other perspectives which ever so slowly reveal what is happening. Rapid flashes between characters works well to slow down the action at this critical juncture, and may not have worked so well with the traditional Robert Jordan long section in a single point of view. Could the traditional Robert Jordan long section approach even have been used for the Last Battle? Or would he have opted for breaks as shown here, mimicking the breakdown of the Pattern itself?

With Demandred dead, Mat raises a cheer for Malkier, which the soldiers eagerly take up. The Sharans are stunned by the news, and the heroes have a resurgence of hope.

Rand’s voice switches to all caps, an indication that he is now on even footing with the Dark One. Adding in a few explanatory details to tie up loose ends, he states that even though the story has centered on him, it is really about all of his friends and acquaintances, about everyone. It is about their common desire to fight on no matter the circumstances, to stand when they should be broken. The Dark One taunts Rand with Lan’s death. Rand holds the whole world in his hands as his conflict magnifies its focus on Merrilor.

Mat strains to gain an upper hand, and hears the Dark One in his head. The Dark One’s titles for the heroes attempt to diminish them, and continue to show the overriding pessimism in his every thought and action. Arganda mirrors that pessimism with his perpetual negative outlook. Mat has never had a better chance to win this, he just needs an opening to give him some momentum.

Rand tells the Dark One he is wrong…

Olver raises the Horn to his lips…

Mat hears Rand’s voice now too. Everyone can hear it. Three critical and emotionally resounding elements combine: Rand shouts “That man still fights!”, Lan rises with Demandred’s severed head, and  the Horn Of Valere resounds across the battlefield. It is a potent combination and is likely the core scene that everything else was built to support during the writing of the book.

For a brief moment, Elayne remains in peril, until Birgitte returns to save her. Her perfectly timed arrival is heralded by an arrow to Mellar’s chest followed by another to the head. She announces the arrival of the Heroes, and it feels awesome.

Mat takes advantage of any superstitious or cowardly hesitation on the part of the Shadow to lead a charge. The contrast between humanity’s desire to fight even unto death and the Trollocs’ instinctive desire to avoid death helps explain away much of the battle’s details. Any parts which get skipped over can be explained by a stereotyping statement which the reader is all too eager to embrace, as they are riding high on a wave of relief and excitement. Mat meets Hawkwing, swears at him, laments women like Nynaeve, and leers at a female Hero, all in keeping with his character even as the inner workings of Horn sounding are explained.

Noal comes back for Olver, providing a warm response to all the loss and death. He had lost so many people, but one of them… one… had come back for him. This links directly back to the idea that when both Manetheren and Malkier fell, no one had come to their aid. Olver’s salvation shows that this time, help came, and that made all the difference.

Elayne joins the fight against the Darkfriends, and following a brief attempt to keep her out of the larger battle, she and Birgitte go to battle, together. Birgitte is overjoyed her memories have returned.

Aviendha meets Elyas as the Wild Hunt streams into the valley. Before she can gather channelers to repel the Darkhounds, she senses Graendal and summons Cadsuane and Amys. Outnumbered and outmatched by Graendal’s circle, it is Aviendha’s original ability to stalk silently that protects her until her allies arrive.

Elayne joins the fight waving a sword to little effect other than the inspiration it offers her soldiers. By putting herself in danger and taking up the battle directly, as one of them, her soldiers feel they have no choice but to return to the fray.

Demandred’s death is the card upon which Mat is ready to bet everything. He still faces ten to one odds in numbers, but the enemy is in disarray. Mat faces a desperate fight to push the Sharans off the heights into the Trollocs below, and just as he most needs them, the Seanchan join the fight, flying through Gateways in the air to assault the Shadow below and marching in rhythm onto the Heights. Having Mat imagine and predict the Seanchan movements once gain saves the author from having to explain or show it in any detail.  A mysterious detail is presented, leaving the reader to wonder what other trick Mat has in store.

Grady follows Mat’s orders without understanding them. His Gateway to Hinderstap allows the same people, cursed by a bubble of evil, to make use of that very curse to surprise their foes. With the Dreadlords down, Grady bursts the dam, releasing the river Mora.

Androl wants to hunt the Dreadlords instead of pursuing Logain’s quest for sa’angreal. He and Pevara concoct a plan.

Moghedien impersonates Demandred to rally the Sharans, having apparently practiced impersonating each of the other Forsaken, which explains several peculiar orders from Forsaken throughout the series. Moghedien now has full access to the True Power, and uses her advantage by ordering the death of the meekest and weakest on the field of battle.  A gateway opens and Dragons fire on her.

Talmanes enjoys firing dragons to kill the Trollocs from a hidden location.

At Shayol Ghul, the storm is out of control, unleashing lightning on friend and foe alike. The fabric of reality is breaking down as a grand bubble of evil envelops the valley. Aviendha notices Trollocs fighting each other and an odd mist which heralds Padan Fain. The clouds above form the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai, and other impossible signs portend Rand’s conquest of his foe. As she creeps towards Graendal, she is attacked and kills her foe Rhuarc, seeming to contradict her earlier belief that any of her former allies would rather die than be used by the Shadow.

Dreadlords bicker amongst themselves and are tricked into following Androl’s imitation of Rand into a stedding. Mishraile expresses the only overt sexism that I can recall in the series, scoffing at the notion that a woman could be placed above him when the entire world is rife with examples of women leading men.

The Ogier will attempt a few decades of stedding-derived therapy to rehabilitate their new captives. Returning to the battlefield,  Androl and his friends find Trollocs slaughtering refugees and wounded.

Aviendha recovers from the shock of killing her former clan chief. Aviendha is wounded as she leaps into the air and plunges her spear into Graendal’s side, disappearing along with her as she Travels.

Logain feels threatened and seeks a sa’angreal to keep him powerful, and feels intense paranoia that others are trying to tear him down. Androl tells him of the Trollocs slaughtering the weak. Logain must choose between gaining strength or protecting the weak.

Mat watches the Trolloc horde get split by the river, then decimated by Seanchan and resurgent armies, as he battles alongside the Heroes of the Horn. For about a page, the text feels like an omniscient narrator describing the entire field of battle, no matter where Mat was standing at the moment. Because the focus is exclusively on military matters and takes place in a Mat perspective, it is a little easier to accept. Had it been written from any other perspective than Mat’s or Rand’s, it would stand out even more as a large deviation from the accepted form of third person limited narrator.

Mat asks Artur Hawkwing to speak with Tuon on his behalf while he goes to Rand’s aid. Perfectly placed punchline at the end of the section.

Rand speaks in all caps, like the Dark One, and reveals that nobility will always beat him, that death is no threat, and that he has never inspired love in any one. The Dark One sputters in response. Rand hurls himself into the blackness to bring Shai’tan’s death.

Aviendha can barely fend off Graendal. Isolated from her allies, she is able to open a Gateway before Graendal takes control of the situation, cutting off Aviendha’s possible attempt to kill herself before being enthralled by Compulsion. Graendal isn’t in great shape, but Aviendha can’t even keep hold of her belt knife.

Writing Lessons:

Design your story around the most important scenes.

Friday, 29 November 2013

A Memory of Light - Chapter 37 - Part 4

In this section, Lan fights the Last Battle.

Leane is about to order the retreat of the remaining Aes Sedai, until Egwene shows up, devastating the enemy with her sa’angreal. Even at this late stage of the story, two new Aes Sedai is named. As Keeper of the Chronicles for ten of the last twelve years, Leane has better reason than anyone to know every Aes Sedai’s name and face. Had she not named these two, it would have been out of place, and it would be equally out of place if readers only saw Aes Sedai they had already met.

Talmanes is leading the repair of the dragons. The return of the dragons offers some hope so it is well juxtaposed with Egwene’s return to the field of battle.

Faile chases Aravine and the Horn, riding barebacked on Bela, the mare who has carried many of the heroes throughout their adventures. Stalwart Bela has always been dependable, like her owner Tam. Bela represents the way Rand was raised, his foundation and moral compass that will always carry him through and help him bear his burdens, which is why she has never faltered. Faile appeals to Bela to give her all in the chase: Faile scrambled to Bela’s side, cutting free the saddle – and all of its burdens – with a few swipes of the knife. And then, “Run, Bela,” Faile said. “If you’ve kept any strength back, now is the time to use it. Please. Run, girl. Run.” Bela’s imminent death signals the end of the last vestiges of Rand’s childhood.  

Faile learns that Vanin and Harnan had just been hoping to steal back some tabac, not the Horn. They clear her a path, and she kills Aravine with a dagger in the back. Realizing there is no way she can escape her pursuers, she gives the Horn to Olver while she leads them away. She is certain they will kill her. The feeling of desperation is heavy, with Faile’s imminent death and this essential task passed into the hands of the meekest of heroes.  “I’m sorry to place this upon you, little one. There is no one else. You did well earlier; you can do this. Take the Horn to Mat or all is lost.”

Logain keeps the Seals and goes hunting for Demandred, his sa’angreal, and something to fill the void within him. Logain is one of the only remaining characters who has not yet completely joined one side or the other. While he opposes the Shadow, he feels no affinity for the Light.

Egwene leads her assault and encounters Mazrim Taim, the M’Hael.

Raen and Ila triage the dead and wounded. Raen wonders what alternative there is to fighting the Shadow, since Trollocs would never stop chasing them no matter where they ran. He decides he will not think quite so poorly of those who follow a different path. Though he did not ask anyone to sacrifice their life for his, he recognizes that they have made the sacrifice nonetheless.  Ila considers Raen’s words. When she sees but fails to recognize the Darkfriends who have infiltrated the civilians helping with the wounded, she begins to see the world in greys, not the stark black and white she has seen all these past years. Her strict adherence to a viewpoint which had only two polar opposites drove her grandson away. This rejection of strict moral boundaries is very similar to what Rand will soon come to understand.

Olver has been abandoned. He is chased into a crevice. Simple use of verbs and adjectives strongly convey how hopeless his situation is while retaining his childlike view of the world.

Alone. He’d been left alone again.

Olver whimpered.

No safety.

There were hundreds of them back there, chasing him.

The tantalizing hope of escape ends as Bela is shot dead by arrows. In a little cleft, Olver hides, with Trolloc claws tearing at his clothing. Take the Horn to Mat or all is lost. Can the reader have any doubt that the Horn will never reach Mat, and that all is indeed lost?

Logain attacks Demandred, but is quickly overpowered. He relies on his training to escape, and not only the power. He wonders how they will ever beat Demandred. He is the third to face the Forsaken, and third to fail. Perhaps they will lose unless Rand comes to their aid. The only thing which cuts through Logain’s frustration is the realization that his Aes Sedai Gabrelle actually was concerned for him.

Egwene overpowers Taim, but he escapes using the True Power. She ponders the nature of balefire. This is a second attempt to prepare the reader for Egwene’s surprise weave.

Hurin’s nose describes more violence than has ever been wrought. He manages to keep fighting, but the worst is yet to come. His own faith in Rand is the only certainty any of the characters feel.

Berelain has had to order that only those who can be saved may be tended, rationing the care of the wounded. She further must cajole the gai’shain into helping collect and tend the wounded. Berelain discovers Annoura has burned herself out as a sacrifice of atonement to bring Galad back to Mayene. This final kindness to restore a friendship before the end was one that brought tears to my eyes. For other readers it may have been this scene, or another, since they all build on waves of hopelessness, courage and redemption. Where they finally break through depends on the characters you identify with. The author makes excellent use of the most minor characters such as Ila, Annoura, Hurin, and others to prime the readers for what may be in store for their favourites.

Galad passes out before he can tell Berelain about the medallion.

Rand watches as friends and allies die. His ability to see the battle unfold in detail even while in an otherworldly dimension is an efficient way to compress many emotional moments into a small amount of text. Minor characters are dying, quickly. Now that they are out of the way, the author can move on to the main characters. The Dark One weaves…

Taim receives a loan of the sa’angreal Sarkanen. Egwene is commanded to be destroyed by balefire. Taim forces himself to think of himself as M’Hael. When Fortuona renamed Mat as Knotai, he made no similar effort despite acknowledging Karede’s insistence he go by that new name; he still thinks of himself as Mat. M’Hael’s forced effort to adopt the identity thrust upon him by another is contrary to how each of the Heroes has resisted changing their identity when it was dictated by others.

Elayne is attacked by mercenaries. Mellar’s control of her is displayed as Elayne is even denied the chance to spit in his face properly. He then kills Birgitte in a bloody and awful manner. The suddenness of her death is jarring, lacking any heroism, and emphasizes Elayne’s lack of options. Mellar even gets to brag about how good it felt. A substitute blonde corpse convinces her army that she is dead, so none know she is missing. Her children will be cut out of her and delivered to Shayol Ghul. This looks bad.

Rand receives the Dark One’s final offer to annihilate the world, eliminating pain suffering and existence itself. He can stop Elayne’s forced caesarean, end the violent deaths, and end the betrayals and the burdens. The Dark One offers suicide. Rand rejects the offer. He does not seek an end, he seeks a solution.

Min unmasks Moghedien using her ability to see Viewings. It is one of the only times when a character’s abilities trump their personality in overcoming an obstacle. In past examples, there has almost always been an overt decision or affirmation made by the character before the abilities or happenstance come into play. Nonetheless, it is rewarding to have a non-channeler such as Min best one of the Forsaken. The Seanchan will soon join the fray.

Egwene delivers destruction unto her enemies. Despite bonding Leilwin, she is distraught, and fueled by rage. In most circumstances this ends badly for an Aes Sedai, and her suicidal frontal assault would normally end poorly, if not for the entirety of the White Tower’s channelers providing defense while she recklessly advances.

The use of balefire in large quantities is shown to have the expected effects, but in such a chaotic battle, there is no use in dissecting the chain of events that has been rewritten. This provides some cover to the author, who is free to dictate what has happened and what hasn’t, with no further explanation. Egwene discovers a new weave, as she has done in the past, yet the explanation feels contrived and I wonder if less explanation may have been more convincing than this blaze of illogic: Two sides to every coin. Two halves to the Power. Hot and cold, light and dark, woman and man. If a weave exists, so must its opposite.

The counter-weave to balefire and Egwene’s death have deeper meaning. M’Hael sought to undo Egwene, erasing her from existence. Egwene represents Rand’s childhood. She needed to die so that he could truly pass from childhood to adulthood. The manner of her death by balefire would represent that Rand had forever lost his childhood ideals and the love of the community that raised him. With Egwene’s final assertion, embodied in the new weave, she instead protects that childhood, stopping its erasure, preserving it for Rand to draw upon in times of need.  

Rand gets very angry at Egwene’s death. THE DEAD ARE MINE. I WILL KILL THEM ALL, ADVERSARY. Rand feels her loss like part of him has been cut away. He remembers all his failures.

Leane discovers Egwene is gone, and a crystal column stands in her place, that will likely stand forever. The balefire damage has been repaired. Word of the Amyrlin’s demise begins to travel.

Berelain hears a whisper from her beloved Galad “…Hope…”, and she rushes out to return Mat’s medallion. Once again, I am impressed how even the least powerful characters have essential roles to play, and could easily have carried a story on their own.

Mat learns Egwene has eliminated almost all the enemy channelers, leaving a battle between armies. And Demandred.  He has no brilliant strategy to give Lan, asking him to check on reserves from Mayene. He calls on his luck, and receives word Elayne is dead, which is fitting as she represents both the present and the gleaming promise of civilization itself. Andor and the Queen have always been foremost among humanity’s champions. Mat delivers orders to Tuon and Talmanes, his last reserves. Mat can’t win, but he fights on anyway, “Because I’ll be a Darkfriend before I’ll let this battle go without trying everything, 
Arganda.” As Mat makes his final preparations, Lan has gone on to fight Demandred alone.

Trollocs tear at Olver. He stands in for all humanity, enemies mercilessly clawing, the ground caving in on him, trapped with no hope of escape.

Loial must witness the fall of the last King of the Malkieri. Predicting his death with a reliable character works convincingly. All other opponents before have lost, why should Lan fare any better? Loial is trustworthy, which means Lan will die.

Tam sees Lan, a dim spark of Light in the Shadow: Tam almost lost Lan’s figure atop the midnight stallion, despite the bonfires burning on the Heights. Their light seemed feeble. He paves the way for Lan with a hail of fiery arrows. Lan’s spark alone can’t do it, but with a second to join with Lan’s? Rand’s father figures unite for a last desperate strike.

Lan intends to destroy Demandred, implausible as it seems. First he must get close, and even knowing the impossibility of it, he tries, and finds that Tam has come to his aid. Even as he nears his objective, he shows care for his horse by leaving its saddle, though it seems likely Mandarb would not stand idly by, and could end up just as dead. Lan offers no opening, shows no hesitation. There is no glory, no pride, no contest of equals. He is the man who will kill Demandred. Who then is Demandred? He is the man whose pride could not abide being less than first, who chose to gamble on being first for the Shadow’s cause, who traded ideals for a chance at prominence. Demandred is pride, and too much pride has been one of Rand’s weaknesses.

Min sees signs of the end, or so it seems. Once again she is a reliable character whose viewings are never wrong, and this confidence in her statements transfers easily to her opinions, which have also proven mostly correct. She represents the future, and she watches the lights flicker, the last embers of a fire that would soon be extinguished. She feels Rand tremble.

Rand thinks he has failed. In his pride he believes that all of these deaths were his fault, their lives were his responsibility. And then he remembers to let go. Rand has a role to play in people’s lives, but he does not bear final responsibility for everything that befalls them. He is there to give them a chance to choose who they will be, and how they will stand, or fall.

Lan calls himself just a man, which is why he succeeds when the prince of Andor, the Dragon’s Brother, and the leader of the Black Tower all failed. While the medallion and swordsmanship allow him to stand on almost equal terms with Demandred, it is his dedication to what he stands for and understanding of who he is and the battle that he fights that allows him to anticipate his enemy’s moves, whether with sword or the One Power. Mirroring what he taught Rand near the beginning of the series, Lan impales himself on Demandred’s sword, immobilizing it, then drives his own blade into Demandred’s throat. He never cared about winning as Demandred did, so full of pride. A tie is all he needed. He came to do what needed to be done, and he slays false pride. He quotes “Death is light as a feather”, sends his love to Nynaeve and dies.

The Last Battle is apparently over, and surprisingly, it was not Rand’s, but Lan’s.

Writing Lessons:

 The identity and reputation of the character delivering the message matter as much as the message itself.