(Sorry for the long delay, life intervened... how did I ever maintain this pace last year?)
In this section, the Black Tower plotline is resolved!
Contrary to established rules, it is now possible to enter Tel’aran’rhiod from the Blight, which is explained with the mild observation that barriers are weakening between worlds. Importantly, it will allow Perrin, Lanfear, and Slayer to later interact with Rand at Shayol Ghul while they are in Tel’aran’rhiod. While the story is rife with examples of impossible things becoming reality, when the author starts tweaking rules which remove well established restrictions, there is a chance that readers will find it too convenient to be believable. This is overcome to some degree by simply establishing that a change in rules has taken place, with no commitment towards it being of benefit or detriment to the heroes.
Perrin not only feels he has to stay near Rand, but also needs to investigate dangers to Rand, appointing himself as a sort of bodyguard. While it was expected that Perrin might take on this role, it was both thrilling and surprising to see Gaul join him. So they set off to the Black Tower where Lanfear makes an appearance. Two opposing ideas are now associated with her. The first is her obsessive thirst for power and prestige, which Perrin recalls quite well, and is wary of. The second is the recent idea of her coming back to the Light, as introduced through her dialogue with Rand. Due to the elements of Eve and Pandora I identified in her mythical roots, I am predisposed to her seeking or gaining redemption. The nearly equal weighting of these ideas adds to the mystery around her goals, indicating she could go either way and no one would be surprised. “I chose my master. This is my price – unless I can find a way free of it.” Whatever she is after, she achieves it by helping Perrin, allowing him to remove a dreamspike at a very opportune moment.
The coincidental timing of Perrin’s actions is a little hard to accept, but the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, and that logic-defying clause allows the author to push the limits of coincidence in a manner that is explainable, if not entirely satisfactory.
Androl’s Talent for Gateways allowed him to make a miniscule Gateway over a very short distance even when the dreamspike was activated. The small Gateway he uses to catch Taim’s balefire presumably also only carried it a very short distance. Perrin’s deactivation of the dreamspike then frees Androl to make Gateways of any size, and he uses some exciting techniques to devastate Taim’s cronies and send two Forsaken running. After such an intense build-up, the resolution is nothing but satisfaction. Importantly, Androl and the other Asha’man have claimed their own freedom, usurping control from Taim with no observable outside help.
Androl isn’t the only character whose desperate actions amazingly bear fruit. Rand did the same on several occasions, notably at the end of The Eye of the World, when he thrice appealed to the Light to intercede and save him, and then was able to regain control of the situation. Androl makes no such appeal for deliverance, instead drawing on his defiance and will to displace the barrier which prevents his Gateways from forming. Why does this work?
The simple explanation is that time runs differently in Tel’aran’rhiod, and Perrin’s deactivation of the dreamspike is mirrored over a longer time frame in the waking world.
A different explanation requires delving into Androl’s character and the reason for his Talent. Androl is a dreamer and a searcher, and has traveled far and wide across the world trying to find the elusive conditions that will give him closure and peace. He may have traveled to more places and tried more paths in life than almost every other character. He knows himself as much as he knows the places he has been. Androl’s Talent and lack of ability in other areas is therefore a metaphor for his inner quest and lack of satisfaction with what he has found so far. Knowing himself is equated with knowing where he is, a condition required to form Gateways. When Androl finally succeeds in crafting his tiny Gateway, he has dug deep within himself and found that which he always sought elsewhere: the will to make part of the world fit his needs, to take his place as the heart and soul of the Black Tower, to defy Taim with his last breath and create the place he has long searched for. With this understanding comes his salvation, just as the dreamspike is deactivated.
The Black Tower itself has been a metaphor for Rand’s inner turmoil over the last several books. As he allowed his humanity to wither away, the Black Tower festered. At first the Black Tower represented a cherished dream for Rand, a safe place for men like him. By failing to nurture this dream, it could not sustain itself, and eventually went bad, until it grew to the point where it threatened his life and the world itself. Androl demonstrated that a powerful dream will draw others to it, others who can share in keeping it vibrant and secure. Rand’s naive hope that his project would be successful simply by establishing initial conditions, and then walking away, was proven to be foolish. The failed Black Tower experiment serves as a precedent for the upcoming conflict with the Dark One, where Rand will again try quick and easy solutions that will predictably fail.
With the Black Tower plotline resolved, it isn’t long before Taim shows up in the Borderlands to disrupt the desperate tactics of the Borderlanders. Lan can survive a duel with two Myrddraal at once, and repeated sorties on the field lancing Trollocs, but must flee before the Dreadlords’ siege engine. There is some entertainment in comparing how Byrne’s later use of Gateways as windows provides immensely more advantage than simply elevating channelers on a siege engine to have a better view of the battlefield. But for now, the edge goes to the Shadow.
In Ebou Dar, Mat once again entertains readers with his banter with Selucia. Mat is either thinking out of character or subconsciously adopting Seanchan ways of thinking: She had shaved her head again properly, now that she was no longer hiding. Tuon’s adoption of Mat’s ways is much more in character, and funny: “Are you bloody insane?” Mat asked. “Are you bloody stupid?” she asked.
The Heroes’ ability to spot Gray Men is uncanny. Even when wounded, a Gray Man is unnoticed by the keenest eyes in the Seanchan Empire. I attribute the Heroes’ success versus Gray Men to the ta’veren effect, increasing the dim likelihood of noticing them into a certainty. I think channelers and Warders were the only others to ever notice a Gray Man. There’s been some debate as to why the Shadow didn’t use more of these assassins. I reason that there was simply a lack of good targets, with most potential targets either unfindable or able to notice and kill them. I also suspect they are not very numerous, since their creation requires a sacrifice on par with Padan Fain’s, a dedication that is decidedly rare.
Rand has a swordfight with Tam, allowing him to learn how the loss of his hand has affected his perception of himself. The missing hand has been more of an inconvenience than an obstacle in terms of Rand’s abilities to confront opponents, since he can channel even without it. By showing an example of weakness, the author is able to better showcase the inner turmoil Rand feels in the face of the Last Battle. Rand regularly tries to express certainty about his plan to kill the Dark One, but just as with his sword prowess, there are deep-seated doubts and weaknesses he worries about. Aviendha previously suggested taking the Dark One gai’shain might be a better path, and Moiraine now tries to dissuade him from his chosen course of action even as she urges him to commence his assault now.
Moiraine gets good tasting tea from Rand, a symbol that he does indeed have the right balance that so many of his motherly mentors have sought. Each of them has correctly foreseen that as with so many of the obstacles faced by the characters, it is not Rand’s battle training or ability to channel that will lead to victory, but a matter of his character.
Galad and his Whitecloaks are perturbed by the Ogier’s violence. Their first instinct upon witnessing their savagery is to consider them Shadowspawn. Galad understands that evil does not reside in the act of chopping down opponents, but the reasons for that act can be good or evil. If the Ogier’s violence is startling in its intensity and rivals the murderous actions of Trollocs, it is because once riled and forced to actions the Ogier would rather not have contemplated, their resolve to carry them out is unwavering. They embrace violence as the tool that will best allow them to continue their peaceful lifestyle.
Do not break your daily writing habit. Once missed, writing time is lost forever.