This article was originally posted on July 14, 2009. It is re-posed here as part of my coverage of this year's Hugo Awards. The Wheel of Time is nominated as a complete work for Best Novel.
Lord of Chaos
on in the novel Sammael is given an instruction by the Dark One: “Let
the Lord of Chaos rule”. Now, the introductory quote tells us that this
is a chant from a children’s game in the Fourth Age in Great Arvalon*,
but in the context of the novel (and the series), Jordan is not clear
about what exactly this means. The most straightforward reading that I
can come up with is that this refers to Rand. As the Dragon, Rand is
the Lord of Chaos, and the Dark One is giving Rand a fairly free reign
to mess things up and turn the nations against him. To the Dark One,
Rand is little more than a babe with a sword. Rand has been lucky, but
will ultimately fail. That, at least, is the presumed perspective of
the Dark One.
Is this the correct reading? Sammael aligns with
Graendal and neither makes an overt move against Rand during this volume
(at least not until Rand makes his own move). This is the reading that
makes the most sense to me, but Jordan never spells out what he means.
alternate reading would be that Padan Fain is the Lord of Chaos. This
makes a certain amount of sense. After all, Fain is quite mad by this
point and is barely controllable by anyone, so letting him do his thing
could (and does) cause a variety of muddles…mostly regarding the
Whitecloaks at this point, though they don’t need any help. Fain, or
Mordeith, or Ordeith, or whatever he is calling himself at this point
can certainly be considered the Lord of Chaos. Except that as
interesting an option as Fain represents, he doesn’t make nearly as much
sense in the context of the novel as Rand.
And what is up with
that being part of a children’s game? That’s an awfully morbid game.
On the other hand, we have our Lizzie Borden rhyme and the whole deal
with standing in a dark bathroom with the door closed and saying “bloody
mary” over and over again, so who are we to judge “let the Lord of
Now, in terms of the novel itself, we are beginning to settle into a routine at this point. As Adam Whitehead points out,
we are into the political phase of the series and fairly well out of
the adventure phase. Readers will respond very differently during the
political phase and many who thoroughly enjoyed the first three or four
novels will be less enamored with Lord of Chaos and the subsequent volumes. Yes, there are major action sequences that are iconic in the Wheel of Time series. Dumai’s Wells is a prime example of this and is perhaps the crowning moment of Lord of Chaos. Want to see the One Power used as a weapon in battle and the horror of what it can do? Look no further than Dumai’s Wells.
The bulk of Lord of Chaos,
however, consists of the characters sitting around, plotting, no longer
confiding in each other, Rand being “hard”, and strategizing as to what
to do next. Or, more specifically, waiting. Lord of Chaos is not pure
stasis, but some readers may perceive it as such.
Back when I first started to write about Lord of Chaos,
two months ago, I wrote down a quick jottings of things I then wanted
to touch on: Bit of plodding, Egwene as Amyrlin, Dumai’s Wells, more
Rand being “hard”, beginning of the Min / Rand relationship, Asha’Man as
warriors – what does the title mean?, re-emergance of Lan (barely),
Alanna / Rand, Verin spending a lot of time looking mysterious and
suspicious, getting Mat in Ebou Dar to meet Tylin, escape of Moggy, a
couple of Halima / Aran’gar actions but otherwise not much there,
At this point I don’t really want to discuss any of it,
except that for me, those were the high points – or just the stuff that
came to mind and worth calling out.
The thing is, this may not be
enough for some readers and that’s okay. Robert Jordan cannot be all
things to all people and he is telling a particular story in the best
manner he knows how. This is not to excuse any perceived lapses or the
decreasing speed of the narrative pacing. It is just to state that the
style of the series has changed and by this point Wheel of Time is not a
story of grand adventure. The characters are growing up. There is
some development, though they retain most of the traits they had before,
only now writ large. Rand is perhaps the notable exception because
Rand is the blank canvas on which Jordan is painting this novel. He
began as a fairly standard and generic heroic boy of prophecy, only now
we see Rand carrying the weight of the madness of saidin and the weight
of the expectation of prophecy. Being the Dragon Reborn was always
something to be feared, not celebrated.
The following statement can be leveled at more than a couple of Wheel of Time novels: The Lord of Chaos is an uneven novel. Overall, I’d consider it to be a good one.
Arvalon? Assuming that this is a quote from the NEXT age and not the
last Fourth Age (which should be long forgotten), one can guess that it
is part of the how names change over time – something explicitly
mentioned more than a handful of times in this series. So, Great
Arvalon was once Tar Valon. But who can say exactly how the city of the
Aes Sedai has changed?