Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lord of Chaos, by Robert Jordan (re-post)

Saturday, July 19, 2014
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
Robert Jordan
1994

Early 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.

An 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 Chaos rule”?


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, Elaida.

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.


*Great 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?

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