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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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Last ten comments at Theoryland.
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Last ten theories at Theoryland.
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Do I have your attention? Do you think I'm crazy? Well, take a trip down this rabbit hole with me, then. A few weeks ago was JordanCon, where I was hanging out and talking with Team Jordan one-on-one quite a bit, and collecting interviews that shed light on information in ways that simple Q&A sessions don't. If you haven't checked out the official interviews I did over on Tor.com, you might want to. There is insight to be gleaned by those who would dig.
Anyway, so I have all this rumbling around in my head, and then one day not long ago, I am looking at my car's bumper, where I have the Wheel-and-Serpent bumper sticker I got at the Charleston The Gathering Storm signing. As I look at it, my eyes start tracing the Great Serpent around and around the Wheel, and I'm thinking "It'd be darn hard for the Wheel to turn with that serpent spun through it like that. In fact, it kind of looks like the serpent is trying to pull the wheel apart."
Then, I had lightning strike my brain, as Schmee said in "Hook". A veritable "apostrophe". The Dark One is The Great Serpent. Surely this can't be a new thought, I said. So, I contacted our benevolent dictator, asking if there was a theory on it, and he said that he thought that he had heard such a thing muttered before, but he was pretty sure there was not a theory on it. He then tasked me to write one, despite me not really being a HCFF. There might have been some level of subtle bribery too, but I'm not going into that. Make your own theories. Despite that, pardon if this isn't entirely up to HCFF standards. Consider it a beginning, if you must.
Anyway, so I go and start doing my research over at the 13th Depository and through IdealSeek. Here is what I noticed: The Great Serpent is very heavily directly referred to through The Eye of the World, but after that, the "creature", such as it were, almost drops off the radar except as the Aes Sedai ring. Here is the sum of what is being said:
From The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time:
"The Great Serpent symbol was ancient before the Age of Legends began."
From Chapter 2, The Eye of the World, Rand's POV:
He had certainly never seen a ring like that, though he recognized the Great Serpent, an even older symbol for eternity than the Wheel of Time.
From Chapter 24: Ba'alzamon tells Rand:
"I will strangle you with the corpse of the Great Serpent."
Aiel message in Chapter 25:
"Leafblighter means to blind the Eye of the World, Lost One. He means to slay the Great Serpent. Warn the People, Lost One. Sightburner comes. Tell them to stand ready for He Who Comes With The Dawn. Tell them..."
"Something they learned in the Blight. But none of it makes sense. Slay the Great Serpent? Kill time itself? And blind the Eye of the World? As well say he's going to starve a rock."
Loial says in Chapter 42, of the man who visited Stedding Shangtai:
"He said the Dark One intended to blind the Eye of the World, and slay the Great Serpent, kill time itself . . . What I have wanted to ask is, can the Dark One do such a thing? Kill time itself? And the Eye of the World? Can he blind the eye of the Great Serpent? What does it mean?"
Additionally, Ba'alzamon says in The Great Hunt's Prologue:
"Soon the Great Serpent will die, and with the power of that death, the death of Time itself, your Master will remake the world in his own image for this Age and for all Ages to come."
So, what do we have:
1) The Great Serpent is older than the Wheel, at least symbolically.
2) It represents eternity, but the symbolic meaning of why seems to be lost to Randlanders.
3) The Eye of the World is thought to be the Great Serpent's eye. (don't things have two eyes?*)
4) The Dark One wants to kill the Great Serpent.
Oh, wait! That seems a bit backwards to the theory. Why would Ishamael, the Great Philosopher who most likely understands the Great Serpent above all others, claim the Dark One wants to kill the Serpent if the Dark One is the Serpent? Allow me to posit the following possibilities:
1) The Dark One is not the Serpent. (I am presuming this false, obviously)
2) Ishamael does not fully realize that the Dark One is the Serpent.
3) He is lying about the Dark One wanting to kill the Serpent.
4) He full well knows the Dark One is the Serpent, and therefore the Dark One wants to commit suicide.
Dur-wha? Bear with me here as we adjust to a study of the Dark One. What do we know (at least by catechism) about the Dark One?
1) The Dark One is bound outside of the pattern
2) It was sealed there by the Creator at the moment of creation.
3) It is trying to shatter the wheel, and this can only be done by his influencing the pattern through the Bore.
4) The result of this will be the End of Time. No more Ages.
5) The Dark One cannot step outside of time, thus no saving Chosen from Balefire. (If the Dark One is time, this could still make sense, as it might be hard to step outside of yourself.)
Number four is interesting, since the Dark One tempts his followers with immortality and glory in his new world. I think we can assume Nae'blis is a lie, in so much as being the one that rules on Earth after the Day of Return. This is backed up by Moridin's conversation with Rand in The Gathering Storm. Chapter 15, A Place to Begin:
"There is no path to victory," Moridin said. "The only path is to follow the Great Lord and rule for a time before all things end. The others are fools. They look for grand rewards in the eternities, but there will be no eternities. Only the now, the last days."
Also note the way I put number three. I did not say that he is trying to break free because I honestly don't think he is. Think, for a moment, about how long the War of Power lasted. From The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, it was about a hundred to a hundred and ten years from the drilling of the Bore to the actual war, a time called "The Collapse". The full-on war lasted another ten years. So, around a hundred and twenty years that the Dark One was touching society, slowly widening the bore and wiggling his way out. That is when the Hundred Companions sealed, if imperfectly, the Bore.
Zoom to "present day". The seals are weakening, but they are still somewhat intact. One can assume the Dark One has less influence right now that he did during the War of Power. And yet, look how much damage he is doing to the world. Bubbles of evil, walking dead and ghost-towns, buildings re-arranging themselves as the Pattern unravels. If these are his powers behind the seals, what kind of ability did he have during the War of Power? Why was it, then, that he was successfully sealed? How, even? Right now, channeling even near Shayol Ghul is dangerous because the Dark One would react (as per Lord of Chaos, Prologue). How did the Hundred Companions manage to place the seals without the Dark One directly stopping them?
The answer is: he isn't trying to break free and destroy the world. Even if he manages to destroy the world and unravel the pattern, time will still flow. The Wheel will still turn, even if everything that comes out is jumbled up. That is not what the Dark One wants, it is just what everyone thinks he wants. But let us heed Verin's warning from The Gathering Storm. Chapter 39, a Visit from Verin Sedai:
"...It was important to continue my research and keep an eye on young al'Thor. He's a fiery one, I must say. I worry about the lad. I'm not certain he understands how the Great Lord works. Not all evil is as...obvious as the Chosen. The Forsaken, as you'd call them."
"The Chosen are predictable, but the Great Lord is anything but. Even after decades of study, I can't be certain exactly what he wants, or why he wants it. I only know that this battle isn't being fought the way that al'Thor assumes it will be."
Also, let us look at Moridin and Rand's conversation in the same book. Again, Chapter 15, A Place to Begin:
"There is a way to win, Moridin," Rand said. "I mean to kill him. Slay the Dark One. Let the Wheel turn without his constant taint."
Moridin gave no reaction. He was still staring at the flames. "We are connected," Moridin finally said. "That is how you came here, I suspect, though I do not understand our bond myself. I doubt you can understand the magnitude of the stupidity in your statement."
Moridin did not tell him that it was impossible to kill the Great Lord, only that what Rand said was incredibly stupid. What would be more stupid than to, with firm conviction, say "The only way to beat the Dark One is to give him exactly what he wants"? Right then, so let's get down to the actual connection of why the Great Serpent wants to die, and why it mustn't.
1) It is a vast, immortal entity with sentience that has been put in a crappy job (being time, but being outside the pattern).
2) It cannot take its own life by some definition.
3) Even if it destroys creation, it won't destroy itself, and now it won't even have the tools needed to kill itself. It would be the same as being sealed away forever.
4) Even though the Serpent may be evil, Time is still needed, just as is evil to balance good, so it must not die for the Light to win. This would explain why the light can never win for good.
So, yeah, I'm calling the Dark One an emo-cutter with a death wish but that can't do it himself. To really reel this in, let's look at some of Robert Jordan's sources as well two of my interviews.
First, myths. Even in the most generous creation myths, serpents are treated in a very evil fashion. Check out the article on the symbolic animals in the Wheel of Time over at the 13th depository. And, in one particular set that Jordan draws from deeply, Norse myth, serpents are all-out bad-guys. From http://www.pantheon.org:
In Norse myth, Nidhogg ("tearer of corpses") is a monstrous serpent that gnaws almost perpetually at the deepest root of the World Tree Yggdrasil, threatening to destroy it. The serpent is always bickering with the eagle that houses in the top of the tree. Nidhogg lies on Nastrond in Niflheim and eats corpses to sustain itself. It is not the only serpent whose task it is to destroy the World Tree; other serpents include Graback, Grafvolluth, Goin and Moin.
In Norse mythology, Jormungand is one of the three children of the god Loki and his wife, the giantess Angrboda. The gods were well aware that this monster was growing fast and that it would one day bring much evil upon gods and men. So Odin deemed it advisable to render it harmless. He threw the serpent in the ocean that surrounds the earth, but the monster had grown to such an enormous size that it easily spans the entire world, hence the name Midgard Serpent. It lies deep in the ocean where it bites itself in its tail, and all mankind is caught within his coils.At the destruction of the universe, Jormungand and Thor will kill each other.
Notice Jormungand in particular. I know a fair number of people (I was one a long time ago), that thought the Midgard serpent was there to hold the world together, and should he let go of his tail, the world would fall apart. Well, sorta. 'Cept he was put there because he was recognized as evil and dangerous, although necessary, and at the end of days, he will help destroy the world and will die doing it.
Next, in Robert Jordan's Blog, he explains why the Forsaken are the way they are (that is to say, kind of dumb). This pairs very well with Verin's description of the Chosen's most notable attribute as selfishness. But, again with Verin's warning, the Dark One is not like his followers. Could he be, perhaps, using that selfishness as the controlling factor, because who, aside from Ishamael, would really want to help Time destroy itself, and therefore all of creation with it?
Now, from my interview with Alan Romanczuk on Tor.com at JordanCon 2010:
RF: So, it has been twenty years since The Eye of the World. Looking back, has there been anything that surprised you that the fans clued in on, similar to Asmodean's murder? Or perhaps anything they missed that you thought they should have been all over?
AR: One thing that strikes me is people's perception of the Wheel of Time. The Wheel of Time is just a structural device: it has seven spokes which represent the seven Ages. The Wheel turns; people forget about the previous Age and a new Age is entered. It goes around seven times and it starts again from square one. Very similar patterns of events occur in each Age, but they are changed, just as two people can have very similar personalities but still be very different people in many other respects. The same way with the different Ages.
So the Wheel does not have a specific purpose. It does not have a motivation. It is not a conscious being. The Wheel is just there, operating as an organizing principle of the world. Jim played down the religious aspects of all this. There is a creator, but there is not even a notion that the creator is God. The creator, of course, is God, but it is the creator. And the creator is not given much of a personality in these books. The creator is a stand-back kind of entity, less so than the Dark One, which opposes the creator and everything the creator has created, which is mankind.
And so, that's all I'm saying: don't read too much into the Wheel of Time. I think the Wheel of Time is also drawn in part from the Buddhist concept of the Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life is something that we are on. In creation, we are created in who knows what form, evolve through many, many lifetimes, until we no longer have to be on the wheel. We have reached our goal, which in Eastern Thought being one with God, part of the infinite ocean. In Jim's world, it is not so cut and dry. As far as we know, individuals stay on the Wheel of Time forever.
First I will note that he is talking about the Wheel, not the Serpent. Looking over this theory, I wonder if that was purposeful. Perhaps a nudge to not fixate on that part of the symbol, but on some other part, perhaps a part that is sentient. Also, the emphasized part is interesting. The Dark One completely opposes the Creator and creation. I might be reading into Alan's words here, but it seems that Shai'tan does not want to remake the world, but to absolutely destroy it.
From my interview with Harriet McDougal at JordanCon 2010:
RF: One can take it even further with The Wheel. Even the magic system, which is very scientifically based, lends us to call it magical Sci-Fi. So perhaps some of the other concepts of Sci-Fi are there too, such as social commentaries or looking at issues from other angles.
HM: Yes! And the big thing about fantasy is that you can address questions of good and evil without making people run for cover and thinking "Oh my God, he's going to turn into a preacher any minute now." But, making his great theme of making decisions without enough information is so true.
And, his early fan letters, I noticed, would come from two large categories of adult: people in law enforcement and people in medicine: doctors, nurses, policemen, district attorneys. What do these groups have in common? They're making life and death decisions, every day, without enough information. The policeman, should he draw his weapon? If so, he will probably be shot at himself. The doctor, dealing with a person who is dying, and you never have enough information.
RF: And sometimes, you just have to act.
HM: Yes, and how you do that is a major theme in the series, and how you can be expected to have to do that.
And from Robert Jordan's blog: http://www.dragonmount.com/RobertJordan/?p=30
In fantasy, you can talk about good and evil, right and wrong, with a straight face and no need to elbow anybody in the ribs to let them know you're just kidding, you don't really believe in this childish, simplistic baloney. That seems to be less and less so in other genres.
Does that mean fantasy all has to be goody-goody on the side of right and black-as-the-pit on the side of evil. No. In my own work telling right from wrong is often difficult. Sometimes my characters make the wrong choice there. Sometimes they do things are quite horrific. But they try to find the right choice. This is the way I think most people see the world and their behavior in it — trying to do the right thing with the knowledge that sometimes you’re going to make the wrong choice, and with “right” defined as more than simply being of benefit to yourself — and they want to read books that reflect this. Right and wrong are not simply different shades of gray. Good and evil are not simply a matter of how you look at them. (Have you ever noticed the use of "of course?' As in, “The actions of the suicide bombers is quite horrific, of course...." You know that a "but" is coming, followed by an explanation of why their actions. while "quite horrific. of course" are also "entirely understandable under the circumstances," which come down to "the death and destruction is all somebody else's fault completely.")
Good and Evil. Jordan was a strong believer in a need for an absolute good and an absolute evil. Need, mind you. You must have absolute evil. Now, taking the old adage "A masochist says Hurt Me, a Sadist says No," what is the most evil thing the Dark One could do in a world that needs him? Leave it. Additionally, on the "decisions without enough information" theme, Rand has made the decision that killing the Dark One is what he needs to do. He does not have enough information, though, so this could very well be a bad decision.
[I removed Mr. Fife's footnote as he has been directed to write a second theory based on this footnote which I think will be just as enjoyable. - Tamyrlin]