Best Scenes of The Wheel of Time - March 2018
**This particular article contains specific spoilers for The Great Hunt along with non-specific spoilers for events up through the end of The Gathering Storm.**
This month we’ll be stopping off in The Great Hunt, chapter 43 Falme. Our scene is roughly the last half of the chapter.
- Important Characteristics of This Scene
- Significant character growth
- We learn of a culture that is dramatically different from those we’ve seen already
- Not all objects of the Power are wonderful
- There is quite a bit of food for thought regarding psychology and morality in this scene
By this point, the girls had arrived at the White Tower and begun their training. There were the usual growing pains at entering a new stage of life but they had mostly gotten settled and were pretty sure they were mighty grown up. Nynaeve had recently taken and passed her Accepted test, and Elayne and Egwene were still very new novices. Shortly before this, Egwene was excited that she was finally able to juggle small balls of light with the Power.
Liandrin came to their room and convinced them that they could help Rand and the other boys if they went with her. They were, understandably, a bit suspicious of her but she played off of their trust of Moiraine, and resulting to a good old fashioned guilt trip.
“But you still haven’t told us what kind of danger they’re in. Liandrin Sedai,” [Nynaeve said.]
“The danger comes from Shayol Ghul. They are hunted as I understand they once before were. If you will come with me, some dangers, at least, may be eliminated. Do not ask how, for I cannot tell you, but I tell you flatly it is so.”“We will come, Liandrin Sedai,” Egwene said.” (The Great Hunt, 544)
They really didn’t take much convincing, Egwene least of all. Nynaeve was more suspicious and actually made Liandrin work a little to get her to agree, but Egwene was willing almost as soon as she heard the boys were in danger.
So they went with Liandrin. They traveled by the Ways and exited at Tomon Head, outside of the city of Falme. When they exited the Waygate, a group of Seanchan were waiting there.
There was a conflict and Elayne and Nynaeve escaped while Egwene and Min were taken captive. Egwene was leashed as a damane and Min was adopted as a citizen of the Seanchan Empire. The two girls were taken back to Falme and we got to witness the initial training of a damane. In the Tower, Egwene had been frustrated by all the rules regarding when she was allowed to use the Power, all of which were designed to introduce novices to the Power gently and safely. The Seanchan were not concerned with the safety of their damane. Their aims were speed and effectiveness, not safety.
- The Scene
Renna, Egwene’s main sul’dam had agreed to let Min visit Egwene once per week during her training, and our scene takes place during one of those visits.
Egwene was alone in her room, channeling which was not allowed. She was still trying to escape and was becoming desperate. Part of the training for damane is a test for various affinities and Egwene had been found to have an affinity for ore. The Seanchan were preparing a ship to sail back to Seanchan within a few days, specifically to take her back to the motherland because of this affinity. She was now far too valuable to the Empire to be used in combat on these new shores.
Min arrived for her weekly visit and was obviously forcing herself to be cheerful. Unfortunately, almost everything she chattered about was just another reminder to Egwene that she had lost everything. Even something as simple as Min’s clothes was such a reminder. Upon “suggestion,” Min had decided to wear a servant’s dress and her old clothes were burned. Egwene had had no such choice. Her clothes were also burned, but while they were burning, Egwene was taught that, as damane, she was now the possession. The clothes she wore, her food, her bed, everything she used were privileges her sul’dam chose to extend. She certainly did not choose what to wear each day; she couldn’t even choose if she wore a dress.
Egwene was being worn down. They both looked at the same thing and Min saw hope while Egwene saw just another sign of defeat.
”You know the Seanchan have collected every woman they’ve been able to find who can channel even a speck… There are two Aes Sedai among them”
“Aes Sedai!” Min exclaimed… “Egwene, if there are Aes Sedai here, they can help us. Let me talk to them, and-““They can’t even help themselves, Min. I only talked to one – her name is Ryma; the sul’dam don’t call her that, but that’s her name; she wanted to make sure I knew it – and she told me there is another. She told me in between bouts of tears. She’s Aes Sedai, and she was crying, Min! She has a collar on her neck, they make her answer to Pura, and she can’t do anything more about it than I can. They captured her when Falme fell. She was crying because she’s beginning to stop fighting against it, because she cannot take being punished anymore. She was crying because she wants to take her own life, and she cannot even do that without permission. Light, I know how she feels.” (The Great Hunt, 598)
Egwene went on to demonstrate that Min didn’t need to worry about Egwene hurting herself, damane are physically incapable of touching anything they even passingly think of as a weapon. The sul’dam even needed to cut their meat for the damane as they could not touch even a steak knife.
Then we get to what is, to me, the most powerful moment of the scene.
Egwene went on dully, as if the other woman had not spoken. “They are training me, Min. The sul’dam and the a’dam are training me… I am trying to fight them, but they are training me as surely as they’re training Pura.” She clapped a hand to her mouth, moaning through her teeth. “Her name is Ryma. I have to remember her name, not the name they’ve put on her. She is Ryma, and she’s Yellow Ajah, and she has fought them as long and as hard as she could. It is no fault of her that she hasn’t the strength left to fight any longer. I wish I knew who the other sister is that Ryma mentioned. I wish I knew her name. Remember both of us, Min. Ryma of the Yellow Ajah, and Egwene al’Vere. Not Egwene the damane; Egwene al’Vere of Emond’s Field. Will you do that?” (The Great Hunt, 599-600)
Before this trip, Egwene was young enough to feel basically invincible. She was willing to travel to a known war zone with only the protection of a woman she did not like or trust, just to possibly make her friends a little safer. Here, mere weeks after leaving the Tower, Egwene was already losing her hold on herself. She was certain she would forget who she was, and where she came from.
Min had no time to try to reassure Egwene as Renna then returned and discovered Egwene had be channeling. She decided that she had been too lenient on Egwene by letting her keep her own name. With no fanfare, Renna renamed Egwene after a kitten Renna had had as a child, Tuli. Her punishment began almost before Min managed to leave the room and Tuli's screams chased Min from the building.
- Why I Love It
I read this scene for the first time when I was nine years old so this might have made it more impactful to me, but the first time I read this, I bawled. Before her capture by the Seanchan, I really hadn’t liked Egwene at all. She was whiney, arrogant, and just plain obnoxious. But she didn’t deserve this. This was the scene that stuck with me throughout the entire rest of the series. Yes, I hoped Rand would win the Last Battle, but my dislike for the Seanchan was so much more personal than for the Dark One. (I promise I’m not a Darkfriend!)
Beyond the emotional impact of the scene, there is a lot to love about it from a more analytical perspective as well.
Upon signing the novice book, a woman is supposed to be setting aside her former life, giving her immediate future over to the White Tower in exchange for learning to channel and a new life. And yet, just a few months after joining the Tower, both Egwene and Nynaeve were persuaded within a few minutes to set aside their word and follow Liandrin, an Aes Sedai they neither liked nor trusted, just to possibly protect their friends from some vague danger. This choice, in addition to being incredibly naive, shows that they were not ready to be Aes Sedai. The word of an Aes Sedai is supposed to mean something, even without the Three Oaths.
This scene is a major turning point for Egwene. It is a brutal way to be introduced to the realities of mortality and the real world, but it’s effective. She is still young enough that she needs guidance, and luckily she stumbles upon the Wise Ones, who are willing to offer her that guidance, but this was a defining moment for Egwene.
I am a huge sucker for morally ambiguous people and societies in my literature and the Seanchan definitely fit that bill. They aren’t specifically aligned with the Dark One, but they have some major shortcomings as a nation. Joining forces with them to defeat the Dark One could help, but what are you trading for it? We’re not talking about a culture that has different views on what clothes are acceptable to wear, but a society that believes in slavery of the worst kind, a society which is intent on world domination. You can work with them, but you can’t truly strengthen them, because once the first war is over, there is every chance they will immediately turn on you. I love it!
- Your Thoughts
What did you think of this scene when you first read it? What do you think of it now? Do you think Egwene actually learned from this encounter with the Seanchan?