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Ilya Shutman

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      A friend of mine recommended me this fandom, and I liked it from the first time I saw it. At first, I was here for the stories, then I've got drawn to the discussions. First of all I want to give an explanation (other than absence of Russian keyboard), why I write in English. This letter is very heavily based on Wheel of Time saga by Robert Jordan (so far 7 books are published), which, to the best of my information is only accessible in English at the time of writing this letter. I do not wish to spoil people's pleasure from reading this truly splendid literary work, and I do not wish to deliver my thoughts to the people who haven't read the material upon which my thoughts are based. If whoever reads this before reading at least until book 6, I would suggest to stop and read the books first. As much as I enjoyed the Earthsea cycle, it would be much better for me if I didn't read the article by A.Sapkovskiy ("Pirug" on this very page) prior to that. Do not spoil your own adventure, and if you do, don't say that I did not warn you. I also request not to translate this article, except the first paragraph, into any language, until at least first six books of the Wheel of Time are available in that language. Just to make sure (and not to show off) I will use names sparingly, and be as nondescriptive as possible. Second point that I want to make is the following: I know this letter doesn't really belong on Tolkien fandom, especially on Tolkien Russian fandom, where most people are not familiar with Jordan's works. Yet, I would like to discuss the idea of light and darkness, balance and different shades of gray, which belongs largely to this discussion. If you know any better place for it, you have my blessing to post it there, provided that I am informed as soon as possible.

      In a sense, Jordan develops certain concepts of Tolkien's world, that are relevant to this discussion. I'll mention a few of them:
Eru(Creator), Enemy (Dark One and his minions), possibly Sauron (Ishamael) but that's questionable. The main thing is - the presence of evil concentrated in a specific place - Mordor(Shayol Ghul), and lands next to Mordor (Blight). Army of twisted creatures that used to be human (Jordan's characters are mainly humans, and even Ogier are much more human than elves and dwarves) - orcs/Trollocs. The only difference is - there are no Valar. Even Aes Sedai are merely human. And that, I believe, makes a tremendous difference. In particular, there's no longer a clear cut difference between the Good and the Evil. And another new concept - the Wheel of Time that weaves the Patter of Ages. "The Creator is good... the Dark One is evil... the Wheel is neither... pattern of one color is not a pattern." These words (book 3), that can characterize the entire series, express the Daoist concept of balance. These words are startling, not only for the readers, but for one of the main characters, who refuses to believe that the Wheel itself, the time itself, doesn't care between good and evil. "I care," says he. And he makes his choice. Yet, you must notice, that the colors of the Pattern are black and white. There is no third. Jordan's world is closer to ours than Tolkien's world, and that makes it relevant to the discussion mentioned above. In Tolkien's world, while humans still have free choice between good and evil, the humans themselves exist in a polarized world. An elf in Tolkien's world cannot became Sauron's ally, at least in the Third Age, when Sauron's true appearance is revealed. Gollum, who was from a "good" descent (he's related to hobbits that in general are neutral to good and happy people), was so twisted by One Ring, that anything made by the elves causes him physical pain. No, in Tolkien's world, while there's a choice, this choice is too explicit, too obvious. The presence of the Enemy that threatens everything that is not of Enemy's making makes the choice of good almost inevitable for everybody who was not twisted by the Enemy (like the people of South, for example). Not so in the Jordan's world. If you look in the Jordan's world, the two organizations that are supposed to be Good Guys, namely the White Tower and the Children of the Light, both have their shortcomings to the extent that the two are bitter enemies of each other, and all in a good cause. Not to mention that practically anybody in any structure, nation and social class can be a Darkfriend. The Creator does not interfere. Conclusion: Jordan's world has no explicit Good. (I could elaborate, but I believe that those who have read the books can see my point already. Everybody else - see the beginning of this letter.) In fact, the Evil, that is actively present in the world of Jordan, is far from obvious to everyone. Borderlands must be the only area where absolutely everybody sees the Dark One more or less the way he is, and even there there are Darkfriends. The choice is still up to the men. And women. Beyond Borderlands, even those who do believe in Dark One do not always believe in his ability to break free or interfere with the human events from beyond the seals. Conclusion 2: even though the Evil is explicitly present in Jordan's world, this presence has little or no direct influence on the human events.

      We have reached an important conclusion that distinguishes between the world of J.R.R.Tolkien and the world of R.Jordan and ours as well. While in Tolkien's world the good and the evil exist in their absolute form, and not only exist, but are capable to influence daily events, in the world of Jordan (and our world) the existence of good and evil in their pure form does not exist in material world ("the world of action" if you prefer the kaballistic terms) and has little or no influence on it. The Dark One is still somewhere beyond the seven seals, and he depends on his servants to carry out his will. Let us now look at the real world, and look at the possible manifestations of the Good, the Evil, and the Third. So far we have the Good (Creator), the Evil (Dark One), and the Wheel. I do not believe that the Wheel is that Third. The Wheel might be the Balance, but, as the quote from book 3 shows, the Wheel itself operates in terms of Good and Evil, and there are numerous ideas that the Dark One plans to remake the Wheel in his own image, which means that now the Wheel is somehow tied to the Creator. Think about it: if the Wheel is truly independent, and the Creator simply makes use of it, then why would the Dark One need to break and remake it rather than simply push the Creator over and take control? No, the Wheel is part of the Creation, and, while not being good explicitly, it is implicitly tied to the Creator, and thus it is not completely independent. Besides, the Wheel makes use of the existing threads to weave them in the pattern. The Wheel itself is not producing anything. It makes use of threads produced by the Creator and those altered by the Dark one. Thus the Wheel can hardly be qualified as that Third. To find that third, you must look in the world of humans. And what do we find there? Let's first look at the few non-humans we find. Putting artificially bred Trollocs and Myrddraal and other Shadowspawn,  and the Green Man too aside (besides the fact that most humans do not believe in them - see above) we have the Ogier, and the folks behind the twisted doorways. The Ogier are good - at least by assumption. They are somewhat similar to Tolkien's elves. They can sense others' mood, they are more closely related to nature. They are not the Third. However, due to their slow nature, they are practically outside the human events, and many humans no longer believe in them. Aelfinns and Eelfinns are viewed as something evil (even though this view may not be just), but they are even less accessible than the Ogier, and majority of people doesn't even know they exist. Hence, they are out of picture too. What's left? Humans. Just like you and me. And, unlike Tolkien, who is duly credited as the founder of epic fantasy, but whose humans in his bipolar world are well-oriented either towards good, or towards evil, Jordan shows us his complex world where people are complex, and not always black and white. Beginning from his Aes Sedai and Whitecloaks, some of whom are truly convinced that they are doing a paiceworthy and necessary deed, while some are using their position and skills for unworthy gain, while others yet do things much worse, and consider that a necessity and a right thing to do (book 7, ch. 40? "Spears"). And ending by his Darkfriends, very few of whom chose to become a Darkfriend because they were truly evil, most do it for the promise of power and immortality, and some of whom, like a certain noble, who eventually sacrifices himself to save his friends and regain the Light, become Darkfriends in a worthy cause. Even among the Forsaken only Ishamael was evil by his ideology, and not initially as well, and some of them turned to the Shadow because that allowed them to do things they couldn't do otherwise - experiments that are not evil by themselves, yet eventually they were twisted by their attachment to the Shadow. Even in their actions they are not entirely evil and destructive. Lanfear is still capable of love, even though her love is overshadowed by ambitions, and while in her final appearance in book 5 she does definitely evil things, a certain Saldaean lady would probably do something similar were she in Lanfear's shoes, while this lady is generally one of the Good Guys. (For those who didn't guess yet, neither this lady nor her husband appear in book 5, for which Jordan was much criticized by his fans.) Neither of those can be called the Third. Anybody, who chooses to be active, while not being good, eventually ends up evil. One, but not the only example - the tragic story of Aridhol. From that story follows one extremely important conclusion: opponents of Evil do not automatically become Good. The Dark Lord can be defeated by a mage who wears the One Ring, but that mage would in turn become the Dark Lord. Maybe the powerful ones are that Third power. To those who are tired of my continuous denial of it: yes they are, to an extent. But only to an extent. In fact, the rebels in Tear oppose the Dragon while not being completely evil. Yet, why do they oppose the Dragon? Because they view his Rebirth as a political process, not a turning point in the everlasting battle of good and evil. And they recognize him as a Dragon, only they cant reconcile their political losses with his coming. They (as well as Andoran noble in book 6) do not oppose the Dragon. They oppose a man who threatens their power. And some of those rebellions can be traced to a leader, who was influenced by Mordeth personally, i.e. some of the roots of those rebellions are absolutely and unquestionably evil. In addition, the nobles remain the Third Power only as long as their struggle does not directly involve good and evil. One of the rebels, were she an 'evil' Tolkien-type hero, would attempt to kill the Dragon when she encountered him (book 7), and would attempt either to fight or to negotiate with him were she of some separate power. The book 8 is not yet out, but I do suspect that she will join the Dragon (in a sense she does it already in book 7). Because as soon as this "third" power becomes involved with the Dragon and Dragon's struggle directly, the choice becomes apparent, either join the Dragon, or impede him and thus implicitly ally with the Dark One. The 'third power' in Jordan's world, whether it's the nobility, or plain uneducated folk in Two Rivers, is not an equal to the Good and Evil. It is below them. And as one of them, whether the nobles maneuvering for their advantage, or channelers on the way to becoming Aes Sedai and Asha'man, or just about anybody else, as long as they grow up to a certain level they must face a choice: good or evil. Eventually they must choose sides. Rand realizes it right before he visits the Sea Folk ship (book 7). Yes, in Jordan's world good people sometimes do bad things, and bad people do something good time to time. Tolkien's Aragorn pardons a soldier who in a good cause violated Steward's order. Rand orders an execution af a man he likes, because in order to defend Rand's honor that man committed a crime. In a good cause, but still a crime. Good and evil in Jordan's world coexist as they do in our reality. Anybody, who wants to become the 'Third' by using both will eventually have to choose. Anybody who would want to stay away from both will be forced into action or destroyed. One of the characters thinks that evil, at least in human terms, is not in doing, or at least not only in doing the necessary.(Book 7) The evil is in doing the necessary and then refusing to pay the price. Rand is good not because nobody dies because of him, but because he accepts the suffering - the maddening night scene in the beginning of book seven and related to it scene of the next morning leave no doubt that he's definitely a Good Guy, even though he caused people to die. Mat is a good guy, but can you imagine Mat in a scene similar to Aragorn and Eowyn? I don't think so. Moiraine is probably good. Or is she? Look at her letter to Rand. Lan is good - but only because he's one of the few absolutely selfless people in the series - he almost never acts on his own behalf. Every act involves responsibility, and there's no way around it. There are very few heroes in Jordan's world that would be absolutely positive or absolutely negative, yet, in the most critical moments, whether it's Mat versus Gholam, Rand versus Ba'alzamon, or just about anybody versus anybody else we find that the heroes and villains make the choice and take the side. If Jordan's world is the next step in Tolkien-styled epic developement, the next approximation of that alternate reality to our day and place, then I must say, in this approximation there's no room for the 'Third Power'. Eventually, there must be a choice.

      As I wrote before, this my letter might not be addressed to the right addressee, but I think it sheds some light on the discussion about the Third that exists between the Good and the Evil. If you know any better address, please let me know. I would appreciate any form of responce, as long as it's not openly rude, offensive or purposefully destructive. (That is evil, in my opinion.) I realize that many points in my letter are arguable, and I will gladly continue the discussion, if anybody is willing to start it, if I find the time. Whoever read this whole thing to the end, thank you for your patience.

P.S. Any Kaballist will tell you that between "the world of action" - "Olam ha'Ma'aseh" in which we exist, and any other world, there's one significant difference. In our world evil and good are intertwined, and doing one it's difficult not to do another. Yet, the final outcome will be either or.


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