An Ending

They say there are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time.

But there is an ending.

And what an ending it is/was/will be.

(Warning, there do be spoilers here.)

The Wheel of Time series has been, for me, many things. Best friend in the annals of high school loneliness, support in times of college strife and romantic misadventure, steady backbone of fantastic escape when all I wanted was to switch off and disappear from a mundane, workaday existence of assignments and term papers and weekly tutorials. It has seen me grow from a self-assured fourteen year old to a less-self assured twenty-three year old, from high school to a first job. It arrived shortly after my first foray into Middle Earth, and like Middle Earth, it stuck by me, and shaped me in ways that I don’t yet comprehend.

Maybe a re-read would settle those questions. Hey, any excuse works!

Given its importance in my life, reading ‘A Memory of Light’, the last book, has been a very, well, emotional experience. Not only would I constantly find myself thanking the team at Tor and Brandon Sanderson for taking up Jordan’s heavy mantle with such spirit and enthusiasm, but there were times when I had to force myself to stop reading, so that I could have one more day with this universe. I didn’t want to let go.

Jordan and Sanderson have really outdone themselves in this last book. Each of the characters shone, even the ones I had disliked (or been irritated by) in previous novels. Elayne was such a brilliant Queen, an inspiring figure that I couldn’t help but admire as she rallied her troops and gave Aragorn-like speeches in the face of certain destruction. Min finally found herself, it seemed, and stepped out of Rand’s shadow, coming into a role of her own in her office as ‘Doomseer’. Aviendha, that wonderful woman, blazed in battle, a fount of determination and strength that I am sure I will look to when I feel weak and lost myself. Nynaeve, though less vocal here than in the earlier books, stood solid and steadfast to the end.

But all of them, every single character, male or female, paled beside the one who has been steadily stealing my heart for the last seven books. The one who would not be bowed, though pressed time and time again. The one who does not, and never will know the meaning of the words ‘give up’. Honestly, I think she outshone Rand, the Dragon Reborn.

Egwene al’Vere was amazing. The immature girl who left the Two Rivers grew to hero status steadily in the course of the books, and she exited in a beautiful storm. I don’t think I’ve seen a better or more affecting death-scene in a fantasy novel. She’s risen above the rest, in my estimation, on a crystal column woven of Light, a heroine for Ages to come.

If I were to sit and discuss every character, I suspect this review would become entirely too long. So I’ll save my thoughts for a later day, and do each of them justice in individual posts. Let’s turn to more pedestrian, less emotionally charged aspects now.

‘A Memory of Light’ proceeds smoothly from the night before the grand meeting at the Field of Merrilor to the close of the Last Battle, when Rand’s body is cremated before Shayol Ghul. We get glimpses of old, familiar faces- Hurin, Juilin, Haral Luhhan, Ila the Tinker- as well as longer, more sustained rendezvous with characters like Tam al’Thor, Lan, Faile, even the until-now elusive Demandred. The central characters of course dominate the book- Mat, Perrin, Egwene and Rand. Each of their stories is followed with attention and detail, and you can see how much Jordan, and by extension, Sanderson have loved and invested in these people’s lives.

It was heartening to see that the Shadow did have a plot, that it stood a good chance of winning, and wasn’t bested simply by the luck of the protagonists or the will of the author. I know its unfair to compare, say, Demandred to Lord Voldemort, but if only Voldemort had had some of the former’s brains and planning ability, the conclusion to Harry Potter might not have been as anticlimactic as it was. Here, the Light won on its own strength. It was a good victory, precisely because it came so hard.

The ‘true battle’ that took place in the bowels of Shayol Ghul, I’m still wrapping my head around it. At least, around its fall-out. I know people have been predicting the ‘body swap’ for ages, but I’m still a little confused on how it happened. I suppose a re-read will help sort that out. It is ironic that Moridin was forced to help seal the Light’s victory, a tongue-in-cheek manoeuvre to show that yes, no matter how long someone walks in the shadow, he can turn back to the light. Even if against his will.

I didn’t care much for how the Black Tower plotline was concluded, but it was one small smidgeon on an otherwise ‘exquisite’ canvas. Jordan has left just enough open doors for his readers’ imaginations to run wild, to wonder what happens now. Will the Aiel be safe from the doom Aviendha and Bair saw for them? Will the Seanchan chain of command collapse after the revelations that Egeanin and Min will bring to light concerning the damane and sul’dam? Will Perrin and Faile move to Saldaea, or stay in the Two Rivers and govern from afar? Will Olver really dispose of the Horn?

I’m sure someone will pick over these questions, in forums, in fan fiction, in theory blogs. But right now, all I want to do if find the ‘Eye of the World’ again, return to a time when Rand, Mat and Perrin were young and innocent and thought Baerlon was a big city. I want to follow them through their adventures once again, secure in the knowledge that no matter how dark the moment seems, they will be all right, nay, more than all right at the end.

It will not be the beginning, there are neither beginnings nor endings to the reading of ‘The Wheel of Time’.

But it will be a beginning.

 

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Halfway through the Memory

I am halfway through the final book of the Wheel of Time series.

Wait, let me process that.

I am halfway through the FINAL BOOK of the Wheel of Time series.

I have been reading this series since my fourteenth birthday. I can remember exactly where I was when I finished the Prologue to ‘The Eye of the World’. I remember the heady feeling of wonder and sheer energy that zinged through me when I finished the first book, and clamoured for the second. I was lucky, I didn’t have to wait interminably between books, at least until the eleventh (‘The Knife of Dreams’) came out.

I wrote this review for a paper shortly after I read the first book. The series was by no means new, but I didn’t think it was well-known enough in India, and wanted to do my bit.

After that, I was relegated to the read-and-find-out-in-a-few-years band of fans, some of whom had been reading the series since it first came out in 1991. I did what a lot of others did, to stanch that longing for more Randland. I joined a forum.

The first website that claimed my allegiance was wotmania. I joined in discussions, speculations, started a few myself, made friends on the forums, read their fanfiction (and, in turn, sicced my own on them), chatted with fellows in faraway Norway, and learned much about people in other countries, as well as, of course, people in other, fantasy universes.

Wotmania closed down, and then I shifted my attention to dragonmount.com. I have not been as personally involved on dragonmount as I was on wotmania, preferring to lurk and listen to other people’s discussions than step in myself. I have loved my time there however, and intend to linger on post apocalyptic Tarmon Gai’don.

Being part of this series, in the small way I have, has been an amazing experience. Whether it was waiting to see what the moderator would present us on Fan Art Friday (she would trawl the internet and present, each week, different artists’ versions of events, places or characters from the WOT universe), reading Mashiara Sedai’s theories on ‘WOT if…’, taking part in polls on the forum, discussing the nitty gritties of channeling, politics, damane or defending my indefensible crush on Demandred, super cloaked super-villain, I have loved every moment of it.

I can’t believe it’s going to end, in a small way. There are no more Wheel of Time books after this.

I guess I’ll deal with the creeping grief at the close, when the battle’s lost or won, when the hurlyburly’s done.

Till then, onward with Tarmon Gai’don!

MUNning, and other dress-up games

A friend of mine was in town over the weekend, and among the topics that came up in our profound discussions was that of Model United Nations conventions. This isn’t/wasn’t strange, given that much of our early interaction came about as a result of various (make that two) MUNs. He has a lot more experience in this field than I do, and hence was able to contribute what I take to be more worthy points to the discussion. All I did was to start the ball rolling with a casual ‘So how helpful do you think MUNning has been/will be for your career?’

(In the course of this post I will refer to the act of participating in a Model UN convention, at a college or school level, as MUNning. Also, I should probably mention that the friend in question is currently doing a degree in Global Affairs, and recently did a three-month internship at the UN in New York.)

He thought for a bit, and said that no, there was no ‘direct’ and easily ascertainable benefit to his professional life. However, the practice of research he’d developed, the ability to read and retain information from newspapers and online archives- that was beyond priceless for a budding wannabe diplomat. What MUNning had cultivated in him, he said, was the ability to care about people in other countries, to feel responsible for one’s own decisions and the impact his interaction with his fellow ‘delegates’ had on countless lives. ‘I loved the feeling of representing someone’ he said, ‘and feeling responsible for so many people’. That experience, as staged as it might have been, has definitely had some kind of weight on his decision to work not just ‘in’ his country, but ‘for’ it.

After that, the conversation veered off this earnest course, chiefly because I couldn’t keep a straight face at what I thought was a pompous declaration. He was already, I thought, beginning to sound the part of  a high-profile UN employee, a la Shashi Tharoor.

Wording quibbles aside, I do not doubt the sincerity of my friend’s statement. I haven’t been a part of many MUNs myself (as a delegate), but I have seen plenty of MUNners. For most, the four day convention seems a fun excuse to dress up in their corporate, campus-placement best, spend a few hours speaking about themselves in third person and then, of course, have the fun backslapping and catching-up session after committees and councils disperse for the day. Many of those who do best in the council room are students who double as debaters for the remaining 3/4ths of the academic year, who are familiar with how best to turn a phrase, how to distract the watching judge (in this case, the Chair) from his/her weakenesses by strategically attacking an opposing delegate’s language. I have seen three-hour-long sessions where two or three principal delegates wrangled over the ‘definition’ of a particular word in the stated agenda. Yes, it is very important that everyone be absolutely clear on what exactly a term like ‘terrorism’ means, but when you have only two days, comprised of two six-hour sessions each, can you really afford to spend one fourth of that time defining something?

Then again, this might just be how exactly the ‘real’ UN works. Which, my less-UN-more-subaltern-supportive friends would argue, explains so much.

But coming back to my larger point, that of whether this makes any constructive ‘difference’ to the participant. There are always going to be some people who have entered the MUN (or similar, ‘model’ game, such as Moot Courts or Model Cabinet sessions) for nothing but the superficial glamour such activities hold in some imaginations. There is a thrill to dressing up, to feeling important and play-acting as someone else. That’s why the students in theatre clubs in college are usually considered ‘cool’ and ‘edgy’. There is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying this aspect of a MUN, and I confess I have felt a thrill of excitement myself at the prospect of wearing high heels and strutting around the college corridors in a black, ‘corporate looking’  skirt.

I do, however, believe that one can take something more permanent than a photo-op from the experience. My friend is right- MUNs do cultivate in their more sincere participants a feeling of responsibility, an idea of the connectedness of the world and how one’s actions in a council room can affect millions of lives. These conventions ‘dress up’ the everyday, ordinary practice of reading the newspaper or tuning into international events, and make them desirable, things that lead to a better chance of victory in what is, at the end of the day, a competition for ‘best delegate’.  For kids who enter that contest at least three times a year (and in DU, certainly more often, with every college putting up its own MUN), the pursuit of this knowledge becomes a regular activity- regular enough that they may, at the end of those few months of frenzied MUNning- have a fairly good grasp of at least one or two countries’ stances on various issues of ‘international importance’.

And there’s nothing quite like the feeling of throwing your weight behind a ‘foreign’ opinion, and finding, surprisingly maybe, that you can empathize with it. For instance, my friend A was assigned to represent Somalia at a MUN convention. Her reading on the country exposed her to their policies on prostitution, which, she discovered, were much more ‘advanced’ and enlightened than India, a country more economically ‘developed’. As a representative of the Philippines in another convention, she was given the opportunity to read up on the history of a country that Indian students rarely, if ever, encounter in their textbooks. The concept of ‘comfort women’ in particular touched and troubled her, and she took up issues of women’s rights with a conviction and passion that was quite amazing.

I think MUNs give the opportunity of learning, first hand, that the world truly is an interconnected place, that decisions made by one delegate can alter lives in another country all together. It’s about lobbying, having people on your side when you want to make a change, and that means reaching out and trying to understand where they are coming from. What history has taught them, and in return, what that history can teach you.

So yes, some of my friends might sneer and call MUNning a ‘dress up’ game; it is a dress up game, but it is also much more. All good dress up games are more, eventually. They teach us about the importance of thinking like another person, of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and thus, slowly, quietly, subtly, they teach you the importance of being willing to care about someone who is, at the end of the day, not all that different from yourself.

Make, Create, Do

Three things I should be doing right now, but am failing at miserably. It is so easy to sit in front of an empty computer screen (empty but for the baleful glare of the white Word document), and let your mind drift. I see the riches that will pour into my hands when I become a best-selling novelist, the smart quips I will deliver at literary festivals, the change I can effect in children’s lives through my persuasive morals and admirable characters. I proudly declared on my college application form that I wanted to ‘be the next J K Rowling’. That I would create the next Harry Potter.

Doesn’t seem to have happened.

Because it’s easy to dream, it’s harder to buckle down to it and work. My friend has just gotten a novel published. We’ve both talked about the day when we would be celebrated writers, but unlike me, the daydreaming and glory-spying Slytherin, she went ahead and actually wrote her book. Hufflepuffian work ethic does count for something. It might not sound as fancy as the Slytherin ambitousness, but it gets you places.

When I am uninspired (which is fairly often), I listen to or read Neil Gaiman’s famous commencement address, ‘Make Good Art’. I think the man is a genius, and fervently hope to be like him when I grow up (a state whose attainment I postpone every year), so of course I take everything he says to his devoted fanbase very seriously. I put down random quotes from the speech on the sticky notes on my desktop, I quote him in my favourite quotes list on Facebook, I gush about him to all and sundry. But I have failed to put his advice into practice, haven’t I? Aye, there’s the rub.

It’s easier to say that I want to make, create, do something that causes people to admire me, read me, look me up on the internet, than to actually log off my phone, get off whatsapp, ignore the insistent Facebook notifications (which, really, are not that insistent. I like to pretend that they are). It’s easier to dream about what my panel at a litfest will be called rather than write the piece or say the words that would get me there. It’s easier to say that I am a Slytherin than to actually put the house’s principles into practice.

Not the principles that Voldemort and his cronies declared in their manifesto, of course. The other bit- about being ambitous and clever and wending your way to the top. Ends are not always bad for Slytherins, nor are the means. The books, to a great extent, stooped to simplifying and thereby vilifying the house. But an angst post about the literary and ethical demerits of this will appear at a later time.

The point of this post, really, is to say that I must Make, Create, Do. A public declaration has often had the effect of me feeling (sometimes nonexistent) judging eyes, deriding me if I fail to later keep up with the spirit of my words. I am hoping that this will have that effect, and that my lazy Muse will dust himself off or come back from his vacation in the wilds of wherever she/he has disappeared to.

Accio inspiration!