The Wheel of Time-Slip

Spoiler Check: I have completed Chapter 16 of “Towers of Midnight” by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Book 13 of the Wheel of Time series

The Wheel of Time series has throughout used the “third person limited” viewpoint, where the narrator’s voice describes events from the perspective of a particular character, taking into account that the character may not have full knowledge of other events known to the reader.  Also that character’s perspective may be coloured by their individual beliefs or predilections.  In the series, the viewpoint changes frequently from character to character, usually at the start of a new chapter but sometimes mid-chapter, occasionally a number of times within a single chapter. The viewpoint is usually that of one of the main characters but can stray from time to time to the viewpoint of minor or “throwaway” characters.

It does add something to the reader’s sense of excitement or engagement when we know something a character does not, or when a character is convinced of something we know to be false.  It can create the tension of a pantomime “look behind you!” moment.

Towers of Midnight plays some new tricks with the narrative, in particular the “narrative time-slip”.  Readers of the Wheel of Time are already familiar with following several threads of the story told in parallel, with frequent switches between character viewpoint to give the various threads enough “airtime” to keep them all moving roughly together. What is new is the odd situation where one of the threads being related is displaced in time, some days into the past, relative to the others.  This makes it a “flash-back” thread but we are used to flashbacks being related in one contiguous block, not intertwined with two or more “in the present” threads.

The thread in question is the story of Perrin Aybara and his entourage, and their encounter with the Children of the Light (Whitecloaks) under the command of Galad Damodred.  It is narrated out of time sync with the two other main threads, concerning Rand al’Thor and Egwene al’Vere respectively, the latter two being broadly in step.  It gives rise to oddities, principally around the location of Rand’s father Tam.  In the Perrin thread, Tam is still with Perrin’s travelling army. In the Rand thread, Tam has already been whisked away, thanks to Aes Sedai use of gateways, to join his son.

Tam’s switch from Perrin thread to Rand thread actually predates the start of Towers of Midnight. Tam is reunited with his son close to the end of The Gathering Storm, the preceding book in the series, so the narrative time-slip spans more than one book.

In addition to being odd, the flash-back, combined with the third party limited viewpoint, works more like a flash-forward when we are reading parts of the Perrin thread.  While following Perrin, we as reader already know that the point is soon coming where Tam is spirited away by the Aes Sedai, presumably Cadsuane or one of her minions. We know that by the time that happens Morgase, former Queen of Andor, hiding her identity as a servant to Perrin’s wife Faile, will have had her true identity disclosed. Tam reported the good news of Morgase’s discovery alive to Rand in Chapter 47 of The Gathering Storm. It is likely that this outing of her presence in Perrin’s camp will have had a lot to do with the resolution of the Perrin/Whitecloak conflict, given that Morgase is Galad’s step-mother. It is a kind of a give-away that the conflict ends well (although the reader is likely to have presumed as much anyway) but is not really a spoiler.  It works effectively as an imaginative narrative device because it encourages the reader to try to second guess how events pan out to produce known outcomes. In that way it adds to the reader’s enjoyment and sense of engagement.

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