Bubbles of evil, living death, rot, foul stenches, large-scale sterility and the appropriation of a person’s will or body are all examples of wrongness – going against the Pattern, the proper order of things. The wrongness and horrors of the Last Days are a great tribulation and they come from a few sources, mainly originating with the Dark One.
The Dark One is inimical to the Pattern which is why his essence, the True Power, damages the Pattern. Yet good and ill are the warp and woof of the Pattern according to Moiraine, so while the Dark One is outside the Pattern, the Shadow’s effects on it are part of the Pattern. Each soul has to make their choice whether to keep with the Light or not.
Since Mordeth’s wrongness developed from a desire to destroy the Dark One, it too could be said to have been caused by the Shadow - although at second hand and entirely out of Mordeth’s choice.
People have a choice to do good or at least not commit evil, and channellers (non-Seanchan ones at least) are permitted to use most weaves with only Compulsion and balefire forbidden. Compulsion is the theft of will, a person’s capacity to choose their actions and desires. In extreme cases the victim is effectively living dead:
The only minions she’d [Graendal’d] let out of her sight were under Compulsion so heavy that it would kill them to remove it.The ultimate appropriation or compulsion of a person would be the turning of a channeller to the Shadow. This forced apostasy is the theft of a person’s integrity. The process brings character and moral defects to the fore at the expense of any positive characteristics, and the result of this effectively irreversible action (TOR Question of the Week) is someone deeply wrong:
- Towers of Midnight, Prologue
Tarna smiled, a grimace that looked completely unnatural on her face. Like the smile on the lips of a corpse. She turned back to her writing.Balefire is another example of wrongness as its large-scale usage shows:
Something is very, very wrong here, Pevara thought.
- Towers of Midnight, Gateways
And he saw what Norley had seen. Something was deeply wrong, something not quite alive inside those eyes. This didn't seem to be a man, but a parody of one.
- Towers of Midnight, Something Wrong
A wave of wrongness washed over her, a warping in the air, the Pattern itself rippling. A balescream, it was called—a moment when creation itself howled in pain.It is just a weave, as Perrin says in Towers of Midnight Darkness in the Tower, and can be performed by any channeller (those too weak to make it individually can link with others, use an angreal or the balefire rod ter’angreal), but it is evil, no matter who does it or for what purpose. So, Egwene was right to protest that it is not just a weave at all.
- Towers of Midnight, Prologue
Balefire undoes time and causality, those foundations of the Pattern. In Lord of Chaos, the Dark One asked Demandred to unleash balefire – to use it to weaken the Pattern faster. Undoing time makes it possible for death to be undone by the weaver, if the being or thing balefired killed something in their last moments, although the Dark One can’t undo the death of the balefired. However, weakening the Pattern increases the Dark One’s touch on the world and he can reincarnate non-balefired souls and also warp reality.
Shadowspawn are the first example of wrongness in the series, but they were created by a human, even if one touched by the Shadow. On the other hand the Blight is all the Dark One’s work and spreads his wrongness in the form of large-scale rot and sterility, unseasonal weather, monstrous mutation and foul stenches across continents:
"This is the best weather we've seen all year," Egwene said, shrugging out of her own cloak.Perrin will not sense such wrongness again until So Habor.
Nynaeve shook her head, frowning as if listening to the wind. "It feels wrong. "
Rand nodded. He could feel it, too, though he could not say what it was exactly he was feeling. The wrongness went beyond the first warmth he could remember out of doors this year; it was more than the simple fact that it should not be so warm this far north…
Mile by mile the corruption of the Blight became more apparent. Leaves covered the trees in ever greater profusion, but stained and spotted with yellow and black, with livid red streaks like blood poisoning. Every leaf and creeper seemed bloated, ready to burst at a touch. Flowers hung on trees and weeds in a parody of spring, sickly pale and pulpy, waxen things that appeared to be rotting while Rand watched. When he breathed through his nose, the sweet stench of decay, heavy and thick, sickened him; when he tried breathing through his mouth, he almost gagged. The air tasted like a mouthful of spoiled meat. The horses' hooves made a soft squishing as rotten-ripe things broke open under them.
- The Eye of the World, The Blight
According to Perrin, Shadowspawn smell of the Blight, for instance this wrongness and rotten smell:
The wrongness was still there, in the air. He'd assumed that the dreamspike was causing it, but he had apparently been wrong. The air smelled like the Blight.is revealed to be a large Shadowspawn ambush. Sometimes Shadowspawn smell powerfully of burnt sulphur, the brimstone of hell:
- Towers of Midnight, Wounds
Almost burnt sulphur; that was only a pale imitation of this smell. It had a reek of… wrongness, of something that did not belong in this world.The Dark One does not belong in this world since his intent is to destroy it. Is the Blight an example of the world the Dark One would create, or just a result of his efforts to destroy the real world?
- Crossroads of Twilight, The Scent of a dream
The same applies to the area around Shayol Ghul, even in Tel’aran’rhiod, as Rand describes:
Rand did not want to look toward the left side of the room. The fireplace was there. The stones that formed floor, hearth and columns were warped, as if they had been melted by an extreme heat. At the edges of his vision, they seemed to shift and change. The angles and proportions of the room were wrong.Is this the Dark One’s own “reality” or merely his efforts at corrupting the Creator’s reality?
- The Gathering Storm, A Place To Begin
The next example of the Dark One’s wrongness is the bubbles of evil that warp reality. There was a tiny one at the beginning of The Great Hunt: a wind which held Rand while Lan’s practice sword whacked hard him in the chest. At first, his touch being weak, the Dark One sensibly aimed the bubbles squarely at the three ta’veren – their very ta’veren-ness probably making this process easier.
The second bubble spectacularly burst in Tear in The Shadow Rising, affecting all three ta’veren simultaneously, and with witnesses present. Perrin was attacked by his axe. Its murderous fury dissipated when Perrin 'disarmed' it by burying the axe in the door. In an Alice in Wonderland scene, the rulers on Mat’s playing cards came to life and tried to kill him until he knifed them. Rand was attacked by images of himself that stepped out of reflective surfaces. The three reflections didn't cooperate; each wanted to take over Rand's body for itself, a sure sign the Shadow was involved, or they bore the essence of the Shadow, since the Shadow is always uncooperative. One tried to suck Rand’s life force, but he absorbed its life force instead and then drew up that of the remaining reflections.
Moiraine suggests the attack was caused by evil leaking from the Dark One's prison as the Seals weaken:
“As the seals holding the Dark One’s prison weaken,” she said after a time, “it may be inevitable that a ... miasma ... will escape even while he is still held. Like bubbles rising from the things rotting on the bottom of a pond. But these bubbles will drift through the Pattern until they attach to a thread and burst.”The effects of the bubble are similar to a trap in Tel'aran'rhiod: each of the men fights what they each hate or fear, yet depend on most.
- The Shadow Rising, Reflection
Rand is afraid of his role as doomed saviour/Dragon and of his destiny to break the world. Perrin is afraid of his berserker tendencies and lust to kill and of being unable to protect those close to him from battle. Mat, whose fears seem almost trivial beside those of Rand and Perrin, is afraid of the One Power (represented by the Amyrlin, and how appropriate that Mat, who fears the One Power so, was attacked first by the Amyrlin card) and of his luck in gaming or battle not being in his favour and he disdains but uses nobles (rulers of the suits, which he gloated about holding in his hand).
Some chapters later, Mat and Rand were attacked by a bubble of evil in Rhuidean. By Knife of Dreams, the warping of reality is almost commonplace and physical reality seems quite plastic:
Impossible as it seemed at first, the interior of the Tower sometimes changed. People got lost trying to find rooms they had been to dozens of times.The palace in Caemlyn also had corridors and stairs move in Knife of Dreams. In both places, the populace is uncared for and the fight against the Shadow set aside while the leadership is mired in dispute. Just as the residents have lost track of the danger the world is in, so they can’t find their way about physically either.
- Knife of Dreams, Honey in the Tea
In a perverted way the changes in the physical environment are reflecting or even commenting on the human situation around them. So while the Dark One’s aim is to incite fear and despair in people by spreading chaos and corruption, there is still meaning in where and how reality changes.
In The Gathering Storm, the novices’ rooms in the east wing and the majority of the Brown Ajah quarters on the Twenty First and Twenty Second levels changed places, and the Yellow Ajah on the sixth level traded places with the second kitchen in the basement (The Gathering Storm, In Darkness). It’s one way to show that Aes Sedai know far less than they think and need to leave the Tower more…The novices will play a crucial role in defending the Tower against the Seanchan, better than many Aes Sedai. Also with so many novices to join the Tower, the second kitchen will become more important, hence its rise out of the depths.
Leane’s cell morphed in a most alarming manner to free her (and nearly killed her while it did so; The Gathering Storm, When Iron Melts). And again, the signs were commenting that she was imprisoned unjustly, even if they had no regard for her personal safety.
As Egwene was being taken to serve Elaida:
The hallway ended abruptly in a stonework wall set with a bright tile mural. The image was that of an ancient Amyrlin, sitting on an ornate golden seat, holding forth her hand in warning to the kings and queens of the land. The plaque at the bottom declared it to be a depiction of Caraighan Maconar, ending the rebellion in Mosadorin. Egwene vaguely recognized the mural; the last she'd seen it, it had been on the wall of the Tower library. But when she'd seen it there, the Amyrlin's face hadn't been a mask of blood. The dead bodies depicted hanging from the eaves hadn't been there either.The direct way to Elaida’s rooms is blocked: they have to detour through the Red Ajah’s quarters, just as most initiates can’t approach Elaida, who relies on, or trusts, only her former Ajah. She no longer uses the traditional apartments for the Amyrlin much lower down in the Tower near the Hall. Elaida can’t be reached promptly, showing the poor communication in the Tower, fatal in The Gathering Storm, and the way she has set herself apart and above.
- The Gathering Storm, The Nature of Pain
Caraighan Maconar was an Amyrlin raised from the Green Ajah who ended a rebellion; and here her face is covered with blood as she raises her hand in warning; Egwene would have chosen the Green Ajah and she bled profusely after Elaida’s beating. The bodies hanging in the picture is a warning to Egwene and the Reds of where division will lead the Tower if a peaceable end to the rebellion is not found: the deaths of Aes Sedai, Warders and servants as happened during the coup, and perhaps also executions, considering the vengeful nature of Elaida. Deaths do soon happen: people are killed when the Seanchan raid the Tower. There would have been fewer if Elaida and the Hall had heeded Egwene’s warning of the attack, and also if the Tower leadership and communication was functioning correctly. More deaths follow as the Black Ajah are purged from the rebel and Tower Aes Sedai and many are executed. Caraighan’s portrait has moved out of the library, out of history, into the light of the present. It is a timely reminder (or an arrogant taunt considering how much the Shadow stage-managed the coup) that the Aes Sedai need to end their own rebellion, cleanse themselves of Darkfriends and start working to unite the nations.
Even though the changes to reality are frightening and unpredictable and often nasty, they have meaning; reality appears to change in response to strong moral issues or important events such as rebellion, injustice, arrogance, or power struggles. It really is the Time of Change. The Dark One is the embodiment of chaos, but chaos theory is not senseless. It is however very difficult to fathom, as Verin attested.
If people hold onto beliefs and maintain community order, they are less affected by the Dark One’s touch because “belief and order give strength” against the Shadow, as Herid Fel said. The aim of spreading chaos is to tip the world into a downward spiral of negativity and wrongness which breaks the integrity of the Pattern and gives strength to the Dark One.
Another major horror of the Last Days is the appearance of ghosts and of the living dead in various forms. This is an increasingly major motif of the series and I’ve written about it here. Even the Ogier dead are unquiet.
Loial said the Ogier dead don’t enter the Stedding, yet the Stedding represent where the Ogier came from; Ogier are so native to the Stedding that they are tied to them. Things touched by the Shadow are reluctant to enter Stedding, the Stedding being more “right” than anywhere else, as shown by the greater fertility and complete lack of violence within Stedding, so perhaps this exclusion of Ogier dead is proof of the wrongness of death being undone.
Things touched by the Shadow are also reluctant to enter running water (The Eye of the World, Shadow’s Waiting and The Fires of Heaven, Gateways ) – running water symbolising the cleansing power of nature – so perhaps no bubbles of evil or warping of reality can occur on moving water or at sea.
As well as visiting horrors and terrifying monsters on people, the Dark One is undermining the Pattern by corrupting the Land and the Dragon. Rand is one with the Land, so injuring Rand damages the Land and vice versa. The result is disease (dis-ease) and sterility, with crops not growing, plants dying, birth deformities in animals, pestilence and famine rife.
The Dark One’s power or essence is inimical to Creation:
The Great Lord’s essence forced the Pattern, straining it and leaving it scarred. Even something the Creator had designed to be eternal could be unraveled using the Dark One’s energies. It bespoke an eternal truth—something as close to being sacred as Graendal was willing to accept. Whatever the Creator could build, the Dark One could destroy.For instance, Travelling by True Power damages the Pattern and requires moving outside it:
- Towers of Midnight, Prologue
To his ears, the world screamed as he used the True Power to rip a small hole and step outside the Pattern.Even channellers entitled to use the True Power suffer damage from it. When Ishamael reveals himself to Rand and boasts of his ability to recover from injuries:
- A Crown of Swords, Patterns Within Patterns
The mask came away. It was a man's face, horribly burned. Yet between the black-edged, red crevices crossing those features, the skin looked healthy and smooth. Dark eyes looked at Rand; cruel lips smiled with a flash of white teeth. "Look at me, Kinslayer, and see the hundredth part of your own fate." For a moment eyes and mouth became doorways into endless caverns of fire. "This is what the Power unchecked can do, even to me. But I heal, Lews Therin. I know the paths to greater power.we see that his boast is somewhat empty. His severe burns are healing, true, but he has flaming eyes and mouth: burned without, and burning by hellfire within, he shows the effects of too much True Power as well as the One Power. The corruption of the True Power can’t be Healed. We don’t know what the final symptoms of overuse of the True Power are, but they are fatal and terrible according to Moghedien (A Crown of Swords, Mindtrap) and Demandred (Winter’s Heart, Wonderful News). It’s interesting that red and black are Ishamael’s colours and here they mark his face.
- The Great Hunt, Kinslayer
Slayer is a human monstrosity, a shape-shifter created by the Dark One from Luc and Isam that only Perrin and the wolves recognise:
[Slayer] smelled wrong, like staleness and wolf's blood.With two souls in one body, abilities given him by the Dark One, and his frequent entry into Tel’aran’rhiod in the flesh eroding his humanity, it is no wonder Slayer smells wrong. He is unnatural; an abomination.
- Towers of Midnight, Darkness in the Tower
Mordeth’s power was born of the intention to fight the Dark One, but in evil way. This is another example of wrongness. The people of Aridhol chose to fight evil unscrupulously without regard for doing good. In the end the power of Shadar Logoth is almost as sterile and corrupt as the Dark One’s power. The inhabitants of Shadar Logoth killed each other and thereafter almost nothing could live or grow in the city. Mordeth, an unclean spirit, lurked in the ruins awaiting a body to appropriate. He was a spirit that lurked to catch an unwary person and is another example of the living dead.
(We saw the early stages of potentially another dark power in Masema and his Dragonsworn, but this was prevented by Perrin’s group.)
The Good Guys
Rand nearly went down the Shadar Logoth route and also the Dark One’s route (or Moridin’s at least). Far from perfect, he represents humanity at its most conflicted or mistaken, although with a huge potential and desire for good.
The Shadow attempted to corrupt the Light’s champion - corrupt the incorruptible- by forcing him to commit evil acts, notably use balefire, the ultimate sin. Rand found the lure of the most powerful sa’angreal also very corrupting, no matter how good his intentions when using them, and even attempted to resurrect a young girl in Tear.
Nynaeve is one character who represents humanity at least conflicted or mistaken. The brilliance of her Healing, representing the restoration of proper order, and intensity of her desire to Heal are signs of this. However she is not perfect either and nor is she intended to be by Jordan.
Perrin as Nature in all its wildness and nurturing expression of the Pattern is most sensitive to Wrongness (just as Mat, most eager to stay alive, is most sensitive to the living dead). Yet Perrin, like Rand, attempted to resurrect a loved one – Hopper in Tel’aran’rhiod:
And Hopper lives, Perrin thought. He does! I can smell his coat, hear him loping in the grass.Perrin attempts the wrongness of the living dead just as Rand did back in Tear.
A wolf appeared before him, forming as if from mist. Silvery gray, grizzled from years
of life. Perrin thrilled in his power. It was real.
And then he saw the wolf's eyes. Lifeless.
The scent turned stale and wrong.
- Towers of Midnight, And After
Mat is not especially sensitive to wrongness:
"Something feels wrong about these folk, Mat." Talmanes spoke very softly, glancing over his shoulder.It wasn’t until the Hinderstap townsfolk starting killing each other and trying to kill him that Mat realised how wrong the place was:
"While you've been playing, I've been talking to them. They don't care about the world. The Dragon Reborn, the Seanchan, nothing. Not a care."
"So?" Mat said. "They're simple folk."
- The Gathering Storm, The Tipsy Gelding
There was an odd wrongness about the entire experience. Was the curfew intended to keep this from happening, somehow? Had Mat, by staying, caused all of these deaths? Blood and bloody ashes.It took a personal threat to make him notice.
Did no place in the world make sense anymore?
- The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap
There is no obvious reason why Hinderstap is trapped between living and dead, a whole town immersed in wrongness as Thom explains:
“Something's wrong in the world. There's a snag in the Pattern here. The town unravels at night, and then the world tries to reset it each morning to make things right again."In So Habor there is rottenness, filth and unquiet dead and silent living:
- The Gathering Storm, Night in Hinderstap
Berelain blinked in surprise, but no one laughed. It was fool talk, yet Perrin thought the hair on the back of his neck really was standing stiff. Something was very wrong, here. The Aes Sedai seemed not to sense it… So Habor did not even whisper. It barely seemed to breathe…And weevils thriving in winter, in freezing cold? There was worse wrong in So Habor than spirits walking, and every instinct told him to leave at a dead run, without looking back.and with more reason than at Hinderstap:
- Crossroads of Twilight, In So Habor
Lord Cowlin fled the town for fear of his wife’s spirit. It seems there was doubt as to how she died.The wrongdoing of the local lord, the guardian of the Land, and his subsequent abandonment of his role, made the town susceptible to the Dark One’s touch.
- Crossroads of Twilight, In So Habor
Nature is the physical representation of the Pattern. This is the underlying philosophy behind the Seanchan’s use of the movements of animals as omens to determine where the Pattern is headed, and how it is unfolding. By blighting nature and spreading other forms of wrongness, the Dark one aims to break the Pattern enough that prophecy will be prevented from being fulfilled.
This post took longer to write than I anticipated, not just because of Real Life, although I have had plenty of that these last few weeks.