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he Importance of Tel'aran'rhiod

by gtatc: 2010-11-13 | 6.6 out of 10 (5 votes)

Previous Categories: The Wheel of Time

On my last read through of WOT (a while ago--it was in prep for TGS), I ran across a section from The Dragon Reborn that for some reason, I found troubling. It comes in the chapter "A World of Dreams," (in the paperback version I have, the section is from pages 238 to 240). In short, the passage says, or SEEMS to say that in all the various worlds woven by the wheel of time, there are three constants: the creator, the dark one, and tel'aran'rhiod, and that moreover, if the DO is freed in any of the worlds, he is freed in all of them, and if he remains imprisoned in one, he remains imprisoned in all. Here's the relevant quote:

"There is one Creator, who exists everywhere at once for all of these worlds. In the same way, there is only one Dark One, who also exists in all of these worlds at once. If he is freed from the prison the Creator made in one world, he is freed on all. So long as he is kept prisoner in one, he remains imprisoned on all. [...] There is a world that lies within each of these others, inside all of them at the same time. Or perhaps surrounding them. Writers in the Age of Legends called it Tel'aran'rhiod."

It is pretty clear from the context that this is intended to be illogical. Verin calls it a paradox, and calls the DO "the embodiment of paradox."

However, upon further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that this is not at all what it means, and that it is an important hint on the fundamental importance of TAR.

For starters, I want to look at the line "so long as he is kept prisoner in one, he remains imprisoned on all." It seems pretty clear to me that we are supposed to interpret this as meaning (in the lingo of mathematicians/logicians) "if there exists one world in which the DO is still imprisoned, then the DO is imprisoned in all worlds," if for no other reason than that is exactly how Egwene and Verin seem to interpret it. This seems particularly ludicrous given that the previous sentence just implied that he need only free himself in one world to be free in all. So consider the scenario that the DO is freed in one, and only one world. We then have two mutually exclusive scenarios implied by the two sentences: in one, the DO is freed (because he is freed in one world), and in the other, he is imprisoned (because he's still imprisoned in all the others). Verin calls this a paradox, and at first blush, it certainly is.

However, there is a solution, if one instead considers "If he is freed from the prison the Creator made in one world, he is freed on all. So long as he is kept prisoner in one, he remains imprisoned on all" to instead mean "there exists one UNIQUE world, such that, if DO remains imprisoned in this world, he remains imprisoned in all worlds, but if freed from this world, he will be freed in all." Think of a 500 story building with no staircases, no fire escapes, one elevator, and the DO's on the first floor trying to get to the 42nd floor. First he has to get on the elevator. Once he does, he has free reign to terrorize the inhabitants, but if he can't, he's stuck with all the other riff-raff without an elevator key.

Moreover, if we go back and look at the actual wording in the quote, we find some more support for this idea.

"If he is freed from the prison the Creator made in one world, he is freed on all." When taken away from everything else, this says it pretty baldly.

The Creator made the prison IN ONE WORLD. That would seem to be a prime candidate for that one, special, unique world that everything depends on, doesn't it? If you're of the opinion that this is just poetic license, look at the sentence again. "freed from the prison...IN one world, he is freed ON all." The implications of being freed 'in a world' are very different from that of being freed 'on a world.'

"So long as he is kept prisoner in one, he remains imprisoned on all." The same points from the previous paragraph really apply here, too. Look at the imbalance in the sentence: on one side of the comma, the DO is "kept prisoner," and on the other side he "remains imprisoned." In both cases, the ultimate meaning is the same--the DO is not free, but there's a subtle difference in their respective implications. The first implies activity, and possibly even the existence of a jailor, while the second implies passivity.

I believe that this one, special, unique world that controls the DO's access to reality is Tel'aran'rhiod. My first reason is because Verin claims that there are only three constants across all possible worlds--the Creator, the Dark One, and Tel'aran'rhiod. She does not include the DO's prison on that list--unless, of course, it already IS on that list. My second reason is because that mention of Tel'aran'rhiod is less than a page later, and I believe is the first time we get the official name of the World of Dreams. If nothing else, the chapter as a whole is supposed to be about it, since its what the chapter is named after and nothing really happens except Egwene's conversation with Verin. And finally, as I said, the wording "remains imprisoned" implies activity. Specifically, it implies the existence of a jailor. I can't think of better jailors for the DO than the Heroes of the Horn, can you?

This is my first theory posted, so please be gentle. It was originally part of a larger, much more detailed, much more supported, and much better written theory. Then I lost the notes. What can I say? Life sucks. Wear a hat.

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Tamyrlin: 2011-08-19

WineSpringBrother's response:

One of my favorite things about The Wheel of Time is that even the characters within the books don't know everything, and sometimes act as stand-ins for the readers, discussing theories (Verin would be a great HCFF!). I have a feeling this chapter will be very important at some point, since it mentions topics that could relate to Tarmon Gai'don which are still loose ends up to this point since no other characters have discussed them. Hopefully, Egwene will find more clues in Verin's decoded journal.

Your theory is an interesting take on Verin's Paradox Theory, taken to a literal and logical extreme. However, we know that paradoxes can exist within the Wheel of Time, the best example of which is the effects of Balefire, which erases threads and actions, but not the memories of the actions. Also, just because Verin has done a great deal of study regarding the Dark One, making her an expert on that subject, it doesn't mean that she knows everything, especially regarding such theological matters as the nature of the universe and a metaphysical jail cell constraining an immortal being, so perhaps her conclusions are wrong. Verin alludes to her relative ignorance in her most recent on-screen appearance in TGS. I have a feeling that the Dark One's nature and his prison are too complicated to boil down to a semantical argument (not to mention a logical leap that Verin apparently missed after leading Egwene right up to it) and will play a large role in the Last Battle.

However, I do agree though that there is some kind of correlation between Tel'aran'rhiod and the Dark One's prison and you may very well be correct as to the role of the HotH. In any event, this is a great chapter for discussion, especially since IIRC this is the first mention in the books of the metaphysical nature of the universe (not counting catechisms about how the Creator imprisoned the Dark One, etc.)


Oden: 2011-08-19

If we look at the 500 story building, is the Bore like a tube that connects the 7th story with the third, making it possible for the DO to speak with the 7th floor and fan up his foul air through the tube? Maybe the Bore is more like a ventilation duct. One big opening and several few ones that connects the stories.


Oden: 2011-08-19

Forgot to write: If the Bore is big enough, the duct is large enough for the DO to crawl around in. Making his way from floor to floor.


wantfear: 2011-08-22

Excellent theory. Im curious as to the nature of the precepts that the hero's of the horn adhere to? Does anyone have a list of them laying around by chance?

Gaidal says something to Bridgette about them but really thats all i can remember seeing about them. Maybe they contain some sort of "how to" guide on managing the dark one.


Ashaman Leyrann Gaidin: 2011-08-24

Then Birgette would have to tell Rand how to seal the bore, I think.


wantfear: 2011-08-25

Damn shame. She lost her memories remember? Funny how that works...

They also aren't supposed to interfere in the workings of the living.


Kamaul: 2011-08-28

Your theory is an interesting take on Verin's Paradox Theory, taken to a literal and logical extreme. However, we know that paradoxes can exist within the Wheel of Time.

Also, just because Verin has done a great deal of study regarding the Dark One doesn't mean that she knows everything, especially concerning theological matters such as the nature of the universe, so perhaps her conclusions are wrong. We can see that Verin doesn't know much about Tel'aran'rhiod, so not even she could make out that. Never in the infinite turnings of the wheel has the Dark One been freed so obviously that theory has not been tested.

Not only that, but there can be seen a plain reason for Verin's Paradox Theory. Freeing the Dark One is harder than you think. Like I said, never in the infinite turnings of the wheel has the Dark One been freed. Notice that remaining imprisoned comes before the freeing.

Here is my take on it. While the Dark One remains imprisoned in one world, he cannot free himself in any world. When he is no longer imprisoned in any world, he frees himself in all worlds.


BigBadWolfbrother: 2011-09-10

Rand DOES have to die to win...

Where do hero's go when they die? TaR!

Rand dies...starts to fix the prison from TaR...then stupid Nyneave brings him back to life. Dark One wins again, Lews Therin.


davianablar: 2011-09-13

Regarding the Paradox, my guess is that the Bore thins at the same spot in all realities simultaneously. The Seal blocks the DO in all realities, as well. The Prison is "outside" of existence. Imagine the different realities were clear plastic laminates for an overhead projector, like in math class. Stack a bunch on top of each other. Shine a laser and it touches the same spot on each one. It is not exactly the same, but close.


NeverEndingLurker: 2011-09-13

I too am hooked on the role of T'A'R within the story as I think it is the corner stone of the mythology. It's interesting to see how all the characters begin to think they understand it, but it seems no one really does. Aes Sedai such as Egwene, even when know they know that they can create anything they could ever want or need with a thought, continue to rely on "channeling". This dependency on the familiar is what holds them back from deeper understanding of T'A'R as you can see how Perrin's perception and interaction within T'A'R are completely different.

Even calling it the "World of Dreams" is a misnomer because it goes beyond that: it is a place of "Infinite Possibility". More likely, it is a place where you can *access* infinite possibilities. And that's the key!

All of the prophecies have been intentionally written to confuse the reader and characters; there is a lot of verbal sleight of hand going on so it's difficult to pin down any exact meaning. On my last read I came away with the idea that everyone has been chasing a ghost and that the DO doesn't exist in the way everyone thinks he does: as a separate being that can be confronted. Rather, the DO exists within each character, each person has the DO within themselves and "chooses" to be one with their dark side. And so my current interpretation of the above quote is that each person is their own world of infinite personalities across a sea of possibility. In some time lines they are good and in some time lines they are bad. But, if one of those time lines frees the DO within, then ALL of their time lines fall and that person becomes an embodiment of evil as the various time line personalities begin to merge together.

This scenario really reminds me of the Jet Li film "The One", but this is pretty much what Rand has struggled with: merging with his alternate LTT time line. This may even help explain his relationship with Ishy/Moridin.

T'A'R is a really fun concept as it is the line that divides light from dark which was breached by the Bore.


Red Hand Man: 2011-09-15

I like the idea. Also, didn't you think it was funny how Rand explained how he Travels to Egwene? That he folds the pattern and "bores" a hole in it? Then when she figures it out, it's by entering T'A'R in the flesh?


Landro: 2011-12-06

Bear in mind that at the time Verin shared this information, she was still bound not to betray the DO and I wonder what was in Corianin's notes.

Semmi's interest in the sleepweavers (dream ter'angreal) might also indicate that T'A'R still has an important role to play in the final book.


CPFalcon: 2012-10-10

Those are lots of good ideas about T'A'R ... It makes sense because "what happens in T'A'R happens in the real world," which I believe supports the whole idea of him being freed or imprisoned in ONE world and it affecting all, and that entering TAR in the flesh is "an evil thing," since that's where the DO's prison is. If so, then the bore would be the place where the veil between the living world and T'A'R is thinnest, which is also what gives Shayol Ghul its reality-bending properties (like the spiked ceiling going into the Pit of Doom that brushes the heads of those who enter, or nearly crushed Moghedien after she had failed the DO) and maybe the feeling of always being watched in T'A'R comes from being watched by the DO himself.

Perhaps also controlling things in T'A'R is in a sense using the True Power, though without negative effects for those who do it while dreaming, whereas Rand did it while there in the flesh, which carried over and is now allowing him to channel the TP in the living world (though maybe another requirement is his having "crossed the beams" with Moridin, since nothing has been mentioned of Egwene being able to use the TP, even though she was in TAR in the flesh for a period of time).

This connection might also be explained by the fact that people's spirits go to T'A'R when they die, and death is the DO's domain. This also pulls in the resurrection of forsaken, and possibly the "turning" of lightfriends into darkfriends. Perhaps the Forsaken were resurrected by pulling people into T'A'R in the flesh, then finding and merging it with the spirit of the dead forsaken. The probably takes a long time to find like Egwene trying to find dreams of others in a sea of stars that are all the same if they aren't heroes like Birgitte, who is aware of what's going on in T'A'R and can respond to her name being called. As for "turning," it requires a circle of 13 Aes Sedai and 13 myrddraal. I think maybe the myrddraal are a sort of manifestation of the DO's influence in T'A'R onto human-like bodies. They have been said to have no dreams, and if they are such a manifestation, then perhaps channeling through them with a circle of 13 is akin to channeling through them into T'A'R to access the DO's TP which is used to "turn" and corrupt the unwilling person.

@neverendinglurker I really like this idea of internal struggle (which I believe is a main theme in the series), but the DO speaks directly to the Forsaken; if you remember, "HOW FARES THIS WORLD, DEMANDRED?" (Which leads to another point in favor of the DO in T'A'R - he says "this world," not "the world.") However, I think this is the main way that the DO attempts to free himself. By all means, he must create chaos, trying to freeze then burn the world so much that crops die and food fails, and people become generally unhappy, which may lead them to embrace the shadow, when they feel disenfranchised with the light.

Anyway, this comment is really long-winded ... maybe I should flesh it out a bit and post my own theory ;)


LaerenMisha: 2012-10-19

I just wonder if TAR and its reality-bending properties might be either a stop-gap measure to hold off the DO's final freedom near the end of AMOL (cuz you know the DO is definitely going to be freed or nearly-freed as a climax) or part of the solution. So, perhaps Egwene being one of the strongest channelers of the Age, as well as having Dreamer Talent will play a part in this?

Scenario: The last Seal gets smashed before Rand is able to finalize his plan to seal the Bore. The DO starts coming free, both in the Waking World and the TAR. Egwene (and other Dreamers...perhaps all of the ones they have been training to use TAR) bend TAR around the DO to hold him in the prison (or bend TAR into creating temporary Seals), long enough for Rand to implement his plan to seal the Bore. Perhaps Cyndane/Lanfear helps (also being one of the strongest TAR users known).

So, for as long as the Dreamers can maintain the prison in TAR, the DO is imprisoned in all other worlds (meaning the Waking World and all of the Portal Stone offshoots). Which, I'm assuming, will be a climactic battle of wills, and the barrier will ultimately fail, but will have served its purpose of delaying the final freedom long enough for Rand to do whatever it is he is going to do.

At least I think this would be an interesting part of the battle...pure speculation of course :)


KyleLitke: 2012-11-25

I can buy into that. I always had a problem with that's easy to just shrug and say "you know, Paradoxes and stuff", but what Verin said simply cannot be true if taken at face value. If there are virtually an infinite number of worlds out there, the Dark One pretty much HAD to be free in at least one...if not, then that would imply it's impossible to free him and there's really nothing to worry about. There are certainly worlds where the "Light" was defeated or Rand never met his destiny...we saw glimpses of them a long time ago. If the Dark One couldn't be freed even when the Shadow practically wipes out everything, then there's really nothing to worry about in this series. And if the Dark One WAS freed in one world, then the statement is flat out false as he is not free in the main world.

Now, if TAR is somehow involved, that would potentially be a different story. Although truthfully, the whole idea of there being only one TAR is kind of a mess. With a nearly infinite number of worlds out there, that place should be constantly packed full of people dreaming themselves in all the time. Rand should probably have run into himself multiple times from other worlds. It might be one of those things we're not really supposed to think about too much.


Kamaul: 2012-11-28

I have to disagree. Mirror worlds are only reflections. They are mere simulations of the real world. If you take that into account, you will find that there is no longer a paradox.