Masculinity is expected to be presented and challenged in traditional epic tales. Texts that include epic journeys of their protagonists, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and The Bible, capture challenges that call into question man’s courage, strength, intelligence, love, dedication, and more. I mean, just look at Odysseus here, rendered helpless, with the sirens encroaching:
So when I picked up the first book in Robert Jordan’s 14-book series The Wheel of Time, The Eye of the World (American, 1990), I was not surprised that this epic tale centers on a quest to purify the masculine half of the One Power, which is integral in turning the Wheel of Time.
From the first chapter, the motive of the quest is clear: to save masculinity and, hence, all life. When masculinity is tainted and corrupted, all life suffers, and it must be redeemed if life will continue in the Light. Jordan does a great job highlighting a point that we continue to struggle with into the 21st century: this belief that masculinity must be unadulturated, straightforward, clean and clear…or else.
I was not surprised by the Prologue that capitalized on the fall of Lews Therin Telamon — the Kinslayer — to The Dark One. The story begins with a customary invocation of the fall of man’s (or masculinity’s) higher attributes. Telamon desperately grovels through the debris of the damange that he caused but cannot actualize, including the murder of his own wife, Ilyena. In a very sad scene, he rummages through the dross and bodies, even stepping over his wife’s body, screaming for her. He has been so far removed from himself that can’t realize what he has done, or even who he is.
I was not surprised to read about Lan, the Warder, who stands out as the epitome of a traditionally-masculine man. He is silent, highly skilled in combat, one with the land, knowledgable, perceptive, ruggedly strong, immune to most pain, loyal, reliable, and protects all members of the party. He is an expert in self-denial, such as concerning his love for Nynaeve, which he doesn’t allow himself to indulge. He’s also a king who is much respected in his land. They don’t come much more “manly” than Lan. Just look at him.
I was surprised, however, when toward the end of the novel Rand, who has been through so much and who also seems very “manly,” utters that above all else “I just want to make my father proud.”
Here he is, millions of miles away from his home. He has temporarily defeated an incarnation of The Dark One by weilding the One Power. He is almost undeniable, by this point, the “Dragon,” reborn, as Telamon also was. And of all the wishes, desires, and hopes that this prodigal son could harbor in the world, Rand al’Thor longs for only one thing:
To make his father proud.
I must say, this almost brought me to my knees.
On one hand, this wish paints Rand almost as a child. He looks to his father’s praise and acknowledgement in order to feel worthy, as a child might. This really humanizes Rand in a way that Lan isn’t quite yet humanized. On the other hand, it suggests that Rand might have the one masculine thing that might undo the taint on the masculine side of the One Power: the need to humble himself before something bigger and greater even than himself.