2.6.3: Who are the Aelfinn and Eelfinn? --Updated
[Erica Sadun, Sean Hillyard, Pam Korda, Leigh Butler]
The Aelfinn and Eelfinn (henceforth referred to as "the Finn") are strange tricksy critters who live in other dimensions. They are also known as the Snakes and Foxes, because of their appearances, and have long-standing tricksy relationships with humans: giving gifts and answers... at a price.
Most of what we know about the Finn is from TSR. There is also a little bit in the Guide, and scant but telling information is gained in WH.
What we know from the Tear doorway
[TSR: 6, Doorways, 95] and [TSR: 15, Into the Doorway, 174-180]:
- There seems to be some kind of agreement concerning the use of the door. Anyone may enter who does not bring sources of light (lamps, torches), iron, or instruments of music. The snakes will then answer three questions which pertain to the future of the asker. "Frivolous questions are punished, it seems, but it also seems what may be serious for one can be frivolous coming from another. Most importantly, questions touching the Shadow have dire consequences." What sort of consequences? Moiraine mentions death and madness.
- How do they provide true answers? Moiraine speculates, "That world is... folded... in strange ways.... It may be that that allows them to read the thread of a human life, read the various ways it may yet be woven into the Pattern." This explanation seems to fit with what the snakes said while Mat was in there.
- What do the snakes get out of it? According to Moiraine: "Sensations, emotions, experiences. They rummage through them; you can feel them doing it, making your skin crawl. Perhaps they feed on them in some manner. The Aes Sedai who studied this ter'angreal... spoke of a strong desire to bathe afterward."
- The presence of two ta'veren placed some sort of strain on the place, causing it to almost fall apart.
- As can be surmised from their questions upon entering, the snakes don't like fire: Rand uses a fire-sword to keep them off him: "The sword kept them back; they wouldn't even look at it. Shied away. Hid their eyes."
- The space the snakes live in is very weird, indeed. Moiraine, Mat, and Rand all enter and exit it through the twisty door around the same time, but they don't see any sign of one another while inside.
What we know from the Rhuidean doorway
[TSR: 24, Rhuidean, 278-282] and [TSR: 26, The Dedicated, 306-307]:
- The foxes also speak of a treaty in using the doorway. The spear Mat gets from them also mentions treaties and agreements: "Thus is our treaty written; thus is agreement made. Thought is the arrow of time; memory never fades. What was asked is given. The price is paid."
- Again, no iron or musical instruments, or ways to make light.
- Instead of answering three questions, the foxes grant three wishes.
- Again, there is the prickling of the skin as memories are rummaged through. However, for the foxes this does not seem to be payment enough for their services. Apparently a 'price' has to be negotiated before 'agreements' are made. Mat lucks out (of course) and asks for a way out as one of his agreements (It seems extremely likely that he would still be there without that), but they still exact a price out of him, and an unpleasant one, from what we can infer of it.
What we know from Birgitte's talk with Perrin
[TSR: 28, To the Tower of Ghenjei, 323-324]:
- The Tower of Ghenjei is a route to the realms of the Finn. (The Tower is a large, metallic tower with no doors which is located in Andor. Perrin chases Slayer to it in T'A'R in [TSR: 28, To the Tower of Ghenjei, 322], and it is seen from Bayle Domon's boat in [TEOTW: 24, Flight Down the Arinelle, 299-300]) It is "hard enough to leave in the world of men. Here [in T'A'R] it is all but impossible."
- The way to "beat" the snakes and foxes is to break the rules. "Courage to strengthen, fire to blind, music to daze, iron to bind."
- The Finn "are not evil the way the Shadow is evil, yet they are so different from humankind they might as well be. They are not to be trusted."
From the Guide
[Guide: 3, The Age of Legends, 33]:
- "The answers received [from the snakes] are always true, though not easily understood."
- "The requests are always granted, though not always as intended by the petitioner."
What we know from Mat's POV and Cyndane's POV
[WH: 31, What the Aelfinn Said, 588] and [WH: 35, With The Choedan Kal, 649]:
- Chapter title says it - we finally know that the Aelfinn are the Snakes and the Eelfinn are the Foxes (we've only been wondering since Book 4...). Of course, we're not really sure how Mat knows this. Either it's fairly common knowledge and Moiraine and Birgitte just neglected to mention it, or (more likely) Mat got the information from one or more of the memories in his head.
- Cyndane, aka Lanfear, says that she was "held" by the Aelfinn AND the Eelfinn. It's always seemed logical that the Snakes and the Foxes were connected, but this statement is the first real indication that they coexist and work together in some fashion.
Cyndane's info, in particular, has sparked speculation on how exactly this coexistence works. Perhaps the game of Snakes and Foxes that Mat and Olver play may yield a clue as to how Aelfinnland and Eelfinnland are linked.
From [LOC: 33, Courage to Strengthen, 456], the game board is described as "a piece of red cloth with the web of lines drawn in black ink, and arrows showing which lines allowed movement only one way and which both." Sketchy, but the phrase "the web of lines" implies that the pattern may be like an actual web - straight spokes overlaid with either concentric circles or a spiral.
Interesting, since the architecture of the Snakes' domain is described as all curves and spirals [TSR: 15, Into the Doorway, 174-176], and everything in Foxland is sharp straight angles and polygons; the most often-recurring shape in the Foxy architecture is an eight-pointed star [TSR: 24, Rhuidean, 279-281]. Perhaps something like the spokes of a web with the circles taken away?
Given all this, Gabriel Wright theorizes that perhaps the game played in the real world actually accurately depicts Finnland; the Aelfinn (Snakes) live in the spiral part of the web, while the Eelfinn (Foxes) live on the spokes. Separate, but linked. There's definitely a certain elegance to the idea.
Mr. Wright also observes that there may be a link between the "snaring" purpose of the snake and fox tokens in the game and Birgitte's warning to Perrin about entering Finnland through the Tower of Ghenjei. Perhaps people coming in illegitimately (i.e., not through the twisted doorways) free the Finn from their age-old treaty, making the intruders fair game for capture?
As additional food for thought on the composition of Finnland: there are windows to whatever passes for outside in Finnland in the Snaky place (which is where Mat sees the three curved silvery spires over and over). However, the only openings in Foxland are to the inside, showing the chamber Mat entered from over and over again.
In that vein, Paul Ward received a letter from RJ in March 2000 in which RJ said (answering a question about why the Fox doorway melted in TFOH): "When Moiraine and Lanfear went through the ter'angreal, it burned in part because both were channeling, and the world on the other side of the doorway has a radically different set of natural laws. The odd optical effects witnessed in that other world are not artificially produced artifacts."
Interesting. It does make a certain amount of sense, as John Novak points out, that Finnland must have "a radically different geometry, which is definitely sufficient to produce the optical effects seen, [and that this would also] screw up what seems to be a geometrically based system of magic - weaves must almost certainly depend on geometry, from the way they're described."
This does raise the question of how Rand managed to not only channel in Snakeland, but actually step from one world to another while holding the weave. Without knowing more about how exactly the physics of Finnland differs from Randland's, the best explanation anyone can come up with to explain this is that at that point in the series, Rand hadn't had any real training in wielding the OP; he was doing everything by instinct. So he did what felt right in the real world, and did what felt right in Finnland. As for stepping from one reality to another... One other suggestion is that perhaps the fact that Rand was wielding Fire had something to do with why the Finnland physics didn't screw him up, since they are vulnerable to fire.
And on that note, isn't it remarkable that Aludra - and her matches - are now travelling with Mat and Thom? Just in time for a rescue, perhaps? [Erica Sadun]
How Do the Finns Collect Memories?
During a ride with Tuon, Mat becomes overwhelmed with the memories of another time and begins to speculate on how these memories were collected in the first place. [KOD 8: Dragon Eggs]
Maybe they created some sort of link to any human that visited them, a link that allowed them to copy all of a man's memories after that right up to the moment he died. In some of those memories from other men, he was white=haired, in some only a few years older than he really was, and everything in between, but there were none of childhood or growing up.
Later on his comments make it seem as if he believes the Finns might be seeing events through his eyes as he experiences them. Might this be the reason for Egwene's Dream of "Mat throwing dice with blood streaming down his face, the wide brim of his hat pulled low so she could not see his wound, while Thom Merrilin put his hand into a fire to draw out the small blue stone that now dangled on Moiraine's forehead." If the second part represents Thom rescuing Moraine from Finnland, then what does the first part mean? It's been speculated by many that Mat may try to gain advantage over the Finns by putting out one of his eyes.