Tag Archives: The Wheel of Time

Gambler, Trickster, Son of Battles

No list of memorable characters in fantasy would be complete with Mat Cauthon. Robert Jordan’s resident troublemaker from The Wheel of Time series, Mat underwent an interesting journey, both within the pages of the books themselves and in this reader’s esteem as well.

[Warning: extensive spoilers for The Wheel of Time follow]

Mat begins the story as the town clown of Emond’s Field, Jordan’s Shire-like origin point for most of the series’ main characters. Everyone knows a Mat in real life. He’s the kid so known for troublemaking that everyone blames him as soon as something goes wrong. Most of the time, they aren’t wrong to do so. An archetypal “trickster” character, Matt’s eye for adventure and treasure along with his complete lack of common sense in the early books led him to quickly become my least favorite of the main heroes. Time after time his antics nearly get the others (and himself) killed. In the most singular example, he picks up a cursed dagger against explicit orders because it has a ruby in the pommel, and he pays dearly for this impetuous decision by nearly dying several times and losing large chunks of his memory. It’s safe to say that by the end of the second book, The Great Hunt, I was ready to wash my hands of Mat as a reader.

Then something funny happened. In the third book, The Dragon Reborn, Mat is presented as a viewpoint character for the first time. He also, quite against his own idea of better judgment, begins stepping up to responsibility when no one else is there to do so. Thus begins an epic quest within the larger story of the series, as Mat seeks to repair the damage done to him by the cursed dagger, repeatedly save his friends’ lives whether they admit to needing saving or not. Through a series of steps, each of which Mat himself would argue were perfectly necessary at the time, Mat becomes a proficient warrior, a master general, possessor of several powerful magical artifacts, husband to an empress and a true hero in his own right. But this is the stuff of any number of coming of age stories. Mat isn’t even the main character of The Wheel of Time. What makes him memorable isn’t just what I’ve listed above.

What makes it memorable is that Mat accomplishes all this while being absolutely hilarious about it all.

To be sure, Matt isn’t one of those characters who spouts off three witty lines per page for the entirety of the series. The humor of his character isn’t in what he says, but rather the irony the series continually thrusts upon him.

Contemptuous of nobility from the moment he first encounters them, of course he marries an empress. Disdainful of the notion of heroism and responsibility, of course he becomes a hero and a great battlefield commander. A gambler, drunkard (at least as far as The Wheel of Time’s PG-13 sensibilities allow) and a shameless flirt, Mat is utterly flummoxed when a young orphan boy his elite military squad adopts begins flirting with every woman he encounters. He repeatedly vows to determine who is teaching the boy such bad habits, never once realizing that, of course, Mat himself is.

Mat is a stellar example of how to make a character funny not by what they say, but but who they are. That’s actually a lot harder to do than it sounds.

Fans of Norse mythology will begin to recognize some of Mat’s exploits as they read, and the archetypal nature of his character begins to resonate with the gods (not the Marvel characters) Loki and Odin as the series goes on. The links to Loki, the trickster god, are obvious, but Wheel of Time fans who are unfamiliar with Mat’s connection to Odin may feel a little chill when they hear of Odin hanging himself from a tree and cutting out his own eye for the sake of wisdom.

From my least favorite character, Mat rocketed up the charts to become my favorite character in the series, and it wasn’t even close.
About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Gregory D. Little is the author of the Unwilling Souls, Mutagen
Deception, and the forthcoming Bell Begrudgingly Solves It series. As
a writer, you would think he could find a better way to sugarcoat the
following statement, but you’d be wrong. So, just to say it straight, he
really enjoys tricking people. As such, one of his greatest joys in life is
laughing maniacally whenever he senses a reader has reached That
Part in one of his books. Fantasy, sci-fi, horror, it doesn’t matter. They
all have That Part. You’ll know it when you get to it, promise. Or will
you? He lives in Virginia with his wife, and he is uncommonly fond of

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

Honoring the Giants

A while ago, I was at a book reading by an intriguing new fantasy author at one of my local bookstores. I’m naturally curious about how ideas originate and evolve, so during the Q & A period I asked him what other authors in the genre influenced him. I had expected a laundry list of the classics of old-Tolkien, LeGuin, Eddison-or at least some mention of today’s bestsellers. But the stammered and confused response I received was along the lines of, “I don’t have any influences, I don’t want to talk about it.” I left the reading feeling a little perplexed and disappointed, yet not fully understanding why.

This wasn’t the first time that I had this kind of response. I’ve heard similar questions fielded at conventions with similar answers given. It’s not something that’s made sense to me-I’m always quick to spout off my favorite authors and the things they do that I think are amazing-and given my inclination for seeking the origins of ideas, I wanted to know why people were refusing to admit that they have been influenced.

Of course, there is the fear that of being called derivative. Many, if not most, authors fear this, myself included. In any genre, but especially in speculative fiction, originality is of paramount importance. After all, isn’t that what writing is? The creation of something new? This is a real, and I think legitimate, fear, but I don’t think it adequately described what I had been seeing with these authors’ reactions, since many authors who fear being labeled as derivative have no problem discussing their influences. Deeper digging was required.

I believe the answer lies with how many people view creativity.

On a superficial level, creativity is the process by which something new comes about. That’s not controversial, but there is dispute about where this new thing comes from.

The common view of creativity is that it is intuitive, that an idea is not truly new unless it plucked from the ether, and not at all associated with anything else in existence. This follows suit with how many of us actually experience a new idea: sometimes it just pops into your head, and you don’t know where it came from.

But if that were true, every new idea would be completely incomprehensible since it would be divorced from any context we could comprehend (which is much the state of nonrepresentational modern visual art, and why it turns so many people off). In order for this new creation to be meaningful to us, it has to have some place in the world as we understand it, and thus it has to relate in some way to the things we have experienced before.

I think that creativity works the same way, but in reverse: the creator takes elements of their experiences and combines them in new ways.

Einstein’s development of the theory of relativity is often considered to be a work of staggering genius and the pinnacle of scientific creativity, and rightly so. Most people have difficulty understanding relativity, and can’t imagine how anyone else could conceive of it. But Einstein certainly didn’t pluck it out of the ether (especially since relativity helped destroy the very concept of the ether); he developed it as an answer to the problems that had been found in Newtonian physics. He combined his knowledge of physics with observed measurements in a way that resulted in a completely new theory. Far from being divorced from reality, his achievement attempted to describe it totally.

Other forms of creativity are no different. The unicorn, for example, is a mythical creature that has permeated cultures throughout the world for hundreds if not thousands of years, and is often a symbol of the fantastic. Yet ultimately, the unicorn is just a horse with a horn on its head and magical powers. It is nothing more than the combination of these attributes, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a completely original creation.

Imagine asking the creator of the unicorn to describe it. “Well,” he would say, “it has a horn, and magical powers, four legs, hooves, a mane and a tail… but it is definitely not a horse or related to horses in any fashion.”

This is akin to what many of these authors are saying about their own works in their frantic scramble to distance them from those of their influences.

Some of the greatest works of literature have clear influences. Tolkien was influenced by mythology (no, he didn’t invent the idea of Elves, though his Elves were nonetheless a remarkable creation), The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan can in many ways be seen as a fusion of Dune and Arthurian legend (the Aviendha/Chani connection), and Steven Erikson proudly declares that he was shaped by Glen Cook’s writing, and a side-by-side read of Gardens of the Moon and The Black Company supports this (can you tell I’m biased toward fantasy?). Despite the fact that their works were influenced by many things, they still stand at the high-water mark of creativity in fantasy fiction.

Now, I’m not at all suggesting that you should become a complete hack. Tolkien already wrote The Lord of the Rings; we don’t need you to write it again. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t let him or anyone else inform your own stories, so long as your stories and the elements that comprise them are your own.

Nor am I trying to diminish your creativity as being unoriginal. Utilizing what exists in the world and combining it in new and fresh ways is really hard work. Just ask Einstein.

So if you find yourself famous someday and asked who influenced you, feel no guilt as you give us your laundry list, and honor those giants upon whose shoulders you stand.


If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Isaac Newton

P.S. My epic fantasy novelette, Dark Tree: A Tale of the Fourth World, is now available for free on Smashwords! I hope you’ll check it out!