What Padan Fain Owes to Gollum, and What Rand al’Thor Might Learn From Him


Like many epic fantasy stories, The Wheel of Time is full of references and homages to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This is particularly true, and particularly noticeable, in the first book of the series, The Eye of the World. A magical stranger arrives at an idyllic farming community that has always sheltered from the rest of the world’s troubles, just in time for Dark creatures in black robes to show up looking for someone, forcing our young protagonists to flee in order to protect their home. There is a flight to a ferry. A sad swordsman who is really a dispossessed king. A trip into a once-great kingdom that is now full of shadowy monsters that no one really understands.

The list goes on, as Jordan was quite successful in referencing and reimagining quite a few characters and plot moments from Tolkien’s work. But my favorite, and I think the most impressive, is Padan Fain—the Gollum of The Wheel of Time. Like Gollum/Sméagol, the character of Padan Fain takes on a second personality in the form of the shadowy Mordeth, laying a foundation for Jordan to explore the concept of two minds in one body, not only with Mordeth-Fain but also with Luc-Isam and, of course, with Rand himself.

Just as Sméagol was a normal, hobbit-esque guy before he encountered the One Ring, Padan Fain begins the story as an ordinary peddler, an unimportant person by most metrics, though well-liked by the people of the Two Rivers. Sméagol’s corruption came to him by chance, while Fain intentionally swore himself to the Dark, but he could never have guessed that he would be made one of the Dark One’s hounds, taken to Shayol Ghul, and altered for the purpose of seeking out the Dragon Reborn.

Once he has searched enough of the land, Fain is brought back to Shayol Ghul to have his mind “distilled” for information. This is reminiscent of Gollum being tortured in Mordor for the information that leads the Nazgûl to search for “Baggins” and “the Shire.” Fain blames Rand for his suffering, and just as Gollum is drawn to follow Frodo while he carries the ring, Fain is a slave to impulses that exist outside of himself, tormented by dark dreams and thoughts of Rand that were put there by the Dark One but ultimately take on a life of their own, defining Fain just as Gollum’s hunger to reclaim the One Ring defines him.

Gollum isn’t the only Tolkien character Jordan draws from for Fain, however. When Mordeth-Fain becomes Ordeith, Mordeth’s corrupting influence affects those around him in a way that is very reminiscent of Grima Wormtongue’s influence over Théoden in The Two Towers, as it makes people cruel and bitter and suspicious, while also sapping their will and making them susceptible to Mordeth-Fain’s suggestions and control. The name Ordeith, which means “wormwood” in the Old Tongue, may be a nod to this fact.

And of course the gholam owes some of its genesis to Gollum as well, whose name also probably comes from the same root. Like Gollum, the gholam is slippery and stronger than it looks, can hide in shadows and tight spaces, and has become fixated on an opponent that defeated it through trickery and possession of a magical object.

Still, Fain’s story, and his role in the narrative, draws much from Gollum. It is more complex, in many ways, than Gollum’s, as Jordan explores different themes with the character-type than Tolkien did. Sméagol/Gollum is ultimately one person fractured into separate personalities, the latter of which develops from his isolation and from the corruption of the Ring; part of his story is about whether the part of him that is Sméagol can be unearthed from under the part that is Gollum. Fain, on the other hand, is possessed by an outside entity and one that is unrelated to the original Darkness by which he was corrupted. For some reason—most likely whatever supernatural changes the Dark One made to Fain to turn him into his hound—Mordeth was unable to take Fain over completely when he tried to possess him, and the two seem to have melded into one personality. Where Sméagol is one personality, become two, Mordeth-Fain is two personalities, become one.

It’s a little unclear whether Mordeth is the soul of a man long-dead or merely the consciousness of him, imprinted long after the person himself died. It is also possible that he is something in between: Just as Fain was altered by the touch of the Dark One, Mordeth may have been altered by the powers that destroyed Aridhol and gave birth to Mashadar. The question of whether they are two souls in one body or two consciousnesses in one body—or some mixture of the two—is therefore impossible to determine exactly, at least as of the end of Winter’s Heart.

However, we do have a fairly decent idea of how Mordeth-Fain understands who and what he is, including some sections that are from his point-of-view. At one point in Chapter 31 of The Shadow Rising, Mordeth thinks about the fact that he is no longer a puppet for the Dark One, and that he cannot be stopped or killed by either Shadowspawn or Forsaken.

“Nothing can kill me,” he muttered, scowling. “Not me. I have survived since the Trolloc Wars.” Well, a part of him had. He laughed shrilly, hearing madness in the cackle, knowing it, not caring.

In that same chapter we also learn that he sometimes calls himself Ordeith in his own mind and always refers to himself with singular pronouns; he never uses “we” as Gollum does when talking to himself/Sméagol. The above passage shows that Mordeth-Fain has some awareness of the fact that there are, or at least were, separate parts of him. These lines do seem blurred, however, and he doesn’t usually feel the need to distinguish those parts. In the same chapter, Fain thinks about how the White Tower has stolen his dagger, but he doesn’t consider that the dagger only belongs to part of himself, just as he doesn’t seem to distinguish the idea that his desire to hunt down Rand only comes from part of himself. The history of the parts matters, in a way, but in his current desires and experiences, he seems to think of himself as one.

Then again, we have also seen Fain talking to himself as though speaking to that other part. When he confronts Rand in chapter 33 of Winter’s Heart, he is able to create an illusion of Torval and Gedwyn coming up the stairs. Though the illusion is not explained, it must certainly be an ability that comes from Mordeth, and in the moment before the trick is used, it almost seems as though Mordeth makes the suggestion to Fain, causing a short debate.

“I want him to know who is killing him,” Fain whined petulantly. He was glaring straight at Rand, but he seemed to be talking to himself. “I want him to know! But if he’s dead, then he will stop haunting my dreams. Yes. He will stop, then.” With a smile, he raised his free hand.

But the muddle of Mordeth-Fain is not the only example of two minds inhabiting one body. Rand himself has another consciousness in his head with him—that of Lews Therin. Lews Therin is a different person from Rand, but not at all in the way that Mordeth is a different person than Fain, because Lews Therin is a former personality of the soul that is Rand al’Thor. In some ways, therefore, one can’t consider Lews Therin to be an outsider invading Rand, the way Mordeth invaded Fain. 

When it began, of course, Rand wondered if Lews Therin was actually real or merely madness, something his mind was imagining as it succumbed to the effects of the taint. But whether or not the taint is in some way responsible for this bleed-through across time, it is clear now that Lews Therin’s consciousness is “real,” that it is an actual presence in Rand’s head and not his own mind hallucinations.

Both Rand and Lews Therin are aware that they are separate minds, although Lews Therin often believes that Rand is in his body, rather than the other way around. Generally they both maintain this sense of self, even up to the point where Lews Therin will try to urge Rand to do things, or argue with him about his choices, or even attempt to take control of saidin from him. However, there is bleed-through from Lews Therin to Rand: Rand has memories about the Forsaken, of various weaves of the One Power, and is even beginning to pick up other of Lews Therin’s skills, such as the ability to draw. So far he appears to be aware of the fact that these memories and skills come from Lews Therin, not himself—at least for the most part. Rand’s guilt over the death of women and his drive to take responsibility for every one that is even vaguely adjacent to him, regardless of how much it is actually his fault, and regardless of that woman’s own choices and agency, is certainly driven by Lews Therin’s guilt over murdering Ilyena. And if Rand cannot see this, what other bits of Lews Therin might be sliding into him without his awareness? And how much worse might it get? The removal of the taint on saidin might help, but Lews Therin is already in Rand’s mind, and I don’t think he’s going away even if his presence was originally caused by the Dark One’s corruption.

Rand and Fain aren’t the only members of the two-conciousnesses-in-one-body club, either. Slayer—also known as Rand’s Uncle Luc, also known as Isam, who is probably a Malkieri and possibly related to Lan, so that’s fun—belongs to this group as well.

Luc-Isam is mentioned in the Dark prophecy that was found in the dungeons of Fal Dara in Chapter 7 of The Great Hunt, which so far (again, as of the end of Winter’s Heart) is our best explanation of what Luc-Isam’s deal is:

Luc came to the Mountains of Dhoom.
Isam waited in the high passes.
The hunt is now begun. The Shadow’s hounds now course, and kill.
One did live, and one did die, but both are.

This seems to suggest that Luc encountered Isam somewhere in the Mountains of Dhoom when he went into the Blight (as urged by Gitara), and through some strange occurrence, both their souls came to inhabit one body. At this point in my read I can only speculate how this came about, but there are a few clues in the prophecy. Shayol-Ghul is in the Mountains of Dhoom, and we know that the Dark One’s touch is stronger there, strong enough to exert his reality-altering powers on this part of the Pattern. It is where the ritual to imprison someone’s soul in coeur s’ouvre can be enacted, and nearby is where the Myrddraal swords are forged, a process which also involves human souls. It’s not hard to imagine that there are other ways souls might be corrupted, or mixed up, or placed into bodies not their own.

Indeed, the Dark One does steal the bodies of the living to reincarnate the souls of his followers. So far we have only seen him do so with the Chosen, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t, or wouldn’t, do it for other servants that were useful to him. Perhaps Isam is the one who died and was either placed in Luc’s body or attempted to possess him in some way, but for some reason it didn’t go to plan, just as Mordeth’s possession of Fain’s did not.

If we count the poetic structure as relevant, it would suggest that Luc lived and Isam died, and so far the body has looked like Luc whenever it is in the waking world, and only looked like Isam in Tel’aran’rhiod, further fitting this theory. Luc-Isam is also working for one of the Chosen, and it is suggested in chapter 22 of Winter’s Heart that at one point he was only ever commanded by the the Dark One himself—and perhaps Isam was the same, before he was joined with Luc.

All this speculation aside, what seems clear is that Luc and Isam are two souls in one body. This is different from Rand, who is one soul with two consciousnesses. It is different than Mordeth-Fain as well, because while those two are all jumbled up, Luc and Isam seem to remain completely separate, taking turns controlling the body. Most interestingly, they seem to enjoy each other’s company and revel in each other’s memories of violence.

Three different people with three different permutations of having two-consciousness per body. Mordeth and Padan Fain have melded into each other until they don’t draw many distinctions between which part is which. Luc and Isam like the same things—hunting and violence—and share the body apparently without strife. And Rand and Lews Therin fight for control, each trying to suppress each other.

It’s interesting that the bad guys have a much easier time getting along than the good guys. Of course, the fact that Lews Therin is suffering from the madness he was tainted by before his death doesn’t help. Rand is desperately trying to hold onto his sanity, but Fain doesn’t care if he’s insane, and Luc and Isam seem horrifically evil but otherwise rational. Still, I find myself wondering what Rand might be able to learn from his enemies about the balancing act of sharing your mind with another consciousness.

With the taint gone from saidin, Rand might find that the madness lifts from him, and even from Lews Therin. How might his relationship with this former personality of his soul change if he could trust Lews Therin’s reason? After all, even mad and wishing to die, Lews Therin has still been more of a help to Rand than a hindrance, preparing him for confrontations with the Chosen and giving him knowledge of channeling Rand desperately needs. If they were to learn to work together, they might be able to achieve some impressive things. Mordeth-Fain has, and Luc-Isam appears to be stronger as two than as one, as well.

In The Lord of the Rings, the being called Sméagol is corrupted and changed by his time possessing the One Ring, so much so that that corruption takes on its own consciousness in Gollum. Gollum is a creature of Evil, and he is both useful to Sauron and a threat to him. But ultimately, Gollum’s desire for the Ring, a desire that is given by the Ring and the evil of Sauron, is the final piece that leads to Sauron’s destruction.

This is also true of Mordeth-Fain. His ceaseless hunger for Rand is what leads him to give Rand that second unhealing wound, which in turn gives Rand the knowledge he needs to remove the taint from saidin, and to destroy Shadar Logoth in the same moment. This may or may not matter to the Mordeth side—neither of Rand’s wounds gets any better, which suggests that Mordeth’s own powers and the power of the dagger remain untouched by Shadow Logoth’s destruction. However, it is an enormous blow to the Dark One, and one could argue that without its removal, the Light was almost certainly doomed to be defeated in the Last Battle.

In his hatred for and obsession with Rand, Mordeth-Fain gave Rand an incredible gift. Instead of destroying him with corrupting power, he set him free from an even larger corrupting influence. What other lessons might he accidentally teach Rand before the end? What other uses might fate have for him, or for Slayer, or both of them before the end and the final confrontation between Rand and the Dark One? Time, and five more books, will give me the answers to these questions, but in the meantime, I remain impressed by Jordan’s ability to take the Gollum concept and run with it, in many different directions, creating new themes and new types of character from a foundation epic fantasy fans know so well. icon-paragraph-end



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