Casting the Wheel of Time: The Two Rivers

This casting post will be a bit different to Narg's other casting suggestions. Narg is not focusing on picking one actor for a specific role but rather on the racial identity of The Two Rivers population in general.

Say what?!? This may come as a surprise to some, but there is debate about this.

Narg himself never really thought about it. Being the top of the food chain, Narg really only paid attention to the age and size of people(oldies run slower and Narg enjoys a nice plump Inn Keeper or maiden). In recent times though it has been brought to Narg's attention that some take offense at people assuming The Two Rivers folk are "White".

An example of this from Tumblr:

Artist Nadia Attlee draws two rivers folk as white-ish:


Artist responds:

"Hi Anon! I wasn’t aware of this discourse regarding the Two Rivers folks but I think it’s a worthy topic of conversation and wanted to give a thoughtful response. Also apologies in advance if I get something wrong as it’s been some time since I read all the books.

Firstly I think it’s important to look at the ways in which we interpret default representation when there’s a lack of explicit information. It’s all too easy to read default as white, and that deserves some self reflection. I’ll admit that for me on first reading I saw the Two Rivers folks as basically ‘farmers tan’ white. My first introduction to the books was also staring at the covers in my highschool library where they are depicted as fairly white in the art (but as we know cover art can be plain wrong or misleading).

The books themselves are not explicit, and I welcome anyone who wants to challenge and explore the notions of what default should look like. My early reading of them as mostly white is definitely not a cut and dry interpretation. I can see how someone else could come to a conclusion that the Two Rivers folks are darker skinned. Although ‘dark skin’ can mean many things, Jordan has more explicitly described characters and regions that have darker skin (Some of the Seanchan, the Domani, Tear, etc. Juilin is described as being “carved from aged wood”, Leane “brownish stone”).

For that reason I also don’t think it’s necessarily incorrect to have a fairly white reading of the Two Rivers folks. In the descriptions we are given in TEotW, Tam is described as having “sun roughened cheeks, a sprinkling of black amongst the grey hair” Rand having “little of his father in him physically, except a breadth of shoulder. Grey eyes and the reddish tinge to his hair came from his mother, so Tam had said.” (Of course we know Rand is Aiel and Andoran in heritage, so he is the odd one out in the group). Mat is “wiry with brown eyes”, Perrin “stocky and curly-haired”, Nynaeve is “slender with a dark braid”, and Egwene has “the same dark colouring” with “big brown eyes”. I’ve definitely seen interpretations of ‘dark colouring’ to mean darker skin, but since Nynaeve’s skin is never described I personally thought it was a reference to her hair and eyes. The point is none of these descriptions are terribly explicit and could be left up to the reader to project on to.

Now, there is a scene in The Eye of the World where Elaida comments on Rand’s skin: ’“Two Rivers people are dark of hair and eye, and they seldom have such height.” Her hand darted out to push back his coat sleeve, exposing lighter skin the sun had not reached so often. “Or such skin.”’ One can read this as “Rand is paler than dark Two Rivers folk” but I think you can also read it as “Rand’s natural skin tone is lighter than the Two Rivers”. Again, neither is hugely explicit but can be interpreted in different ways. Conversely there is also a scene in the Fires of Heaven describing Egwene, after spending some time in the Waste: “Egwene, whom he had grown up with. Now, except for her big dark eyes, she could almost have passed for an Aiel, and not only for her tanned face and hands [but also because of her Aiel garb]” To me this might suggest that she used to be lighter than the Aiel, who are tanned skinned but have light hair and eyes.

So what I’m really trying to get at with all this text is; I think there’s a lot of valid criticisms of rendering ‘default’ as 'white’, and it’s something we should seek to challenge in our media consumption and creation. But I also think the Wheel of Time text supports more than one interpretation. I wouldn’t challenge anyone who decided to read the Two Rivers folks as being darker skinned, but I also think you can read them as fairly white too. For me the way I consume and analyse my media has changed a lot since I first started reading these books like fifteen years ago, so these kinds of discussions are very useful and interesting. I haven’t really had the chance to draw colour interpretations of the (non-Rand) Two Rivers folks except Egwene, so I welcome the opportunity to challenge my old assumptions. But I hope you can also respect that my interpretations may not match yours."

Anon responds:

Narg's like Whoa!!

Another example from Facebook.

Someone posts a picture of how they see Perrin:

People start debating skin tone, Group admin posts this:

As you can see some take the skin tone of the Two Rivers people quite seriously. Narg has to agree with Nadia, in that Jordan does leave the skin tone up to the readers interpretation to a large extent. One can reasonably argue that they are somewhere on the spectrum between 'White" and "Brown". 

So that leads to the question of how white or brown they should be portrayed, in any possible TV series or if they even should be cast as a distinct group. Do the distinct racial groups or characters skin color portrayed in the books really have that much bearing on the story being told? Narg thinks a lot of problems could be solved with doing away with them all together and just differentiating the different countries by customs and dress and changing up the color of the cast.

Problems, what problems? 

Lets see....A race of white gingers living in a desert with Native American and Zulu customs....Jordan may have thought it funny to put gingers in the waste but in today's reality, Narg doesn't think that will fly. Narg can already hear screams of whitewashing and cultural appropriation! The people screaming that arn't going to care if there's an "in world" reasonable explanation for it.

Then there's the issue of there being no outright good "Black" "main" characters in the books. Tuon is as close as we get and she's a slave owner bent on collaring women who can channel! Throw in Semirhage who is described as being the most depraved and sadistic of the Forsaken and Rahvin the rapist and well Narg is sure some will find issue with that.

Narg isn't even sure what the point is he's trying to make with this post. It could be that there is no right or wrong way to cast the people of The Two Rivers/Randland or that which ever way they decide to go, there will be some backlash. Narg not know.

What say you?

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