The Wheel of Time is one of the most epic fantasy series in existence, spanning fourteen books (fifteen if you count the prequel). Within the series there are over 2700 named characters, including the main characters, the Edmond’s Field Five. If you are reading this, then you likely know the main protagonist of the series is Rand al’Thor. However, in my opinion Rand is not the most interesting character. Instead, that title goes to his good friend and fellow ta’veren, Matrim “Mat” Cauthon. I do want to give Rand some love before we take a deeper look at Mat. Rand is a great character, and the story could not be told without him. It is just that by the end of the series, I found myself more interested in many of Mat’s chapters. Here are three reasons why Mat is a great character.
Mat is stubborn. Really stubborn. Mat does not take shit from anyone. When stuffy Aes Sedai tell him what to do, he tells them off. When people tell him he should stop spending his time in taverns and inns dicing and drinking, he will become even more eager to do it. Throughout the entire series, even after obtaining the memories of ancient battle commanders, organizing his own army, and winning several major battles, Mat never gets stuffy or feels he is above other people. When Mat’s followers start calling him Lord Mat, he does not consider himself a lord, and his explanation to Setalle Anan (the innkeeper from Ebou Dar and former Aes Sedai) is great. Mat tells Setalle that an average man only needs three pairs of boots, and it is the following dialogue from Towers of Midnight that really encapsulates Mat’s character for me:
“Anyway, for people that have a little coin, the question of which boots to wear is harder. You see, average men, men like me…” He eyed her. “And I’m an average man, mind you.”
“Of course you are.”
“Bloody right I am,” Mat said, finishing with his laces and sitting up. “An average man might have three pairs of boots. Your third best pair of boots, those are the boots you wear when you’re working at something unpleasant. They might rub after a few paces, and they might have a few holes, but they’re good enough to keep your footing. You don’t mind mucking them up in the fields or the barn.”
“All right,” Setalle said.
“Then you have your second best pair of boots,” Mat said. “Those are your day-to-day boots. You wear those if you are going over to dinner at the neighbors. Or, in my case, you wear those if you’re going to battle. They’re nice boots, give you good footing, and you don’t mind being seen in them or anything.”
“And your best pair of boots?” Setalle asked. “You wear those to social events, like a ball or dining with a local dignitary?”
“Balls? Dignitaries? Bloody ashes, woman. I thought you were an inn-keeper.”
Setalle blushed faintly.
“We’re not going to any balls,” Mat said. “But if we had to, I suspect we’d wear our second best pair of boots. If they’re good enough for visiting old lady Hembrew next door, then they’re bloody well good enough for stepping on the toes of any woman fool enough to dance with us.”
“Then what are the best boots for?”
“Walking,” Mat said. “Any farmer knows the value of good boots when you go walking a distance.”
Setalle looked thoughtful. “All right. But what does this have to do with being a nobleman?”
“Everything,” Mat said. “Don’t you see? If you’re an average fellow, you know exactly when to use your boots. A man can keep track of three pairs of boots. Life is simple when you have three pairs of boots. But noblemen… Talmanes claims he has forty different pairs of boots at home. Forty pairs, can you imagine that?”
By the time this dialogue occurs, Mat technically is a nobleman, as he is the Prince of the Ravens married to the Empress of Seanchan, but more importantly, Mat is noble in character. Despite this, he still only wants to worry about three pairs of boots. No matter what abilities, titles, or adoration he gets, he just wants to be Mat, the guy that hangs out at the tavern with the average men drinking and dicing after a hard day’s work.
Mat is competent, which makes him enjoyable to read. He accomplishes many unbelievable things. While we know he has some extra ta’veren luck on his side, Mat is still the one who has to make decisions and execute his plans. I am going to cite another dialogue, as I feel you can get the best understanding of Mat’s essence from his bantering with other characters. The following exchange is between Mat and Rand in A Memory of Light after they have reunited:
“What did you do to your eye?”
“A little accident with a corkscrew and thirteen angry innkeepers. The hand?”
“Lost it capturing one of the Forsaken.”
“Capturing?” Mat said. “You’re growing soft.”
Rand snorted. “Tell me you’ve done better.”
“I killed a gholam,” Mat said.
“I freed Illian from Sammael.”
“I married the Empress of the Seanchan.”
“Mat,” Rand said, “are you really trying to get into a bragging contest with the Dragon Reborn?” He paused for a moment. “Besides, I cleansed saidin. I win.”
“Ah, that’s not really worth much,” Mat said.
“Not worth much? It’s the single most important event to happen since the Breaking.”
“Bah. You and your Asha’man are already crazy,” Mat said, “so what does it matter?” He glanced to the side.
“You look nice, by the way. You’ve been taking better care of yourself lately.”
“So you do care,” Rand said.
“By the way, I saved Moiraine. Chew on that as you try to decide which of the two of us is winning.”
As Rand states, he is the Dragon Reborn, basically the chosen one of the entire series, yet Mat’s accomplishments stack up pretty well with Rand’s. Mat’s list does not include the fact that he also beat two of the best swordsmen in the world, Gawyn Trakand and Galad Damodred, two-on-one with a quarterstaff. Nor does Mat’s list include the many battles he won with The Band of the Red Hand. For goodness sake, Mat commands the Army of Light to winning The Last Battle. It does not get much more competent than that.
Despite his stubbornness, his aversion to being a noble, and his desire to stay as far away from The Last Battle and Rand’s craziness as possible, Mat always comes through for his friends and loved ones. I will cite one more dialogue to help capture Mat’s goodness, and it is when Nynaeve and Rand defend Mat in front of Tuon when she meets with Rand for the first time in The Gathering Storm. Tuon calls Mat an “indolent scoundrel,” and Nynaeve responds:
“Matrim Cauthon is one of the finest men you will ever know, Your Highness, and I won’t listen to ill speech of him. What’s right is right.”
“Nynaeve is right,” al’Thor said reluctantly. “He is a good man. Mat may seem a little rough at times, but he is as solid a friend as one could hope for. Though he does grumble about what his conscience makes him do.”
“He saved my life,” [Nynaeve] said. “Rescued me at great cost and personal danger when no other thought to come for me.” Her eyes were afire with anger. “Yes, he drinks and gambles far too much. But don’t speak of him as if you know him, because you don’t. His heart is golden, under it all. If you’ve hurt him…”
This coming from Nynaeve is pretty spectacular praise for Mat’s heart, as Nynaeve has known Mat since childhood, and she was the one to discipline him many times for his behavior. Mat has his faults, but at his core, he is good, and he will fiercely protect his friends and loved ones. A prime example is when Mat ventures into the Tower of Ghenji and forfeits his eye to save Moiraine.
Mat is a great character because he cares deeply and he accomplishes great feats, but he never pretends to be more than he is. Mat is always true to himself, and he does not bend to the whims of others. Sure, he changes and evolves throughout the series, but it is not because others force him to. His progression as a character is based on his desire to do the right thing despite the fact that he wishes he could be an average man. I think many can relate to Mat. We all crave a simple and easy life, but when called to do something heroic, we hope we can be like Mat. Further, we hope we can be as heroic and courageous as Mat without losing our sense of self or forgetting from where we came.