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I just got done re-reading the eleventh book of the Wheel of Time series: Knife of Dreams. However, throughout the book there weren't any significant references that I caught to knives or dreams. In fact, Tel'aran'rhiod did not seem to play a significant role in the plot, for the most part, aside from allowing Egwene to communicate with the rebel hall after her capture. I don't even remember a single instance of Perrin entering the dream world.

Thinking back on the series, I thought the title might have something to do with dream spikes, but they don't seem to have been introduced yet, either. What does the title refer to? What is its meaning?

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  • Meh, most of these titles aren't so much descriptive as rule of cool.
    – Mithoron
    Jul 22, 2019 at 17:19

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There doesn't seem to be any canon answer to this, not even from interviews with Jordan and Sanderson. We do have the following quote at the very start of book 11, before the prologue:

The sweetness of victory and the bitterness of defeat are alike a knife of dreams.

-- From Fog and Steel by Madoc Comadrin

But apart from that, all we have to go on is theories. This fan theory proposes that the "Knife of Dreams" could be Luc/Isam/Slayer, who kills people using Tel'aran'rhiod. This, perhaps more credible, one suggests that it refers to the breaking down of the barriers between the waking world and Tel'aran'rhiod, or between the living world and the realm of the dead. (Note that both of these theories date back to 2004, long before the series was finished.)

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    But Slayer doesn't even make a single appearance in the book, as far as I recall. That opening quote does make a bit more sense of it, though. Mar 30, 2017 at 17:40
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    @Mat Yeah, I don't really believe that theory either, but thought it was worth mentioning.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Mar 30, 2017 at 17:42
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Titles within the Wheel of Time series don't necessarily reflect a specific event or object within the books. For instance, there's still some speculation regarding the meaning of Crossroads of Twilight, and even Towers of Midnight has multiple meanings.

In this, we're given the quote "The sweetness of victory and the bitterness of defeat are alike a knife of dreams."

So, this means that sweetness of victory and bitterness of defeat are likely common themes throughout the book.

We do see that there are some major victories within the book:

  • Elayne takes the throne
  • Perrin finally reunities with Faile
  • Rand defeats Semirhage

But, we also see some bitter sides to the same edges:

  • Elayne's victory was hard-won, and incurred a great deal of debt to Andor (and did nothing about the Black Tower)
  • Aram attacks Perrin, ending in Aram's death
  • Rand loses a hand to Semirhage, she tells him about his problem with Lews Therin, and because it was Semirhage, not Tuon, he didn't have the intended meeting with the Daughter of the Nine Moons

Now, these are just a few examples of the events that match the theme. I personally see a great match in the Perrin/Faile events. He's been trying to rescue her for several books. In the end though, this victory is bittersweet:

  • Aram dies, corrupted by Masema
  • Perrin accidentally kills one of the Aiel that helped Faile
  • The Shaido retreat, leaving them as a potential future complication
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  • I can't decide what that quote even means. Specifically, what is meant by "are alike a knife of dreams". Not "like a knife of dreams", but "alike". That seems an awfully odd phrasing.
    – DCShannon
    May 17, 2017 at 17:54
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    @DCShannon "are alike in that they're both a knife of dreams"
    – user31178
    May 17, 2017 at 18:00
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This title is basically an expression of the age-old idea that wanting is better than having. As noted in the other answers, the pertinent quote is that "The sweetness of victory and the bitterness of defeat are alike a knife of dreams."

"A knife of dreams" probably should not be read as a knife made of dreams, or a knife that has dream-like characteristics, but rather as something that functions metaphorically as a knife for dreams—something that kills them.

With this in mine, the quote makes a great deal of sense: achieving a dream (the "sweetness of victory" or failing to achieve it ("the bitterness of defeat") both put an end to the dream itself. In other words, achieving one's dream destroys it just as surely as if the dream had been crushed, because there is nothing left to desire or strive for.

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  • I'm going to have to give it another listen with this answer in mind. It's easy to get hung up on the word dream in this series with the mechanics and significance of Tel'aran'rhiod, but I hadn't thought of it as simply a synonym for aspirations. I wonder which, in particular, is most pertinent. Probably Perrin's rescue of Faile, which in some ways doesn't really work out as he had hoped. Dec 31, 2022 at 5:23
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This thread is old but Aviendha gave Elayne a knife that can shield the dark one from seeing her. That’s the only significant reference to a knife I saw

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    Hi, welcome to the site. You could improve this answer by editing it to include a direct quote of the relevant text, or at least specifying the book, and which part of the book, this occurred in. The more specific you can be, the better. Dec 30, 2022 at 21:57

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