(Spoilers are total)
The Wheel of bloody Time eh. We all know of it. Many of us have opinions of it. Strong opinions. I have to say as someone who read it long ago, I sometimes feel confused as to what the mood is towards it. For every “oh god” opinion, there’s another going “actually, I quite liked it”, and a constant trickle of people finding it for the first time and enjoying it. It’s one of those people – Lady Ty at Fantasy Faction – who inspired me to pick it back up and to see what it was really like all that time later.
For the record, I actually quite liked it. In fact, there are parts that I consider to be among the great mic drop moments in fantasy. There’s characters I love. The series plays a big part in how I think about fantasy. Yet, I’m not going further than actually quite liking it. Why? The series has its flaws. How loud are they really? Have I let my memories be swayed by those who disliked it?
Or maybe did I even build it up into something it wasn’t?
Well, whatever, I will find out. And I’m inviting you to join me on this journey. I hadn’t meant to, but I noticed myself stopping at about 24% of the way through The Eye of the World (god I love ebooks) and it just seemed meant to be.
So what am I thinking?
It seems impossible to talk about this period of fantasy without talking Tolkien (or at least it is if you read a bunch of people doing said) and hey, this part is very visibly Tolkien-esque. The grounding point for fantasy fans of the time. The “don’t worry, this wants to be epic like the Professor” message. Compare it to those books, or to peers like Magician or Pawn of Prophecy or The Sword of Shannara, and one big difference springs out at me. Immediacy. Rand’s day is about to get worse real fucking soon.
And by real fucking soon I mean quite a lot of words later. It’s quite a juxtaposition, the measured way Jordan tells us all about that day in Emond’s Field and the looming threat we can sense. But I enjoy it. If there’s one thing I know I like as a reader, it’s being able to see where the story is going. When that happens, no need to rush.
Something else I admire and like is how quickly Jordan gets to establishing a link between the reader and Rand. There’s a lot of talk about this sort of link in writing circles – Save the Cat, establishing sympathy, establishing empathy, making the audience like them – all slightly different, depending on how people see it. It all get at roughly the same thing. The reader needs to have some sort of insight into the character that makes them interested in what happens next. Rand’s just a kid who’s worried by what he’s seen but also worried by the idea of his father thinking less of himself. It’s done quick, it’s easy to understand, it’s universal, blah blah blah. I like it. I also like characters whose desires are in conflict, or where’s there obvious obstacles. Jordan might take his sweet time on some things, but not all things, particularly when it comes to the important stuff.
I also think you find out a lot of important stuff about Rand very quickly in a few pages.
- He’s impulsive. His attention is distracted before the black rider appears, he trips up he’s watching it so hard, he says what he saw without thinking.
- He has an ego. He doesn’t want Tam to think he’s gone mad. Talking about Egwene unsettles him.
- His father trusts him. He’s not double-checking Rand’s watching properly. He believes Rand when he mentions the rider. He’s taught him the Flame and the Void.
- He’s sharp. He’s noticed the cloak didn’t move. He thinks quickly when he realises he doesn’t want Tam looking.
It’s fairly standard chosen one stuff, but it’s laid out smartly enough.
Oh! I got ahead of myself. What’s different? The prologue, in which mages of great power taunt each other, and the guy who wasted his whole family in a fit of madness is the good guy. Good prologues are promises and man, does this one promise a lot. I have one friend who doesn’t like the series simply because the prologue hyped him up so much and Rand’s chapters were a downer.
Another difference is Moiraine and Lan. The Two Rivers is as comforting as the Shire, at least when it’s not being lit on fire, but Moiraine and Lan are no Gandalf and Strider. The latter have their harsh moments but for the most part Gandalf is avuncular, Strider surprisingly gentle. Moiraine is also very gentle in places, but she also displays spectacular ruthlessness in destroying the ferry and threatening the three boys with destruction. Lan, well, Lan is just a hardarse. He’s not trying to be mean, he’s just very mission orientated.
I like him though. I like all the characters. There’s a sincerity to them and they bounce off each other well. In particular I like Mat, which I didn’t perhaps expect to do. He’s a character who grows after all. However, knowing what he grows into, and therefore maybe reading him more sympathetically, makes him likeable. Yes, he’s an ass. Leaving aside that asses are often entertaining, I get why. He’s clever and bored, and there’s really not a lot for him to do in the Two Rivers save play tricks on people. He’s completely out of place, but in a subtle enough way that none of the people around Mat realise he needs to leave the Two Rivers and find a better outlet for his personality.
So far the weakest character is Egwene. She seems to be set up mainly demonstrate aspects of Rand’s personality and give reason to his thoughts about the Aes Sedai more than to live her own life at this point. Not that she isn’t; indeed, she’s chasing her dreams while the boys are uncertain. But, perhaps as a result of that certainty, her personality has less nuance. She’s ambitious and that’s about it.
All in all, it’s a good return so far. Yes, I just read 75k words on how a group fairly similar to Tolkien’s hobbits had a journey fairly similar to Tolkien’s hobbits. The differences definitely mean something but so do the similarities. But overall, I’m reminded of a comment a friend made comparing aspects of fantasy writing to a grilled cheese competition where everyone was making a simple grilled cheese no messing. Yes, it’s a simple dish. That’s the point. It’s about who has the fundamentals down so well that they can execute the simple dish better than anyone else. Not everyone appreciates that, or enjoys the dish that much, or agrees on who did it best – but according to a large number of the interested judges, Jordan did it very well. As one of them, I’m agreeing.
(This is part of a series – for the other parts see here: