There is a certain café that my family loves. My parents have been going there since before I was born and we still go there now, the effect being that my sister and I truly grew up eating breakfast at this place. A place that is a bookstore as well as café, and I remember well a conversation I had with my Dad there in which he was trying to convince his very young son who then did not like reading at all to let him read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien aloud to him. That is one memory, but another is seeing a book titled The Dragon Reborn on the shelves year after year, its title and cover imprinting itself on my mind. A book that was the third volume of a series called The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
"The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time."
So naturally I have been aware of The Wheel of Time for a most of my life, yet had long sworn not to read it for reasons of excessive length (even by my standards) and a glacial pace. That being the case, though, I would often browse through random volumes while in bookstores and in doing so noted Jordan's skill (for creating a world that rivals Middle-earth in scale and gaining such fame is no small thing). I viewed the series as a tragedy of Fantasy: an author who let his world swallow the story he was trying to tell at the story's expense given the glacial reputation. However, as my interest in The Wheel of Time grew I began to research it, looking at once for an excuse to read it as well as validation for my vow not to touch it. Paradoxical, I know, but such is the nature of the human mind at times. The six key rumors I found are as follows:
- That the first book, The Eye of the World, is a near-copy of Tolkien (as that was required to get published way back when).
- That Jordan really diverges and becomes his own writer story-wise in book #2, The Great Hunt.
- That the glacial pace does not start until book seven, A Crown of Swords, making the first half the series exemplary to the highest definition of the word.
- The the glacial pace was made far worse by the fact that each book took years for Jordan to write, making readers tear their hair out over getting slow book after slow book afters eons waiting.
- That, now that all the books of out, the rumored glacial pace is not half so bad because, rather than waiting years, readers can move straight from book to book.
- That the final three books written posthumously by Jordan's chosen successor, Brandon Sanderson, are masterful – with the last book, A Memory of Light, being one long heart-stopping climax.
The overall key fact is that everything matters. No matter how small the event or character may be, the odds are strong that it/they will in some manner be relevant to the future. The butterfly effect is real here, as characters you might forget, or believed to be localized to a subplot long finished, will likely turn up again far from where you last saw them. People may compare it to George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire, arguing that GRRM's literary bloodbath is far more fast-paced, but this is an illusion. How many subplots in Ice and Fire truly matter? How many gripping intrigues developed by the High Lords playing their Game of Thrones actually ended up shaking Westeros and making a real difference to the story? The answer is very few, yet the story seems fast-paced due to GRRM's immense skill in the art of storytelling. He creates a near flawless illusion of speed that keeps the reader hooked. Which is no small feat considering that GRRM's grimdark tale has no natural endpoint. (Yes, I am aware that the Others must needs be defeated, of the prophecy of Azor Ahai and the prince/princess that was promised, and of course that someone must finally sit the Iron Throne uncontested. But the Others and the prophesy are marginalized by ruthless High Lords playing their game of thrones, and who sits the Iron Throne one year may be dead along with all their kin the next. Hardly natural endpoints for an epic Fantasy of such scale, in my mind.)
This is not the case with Robert Jordan. As Verin Sedai says in book #2, "The Pattern puts everything in its place precisely, and when we try to alter it, especially if ta'veren are involved, the weaving changes to put us back into the Pattern as we were meant to be." Meaning that, while Jordan's story may seem slower than GRRM's, every ounce of movement is real. Not an illusion, but a solid and true step forward and towards the clearly defined endpoint that is Tarmon Gai'don (the Last Battle), for the Wheel does not turn backwards anymore than time itself. Even the court intrigues, believe it or not – as before the Game of Thrones was played in Westeros the Game of Houses (also called "The Great Game," translated as "Daes Dae'mar" in the Old Tongue) was played in the Westlands – are every bit as devious as those GRRM spins. As Moiraine Sedai once said, "Everything is a part of the Pattern." That being said, I cannot deny that The Wheel of a Time is hardly a fast-paced series and agree completely that it the minutiæ should have been edited down – yet I think of it more as a matter of condensing rather than cutting. A stark difference from A Song of Ice and Fire, as one could completely cut out a host of sections, namely the pornographic/whore-related ones, without loosing anything of substance storywise. But to call the Jordan's series glacial is wrong. In sum, I confirm rumors one, two, four, and five, deny three due to the lack of said glacial pace, and cannot speak to six because I have yet to reach those books. Finally, I feel inclined the mention that the title "The Wheel of Time" is not Jordan tacitly acknowledging the series' length. Rather, it is a crucial and one of the most unique elements of the world he created: "The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.”
Why have a dedicated half a page to this? Because, like I did, there are many who ask "Is Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series worth the time? I have been eyeing it for years but..." That, and there are many who will not ask and simply avoid it due to the length alone. This is understandable as a fourteen-volume epic Fantasy each book of which is 600+ pages is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, it requires a deep commitment. Thus I write this page to say that it is utterly worth it. Not once have I regretted my choice to begin nor have ever been truly tempted to stop. However, no matter how infatuated with the series you become, do not read The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time or The Wheel of Time Companion until after completing the series as they contain spoilers. Meanwhile and as the Aes Sedai say, the Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.
Now for some deeper analysis regarding the book itself, namely continuing my comparison of Jordan with GRRM. I have already stated that before the Game of Thrones was played in Westeros the Game of Houses was in the Westlands. In fact, I think the Cairhienin always contending for the Sun Throne could teach the Westerosi a few things in their endless wars for the Iron. More to the point, when reading the Knife of Dreams I recently came across a quote of Lews Therin Telamon, called "the Dragon" in his day and after that rang a distant bell in my brain. Then while aimless surfing the web I found myself on a wiki page dedicated to one Daenerys Stormborn Targaryen.
"A man who trusts everyone is a fool and a man who trusts no one is a fool. We are all fools if we live long enough." - Lews Therin Telamon
"It seems to me that a queen who trusts no one is as foolish as a queen who trusts everyone." - Daenerys Targaryen
|Lews Therin Kinslayer|
|Aerys II Targaryen, also called the Mad King, |
and the father of Daenerys
|The Dragon Reborn|
|The princess that was promised|
|Demons made of snow and ice and cold. |
The ancient enemy. The only enemy that matters.
Moving away now from prophecies but continuing with the comparison, Remember that Dany and others worry about the madness in her blood and if/when she will succumb to it. Well, the same is true of Rand albeit that the madness comes from a different source which I cannot say for fear of spoilers. Finally, both struggle with the burdens of leadership and whom they can trust, which ties into the initially given quotes of Lews Therin Telamon, which Rand heeds, and Daenerys Targaryen.
In ending, I feel inclined to mention that I am not criticizing George R.R. Martin for drawing such inspiration from Robert Jordan. Anything but, as to do so would be hypocritical in the extreme given how the entire Fantasy genre draws heavily from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, and Jordan is as guilty of that as any; perhaps more so. Not much difference between Ogier and Ents, right down to their long lives, love of trees, and "do not be hasty" motto. And just as the White Tower on Tar Valon stands guard against the Dark One Shai'tan, so too did the White Tower of Minas Tirith guard against the Dark Lord Sauron. To say nothing of Pit of Doom beyond the Mountains of Dhoom, which could not be a clearer tribute to the Cracks of Doom within Mount Doom. Finally, recall the name Aemon al Caar al Thorin, the last King of lost Manetheren? Well, Manetheren means "Mountain Home" in the Old Tongue, and quite fittingly as the nation's capital city was built into the Mountains of Mist, making the realm's true wealth based in the gold, silver, and other precious metals. As to Aemon al Caar al Thorin himself, he died defending his home from Trollocs. A fairly clear tribute to Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror King under the Mountain and the Dwarven realm of Erebor (called the Lonely Mountain) from The Hobbit. At the day's end, all roads lead back to Middle-earth.
Our hero, our hero claims a shepherd's heart
I tell you, I tell you, the Dragon Reborn comes
With a soul wielding the Power of ancient Aes Sedai
Twice and twice, he shall be marked,
Twice to live and twice to die
It's an end to the evil of the Creator's foe,
Beware, beware, the Dragon Reborn comes,
For the Shadow doth rise, and his legend yet grows,
You know, you know the Dragon Reborn comes.
With the soul of Lews Therin and the might of the sword,
When the Forsaken are loose and the seals are no more,
He will save the world, yet break peoples and land,
By the Wheel of Time, here he stands.
By the countless of evils our hero has slain,
The Shepherd of the Night shall know his bane.