Rumors of the Wheel

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:
  1. 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).
  2. That Jordan really diverges and becomes his own writer story-wise in book #2, The Great Hunt.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
Thankfully, as I am now supposedly in the middle of the glacial pace, I can now answer as to the accuracy of most of these rumors. To start, The Eye of the World is not a Tolkien-imitation once one gets past the first quarter of the book. Again, back in the day everyone wanted a second LOTR so some Tolkien-imitation was required if one wanted to get published, but Jordan's story swiftly becomes a unique one in the first book and blossoms in The Great Hunt. In short, Book #1 was excellent, but afterwards is where the tale takes off in truly startling directions. As to rumors 3-5, while I can easily see how the story felt glacial when it was first coming out, reading it straight through negates that because one has not had years to forget characters' names and the many plot points both major and minor between one volume and another. A critical point, as Jordan has the depth of vision to lay gives key hints, visions of the future both large and infinitesimal, that do not come to full fruition until several books later. Indeed, the only book I would call truly slow is Book #10, Crossroads of Twilight, yet even that has several thunderous scenes and the ending had me hopping about. Also, Book 11, Knife of Dreams (and the last book completed in Jordan's lifetime), is easily one of the most eventful in the series and wraps up several major subplots no less neatly than a spider does a fly in a climax that I won't soon forget.

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 a whole 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. Of course, I have not finished The Wheel of Time yet meaning that my denial of a glacial pace is still subject to change. Hence this page will be updated as I move forward. I can add this, though: 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.

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