This is post number two where I critically examine Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World to analyse how Robert Jordan created the novel. (See post one).
Firstly, some important caveats:
- Robert Jordan was a professional, backed by a team of skillful professionals at Tor. I am an amateur; and all thoughts and opinions should be weighted accordingly.
- Our writing styles are different; that doesn’t mean one is better than the other – just different (see point 1).
- Our genres are different. Robert Jordan is very much EPIC fantasy (travelogue, heavy on description), whereas I’ve discovered my writing in comparison is more adventure fantasy, if that tag can be applied loosely. My writing has more pace and less depth.
- The Eye of the World was first published in 1990. That’s 26 years ago and standards and styles change over time. (e.g. Lord of the Rings beginning)
- This will contain vast amounts of spoilers; be warned.
- It is my opinion; feel free to agree or disagree. (I’m interested in hear how your opinion might differ).
- I’m not sure at what age group this book was initially targeted. By the age of the protagonists, I suspect perhaps Young Adult. I do not squeeze into that demographic by any means of contortion.
- I’ve read (most of) this series before (2-3 times). That means my perspective is polluted: I know what is going to happen, which is both good and bad. I will see things a first-time-through reader might miss, but I also can’t evaluate how much of a surprise or plot twist things are because I know they are coming.
Now, down to business; a review of Chapter 1.
Why the Prologue?
At the end of the first post I wrote that in this case a prologue was necessary. To explain why, I’m going to use a scientific method as rigorous as any North Korean election. Reading through the Prologue and Chapter 1, I’m going to assign an Interest-O-Meter score for each screen-full* of novel. The score will range from 0 to 10, with 10 being I must reread the entire book immediately; or something like that.(* Reading as an e-book, the page numbers will be screwy).
As you can see, the first few pages of chapter 1 kept me interested, but then my interest dipped like a slalom-run. The prologue gave me a few vital pages of interest, which meant I had more goodwill built up to forgive the dip. If I’d had only 2 pages of interest, I might have decided the book wasn’t for me before the end of chapter 1.
Chapter 1: The Hook
Chapter 1 managed to build tension quite quickly. On the third paragraph it mentions that the protagonist (Rand al’Thor) is carrying a bow, arrow nocked and ready to draw. Carrying the bow is also causing him some difficulty, so this suggests that the bow is necessary. A weapon being necessary suggests action could be just around the corner. We see the danger in several ways: Rand and his father Tam are carrying weapons at the ready, each consciously watching a side of the road. Rand’s actions also match his thoughts.
The sense of menace is amplified by the description of the environment. It is supposed to be spring, but remains winter where bears and wolves attack men during the day. There is a definite feeling that something sinister is pervading nature. The mystery peaks when Rand sees a strange and evasive horseman staring at him and knows that the horsemen wants to harm him.
Note how we are quickly told from whose viewpoint we are looking at the world.
In chapter 1 we learn about the characters:
“You have head on your shoulders when you choose to use it,” Bran said. He’ll follow you on the Village Council one day, Tam. Mark my words.”
- Physical: Young, but well-built (matching Tam’s breadth of shoulder), grey eyes and reddish hair.
- Doesn’t remember much about his mother (deceased).
- A budding romance with Egwene al’Vere, the Mayor’s daughter. She makes him feel jittery.
- From the way that Tam and Rand relate to one another (and Rand’s inner monologue) we know that the father and son have a close relationship.
- Responsible and maturing – doesn’t shirk his chores, and is outgrowing pranks.
You can already see plot-possibilities forming. There is an emotional angle, with Rand not knowing his mother. There is a budding romance and Rand is not a debonair man, but a confused and inexperienced youth. There is much room for character development (and a love story).
Tam al’Thor (Rand’s father)
“He stumped down the road now impassively. Wolves and bears were all very well, his manner said, things that any man who kept sheep must be aware of, but they had best not try to stop Tam al’Thor getting to Emond’s Field.”
- Physical: Strong (“thick chest”), older.
- Character: Brave, trustworthy/responsible (would keep his word, even though there is danger in it),
- There is some mystery around Tam. He has some unusual teachings and (somewhat inexplicably) is the best archer in the village.
- Favoured by the single ladies, but remains a widower.
Mat(rim) Cauthon (Rand’s friend)
“Mat was something of a byword around the village. Few people had escaped his pranks. Now his name came up whenever a washline dropped the laundry in the first or a loose saddle girth deposited a farmer in the road. Mat did not even have to be anywhere around. His support might be worse than none.”
- Physical: Wiry body, brown eyes
- Cheeky, trouble-maker.
Out of a brief moment or three of procrastination (or as I prefer to call it research), I had a look at what others wrote about the Eye of the World. It only served to confirm how subjective writing is. There were passionate views expressed from every end of the spectrum of love to hate.
One reviewer savaged Jordan saying that all of his women were the same temperament. While I can see where this reviewer was coming from it wasn’t something that I noticed while reading. In contrast, one point of admiration I have for Jordan’s world-building is how he has both men and women in positions of power.
In fact, the whole foundation of the magic system is that men and women together are stronger than apart. This cosmic-level balance is foundational to the world, exemplified down to the lowest level in the village of Two Rivers. Both men and women have their place (and both think they control the other). The Mayor is male and is surrounded by the male-only Village Council. The local mystic (Wisdom) is female. I’m not sure exactly, but I think she is on the Women’s Circle (female-only). Jordan, treats both genders with equal value and importance.
Side note: At some point during my novel Vengeance Will Come I noticed that it was largely devoid of females. There was the leading lady, the wife of a secondary character, one hench-woman and a Queen. Literally four females. Two of those I would characterize as strong, and two who faded into the background. The story was already set and I couldn’t fathom changing a main character at this point so I flipped the genders of some of the minor characters. Though not balanced perfectly, now there are women doing heroic or plot-pushing parts.
Perhaps as the pendulum swings, the follow-up parallel novella The Rebel Queen has two leading females and the males take more supporting roles. In fact, the entire society written about in The Rebel Queen is a matriarchal society where the value of females, especially Mothers, is superior to the males.
Having strange character names is a hallmark of fantasy novels, no doubt designed to subtly remind the reader they are in a construction or another world. As you might know ‘Wendy’ was a name invented for the Peter Pan story.
Decades ago I had read through several of the Wheel of Time books and was discussing them with a friend when I discovered I was pronouncing the character’s names wrong. What my brain had read wasn’t as it was written on the page. I had read Nynavene instead of Nynaeve and Ewgene instead of Egwene. When reading now, if I come across a name that is too difficult, it actually turns me off the story. My rule of thumb is that names should be:
- Easily pronounceable
- Sufficiently different to other characters to avoid confusion. (Sauron and Saruman anyone?)
- The more a character is mentioned, the more important this is.
- Bonus points if the name infers the nature of the person.
Jordan does have a cast of multiple dozens in the Wheel of Time series. There are a lot of characters who get their own viewpoint. If one can differentiate between the characters note that all of the really main characters have easy names: Rand, Mat, Perrin.
One thing I noticed was that many of the names resembled one another (e.g. al’Meara, al’Thor, al’Vere), as you would expect in a closed community.
There are several main characters mentioned, but not yet met are Perrin Aybara, Nynaeve al’Meara and Egwene al’Vere. And a host of minor characters (some who I think are never mentioned again): Cenn Buie, Wit Congar, Daise Congar, Bran al’Vere (Mayor), Brandelwyn al’Vere, Dav Cauthon, Elam Dowtry.
After the encounter with the scary horseman we must endure un-related talk about how Tam is an eligible bachelor, the preparations for the Village celebrations and how an old grumpy man don’t like the Village Wisdom.
Then the plot starts to crystalise as Rand and Mat both have seen the horseman.
Rand took a deep breath. As much to remind himself as for any other reason, he said by rote, “The Dark One and all the Forsaken are bound in Shayol Ghul, beyond the Great Blight, bound by the Creator at the moment of Creation, bound until the end of time. The hand of the Creator shelters the world, and the Light shines on us all.”
…and then the action de-rails and the reader must grind through more non-plot-pushing talk of what the Village celebrations might hold.
I did write some notes about the inane trivia that Jordan adds, but I’ve decided to spare you from it.