This is the third installment of my reading review of the late Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World. I’d like to draw your attention to the important caveats I made in part one discussing my perspective, bias and limitations. (Part 2)
From now on my analysis is going to be less exhaustive than the first two posts… because it is less exhausting and time-consuming than examining each sentence. I had intentions of tracking an insane level of detail but will instead hold onto my sanity that remains. So, chapter 2, “The Strangers“…
One of the things I find enchanting about good world-building is the ability to use descriptions and dialogue to give an authentically ‘different’ feel.
“She was easily the best cook in Emond’s Field, and not a man for miles around but eagerly leaped at a chance to put his feet under her table.”
It is taking something easily recognisable (eating, hospitality) and phrasing it in a unique way. Even in a earth-and-human-like setting there should be some differences in language and expression. A masterful author could even have a saying that the reader has never seen before, but could have a good guess at which story-culture it comes from, based on the content and perspective.
“The six men had their chairs in a tight knot before the fireplace. With his back to the fire, Tam was speaking in a low voice, and the others were leaning forward to listen, so intent on his words they would likely not have noticed if a flock of sheep had been driven through.”
I like this passage for several reasons. It is very descriptive – Jordan doesn’t tell us they’re having a private conversation, he shows it by what is happening (low voice) and the body language (huddled, intently listening).
For bonus points there is the humorous analogy to point out how riveted the men are on the conversation. That portion of the sentence achieves the superb two-goal directive having both description and humor. A good sentence says more than one thing. Notice too how the analogy is context-appropriate (sheep/farming related) and accurately described (driving).
“The way he wears his sword, it’s part of him, like his hand or his foot.”
This is probably cliché by modern standards but it is cliché for a reason: it’s a great way to describe competency. For a twist on the cliché you could describe it as, “He wore the sword like a piece of jewelry” (for show, ornamental).
Then there are the humorous and other-worldly similes:
“The black-cloaked rider had him as nervous as a cat in a dog run.”
Maybe I find that funnier because I’m not a cat person? Or clever word-plays,
“She flares up at anything, and never stays angry past turning around.”
One of my weaknesses as an author (and something I need to remedy) is the art of describing a character. Note that there are various schools of thought; some say you shouldn’t describe a character much, instead letting your readers imagine them whereas others are pro-description. I don’t have an opinion about the character-description spectrum yet, but I know that choosing to not describe characters is different to being unable to do so.
So it is with interest that I see how Jordan describes Moiraine…
“When he had heard she called Nynaeve child, he had pictured her as old, but she was not. At least, he could not put any age to her at all. At first he thought she was as young as Nynaeve, but the longer he looked the more he thought she was older than that. There was a maturity about her large, dark eyes, a hint of knowing that no one could have gotten young. For an instant he thought those eyes were deep pools about to swallow him up. It was plain why Mat and Ewin named her a lady from a gleeman’s tale, too. She held herself with a grace and air of command that made him feel awkward and stumble-footed. She was barely tall enough to come up to his chest, but her presence was such that her height seemed the proper one, and he felt ungainly in his tallness.
Altogether she was like no one he had ever seen before. The wide hood of her cloak framed her face and dark hair, hanging in soft ringlets. He had never seen a grown woman with her hair unbraided; every girl in the Two Rivers waited eagerly for the Women’s Circle of her village to say she was old enough to wear a braid. Her clothes were just as strange. Her cloak was sky-blue velvet, with thick silver embroidery, leaves and vines and flowers, all along the edges. Her dress gleamed faintly as she moved, a darker blue than the cloak, and slashed with cream. A necklace of heavy gold links hung around her neck, while another gold chain, delicate and fastened in her hair, supported a small, sparkling blue stone in the middle of her forehead. A wide belt of woven gold encircled her waist, and on the second finger of her left hand was a gold ring in the shape of a serpent biting its own tail. He had certainly never seen a ring like that, though he recognized the Great Serpent, an even older symbol for eternity than the Wheel of Time.
Fancier than any feastday clothes, Ewin had said, and he was right. No one ever dressed like that in the Two Rivers. Not ever.”
Undeniably it is a lengthy description; such a length I wouldn’t recommend it be done often.The fact that Rand is awe-struck allows him to see more detail than one would normally expect, especially of a male noticing clothing. And then her Warder Lan,
“As she left, a tall man Rand had not noticed before moved away from the front of the inn and followed her, one hand resting on the long hilt of a sword. His clothes were a dark grayish green that would have faded into leaf or shadow, and his cloak swirled through shades of gray and green and brown as it shifted in the wind. It almost seemed to disappear at times, that cloak, fading into whatever lay beyond it. His hair was long, and gray at the temples, held back from his face by a narrow leather headband. That face was made from stony planes and angles, weathered but unlined despite the gray in his hair. When he moved, Rand could think of nothing but a wolf.
In passing the three youths his gaze ran over them, eyes as cold and blue as a midwinter dawn. It was as if he were weighing them in his mind, and there was no sign on his face of what the scales told him. He quickened his pace until he caught up to Moiraine, then slowed to walk by her shoulder, bending to speak to her. Rand let out a breath he had not realized he had been holding.”
In hindsight, I don’t think these are fantastic examples of describing the character. (A few hours on, I had changed my mind). Jordan spends more time describing their clothing, than the characters. But maybe there is wisdom to that; do we notice someone’s clothing before we notice the details of their face?
See how Rand compares the appearance of Moiraine to himself (her presence and poise makes him feel stumble-footed; her height comes up to his chest), and to others (she wears her hair differently, and is dressed in splendor). Their clothing speaks of wealth, as does their appearance which defies being “aged”. By comparing appearance to others, I think it reinforces both that person’s appearance and the comparison-character.