This is the fourth installment of my reading review of the late Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, book 1 of the Wheel of Time series. I’d like to draw your attention to the important caveats I made in part one discussing my perspective, bias and limitations. (Part 2, 3)
Looking at chapter 3 of the novel, I examine character perspective and how Jordan shares information about magic in his world.
A few words about Perspective
In the prologue (part 1) we get a readers-look into the magic system and fantasy elements of the world. This however is a brief glimpse into time before “the breaking” which is hundreds (or thousands) of years before the story begins. The prologue provides the much needed hook for the reader, but none of the characters experience the prologue.
There is a saying that history is written by the victor; it’s subjective. What we in the West call the Vietnam War, the Vietnamese Government refer to as the War of American Aggression. We have one perspective, they have another and characters in a story should be no different. This is something that Jordan does well.
The characters in the book don’t have an accurate knowledge of history. Their perspective is tainted by the passage of time, their lack of education and the stories and myths they have been told. Anyone who has ever played Chinese Whispers knows exactly how communication changes, especially if carried over generations. Details fade, emphasis changes and the original message is confused.
“All was shattered, and all but memory lost, and one memory above all others, of him who brought the Shadow and the Breaking of the World. And him they named Dragon.”
A character comes to the book with their origin-story (who they are and what they’ve experienced) and what happens in the book to them. They can’t know what someone else is doing or thinking unless they get told. Each character, unless they have a hive-mind should have a different level of awareness.
Getting this character perspective right is difficult. It’s all too easy for the author to use their superior knowledge of the story in a character’s perspective. This can be intentional (which results in weakening the plot, cheating) or unintentional (an authorial mistake).
Learning curves and explaining the World
Fantasy novels normally have a steep learning curve for the reader, who needs to understand how the magic works and its limitations. A fantasy novel deviates from reality, so the readers need to understand these deviations. Often this learning curve is taught through a character learning the rules (on their own or with a mentor), through dialogue or demonstration. Or through a ‘narrator’ information dump (which should be avoided in most cases. I discussed my thoughts on that matter toward the end of this post).
So how does Jordan explain his world, through the imperfect eyes of his characters?
“The Dark One and all of 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.”
In this passage Rand says (by rote) almost a protective ‘saying’ that he’s learned. Rand is not quite sure what the evil is but its a cultural taboo to speak of it and he knows its bad.
The above paragraph is actually quite excellent. In a relatively small number of words Jordan has told us several things:
Who the main players are: the ‘Dark One’ (antagonist) and the ‘Forsaken’ (henchmen). Their titles reflect what the people think of them. They are ‘dark’ and ‘forsaken’. Counter-balanced by the Creator (hero) who brings Light. (Note the opposites of Dark and Light; Jordan strongly references the ying-yang balance all through the books).
Where they are: In Shayol Ghul, beyond the Great Blight. We don’t know exactly where this is yet, but it seems a long way away. To put it another way: It’s not a neighbour, it’s beyond the huge desert. Notice too how the place names we have learned so far (Two Rivers, Westwood, Quarry Road, Edmond’s Field, Tarren Ferry) sound different to Shayol Ghul. That alone should clue in the inquisitive reader that it is a distant land. And beyond the Great Blight sounds oh-so inviting.
Their disposition: the bad guy is bound. Bound no less than 3 times in fact, which should tell us something. You don’t bind someone unless they are bad. And if their being bound is important enough that it’s mentioned three times in the one ‘saying’ then its pivotal. The Creator conversely is sheltering and blessing the world.
Tell me emphatically the bad guy is bound, and I’ll doubt it.Tell me about a land named something like the Great Blight and I’ve got a feeling at some stage the character will be going there.
Corrupted by Rumor
What the people do know about magic is either not recognized as magic or twisted by the stories they have heard.
“He could be a Warder,” Ewin insisted. “Did you see any gold or jewels on him?” Mat scoffed. “Do we have Trollocs in the Two Rivers? We have sheep.
He can’t be a Warder – the logic says – because he doesn’t have gold or jewels. We won’t consider that the rumors might be wrong in the smaller detail, but right in the main.
In this scene the village has come out and they are clambering for information from the merchant. The people are quite riled up and are talking over each other. Because things of fantasy are unknown to them, they have differing opinions. Notice also how magic is seen as a bad thing, or untrusted by the general populace. Should our protagonists ever be associated with it then they will have to deal with that distrust.
“The Dragon!” someone moaned. “The Dark One’s loose in Ghealdan!”
“Not the Dark One,” Haral Luhhan growled. “The Dragon’s not the Dark One. And this is a false Dragon, anyway.”
“Let’s hear what Master Fain has to say,” the Mayor said, but no one would be quieted that easily. People cried out from every side, men and women shouting over one another.
“Just as bad as the Dark One!”
“The Dragon broke the world, didn’t he?”
“He started it! He caused the Time of Madness!”
“You know the prophecies! When the Dragon is reborn, your worst nightmares will seem like your fondest dreams!”
“He’s just another false Dragon. He must be!”
“What difference does that make? You remember the last false Dragon. He started a war, too. Thousands died, isn’t that right, Fain? He laid siege to Illian.”
Jordan names the magic (‘One Power’) and and let’s us know what it entails,
“that he can wield the One Power. The others couldn’t. But he can channel. The ground opens beneath his enemies’ feet, and strong walls crumble at his shout. Lightning comes when he calls and strikes where he points.”
He also tells us about the dangers. As Brandon Sanderson says on Writing Excuses magic must always have a cost and a limit.
“He’ll go mad and die! In the stories, men who channel the Power always go mad, and then waste away and die. Only women can touch it. Doesn’t he know that?”
Jordan tells us about how magic influenced the power structures in the world. Though the Aes Sedai are untrusted they are the counter-force against magic-wielding mad men.
“A party of them has ridden south from Tar Valon. Since he can wield the Power, none but Aes Sedai can defeat him, for all the battles they fight, or deal with him once he’s defeated. If he is defeated.”
Based on the extracts that I have presented here, Jordan has informed us considerably about the world which our characters inhabit. We have a rough understanding of magic and who the main players are. Notice also how he has told us: it is all via dialogue. That dialogue is:
- not monotonously spoken by a single character like a lecture, but shared by a range of person’s named and unnamed.
- informative – revealing some but leaving a lot to explore. There’s more information to be had, and some of what we’ve heard is conjecture at this point.
- Limited – Jordan hasn’t tried to explain the entire magic system; he’s just whet our appetite.
And then we have the next hook. Is the Dragon the enemy or the savior of mankind? Will his power help or crush?
“I heard a story once,” Mat said slowly, “from a wool-buyer’s guard. He said the Dragon would be reborn in mankind’s greatest hour of need, and save us all.”
Well that’s it for this post. I find doing these reviews quite time consuming, but having done them – looked critically at the text – I do find them quite informative. I hope you do too.