This is the fifth installment of my 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 and also my respect for the author.
If you’re late to the party you can read where I discussed the prologue (part 1), looked at the hook, characters and world-building (part 2, chapter 1), describing characters and authentic in-world dialogue (part 3, chapter 2), an addendum, character perspectives and how to teach reader’s about the fantasy-world. When you look at it that way, we’ve already covered a lot.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted on this series. (Crikey, early January – I didn’t realise it was that long!) Mostly it’s because I’ve been busy revising Vengeance Will Come. Partially because I was mulling over the fourth chapter, looking for an angle. I want to highlight different elements of Jordan’s writing each time, if possible.
So in chapter four, where we first meet him, I want to examine the role and character of Thom Merrilin.
It was surprising to me to see how much text there is before the character’s name is told to the reader. In contrast I generally try to name my characters up-front, certainly within the first 2 paragraphs of their appearance. Jordan seems to be happy to let the reader wait. Note how Thom is a gleeman and his surname is Merrilin.
Thom is a contradiction and has a mystique about himself. Everything about him suggests it is not as it seems.
Lean, he would have been tall if not for a stoop to his shoulders, but he moved in a spry fashion that belied his apparent age.
Thom introduces himself as a Master Gleeman, a former Courtbard. At this point in the story the career progression of an entertainer isn’t relevant per se but it provides the world with depth. Sometimes you just need the hint of a shadow to show something isn’t two-dimensional. Thom may be a Gleeman, but he is no fool. Notice too how Thom’s character fits his profession. Wisdom aside, he mocks others, and says things with a slight edge; exactly how you’d expect a comedian to poke fun. From reading about his actions and words you get the distinct impression that he is an entertainer. His wise words are hidden behind the camouflage of a colourful cape.
Thom, as we learn later in the story, is a mentor-type character. Interestingly though he bears some differences to the classic archetype of Gandalf. While Thom has a great deal of knowledge, wisdom and experience he doesn’t know everything. You get the feeling he can make reasoned assumptions, but that he doesn’t know how the puzzle pieces fit together. He’s a wise mentor, but far from all-knowing.
As I’ve mentioned before I’d love to know how far ahead Jordan planned. Did he manage to successfully foreshadow in advance? Thom lists off a whole series of stories he could tell. At this stage to the new reader it all sounds like heinous gobbledygook or a world builders irrelevant fantasies. But the thing is for the most part it is all foreshadowing. Most of what he mentions we come to understand later.
“Tales of great wars and great heroes, for the men and boys. For the women and girls, the entire Aptarigine Cycle. Tales of Artur Paendrag Tanreall, Artur Hawkwing, Artur the High King, who once ruled all the lands from the Aiel Waste to the Aryth Ocean, and even beyond. Wondrous stories of strange people and strange lands, of the Green Man, of Warders and Trollocs, of Ogier and Aiel. The Thousand Tales of Anla, the Wise Counselor. ‘Jaem the Giant-Slayer.’ How Susa Tamed Jain Farstrider. ‘Mara and the Three Foolish Kings.’ … “Stories from the Age before the Age of Legends, some say. Perhaps even older. But I have all stories, mind you now, of Ages that were and will be. Ages when men ruled the heavens and the stars, and Ages when man roamed as brother to the animals. Ages of wonder, and Ages of horror” (and it goes on and on).
It’s also important to note that despite Thom being learned he doesn’t have it all correct. The biases of the times naturally also infect him – as does his own agenda. Characters should not have perfect knowledge.
One point of criticism
I can’t believe that Thom would legitimately know of an particular peddler. (Perhaps I am forgetting a link made later?)
“So. I thought I recognized Padan Fain in there.” His voice was still deep, but the resonance had gone, replaced by scorn. “Fain was always one to carry bad news quickly, and the worse, the faster. There’s more raven in him than man.”
To be sure, the character assassination here is duly warranted (as we find out later) and wonderfully described- but I can’t help feel it should have been made by someone else.
If I was being very generous I could use the ultimate plot-escape: I could chalk it up to the way in which the key characters bend fate (which we’re told about later). Even that is a long bow the English would be proud of.
To conclude this post here is a great line spoken by Tam, that should apply to most of the characters we create:
“Just this, lad. People don’t always think or behave the way you might believe they would.”