This is the seventh installment of my review of the late Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World, book 1 of the Wheel of Time series. See a list of previous posts and important caveats.
When I look at my ongoing review of The Eye of the World sometimes I feel like chastising myself for tackling such a large task. Who, in their right mind, reviews chapter-by-chapter such as large book? And then I start to read the next chapter, sitting and considering the master craftsmanship of Jordan. Before long I am enchanted, drawn into not just the story but the elegance of construction.
Pressure and Intrigue
Looking at the seventh installment of my review I examine chapter 6 ‘The Westwood’ and how Jordan builds up the pressure and intrigue.
A quick recap on recent events: Rand and his father Tam have just been attacked at their farm by creatures Rand thought, until tonight, belonged only in a work of fiction (pun intentional). Now, hunted by the fierce Trollocs and their Fade commander, Rand is desperately trying to get his wounded father to the safety of the distant village.Up until this point in the story Rand has never been alone. Even when he saw the Fade (without knowing what it was), he had Tam with him. Now he is alone, not just worried for his own safety but also for Tam’s. Though Tam’s wound is small it packs a mighty punch.
A scalding fever like that could kill, or leave a man a husk of what he had once been.
This of course, suggests poison of some kind or magic making the wound worse. It’s not just the enemy Rand must avoid, but he must also beat the clock on Tam’s illness. To make matters worse Tam is deliriously muttering, which could attract the sharp-of-hearing enemy.
The setting is scary (the dark wood), the situation is scary (hunted, with a critically ill father) and Rand’s thoughts and actions match the situation. Jordan tells us the boy is scared and also shows us:
Abruptly he realized he was holding the untied ends of the bandage in motionless hands. Frozen like a rabbit that’s seen a hawk’s shadow, he thought scornfully. …
And his daydream adventures had never included his teeth chattering, or running for his life through the night, or his father at the point of death.
Strong emotions should be matched by physical manifestations. We are complex beings and our minds and bodies are seldom (if ever) fully compartmentalized.
We read about the physical difficulty and cost to Rand taking this journey.
Uncertainty made him peer into the darkness until his eyes burned, listen as he had never listened before. Every scrape of branch against branch, every rustle of pine needles, brought him to a halt, ears straining, hardly daring to breathe for fear he might not hear some warning sound, for fear he might hear that sound. Only when he was sure it was just the wind would he go on.
Who hasn’t lain in bed alone at night and wondered what that sound was? Held their breath, and cautiously looked around, body instantly hot.
A good writer takes what he knows to be true and places it in his fiction. Doing so helps the reader to relate to the character and deepens the reader’s experience through glimmers of truth.
His father had always seemed indestructible. Nothing could harm him; nothing could stop him, or even slow him down. For him to be in this condition almost robbed Rand of what courage he had managed to gather.
Anyone who is old enough to have witnessed the deleterious nature of aging can instantly understand the emotion that Rand is going through. To have it occur so quickly through tragedy, would make it even more shocking and confronting.
And then the intrigue ratchet up again with mysteries told in Tam’s deliriums:
“They came over the Dragonwall like a flood,” Tam said suddenly, in a strong, angry voice, “and washed the land with blood. How many died for Laman’s sin?”
“The fools said they could be swept aside like rubbish. How many battles lost, how many cities burned, before they faced the truth? Before the nations stood together against them?”
How does Tam, a simple farmer know of such things? What does it all mean?
What Jordan is doing here is giving us a sprinkling of world building, of back story. But because it is delivered by Tam in delirium it is better than a straight out conversation. He’s able to provide a snippet, without the otherwise inevitable detail or curious “tell me more…” from another character. And because all of this is a surprise to Rand we know it is not something that Tam would normally choose to share. The fever is giving an insight that would otherwise be hidden.
The expected event occurs, with the Trollocs and Fade hunting perilously close.
Rand sagged, gulping air and scrubbing cold sweat off his face with his sleeve.
Rand is back into his journey and the immediate threat has passed. His mind starts to wander, and Tam’s murmuring again becomes audible. It’s all still back story, even though the importance of the words are lost on the first time reader.
The tension in Rand and the reader has lessened, almost to the point of boredom, before bang Tam’s muttering suddenly becomes more personal, more relevant, more important.
“… battles are always hot, even in the snow. Sweat heat. Blood heat. Only death is cool. Slope of the mountain … only place didn’t stink of death. Had to get away from smell of it … sight of it…. heard a baby cry. Their women fight alongside the men, sometimes, but why they had let her come, I don’t … gave birth there alone, before she died of her wounds…. covered the child with her cloak, but the wind … blown the cloak away…. child, blue with the cold. Should have been dead, too…. crying there. Crying in the snow. I couldn’t just leave a child…. no children of our own…. always knew you wanted children. I knew you’d take it to your heart, Kari. Yes, lass. Rand is a good name. A good name.”
Rand, adopted? His whole world shifts for a third time in the single night. One: mythical creatures are real and they’re attacking; Two: your father who has always been a bastion of strength is now mortally ill. Three: and now, by the way, maybe he’s not even your father?
Suddenly Rand’s legs lost the little strength they had. Stumbling, he fell to his knees.
Rand’s world has changed, his position in the world and now his entire identity is under attack. All through this chapter Jordan does a wonderful job of showing emotion through action, finishing the chapter very strongly.