I’ve decided over a large number of posts to critically examine Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World from an aspiring author’s perspective. My goal will be to analyse the novel to see how Robert Jordan has created this story; what works, and what doesn’t. (This book was one I identified as inspirational).
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.
Before the Story Begins
Tables of Contents and Chapter Titles
The first thing that I notice is that the novel has a table of contents with a list of titled chapters. Personally, I think for fiction, a table of contents and chapter titles are redundant (especially in an e-book). When reading, I very seldom even looked at them.
One could argue that a good chapter title entices the reader to read-on. However if the content of the story is not achieving that, a chapter title won’t add much impetus. A possible danger is that chapter titles could act as (unintentional) spoilers.
I have been known to add a table of contents and chapter titles while drafting. A title
helps orient me in the storyline, and a table of contents can excite me as the story grows.
Anything which helps inspire or encourage you to write is a good thing. That doesn’t mean readers should ever see it.
The Eye of the World, in classic EPIC fantasy style, starts with a prologue. A prologue is a chapter which relates or explains something pre-dating the beginning of the (actual) story.
I’ve read/heard that some publisher’s hate prologues, to the point of throwing a manuscript in the bin at the first sight of a prologue. That’s a bit extreme, and obviously different genres have different standards: write for your genre.
It is vitally important that the first pages are a vicious hook to the reader which traps them – even kicking and screaming – into the novel.
The very first sentence piques my interest,
“The palace still shook occasionally as the earth rumbled in memory, groaned as if it would deny what had happened.”
What is so bad, I wonder, that the earth would deny that it happened?
“The dead lay everywhere, men and women and children, struck down in attempted flight…”
Jordan uses excellent description, where a lesser writer might have spoon-fed their reader with a single word. Jordan shows it is a slaughter – indiscriminate killing of powerless victims – instead of just telling us it is a slaughter.Sometimes, more IS more.
Quickly we learn the perspective we are looking through (on the second paragraph) : Lews Therin Telamon. It is a 3-name character, but notice that it is often shortened to just Lews Therin.
“His eyes caught his own reflection in a mirror.”
Seeing one-self in a mirror might was probably acceptable back when Jordan published, now it has become a cliché to be avoided.
The protagonist Lews Therin is suffering madness (and amnesia). Jordan does a good job displaying this; Lews Therin continually losing his thought, getting distracted or not seeing danger for what it is.
In classic epic fantasy style there are a LOT of unfamiliar names and terms. Personally, for my liking this is excessive, throwing so much unexplained at a reader.I’ll do my best to keep track of these things to see if they are ever explained.
While only a few characters are introduced, they have many aliases.
Sometimes I could accuse Jordan of waffling, adding extraneous sentences which don’t progress the plot, character arcs or add much value. But what is waffle to me, might be the gravy for another reader. It’s about perspective, and perspective always differs.
Jordan’s prologue describes an event that comes to be known as the Breaking of the World. It also magnifies the important aspect of the Wheel of Time – that it is about a continuing battle between good (the Light) and evil (the Shadow), where the hero is reincarnated.
“Ten years! You pitiful fool! This was has not lasted ten yeas, but since the beginning of time. You and I have fought a thousand battles with the turning of the Wheel, a thousand times a thousand, and we will fight until time dies and the Shadow is triumphant!”
So the question is, does the prologue add value? I wrestled with this question. In terms of content no; the subject matter of the prologue could have been “bled” through the remainder of the story. We could have learned about the reincarnation of the Dragon, the One Power and the Breaking in other ways.
However, in terms of overall structure of the story I’d say not only is the prologue good, it is absolutely necessary. I’ll describe why in my next post, but suffice to say the prologue provides a necessary hook to reel the reader in.
(I’ve previously highlighted some of the writing from this section which I appreciated the style in).