The Eye of the World Review (7)

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.

The Eye of the World Review (6)

This is the sixth 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.

Catch up on the previous installments: the prologue (part 1), looked at the hook, characters and world-building (part 2), describing characters and authentic in-world dialogue (part 3,), an addendum, character perspectives and how to teach reader’s about the fantasy-world (part 4) and the role and character of Thom Merrilin (part 5).

In this sixth installment we look at the Origin Story of the main character Rand, as it unfolds in chapter 5.

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On Robert Jordan

375px-robert_jordan
“Robert Jordan” in 2005

As I’ve written numerous times the quality of writing is subjective; Robert Jordan was occasionally too verbose for my liking.

Having said that, I must immediately leap to his defense. He is writing epic fantasy which is known for its length and exposition. He has also written a mammoth series, so the occasional ‘loosening’ of passages is unavoidable and entirely forgivable. His Wheel of Time series is beyond popular (over 11 million copies) and he has legions of fans in 25 countries.

Though I may find fault with the occasional element of his writing I am awed by his formidable writing quality. He does so many things excellently.

I would love to know how he plotted, how he could seemingly see books in advance and lay the foundations for epic plots. Was it all in advance or did he throw things in and decide how to use them later?

His world building has produced fertile ground of a vast scale that deserves to be transformed into a multi-season TV series and numerous computer games. He inverts social norms but leaves it cohesive and structurally sound. Each civilization is distinct, unique and rich.

Each character has a journey, likable traits and weaknesses. He does character perspective and voice like a stage performer. The reader is dragged along, following the diverse but connected adventures of each of the many characters.

I sit in the huge shadow that he casts. There is nothing like standing next to a giant to make you feel small. I am somewhat depressed at the gap I see between our writing skill. I must remind myself that he had been publishing stories since 1977 and had 18 years experience before The Eye of the World was published. I have only just not-yet begun.

It is for these many reasons I consider Robert Jordan to be among one of my vicarious writing mentors. He was a master of the writing craft.

(I have been analysing The Eye of the World chapter-by-chapter. Part 1, 2, 3, 3b and 4).

The Eye of the World Review (4)

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.

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Hindsight

The first thing… hang on (wake, shave, shower, dress, breakfast, quiet time, bus)… The seventh thing I’d like to do today is issue a retraction for last night’s post

In reviewing chapter 2 of The Eye of the World I wrote,

In hindsight, I don’t think these are fantastic examples of describing the character. Jordan spends more time describing their clothing, than the characters. 

Well in hindsight of hinsight I think Jordan’s efforts were better than I appreciated at the time. 

As I stood in the shower at a little past five I remembered once hearing that you should describe three things about a character. Jordan describes both Moiraine’s and Lan’s face, eyes and hair.

In addition to that he shows us more about them through what they wear and how they act. (However I standby my initial comments about it being a lengthy narrative- that is Jordan’s style).

I did say that I wasn’t good at describing characters and I think I just learned something about it. 

I doff my hat to you Mr Jordan.

The Eye of the World Review (3)

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“…

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The Eye of the World Review (2)

This is post number two where I critically examine Robert Jordan’s Eye of the World to analyse how Robert Jordan created the novel. (See post one).

Firstly, some important caveats:

  1. 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.
  2. Our writing styles are different; that doesn’t mean one is better than the other – just different (see point 1).
  3. 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.
  4. 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)
  5. This will contain vast amounts of spoilers; be warned.
  6. It is my opinion; feel free to agree or disagree. (I’m interested in hear how your opinion might differ).
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

Now, down to business; a review of Chapter 1.

Why the Prologue?

At the end of the first post I wrote that in this case a prologue was necessary. To explain why, I’m going to use a scientific method as rigorous as any North Korean election. Reading through the Prologue and Chapter 1, I’m going to assign an Interest-O-Meter score for each screen-full* of novel. The score will range from 0 to 10, with 10 being I must reread the entire book immediately; or something like that.(* Reading as an e-book, the page numbers will be screwy).

WOT-Interest1

As you can see, the first few pages of chapter 1 kept me interested, but then my interest dipped like a slalom-run. The prologue gave me a few vital pages of interest, which meant I had more goodwill built up to forgive the dip. If I’d had only 2 pages of interest, I might have decided the book wasn’t for me before the end of chapter 1.

Chapter 1: The Hook

Chapter 1 managed to build tension quite quickly. On the third paragraph it mentions that the protagonist (Rand al’Thor) is carrying a bow, arrow nocked and ready to draw. Carrying the bow is also causing him some difficulty, so this suggests that the bow is necessary. A weapon being necessary suggests action could be just around the corner. We see the danger in several ways: Rand and his father Tam are carrying weapons at the ready, each consciously watching a side of the road. Rand’s actions also match his thoughts.

The sense of menace is amplified by the description of the environment. It is supposed to be spring, but remains winter where bears and wolves attack men during the day. There is a definite feeling that something sinister is pervading nature. The mystery peaks when Rand sees a strange and evasive horseman staring at him and knows that the horsemen wants to harm him.

Note how we are quickly told from whose viewpoint we are looking at the world.

Characters

In chapter 1 we learn about the characters:

Rand al’Thor

“You have head on your shoulders when you choose to use it,” Bran said. He’ll follow you on the Village Council one day, Tam. Mark my words.”

  • Physical: Young, but well-built (matching Tam’s breadth of shoulder), grey eyes and reddish hair.
  • Relationships:
    • Doesn’t remember much about his mother (deceased).
    • A budding romance with Egwene al’Vere, the Mayor’s daughter. She makes him feel jittery.
    • From the way that Tam and Rand relate to one another (and Rand’s inner monologue) we know that the father and son have a close relationship.
  • Responsible and maturing – doesn’t shirk his chores, and is outgrowing pranks.

You can already see plot-possibilities forming. There is an emotional angle, with Rand not knowing his mother. There is a budding romance and Rand is not a debonair man, but a confused and inexperienced youth. There is much room for character development (and a love story).

Tam al’Thor (Rand’s father)

“He stumped down the road now impassively. Wolves and bears were all very well, his manner said, things that any man who kept sheep must be aware of, but they had best not try to stop Tam al’Thor getting to Emond’s Field.”

  • Physical: Strong (“thick chest”), older.
  • Character: Brave, trustworthy/responsible (would keep his word, even though there is danger in it),
  • There is some mystery around Tam. He has some unusual teachings and (somewhat inexplicably) is the best archer in the village.
  • Favoured by the single ladies, but remains a widower.

Mat(rim) Cauthon (Rand’s friend)

“Mat was something of a byword around the village. Few people had escaped his pranks. Now his name came up whenever a washline dropped the laundry in the first or a loose saddle girth deposited a farmer in the road. Mat did not even have to be anywhere around. His support might be worse than none.”

  • Physical: Wiry body, brown eyes
  • Cheeky, trouble-maker.

On Genders

Out of a brief moment or three of procrastination (or as I prefer to call it research), I had a look at what others wrote about the Eye of the World. It only served to confirm how subjective writing is. There were passionate views expressed from every end of the spectrum of love to hate.

One reviewer savaged Jordan saying that all of his women were the same temperament. While I can see where this reviewer was coming from it wasn’t something that I noticed while reading. In contrast, one point of admiration I have for Jordan’s world-building is how he has both men and women in positions of power.

In fact, the whole foundation of the magic system is that men and women together are stronger than apart. This cosmic-level balance is foundational to the world, exemplified down to the lowest level in the village of Two Rivers. Both men and women have their place (and both think they control the other). The Mayor is male and is surrounded by the male-only Village Council. The local mystic (Wisdom) is female. I’m not sure exactly, but I think she is on the Women’s Circle (female-only). Jordan, treats both genders with equal value and importance.


Side note: At some point during my novel Vengeance Will Come I noticed that it was largely devoid of females. There was the leading lady, the wife of a secondary character, one hench-woman and a Queen. Literally four females. Two of those I would characterize as strong, and two who faded into the background. The story was already set and I couldn’t fathom changing a main character at this point so I flipped the genders of some of the minor characters. Though not balanced perfectly, now there are women doing heroic or plot-pushing parts.

Perhaps as the pendulum swings, the follow-up parallel novella The Rebel Queen has two leading females and the males take more supporting roles. In fact, the entire society written about in The Rebel Queen is a matriarchal society where the value of females, especially Mothers, is superior to the males.


Character Naming

Having strange character names is a hallmark of fantasy novels, no doubt designed to subtly remind the reader they are in a construction or another world. As you might know ‘Wendy’ was a name invented for the Peter Pan story.

Decades ago I had read through several of the Wheel of Time books and was discussing them with a friend when I discovered I was pronouncing the character’s names wrong. What my brain had read wasn’t as it was written on the page. I had read Nynavene instead of Nynaeve and Ewgene instead of Egwene. When reading now, if I come across a name that is too difficult, it actually turns me off the story. My rule of thumb is that names should be:

  1. Easily pronounceable
  2. Sufficiently different to other characters to avoid confusion. (Sauron and Saruman anyone?)
  3. The more a character is mentioned, the more important this is.
  4. Bonus points if the name infers the nature of the person.

Jordan does have a cast of multiple dozens in the Wheel of Time series. There are a lot of characters who get their own viewpoint. If one can differentiate between the characters note that all of the really main characters have easy names: Rand, Mat, Perrin.

One thing I noticed was that many of the names resembled one another (e.g. al’Meara, al’Thor, al’Vere), as you would expect in a closed community.

There are several main characters mentioned, but not yet met are Perrin Aybara, Nynaeve al’Meara and Egwene al’Vere. And a host of minor characters (some who I think are never mentioned again): Cenn Buie, Wit Congar, Daise Congar, Bran al’Vere (Mayor), Brandelwyn al’Vere, Dav Cauthon, Elam Dowtry.

Plot

After the encounter with the scary horseman we must endure un-related talk about how Tam is an eligible bachelor, the preparations for the Village celebrations and how an old grumpy man don’t like the Village Wisdom.

Then the plot starts to crystalise as Rand and Mat both have seen the horseman.

Rand took a deep breath. As much to remind himself as for any other reason, he said by rote, “The Dark One and all 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.”

…and then the action de-rails and the reader must grind through more non-plot-pushing talk of what the Village celebrations might hold.

I did write some notes about the inane trivia that Jordan adds, but I’ve decided to spare you from it.