Neither Beginnings nor Endings

Wheel of Time Reread Part 1:  The Eye of the World

Original cover of The Eye of the World

Image via Wikipedia

Sometime later this year, not sure yet as the release date isn’t final but almost certainly sometime in 2012, A Memory of Light will be released, bringing The Wheel of Time series to a close after more than 20 years and 14 books. Robert Jordan’s (with Brandon Sanderson at the end) epic is easily among the best of the genre. To celebrate the conclusion of this monumental epic, I have decided to reread the entire series and post my thoughts here.

I’ll start each book’s review with some general thoughts on the series. To start with, I want to discuss the setting. While at first, the world of the Wheel of Time seems like the same as most generic fantasy worlds. However, while the weaponry might be medieval, the rest of setting is less middle ages and more colonial. The setting is really just late renaissance minus the guns. The lack of guns is what makes the world seem similar to fantasy that takes it inspiration straight from Lord of the Rings. WoT is a world with civilization receding. So society is currently the equivalent of renaissance era, but it is headed towards the medieval. At least until the Two Rivers folks are loosed upon the world, and progress starts going forward.

As for The Eye of the World, it is not one of the better Wheel of Time books. It is a good introduction to the series, being the first book and all, but it is very different from much of the rest of the series. Much of that is on the experience of the protagonists. They are all fresh off the farm here. They can’t defend themselves; they are powerless. Through the whole volume, the protagonists are on the run. Everything is as new to them as it is new to us and it is dangerous. Jordan tries to play coy with who exactly the big hero is supposed to be among Rand, Mat and Perrin, but the first 300 pages or so are all from Rand’s POV, making any sort of mystery all but moot. It is Rand. But on the whole, there is less here to come back to than many of the other books. There are a lot of prophesies and foreshadowing, but the focus is almost wholly on the Two Rivers gang, plus Moiraine and Lan. The main plot is being established for all the primary characters, there is little time for sub-plots. There needs to be introductions before there can be reveals. Still, this is an all but perfect set up for the series.

Notable for The Eye of the World are the parts that faded away soon after this volume. Like talking Trollocs. I can’t remember another time that Trollocs talked, except for maybe one scene in The Great Hunt. Or Trolloc clans. Lan makes a big deal over several Trolloc clans working together, but it isn’t mentioned again. There is Moiraine using a staff as a focus for her channeling. As far as writing goes, all of the dream stuff is more dreamlike than it will be later, more metaphorical and vague. The same goes for Rand channeling. It might just be the fact that Rand doesn’t know what he is doing, but I think it is Jordan not quite being sure how he was going to represent stuff.

Now on to the plot. I had forgotten how much the start of this is playing off LotR. It begins with a celebration; the biggest news in town is that there will be fireworks. Moiraine is one of my favorite characters. She fills the Gandalf archetype (the Wise Old Man) in the Wheel of Time, but she is very different from him. Moiraine is a Wise Old Man that our heroes are never sure they can trust. It is ambiguous as to which side she is on. Moiraine is also not as competent as Gandalf. When Gandalf is with the Fellowship, they are sure of their victory. There is no foe he can’t face. Moiraine can barely keep the gang under control. Though it is not obvious upon first reading The Eye of the World, subsequent readings make it clear that she is in over her head. She is the last line against the Shadow and she can barely handle it.

For the first half of the book it is watch the bumpkins let loose in the world, up until they split at Shadar Logoth. The book really takes off after they split up. Jordan does an excellent job establishing and differentiating his pretty big cast. Rand and Egwene still seem somewhat flat, but the rest get fully developed personalities almost immediately. Mat becomes awesome by the end of book 3, but here he is an immature jerk. I know later it is due to the ruby dagger, but early on it is all Mat. Nynaeve is stubborn and competent. Perrin is quiet and thoughtful. Lan is a complete badass.

Perrin learning about his wolf powers is cool. Egwene is an interesting counterpoint to him. There seems to be almost some sexual tension between him and her, but that never goes anywhere. They also meet the Tinkers, who I’m not a fan of. It like their existence, but as a group I find them tiresome. “Pacifism for the sake of pacifism is the height of arrogance” is something I heard somewhere that fits them to a T. In a world, that has monsters like Trollocs and Myrddral, pacifism makes no sense. I also like Perrin’s sick burn of Aram (“I bet you get to run away a lot”). Then there are the just as troublesome White Cloaks. I like how Jordan showed what Perrin is going to have to deal with in the series going forward, White Cloaks and Tinkers.

Nynaeve with Moiraine and Lan is another interesting pairing. I somehow did not realize that Nynaeve had a thing for Lan the first time I read this. Her feud with the Aes Sedai drives her for several books, but I find it a very shallow motivation.

The bulk of that center portion is Rand and the increasingly deranged Mat. I bought Tom’s death the first time, but I shouldn’t have. Mat, despite growing incredibly paranoid, never seems to consider turning on Rand. There is also that ever-confusing flashback inside a flashback scene. I get it, but I don’t get why it is there.

And at the end, we get the only trip into the blight so far in the series. The Blight is my favorite nightmare wasteland in fiction. That place is straight up scary. Anything and everything can and will kill you. The fact that they went in with a bunch of useless kids is terrifying. I think not returning to it in subsequent books has been a mistake, but I think the place would lose its power with more awareness of it.

The Eye of the World is the foundational work. The rest of the series builds off this one. But the circumstances of the characters make it a hard one to reread. They are all so weak, both compared to their enemies and to what they will later become. The lack of power translates into a lack of options, giving The Eye of the World a more urgent tone than the rest of the series, but also a less expansive one. It is amazing just how much is set up in this first book, though. Even things that won’t pay off for ten books are set up here. It is a good start.