Over the past several months, I’ve been reading (and rereading) Robert Jordan’s massive Wheel of Time series. The books in the series are not stand alone books — you cannot understand one book without the previous books — which means that in effect the WOT series is single novel of over four million words broken up into fifteen parts. In fact, the series itself is not stand alone — there are all sorts of books, blogs, discussion forums comprising billions of words where readers try to figure out the truth of the story.
Not only is the scope of WOT almost impossible to fathom, but Jordan had a bad habit of putting in bits of deus ex machina that he refused to elucidate in the work itself, companion books, or even interviews. Perhaps he himself did not know what those bits meant or maybe he simply wanted to be mysterious for mysterious’s sake, to create a legacy of people debating worthless points. Which they do. Ad infinitum. Jordan also refused to explain what to him are obvious story points, such as who killed a certain bad-guy-turned-maybe-good-guy, but again, dozens of forums present various theories because that obvious point was obvious only to he who created it. At least in this particular case, the murderer was revealed in an appendix several books after the fact. Jordan also spent thousands upon thousands of words on red herrings and subplots that go nowhere, but sometimes used a single sentence buried in huge blocks of description to bring out a major point. Yikes.
And wow, is there description. Tons of description. Whenever food was mentioned, I found myself skipping a paragraph or two. When clothes were mentioned, I’d skip a couple of pages. And sometimes, when there was zero action or character development, such as in a few very clean bathing scenes, I’d skip the whole dang chapter.
I also tended to skip over some of the women’s parts. Although Jordan mostly develops his three main male characters into individual heroes, he turns his three main women characters into insufferable caricatures, indistinguishable from one another except for a few annoying character tics. At first I thought he had a problem with women, but his secondary and tertiary female characters are often well-defined or at least not brats and prigs who believe, without giving a single shred of thought to the forces the other characters face, that they know the best for everyone.
I am not a fan of fantasy fiction, especially not one man vs. the powers of darkness stories, but when I was house bound for all those months, I needed something to do, and a massive read seemed to fill that need. Though I’d tried to get immersed into other such series, books that start with a war in a bizarre place with an incomprehensible name fought by characters with equally tongue-twisting names for a goal that seemed completely alien hold no interest for me. Luckily, the first Wheel of Time book began in an earthly place with understandable actions by understandable people with simple names.
Even after investing all this time in reading the books, I’m still not sure I like the series — although the theme seems to be about the importance of having choices, most of the characters, both good and evil, go out of their way to force others to their will. Too much torture and punishment for my taste. It seems to me that in a world where everyone is free to choose, it’s just as easy to find someone to willingly do your bidding as to waste the effort forcing someone to do it. (Oddly, the three main males do turn others to their will, but without wanting to or without even trying.)
But despite my ambivalence, I keep rereading. The scope to the story is utterly astounding. In the story, during the so-called age of legends, people wielding the power that turns the wheel of time, broke the world. Mountains grew where no mountains had been, waters flooded lands, green spaces became deserts. And humans started over. Again.
Interestingly, breaking the world is exactly what Robert Jordon did — he mashed our world into bits, mixed it all up — legends and traditions; countries and races, clothes and customs; myths and mysteries, religions and philosophies — and put it all back together into his own creation.
I wonder what it would be like to create such a massive fiction world, a world that reflects our world but not. A world that reflects our values but not. A world that exists only in our minds but not. Or, rather, maybe not. If it exists in our minds, it’s possible Jordan’s world exists for real, sort of dream world we all created together, just as philosophers and physicists say we do with the real world.
Assuming there is a real world.
Maybe we’re all writing the story of our world as we live it, creating with our hive mind the very fact of our existence. If we all stopped believing in it, would it disappear as if we were closing the cover of a novel? Would we disappear if we stopped believing all the things we see and hear except with our own eyes or ears? Would we be different if we simply refused to accept the role that has been forced on us?
Maybe, as I study Jordan’s world, I’ll learn how to help build a better version of our own — how to write it or right it, either one.
Meanwhile, the wheels of time keeps turning . . .
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.