The Wheel of Time

Since I finished reading all my emergency books, I’m reduced to reading the books in my Nook, books I’ve already read. Although I don’t generally like rereading books, Robert Jordan’s massive Wheel of Time series seems to be the perfect place to go to hide from The Bob.

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 were 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 is mentioned, I find myself skipping a paragraph or two. When clothes are mentioned, I skip a couple of pages. And sometimes, when there is zero action or character development, such as in a few very clean bathing scenes, I skip the whole dang chapter.

I also tend to skip over some of the women’s parts. Although Jordan mostly develops his three main male characters into individual heroes, each with his own mythic journey, 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.

Even after investing so much time in reading and rereading 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 (or at least what the pattern created by the wheel of time allows them 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 of 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 when he wrote his series — he smashed 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 Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

6 Responses to “The Wheel of Time”

  1. Judy Galyon Says:

    Good painting. Although I am not familiar with that author, I am reading some others of the continuing sage.

  2. Estragon Says:

    The women;s parts thing is interesting. I wonder if he felt (as do I sometimes) that as a man learns more about a women, he actually finds he knows less than he thought. It’s probably less true today, but a person of a certain age was likely raised with a pretty well defined set of gender rules and identity. These identities may mean such a man can better develop a fully formed male character from common experience as a fellow male. I was listening to a radio show recently in which the origin story of S.King’s book Carrie was told. Apparently, he started the novel, but binned the effort. His wife found the crumpled pages in the trash, and asked what was wrong with it. King said he had no confidence in his ability to fully form the female character from his experience as a man.

    It seems to me most good sci-fi breaks the world in some way, often to explore controversial ideas in a sort of “safe” space away from our prejudices in the “real” world. Overly descriptive writing bothers me. In order to become immersed in the story world, I find it necessary to imagine parts of it. Even in a visual medium such as TV or movies, there should be gaps for the viewer to fill in with imagination.

    I’m not sure about the hive mind. We each have a “real” world as viewed from our experiences and perspective. In a way, we get close to a sort of hive mind with a long time spouse, having shared so much of our life experience from a similar perspective – that “finishing each other’s sentences” thing. The severing of that hive mind is one of the hardest parts of a loss to come to grips with. That almost-but-not-quite-mine reality ceases to exist.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You make good points about the women’s characters. Supposedly, his wife gave him help with them, but if so, they both bent so far from the norm that it seemed more stilted than if they had stuck to the stereotypes. I don’t know whether he was trying to show that women were superior (while trying to show that men and women were equal parts of the whole) or that the women themselves thought they were superior. It’s an odd situation, that’s for sure.

      Also, your point about the severing of the hive mind seems right on. It could be why so many of us feel lonely, more so than we think we should feel. It seems separate from grief, this particular aspect of loneliness — we’re used to being more than we are, and now with that part of us gone, we feel a special sort of loneliness.

      I do know there is also the physical aspect — we not only feel as if the other person is part of us, it is true. When you spend years with someone, you become connected by the air you breathe, the foods you eat, the cellular materials that are exchanged via viruses and microbes, the energy fields that overlap.

      Our cells are continuously dying and being renewed. If it takes seven years for all the cells in one’s body to be renewed, then at two years, most of our cells still bear the imprint of our deceased mate. At four years, less than half our cells bear their imprint, which is one reason grief often loses it grip between three to four years.

  3. Joe Says:

    Amusing to read your take on WOT. I tried the first one forever ago, but the doorstop size was off-putting and I probably finished it, but I barely remember what happened. I knew people back in the day who raved about it but it was “meh” at best for me. It reminds me of the “Thomas Covenant” series in that it does go on and on, and I heard tell that James Michener also wrote doorstop novels. 🙂

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I didn’t particularly like the first wheel of time book, but I happened to have the whole series (except for the final volume) on my nook, and I was desperate for something to read — this was back when I’d destroyed my arm and was basically homebound. If it weren’t on my Nook, I probably wouldn’t have even looked at the book — not just because it was fantasy, which I have no interest in, but because of the doorstop nature. When I finished the series and realized what it was, I went through it again to see the clues to the story and the references to our culture (such as Anla the storyteller, which is a reference to Ann Landers). When I finished the series a second time, I finally broke down and bought the last volume. So then I reread the series again, so I could put the last book into perspective.

      I can’t believe I have read it so many times!! Yikes. But when I weed out the mediocre and irrelevant and horrific parts, and when I get past some of the appalling women characters, what is left is sheer brilliance.

      Apparently, when I was young, I didn’t have a problem with doorstop novels because I’d read every single one of Michener’s books.

      nger, I didn’t mind doorstops because I read all of Michener’s books.


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