I finished rereading The Wheel of Time, and since the library isn’t open yet, I’ve begun re-rereading the series. It’s not that it’s such great writing — with over four million words spread out over fifteen books, there really should have been a huge amount of culling to make it less of a sprawl. Some of the meanderings off the main track are unimportant and inane and downright aggravating — a reader does not need to see every savage side of the lesser antagonists to get the point that they have sold their souls to The Dark One. Nor does a reader need to see certain characters doing the same thing over and over and over again. Nor does a reader need to see author mistakes, such as his forgetting what his characters are like and have them acting brainless for no reason whatsoever.
The series was originally proposed as a trilogy, though the scope of the story demands more than that. TOR Books, knowing how wordy Robert Jordan was, turned it into a six-book deal, which they should have enforced. The Wheel of Time is a perfect example of an author falling in love with his creation. He spent ten years planning the work, doing research, and taking copious notes before he started writing, and apparently, he couldn’t bear to give up any bit of his creation even if it would have made a much stronger story to do so. As to why his publisher didn’t rein him in — there is a whole lot more money to be made by fifteen bestselling books (fourteen plus a prequel) than six. Since the fantasy market is predominately younger folk, I guess they figured they had a non-critical readership, and every time a new book came out, a new crop of readers came of age, which prompted sales of the earlier books in the series.
Luckily, it’s easy enough to skip over the many sidetracks and dead ends to keep to the essence of the work, though that doesn’t help dealing with the parts of the story that aren’t there. Jordan delighted in writing ad nauseum about trivial matters but mentioned important points almost as an aside and brought in mysterious characters for cameo spots without any elucidation of who they were or why they were important. Despite myriad interviews, he refused to explain some of his seemingly pointless points, saying he wanted people to think about them. A bit of a god complex, there, but then, I guess that’s understandable when one has created such a massive world to play with.
There is also too much war for my taste, but after all, Jordan is a military historian, and ultimately, this series is about the battle between the forces of light and dark, so all the military hoopla has a place.
Despite the many drawbacks of the series, it’s compelling because of the eternal themes of honor and duty, loyalty and integrity, steadfastness and kindness and friendship, doing what’s right no matter the cost, standing by one’s word, rising above the baseness of one’s life to grasp nobility, accepting one’s fate and becoming a hero. Those are the nuggets of purity that drive the (sometimes appalling) story. And it’s those same nuggets that perhaps make the work worth reading and even rereading.
It’s funny — each time I reread the series, I tell myself that this time I will read every word, and each time I get bored by the trivial chapters and inane characters and become aghast (re-aghast?) at the sadism, and end up skipping vast sections to get to better parts. Some of the horror is necessary, of course, to help forge the rather ordinary characters into the heroes (reluctant or not) they will become. I mean, you don’t simply wake up one morning with the power and resolve and ability to fight the overwhelming darkness that might be threatening to consume us all.
Jordon has created an incredibly complex kaleidoscope of a world, taking all the bits and pieces of our cultures, customs, costumes, mythologies, legends, religions, histories, and shaken them up and spread them out in a new and vibrant pattern. One of the fun things about rereading the book is picking up elements that one missed the first time through. (Despite that, there are whole storylines that add nothing to the whole — the Seanchans, Slayer, Perrin and Faile to name just a few.)
Since this is the quintessential hero’s journey, with each character on his or her own path to greatness, there is homage to the legend of King Arthur as well as to lesser known legends.
There are the archetypal characters, such as shapeshifters and tricksters, mentors and allies. And underlying it all is the savior tale, both the Christian story and the pre-Christian ones.
What would you do if you’re going about your ordinary life, doing what you’ve always done, and then discover you’ve been chosen to save mankind, chosen to give up your life to save the world?
I wonder — as I sit in safe isolation while many folks around the world are dying of a novel virus — if I would have the courage, the stamina, the will, to undertake such a task. In my heart of hearts, though I would wish I did have such a heroic character, I know I would not be able to do it. Could not do it — I’m too old, too tired, too powerless. But when I immerse myself in this legendary world, I think . . . maybe.
Just maybe . . .
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.