Pile #12 “The Eye of the World” by Robert Jordan

19 Apr

My first ‘serious’ fantasy book review is finally upon us!

As always (and for the next to the last time) the original review can be found here: “Eye of the World” http://www.amazon.com/review/R32L1PFWZI7WVK/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

Rand al’Thor is a farmer’s son and a sheepherder from Emond’s Field in the Two Rivers. Or so he thought. But then, one cold, supposed Spring night, strangers come to his small village, followed closely by nightmares out of legend. He finds himself fleeing his home with childhood friends Mat and Perrin, and Egewen, his childhood sweetheart, in the  company of an Aes Sedai (a woman who channels the One Power), Morraine and her Warder Lan, -and soon the village Wisdom Nynaeve- but one step ahead of minions of the Dark One (the supreme evil being in this world).

Separated from their guides and nearly from each other at the site of an ancient evil and traveling throughout the land, the friends make their way by smaller group  not without further difficulty to the city of Camelyn, capital of Andor, where they eventually reunite, though not happily.  From Camelyn, they find themselves Traveling along shadow-tainted Ways to reach, along with a new companion, an Ogier, the legendary Eye of the World where they uncover evidence that the Seals on the prison of the Dark One are weakening, and in some cases failing. Oh, and a long expected, long feared prophecy is unfurling -The Dragon Reborn may walk the earth once more. Just what the doctor didn’t order.

An Epic in the Making

This is but the shallowest glimpse of the epic story that Robert Jordan unleashes upon the reader with The Eye of the World, first published in 1990 (though sadly he did not live to finish the tale, though he did leave enough material behind for another to complete the final 3 volumes). Like the wind itself that “rose in the Mountains of Mist” but, which itself “was not the beginning”, for “There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time” which touches everyone it encounters without stopping -and imitating its ebb and flow, the narrative goes rolling on till it assumes hurricane strength, and even when things have calmed down again, it is but the calm before the storm, a storm called the Tarmon Gai’don (The Last Battle).

This is no simple fairy tale, or traditional fantasy quest. Good versus evil in spades, and yet Good is not unsullied. Characters and heroes aplenty, though not everyone is as they seem.  Readers are treated, even in as massive a corpus as Jordan has bequeathed us, only to a sliver of the vast world that lies beyond the pages. What  remains concealed is so much greater than what is revealed.  Jordan provides us with a slowly unfolding yet complete in itself world.  We see things, not from the point of view of an omniscient-third person, we know only as much as the viewpoint character can and does know.

On the one hand, we are privy not just to character’s  emotions, but to their yearnings, their frustrations, their strengths and their limitation, in short, their whole way of thinking.  No one character, or point of view, has all the answers, most people have only partial answers, (as well as reacting to movements of the Dark One and his minions, as opposed to acting themselves).  And, many characters  have no answers -they hardly have the questions to ask- which doesn’t stop them from trying to put their own answer (even to other people’s questions)

One Thing (Only)  is Missing

Jordan’s world has many things:  magic (of a sort), political intrigue, family bonds,  glimpses into the life of high and low, a long history. The one thing missing in Jordan’s world, though, is hope. And trust. Two. The two things missing in Jordan’s world are hope, trust. And love.  Three.  The three things most basic to a happy ending missing in Jordan’s world (so far) are hope, trust, and love.  This leaves a vacuum, and we all know that nature -even fictional nature abhors a vacuum.  In this instance, that vacuum is filled by fear.  Fear, suspicion, and manipulation through power is the driving force in a world touched by the Dark One, a world every much as tainted as the male half of the Source at the end of the War of the Shadow.

This is a world that has lost much since the Breaking of the World ended the Age of Legends.  Even, or especially, in Tolkein’s Middle Earth, there was hope, the hope, that  if the One Ring could be destroyed then Sauron’s evil could be thwarted once and for all; there was trust in the Fellowship of the Ring, and in Gandalf; and there was love, the love of home which drove Frodo and Samwise beyond even their own endurance. In Jordan, though, this hope, this trust, this bond of love has been overthrown by the taint of the Dark One. People cry out for salvation, but they fear the very salvation they see, afraid of its price -the Breaking of the World anew, as in the War of the Shadow.

On the other hand, most of the character types do not come off as particularly admirable, especially the ones belonging to particular institutions (in fact I cannot think of one Whitecloak that I do not despise).  Its a muddled world that Jordan introduces us to. It is also a hard world,  much harder than most fantasy worlds, and though much attention and possibly love is lavished upon it’s creation, there is not much joy to be had of it.

Tangling With the Reviewers

Many (mostly Amazon) reviewers who gave the book two stars or less, complain about the one dimensionality of the characters, and his overabundance of description. and long passages of ‘filler’.  Well, most people start out as one dimensional until we  get to know them. And, these same reviewers also complain about the repetition of description. I wonder if they ever read the unabridged “Illiad”, or the “Odyssey”, or other epics that began life as oral poetry, where repetition is necessary to fix objects in the hearer’s mind.

Granted I do agree with the mostly negative reaction to how women are perceived in the text relative to men, but on the other hand, for three thousand years it has been the women, and only the women who have access to a greater than human Power, and as surely as patriarchal thinking has shaped most of the world’s attitudes toward manhood and womanhood in our world, so the one-sided use of the One Power has shaped gender perceptions in the world of The Wheel of Time.

Personally, what ticks me off the most about reader reviews is the incessant back and forth tug of war  about how Jordan stacks up to Tolkein, from gripes about his being a hack imitator (which says the reviewer hasn’t even recently read LOTR, much less EOTW) to the paeans that Jordan has gone beyond Tolkein. To respond to the first sort of people, I need only point out that the whole of modern fantasy is in one sense or another a reaction -and a response- to Tolkein’s work. Tolkein (whether intentional or not) set the agenda for modern fantasy. Love him, hate, seek to replace him if you will, but you can’t ignore him. He’s in the very air that fantasy writers breathe. (For more on this, see Michael Drout’s great lecture series in  The Modern Scholar series by Recorded Books: Rings, Swords, and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature) and everything else up to this time  is imitating, copying, or rejecting that agenda.

People write disparagingly of writers imitating Tolkein, but nearly every other fantasy quest story other than Tolkein is about finding and USING the magic talisman, not seeking to destroy it, so whenever I see that canard, I have to go “huhh?”. Rand is a partial exception. He is born with a Power to fight the Dark One, but he doesn’t want it, and yet has to use it. Moreover, the Power is tainted by the Dark One he seeks to defeat -using it will drive him mad- and ever power structure in the world seems bent on using him for their own ends, whether he likes it or not.

He Who Endures to the End…

From the length of the first book, and the hints of things to come, I know (even without knowing how many other books are in the series) that this is to be a drawn out fantasy story, with its own unique pacing.  My advice is to endure it, for the tale Jordan bequeaths to us is worth the reading.

                                                                                                                                   

My next review is Yeshua: A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church by Ron Moseley, one of the earliest to take a more sympathetic look at the Jewishness of Jesus and the first Christian community. So, until then my friends, keep calm and read on!

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3 Responses to “Pile #12 “The Eye of the World” by Robert Jordan”

  1. Literacy-chic April 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Great discussion! I actually think that you point to a deliberate move–perhaps a deliberate flaw–of later 20th Century fantasy writers that continues on. Since Tolkien, and especially since Tolkien’s “On Fairy Stories,” atheist and agnostic fiction writers have made a concerted effort to distance themselves from the Christian allegory that, for Tolkien, is so central to the “fairy story” or fantasy. It isn’t always much fun for the reader, and can feel like the overarching sense is one of futility. Lord of the RIngs teeters, at times, on the edge of despair, but never quite succumbs. It does show us what despair looks like, but doesn’t allow the reader to experience it.

    I also liked your epic connection. It’s true–a lot of epic fantasy is not particularly character-driven, though this might have been an issue for me as a reader, since I do enjoy a character that is well-formed. I have problems with The Great Gatsby and Thomas Hardy’s works because the characters are not particularly engaging–so character development is not something that is necessarily a mark of a poor novel, but more reader preference.

    I have been curious about Robert Jordan. Have you read other things by him? Has this series been finished, or is someone working on it?

    • pilesandphiles April 20, 2013 at 2:02 am #

      Oh just wait until I get to the later books. The characters actually begin to be more multi-dimensional, (except of course for the Whitecloaks.) This is spoiling the reviews a bit, but my conclusion is that Jordan was intending to write a Political Fantasy, as much if not more than a traditional Quest, or Hack-n-Slash epic Fantasy.

      As far as I know, Jordan wrote only one other publication, and that was a volume of Conan the Barbarian stories. The series has indeed been finished, the last book in what should have been a 12 volume series but instead became 14 (the last one was published just this past January -at his passing, Jordan apparently had so much material written and/or outlined for the last volume, that it couldn’t all fit into one book, so the publishers and the chosen author, Brad Sanderson, made the decision to break it up into 3 more books). Yes, you could say it was merely a money-making pansy scheme, but having read all but the last one -it’s still in my To-Be-Read pile- I think that Sanderson was right, you could not have fit all that material into one volume and kept the reader’s attention for 2000+pages, unless you’re a diehard Jordan fan.

      • Literacy-chic April 20, 2013 at 11:15 am #

        Yeah, it is definitely a feature of series fiction that the characters develop over the course of several books instead of within one. I don’t think that necessarily satisfies all readers, but it is definitely one way to do it!

        I have never realized that ALL of the books I have seen by Robert Jordan were the same series! Someone else recommended it to me recently, but the idea that it was left unfinished is a deterrent for me… 😦

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