Monday, March 01, 2010

My Wheel of Time Re-Read (err…Listen): The Eye of the World

Long-time readers of this blog are probably aware of my love for The Wheel of Time and exactly what it means to me and how it really is ultimately responsible for me starting this blog – I’ve talked about it before, so I won’t repeat here. So, when The Gathering Storm (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) was released last year it rekindled that love and got me excited about the series again (review). I wanted to read more. With this blog and all the great books out there to be read I just couldn’t bring myself to do a re-read – which would take many months. So I decided I would listen to the books – which I’ve not done before.

After I finish each book in the series, I’ll post my thoughts here. These won’t be reviews and they’ll no-doubt contain spoilers for later books (but I’ll refrain from anything major). It’ll be more of a reflection of these books that I love so much – what I think of them now when I haven’t read or re-read them in years, a bit of remembering what I’ve thought in the past, and a few thoughts on what that may mean for the remaining books. It won’t be anywhere near the level of the
Tor Wheel of Time re-read, or what you’ll find at The Thirteenth Depository. I’m also posting a few thoughts over on The Thirteenth Depository’s forum – that post is getting lengthy, discussion goes on wild tangents and it is spoiler-laden. But it’s a fun read as well.

Anyway, on to The Eye of the World (
Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)….

I suppose I’ll start with the difference of listening versus reading. Audio books are absolutely dependent on the reader’s performance – and for the Wheel of Time books there is a bit of a unique direction taken – a guy (Michael Kramer) reads the points of view of the guys and a woman (Kate Reading) reads the points of view of women. I really like the approach, though for The Eye of the World there aren’t that many points of view from women – something that changes as the books the progress. Of course it is odd – voices are different than they were in my head, though I adjusted. And everyone foreign to the Two Rivers seems to have a bit of an Irish accent (accepting Illianers who sound like pirates) – at least those points of view from the men. The adjustment took a while – longer than usual with audio books, but then I have more invested in these books than any others, so I wasn’t surprised.

I first read The Eye of the World when I was a freshman in college back in the mid-1990s and it really resonated with me. This partly because the main characters in the book were my age and partly because in many ways it was my first exposure to fantasy (I had read and enjoyed some before but never really explored it much). It was easy to relate to Rand and Perrin – not so much Mat since we didn’t have a point of view from him and the taint of the Shadar Logoth dagger really makes him a jerk for the first couple of books. I remember being particularly amused by how Rand and Perrin keep thinking thoughts about how the other is so much better with girls – as a relatively shy and unconfident young man myself, I could easily relate.

Of course now I’m in my mid-30s and I found myself much more on the side of Nynaeve. Yes she’s a bully and stubborn to a fault (but all the Two Rivers kids are), but it was much easier to relate to someone who is a bit older and looking out for the interests of others than a bunch of headstrong youths. I was also struck by just how flawed Moiraine seems to be. For all her knowledge and wisdom as one of the most powerful Aes Sedai from a noble home in Cairhen, she really turns out to be an idiot much of the time. With a sheltered upbringing and then jumping into the ‘girls club’ of Tar Valon, Moiraine has absolutely no clue how to handle adolescent young men. She’s completely unprepared for people who don’t take her word as law and she is really quite stupid in her refusal to share vital information with her ignorant charges. Funny how in the past all I saw was person of authority.

I had forgotten just how wonderfully subtle Robert Jordan is in his writing. And for all the criticism (that can be rather valid) about his long wind and great detail, Jordan’s writing is remarkably applicable to the story. Tons, and I means tons, of very subtle foreshadowing is present. Darkfriends are almost always hinted at with dark descriptions of one kind or another – or with comparison to ravens or rats. Events that don’t occur for 10 books or more are foreshadowed right at the start. And again, is it any surprise that descriptions of cloth, clothing and weaving are common when the world itself is created by the Wheel of Time that weaves threads in the great pattern/web of life?

I’m also fascinated by some of what I know now in terms of the origins and inspirations of the book. The nice audio interview with Jordan at the end of the stories was simple pleasure to read. It was great to hear him discuss how he wanted challenge the notion that some all-knowing wizard type can show up in a small town, tell someone that the world’s future depended on them and that person would willingly and unquestioningly follow along. He also wanted explore just how communication alters events in direct proportion to its distance from where the events occurred – in this case distance is either actual distance or time. How the myths and legends of the Wheel of Time folks occurred in our own world and how our myths and legends are from them. And of course how due to the timing of the writing and publishing of The Eye of the World, very intentional parallels and similarities to The Lord of the Rings were included in the beginning and how the story slowly and surely diverges as it goes on.

Another aspect that I remember liking when I first read the series is the way Robert Jordan portrays women. I think he’s both rightly and wrongly criticized for his female characterization, but overall I think it’s a really interesting thing and says quite a bit about who he was and what his experience and ideals regarding women were. Jordan was from the American South and was of the baby-boomer generation. Women in the South of his generation and older are traditionally extraordinarily kind on the surface and rather subservient to men. They adhere to the society role very closely. But behind doors they are strong, forceful and live a world of societal politicking that most men never see or understand. This is what he knows –in many ways he sort of reverses this role for the Wheel of Time and then replaces the part where women say only kind things (whether they mean them or not) and has the women say what they think regardless of how kind it is or isn't. It seems an odd sort of view that he wished he could see and he was greatly influenced by the women in his life. I think the result is very often misunderstood (not surprisingly most loudly by males between say 16 and 25 years old). It has its own sort of flaws, but I find it a fascinating view into both Jordan and the traditional role of women in the South.

All in all, I’m still in love with the characters and the world that Jordan created. The end of The Eye of the World is a bit confusing and has some issues that I’ve never seen satisfactory explanations for. Some of these may still be resolved in the final books of the series and some are what I’ve come to call EotW-isms – things in The Eye of the World (and to a lesser extent, The Great Hunt) that were either forgotten or retconned changed in later volumes of The Wheel of Time. It’s really been great listening to The Eye of the World – it’s fast become one of my favorite parts of the week – a 3-hour one-way drive (6-hour roundtrip) drive spent with friends who happen to be characters in a book.



Joe said...

You know what hit me about Moiraine on my re-read? This will come out more in the next couple of books, but I got a sense of raw desperation behind Moiraine's mask.

She and Suian were there for the prophecy, she believes with all her heart that the Dragon was reborn nearly twenty years prior, and she believes with all her heart that the Dark One is about to be freed from his prison and the Last Battle will begin.

That's been her life for nearly two decades and that's what drives her.

Things might be better if she shared more with...well, anyone...but she's driving hard to keep Rand alive for the Last Battle and she'll do anything she can, consider any option, if she thinks it'll get him there alive and prepared.

It seldom comes out, but I think Moiraine is absolutely desperate throughout the series and becomes more so as time passes.

That's my take on the character.

Todd Moses said...

I just read Eye of the World for the first time in February 2010. There were parts that I really enjoyed, and parts that I found very difficult to understand and stay focused during.

As the story progresses, does this pace and writing style change? I've picked up the next book, but I'm hoping that it is a slightly easier read.

Joe said...

That's a more complicated question than you know, Icarus.

In the short term, yes. The pacing improves and the series becomes so much more than the initial Tolkien-esque quest fantasy that it began with.

Does the writing style change? Not significantly.

Neth said...

@Joe - I agree about the desperation - Moiraine was very desperate and for good reason.

@Icarus - I'd say that the pace does improve for at least the next 5 books or so, then it sort bogs down a bit. The scope of things gets really big - it's a gradual shift for the next couple of books, but by book 5 or 6 it's just massive. Lot's of point of view characters, lots of subplots, everyone in a different place. I love this aspect of the books, but some people don't care for it. So it's really hard to advise you on going on or not.

Todd Moses said...

I think part of my issue when I was reading EOTW is that I read the whole book over the course of about 3 weeks. The parts of the book that I enjoyed the most were the ones that I was able to read 100-150 pages all in one sitting (like Perrin and the wolves), versus Mat & Rand's journeys from town to town (it's the knife that is making Mat sick dummies!) that I was reading 10-20 pages at a time because of my work/home schedule. I'll bring book 2 on my next vacation, which tends to lend itself to better "large gulp reading".

Felix said...

I wonder what do WoT fans think of the soundtrack of the corresponding computergame from 1999 or 2000. It's a rare and captivating mix of authentic folk instruments and ambiance or prog influences. I find it remarkable in how well it captures a uniqe fantasy atmosphere.
Here's a site that offers them (since the original developer Legend Entertainment that offered the songs for free isn't alive anymore):

I especially like White Tower and Trouble, the latter accompanying a massive attack on the Aes Sedai fortress. But I don't know the books, so would you say it captures some of their feeling?


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