Monday, October 20, 2008

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the World
Robert Jordan

Eighteen years. It is difficult to believe that it has been eighteen years since Robert Jordan first unveiled The Wheel of Time, first introduced readers to Rand AlThor, the Two Rivers, the Dragon, to this deeply imagined world. By the time I discovered The Wheel of Time Robert Jordan had already published six or seven volumes in the series and I devoured them. Now, more than a decade since I first discovered the series and eighteeen years since Jordan began The Wheel of Time, I plan to re-read through the entire series to work my way up to Brandon Sanderson's final volume, completing what Mr. Jordan began eighteen years ago.

I'm not going to do a plot description of The Eye of the World. Right now it just seems pointless. The novel opens as standard-fare kitchen-boy fantasy (or farm-boy fantasy, as the case may be), and while the novel has that in mind, the series as a whole develops beyond that more simplistic feature.

So, here's are some various thoughts.

First, the prologue still kicks several kinds of ass. I absolutely adore the opening set thousands of years in the past with Lews Therin Telamon in the grips of his madness, having destroyed his family and standing in the wreckage of what used to be a palace and being taunted by an agent of the Dark One. The former hero, elite of the elite, broken. Besides this, what I appreciate is that there are little tidbits which enrich the overall landscape of the Wheel of Time. Lews Therin wore the Ring of Tamyrlin. What I like about this is that the suggestion here is that Lews Therin very likely ruled the Aes Sedai of his day. In the "present" of the novels the ruler is titled the Amyrlin Seat. There is an excellent chance that this is a bastardization over the years of Tamyrlin...and this plays into something else that I like (not part of this novel, but applicable). In Lord of Chaos there is a quote from someone from a Fourth Age children's song heard in Great Aravalon. If this is the next age and not a previous turning of the wheel, Great Aravalon is a bastardization of Tar Valon, the home of the Aes Sedai. The flip side, of course, is that if this is a previous age then Tar Valon is the corruption and not Great Aravalon.

That was a longer thought than I expected that had little to really do with the novel.


Anyway. It's the little things that I like in this book.

"What kind of need would be great enough that we'd want the Dragon to save us from it?" Rand mused. "As well ask for help from the Dark One" p 34

It's almost a throwaway line at the time given that there are musings of False Dragons and fear of war and Rand questioned how bad things would need to be to require the Dragon Reborn to be the Savior given that Lews Therin was the Dragon and he went mad and began The Breaking of the World. Of course, given the direction of the series, that musing is sadly ironic.

pg 55 / pg 596 - Rand has a copy of The Travels of Jain Farstrider (his favorite book) and later we see Lord Agelmar tell the story of Malkier and mentions Jain Charin, "already called Farstrider", which suggestions that Jain Farstrider was alive in the last fifty years sometime and that at the fall of Malkier, Jain was a younger man. Why this is important (to me, as I'm not sure how important it is overall to the series) is because in A Crown of Swords we meet an old man named Noal Charin. Coincidence?

Several times in this novel (probably series as well) characters give long, detailed, historical speeches about stuff I'm a little surprised they know about (the farmer giving a fully detailed explanation of Queen Morgase, the political infighting, and Tigraine going missing), but given that they didn't have television I guess gossip has a way of making the rounds. Of course, you'd think that farmer would have a muddled version of the truth rather than a fairly solid outline of what happened. The speech I throroughly enjoy encountering is Moiraine's accounting of Manatheren to the people of The Two Rivers so she can leave with the boys and thus save the village. "Weep for Manatherin. Weep for what is lost forever." Speechifying generally bugs me, but Jordan can sure write a good one.

It's little things I like. Bayle Domon, captain of the Sea Spray telling Rand and Mat that "on Tremalking, one of the Sea Folk's isles, there be a stone hand fifty feet high sticking out of a hill, clutching a crystal sphere as big as this vessel" and also that the Sea Folk search for "the Coramoor, their Chosen One." (p 300). Now, the Coramoor bit will be obvious, but that big crystal sphere thing will also be important later. But it gets mentioned in passing. Domon talks about the Panarch's Palace, about the wonders there. All these little things that frequently will come into play later and at the time they are first discussed, they simply build the wonder of the world.

Things that seem random, like filler (the meeting with the Tinkers), they matter later on.

So, basically, what I appreciate is just how much Jordan put into this first volume that won't pay off for several books AND that when Jordan did put these things in they first felt like worldbuilding and not like Chekov's Gun. We're not waiting for the crystal sphere to go off in the third act but the fact that the crystal sphere matters, that Jordan built what seemed to be small stuff into a larger tapestry (a Pattern, if you will), is impressive.

Plus, not once did I catch Nyneave tug her braid in this book. Not once. I was looking, too.

What I didn't like / remember - The Eye of the World is a slow book. If the splitting up of the group didn't allow them to hit several marks that will pay off later, I would consider much of that to be a waste since the thrust of the story occurs with the characters all together. But, so much of what happens here has import throughout the series that I can't complain too much. It's just a slower book than I remember. Perhaps that's just because I'm less patient with roaming through the woods than I used to be. When everyone is back together, though, that's when The Eye of the World soars.

This is an opening volume which I once loved. I appreciate aspects of it more and I enjoy how the little things here matter, but I am somewhat less enamored of it.

It's still the opening to an outstanding fantasy series and one which is worth the read. This book, though, is fairly standard to what "epic fantasy" is considered to be. Jordan gets better after this.


RobB said...

Wow Joe, that was a very fair and solid assessment of the book. I read it twice (and the last time probably 7 or 8 years ago).

Joe said...

Thanks, Rob. I assume that someday I will read the entire series again, but I know that day is a long way off. So, in many ways, this read through feels like goodbye.

Maybe that is partly because Mr. Jordan passed last year, and partly because a year from now the series will be done, but I feel an ending.

Of an Age, if you will. :) (and if you won't, I guess I don't know)

Amanda said...

Hey! Lookit there! I still like book one a lot. Probably just because it IS the first one. The introduction and all that. I also really love the part where Moiraine talks about Manetheren. I was waiting for it enthusiastically when I re-read the book this last time.
Right now I am in book four, although I stopped reading for a couple of weeks there when Jenn passed.
Mat just went through the twisted doorway in the Stone of Tear. I had forgotten about that! Yay! I love those little interesting parts that made no sense at the time. Daughter of the Nine wha???