Crossing the River Jordan

More of Wingrove’s thoughts on Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Full text after the break…

PS – Posting something exciting tomorrow. Something Vault-worthy that I’m quite sure you haven’t seen before!


Crossing The River Jordan

Or, More Thoughts from the Wheel of Time

It’s a Tuesday morning. A cold, grey-skied morning, not cold enough for snow, but promising some in the days to come. Last night, as has become my habit, I finished my day with a chapter or two of Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time. I’m onto book three now, The Dragon Reborn, chapter 10, to be precise, 130 pages into this latest segment of the grand opus.

And, to be frank, whilst I’m enjoying it, I’m very conscious that I’m having to push my way through the text, a bit like the way you push your way through a heavy snowdrift. I’m not compelled to read it, and it most certainly isn’t something I’m forced to read until I can’t keep my eyes open any more, as, say, Ender’s Game was, or Dune, or… yeah, Lord Of The Rings. But I do get a sense, finally, of what Jordan’s game is.

But before we get to that, let me express one of my major beefs with the sequence. The names. Considering how important names are – something which Tolkein was very careful with – Jordan is close to inept at choosing names for his characters. And places, come to that. Rand al’Thor isn’t so bad, in fact, it’s rather grown on me, but Egwene and Nynaeve and Perrin and… well, most of them, thinking about it. But why is it important that these don’t work for me? I guess because Tolkein took such great care. He understood how languages worked, and derived his names directly from those languages and the associated cultures, so that they seemed perfectly natural. With Jordan all of the names have a made-up feel to them. There’s no sense that these are real in any way. And they’re awkward. How the hell are they pronounced for a start? And the fact that I haven’t accepted them, deep down, after something like 1600 pages, says something. They’re just not working. Oh, and have a look at that map and compare it to Tolkein’s Middle Earth. Again, Jordan’s world doesn’t have the look or feel of a real world. No geographer worth his (or her) salt would recognize it as even approximating something real.

Okay. Against which, what are Jordan’s strengths? Why did he keep getting the number one best-seller slot from book five on? I’d guess it’s because Jordan is patient. He builds his tale slowly. As at the point I’m at, where he’s now spent a number of chapters at the beginning of book three, building Perrin’s character. Giving him more space than before. I’m sure he’ll do the same for each of these characters, Mat particularly, because he’s been woefully undeveloped to this point. And I guess this works because the natural audience for these books is teenage, and who has more time to indulge their reading habits than teenagers? What this reminds me most vividly of is one of those on-line fighting games – World of Warcraft, for instance – where you similarly have endless skirmishes with Trollocs and various other dark enemies. Oh, and I wonder if anyone else has noticed that this world is a world where it never seems to rain. Snow, yeah. But on all their long journeys here, there and everywhere, no one ever gets the slightest bit wet. Or did I miss that?

Oh, and another irritant, while we’re on the subject: the endless repetitions of the main characters’ inner thoughts. Rand, particularly suffers from this. Just in case we missed his inner turmoil, Jordan will repeat his anxious thoughts again and again and again.

Despite which. As I said at the outset, I am enjoying it. Why? Partly, I guess, because I’m not old enough yet, or cynical enough not to enjoy adventuring in some fantasy world, no matter its construction flaws. It’s not Jordan’s fault, after all, that he’s not Tolkein.  Like Shakespeare and The Beatles, that kind of talent only comes along once in a blue moon, so why complain? Just that with a bit more editing and with a smidgeon of the care Tolkein took to create his world, this could really have been something special. As it is, it’s an enjoyable romp. But watch this space. I am, after all, only knee deep as yet in crossing the mighty Jordan. And I might even change my mind at some point and come to like Egg-Whip, or whatever her name is.

Okay. Lock and Load. Channel that One Power, Wingrove! Burn baby burn!

Tuesday 14th December 2010

Okay. Christmas has come and gone, and my girls – bless them – have given me the next three books in the Wheel of Time sequence. Huge slabs of fiction, they are, and, a fortnight on from my last musings, let me say that my enjoyment level has gone up a notch or two. Book Three was good, and book four promises to be much better. Jordan seems to have fully grown into his material by this stage, to the extent that I’ve switched off the hyper-critical, analytic side of me and surrendered to the tale.

One of the major reasons I think I’ve “let go” is that Jordan has upped his game considerably by this stage (Chapter 18 of Book Four). The tone of the book – which was young juvenile – has become more adult, the concerns of the characters more realistic, and Jordan has taken considerable care to create those characters by this stage. Work well done, if you ask me. The nastiness of the darker characters is well sketched, too. There’s a real sense of threat to them by this stage.

Book Three, I felt, was a rite of passage novel. It was when these six characters – these children – grew up a little, partly through the events they experience, partly because this is what happens to us all at this time in our lives. But Jordan gets that aspect of it right. We see all of his young characters grow rather a lot in the third book, and again that’s a very satisfying thing. This is best summed up, perhaps, by Egwene’s musings in chapter 37, “For an instant she thought how good it would be to have her mother send her up to bed knowing everything would be better in the morning. Only mother can’t solve my problems for me anymore, and father can’t promise to chase away monsters and make me believe it. I have to do it myself now.”

This strips bare what Jordan’s up to here. And the whole sequence gets darker as a result. But at the same time we also begin to care what happens to Rand, Perrin and the rest much more deeply than we did, and that, when it comes down to it, is The Wheel of Time’s greatest virtue as a sequence. That it makes us care.

I’ll return to this from time to time as I read more of the saga, but right now I’m enjoying it, in what is – surprisingly for me – a fairly uncritical manner. A lot of my earlier carping no longer applies, and whilst I still believe that it would have benefitted from a much more thorough editing job, that doesn’t worry me or distract me all that much. It’s as readable as a young reader could desire, and these days that’s crucial. I’ve read that the later volumes lose some of that readability factor, which is a shame, and I’ll comment on that when I get to those later volumes, but right now it’s rather nice to have such a massive world to enter and explore. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved SF and fantasy, and Jordan delivers. So… I take my hat off to the late Robert Jordan.

Sunday  January 2nd 2011

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.