Warning: This Article Contains Major Spoilers For The Eye Of The World (The Wheel Of Time Book 1) Rereading The Wheel Of Time is always a treat. As a self-avowed […]
Warning: This Article Contains Major Spoilers For The Eye Of The World (The Wheel Of Time Book 1)
Rereading The Wheel Of Time is always a treat. As a self-avowed The Wheel Of Time megafan, I relish every opportunity to firmly dive back into the 14 book mammoth of a fantasy series. The grand world, the nuanced characters, and the epic conflict between good and evil are so fleshed out with detail that even the most fantastical elements feel believable. Even though I’ve read these books numerous times before, escaping to this universe of lovable heroes, detestable villains, awe-inspiring magic, and fearsome monsters is an absolute blast. I love it.
Of course, reliving the series again grants a sense of perspective over the creative choices made by Robert Jordan, The Wheel Of Time’s author. Reading through The Wheel Of Time a second or third time means that the newness of the series has worn off. No longer shocked by plot twists and surprises, the reader becomes aware of the narrative layering and structure. The reader ponders questions like: Why did Jordan introduce THIS plot element at THIS moment? Why do we follow THIS character rather than THIS character? How did the prior scene lead into this sequence?
All these questions are pieces to a bigger conundrum: What makes The Wheel Of Time tick? And to even start formulating an answer, we need to take a spoilerific dive into the first Wheel Of Time novel The Eye Of The World.
The Eye Of The World eases the reader into The Wheel Of Time’s exemplary fantasy setting. The Wheel Of Time’s young main characters consisting of Rand al’Thor, Mat Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, dwell in Emond’s Field: a farming backwater that’s in the middle of nowhere. One night, the characters’ peaceful lives are thrown into disarray when trollocs (monstrous minions of the evil Dark One) attack Emond’s Field. The Trollocs burn, pillage, and murder whatever they can.
According to a visiting Aes Sedai (mage) Moiraine and her warder (body guard) Lan, the trollocs were seeking Rand, Mat, and Perrin for mysterious yet nefarious reasons. As a result, the Emond’s Fielders flee their homes by joining a travel party with Moiraine, Lan, the mayor’s daughter Egwene al’Vere, the village wisdom Nynaeve al’meara, and a Gleeman (a bard) named Tom Merrilin. The party’s goal is to seek refuge at the Aes Sedai stronghold of Tar Valon, and once there, the young men and women of Emond’s Field hope to find answers.
The Eye Of The World takes many world-building cues from JRR Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings. Like the hobbits in The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Wheel Of Time’s main crew aren’t very worldly. Ignorant of the realm’s customs or even what kingdom they reside in, the characters aren’t familiar with anything aside from their small villages and the sheep they tend to on their farms. Many of their beliefs are proven incorrect, and due to their lack of knowledge, they have a lot to learn about the realm they reside in.
This characterization works as a clever storytelling device. By being young inexperienced characters who have never left Emond’s Field, our heroes always have questions. Fielding their queries to the wise Moiraine, the hardened Lan, and the knowledgeable Thom, protagonists like Rand or Egwene ask about the nations of the earth, the world’s various factions, and how Aes Sedai channel the one power.
The Emmond’s Fielder’s naivety serves an additional purpose. By being country hicks who don’t understand the ways of their realm, the reader can connect with them. Afterall, new readers aren’t familiar with The Wheel Of Time’s world either, and the inquiries posed by Rand, Mat, and Perrin allow the story to explain itself through natural dialogue. In other words: we relate and identify with these characters because we understand their confusion. The Wheel Of Time is a deep and detail rich fantasy world, and the reader only knows as much about the world as these inexperienced characters. In this regard, our protagonists are immediately relatable.
The Eye Of The World introduces new plot elements in short spurts. Aside from a dramatic introduction, the first hundred pages only contain the POV of Rand, and from his perspective, we slowly but surely meet his friends, family, and acquaintances. In fact, each chapter features a new character explaining different aspects of the world. Whether its secretive Moiraine, the rumor mongering peddler Padan Fain, or the dramatic storyteller Thom, each character reveals a fresh narrative wrinkle to spice up the proceedings.
Many ideas are planted like seeds. Through the new character interactions, we learn about important lore details like: What is a false dragon? Who are the forsaken? What is the lost nation of Manetheren? Why do people fear men who channel the one power?
Over time, these story elements blossom and branch out as more details are revealed. Around midway through The Eye Of The World, many lore components that were placed in the story earlier begin to play out in action. An example of this can be seen when Moiraine explains to Nynaeve that magic channelers become sick after channeling the one power for the first time. A few scenes later, Rand becomes sick after channeling the one power. Even though the book never explicitly states that Rand channeled the one power, The Eye Of The World framed the exposition and action in such a way that it didn’t need to be said. It was obvious.
Rand’s arrival in Caemlyn is another good example. When resting at an inn known as “The Queen’s Blessing”, Rand meets an ogier: an incredibly tall magical creature with an affinity for books and nature. The Ogier, named Loial, explains that Rand is possibly Ta’veren: a person destined by fate to change the world. For ta’veren, the impossible becomes possible and coincidental happenstance becomes a regular occurence.
Once seemingly far-fetched scenarios are more likely to occur. A few scenes later, Rand infiltrates the Queen of Andor’s palace by complete accident (long story), and he meets the daughter-heir Elayne Trakand (future love interest) and the Queen’s Aes Sedai adviser Elaida (future adversary). If this sequence occurred earlier in The Eye Of The World, it would’ve seemed outlandish, but after Loial firmly explained the concept of Ta’veren to both Rand and the reader, the situation, as preposterous as it sounds, has an in-narrative justification. As a result, the reader doesn’t question the logistics of the scene.
The Eye Of The World’s character development operates in a similar manner. In terms of character building, the book plants many core characteristics early on so that they can blossom later. Examples of this include: Nynaeve, noted for her anger and temper, tenaciously tracking down the fleeing Emond’s Fielder’s, scolding them for even considering to leave her out of the adventure; Perrin, a burly man who is considered slow, is later revealed as very intelligent and thoughtful decision maker with a new ability to communicate with wolves; Mat, established as a prankster and troublemaker, makes an ill advised decision to explore the cursed evil city of Shadar Logoth. I could go on, but you understand the point.
By the end, The Eye Of The World’s most notable feature is how it sets up The Wheel Of Time’s world and characters. Unlike other fantasy series like Malazon Book Of The Fallen, The Wheel Of Time utilizes a standard fantasy template -one that allows the reader to become grounded in the world- before adding more nuanced layers to the story, world, and characters. While I didn’t fall in love with The Wheel Of Time until the more action-driven second book The Great Hunt, The Eye Of The World established a great interesting world of heroes, villains, kings, queens, and magic that has occupied my mind since the first time I read it. There aren’t many books that can do that, and rereading The Eye Of The World for a third time was just as good as the first and second time that I experienced it.
Onward to The Great Hunt.