What the “Wheel of Time” Did Right

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(Spoiler free)

Occasionally in my reading, I like to highlight a particular book and discuss what I feel it did well on. Some of the best learning can be done by observing writing that is well executed.

I am currently rereading the Wheel of Time series, which starts with The Eye of the World. Because the series is so large, I thought I would remark not just on any one particular book, but the series overall.

This reflection on Robert Jordan’s works is not intended to be a critique or a review, as I will only be discussing the good stuff. There is much to glean from these, which is why I advise that you read them for yourself. Everyone will gain something a little bit different.

I have to say, I really enjoy this series. I read all the way up to The Gathering Storm and had to wait until the final two books were completed. At that point, I decided to reread from the beginning. Book 1.

 

The Characters
Restarting gave me a new perspective, as I’m now in a different point in my life than when I first read them. It seems each time I resonate with a different character, probably one that is the closest to my personal development at that point.

Brandon Sanderson, who finished the series for the  late Robert Jordan, mentioned that reading as a teenager, he most related to the young Rand, Perrin, and Matt, wondering why the older characters were giving them such a hard time. By the same token, when Brandon was older, he related more to Moiraine, Lan, and Nynaeve type characters, wondering why the young men didn’t mind their behavior more.

The point is, the character personalities are so diverse, that there is someone for everyone to relate to. In the main cast, each main or supporting character has a different feel to them, each distinct from each other.

Over several books, you can track the character arcs. Rand, in particular, goes through quite a journey with his development. He goes from the naïve shepherd with bits of straw in his hair to a position of importance. The way Robert Jordan formed these arcs brings us to want to follow them.

Not only does he create many interesting arcs of a character going from weakness to strength, he has a handful of characters going from strength to weakness, spurning us to hope that they reclaim their former status. How Siuan Sanche in book four and Egwene al’Vere in book eleven handle their situations makes them more of an interesting character.

 

Detail
Interestingly enough, detail is both the reason that a lot of people like and dislike the series. There is a lot of detail in these books. You learn about lineages, the rules of their magic, laws, traditions, architecture, etc. There’s even a created language called the Old Tongue.

While some find this level of detail to be a deterrence, I enjoyed it. It added lush detail to the edges of the painting. For me, it gave me the perception that this world has been there long before we started reading, and will continue long after we close the book. Sometimes, we read a book where it feels like the history and characters only exist for the few hundred pages we read them, then evaporate. Not so with Jordan’s books.

 

POV
In my opinion, Robert Jordan does a great job zeroing in on just the right character to advance the plot and to make things interesting. Sometimes, he merely touches on a character for only a few pages, whetting the reader’s appetite for just a little bit more. Toward the end of the series, the tapestry of woven threads of viewpoints become so thick, you wonder how he’s going to ever resolve all of them in time.

 

Conflict
It can be said that the first book has a bit of a slow start. That’s true, but before long, a plethora of conflict begins. There’s the more obvious picks, such as being chased through the forest and the pain of leaving home, but there’s also more subtle layers of conflict, such as Nynaeve’s animosity towards Moiraine and Rand’s discomfort of Egwene’s  ability to wield the One Power.

The layers of conflict are so thick that after focusing on a different POV for a time, when you go back, you rediscover them again, only to feel them increase over time.

 

Show vs. Tell
Robert Jordan does a great job at physical “shows.” In fact, the way his female characters cross their arms, sniff, and smooth their dresses became a bit of a hallmark of his writing style. Although his dialogue is also well-crafted, the body language easily filled in the gaps. There was no question of the mood when the character dry-washes his hands or when another raises an eyebrow.

 

That’s it for now! Check out The Eye of the World and see what the book “did right” for you.

 

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Image courtesy of Soren Niedziella via Flickr, Creative Commons.

 

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14 thoughts on “What the “Wheel of Time” Did Right”

  1. I started from the prequel (New Spring) and I’ve read half of them. I have to admit, all though I devoured the first 3 books, I found the rest to be cumbersome. The omniscinet POV is getting to me, to be honest. However, what I find extremely helpful (and very inspirational, I should add) are the descritptions, and the mannerisms (show vs tell, as you said).
    I’ll have to read the other half of them soon.

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  2. Maybe I should give this book another try. I started reading it in High school and it just bored me to tears. Like you said, coming back to it after all these years, maybe I will appreciate it more.

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  3. Not that popularity is always indicative of quality, but George R.R.Martin did it all better, in my opinion. Brandon Sanderson did an excellent job finishing the series, but I was always struck by one thing. Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series was very similar on a few key points. I devoured them all, and will revisit them purely for pleasure. But you did an excellent job with this post, pointing out what can be learned from the series. Thanks.

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  4. I love the Sword of Truth Series so much on first read, that I read each volume a second time before it had to go back to the library, and then again when my purchased paperback turned up. I re-read the series every year. It is stark and brutal in its truths, I think, which is why I like it over Wheel of Time (twice read). I love having the extra description on second readings, makes the world so much better.

    Reading all those names, though, is like remembering old friends, and makes me want to read it again. Matt was my favourite character. I got really annoyed with Rand going off with the fairies at one stage. Oh yes, methinks I shall revisit that series. And so I don’t forget, I’ve put my name in the library queue for Eye of the Storm.

    It would be interesting to hear what you think is wrong with it. I have heard that some consider his writing ‘self-indulgent’ – whatever that means.

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    1. Honestly, I’m hard bent to find something I didn’t like about the series. If so, it likely would be something superficial, like a plot happening or a character that I didn’t like, which doesn’t so much have to do with writing style.

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  5. I have a very strange memory of the Wheel of Time series. I used to walk past it in the library a lot, occasionally reorganize it. Finally I picked up the first book. I only made it ten chapters in. Not because I didn’t like it, just because it was so amazing AND it was Robert Jordan’s first book. I was about fourteen and had recently decided to become a writer, and every chapter I read just left me in such despair of being any good that I had to put the book down and take it back to the library. haha, so silly. XD

    And as I got older I realized that I don’t really care for super long series anyhow. I much prefer a tight trilogy, or a stand-alone story. ^-^ So, I never felt like I missed out. I probably should go back and at least finish the first book though, lol.

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  6. This is great! I’m rereading the series now as well, only up to the second point but I think you’re right, we seem to relate to different characters depending on where we are in our own lives. I’m reading book 2 and thinking, why can’t Nynaeve just get over her animosity with Moiraine, I mean really…. and since when was Rand such a whiny little boy? It’s interesting though, being older and thinking of them differently really highlights later just how much they change throughout the series.

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  7. I put the Wheel of Time series down. It just got to be too much. I did read Sword of Truth, and though I probably would have abandoned Kahlan to her fate long before Richard (geez, the woman can’t stay OUT of trouble), it moved faster precisely because it wasn’t so richly tailored, even with the similarities. A leaner read overall, I guess. I also read Song of Ice and Fire, and was also mad at Martin for taking six years between Storm of Swords and Dance with Dragons, but I did stay with it. And now he just hands the end of the series to HBO, which while making the tv viewers happy to thumb their noses at the book snobs (who deserve it, imo), I think that was a slap in the face to his loyal readers. That being said, I’ll read them anyway, because I don’t own a tv anymore.

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