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.
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.
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.
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.
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.