Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Eye of the World, chapters five, six, and seven, in which the plot begins

I started reading The Fault in our Stars this weekend, and while I don't think I could or would want to do a full series on it (most of all because I've never been directly impacted by someone's terminal disease before), I might toss a bonus post or two up about it sometime soon, because when it's good it's pretty dang good, and when it's bad it's all OH JOHN GREEN NO.  We'll see how the rest of the book goes first.

The Eye of the World: p. 62--103
Chapter Five: Winternight

Starting us off on a light but confusing note, the first page, describing the al'Thor house, looks like it's supposed to be full of double entendres:
Tam and Rang were considered out of the ordinary as much for being two men living alone as for farming in the Westwood.
'Alone' except for all the other bachelor merchants and farmboys who stop by to keep them company, of course.  Quite out of the ordinary, yes, quite strange, quite, quite queer.
The house was still in a tidy state of repair, the thatch tightly mended and the doors and shutters well-hung and snug-fitting.
Well, I mean, who doesn't like well-hung shutters snugly fitting into their tight thatch?

Apologies; I'm twelve.  Moving on.

They scope out the unspooked animals and the untainted well and decide the Black Rider wasn't here, set about doing various chores, keeping their bow and spear close at hand, making Traditional Fantasy Stew for dinner, et cetera, et cetera, pages of this.  When they finally head inside, it is extremely cozy and all the wars and magic feel very far away.  Dad al'Thor nevertheless locks the doors, for the first time in Rand's memory, because no one ever locks their doors, which causes me to wonder why they have locks at all.  Dad also busts out the secret family sword, which, by its slight curve (stop snickering), single sharp side, and heron designs, I'm guessing is a katana or wakizashi.  Robert Jordan is giving his Quaint English Whitebread farmboy hero a katana.

How exactly did all of these tropes get associated with fanfiction when best-selling authors with endless heaps of praise to their name have been doing it for years?  (Gatekeeping and sexism, the answers are gatekeeping and sexism.)

Dad al'Thor bought it a long time ago, although Mom disapproved, and he comments grimly about how impractical it is to a farmer's life and he should have given it away.  Obviously that means he's never practised all these years and so won't know what he's doing, right?  Nope.  A minotaur bursts through the locked door, Rand throws the kettle at it, and Dad kills it in a single thrust, and then the next one that comes in after it, instant-death blows that in the real world are generally reserved for decapitation.  Dad shouts for Rand to run and hide in the cold dark woods full of monsters.  Dad has made a series of bad decisions today and this might be a winner.  Rand scrambles out a window as monsters burst in the back door, there is much scurrying and echoes of steel hitting steel (so much for that beautiful unmangled sword), and Dad busts out the front window (inexplicably immune to glass shards) and leads the monsters off on a chase as Rand stumbles fearfully through the woods.  They reunite and Dad explains that the minotaurish things are Trollocs, our signature Always Chaotic Evil race.  (I have an asexual friend who remains delighted that this forms the acronym ACE.)

Dad's weak and bleeding, so Rand takes the sword and goes back to the farmhouse (sheep all slaughtered, house all wrecked) to get geared up.  One Trolloc turns out to have faked its death to lie in wait, and haltingly tells Rand to wait and talk to the Myrdraal that's coming, which is also called a Fade, so now we have two new Capitalised Names for one being without the slightest clue what it is.  (It is apparently a very tall monster.)  It then helps Rand perform the Traditional First Farmboy Hero Kill by leaping at him, and he gets his sword up just in time for it to impale itself as it tackles him to the floor.  He loots what he can from the ruin of their home, chops up a broken cart axle with the sword (even Rand realises this is improbable) and runs with it all back to Dad al'Thor, who is feverish and having nightmares and must be taken to Rivendell Emond's Field as soon as possible.

So, quaint rural homeland, Black Rider, slightly magic sword received from father figure, Morgul wound, orcs speaking the Black Tongue, need for a druid healer to cure a cursed wound... I mean, wow.  I honest to Eru Iluvatar did not expect Wheel of Time to be this severe a knockoff of Lord of the Rings.

Chapter Six: The Westwood

Rand binds his dad's wounds, al'Guyvers a stretcher out of the axles and blankets, and starts dragging him through the woods, with much narrative emphasis on how scary this is and he's only alive by luck and his sword-and-sorcery-adventure daydreams never involved anything this grim.  How old is Rand?  Sixteen?  I like him more the younger I picture him, because this all becomes more impressive and I have less desire to tell him to just shut up and do the job already.  He drags his dad through the woods (with constant yelps of pain when they go over rocks and roots).  From Dad al'Thor's epic babbling, he's either reciting legends or he had a much more heroic unmarried life than we were led to believe.  The Black Rider shows up on the road, leading the trollocs, but they go unnoticed.  Is the town screwed?  I think the town is screwed.  Especially once Rand starts extended descriptions of what the party will be like when everything settles down and they can finally take their new yacht for a spin after that police detective finishes his last day on the job.

Dad al'Thor is muttering more 'nonsense' about cuttings from the Tree of Life, Avendesora, which Rand al'Expositions to us belongs to the Green Man, who is also just legend (like trollocs, Rand admits).  He then fever-talks his way through a story of finding a baby in the snow after a battle and how he knew Kari wanted children and Rand is a good name, and Rand is genre-savvy enough to realise on the spot that this means he was adopted, which is on the one hand implausible and on the other hand oh thank god we're not having that drawn out too much.  I mean, if you must be that blatant, let the hero clue in as soon as the reader.

Chapter Seven: Out of the Woods

Is that a pun, because they're literally and figuratively out of the woods, or ironic, because things aren't going to get any better?  I appreciate good wordplay.  Good wordplay.

As day breaks and Rand is a hungry aching golem trudging through the woods, he finally reaches Emond's Field, which is indeed half burnt-down.  However, there are plenty of survivors picking through the wreckage, and Egwene leads them to Nynaeve, who takes a look at Dad al'Thor and reports that he's beyond any help she can give.  Tough luck, Tam.  At best you were going to be Obi-Wan, but it looks like you're Uncle Owen.  (Still a better role than Mother Organa.)  There is much milling and description and encounters with sympathetic villagers.  The mayor explains that the mysterious visitors are indeed and Aes Sedai and a Warder, and they saved what's left of the village via lightning magic and deadly swordplay, and finally someone remembers that Aes Sedai have healing magic as well.  But, despite the way Everyone Knows that women are the only ones who can safely use magic, Everyone Also Knows that you never want to get mixed up with their help, either, and Rand's first instinct is intense repulsion at the thought.  Even in a world where women are the preferred mages and they charge into battle to protect random villages from monsters, the menfolk might rather watch their father die from a Not-Morgul Blade wound than ask one for help.
Light, is there a story with an Aes Sedai where she isn't a villain?
I ask you.  If literally every story about Aes Sedai casts them as villains, they should be many times more terrifying than trollocs in the common consciousness, and yet still people talk about them fighting the evil False Dragons and such.  Moiraine just saved everyone's lives, so thinking she might help makes sense, but their response to her rescue wasn't 'Holy wonderballs, there's an Aes Sedai and she's helping us, oh my god, oh my god, what is this life', it was to get back to sifting the wreckage and leave her to burn the trolloc corpses with her buddy Lan.  They should be acting like Darth Vader showed up to save them all.  And then they start talking about how she's got healing magic, which--if Aes Sedai are in the habit of healing people in extreme circumstances, how do they have such a bad rep?  Are they all satanically going around demanding people's first-born children in exchange for curing a severe case of Legs Chopped Off?  Who invented this prejudice?

Rand finds them (Lan is busy with the trolloc bodies, having found sigils from seven separate clans now) and manages to ask for help from Moiraine, regardless of the cost.  She is of course happy to help (everyone else keeps refusing her), although she moves slowly, tired from all that magicking.  Lan remarks that "Even with an angreal, what she did last night was like running around the village with a sack of stones on her back", and for those of you who spend your time doing productive things unlike myself, I'll note that 'sangreal' is an old term for the Holy Grail, so we're still flush with random Arthurian references.

This is a bit of a short post, but that tends to be how it goes when chapters are 90% descriptions of settings and the way people are running around in them.  One of the explanations I heard for WOT's length, long ago, was that Robert Jordan only planned for it to be four books, but when they started selling so well he was asked to extend the series, and did so with gusto.  But we're more than a hundred pages in now and we're at the point I would probably have called the end of chapter two if I were writing this book, so I'm skeptical of this claim.  A lot of the material isn't bad, it's just filler, and not especially brilliant filler either.  There's some poetry, there's some realism, but it's also just very forgettable text.  I feel like this is the cheese sandwich of fantasy: popular, tasty enough, but just not that much going on except that afterwards you have food inside you.  The problem so far is that the worldbuilding doesn't really make sense yet and I don't care much about what happens to the sandwich, let alone whether the sandwich's father lives or dies.


  1. It gets rather less Tolkienesque as we go along; Jordan himself confessed the opening of the Eye of the World did rather wallow in it.
    The fear of the Aes Sedai is basically rooted in them having huge magical power and no checks on that power. And being rare; no one in the Two Rivers has *seen* an Aes Sedai in multiple lifetimes. All they know are stories that drift in and as you will see, the Aes Sedai can be very hard to deal with. But a lot of it is grounded in stuff you haven't learned yet.

  2. In many ways it doesn't really matter what it's grounded in. If the Aes Sedai are rare, hugely powerful mages who they've never seen and have only heard about in tales - tales in which they are the villains no less - they should be freaking the hell out about having been saved by one. "Holy shit! Our village just got saved by a Sith Lord! What the fuck!?"

    The world building just isn't coming together here.

  3. How exactly did all of these tropes get associated with fanfiction when best-selling authors with endless heaps of praise to their name have been doing it for years?

    I know! Between this and Card its just painfully obvious that most "fanfiction" tropes are only considered bad when non-published authors and/or women are using them. Published male author? A-Okay!

    ...finding a baby in the snow after a battle and how he knew Kari wanted children and Rand is a good name...

    Are you kidding me? It's not bad enough to have a chosen one, he's going to turn out to be like the villains kid or some ridiculous trope like that. He couldn't just be a farm boy. Oh, no, this is where we need to depart from ripping off Tolkien and do a mash up of Moses, Conan, and Luke Skywalker.


  4. Terry Goodkind is even worse with the "fan fiction" tropes. His main character is a worse Sue than Batman, and then he adds in a big helping of Randian philosophy to go with the stock fantasy cliches. It is impressively terrible.

  5. On the subject of farmers with swords-- it's true most farmers wouldn't have swords, as that was a rich man's weapon. But that sure as he'll doesn't mean they didn't have weapons. Pitchforks, hoes, and scythes are quite dangerous, especially when handled by someone who has used it every day for most of their life.

  6. Oh, yeah, they have plenty of company. Which only makes it all the more frustrating.

  7. About the Aes Sedai as villains, I tried to think of some real-world analogues and I think there are some. Have you ever read a story that has a bank owner who isn't a villain? Or a story where "borrow a large sum of money from a bank" turned out to be a good move for a character? Yet we don't run bankers out of town when they show up, at least we didn't before 2008.

    If I read it generously, I think Robert Jordan is making a distinction here between 'story' and 'news', I don't think he meant for these stories to be people's sole source of information about Aes Sedai.

  8. A minotaur bursts through the locked door, Rand throws the kettle at it, and Dad kills it in a single thrust, and then the next one that comes in after it, instant-death blows that in the real world are generally reserved for decapitation.

    The Trollocs are a bit shit, aren't they? I get that Rand's dad is a secret samurai ninja or whatever, but still--if Satan's own mad scientists breed a race of eight-foot flesh-eating beast-men and outfit them with fancy poisoned weapons, I expect them to do more than almost not die against a single aging swordsman, when they've got like 5-1 odds and the element of surprise on their side. And then they can't even outrun a human? The Shadow could have gotten more killpower on the same budget with an army of housecats.

    It then helps Rand perform the Traditional First Farmboy Hero Kill by leaping at him, and he gets his sword up just in time for it to impale itself as it tackles him to the floor.

    Huh. So...did it not want him to wait and talk to the Myrdraal? Because leaping on him and trying to kill him seems like it would interfere with that. But if talking to Rand was just a clever ruse to try to kill him even harder, why didn't the Trollocs just set the house on fire in the first place, instead of lining up to attack like the bad guys in a kung fu movie?

    The Black Rider shows up on the road, leading the trollocs, but they go unnoticed.

    Well, I don't know why you'd expect a pack of monsters with animal-keen senses and a supernatural near-human with ESP to notice a kid dragging a moaning guy through the woods on an improvised sled. They have campfire songs to sing, dammit! Priorities.

    Rand is genre-savvy enough to realise on the spot that this means he was adopted

    Does it matter that he was adopted, thematically? This story has lots of reincarnation, so you'd think it wouldn't be important for heroes to be Secretly of Noble Birth or anything.

  9. Does it matter that he was adopted, thematically? This story has lots of reincarnation, so you'd think it wouldn't be important for heroes to be Secretly of Noble Birth or anything.
    It helps him get the Inexplicably White Desert-Dwelling Proud Warrior Race on his side and become their leader but given that he's the Messiah and he's also the prophesied leader of the Sea Folk without any descent from them it's really superfluous. (He's also of noble blood and the step-half-brother of one of his love interests but eleven books in no one seemed to have put the pieces together so that seems equally superfluous.)

  10. "al'Guyvers" made me do a spit take. I'm off to write some Richard Dean Anderson epic fanfic.

  11. I would very much like to read your thoughts on Fault in Our Stars. I had a similar good, good, yes, NO, sigh kind of read.


    I think I'm understanding why I can't remember basically anything from this book. It's just so much packing peanuts.

  12. Although I don't think that it really counts as a Katana, given that all of the art depicts it as more like a sabre. When this was written (1998), was the Katana the Super Awesome Cool Sword yet?

  13. *headdesk*

  14. If this is Traditional Fantasy Kingdom, and Dad al'Thor isn't part of the mounted class, then having a sword wouldn't just be impractical, it would be deadly, because peasants owning knight weapons is a fast way to being executed for insurrection.

    Also, WTF with regard to the Aes Sedai? One would think that with access to magic of all sort, they would not be universally reviled, unless this world has had as effective a campaign of "women bad, magic bad" that Catholicism had (and much of Protestantism took up) for millennia.

    Or that they would have long ago said "oh, fuckit, we're in charge now, all you boys with your penis substitutes can go away and stop killing each other until we need you to kill what we want killed."

  15. The Two Rivers isn't Traditional Fantasy Kingdom, it's more like the Shire, off in a quiet corner without any local knights/nobles/etc. There's no one to enforce weapon restrictions.

    As for the Aes Sedai, it's complicated, but important to remember that the Two Rivers is a rural backwater which has not seen an actual Aes Sedai in at least a century and it's attitudes are not universal.

    (And part of Aes Sedai history is that they did, in fact, try the whole 'sick of your shit, taking over everything now' and it didn't go well.)

  16. See also the bit in chapter 2 where Mat claims that Warders spend all their time in the Blight killing Shadowspawn. Aes Sedai are Sith Lords in the stories but their bodyguards kill monsters... maybe Rand just never paid attention when he was listening to the stories.

  17. If it's the Shire, what is the Sealed Evil In A Can doing there, especially leading the Orcs personally? He has more important things to do. With Dad al'Thor revealing secret origins later on, we're supposed to believe that justified it, but really, if the true heir is working as a farmer and I'm the Big Bad, I'm going to let him keep working until I have the kingdom firmly in hand, and then go kill him. Unless Dad al'Thor needs a burglar, no reason to leave the Shire.

    Their attitudes toward Aes Sedai don't track, either. Yeah, they're the backwoods, but they're still connected by stories and travelers and other things, so they should have access to the same pool of nollij as anyone else, and be able to draw similar conclusions.

    So the Aes Sedai willingly stepped down? That would make them saintly, for getting out in time, or the lowest of the low, for wrecking the kingdom and then running away. It's still a big jumbled mess, and unlike the sources its cribbing from, WoT seems to want to do the exposition up front, which makes it a slog.

  18. It's not the Big Bad, just some random minion - the Shadow's actions kind of make sense here in a "prophecy is kicking off, may as well try and kill the chosen one before he can do anything", though precisely how the bad guys were able to find Rand - and coordinate this attack given that the Forsaken are only newly-freed iirc (and the fact that there's a whole prequel novel about Team Good and Team Evil both abjectly failing to find Rand as a baby) - is a question I don't think is ever really answered.

  19. That's the problem with prophecies and Big Bads who've failed to read the Evil Overlord's List. Especially since it seems like it would actually make for a more interesting story if the Big Bad tried to defeat the prophecy by leaving The One's village alone and then circumstances put The One into conflict with the Big Bad anyway. It would seem far more like the prophecy was real then and not just the Big Bad shooting themselves in the foot.

  20. I think that's a problem with prophecies in general - either you end up with a genre-blind Big Bad or you run the risk of presenting your heroes with an arbitrary checklist (I think at least a chapter at the start of book four is devoted to Rand and Moiraine arguing over what the next item to tick off is, and of course there's David Eddings and his bizarre decision to give both sides one of these).

  21. Urgh. Yeah, there are a lot of problems with prophecies. I keep thinking you could avoid some of them if you made the prophecy more of an active (and probably deeply creepy) thing. Though that might just exacerbate the problem of The One being important because they are The One, rather than because of who they are as a person. Unless the prophecy was also something of an antagonist. Maybe.

    Or, you know, just skip the prophecies all together.

  22. That is delightful. Ace ACE. My black heart soars.

  23. "The house was still in a tidy state of repair, the thatch tightly mended and the doors and shutters well-hung and snug-fitting."
    This is NOT unusual in this kind of setting. Everyone does it, because of the whole "I don't want the rain, snow, wind, and/or cold to get in" thing.

  24. I read it as being supposed to be weird one account of how there's no ladyperson living there forcing the men to actually ever do anything. He's already spent time on how odd it is that they're two men living without a woman to... woman at them. Or something.
    But yes, it really shouldn't be weird that people living in a house want that house to be in reasonable repair.

  25. That he was adopted makes him more like King Arthur. King Arthur was adopted.

  26. "Government Aes Sedai isn't (aren't) the solution to our problem; government Aes Sedai is (are) the problem."

    — Ron al'Reagan

    The Emond's Fieldsters are Whitbread Farmfolk and they don't live near the center of anything. Rand and Dad Al'Thor live past the periphery of Emond's Field. That these are people who are suspicious of powerful organizations and the members thereof makes sense both in terms of received tropes and RL.

  27. Hmm, well, the government analogy could make sense here; Authoritarian Follower personality-type people are good at compartmentalizing, and the same people who scream the government is evil are often people who happily take handouts from it (speaking from personal experience >_>). However, this only makes sense if there is some sort of political advantage in having this two facedness towards the Aes Sedai.

    If the Aes Sedai ruled at one point, the two faced politics could be 'see, we do not need you to rule us! come save us from monsters!'

  28. Plot wise not much (as outlined above). Thematically it allows for a "technically accurate" virgin birth that is nicely mythic-savior stuff without requiring any actual miracles. And while all that myth-y ness isn't really necessary per se, it provides the series with a certain texture. Like, Tolkien didn't need to put all those fucking poems in, but it does give his books a specific feel

    (quality may vary, not an excuse from criticism, etc. Conan wouldn't be the same without its civilization vs. barbarism thing, but that doesn't stop it from being hella racist, for example)

    Inexplicably white Fremen are certainly odd and/or objectionable. But for what it's worth, the decadent Frenchmen live in Not-the-Meditteranean and are dark-skinned beneath their perfume, goatees, and conquistador armor, the obviously Japanese people live in not-Austria and wear European armor, the short pale Italians shave and powder their heads like samurai and wear back banners on their early modern renaissance armor, the Spanish armada is run by Indian people in Southeast Asian costume, and the Empress of the Korean/American/Imperial Chinese Empire is a black woman with a buzz cut. So you get a full color range of weird and occasionally awkward culture swaps. To my mind there are elements of this business that are problematic from a racial politics standpoint (no, the dark-skinned Indian sea people did NOT need to be called exotic quite so often, nor do the women need to have a stereotype for voracious sexual appetite) but other parts range from garden-variety stupid to visually interesting to well-intentioned (Evil Empire is Evil and keeps slaves, but believes in efficient government that actually improves the lives of the common citizens, is fully racially integrated). So I guess my point is magic katanas are risible but a blanket condemnation of cultural appropriation feels too severe. Again, assuming you're willing to wait through 4 or 5 books and 1,000,000,000,000,000 pages for it to grow slowly more complex. Which is not exactly a reasonable assumption.

  29. I think you're both right. I'm also pretty sure the windows don't have glass yet, but I may be misremembering. Someone makes a big deal about glass windows at some point.

  30. You're thinking of Historical Fantasy Kingdom, which is a much smaller and more interesting place. But even so, there'd need to be a landed aristocracy nearby to enforce horse and sword laws, and the two rivers is more of some Prydain free commot thing. There are nods to similar laws in a few nations of WoT, but it rarely comes to anything.

  31. Wait, I thought the people with back banners were the decadent French nobles and the ones in conquistador armour were Spanish?
    (And iirc for additional confusion the inexplicably white Fremen have Slavic accents and the Korean/American/Imperial Chinese have Texan accents. Despite the fact that these two cultures have been isolated from almost everywhere for hundreds of years this is still the only linguistic difference.)

  32. I think you're right. Tairen names always confuse me because they seem like the should be pronounced with a French accent. "Weiramon," "Siuane" is apparently pronounced "swan". But everything else about them is very Spanish. Whereas you're totally right about Cairhien being a Louis Sun King kind of deal, but with "clipped, precise accents". Maybe German French people with some Japanese military customs?

    Aiel and Seanchan seem like they have different languages, but we never see any of them go full old tongue in conversation. I do remember a mention of Seanchan having multiple accents within the empire that foreigners can't tell the difference on.