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
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.