Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Eye of the World, chapters 30, 31, 32, and 33, in which a montage could have done all this work in six pages

Sorry about the lack of post last week; I was apparently run ragged (I don't know how) and needed to pass out for many, many hours.  In an attempt to make up for it, I shall forge ahead through four chapters today.  Gods have mercy on our et cetera.

When last we left, I was doing my absolute damnedest to read Elyas' conversation with Perrin as "Dude, WTF" and "Yes, you are right manwolf, that was a very WTF thing for me to think", as opposed to the trainwreck I now believe it to be, in which Perrin is all "Wow, that was awful of me" and Elyas be like "Naw, dog, your plan was way better than getting eaten by ravens, don't worry that you didn't ask her if she wanted you to pre-emptively murder her".

This the first of like a fifteen-book series that is basically the icon of fantasy literature for the end of the millennium and everyone's just okay with that.  Send help.

(Content: violence, animal death, misogyny.)

The Eye of the World: p. 440--512

Perrin and Elyas are still arguing about who's got a right to kill whom when the wolves beam a warning into their heads and they rush back to obliterate their camp in a panic.  Elyas whisper-shouts for Egwene to douse the fire:
She rose to her feet, staring at him uncertainly, then stepped closer to the fire, but slowly, clearly not understanding what was happening.  Elyas pushed roughly past her and snatched up the tea kettle , cursing when it burned him.  Juggling the hot pot, he upended it over the fire just the same.
My first question: after weeks on the run and facing death that very afternoon, why are we to believe that Egwene--quick-witted, daring Egwene--would just not clue in that she needed to hurry when she spotted Perrin and Elyas sprinting toward her with hissed warnings to douse the fire?

My second question: how daft does Elyas have to be to not realise that pouring water all over a fire is going to create an enormous plume of steam towering over their campsite and marking it better than a properly-shielded flame ever could?

My answer to both these questions: Egwene understands the danger, you incompetent wannabe lycanthrope, but she knows that the safe way to kill the fire is to smother it and she's looking for the appropriate tools to do so, since you, Hairy Manly Survivalist, didn't think to prepare something in advance, no doubt because you were too busy unbending weeds behind yourself to exactly the most natural 82-degree angle?

I look back fondly on the days when I liked Elyas, but, as I might have guessed, Egwene the True Protagonist remains the only worthy person present.

With the fire doused and the girl chastised for her girly lack of initiative, Elyas immediately determines that there's no way of actually hiding their camp, and so they have to split up before the danger gets here, not that he's willing to spare a breath to say what the danger is, though he does say that it's not the ravens, which seems unnecessarily uninformative.  Finally, as they ride away, Perrin says that the wolves saw a great bunch of humans on horses, and "they smell wrong [...] the way a rabid dog smells wrong."

There's a lot wrong with that comparison, as we shall shortly see, but first they have to scamper away into the darkness where Perrin (who has already revealed he's mind-linked with the wolves) lies about his newfound night-vision to Egwene.  Egwene, literally and figuratively in the dark, proves to still be the best person by trying to reassure Perrin of their safety and get his mind off the danger (she asks if he'll dance with her if they're home by Sunday, which I take to mean the midsummer festival).  Perrin is treated to a four-camera telepathic slasher flick as the humans and horses hunt the wolves in the dark and get mauled over and over again.  Eventually, they're spotted hiding anyway, and we find out these people are Whitecloaks, though Perrin maintains there's something unusually evil about this batch.  Perrin's about to surrender at lancepoint when Hopper, the wolf who loved to jump and wished he could fly, leaps in to the rescue, begins slaughtering, dies in a heroic sacrifice, and Perrin goes into a berserker rage before blacking out.

We have now had two sympathetic characters die, Thom and Hopper, and they both got biographical retrospectives within a couple of pages of their deaths.  Is this going to be a thing?  Are we going to have a bunch of two-dimensional characters running around until it's time for them to die, at which point they abruptly get a poignant backstory stapled on?  It works much better here than it did for Thom, but that has everything to do with wolf telepathy and not with Jordan finding his groove on the whole death-by-backstory thing.

They waken, heavily bound, in a Whitecloak tent, where the inexplicably malicious Byar gives the gaunt Lord Captain their post-fight statistics, drastically overestimating the number of wolves they fought and inventing a bunch of Darkfriends as well.  The Lord Captain knows better, and introduces himself as Geofram Bornhald, which I think makes him an ancestor of the dude back in Baerlon?  There's much questioning and threatening (Perrin gets smacked with his own axe) and wild theorising by Byar before Perrin and Egwene put together a pretty solid half-true cover story, but they make the mistake of naming Shadar Logoth, which convinces the Lord Captain that they've still lied about something.  He insists no one is irredeemable, especially Egwene, but some punishment awaits Perrin, who axed a couple of whitecloaks before he passed out.  Conveniently, they're on their way to Caemlyn as well (they Must Not Be Late, though of course we're not told for what) so I'm not overly concerned that Perrin will get anywhere near his gibbet.

I realise that this point (as I should have long ago) that Egwene and Perrin have been split off from the main party to be our ripoffs of Merry and Pippin, minus the other heroes' desperate and sympathetic search for them.  Hoping against hope that Egwene is also our Gandalf the White and saves the day with sweet wizardry.

Chapter Thirty-One: Play for Your Supper

All good things come to an end, by which I mean it's a Rand chapter next.  The first several pages mostly assure us that nothing unpredictable has happened or will ever again happen: Rand and Mat are headed to Caemlyn, they hide in hedges and such whenever they see dust trails on the road ahead or behind, Mat is still ensorcelled by his evil dagger, and Thom is still dead.  Villages they pass make them homesick and there's an evil voice whispering demoralising things in Rand's head.  They can't sell their stuff for cash (no economy to take a heron sword or a ruby dagger), and they don't like thieving (mostly because of ever-present watchdogs).

Occasionally they do a few hours' work on a farm in exchange for room and board, but Rand gets nervous because this is time the Fades have to catch up with them.  One extended episode at the Grinwell farm concerns Rand's desperate efforts not to have sex with the eldest daughter.  Let me pause to note here that we're more than 460 pages in and I have no idea why Rand desperately wants to not have sex with this hot farmgirl.  He's not promised or devoted to Egwene; he's barely mentioned her in chapters, although he's had enough turned-on reactions to make me think he's not asexual.  Is he just generally nervous?  Afraid of the consequences if they get caught?  Is he a member of a religion with strict rules on sexual conduct?  (I did some googling just to check up on Jordan's religion, which he described as "High Church Episcopalian", which is a welcome change from the intense LDS theology and morality underlying so much of Orson Scott Card's works.  And Brandon Sanderson, for that matter, who finished WOT after Jordan's death.)

But my point is more that while this book's character exploration has at least been more show than tell, it still hasn't actually shown us much of anything.  I know nothing about what Rand wants in life that would explain to me why he'd do everything to subtly indicate to a farmlady that he wanted her to stop her hot daughter from getting in his pants.  I know more about the architecture of cities our characters have never been than I do about Our Hero's values.  What's up with that?  Is he meant to be a cipher, a blank slate onto which The Reader can project Himself?  IS RAND AL'THOR THE ORIGINAL BELLA SWAN?!

Anyway, Rand starts playing the flute and Mat starts juggling (as Thom taught them), and they are able to make much better time, earning rooms in inns and aboard merchants' carts:
If there was more than one inn in a village, the innkeepers would bid for them once they heard Rand's flute and saw Mat juggle. Together they still did not come close to a gleeman, but they were more than most villages saw in a year.
A year?  These poor bastards live in the worst of all possible worlds.  A few days' flute tutelage (or 'flutelage') makes Rand a better musician than anyone in the average town?  My god.  Let the Dark One win.

Chapter Thirty-Two: Four Kings in Shadow

Four Kings is mentioned at the end of chapter 31, ominously, and proves to be a small town that gets a full page of description to start with, which is more than we can say for Rand's identity.  It's dusty and barren and the women are getting catcalled so badly that "even Mat gave a start at some of them".  (I assume Mat didn't try to get naked with the farmgirl because he's in a devoted relationship with his cursed dagger, which is also a clearer explanation than we have for Rand.)  The misogyny continues with an innkeeper who slaps a barmaid for dissing the local musician, further driving home that these are terrible people, though Rand and Mat do zero to protest her treatment and 'these men hate women' does not feature on Rand's list of reasons he doesn't like the town.  The grime is much more important.  So here I guess we have another example of highlighting misogyny in order to make dudely readers feel better about themselves (they would never do such a thing) while also letting them glide past it instead of having to engage or, y'know, do anything at all ever.  (Rand does threaten the innkeeper with violence if he gives them less than the food and bedding they agree upon.  Priorities: sorted.)

There's some basic but serviceable foreshadowing with the occasional thunder and rising pressure as a storm rolls into town and finally bursts as they play.  Casual violence and sexual harassment of barmaids continues to be the order of the day.  (Rand is baffled that any of the women stay and put up with this treatment, and I'm just going to repeat what I said back in Speaker for the Dead: There are a lot of answers to that question, because people won't stop asking it, because they don't want any answer except the one they've already got, which is that if she stays, it's her own fault.)  Rand and Mat agree that the evil skinny innkeeper is definitely going to rob them, but they don't leave because they're still ravenous and they don't want to sleep in a rainstorm.  I'll spare y'all the prolonged pseudo-detective business that goes into working out that the one fancy dude who shows up at the inn and makes everyone uncomfortable is a rich merchant from Whitebridge who is definitely a Darkfriend.

The rest of the evening is unsurprising but serviceable Our Heroes Are Trapped tension-building, which I'd probably enjoy if I actually cared about anyone here.  The innkeeper and his bouncers are menacing, the inn is described in effective decrepit terms, and as Mat and Rand try to pry the bars off their room's window, they are engaged by the merchant, Howal Gode, who does not pretend even slightly to not be a nefarious villain.  The most interesting thing to get out of his monologuing is that he believes Rand and Mat are two of the new Dreadlords who will meet the devil when he awakens.  I say 'interesting' because for all the random fantasy bits thrown at us, we don't actually understand how pretty much anything is structured, and I'm inexplicably hoping that 'Dreadlord' is actually a title of some defined meaning which will shed further light on bad guy logistics if we ever get it defined.  I don't know why I think that's going to happen any time soon.  Maybe I'm just excited that the bad guys have prophecies too.

Our Heroes are saved by a bolt of lightning that happens to hit the inn at the exact moment that Rand silently wishes for "a way out", HINT HINT, and he and Mat make their getaway in the rain as Gode's lackeys smoulder on the ground.  Wow, saved at the last moment by improbability that precisely lined up with the simultaneous wishes of the character.  Again.  It's almost like there's magic in this world.

Chapter Thirty-Three: The Dark Waits

We ALL wait, Dark.  You're not special.  You're waiting for the end of all things, I'm waiting for a plot development.  Want to take bets on which of us will get what we want first?  Come on, I'll give you odds.

We cut to Rand and Mat riding into another village on a farmer's wagon, where they see uniformed Queen's Guards on patrol, and in a startling development, some worldbuilding actually answers my questions: Rand's never seen Queen's Guards before, and he reflects that he's vaguely aware his hometown is part of the kingdom of Andor, but they never have problems so big that they can't be settled with a meeting among a few villages' councils.  (He specifically mentions Village Councils, which y'all will recall are entirely made up of men, while the Women's Circles apparently aren't involved.  So feminist, y'all.)

Oh, lord.  After they hop off the farmer's wagon and keep walking for Carysford, we then cut back to the end of the last chapter so Jordan can detail for us every single that happened after the lightning strike.  I was not feeling deprived.  This turns out to be yet another dream, in which he is somehow able to confirm that the evil Gode is dead because Rand meets Ba'alzamon wearing his charred corpse like a snuggie.  Rand wakes up when he gets a fireball to the face, and Mat wakes up at the same time screaming about having lost his eyes, leading to Rand cradling Mat tenderly in the dark. (For the record, as much as I dislike most of these characters most of the time, I'm still 100% in favour of them being gay, bi, trans, or really anything other than hetero cis dudes with gender roles instead of bone marrow.

It's practically a montage: more villages and nourishing stew and gifts from farmers who would do more but always include the two-word sentence "My family" as an explanation to why they can't get more involved, more random villagers turning out to be Darkfriends, more questions raised in my mind about how and when Ba'alzamon is capable of making telepathic contact with his minions.  In another inn, Rand suddenly falls ill with chills, then fever, then hallucinations, which go on for pages and tell us nothing about anything or anyone.  The woman who arrives to try to treat him also turns out to be a Darkfriend, who tries to murder Rand with a magic burning dagger, and Rand has to give the usual they-are-evil-but-we-are-not speech in order to keep Mat from killing her before they stagger away.

The chapter ends with them getting on the wagon that we saw them getting off in the first scene of this same chapter, which is basically a metaphor for this entire series and also the Sisyphean hell in which I have trapped myself.  It's not that this chapter was badly written at all, it had solid imagery and creepy stuff and I can legitimately feel the exhaustion that Our Heroes are forcing their way through.  The problem ain't that.  The problem is that we're on page 512 and this book is made of filler.

Next week: they make it to Caemlyn, but your guess is as good as mine whether anything actually happens there.


  1. Hi, been reading your recaps for a while now and been far too shy and retiring to say, thank you so much for putting yourself through this! But I feel it's long overdue.

    I was introduced to this series *cough mutter* years ago, by a male friend who assured me I would love them, because, quote, "it's all about a world where the women are in charge". I wasn't sure exactly why that was supposed to make me love them, rather than, say, a series about a nice, egalitarian world, but I read the first few anyway and the first thing that struck me was that the women were rather obviously not in charge at all, right from the opening chapters where the blokes are the sheepherders, smiths, roof-fixers, inn-keepers... it was quite disappointing to see it was the same old same old, really. However, I have to confess, I must have totally skimmed the Perrin/Egwene chapters because I did not notice this stuff at all, and thank you for pointing it out. And also for confirming that I am not insane for not seeing what I was apparently supposed to see in this stuff?

    (Personal update: a year later, the friend who kept on at me to read these came round unexpectedly, while my boyfriend was out. While sat on the sofa I had bought with my boyfriend, in the flat I had bought with my boyfriend, drinking my wine, he complained that he had "pretended to be my friend" for a whole year and yet "still not got into my pants." I cannot help speculating that his attitude towards me and his attitude towards these books might be somehow connected :p )

  2. So I have seen at least one other comparison between a bland cyphery dude character and Bella Swan. But Boring al'Thor is at least ten times better than Boring Swan, because he has skills. Boring al'Thor is a badass swordsman and a magic user with a destiny. Boring Swan cannot remain upright without assistance. Boring Swan is not even clever, any hints of cleverness are just that her other school was further along than the school in Forks. Boring al'Thor can do a backflip, Boring Swan's boyfriend can do a backflip.

    If Bella Swan were a vampire hunter with badass skills (or I mean, pick a skill set, that's the one I would want to read about) and no personality, then Twilight would be way better.

    Oh lord, I think I just defended Boring al'Thor.

  3. @ Tanzenlicht,

    I don't really believe Rand's skills. They're a little too plot-convenient (just like that lightning bolt) and lacking in convincing explanation. (Like the whole a few days of practice makes them better at music/juggling than villagers see in a year. Wat????) I'm not entirely certain he wouldn't be marginally more plausible if he were the (adventure related) skill-less farmboy he should be.

    Then again, I find our three male protagonists to be a trio of wandering potatoes (with apologies to potatoes everywhere) and would say that collectively, they have about as much personality as Bella does by herself. Which, granted, isn't saying much.

    But oh god this book is so a D&D campaign. It would even explain the damned implausible entertainment skill business. And Rand is played by one of those guys who feels too awkward role playing flirting and romance with a male game master, so of course he's distressed by the farm girl! (Why does all of this make too much sense?)

    I felt like the whole business in Four Kings was a case of the potatoes protagonists being too stupid to live. Short of the place being named Evilvill, I'm really not sure how much more clear it could've been that it was not a safe place to stop for the night. I seem to remember some vague handwaving about not wanting to sleep outside in the rain, but yeegad. Also, their disregard for the mistreated women kinda did in any hope that I'd ever care what happened to Rand. (Mat was a lost cause from pretty much moment one.) Yeah, sure, piles of character development could save them, but I have little hope of that.

    Egwene and Perrin have been split off from the main party to be our ripoffs of Merry and Pippin

    Nonsense! Merry and Pippin were captured by much more subtly evil forces! Okay, that's probably going too far, but the Whitecloaks have roughly the evil subtlety of Sith Lords. Which continues to make it very weird that this country allows them to tramp about arresting, torturing, and killing people. Then again, like the pre-Empire Galactic Republic, perhaps this country doesn't have a military. Somehow.

  4. Hmmm. Bella is working off of a different kind of fantasy though. She's not supposed to have skills, because she's the damsel in distress. If she had skills it would impede Edward sweeping her off her feet.

    I'm not a fan of twilight, but it is effective in what it aims to be. More than wheel of time, which just seems to be boring.

  5. perhaps this country doesn't have a military

    That's actually one of the few things where the world really is medieval: there aren't really any national armies. Most countries have a small elite force loyal to the ruler, and in times of war each lord gathers as many peasants as he can muster and gives them some rudimentary training and equipment. Later in the series there are also various mercenary companies.

  6. I am glad to see that you hadn't, as I feared, grown so disgusted by the books that you abandoned this review series in favour of more pleasant work.

    I really do hope you last until the end of The Wheel of Time series. There are many, many points later in these books that I want to read your opinion of - this series is full of extremely bad problems in many aspects. I suggest that you continue to skip specific details about the boring parts made of filler (which, let's face it, comprise much of these books). There are a lot of these books that don't really merit discussion because they are just boring filler, and skipping over it to discuss the 'meat' of the story, such as it is, is probably the best way to keep your reviews interesting and fun.

    Thanks again for doing these!

  7. True, dat. IIRC the first professional army in the west after the fall of the Western Roman Empire was one instituted in France in the 15th century. Standing armies are expensive.

    Calling up the feudal levy was out of use by the 13th century (at least in England and France, which I've studied). It was much more effective hiring mercenaries to fight for you. In Italy they came in large bands, but elsewhere there was a floating population of trained people ready to kill for money. You just said "I'm hiring," and they came.

  8. That 'friend' of yours sounds like a total putz.

  9. Yeah, true, but it's sort of convenient that it's medieval in this way (where it works for the author) and not in other ways (again, because that's what works best for the author). I can't decide whether what irks me is that there's a huge frosting of convenient over the world building or whether it's that I find the Whitecloaks to be just one thing too many.

    It wasn't enough to have the Darkfriends and the armies of evil after our heroes, and for everyone to be suspicious of the Jedi Aes Sedai, we had to have yet another faction after our heroes. Worse, this faction must be obviously evil and supposedly on the side of good, not from this country but allowed to operate in it, and somehow funded by a country that is so powerful and rich that it can send these people into all neighboring countries. It's just too much.

    And raises questions, like why Darkfriends wouldn't gain power in areas by offering protection from the Whitecloaks. (They seem bizarrely numerous and powerful for a secret evil bunch, so why do their activities seem limited to trying to kill Rand?)

    And if the main characters were more likable and interesting, I might not care so much. Or if the plot were tighter. Or if the villains (any of them) were a bit more subtle. When all of the antagonists have gone to The Sith Lord School of Villainy, I'm too busying laughing or rolling my eyes to be concerned for the main characters.

  10. the thousand lakesMarch 26, 2015 at 11:57 AM

    That is amazingly shitty behavior, I'm sorry.
    It's less "a world where the women are in charge" and more "a world where a majority of monarchs are women, the wizards and the pope are women, AND the author sincerely believed that feminity=submission and that whole conservative bit about men being the head of the family and women being the neck". The first part is admirable (or at least interesting) but the second part tends to undercut the first pretty severely.

  11. the thousand lakesMarch 26, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    Well no, Rand can't be the original Bella Swan, because Bella Swan isn't the original Bella Swan. I mean, half of all fairy tale boys are named Prince Charming (of the Handsome Prince, or Beautiful Boy, or other corresponding linguistic variation) and the other half are named the Miller's Son. Women get more names, but even those tend to be descriptive like Blond Girl, Has a Red Cloak, or Covered With Cinders Because She Has To Sweep The Fireplace And That's Sad. Empty vessels operating on dramatic convenience and protagonist-centered-morality aren't a modern invention.
    RE Else Grinwell: Rand is uncomfortable taking the initiative around women consistently in this book. He wants women to tell him how to act around them without them telling him to do anything he doesn't want to. He regards himself as "basically" engaged to Egwene, and he comes from a conservative town with a pretty strict emphasis on abstinence before marriage. All the Two Rivers characters start out sexually repressed and uncomfortable with the flirtings outside of strict country courtship rituals, so I think the local characterization is consistent there. I believe Rand finds Else pretty (think there's a mention of it in text) but he's outside of his script for correct behavior when she flirts with him. Plus the Two Rivers is a fairly standard patriarchy (the result, as far as I can see, of a failure of imagination on the author's part with regards to how an actually matriarchal early renaissance society would look) so he worries that sullying the farmer's property will result in discomfort or danger to him and Matt.
    I fully agree that Jordan does not excel at characterization, but none of that required me to read terribly deeply or fill in a ton of blanks by myself. Engaging with a work beyond surface level, "seen something like it before" boredom leads to more incisive criticism.

  12. the thousand lakesMarch 26, 2015 at 12:41 PM

    They're also outside of any nation's de facto territory at the moment, although I don't think that's been made particularly clear at any point so far. Still, the Whitecloak organization is a bit of a mess. They're supposed to operate like a kind of Church analog, in that they aren't technically beholden to any one nation and wield more influence than the government of the nation that hosts their headquarters. On the other hand, WoT world lacks any real religion, so the only reason the Whitecloaks have for their influence is military might, and very little justification is given for why a powerful and stable nation like Andor would give them free reign.

    It's not as apparent in the early books (though you've obviously cottoned on to it) but there really are just too many darkfriends. I'm ok with it in this sequence because I really do think Jordan does a good job making Mat and Rand seem desperate and paranoid, but it becomes ridiculous after a while. They start cropping up like bad TV show twists and have the effect of making the forces of Evil seem simultaneously impossibly powerful and utterly incompetent.

  13. If I had any investment in Mat and Rand, this sequence would probably work okay. I still think it would be better with a little more subtlety - they run into too many actual Darkfriends. It should be more like those suspense movie bits where there's just enough suspicious behavior by people to have the main character and the audience on edge, but it isn't clear if the people are really threats or if the main character is starting to lose it from stress.

    I don't know. Too many things seem turned up to eleven, and there doesn't seem to have been enough thought about how these things would interact with each other. The Whitecloaks are somehow able to find and go after our heroes, but miss the loads of Darkfriends everywhere, for example. Everyone seems to have this weird mix of power and incompetence.

  14. "Next week: they make it to Caemlyn, but your guess is as good as mine whether anything actually happens there."
    I'll lay five to one on "no." Any takers?

  15. A montage would have been more effective in the storytelling for much of this. Also, if the forces of evil are so prevalent, how do they manage not to be effective? Neither Mat not Rand seems to be anyone with the kind of skill that would make them able to evade or defeat the enemies they encounter. The only characters so far that are getting a non-zero chance at survival are the women magic wielders. Everyone else, feh. They should all be dead by now, with as much chasing them as there is.

    And this bit about women being mistreated everywhere and Our Heroes doing nothing about it - Bad. Of course, I'm also wondering why those men haven't all meet accidents at the hands of those women. Is this supposed to be Stepford and we don't knew about it?

  16. Absolutely! (and cheers, to both you
    and JReynolds) I wouldn't
    have managed
    to articulate it as well as that, but I did feel it was as if the
    author had added a layer on top of your “standard” fantasy world,
    where the top dogs
    were magic
    users and all women, but for some reason umpty-thousand years of that
    had made no cultural impact whatsoever on the layers below. If it
    had, it would have been more interesting
    to explore, imho.

  17. the thousand lakesMarch 26, 2015 at 9:17 PM

    That's totally fair. I'm attached to them because I read these books as a middle schooler, so by the time I started analyzing them seriously I'd built up a decent store of goodwill already, both from them getting incrementally more interesting over the series and from general nostalgia. I'm sure I'd have a different reaction if I picked the series up for the first time today. Wheel of Time is of roughly equal quality to the Elric of Melnibonne series in my mind, and while I didn't particularly dislike Elric, I wasn't super motivated to finish the book either.
    These particular Whitecloaks finding Egwene and Perrin is an unfortunate coincidence rather than the result of super-sleuthing, but too many coincidences will strain credulity eventually, especially when an important plot point hinges on a separate series of convenient coincidences. Darkfriends are just a logical nightmare. Their prevalence and power changes from scene to scene, I'm pretty sure, according to what works nicely for the moment. They're like character consistency on the Walking Dead in that way.

  18. the thousand lakesMarch 26, 2015 at 9:21 PM

    Also: the characters being able to tell which of the townsfolk in Bree were Evil just by looking at them wasn't exactly the best part of those books, Jordan. Not something you want to emulate with your own Secret Evils.

  19. Yeah. There are things I liked, and still in a nostalgic way like, that I'm kind of afraid to ever revisit because I don't think they'd work for me any more. And there are things that have a crap load of problems, that I still like, possibly partly because of nostalgia. I'm pretty sure I'd be more willing to tolerate the flaws here if Jordan had just given me one character I really liked.

    Egwene has (had?) some promise (but seems to be being relegated to load for no real reason...beyond her gender), and I like Moiraine a lot more than I'm probably supposed to, and gur Rag-Jbbxvrr gurl cvpx hc yngre vf bxnl, but none of them really grip me with "oh, I've got to find out what happens to [ ]!" (I also wouldn't be at all surprised to find out that none of those three survive to the end of the story.)

    I can see potential in the world, even if it's not quite making sense or has a lot of way too convenient parts. I can even see potential in the characters. With a time machine and an editor, this might be awesome! That's the frustrating thing. Granted, the story Jordan wanted to tell and the story I'd turn it into probably wouldn't be the same story, but...

    I don't know, there's a part of me that thinks that the main difference between this and Star Wars is simply that Star Wars has enough characters that I really like.

  20. There are spoilers in this, kind of, and if you get spoiled, good. Now you don't have to read it. Also I'm not sure that I made my point any better this time. It is that Wheel of Time is terrible, but Rand is a more fun person to pretend to be than Bella. The disparity is real, the size of the disparity is sexism.

    I mean, I guess that's sort of my point? We are directly comparing two bland boring personality free characters and evaluating them as places for the reader to insert themself.

    On the one hand we have Rand the dumb farmboy. He suddenly (and yes unbelievably) has the ability to swordfight alarmingly well and do magic (which is bad and dangerous we're told, but generally shown that it is useful and awesome and way more powerful than the magic women do) and juggle (because juggle). Oh, also he is destined to have three girlfriends with awesome powers, so he gets the same thing that Bella gets times three and with less falling down for no reason.

    Plus one time a whole society of warrior women spank him, which is a weirdly specific fantasy, but better than 'A vampire got me pregnant, chewed the baby out and then my backup werewolf boyfriend fell in love with the baby.' as far as weirdly specific fantasies go.

    On the other hand we have Bella. Bella is so pretty that everyone in her school either wants her or wants to be her (speaking of fantasy skills I don't believe in). And she has the power of a boyfriend who can do awesome shit and loves her so much he wants to murder her.

    These are not equivalent fantasies or skill sets. The one we present for women to consume is worse. It is a less engaging fantasy.

    But it's also incredibly stupid that the difference between the general attitude towards Twilight and Wheel of Time is so radically different. It is almost certainly because Twilight is girl stuff. know, Bella is also actually a worse fantasy place holder.

  21. Why are there so many Darkfriends in this series?

    Why are there so many Darkfriends?

    For the past, what, thousand-plus years, there has been almost no "dark" to speak of (maybe one or two sick old guys with magic, but really.) Every government in the world, plus all the world's centers of supernatural learning, plus its largest and most active paramilitary organization, all of them have been completely dedicated to "Darkfriend = immediate death." Nobody has the ability to offer rewards even remotely commiserate to the insane risk people take by dedicating themselves to Team Evil here.

    On top of that, it makes almost no attempt to disguise itself as anything but Team Evil. There's no nationalistic myth, no self-gratifying story they can buy into, no unifying cultural or religious identity that we've seen; the best it offers is a vague "you will be near the top of the decaying pile of humanity scrabbling to survive in the ruined death-world we bring about." Not exactly the kind of theology that people will willingly preserve from generation to generation, especially not in the face of a universal cultural agreement that being discovered as a Darkfriend means instant death.

  22. Hmmmm. The thing is, while they are very different fantasies, I don't think that it makes either of them better than the other. The fantasy of being Bella (who is absolutely just a cardboard cutout stand-in for the reader) is really about being Special.

    Bella (in her mind) is an absolute nobody, who is clumsy and ugly and socially awkward. As most teenage girls feel. But despite all that she attracts the attention of this mysterious super-hot guy who is also super-rich and super-cool, who it turns out is a vampire (a sparkly vampire even) who dashes in and saves her from danger. And it turns out that Bella is SO special that she manages to make this mysterious rich hot 100+ year old vampire fall in love for the FIRST TIME. She's also so special that she's immune to his mind-reading powers, so that he becomes completely obsessed with her. And because he's a vampire, he could turn HER into a vampire and then they could literally be together ~FOREVER~.

    Twilight absolutely has a lot of really problematic stuff in it, and it is definitely something to handle carefully, because the way the relationship is portrayed should not be a model for real life. But as a fantasy, I think it's fine. People are into fantasies of all kinds of weird and problematic stuff. The important thing is to make sure people understand the line between fantasy and reality. The fantasy CLEARLY appeals to a lot of women. It's not something that particularly appeals to ME, but that's fine.

    I don't think we can say that Rand is a better fantasy than Bella just because he acquires skills and she doesn't. I think that ends up being sexist itself, to say that the female fantasy is bad because it's a female fantasy.

  23. Three thousand, five hundred years since the seal. Ohg Vfunznry jnf nyjnlf serr.

  24. Aren't they pretty much occupying... whichever country it is they're based in? (Amadicia?) They're independent in the way a protection racket is independent.

  25. Why on Earth are "sweeping her off her feet" stories supposedly more effective if her feet have all the strenght of wet noodles? I mean, wouldn't it up the wow factor if she had actual strenght herself and not just a scaffolding that'll hold until the suitable suitor comes along?

  26. I don't know, I never got the sense that these books were particularly beloved by readers. They are famous to be sure, mainly for their preposterous length. I suppose it became something of a rite of passage to see how far you could make it before giving up. I made it as far as book... seven, maybe? Hard to remember since after four they become nearly indistiguisable from each other. But then again I also read all the "Rendezvous with Rama" sequels hoping they would start making sense at some point. (Spoiler: They didn't.)

    Many years ago I was at a science fiction and fantasy convention. One of the events was Jordan-tossing, a competition to see who could throw one of these books the farthest. We are talking about people who love books and reading, yet there seemed to be a fairly general agreement that these books were best suited as throwing implements.

  27. Those would all make MUCH more interesting worldbuilding than what we've got here, IMO. (also, rambling, what rambling? I see no rambling here!)

  28. I was once engaged to a guy who loved loved loved these books. (no, I didn't marry him. Thank goodness.)

  29. Hmmm. This is my understanding of it: The appeal is that she is intended to be a placeholder for teenage girls. Bella/these girls often think they're worthless-- not pretty enough, not smart enough, whatever (probably because there are billions-dollars industries devoted to making them think exactly that) and so the idea that despite all those flaws, Bella and ONLY Bella can make this amazing rich/hot/mysterious/super-strong/vampire guy utterly obsessed with her and want to sweep her off her feet and do anything to protect her.... that can be a real ego-booster and even kind of a power fantasy of its own. It's just a different kind of power.

    Yes, the guy is doing all the heavy lifting and facing danger, but he is doing it FOR HER. The helpless woman is the one who holds all the emotional power: the power to make that guy totally fall apart, to make him totally devoted to her. She can ask for anything and he'll do his best to deliver it, because she is the only one he's ever loved.

    Now, as far as the execution of that fantasy goes, Twilight is full of problematic stuff, but the fantasy itself is not a bad one.

  30. If there was more than one inn in a village, the innkeepers would bid for them once they heard Rand's flute and saw Mat juggle. Together they still did not come close to a gleeman, but they were more than most villages saw in a year.
    Nope. Nuh-uh. Not even a little bit. No. No way in hell. I was thinking this back in Two Rivers, but there is no possible universe in which random isolated villages appreciate music and performance enough to voluntarily feed and house vagrant amateurs like Rand and Mat, yet are also so disinterested in any form of entertainment that they don't have their own forms of improvised folk music and locals with years of experience. For that matter, forget about the boys, there are no villages of this type that lack their own musical traditions. Period. The suggestion is absurd.

    With Thom, and gleemen in general, their trade is understandable; traveling entertainers can be a source of news, they can tell stories from distant lands, showcase tricks and technology that locals would never have seen, or act as spies and agents for various authorities. They have something unique to offer, so it makes sense why they are valued by inns and villages.

    Rand? Rand has a flute. He's not very proficient with it. Mat is dexterous, but the sum total of all his props appear to be a handful of beanbags. They are trying to keep a lot profile, and move as quickly as possible; they have no time to share news, or tell stories, or pick up on local trends. They have literally nothing to offer that wouldn't be completely outclassed by the tanner's son and his sheepskin drum, or the acrobatic dances of the miller and her twins, or the brusque old lady and her curiously well-made violin (she says she acquired it during some affair with a gleeman, years ago, but nobody's ever managed to get the whole story out of her).

    An innkeeper taking pity on a couple of tired and penniless boys, and giving them a room for the night in return for providing whatever amusement they can? Sure. A bit hard to stretch across the whole trip, but whatever. Rival inns trying to outbid each other for the privilege of housing a couple of potential thieves (furtive, have been traveling hard, afraid of pursuers, not to mention Mat, who's probably radiating suspiciousness at this point) just because they have a flute? Is that supposed to be a joke?

  31. Maybe he's someone people love to hate? He has enough of a fan (or hate-) dom that people were fairly eager to get their hands on Brandon Sanderson's finish up of the story.

  32. If I had to write a sudden, omnipresent resurgence of threatening yet disposable sleeper agents, I'd probably go with dream infection. That is, the big bad invades the minds of ordinary people while they sleep, and gradually twists them to its will, kind of like it's been doing with our protagonists, but with more success. Lots of people would start having nightmares for a while, and depending on their susceptibility, they'd gradually become easier to manipulate in subtle ways. And then, when the big bad needs someone to sabotage, attack, or otherwise disturb the heroes, bam! Scullery maid in the bedroom with a knife.

    It'd be super good! We could have all sorts of tension from it. The heroes suddenly can't trust anyone; they always have to be on guard, even in their own strongholds. The pointless dream sequences become a source of internal paranoia, our plucky farmboys questioning themselves at every turn, or stubbornly insisting that there's no way they could be affected, the alternative too terrifying to consider.

    And then there's the people who have definitely been affected! What do they do with them? Do our heroes fight to protect themselves against that scullery maid, even if it means killing her in the process, or do they try to restrain her with minimal force, as an unwilling puppet of evil? Can they be freed from the influence? If they've been freed, can they truly be trusted not to just fall victim to it all over again? What if they aren't actually free, and are just pretending to be so they can act again at some later date? What happens when major characters and factions disagree on this? What happens when they clash?

    Thematically, too, it shifts the focus away from an inherently evil Other, to be fought far off in some blighted land by a mysterious and largely apocryphal coven of warrior-mages, and to a more pervasive sense of evil seeping into the land and corrupting us in ways we can barely fathom. Very classic, very "original sin", it would be right at home with all the other barely-above-the-level-of-puns references to mythology in the series.

  33. the thousand lakesMarch 29, 2015 at 7:14 PM

    Hiding in closets and practicing her evil laugh would have been good bets. If you wanted a caricature rather than a character, I wouldn't know where to start.

  34. YES! Various types of mind control are introduced later on, and specifically presented as a favourite weapon of several villains, but the larger implications were never really explored. I like your version much better.

  35. Why are there so many darkfriends? It's important, I think, to recognize that Mat and Rand are experiencing way more Darkfriends than you would normally encounter on this route because the Dark has its agents on the move. But also, for a long time, I expect it functioned as a kind of good old boys conspiracy in which you helped each other into positions of power and *nothing was ever asked of you by supernatural forces*. That in the same way the Masons don't actually believe in all their mystical ritual, these people were ambitious and wanted to get ahead and being a Friend of the Dark was being in a conspiracy which took you places.

    As for the rise of the Darkfriends, there was a period of decades post Bore in which the conspiracy spread before open war was declared.

  36. There's a huge Jordan fandom of people who do love the books; lots of them burned out during the middle period where the books really dragged out, but there's still a big fandom. And they would not have sold like crazy without fans. But smart fans don't go shove their heads into the company of haters.

  37. You are right. Intellectually, I understand that there must be people who love the books. As you say, they wouldn't have sold otherwise. I guess I just didn't encounter many of those people. My experience is more with others like myself: former fans who lost faith in the series.
    And I wouldn't really call myself a hater. I don't hate these books. It's more like wistful regret over an old love affair that didn't work out. Like Will says at the end, it's not a matter of these books being badly written. There are plenty of scenes that have intensity and mood. There are tons of details that seem like they are leading towards something. They just never really do.
    I didn't give up on these books because I hated them, I gave up because I was feeling betrayed. I had given my heart to a story, trusting that my loyalty would be rewarded with a satisfying conclusion. But when the story just dragged on endlessly, I was starting to feel exploited. Like I was being emotionally manipulated into buying book after book in which nothing really happened.
    There is nothing inherently wrong with a long story. I like delving into a large fictional world. But the length should serve the story, not the other way around. In this case, I strongly feel that the story was made far longer than necessary, just so that the reader would have to fork over more money in exchange for entire volumes of pointless filler.

  38. I'm reminded of that scene in LotR movies where Denethor asks Pippin to sing for him. Really? You are the ruler of the most powerful nation in the world, but the only entertainment you can scrounge up is some random dude who just joined your army? In the book Pippin's service to Denethor has more depth, but the movie just treats it as a joke, which is why the singing feels like it comes out of nowhere.

    I guess they both represent the same idea, though Wheel of Time is doing a more extreme version of it. The Shire and the Two Rivers are the pastoral ideal, the place where people live simple lives and still remember the songs of their ancestors. Whereas the rest of the world has lost touch with its history and consequently people hardly even remember how to smile anymore.

    The world of Wheel of Time runs very heavily on nostalgia. Whether it was in the fabled Age of Legends or when Artur Hawkwing unified the world, there is always some past time when men were real men and women were real women and milk and honey flowed. Then people started craving for a gender neutral source of magic or a world that wasn't ruled by a single despot, and that's when it all turned to ashes. Rand is that nostalgia made flesh, the physical reincarnation of the Times When Things Were Good. It doesn't matter how well the Pied Piper plays the flute, they all flock to him anyway.

  39. I do wonder how much of Jordan's success is due to the state of the fantasy market at the time. The first book was published in 1990, right? Were there any other seriously popular fantasy books out there at the time to challenge Eye of the World? I can't think of any, and after a quick google, all the popular books I can see look to have mostly come out in the second half of the decade. The only major series that seemed to be around in the 80's/1990 was Conan the Barbarian. Discworld was out, but I'm not sure how available it was in the US. Tamora Pierce was also around, but, y'know, those are girl's books.

    So if you're into Lord of the Rings and you're craving more fantasy, and there's really not a lot out there, and suddenly you find Wheel of Time and it's long and dense and sure, nothing happens, but it gives you a huge dose of that same fantasy feel... I can see how that would become popular. Even if, once fantasy novels really explode, it's not very good in comparison.

  40. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn came out in 1988-1993. Although I discovered those books only after I was done with Jordan, so I don't know how popular they were at the time.
    I loved Lord of the Rings, but there were some things that always bugged me about it. I loved Memory, Sorrow and Thorn because it had many of the same themes, but done better in my opinion.

  41. I don't know how many huge monolithic series were out, but the state of fantasy literature in general for the prior several decades was an overwhelming tide of pulp fantasy to slake the infinite thirst of 60s/70s/80s geeks. The Forgotten Realms were already a big deal when the first Drizzt book was published in 1988, and Dragonlance began in 1984. Eye of the World was a stronger pretender to the LOTR throne than either of those, but there was never a lack of high fantasy.

  42. Discworld was available in the US. And in addition to the books/series/authors Meruror and Will mention, there were also Terry Brooks' Shannara books (google/wikipedia tells me the first book of his second series also came out in 1990), and Mercedes Lackey, Orson Scott Card, Steven Brust, David Eddings, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and others were all writing fantasy.

    They weren't all exactly Tolkienesque, but Shannara definitely was, and I think Eddings. So Jordan did indeed have competition.

  43. These books got split to two or even three parts in translation to Finnish. (I don't know, the publisher really liked to milk starving fantasy fans for their money, I should probably try to read Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn again now that each book isn't, say, the last third of the second, hope you remember what was in the previous installment).

    Thus the sport at one Finncon I visited was Jordan log pushing. _Before_ the series was done. Yeah.

  44. Wow, that's a super creepy and interesting idea and now I'm even more disappointed in these books for failing to utilize it.

  45. I guess this book broke Will. It's too bad, I really enjoyed these.

  46. A lot of things have been weighing on me lately, leading to an unexpected hiatus. I'm glad to hear you've enjoyed the posts so far, and I assure you that they will start up again sometime soon.

  47. Oh, good. I figured it was something like that and I didn't want to pester, but I love your snark.

  48. Also grateful for the posts, on whatever schedule they come out. Best wishes for the lifting of weights.