August Reading Reflections

This month, we’re going to talk about Robert Jordan’s series, Wheel of Time, especially the first two books, Eye of the World and The Great Hunt.

It’s really weird, rereading books for the first time in years, especially a series as long as The Wheel of Time. I can almost remember the roles of many minor characters, to the point where I sometimes end up googling their character arcs. Don’t worry; I hardly ever spoil anything for myself. The chances are too low when I read 12 out of the 14 books in the series. Why’d I quit at 12, you might ask? Well, I didn’t quit. I read through The Gathering Storm shortly after it was published, with the next book not due for another year. But, well, it’s generally best to reread a series before the next book comes out, at least so you know what’s happening, and there was no way I was rereading all those books again.

Now, it’s been a good six years since the last book was published. I must have a good ten years separating now from the last time I read it. (Now I feel old. Wow. Ten years.) Obviously, I can’t just live my life having read twelve books out of a fourteen book series, without at some point going back so I might read the last two. The timing just feels right.

So, last month I talked about the topic of a world’s history within a story. It seemed apt, since I was focusing primarily on a prequel that set the foundations for the main storylines. Now, moving into book 2, I thought it would be interesting to discuss the pacing of character arcs. The image I have of these characters are vastly different from the images I’m getting from the characters so far. That makes sense, obviously, because my memory of these characters are founded on twelve books of opportunity for development. These characters go from small-minded, naive villagers to politicians and battle-hardened warriors.

When the longest fantasy series I’ve read–Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass–is comprised of seven (mediocre) books, and the usual length of series these days is… well, three, it’s interesting to see the slow but steady path of development unfold in front of these characters. Eye of the World ends with the three village boys much changed from the beginning of the book, it’s true. Rand al’Thor has channeled saidin. Perrin Aybara finds himself able to speak to wolves. Mat Cauthin’s life is changed after his possession of the Shadar Logoth knife.

At the same time, as I make my way through The Great Hunt, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that, while the plot may indeed be moving forward, the characters themselves are resistant to change. Rand fears channeling, as he should, fearing the madness that will undeniably come with it. He wants nothing to do with being the Dragon Reborn. Perrin is disgusted at being a wolfbrother, and only opens up that avenue of communication when it becomes their traveling party’s only way of finding the missing Horn of Valere and the stolen Shadar Logoth knife. Mat likewise wants nothing to do with being ta’veren. And it appears that The Great Hunt will not end with any major character development, but rather a few minor changes made along the way.

For some reason, the slow pace of character development reminds me of Legend of Korra, except it goes the opposite way. LoK lasted four seasons, and had four distinct villains in each season that Korra herself had to face. Power creep is distinctly different from the pacing of character development, but at the same time, there is some overlap. Power creep is what happens when you plan on doing a series, but do not know how long the series will last, and so each season or each book has a villain more powerful than the last. The protagonists managed to defeat the last villains by getting stronger themselves, so to form conflict for the new season or book, the new villain must be even stronger. Basically, it’s what happens when there isn’t much planning in the way of the overall story arc.

What I’m seeing so far in Wheel of Time, and what I remember from the first read-through, is that Robert Jordan did do a lot of planning ahead of time. He laid the ground work for the main villain, who must be defeated in the Last Battle at the end of the series, while setting up enough organic sources of conflict that the protagonists all have something working against them throughout the series. It also means the characters are allowed to grow at their own pace. Since humans in general are resistant to change, it makes sense that, with fourteen books to work with, Robert Jordan chooses to take his character development slow. Rand al’Thor doesn’t have to realize he’s the Dragon Reborn by the end of the first book. He doesn’t have to face his destiny until the end of the second book, or the beginning of the third. I guess I’ll find out which pretty soon.

Either way, it leaves us with the question, as a reader, whether this slow pace of character development is desirable. Sometimes you can power through slow sections of a book, and the fast-paced bits make it all worthwhile. Other times, it’s impossible to wade through. I’m going to guess, having read this series before and knowing how interesting these characters get going forward, Wheel of Time is likely to be more of the former than the latter. I would even go so far as to say Jordan’s grip on his story, world, and characters makes it easy to forgive the slower pace. That doesn’t stop me from taking nearly a month to read each book.

I still have twelve (and a half) books to read before this is done, so I guess we’ll see in the coming months if anything changes as I work through the series.


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