Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, “The Wheel of Time,” has much to reflect upon from a Christian perspective. Here, I’ll be examining books seven and eight, “A Crown of Swords” and “The Path of Daggers.” There are minor SPOILERS from both books here. Please do not share spoilers from later books for the sake of readers.
Men and Women
Throughout both books–and indeed the entire series–there is an undercurrent from many characters that “men always ____” or “women always ____.” What is interesting is that Jordan frequently flips these phrases around so that men are saying women are impossible to understand, but women then turn around and say the same about men. There is parallelism here which I believe was intentional.
The notion that there is a kind of “gender essentialism” is one which, unfortunately, is frequently pushed in Christian communities. I’m not saying at all there is no such thing as distinct genders; rather, my point is that what we conceive of as being gendered is often not the case at all. I actually found myself jarred at times when the women in the Wheel of Time novels would complain about the men being “impossible” or “gossipy”–after all, is that not what women are generally conceived as? But of course these patterns of behavior are not essential to male or female but rather aspects of personalities. Thus, it seems Jordan has a streak of feminist thought running through his works, though it is at times very subtle and even concealed. His writing speaks to the absurdity of labeling all people of one gender or the other as acting in specific, deterministic ways.
In the Service of…
Another concept which frequently occurs throughout these books is that there is complexity to relationships and loyalties particularly concerning evil or “The Dark One.” Many of the Forsaken follow after their own ends, to the point in which they frequently oppose each other, which itself seems to work against the will and ends of “The Dark One.”
Thus, it seems that for “The Wheel of Time” the service of evil is ultimately an irrational end which leads to chaos and disorder. It moves against the Pattern–the idea that there is a unity of time which continues to be woven together to make reality–and it also ultimately seeks to defeat itself just as much as it fights against the forces of the Light.
Belief, Evil, and Pragmatism
At one point in The Path of Daggers, Rand is surveying his arrayed forces and he considers their loyalty (and lack thereof). But in this considering, he notes:
they feared him [Rand] far more than they did the Aiel. Maybe more than they did the Dark One, in whom some did not really believe… (327-328)
The people, it seems, were more concerned with firmly holding their own wealth or gaining positions of authority and power than they were with the true evil which threatened the world. Unconvinced by the coming tribulation, they instead sought favor from the most powerful man in the world. The condition, it seems, is one which mirrors our own at points. Rather than being concerned with evil facing our world, or rather than fighting injustice, people are obsessed with gain that cannot be carried over across death and the grave. The true powers which threaten the world are left to expand and strengthen,while people seek their own gain.
It is a kind of pragmatism which infects us: injustice is “over there” and we are “right here,” so why be concerned with it? The notion that there is a spiritual realm with any sort of power is shrugged off, ignored, or even scorned as ancient superstition, unworthy of concern. Like the people who surround Rand in the book, we convince ourselves that evil has no power in the world and “[the Dark One”] could [not] and would [not] touch the world harder than he had already (328).
There is much to consider throughout the “Wheel of Time” series. Fantasy resonates with reality in sometimes tangible ways, as anyone who reads fiction frequently knows. How do you approach books from a worldview perspective? What do you think of the themes above, and what others have I not discussed from these two books?
I will be writing on later books in the series when able. Until then, I covet your thoughts!
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