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 eleven and twelve, “Knife of Dreams” and “The Gathering Storm.” These fantasy books are masterworks and deserve to be read by any interested in the genre. There are SPOILERS from both books here. Please do not share spoilers from later books for the sake of readers.
Acting Becomes Reality
In Knife of Dreams, Faile and her companions are being held captive by the Shaido Aiel. In the process, they are forced into servitude and beaten at the whims of their overlords. Faile soon realized the best strategy would be to fain timidity, but also realized the dangers of this:
[Faile] hoped that Sevanna [one of the Aiel] thought her tamed… She hoped that she was not being tamed. Pretend something too long, and it could become truth… She had to escape before [her husband] got himself killed in the attempt [to rescue her]. Before she stopped pretending. (167, cited below)
There is a similar notion built into much discussion about Christianity. Pascal, for example, after outlining his famous wager (which I defend here), noted that one may align oneself towards belief. That is, when someone begins to act as though one believes a certain way, it can turn into a reality that one believes a certain way. From a worldview perspective, then, we should always be wary of how we live our lives and what we surround ourselves with. After all, it may be that our pretending becomes reality.
Preparing for War
The upcoming “Last Battle” is the primary theme of the entire series. In Knife of Dreams and The Gathering Storm, we get our first real experiences of that upcoming war. The series has built up towards this climax, and one can feel the coming “storm” in the books to come. For our world, we know that war is a constant reality. With the reality of terrorist organizations, civil unrest, deep-seated cultural hatred, and the like, war is a constant companion. The same is true in the Wheel of Time. There is an eschatological awareness in the series of this “Last Battle,” just as Christians have an awareness of the Second Coming. In one scene, a military man, one of the great captains, Bashere, reflected on the reality of war:
“Let’s hope it really is the Last Battle. If we live through that, I don’t think we’ll ever want to see another. We will, though. There’s always another battle. I suppose that will be the case until the whole world turns Tinker.” (459)
The awareness of the coming eschaton for the Wheel of Time comes with it a bitter awareness that people of all backgrounds continue to war with each other. Perhaps, it is said, the way of the Tinker–people who have sworn off violence–is best.
In The Gathering Storm, we find a dramatic reversal of the biblical theme of coming peace (found in passages like Isaiah 2:4) which speaks of a day when swords will be beaten into plowshares. Instead, the people of the Wheel of Time must prepare for a day of chaos and war:
“take your best scythes and turn them into polearms…” [advises one farmer to another]
“What do I know about making a sword? Or about using a sword, for that matter?” [the other replied]
“You can learn… Everyone will be needed.” [The first responded] (8, cited below)
The Last Battle is a day in which the nations will unite, but they will unite for war. Again, this is in contrast to the biblical theme of the abolition of war in the eschatological hope. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the coming books.
Fighting the Darkness from Within
One of the most dramatic scenes in the entire series is found in The Gathering Storm as Verin, an Aes Sedai (female magic user in this series) who has seemed so loyal, reveals she is a darkfriend of the Black Ajah. However, it turns out that she is not wholly evil but rather did so, and did many evil things, in order to try to fight the Shadow from within its own ranks:
“You see, one rarely has a chance as this, to study a beast from inside… They [darkfriends] have many agents among us… Well, I thought it time that we had at least one of us among them. This is worth one woman’s life.” (836, 839)
Verin had sworn herself to evil, but did so in order to bring about great good. Her life was forfeit in order to expose wickedness within the ranks of the Aes Sedai. Her sacrifice forestalled a major weapon of the Dark One.
Thankfully, there is no need for we as Christians to go around swearing ourselves to evil. However, there is great need and sacrifice in going to communities in which Christians are persecuted and seeking to help in whatever ways we can.
The Wheel of Time continues to impress, both from the magisterial scope of its fiction and from the many issues of worldview it brings up. There are, of course, many, many more topics we could discuss related to the books and you may feel free to bring these up in the comments. There are many themes which resonate with the Christian worldview, but Jordan clearly borrowed from Eastern Mysticism as well as other religious traditions. This is a fantastic series to read and discuss at a worldview level.
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Robert Jordan, Knife of Dreams (New York: Tor, 2005).
Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Crossroads of Twilight (New York: Tor, 2009).
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