The conclusion to the Wheel of Time series has arrived at long last. It is a worth finish (well, there are no endings, nor beginnings in the Wheel of Time… but it was an ending) to the sprawling epic fantasy. There are not enough superlatives for me to describe how much I enjoyed the series. Here, we’ll discuss Towers of Midnight and A Memory of Light, the concluding volumes in the Wheel of Time. There are, of course major SPOILERS for the entire series in this post.
The Plight of the Outsiders
The last several books of the Wheel of Time series highlight at points the plight of those who are not main characters. Refugees, those who have had their homes destroyed, the people who are not often even referenced in other works of fiction. In Towers of Midnight, there is a poignant vision of the future, one in which the Aiel have been downtrodden and their power broken. A family of Aiel are starving and they beg for food from some people passing through what used to be their land. They show no mercy:
[The mother’s] tears did come then, quiet, weak. They rolled down her cheeks as she undid her shirt to nurse Garlvan, though she had no suck for him.
He didn’t move. He didn’t latch on. She lifted his small form and realized that he was no longer breathing… (1038-1039)
One wonders how often this kind of story plays out in our world. How easily we dehumanize those who are in need, and how easily we ignore them or disregard their need. Embedded in this sorrowful tale, we learn that there are always “outsiders”; always those in need, for whom we should be caring.
Rand lost a hand earlier in the series, and it leads him to wonder about his own sufficiency as a person. A Memory of Light eloquently deals with this issue in a scene which depicts Tam, Rand’s adoptive father, sparring with Rand and forcing him to “let go.” As they spar, Rand admires his father’s swordsmanship and his ability to fight with one hand. He continues to realize that one hand may not be such a disadvantage in life and even uses his hand-less arm to block a bow. As the fight ends, the scene drives home the point:
Sweating, Rand raised his practice sword to Tam… Tam stepped back, raising his own sword. The older man wore a grin.
Nearby, standing near the lanterns, a handful of Warders [elite bodyguards of Aes Sedai–female magic users] began clapping. Not a large audience–only six men–but Rand had not noticed them. The Maidens [warrior women] lifted their spears in salute.
“It has been quite a weight, hasn’t it?” Tam asked.
“What weight?” Rand replied.
“That lost hand you’ve been carrying.”
Rand looked down at his stump. “Yes. I believe it has been that.” (312-313)
The fight has opened Rand to an awareness of his sense of loss, but also to a new sense of completeness. He has one hand, but that doesn’t make him less a man.
Fate or Free Will?
Throughout the series, the question of whether people are free in their choices or whether they are fated to have certain destinies is found front-and-center. The notion that all destinies are woven into a Pattern is used by some characters to argue for fatalism, while others believe the Pattern can be manipulated. In A Memory of Light, Egwene’s dream–a way of seeing into the future–provides a way for exploring this issue. Rand, Moiraine, and Egwene debate the meaning of a dream in which Rand is stepping into the Dark One’s prison, but there is not enough information to tell them the course of action they should take.
The debate suggests more about the world than may appear at first glance. It seems in the world of A Wheel of Time there is a tension between determinism and freedom, one which appears quite a bit in Christian thinking as well. How are we to forge our way in the world? Has everything been set before us in a Pattern, or are we able to choose our own destinies? Most importantly, A Memory of Light leaves the ambiguity there. The tension remains. Though Rand ultimately seems freed from the Pattern in some ways, it is a freedom which is never fully fleshed out. I think there is much to be said for this approach. One wonders whether the dichotomy of free/determined should be maintained, or whether more complexity exists in this world than that.
Evil and Good
When Rand confronts the Dark One in A Memory of Light, he comes to a point in which he is shown a depiction of the world without evil (679ff). It is a hideous place; the people are without the stories of their lives which shaped them in ways beyond reckoning. Bravery is impossible; as is conviction. The scene makes one wonder about the problem of evil–the notion that the existence of evil shows an omnipotent good deity does not exist–and various answers given to it. One prominent response to the problem of evil argues that evil may be used to make greater goods. Without the possibility of harm, there is no possibility of true bravery. Richard Swinburne is a well-known proponent of this response.
We live in a world which has been deeply harmed by evil. We also live in a world in which God has provided the answer to evil in the person of God’s Son. One day, God will wipe away every tear. We won’t live in the hellish nightmare of a world in which our characters have been sucked away from the elimination of all possible ills; but rather in a world that God has planned for us, a world of overpowering good.
The Wheel of Time series is easily my favorite fantasy series of all time. I read it through in the span of about a year. The books raise an enormous number of worldview issues, and they are also epic fantasy stories with gripping tales that will, I think, never let me go. It’s a saga of epic proportions, and one which I think any fan of literature should experience.
Popular Books– Take a look at the other posts I’ve written on major works of fiction.
Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, Towers of Midnight (New York: Tor, 2010).
Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, A Memory of Light (New York: Tor, 2012).
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