“The Wheel of Time” is a massive fantasy series by Robert Jordan (and, later, Brandon Sanderson) that is being developed into a television show for Amazon Prime. It’s cultural impact is huge, the series having sold more than 44 million copies. Here, I continue my series exploring the books from a Christian worldview perspective. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.
I’m reading this novel for the third time, and this time I listened to it. It’s amazing to me to see how differently I approach different issues it raises 5 years after I first wrote about it on this blog, and nearly 15 years since I first read the book. For one thing, I remember friends at the time I first read it saying it was a rather tedious read. But I have quite enjoyed the novel the three times I read it. But this third time did highlight some of the problems with Jordan’s later books in the series. There’s so much fluff in this novel. It could have been edited down to be about half the length and still gotten all the major points across. I don’t know if this is a result of me reading much more speculative fiction since even 5 years ago or what, but I just noticed some of the problems more than I did the first and second go-rounds.
Another difference is in myself, and that is explored more thoroughly below, in the section titled “Peace and Security?” It is fascinating to me that my own growth as a person can be measured against my reaction over time to this fantasy series. The intense strength of the imagination on formation should not be underplayed.
The concept of self looms large throughout the whole series, but perhaps especially so in Winter’s Heart. Whether it’s Rand still making sense of his own powers and authority as the Dragon Reborn or the women who are in love with him trying to navigate their own feelings about him and each other–the notion of self is critical throughout the novel. But self-image is part of this, too. Characters throughout the book are obsessed with how others view them. did their demeanor give something away? Did they dress properly? Or, “No, I won’t be dressing that way.”
Is this obsession with self-image a product of Jordan’s fluffing the novel and including so many additional details? I’m not sure, but it was something that stuck with me.
Peace and Security?
When I wrote about Winter’s Heart on this blog last time, I centered in on the situation in Far Madding, where weapons were highly restricted from being carried around openly. I noted the following passage:
“No need for any man to defend himself in Far Madding… The Street Guards take care of that. Let any man as wants start carrying a sword, and soon we’d be as bad as everyplace else…” (538)
I focused, as Jordan seemed to, on the fact that violence still continued wherever the guards were not. The implication, though I didn’t spell it out, is that Far Madding is foolish to prevent people from bringing weapons of all sorts into their city. It didn’t prevent violence, after all!
But now, looking back on what I wrote, and thinking about Christian responses to violence, I think that I, like Jordan and the naysayers of Far Madding and controls on weapons, confused Peace with Security. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was killed by the Nazis, wrote about the fact that “Peace must be Dared.” He wrote:
There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be made safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war.(DBWE 13, 308-309)
Placing trust in weapons and feeling secure means that we have essentially traded security for peace. Instead of peace, we have sought safety. Peace means daring to thwart war by daring the great venture–calling peace down on our neighbors.
Winter’s Heart is maybe the “fluffiest” entry in the series so far, with plenty of length conversations and descriptions of clothes and locales to make it feel bloated. That said, readers who enjoy verbose descriptions of a fantasy setting we’ve grown to love–and if you’ve come this far, I hope you love The Wheel of Time–will glean quite a bit to love from this novel. Those most interested in worldview and the main plot will have to wade through quite a bit to get there, but Jordan’s series remains thoughtful and compelling.
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