“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 begin my re-read of the series. There will be SPOILERS in this post for the series.
The Cost of Darkness
Evil has a real, palpable effect on the world in The Eye of the World. Everything it touches, it corrupts. Darkfriends–those who aid the Dark One–are not always visibly evil, but a key figure–a darkfriend who had been a merchant to Two Rivers–gets twisted into an almost unrecognizable form. Trollocs are the “standard” bad guy in the Wheel of Time, and their features are distortions of reality: human forms mixed with those of beasts. The Forsaken, who make an appearance later, are again visible distortions of nature. If I wanted to go all Aristotelian-Thomistic on it, one could argue the evil has impacted the nature of these things, turning them from their proper ends and towards ends that lead to physical abnormalities and certainly impacting their capacity to see beyond their evil desires. The Foresaken, in particular, are twisted to the will of the Dark One and against each other. Evil, in Jordan’s world, has real impact. It is not just something to shake our heads at.
Yet even in our world–the real world–evil does have an impact. It doesn’t physically distort its perpetrators, but it does impact their well-being. It may not immediately show up in their everyday lives, at least from the outside, but by going against proper ends–by going against that which is good–evildoers distort nature and disrupt it. Sin corrupts and needs to be healed–it is not something that heals itself.
Men and Women
A theme throughout the whole series is the interactions between men and women. In some ways, Jordan seems to play into tropes of chivalry and the like, but then he subverts them, sometimes playfully, throughout the book. There are multiple scenes that become running jokes to fans of the series in The Eye of the World, whether it is Perrin and Rand each wishing the other were there to confide in about women or the hair tugs, there are several things Jordan integrates into his storytelling that seem to, at first, perhaps reinforce gender norms. However, the shared heritage of the One Power, which men are unable to touch at this point without going insane, is one way he subverts these norms. Another is through having the women themselves subvert expectations within the narrative. Egwene and Rand’s story, for example, seems like a clear setup for a love story settling in over time, but when push comes to shove it becomes much more. Egwene and Nynaeve each go against expectations, realizing roles for themselves that push them beyond what their cultural expectations were. For example, Egwene in The Eye begins to see her potential for the One Power, as does Nynaeve, yet back in Two Rivers and abroad this may as well paint them as Darkfriends–or worse, something to be feared and totally unknown. It will be interesting in this re-read to see how Jordan continues to play with broader gender narratives.
Myth and Reality
A constant theme throughout The Eye of the World is that of myth and reality, which is itself set alongside prophecy and fulfillment throughout the whole series. The folk of Two Rivers see Aes Sedai as practically myths themselves, but when it comes to the news of false Dragons or even the mundane things like Trollocs, they’re nothing more than myths in the unreal sense. But myth has a way of worming its way into reality. The people of Two Rivers, unfortunately, must face reality rather starkly when those legends come to life and Trollocs attack. More broadly speaking, Rand and the others must come to realize that their perceptions of what is real or possible may be wrong.
This theme of reality and myth resonates with the real world. Many things are dismissed as wrong or fairy tales when they are in fact grounded in reasonable beliefs. Others try to deny evidence that is directly before them (like those who deny that Jesus even existed, for example). But our world is one that is full of wonder and mystery still. Perhaps it is time to confront our own presuppositions and skepticisms and allow evidence to sway opinions. And that’s just it–evidence does sway opinions in The Eye of the World, sometimes in very quick and easy ways–seeing a Trolloc attack–but other times it takes much more. Seeing is believing, as they say, but testimony is also evidence, and Rand and company are just beginning to learn about more myth breaking in to reality.
Prophecy and fulfillment, as I said, goes alongside this notion of myth and reality. The Dragon is a terrible, fearsome one who is prophesied, and there are seemingly clear ways to know when the Dragon has come along. Many false Dragons have come and gone. The world awaits with fear the one who will fulfill the prophecies. It’s not quite like the anticipation of the Messiah, but it does show how expectations can be very different from what one thinks a clear reading of the texts entails.
The Eye of the World remains a compelling narrative nearly 30 years after its initial publication. Jordan wove myth, narrative, prophecy, and humanity together into a coherent whole that only begins with this first book. What questions do you have coming out of reading the book? What other worldview issues did you see arise?
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