The Eye of the World
Author – Robert Jordan
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: January, 1990
Yarr! There be spoilers ahead. Ye’ve been warned!
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one age,called the Third Age by some, an age yet to come, an Age long past,a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist.The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
So, it’s finally that time. Back in highschool, after I’d run out of Terry Goodkind books to read, burned myself out on Terry Brooks and filled my boots with Salvatore, I finally caved and gave into my friends’ advice to read Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World. I was a stubborn ass, though, and knew it wouldn’t be up to snuff, knew Jordan wasn’t fit to clean Goodkind’s laundry.
Oh, what a fool I was, at least in retrospect.
Now, that’s not to say I turned into a slavering Jordan fanboy after reading his novels; rather, I appreciated them for their scope and, well, their unpretentious attitude when put up against the almighty Goodkind. I ripped through seven of the nine published novels in quick succession… only to be annoyed when the titular Crown of Swords wasn’t a ter’angreal, but regular old crown, adorned with some swords. I’d read 800 pages for that? I’d slogged through all that braid-tugging, self-pitying exposition for a regular old crown? Bah! Like many people, I became fed up with Jordan’s self-indulgent world-building and put the series down, expecting to pick up The Path of Daggers in a couple of weeks, once my disappointment had died down. Little did I realize that Crown of Swords and The Path of Daggers were considered a turning point for the series and it wouldn’t improve again for several volumes.
I never did go back and read The Path of Daggers and eventually so much time had passed that it would be impossible to finish the series without re-reading the preceding volumes. I vowed back then that I would re-read the series… once it was complete, and only if impressions of the concluding volumes were favourable. Then, well, we all know what happened next: Jordan passed away, Sanderson took his spot, and opinions on the latest books were mostly positive, with many readers and critics hailing Sanderson for resuscitating the once ailing series.
With just one more volume left to be published, and 14 ahead of me to be read, it was time to start a re-read of The Wheel of Time.
What’s most interesting about re-reading a novel is your position to put aside the anxiety of what-happens-next (though a rough approximation of the feeling is still there, given that I’ve forgotten many of the details, minor and major, in the series) and instead focus on the author’s execution. It’s less about the plot, and more about the characters, the relationships, the foreshadowing (oh, the foreshadowing!) and the language.
The Eye of the World is an interesting piece of The Wheel of Time because, just like Rand, Mat and Perrin, Jordan doesn’t quite seem to have a grasp on what’s going on, or how the mechanics of his world operate. Sure, there’s a lot of great foreshadowing and lovely little easter eggs for people who’ve read later novels (Mat’s really good at dice, huh? Rand makes a comment that he’d rather cut off his hand than be forced into something; lots of allusions to the relationship between Rand and Lews Therin Telamon; Min’s prophecies), but the magic system is nebulous compared to the logical tightly crafted threading introduced in the later novels, and Jordan seems unsure of whether the boys’ dreams are associated with tel’aran’rhiod or whether they’re merely metaphysical. It doesn’t sour the experience by any means, but it’s interesting to watch Jordan play around with concepts that he eventually irons out with concrete details later in the series.
The Eye of the World is also a simpler novel than the following volumes. Much has been made of its similarities to The Lord of the Rings, which Jordan’s insisted was a ploy to lead readers in with a comfortable story, only to pull the rug out from under them later in the series, and the similarities are certainly there: youths fleeing their quiet little village under the guidance of a magic user; ancient tree-like beings; terrifying once-men, cowled in black; dark lord’s and marching bands of baddies. Much of the conflict in The Eye of the World deals with things that go bump in the night rather than rooting itself in the political challenges that drive forth much of the story in the middle volumes. To Jordan’s credit, it’s nice to be introduced to his world through these familiar tropes, and this approach likely deserves a lot of credit for the series’ success, especially with a younger audience that’s since grown up alongside the series.
Speaking of growing up, I’ve done a lot of it since first reading The Eye of the World and this is no more evident than in my relationship to the characters. I was startled to find myself empathizing greatly with Nynaeve this time around, and, more shockingly, she seems much younger to me this time around—firm, but hiding her insecurities behind that iron will as she struggles to be an adult among the other children from Emond’s Field. Conversely, my attachment to Perrin has lessened. First time around, I was of a similar age to Rand, Mat and Perrin, both of us exploring a weird, wide world as young adults. In particular, I was always drawn to the blacksmith. Like him, I was a shy, quiet youth, stronger than many of my friends, but insecure and often hiding in the shadows of my more extroverted friends. I felt sorry for myself a lot of the time, and, well… that’s sorta Perrin’s M.O. Nowadays, it just seems to me like he needs to get laid and stop worrying so much about everything. Mat’s got a poisonous dagger, Rand’s going crazy thanks to saidin and the dead guy in his head, and Perrin’s the one doing the sulking? Whatever, dude; take a cue from the girls and cheer the fuck up. I mean, you can communicate with wolves. That’s bad ass, no matter what the Red Ajah might say.
Jordan’s infamous for his mind-numbingly detailed descriptions, especially of clothing and braid-tugging, but I was surprised to find little of either in The Eye of the World. Compared to the later novels in the series, there’s not nearly as much wasted breath. It gets bogged down a bit in the middle, as Rand and Mat travel from inn to inn (each with their own death-defying encounter), but it’s a surprisingly quick novel given its page count. Despite the (relative) economy of the descriptions, I was surprised to find Jordan’s prose to be unspectacular. I remember first reading The Eye of the World and being blown away by his writing, but, ultimately, I was weening myself off of Brooks, Salvatore and Goodkind, who’re enjoyable, but none of whom are known for their poetic prose. It’s serviceable, no doubt, but after experiencing wonderful prosists like Mieville, Harrison, Huso and Chiang, I was hoping for a little bit more. I’m very interested to see how Sanderson’s own style affects the series in later volumes.
No eye can see the Pattern until it is woven.
I’ve always been curious about the end of The Eye of the World. It all just seems so removed from the rest of the series. Sure, they find the banner and the Horn of Valere, which are both important to later novels, but the titular Eye of the World just seems like such a dud. It’s barely mentioned throughout the novel, but once Moiraine hears about it, it suddenly becomes the key to defeating the big, bad dark lord. That is, until Rand wastes it killing an old geezer Forsaken. Uhh, really? Shouldn’t Moiraine be worried/pissed that the Eye of the World was exhausted for such a trivial encounter (when compared to what was to come)? I suppose its true power could be considered its use as a catalyst in Rand’s development toward becoming The Dragon Reborn, but I rather hope we see it reappear later in the series as we realize that Rand and co. royally screwed up by spending its power so indiscriminately. As far as I can recall, up to A Crown of Swords, The Eye of the World is barely mentioned again.
As impressive as Jordan’s foreshadowing and general structural forethought was, it’s clear that The Eye of the World had Jordan exploring his universe and lore as surely as the hill-billies from Emond’s Field. It’s a very different novel from those that follow, but its simple nature and lighter world-building are surely keys to the series’ long-term success. The smoke of my youth has long cleared, and it’s pretty clear to me now that Robert Jordan, at least near the beginning of his career, is more accomplished than many of the other authors I was reading at the same time. Really, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I jumped back into The Eye of the World, my tastes (not to mention my emotional maturity and personality) have changed so drastically since the first read that in many ways it felt like I was tackling the novel again for the first time. But, just like last time, the urge to head straight from The Eye of the World to The Great Hunt is too compelling to ignore. Say anything for Robert Jordan, but at least give him credit for writing wonderful endings. Let’s just hope I don’t burn myself out again.