The Great Hunt
Author – Robert Jordan
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: November 15, 1990
Yarr! There be spoilers for the series ahead. Ye’ve been warned!
Re-reading The Eye of the World was an interesting experience, but a bit banal. You see, thanks to its small cast of characters and traditional plot, I remembered so damn much of it that there was little surprise left within its pages. A few small things here and there, some nicely veiled foreshadowing of events that won’t transpire for thousands of pages, or an odd secondary character might have slipped my memory, but, for the most part, the novel went along exactly as I remembered it.
Not so with The Great Hunt. Hurin? Verin? Ingtar? Yeah, I couldn’t've told you they were in the novel. Hell, I forgot that Padan Fain was such a catalyst for the whole damn chase that comprises the core of the plot! In any case, it was a welcome change from my experience with The Eye of the World and allowed me to read the novel with a bit of excitement, as I’d forgotten what lay around every corner.
Thematically, The Great Hunt bites off a lot more than The Eye of the World and tackles the concept of fate versus free will. Well, maybe ‘tackles’ is the wrong word… more like ‘grinds the idea of free will into the dirt with a big, ham-fisted knuckle sandwich’. Jordan takes the concept of ta’veren and runs with it, using The Great Hunt as a playground to test the rules and boundaries of his convenient protagonists. Wait, a shepard needs to be lauded and revered by Lords and nobility? No problem, he’s ta’veren so they won’t notice that he’s a bumpkin. Rand’s in town? Cue the civil war! Egwene and Nynaeve must be halfway across the world in the same small town that Rand, Mat and Perrin are headed to so the climax can conclude in a conflagration of coincidence? No problem, ta’veren can make anything happen! It’s a huge macguffin, but, admittedly, a pleasurable one. How many times have you read a story or watched a movie and rolled your eyes at the string of coincidences that lead to the climax of the story? How many times has the story given you a genuine explanation for why these characters are so prone to coincidence and good luck? And, hey, at least Jordan wound the concept deeply into the plot of his series. It’s no Deus Ex Machina, that’s for sure.
An interesting aspect of re-reading Wheel of Time is the knowledge that there are so many darkfriends hiding amongst the heroes. Knowing of several, but forgetting many, I constantly had to fight the urge to assume everyone stepping into Rand’s life, whether they were helping him or not, was a darkfriend in surprise. It’s great fun to see him interacting and working alongside characters whose allegiances aren’t revealed for several volumes. Watching Verin teach Egwene how to channel was devilishly fun this time around. Conversely, Ingtar’s revelation seems veiled and out of left field, leaving me cold to his character.
The world and scope expands exponentially in The Great Hunt. From the first pages Jordan throws the reader into the deep end of his creation and doesn’t let up. Where The Eye of the World was fairly conservative in its world building (at least with regards to the rest of the novels in the series), The Great Hunt starts placing Rand into situations that demand both he and the reader to quickly grasp the political and social structures and myriad magic systems (wait, another form of inter-dimensional travel? This time via pillars instead of doors?) or be left behind in the dust. Jordan used The Eye of the World to lure readers in with the familiarity of its somewhat conservative story and also reads somewhat like the first volume in a trilogy. On the back of its predecessors’s success, The Great Hunt throws off those shackles and gives the first hints of the monstrosity that the Wheel of Time would eventually become. Thankfully, there’s no braid-tugging yet, but I could tell you in painful detail what a middling Cairhienen Lady would wear to a party thrown by an important political figure.
One issue I’ve always had with Wheel of Time is my inability to connect with Rand. At all. Sure, he’s got his struggles and the reader spends a lot of time in his head, at least in the first two volumes, but I never really felt like I could get a handle on who he was. In a lot of ways he reminds me of an avatar for the reader, a way for us to invest ourselves in the story. He’s supposed to be an everyman, but, unlike Frodo Baggins or Shea Ohmsford, him being a ta’veren and being caught up in the machinations of the Aes Sedai force his personality and demeanour to change so drastically that he barely has time to establish himself as an everyman before he becomes a mythical being. He fights against the change, but it’s an awkward combination and not one the reader can really associate with. It’s likely the reason I was always drawn more to Perrin and Mat the first time around, and Nynaeve on this re-read—they seem like real people struggling with real problems. We’re not just told about their personality, we’re shown it through their actions. Rand, by comparison, is completely vanilla, despite his extraordinary circumstances.
Leigh Butler, over at the Tor.com re-read project, had a similar reaction:
Egwene is another character, like Rand, that I have a bit of trouble getting a handle on as far as personality goes. Sure, both of them are stubborn, but saying that doesn’t really help at all in differentiating them from everyone else; seriously, is there in a character in WOT whoisn’t stubborn, one way or another? Saying she’s brave, same problem.
Until later volumes, we rarely see Rand through any eyes but his own. Like you or I, he spends little time assessing himself or relaying his personality to the reader through self-introspection. Sure, he whines internally about his struggles with being The Dragon Reborn and saidin, but we aren’t able to watch him as we are the other secondary characters. In a lot of ways, he feels like Gordon Freeman from the Half-life series of computer games or any other silent protagonist. We know he’s important, we love his friends, but there’s little connection to him.
Similarly, it’s frustrating to see so many characters in the novel just reduced to being caricatures of their background. Oh, she’s of the Red Ajah? Bitch who hates men. From Cairhien? A greedy politicking asshole. Seanchan? Inhumane alien. Brown Ajah? I bet she’s kinda spacey. There’s always a bit of truth in generalized stereotypes, but Jordan shoehorning the appropriate personality type into every character sharing the same background is a little tiring. I can’t, however, remember if this is remedied later in the series.
It’s often hard for me to separate my opinions during this re-read from those formed entirely by the book I’m reading and what I know of what the series eventually becomes. I always remember liking The Great Hunt when I first read it, and it’s certainly a better novel than The Eye of the World, but I couldn’t help but be deterred by some of the short comings I found. Still, as a likely example of why the series found so much popularity, despite those issues, despite knowing the flaws that lie ahead in later volumes, I once again have to fight off the urge to just jump into The Dragon Reborn. Rand’s journey to Tarmon Gaidon might not be paved entirely with gold, but those bumps along the way are what make it so damn hard to put down.
FOR THOSE HUNTING THE HORN OF VALERE: Nah ah. You don’t think I’d make it that obvious, do you?