“The wheel weaves as the wheel wills”
For years, I’ve been reading a variety of fantasy books. I’ve read classic fantasy epics like Lord of the Rings, avant garde stories like American Gods and fantasy epics such as A Song of Ice and Fire which shun the usual fantasy tropes. Each of these epics has thrilled me and excited me and brought me closer into a world and culture that I am craving to be apart of. So it’s in this way that I say the wheel has a will and it always has its way. I could have easily picked up the Wheel of Time before any of those aforementioned series’ and been happy with it. I would have enjoyed it; I would have wrote about it (like I am now) and I would have waxed poetically to my friends about how they should read it too. But I didn’t pick it up right away. I picked it up at a time when my craving was at an all time high. I picked it up when I knew I was ready for the journey and that in itself has made my reading of it different for all the right reasons.
As with most fantasy epics of this nature, it’s the characters that really draw me into the story. Robert Jordan has managed to craft a varied and sizable cast of characters that are not only intriguing but also memorable. So many of his characters are introduced and woven into the fabric of the story that it’s almost hard to keep track of them all as a reader. Surprisingly though, he’s made it so it’s not. Each of these characters hits you in a way where you couldn’t possibly forget them. In some instances these characters are even introduced and left behind in only a couple of lines yet they still remain ingrained in your memory. They also inevitably show up again. By writing and introducing his characters in this way, it demands an intense concentration on the part of the reader. A character may have a huge part to play in the story yet he/she was introduced as a backup/ancillary character; seemingly meaningless to the story. In fact, some of my favorite characters were introduced in this way (shoutout Min). When they come back though…you immediately get that deja vu feeling of wait a minute…I’ve met this person before…
Along with a memorable cast, a great story also needs a place for them to interact. A place where they can live, travel and (most likely) die in some sort of epic fashion. I don’t believe I’ve read a fantasy series quite like Wheel of Time that uses its setting so effectively. From cities Caemlyn and Baerlon to Fal Dara and Falme; I can tell you specific geological characteristics of each city and I can even point them out on a map. In fact, I could draw Rand Al’Thor’s entire journey for you on that same map if I was so asked. This is not a boast of my astounding memory but more of a glowing endorsement of Jordan as a scene setter. Whether Jordan needs the city for a couple hundred pages or he needs it for just one chapter, he makes that city memorable and unique in your mind while reading. It’s not only the descriptions that leave their mark but a feeling you get while reading about them. Each city or village has a unique vibe that you don’t often get in literature without some sort of visual assistance. Traveling is also a literary triumph for Jordan. Getting to and from these varied cities is often a mundane business but Jordan has managed to keep us engaged from scene to scene. I’ll try not to get too deep into how his descriptions of campsites, saddlebags and rations excite the shit out of me but the reader never feels as if there are dead pages. The story is always flowing whether an action scene is happening or the characters are simply speaking around a fire getting ready to go to bed. He makes the scenes in between feel just as important.
All of those details pale in comparison to Jordan’s concept of fate though. None more so apparent than his quote: “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.” Fate is what drives this story forward and fate is what makes this an exceptional fantasy epic. Rand Al’Thor doesn’t want anything to do with what is being thrust upon him. He knows he will become something greater than he is and that he will gain power but he rebels against fate pulling him in one direction. He wants to make his own way. A criticism of using fate in this way would be that the characters are on a path that they cannot turn from whether they want to or not. Their lives are predestined and therefore, the plot is predictable. On the contrary though, I never feel like I can predict what is going to happen in these first two books. Jordan writes fate in a way where it seems like all realities are possible and the plot is fluid. One decision here could do one thing while another can do another…..etc. Each time a path is laid before a character, it can go any number of ways and that is what is so fucking cool about this series. Oftentimes, I found myself looking forward to something that I thought would happen but never actually does. The story zigs when you expect it to zag. Reading an epic in this way is thrilling and it keeps you on the edge of your seat for the entirety of each volume. It also makes you contemplate your own fate and your own decisions and how different your own life could be.
In fantasy epics, the way magic is employed and used is a big deal. The mechanics in other fantasy series’ I’ve read use magic in a way that takes a toll on the user. A price must always be paid. Jordan’s magic in Wheel of Time is no different. Magic users cannot simply summon it from nothing. They must tap into a source aka The One Power. Tapping into that source drains a certain amount of energy even for those who are adept at using it. And for those who aren’t, using magic can be extremely deadly and dangerous. With The One Power, a user can do a lot of different things through an elemental basis. For example, they may manipulate fire or make the earth move. With me being only two books in, my knowledge on this subject is surface level at best. Jordan is incredibly stingy in doling out the information of how magic is employed and works in his world. By doing it this way, the reader is no more knowledgeable than the characters in the story who are trying to learn it for the first time. At times, this can be a frustrating read. There have been multiple times where I’ve wanted to get on Wheel of Time wiki and figure out what the fuck is going on. Jordan lets us know enough of what we need so that when something fantastic happens, we are genuinely shook. (“She can do that?!” is something I’ve exclaimed often while reading). He makes it so you’re generally surprised when (SPOILER WARNING) Moraine rips open the ground around her and drops a fist of Trollocs into a pit in the earth. Employing magic in a story can be a risky endeavor but I think Jordan does it the right way.
Ultimately, reading these books is an epic experience that I want everyone to feel. As I alluded to above, the fact that this series came to me “late” in my “reading life” was a blessing. It allowed me to see different types and styles of fantasy epics within the genre so that when I picked up Book 1: The Eye of the World, I was ready for it. There isn’t any underlying criticism of fantasy like with George RR Martin or any of the naivety of CS Lewis. Rather, Robert Jordan knows exactly what he wants and he just wants to tell his story. It’s a fantasy epic, straight and true. The story is filled with magic, prophecies, monsters and heroes and it makes me want to chew up every bit of this world at a rapid rate. In reading the first two volumes: The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt, I realized I awakened a craving within me that I’m sure won’t go away until I shut volume 14 and call it a day. Undertaking this amount of reading will likely take me years and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. If you’ve made it this far in my post, I can only assume that I’ve at least convinced you to google the series and to that I say: “The wheel weaves as the wheel wills.” If I can get even one person to pick up the series after reading this post, my part in the pattern will be justified.