Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Wheel of Time [1] The Eye of the World (1990)

I distinctly remember buying this book in 1992, the paperback version. I got it at Star Realm, a comic / gaming store in Papillion, NE. The place wasn't too far from my high school and I would go there often. Why I bought it exactly, I don't remember. Most likely it was just due to the thickness of the book (I was into anything that looked epic enough) and the blurb from Piers Anthony on the back. It also helped that it was from Tor, which was publishing a lot of good stuff at the time. I do remember that the one thing that annoyed me at the time (and still does) was that there was no real "synopsis" on the back of the paperback... Tor does this with many of their paperback versions and I've never really liked that.

I recall also getting a CD on the same day, from a local CD shop near Star Realm (I can't remember the name of the shop). I do remember that it was the same one that I went to bright and early on the day of release for Metallica's self-titled "black album" in 1991 (still have the cardboard box, remember when CDs were packaged with those?). Anyway, the CD I got was Testament's The Ritual. Since that day whenever I listen to that album I think of The Eye of the World.

Before you continue:
  • This is part 1 of my The Wheel of Time retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the retrospective
  • These blogs are most effective with your own re-read of the series

Thoughts Then

I don't remember all too much about the initial read of it, just bits and pieces, so this will be fairly short. It was so long ago, nearly 20 years (I really can't believe it's been that long). I know I liked it, because I went out and got the next two volumes when I had some money (didn't have a regular job yet). I remember understanding what was going on right away – there was none of that confusion you sometimes get when thrust into a new world, nor was it a book that needed a re-read to really understand it. It was a simple adventure, epic in scope, the kind I liked.

I also remember thinking the cover was somewhat lame, though in the end it is one of the better ones by Darrell K. Sweet. Most Wheel of Time (WoT) readers will tell you that the Sweet covers for the US editions blow. The cover for The Eye of the World was definitely not why I bought the book, as it's boring for a fantasy cover. Just a bunch of people on horses. The only really cool part was the Draghkar hovering near the moon, which unfortunately is obscured by the title on the paperback version.

Thanks for covering up the Draghkar, Tor!

Thoughts Now

Re-reading it now, I love seeing all the references to later occurrences in the series, particularly around the visions Min has. When you first read the book those things are interesting, but you have no context with which to place them. But there are things that are foreshadowed in the first book that happen in Books 12 and 13. At the very least it shows that Jordan kept meticulous track of everything he put on paper and what was going on in the world. No detail was unimportant.

The thing that strikes me the most now about this first volume is how sparse everything seems. There are only a handful of characters to keep track of. Virtually chapter focuses on our main 3 protagonists (Rand, Mat and Perrin), something that essentially stops about halfway through the series, and the story moves along at a brisk pace. Loial (one of my favorite characters) – the Ogier that is sadly ignored in the second half of the series – is here in abundance. The verbose description that Jordan is known for later in the series is still here, but it's not half as bad as Books 8-11.

In the early years of the series I re-read the first few books many times, and logically I've read this book the most of any. Yet for all that, I don't have much more to say on it in general. It's a decent book, but really only stands out because it's "the beginning." There are no moments in the book that I consider to be iconic in terms of the entire series, other than the prologue about the creation of Dragonmount. In regards to where it ranks with others it's in the middle of the pack for me. It gives you a taste of the world Jordan created and eases you into it, but really only scratches the surface.

Those That Were Forgotten

The things that bother me about The Eye of the World now, though, are that some elements almost seem out of place in the grand scheme of the entire series. The scene with the Green Man and the Eye of the World at the end feels awkward to me, mainly because it's hardly ever referenced again for the rest of the series, aside from The Shadow Rising, where most of that is sufficiently explained.  But it still feels out of place in some respects. Same thing with the Blight – they never return to the Blight (except in dreams) until the very end of the 13th book, when they are prepping for the Last Battle. Thirteen books is too long to wait for something to be brought up again. Obviously Jordan didn't imagine the series would span so many books. But still.

Maybe there will be a final reference to the Green Man or the Eye in the last book. Perhaps they'll go by the spot where the Green Man died and took root, and visit the tree that he became. That would be a great homage to the first time Rand learned who he truly was and bring the series full circle. I truly hope Jordan left notes for that to be added in.  [Update 7/30/13: There was nothing of the sort.  The Green Man and Eye are never mentioned in the final volume.]

There was also all that hoopla about Mat and the ruby dagger, which was fixed in Book 3 and barely mentioned again after that. I like Mat, but his purpose in the story doesn't become apparent until the next book, whereas you can tell what Rand and Perrin will become in this one.

Another forgotten element is Padan Fain, who was a central Darkfriend in the first half of the series, but vanished in the second half, much like Loial. The series gets so expansive that many of the elements that drew me in initially are pushed to the wayside. I am sure Padan Fain will make a final appearance in the last book... like the Green Man, it would bring things full circle, as he was such an integral part of the first half of the series.  [Update 7/30/13: Padan Fain's appearance was nothing more than a quick cameo where he died.  A bit disappointing.]


This book may be the most important WoT book to me out of any of them for the mere fact that it was because of this book that I made some really great friends in high school. My father was in the Air Force and we moved around a lot. When I was very young I didn't have much trouble making new friends every year or two, but when I became a teenager and entered high school I was a bit more shy (we all remember those awkward years, especially those who were "dorks" like me) and didn't make friends easily.

Cue The Eye of the World. During lunch at high school in Nebraska, I used to just read instead of eating in the cafeteria. I'd snack on something, but I much rather preferred just to spend the hour reading on my own. I was the dork that carried a novel with him from class to class, using any spare time to read a page here and there. I was consumed with reading during those years and read tons. Sometimes during lunch I would read in the library. Other times I would read in The Pits, large depressions in the main entry area of the high school, where students could sit and hang out.

My high school, where it all began... The Pits are just inside those doors.

During one lunch, I sat in The Pits reading this book. A guy was sitting nearby and struck up a conversation about the book. His name was Brian Watson and he had read it as well, and liked it. We talked a bit about WoT and other series like Dune and Forgotten Realms (he was a big fan of the Dark Elf series by R.A. Salvatore, I believe I borrowed them from him once), and I realized he was in one of my classes. Brian eventually introduced me to a really good friend I had for many years in Nebraska, Matt Kucera, and through him I made many other great friendships. Brian and I never really became good friends – we saw each other occasionally after sophomore year, but didn't hang out much outside school – and it could have just as easily been some other fantasy or sci-fi book that would have prompted him to talk to me, but it was The Eye of the World, and that was the first time a book I was reading had started a friendship.

So thank you, Robert Jordan, for that, and for introducing me to your world.


Book 2 – The Great Hunt


Retrospective Overview

20 Years of The Wheel of Time - The Retrospective

I have always been into fantasy and science fiction. They were the first types of books I read, when I really started reading in earnest in seventh grade. My older brother had a series called The Belgariad by David Eddings and I was immediately hooked. I loved that series, still do to this day and every once in a while I get bored of current fantasy offerings and re-read it.

Over the next years, into high school, I devoured a lot of fantasy and science fiction, from Piers Anthony to Stephen Donaldson to Weis & Hickman. I went from series to series, always looking for something new and interesting.  Back in 1992, I started reading a series called The Wheel of Time, by Robert Jordan. I was a sophomore in high school and little did I know the journey in that story would span twenty years of my life. I have kept up with the series and starting with the release of Book 5, The Fires of Heaven, I have bought each new volume in hardback on the day of release, and have re-read the series countless times. I recently donated all my paperback copies to a library, but I still have all the hardbacks (a couple signed by Robert Jordan himself) and am buying new copies on my Kindle.

I just recently moved, and The Wheel of Time 
books took up an entire box of their own.

The series will finally end next year, 2012 [Update 2/23/12: It's 2013 now, the release was pushed back to Jan 8, 2013], with the publication of the 14th volume, A Memory of Light, completed by Brandon Sanderson, who took over the series after Robert Jordan's untimely death in 2007. It has been a wild ride over the years, but as my life has changed and I moved through different phases, from high school to college to the working world and now marriage, The Wheel of Time (WoT) has always been one of those constants... it's really going to be strange not having a WoT book to look forward to.

I recently started a re-read of the series to prepare for the final book – perhaps my last re-read for a long time to come; I don't have lots of time to read these days – and decided to write about each book as I finish it, and record some of the memories I have of the series along the way. While writing this Introduction I am currently on Book 3 of the re-read, so my "memoirs" on Books 1 and 2 will be along fairly soon.

In each blog entry for each book, I'll share details about what was going on in my life when I bought it, and any special meaning that the book may have brought me. I'll also write about my impressions at the time (what I can remember of them), as well as my impressions after just reading it now.

Note that there will be spoilers for the entire series in each blog, so if you don't want something ruined for you and if you haven't the entire series yet, don't read these blogs. After twenty years, the statute of limitations for WoT spoilers has run out for me. Most people who read this will have read all the books anyway.

Anyway. WoT has been a part of my life for such a long time and I'm feeling nostalgic... so I am compelled to do this. I don't think anyone is really reading my young blog at this point, but as Geddy Lee sings in the Rush song "Virtuality":

          Put your message in a modem
          And throw it in the Cyber Sea

So I'm just going to throw it out there and maybe it will connect with someone. The day this was posted I stumbled across another blog doing a similar thing, which is not surprising [Update 7/30/13: They seem to have given up after 2 books]. There are a lot of old school WoT readers out there.

As the blog for each volume goes up, I'll add the link below so it's easier for you to find.  You can also use the "the wheel of time" or "retrospective" tags to find all posts.

2011-05-31: Book 1 – The Eye of the World (1990)
2011-06-15: Book 2 – The Great Hunt (1990)
2011-07-06: Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn (1991)
2011-08-11: Book 4 – The Shadow Rising (1992)
2011-09-12: Book 5 – The Fires of Heaven (1993)
2011-10-06: Book 6 – Lord of Chaos (1994)
2011-11-04: Book 7 – A Crown of Swords (1996)
2011-11-17: Book 8 – The Path of Daggers (1998)
2011-12-15: Book 9 – Winter's Heart (2000)
2012-01-20: Book 10 – Crossroads of Twilight (2003)
2012-02-23: Book 11 – Knife of Dreams (2005)
2012-03-21: Book 12 – The Gathering Storm (2009)
2012-04-29: Book 13 – Towers of Midnight (2010)
2012-05-16: Prequel – New Spring (2004)
2012-12-22: Reference  The Big White Book (1997)
2013-01-12: The Wheel of Time is Complete
2013-07-08: Book 14 – A Memory of Light (2013) - Part 1
2013-07-29: Book 14 – A Memory of Light (2013) - Part 2
2013-08-01: Short Story – River of Souls (2013)
2013-09-23: Retrospective Conclusion