Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Wheel of Time [Reference] The Big White Book (1997)

The release of A Memory of Light, the 14th and final volume in Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time series, is fast approaching (less than 3 weeks!), so I figured it was time I do the long-delayed post on The Big White Book, also known by the cumbersome title of The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, which I've never liked.  It's also annoying to use in the blog title / header, because of its length.  So it's titled "The Big White Book" and throughout the rest of this blog post I'll refer to it as tBWB.

If you're not familiar with this book, it's okay.  Many people aren't.  But it's notorious in the WoT community for its "questionable" artwork.  It's a reference book that originally came out in hardback in 1997, between Books 7 and 8, and mostly covers world history and nations / cultures.  It's been reissued a few times, in a different size with a different cover, and currently exists in North America as a trade paperback.  In the UK, they have a version with only maps (none of the "questionable" art... we'll get to that later).

Before you continue:
  • This is part 15 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

What's This?

Being a huge fan at the time, I snapped it up, even though I thought it extremely premature to release a reference book for the series when it was clearly far from complete.  Obviously it was a simple attempt to cash in on the success of the series, rather than providing a true reference to the world Jordan had created.  Rabid fans like me enjoyed learning about the history and various general information - with one caveat, of course.

So as I said, I bought this at the time because I was a sucker for anything WoT-related.  Notes and new artwork?  A map of the entire world?  Cool!  I didn't even know it was coming out, I merely noticed it in the bookstore one day, thumbed through it a bit and went ahead and bought it.  I've tried reading it all the way through, but I could never manage.  It's like reading an encyclopedia straight through - which, of course, is why you can't read it like that.  It's a reference book.  Duh.

Teresa Patterson

The book was co-written by Teresa Patterson, using Jordan's notes.  It was created by a "packager," which is some other company that puts together the project with the main publisher and author's approval.  Patterson later went on to do another "packaged" guide, for Terry Brooks' Shannara series.

From what I've read about the project, Patterson contributed very little of her own text.  According to encyclopaedia-wot, for some passages, Jordan told Patterson to "write what she thought would be correct," in order to give it a feel that it had been written by a historian in his world.  Therefore the ruling on this book (and confirmed by its Preface) is that it is "broadly canonical," and parts could be inaccurate.  Because sometimes recorded history isn't 100% accurate.  History is written by the victors, right?

There is a great interview with Teresa Patterson regarding tBWB that you can find here.  She sheds some light on how the book came together.

So on one hand it's a handy reference, if you really want to know more about the world.  On the other - and here is the caveat I mentioned earlier - who knows what is true and what is false.

The Cover(s)

Since my other blogs discuss the covers, might as well devote a small section to this one.  It's the cover that gives it the nickname of "Big White Book," obviously.

Not a very interesting cover.  The Wheel, Snake and Spear collage is just from the painting of the Randland maps that are in the interior cover of the series hardbacks.  There was an alternate cover for this book, featuring different elements of the map painting that could be found in the paperbacks:

Nothing new or exciting.  Moving on.

What's the Point?

So you may be wondering... should I bother with tBWB?  Well, the book is largely unnecessary for a regular fan, because most of what you need to know for the series is revealed in the series itself.  But there a number of tidbits of new information that help round out and reveal more about the world.

The Entire World

The main thing this book provided (at least for me) was the first map of the entire world.  Before, all we got was the Randland continent, which is actually just a small part of a much larger continent.  The series has been focused on Randland, and with the last book on the horizon, it's obvious that Jordan never intended to properly explore the other continents that were now revealed: Shara, Seanchan and the Land of Madmen.  I don't even think the Land of Madmen has ever been mentioned in the main series.  This book only dedicates a few paragraphs to it.

I posted the map of the world from tBWB in the post for Lord of Chaos (Book 6), but here it is again, since apparently it pops up in Google search results a lot, and I can always use more views.  :)

The Strike at Shayol Ghul

Bits and pieces of this story were revealed in The Shadow Rising (Book 4), when Rand entered the glass columns at Rhuidean, but in Chapter 4 of tBWB, titled "The Fall into Shadow," the full details of Lews Therin's strike on Shayol Ghul (against the Dark One, when the male half of the Source was tainted and turned all male channelers mad) are revealed.  This, along with the "Age of Legends" chapter, are by far the most interesting parts of the book.  Worth reading, definitely.


There's actually an entire chapter on Shara here, albeit 5 pages.  Some of the info revealed about this mysterious continent in tBWB is revealed in the main series later on, but at the time this was a treasure trove of new knowledge.  I kept expecting Jordan to involve Shara somehow, but he never did.

Forsaken Backgrounds

This book provides the best background on the Forsaken you can find.  It's pretty interesting, and worth reading through if you really want to know more about these enigmatic people from another age.  The little tidbits about the Age of Legends Jordan reveals in the series keeps it mysterious and fascinating, and the revelations in this book only whet your appetite for more.

The rest of the book is either information you can find in the main series, or is just unimportant, trivial and arcane knowledge.  There is some additional history concerning the time between the Breaking and Aiel War, but it's nothing earth-shaking.

The Illustrations

This book's claim to fame is not its wealth of questionable information, but rather the questionable illustrations found within.  They were done by Todd Cameron Hamilton, of whom very little can be found on the internet.  He's done plenty of other fantasy artwork, though, primarily in gaming / RPG books.

Anyway, these illustrations have been completely vilified by much of the WoT community.  And it's understandable, once you see some of the drawings.  Now, I felt they were okay, I certainly didn't think they were the worst ever... but many of them are pretty wretched.  I'm sure I've mentioned this in earlier blogs, but many of the character sketches are atrocious and look like a child drew them.  Other illustrations, like the ones on the sidebars of objects, are decent.  But overall, hardly worth buying the book for.  Which probably explains why the UK edition no longer has these illustrations.

Hamilton's take on Lanfear, described in the
books as extremely beautiful... 

Many people thought that Todd Cameron Hamilton was just a bad painter, but he's not.  As Jordan explains in an interview, Hamilton got screwed on the contract.  The packager wanted five times as many drawings as the contract called for (at a flat fee), and in color instead of black-and-white.  Getting paid the same for five times more images in color than ones in black and white... well, you can see why they were uninspired.

His other artwork is pretty good.  Here's an example from The Visual Guide to Xanth, another packaged reference book that's somewhat pointless to have at this point (though I do have a copy):

Now isn't that better?

A New Guide

With the series coming to an end, talk eventually turned to a new guide.  One that was as comprehensive as you can get.  Harriet McDougall (Jordan's widow and editor), has confirmed that there will be a new guide, put together by Team Jordan.  This guide should be the "be all, end all" of Wheel of Time guides, from what she has said.  It will consist of a majority of RJ's notes, feature info on all characters in the books (over 2,000, I believe) and just be all-around awesome.  At least I hope so.  This will be a true Guide / Reference / Encyclopedia, turning tBWB into an outdated primer, nothing more than a collectible.

Will I get it?  Probably.  I'd like to look at it first, though.  If it has new (and quality) artwork, I probably will.  In terms of tBWB, those new to the series can skip it, unless you're a collector or really into the series and have to have everything related to it.  Otherwise wait for the new guide.  According to sources, it should be out a year or so after A Memory of Light.


The Wheel of Time is Complete


Prequel – New Spring
Book 13 – Towers of Midnight
Book 12 – The Gathering Storm
Book 11 – Knife of Dreams
Book 10 – Crossroads of Twilight
Book 9 – Winter's Heart
Book 8 – The Path of Daggers
Book 7 – A Crown of Swords
Book 6 – Lord of Chaos
Book 5 – The Fires of Heaven
Book 4 – The Shadow Rising
Book 3 – The Dragon Reborn
Book 2 – The Great Hunt
Book 1 – The Eye of the World
Retrospective Overview

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Malloreon [1] Guardians of the West (1987)

After a three year break, David Eddings returned with a sequel to The Belgariad, another five volume series entitled The Malloreon.  It picks up a number of years after the death of Torak, and follows our heroes as prophecy forces them on another quest, this time to the continent of Mallorea on the other side of the world.  In my opinion, this series is much better than The Belgariad for a few reasons.

The books are a bit more expansive (Eddings said in a forward to the omnibus that size restrictions were relaxed this time around) and the lands we explore are a lot more interesting (and realistic) than the disparate Angarak and Western kingdoms.  Garion is an adult and the problems he faces are more interesting to me as a reader and less cliche (i.e. this series is not about some orphan finding out he's a king / sorcerer).  Also, the quest here is more compelling than what happened in The Belgariad, which had two separate quests, really (recovering the Orb and fighting Torak).

The map / kingdom section will be missing this blog post, as there are no new maps or lands explored in this volume.  But they will resume for the next, King of the Murgos, when our heroes venture down into previously uncharted portions of Cthol Murgos.

I don't have a lot to say about this book, other than a handful of gripes.

Before you continue:
  • This is part 6 of my The Belgariad and The Malloreon retrospective
  • See this blog post for an overview of the retrospective
  • These blogs are most effective with your own re-read of both series

History Repeats Itself

The first section of this book is very similar to the beginning of Pawn of Prophecy, the first volume of The Belgariad.  You will notice more similarities as you go through this series... one, because Eddings is somewhat formulaic and his quest-centric series all feature the same general pattern and types of characters; two, because in this world the meetings between Dark and Light repeat over and over, so we should expect some similarities each time.  How convenient.

Credit sonofamortician

Instead of Garion, we start with Errand and follow him during his childhood with Polgara and Durnik in the Vale of Aldur.  Errand is a special child and the way Eddings begins this series, it should be perfectly obvious that Errand is destined for something special.  Almost as special as what Garion did in slaying the god Torak.  Instead of slaying a god, though, we'll make a new one (the god that should have been in the first place) to fix the "cosmic error" that happen millions of years ago.

At least we don't have the same exact party of characters as we did last time.  Cyradis, the Seeress of Kell, who appears at the end of the book to instruct Garion on what he needs to do, tells some familiar characters to butt out of the quest.  Namely Barak, Hettar, Mandorallen and Lelldorin.  Though I don't mind these characters (except Lelldorin, who is useless, as I've stated before), I'm totally cool with this decision, because otherwise the series would be too similar to The Belgariad.

So you'll notice similarities here and there in the storyline as you go through the series, but I'm not complaining - this is what Eddings does best...

The Quest is Best

It should be obvious after reading this book that Eddings excels when the storyline is focused on a quest.  Figuring out the riddles of prophecy, the mystery of new lands, meeting new people... these are the things he writes well.  This entire book is consumed with non-quest activities.  It's all set up for the rest of the series, and some of it is necessary, but as a whole it's rather dull.  It's the same problem that plagued the end of The Belgariad, where half of Enchanter's End Game focused on the battle at Thull Mardu, which wasn't half as exciting as what Garion was doing.

So while I like this series better overall, it doesn't really start out that well.  It doesn't get interesting until about halfway through, when Geran is kidnapped by Zandramas, but even then it bogs down again with side trips to Jarviksholm and Rheon to deal with the resurgent Bear Cult (a massive red herring).  It's only in the last few chapters, when we learn what Garion & Co. are really supposed to be doing, that it gets interesting... and then it ends.

If I had been reading the series when this book came out, I probably would have been upset with it.  Much like I got upset during books 8-10 in The Wheel of Time, when the narrative slowed way down.  Thankfully Eddings was almost done with The Malloreon when I got involved.

The Cover

The covers for this series are similar to the ones from The Belgariad, showing maps and silhouettes behind some characters, but this time they were done by Edwin Herder.  There's a bit more on him floating around the internet (compared to Laurence Schwinger, who did the Belgariad covers), and you can learn more about him here and here.  Suffice to say, he's done a lot of work for book covers, magazines, movie posters and advertising.

For this book, we have characters standing and looking at something above them.  I've never been quite sure who the character on the left is (I always think Lelldorin, but I doubt that's him), but the others are Errand, Ce'Nedra and perhaps Garion or Mandorallen (shrug)?  What they are looking at, who knows.  A map of Aloria in the background and silhouette of a wolf round out the cover.  A rather boring cover, if you ask me, but I do like the character art style, it has a photo-realistic quality to it that Schwinger's didn't have.

Stating the Obvious

One thing I noticed in this book more than in The Belgariad, was how so many characters state the obvious.  Particularly when they are discussing some battle strategy.  Garion starts pacing and "thinking furiously" and offers up a suggestion that is obvious to even the dumbest person, and all the other Alorn kings are like, "very good."  It's laughable considering the battle plans they come up with.

Of course, none of the battles are all that interesting anyway, since they have sorcerers to do things like destroy gates or saturate the ground beneath walls to undermine their foundations... they all become one-sided and none of our heroes ever get hurt.  Although this time we are guaranteed a true death, as Cyradis mentions at the end of the book.  No Durnik with Two Lives - one of our heroes will die for real before all is said and done.  The one who dies is not obvious at first... when I first read the series I never guessed who it would be.

The Birds and the Bees

I know this series is generally geared toward young adults and casual readers, but the way Eddings treats sex and childbirth here is both amusing and ridiculous, even for that demographic.  Of course, most fantasy back in the day was pretty tame, with little sex or violence.  Stephen R. Donaldson was the most R-rated I found in the early days, but that was nothing compared to the fantasy of today, like Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

First we have the "sex scene."  Eight years pass and there is no heir to the Rivan Throne.  Brand suggests that Ce'Nedra is barren and Garion vehemently denies it.  Then why isn't there an heir?  Garion is puzzled... as if he doesn't know what sex is... as if they haven't been having sex AT ALL.  IN OVER 8 YEARS OF MARRIAGE.  And we, as readers, are supposed to believe this?  That Garion didn't even know what to do?

Credit hellowithcheese

It really is laughable and completely unrealistic, but I get it.  However, it gets worse, when Ce'Nedra gives birth to Geran.  Garion suddenly regresses into a Neanderthal and can only speak monosyllabic words.  He becomes so vapid that he even attempts to smash a chair to create more wood for the fire.  I don't like the way Eddings wrote this section... it makes Garion seem so childish when we've started to accept him as an adult.

Side note: I've never liked the name Geran for the child.  That seems to be another fantasy cliche... name your child after the parent you never knew...

Why Can't You Just…?

Yet another thing that bothers me in this book is the way sorcery is shrugged off as a solution, outside of battle.  At one point, on the way to Rheon to destroy Ulfgar and the Bear Cult, Ce'Nedra gets impatient and asks Garion to use sorcery to help find their baby, and he says there are limits.  She bitterly responds, "What good is it, then?"

I have to ask the same thing.  Why don't the sorcerers just fly off on their own, search for Zandramas and get Geran back without having to travel across two continents?  It seems silly to stubbornly stick to prophecy when you have the means to fix the problem much quicker.  They have all this power, but hardly use it.

It reminds me of that age-old question regarding The Lord of the Rings... why didn't the Eagles just fly Frodo and the Ring to Mt. Doom?  As you can see in the link it's been analyzed quite thoroughly over the years.  But really, it boils down to two things: it's a simple plot-hole and the story wouldn't be as interesting.

So in the case of The Malloreon, they have to stay within the confines of prophecy, otherwise we don't have much of a story.  Seems a bit silly when you really think about it, but that's what happens in fantasy sometimes.  It's still entertaining, though - enough to suspend your disbelief.

And speaking of the plot holes, I've always wondered why Zandramas chose to travel east with Geran after she stole him, rather than just sailing west from Riva and quickly arriving at the Mallorean continent from the other direction.  I guess that wouldn't be an interesting story either...


The Malloreon
Book 2 - King of the Murgos


The Belgariad
Book 5 - Enchanter's End Game
Book 4 - Castle of Wizardry
Book 3 - Magician's Gambit
Book 2 - Queen of Sorcery
Book 1 - Pawn of Prophecy

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Hope of Memory [Update 9] A Recent Break

Just a quick update on The Hope of Memory, since I haven't posted on it for almost 2 months.  I took a two week break on Wilders, as I just needed to get away from it for a while.  Also, I've been working on iPad app, so that has taken up a bit of my time.  And doing a bunch of reading (like video games, I always have a backlog to plow through).  I started writing on the book again the other day, though.

Currently on my 9th yellow notepad, Chapter 27.  Close to around 160K words, I estimate... so I'm definitely going to go over my goal of 180K, considering that I had 11 more chapters planned.  However, some of the later ones will be shorter.  And I will do a lot of trimming when it comes to the second draft.  As soon as this draft is done, I'm moving back to finalize the first book, The Distant.

I plan to release that on Amazon only, and enroll in the KDP Select program (that's the lending library thing for Amazon Prime members).  I believe the book has to be exclusive on Amazon to enroll if you are an Indie writer / publisher.  At least I wasn't able to enroll Bonebearer because of that (since it's also on B&N).

I also want to make a print version... will look into Amazon's CreateSpace for that.  Just need to make a decent cover.  If anyone is interested in doing 3 fantasy / sci-fi covers for super cheap or nothing (either way, part of the payment would be what little exposure I have now), please post here or contact me.  I am open to anything, as long as it looks cool.