[PHOTO NOTE: I typed in “Spoilers” in the Pexel image search and this is what popped up first. Appropriate.]
A week or so ago, I ran across a review of the movie Nope online. I’m a fan of horror – not a surprise. I’m a fan of movie reviews – also not a surprise. Also, I happen to be a fan of the movie’s director, Jordan Peele, ever since his Key and Peele days. So, I was interested in reading through it.
I did read over the review. I liked it, but I also saw a feature article that went into a plot point that didn’t seem to have any relevance to the main movie. However, I thought it explained and analyzed this particular plot point quite well – I mean, we were talking Roger Ebert-level analysis. As I sometimes do, I decided to post the article on my writing pages on Facebook and Twitter.
At the time I posted it, I was a bit worried about doing so. It was a very good article, but because of the nature of that article, it revealed some massive spoilers about not only major plot points, but even the outcome of the entire movie.
I mention this, because I know that there are many people who are horrified at spoilers and want to avoid them like the plague or warm pop. They structure their entire lives around not putting themselves in situations where they might hear something about films, television, or books before they have had the chance to consume that particular story. They even go so far as berate their own friends and family against possibly revealing anything about those stories. Here’s an example of that behavior as well. (I loved Portlandia, especially since I am a Sleater-Kinney fan. Just Google everything I mentioned if you don’t know what I’m talking about.)
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: The video sketch about spoilers does, in fact, contain actual spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.]
(This was my first attempt to embed something in one of my blogs. I’m quite proud of it LOL.)
So, I am well aware of some people’s feelings about spoilers. In fact, I know that if I ever found myself in the same situation as these people,
Yes. I, in fact, am the complete opposite of the people I mentioned above. I am perfectly fine with spoilers, I have no issue with them whatsoever. My recent experience with this article started me thinking about exactly why that might be the case.
To begin that journey, we have to travel back exactly 40 years into the past to go back to my first experience with a spoiler. (Yes, I’m an older guy). Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan just happened to be in the theaters. I had seen the first one either in the theaters or on HBO – I think it was the latter because we had HBO (the old cable channel) for a few years in the early 1980’s.
As I may or may not have mentioned before, I was a big fan of libraries as a kid. One of my other favorite places to go when I was a kid was bookstores. There was one sizable bookstore in my hometown mall (Waldenbooks) and whenever I would go to the mall, I would go and see what some of the new books were. I would make sure that I actually bought a book every once in a while so the clerks there didn’t think that I was just loitering in there for no reason. (To be fair, they never did have a word with me.)
I went there maybe less than a month before I would see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in theaters. As it turned out, I found a copy of the novelization of the movie on the science fiction shelves. Novelizations are books based on the screenplay of a movie that often gets commissioned with the intent of making a few extra bucks and helping to promote the films as well1.
It was then, as I was skimming through the book, that I came upon the biggest spoiler of not only the movie, but possibly the entire Star Trek series. As a courtesy, I will not reveal that spoiler here, even if the idea of a spoiler for a movie that was released forty years previously seems ridiculous to me2. So, did that spoiler ruin my possible enjoyment of the film, even so much so that I might have been tempted not to watch it at all?
When the film finally got released, I was in a line at the Riviera Theater in Muscatine with my parents ready to watch the movie. It was one of the old time theaters that used to be everywhere in the US but eventually shut down.
Anyway, I watched it and I loved it intensely. I knew what was coming and I was internally jumping up and down with excitement when I saw it unfold on the screen. The fact that I knew it was coming had no dampening effect on my enjoyment whatsoever. I was just as excited as everyone else who was seeing it the first time.
There have been other examples of this through my life. I remember watching a video a few years back that showed a long line of Harry Potter enthusiasts in line outside a bookstore waiting to get their hands on a copy of the latest book in the series. The videographer and driver of the vehicle rolled down his window and shouted out a major plot point to that very novel to the crowd. You could easily hear the shrieks of rage and disappointment as he drove away.
I would never be someone to do such a thing to those who do not like spoilers. But I have to admit I cackled for a long time as I rewound the video more than once.
I’ve given some thought as to why spoilers don’t bother me as they do other people. Although I can’t speak for other people who don’t mind spoilers to stories, as for myself I believe there are two reasons in particular why they don’t bother me.
If you look at the history of literature – any type of literature, to be honest – you begin to see different ideas or themes that repeat themselves in different stories. There’s a situation where something improbable resolves a story. There is the situation where items in stories often occur in groups of three (like the idea of a love triangle). There also something where characters often have to go on a journey.
These patterns keep repeating because they’ve been part of our storytelling culture for centuries, even millennia in some cases. It gets people’s attention, it’s familiar to them. They play toward the myths and stories that have been circulating around campfires since at least the latter parts of the Stone Age. People want the new and original and unique, this is true. But, they also crave the familiar as well. From that perspective, spoilers are a part of our culture.
The Mechanic Theory of Enjoying A Story
I’ve come to the conclusion that I read like a writer – or, at least, I try to. As I read something, it’s natural for me to take apart the narrative somewhat like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works or what is wrong with it. I want to see how they use dialogue or description to set the stage for a story, and how they build characters, for example.
As I do that, it becomes less of an issue for me what type of ending or surprise that might be waiting for me in the story. I believe that as a result of this focus, this interest I have in analyzing stories, I don’t really respond too much to surprises in the text. Relying too much on surprises or spoiler-level material in a story is a horror-film director relying on jump-scares to keep the audience interested. I’m more interested in how the storyteller gets to the ending or surprises rather than just the result itself. Someone who takes a turbocharger apart for a living or hobby doesn’t get too surprised to see it in action after you finish repairs.
So, I will do my best not to have any obvious spoilers on this page, in any capacity. But, don’t worry about doing the same for me.
1. They still do this, in fact. I was hearing some reviewers say that the novelizations for the third Star Wars trilogy gave a lot more background and context to what happened to be a confusing mess. I still don’t understand how Disney decided to commission a new Star Wars trilogy and not have an overarching plot planned out for it, especially considering how much money they spent on it. I mean, maybe it’s my bias of being a writer and wanting to get your story sorted out, but oh, well. 2. However, I have to keep in perspective that there are many people who are not as aware of the past as I am, whether it is due to not reading up on the past or, more often, not having lived through that past. That became clear to me several years ago when I looked out into a class of language arts students that I was teaching and realized that none of them had any direct knowledge of the 20th century whatsoever.
3. In remembering this, I think the old theater and whatever fragmentary remembrances that I have of it might be worth another A Writer’s Biography blog.
I’m guessing the real reason, looking back, why I procrastinated about writing this for so very long after sincerely reassuring everyone that I would, in fact, do it is because 31 years after the first book in the Wheel of Time series was first released into bookstores (ebooks, such as my current copy of The Eye of the World is, didn’t really exist back in those days), there are a lot of people who have given reviews of both of them and I’m slightly intimidated by trying to do something myself. That’s especially true because I’m writing all of this basically just because I’m hyped about both experiences and wanted to talk about in in a low pressure way.
Usually, I don’t think I like writing really long sentences. I’ll usually do it just for a laugh. For example, go ahead and see above.
Robert Jordan wrote a whole bunch of stuff during his lifetime, as I mentioned in Part 1 of this. That was 4.4 million words for the Wheel of Time series alone. I have to think he probably wound up writing a few more words than that, but still – wow. That’s a lot. I can write a bit, but I’m not sure I’m going to get to that number in my entire lifetime, never mind in a single series.
Stuff I had to get off my chest for the moment since I was thinking about it but I’m going to format it differently so all you interested in The Wheel of Time can just ignore it.
What I think is turning into a miniseries of my own is going to be about
As of right now, I have (checking my notes) gotten through the first one-fourth to one-third of the book The Eye of the World and the first episode of The Wheel of Time series on Amazon Prime. This was a good deal because my wife already has Amazon Prime – there’s no way I was going to plunk down money for a streaming service just to do some sort of review for a series.
Man, this is kind of all over the place. Anyway.
What I will likely wind up doing is giving you my impressions of both the book and the series as I check them out. I’ll talk about what I’ve seen so far, and give whatever analysis and evaluation I can for both of them.
I’ve had tough experiences with “legendary” books or authors in the past. For example (I think I talked about this before), I tried, really tried, to get into David Foster Wallace. I liked some of the nonfiction articles he wrote, like that piece he did on Roger Federer. I even bought Infinite Jest and The Pale King and tried to get through them. I gave up after twenty pages in both cases. (Fun fact that might just interest me – in my book The Holy Fool, which is fictional but is set in Chicago in 2008, the climax of the story takes place on the same day that Wallace’s body was discovered. I even thought about mentioning that in the story, but thankfully, I couldn’t figure out how to tie my main character into someone who would be a fan enough to hear of or notice his death during the climax of the book. One of several things I wound up cutting out that turned out to be for the best.)
So, I wound up going into the read with a bit of trepidation. I knew it wasn’t going to be the type of “literary” material that DFW had produced or O’Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces had been. (Yes, I know the book is supposed to be a masterpiece and Reilly is supposed to be one of the most beloved characters of modern fiction, and the book is a bit of a cult in New Orleans, where it is set. I’m more of an Anne Rice fan, sorry. (Rest in Power).
So, I downloaded The Eye of the World onto my phone (no way am I even going to contemplate buying all the books in a series because I wouldn’t even know where to put them all in my house, even if I got them all in paperback) and started to read.1
So, I finally got to tapping on the screen and began to read through the legendary first book in the series. And… it wasn’t bad at all. It seemed like a pretty solid entry into the fantasy genre.
I thought the introduction to the world was pretty straightforward and not a massive information dump. I’m not sure if this was added to later additions of the book, but my ebook had an “Earlier” section told from the point of view of Egwene, who is turning out to be one of the major female characters of the books.2 This section discusses the lives of her and her friends in the location of Two Rivers, which is where she, Rand Al Thor, Matrim “Mat” Cauthon and Perrin Aybara are growing up. She is approximately nine at the time of this part of the story, as are her friends. She is contemplating many things including growing up, what it means to be a woman in her society, whether she is going to be someone important who gets to leave Two Rivers, and whether Rand might be a suitable husband (even though she’s not 100 percent sure what qualities make up a good husband.) I liked how it gave me a good feeling for this area of Two Rivers – one of those quiet, small-town type of rural area. I felt like I was reading echoes of the Shire in The Lord of the Rings and even my own Iowa home, or, at least, the myth of it.
Then there is another prologue where we see this king, Lews Therin, who’s surrounded by the murdered bodies of his family and friends and apparently he’s the one who killed them all with his super magic powers we’re not really getting much of an explanation for yet. And it appears that he uses his power to destroy himself when some guy named Elan Morin reminded him that he’d gone crazy and destroyed his family.3
Then there was the beginning of the story proper, and that killer opening text. I always am a sucker for a good opening line or lines. And Jordan totally brings it here.
“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.”
— The Eye of the World: Book One of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan
This opening part… it just really hit me. This idea that time can be circular, remnants of forgotten past eras, reminders that people are relearning and experiencing things that previous generations have experienced. And it reminded me so much of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (I am a Stephen King Stan, despite whatever flaws he has), and his whole concept of Ka that follows through the entire series.4 There’s even a wheel metaphor involved. I have to admit, that hooked me.
We then get to the heart of the story, where Rand and his dad are headed to town (Two Rivers5) with some cider for the upcoming festival. He seems like a regular kid with his dad, one who is trying to be careful, wanting to help out with his dad, but there’s some hidden stuff that you keep wondering about. We keep hearing about a mother, but of course she’s passed on. There’s also the continual references to Rand not looking like his dad. For someone steeped in fantasy lore like Tolkien and Robert E. Howard’s heirs (as Robert Jordan obviously was), that was a red flag to keep my eye on the kid.
When we get there to Emond’s Field (the main town in Two Rivers), we can tell that there’s going to be a party. I think Jordan gives us the feel of a proper farming community here in his description of the place and its people. I don’t know whether Jordan came from a rural community in his youth, but I think he gives up the feeling of such a community – its slow rhythms, how the people there look forward to the special times like a harvest festival and so forth, and how everyone’s so worried about the weather and if you’re going to get in a good crop this year.
You get the feeling that there is some advanced thinking in this society (I’m thinking especially medicine) and some things that are more somewhere between the Iron Age and late-middle-ages – a kind of collection of items from one thing or another.
You also get a sense of women… having both more control and less control over their lives in the world that Jordan made. In many older types of fantasy writing I had read or heard of over the years, in most cases women absolutely took second place to the exploits and quests of men. In the Wheel of Time series, it seems that the women are masters (mistresses?) in their given fields, such as the Wisdoms, and the men are the masters of their realms. It does give women more agency, but I also get the feeling of “separate but equal” regarding the two halves of society.
I really don’t know too much about Jordan in starting this whole process. I know he’s my father’s age, he grew up in South Carolina and attended the Citadel (the most Southern military academy ever), and served in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner. I’m thinking that he perhaps had an interest in trying to write strong female characters in this series, but I see it a little as two-dimensional thinking. Back in those days, there was not much talk of, say, LGBTQ people and those who did not quite consider themselves one gender or another. So, I consider Jordan’s effort to try and bring stronger female characters to life in The Wheel of Time to be not perfect but a great effort8.
Speaking of strong female characters, this is where I first get a look at Moiraine Damodred, who has come to Two Rivers with a mission on her mind. She is one of what are called the Aes Sedai, a group of female “light” magic wielders. From my understanding of the background of the book, I knew Tolkien was a heavy influence (as is custom), but I also got serious Bene Gesserit vibes from the description of the order, so maybe there was a bit of influence from a science fiction classic that predated Eye of the World by at least two decades.. (I am a massive Dune fan.)
Anyway, she is there with a man by the name of A’Lan Mandragon9, who is her Warder – apparently, her bodyguard and right-hand man. They are there to find a person that is known as the Dragon Reborn – one man who is able to effectively wield saidin (which is the male version of the magic the Aes Sedai wield) and fight the forces of the Dark One. It soon becomes clear later that either Rand, Mat, or Perrin are the candidates to be this Dragon Reborn10.
Pretty soon, there’s a bit of chaos, Rand’s dad gets cut down (but not dead) due to these dark soldiers called Trollocs (shades of the orcs in Lord of the Rings). Everything is about to burn down in Emond’s Field when Moraine sweeps in, takes out the invaders with her light magic and heals Rand’s dad while nearly wiping herself out in the process. Pretty soon, they are fleeing their homes into the unknown, hoping to get in contact with Moraine’s Aes Sedai godmothers or whatever. They’re also trying to deal with the implications of one of these guys being the Dragon Reborn. One of the biggest ones is that any males who happen to have this power tend to be in danger of destroying existence. So, there’s nothing at stake, right?
And… that’s pretty much where I have left off with The Eye of the World at the moment. I’d estimate that I’m maybe one-fourth to one-third done with the book. So, do I want to complete it?
I think the answer to that is yes. I’m interested enough in the characters – stoic Rand, crafty Mat, and the quiet and contemplative Perrin. I’m interested in seeing what type of men they grow into. Egwene (Rand’s childhood friend and Wisdom in training) and Nynaeve (The Wisdom of Emond’s Field) are also characters that… I’m not sure about, but I intrigued by their potential. I’m interested in seeing what they could be, what the story could be. It’s sort of like when I watch soccer and see some new kids out on the field, some new teen starting out, and they show me a spark of something, a great first touch on the ball when they get it under control, or they move with the ball between a few defenders without fear, and I start thinking there’s the start of something here. And it makes me want to keep watching them, seeing if they develop into something special. That’s what I think I have here with those characters, at least.
And Moraine? She’s definitely a fantastic character, someone I might want to follow through a full book and see if she’s able to accomplish her mission. Is she someone who sticks to the letter of the rules of her order or will she be someone who has to go above and beyond those rules to get the job done under extraordinary circumstances? I want to definitely see that.
I’m also fascinated by Moraine’s relationship with her Warder, A’Lan. It is a very deep and meaningful bond that they have, but one that is certainly not romantic in nature. It makes me wonder if the relations between other Aes Sedais and their warders are different. It also makes me wonder what romance will look like if it happens with Moraine (or with A’Lan, I guess).
I also have to complement Jordan’s world-building skills. I don’t yet feel overwhelmed with the amount of information that I am getting about this world and the people in it. I will have to see what happens later in the book. Jordan’s descriptions aren’t overwhelming so far, but will that change the further they go on in the story? It’s tough to say. Sometimes I felt overwhelmed by Tolkien’s descriptions in Fellowship of the Ring, but to be honest there are times when I sort of glide over those descriptions. In my own work, I don’t get into that level of description on a consistent basis, but I absolutely understand the need for that in fantasy, where you need to establish an entirely different geography and at-times multiple cultures.
I went into this process impressed with an effort that created one of the largest book series in history. What I’ve seen so far is definitely enough to make me want to move forward with it.
1 – There’s going to be a hell of a lot of parenthetical references in this post and you are just going to have to get used to seeing them. Just like DFW’s readers had to, eventually. Part of that is me trying to be as thorough as possible on the subject. However, there is another part that is not sure how to handle a book and TV review after not doing anything like that for several years. It’s just me procrastinating about the process (me procrastinating, that’s a stretch, isn’t it, folks?)
2 – Fair warning – beforeI got this ebook version of The Eye of the World, I got an older print version from my local library here. It did not have that other prologue with Egwene and her friends as kids in Two Rivers. I have no idea whether Jordan added that bit in later versions of the story or not or whether that was a ebook thing. [EDIT – turns out that’s exactly what Jordan did.]
3 – One thing I’m struggling with in this review is how much plot do you rehash in something like this. I mean, this story isn’t as obscure as many; it is one of the most famous fantasy book series in American literature. I’m probably going to follow the policy of “tell just enough to let the reader know you know what is going on. Or honestly, that could be just a lie by the time I’m done with this.
4 – How is it that some horror writer from Maine came up with a concept of the universe that makes more sense than any of the organized religions I’ve experienced up to this point? And it’s not like he was from a far-out religious background, he was raised Methodist in Maine by his single-parent mother. I get the feeling that he’s taking religion with a grain of salt and organized religion with no amount of respect whatsoever6.
5 – I appreciated the detail that Jordan put into the maps that are included with the books. Like with Lord of the Rings, it gave me a better idea of where everything is from a geographic standpoint. I honestly think that if not for those maps, I would have gotten lost in the narrative, as it is. It is just another reminder that I definitely want to use maps when I start working on my own fantasy fiction, and I think I have the software that should be able to help inartistic me make those maps7.
6 – And it appears I’m willing to do anything rather than get to the point on this exercise. 🙂
7 – In case you want to read what I have to say about making those maps myself, go here.
8 – I’ll likely have more to say about gender roles in Jordan’s work later.
9 – What the hell is it with the strange names in fantasy? I know that you want to have a unique language, culture, etc. There’s even a term for it – conlag – although the term for what Jordan is doing here would be artlag. And yes, Tolkien was one of the pioneers. I also have to say that my experience in learning about phonics as part of my job for special education has given me plenty of ideas about the English language and how I might handle such a situation with my own original fiction. English is hard to learn, everyone, and you probably don’t appreciate that if English is your first language and you wind up doing well with reading, writing, and speaking it. And guess who fits into that category? (Me.) I think that will be worth another separate blog post.
10 – Since I’m sort of figuring things out, I decided not to do a hidden text thing to hide spoilers which is super simple to do on Reddit but you’d actually need to pay some money to do it on WordPress, so just forget that. I mean, it’s weird to warn about spoilers regarding a book series that came out more than 30 years ago, but there’s some people who get really fussy that they need their plot twists, jump scares and surprises. What I will say is that I have hints even from the beginning of the book about who this Dragon Reborn is likely to be – details about the character’s life that are echoes of similar characters from past stories. On a personal level, while everyone has their own taste in literature and I’m not going to criticize other people for their tastes, I will say that I personally think avoiding spoilers is massively overrated and getting spoiled on a story doesn’t ruin it in any way for me. However, I think that would be a good subject for another blog.
The TV Series
All right. Now, we read all of that about that first third of the book, right? Now picture shoving some of that and a bag of chips, as my son is prone to say, into a sixty-minute episode of very good-looking television. That’s what I saw in the pilot episode of The Wheel of Time11.
I did watch the pilot after beginning the novel, so I was open to what this world and the people who were in it looked like. What I covered in the “book” section above was basically the same plot-wise as the pilot, so I’m going to limit my comments to how the show-runners pulled off the episode12.
Cinematography/effects: I loved this aspect of the show. I was thinking that Two Rivers was more of a farming riverlands (not unlike my home in Iowa) but I also forgot that it was at the foot of a pretty big mountain range, so there is that. You got a good sense of place and the set design for the village was on point (with technology/building knowledge somewhere around the high middle ages with some variations). The special effects were on point, as well. Most of any CGI that you saw involved magic being wielded, either by the Aes Sedai or (I think in one instance) a false dragon. The effects blended in well with the scenery and didn’t look like something you would see in an Asylum movie.
Characterization: I have been a big fan of Rosemund Pike ever since I saw her in the James Bond film Die Another Day, so it was a treat to see her as Moraine here. She brings a bit of an old-soul quality to the role, which seems important if you are trying to portray a witch/wizard with deep knowledge of her craft. I think you usually need at least some veteran actors sprinkled in with the new blood to anchor a production (Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings would be some good examples of that). I really didn’t research the names or histories of the other actors, but I thought that they had all managed to fit the characters as I had begun to visualize them in the book. I will be interested to see how it develops.
Plot: I’m not one of those who becomes fanatical about a book staying exactly 100 percent true to the source material. In plenty of circumstances, it can be a good thing to move off text to make something work. That’s especially the case for when you have to adapt something that has plenty of internal dialogue.
I’ve seen a couple of online complaints about some of these deviations, so I’ll briefly touch on two of them.
Rand and Egwene – frankly, if they’re two kids who have known each other all their lives and been friends, it would be a surprise that they hadn’t experimented with each other rather than if they had. So, I was not totally opposed to them having a physical relationship. You can still have a physical relationship and have some misgivings about making it a permanent bond, like Rand did in the book and Egwene had in the episode.
Perrin and his wife – that seemed a little strange to me. Why introduce a repurposed character to be his wife only to have her killed (accidentally by Perrin) before the first episode was complete? I understand the arguments I heard online about how it established the fear he might have about his anger and how he might be a danger to others. However, to me it just seemed too much like getting stuffed into the fridge. There had to be a better way of making that characterization happen.
In the end, I have to admit that I was hyped to see what would happen next, especially after Moraine tells the other characters their lives won’t be what they expected before riding out of Two Rivers. I’m planning on watching at least the rest of Season One and seeing what happens.
11 – You’re going to see little to no footnotes in the next couple of sections. That’s my hope, at least.
12 – Plus, I’m beginning to get mentally pooped out at this point. See the next section, “One Last Thing.”
One last thing
If you did not realize it, this is something that began as one thing and over time, (I’m not sure that I’m willing to admit to how much time) it mutated and warped into something that is not exactly what I expected. I was trying to do a combined book and television review. I wound up stuck in front of my computer screen or at times my mobile screen just staring at it and wondering why was it so hard to write about this?
Sometimes you need to write something to get it out of your system and move forward. Even if it’s not the best thing you ever wrote. On those occasions, I think what you have to do is complete the attempt even if you don’t think you are going to get it perfect. There have been so many times earlier in my life where I just left drafts and ideas for stories sit after trying to hammer on the keyboard for a few pages or hours.
I don’t want to do that anymore.
Good or bad, I want to write. I think that most of the time, it’s going to be the former. But I don’t want to worry anymore about not having my writing work, and I don’t want to end up passing on and leaving good ideas for stories in my head.
So, all of you get this post, for better or worse. I’ll tell you one thing, I’m glad I finally finished it off.
All right, what to talk about tonight? Since I really haven’t dug back into Substack this holiday week, I might as well talk about what I have had on my mind, and most of that had centered around my growing interest in fantasy fiction. So, let’s dance around that for a while.
A Reading List
I probably mentioned it before, but before diving in to this bigger fantasy project, I’ve been taking a deeper dive into some of the fantasy I had read as a kid and getting into some books I thought were long overdue. I reread The High King by Lloyd Alexander (which held up far better than my middle-school memories had recalled) and started diving into The Lord of The Rings. Of the latter series, I’ve been pretty impressed, but I got started on it back when schools closed down back in the spring of last year. Sadly, I’ve been stuck somewhere in Part Two of The Fellowship of The Ring and always don’t find time to continue that. I even started to to a video review of it, but it’s been a long time since I posted one of those. I’m wondering if I can take those reviews, turn them into audio files, and convert them into this thing that right now is more of an experiment than a podcast.
One of the things I’m finding out about myself is that I find it tough to multitask, especially when I’m trying to fit in a full-time job on top of things.
Anyway, back to books. Over the past year, I’ve been casting around for another series to dive into, something more than my dips into Tolkien, GRRM, and Alexander. On the Reddit boards and some other places where books and fantasy were spoken of, I kept hearing about a massive fantasy series that seemed to loom over nearly everything else out there. It came up far too often for me to be a coincidence, or something that could just be ignored. That was the series The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan.
The Wheel of Time
I’m going to be honest with you, I had no idea about this series, really, until last year. I had no idea until last month that they were planning to filming a television adaptation of the series.
For those not aware of such things, writing fantasy can be more than a little bit of a time commitment. As it turns out, Robert Jordan (real name James Oliver Rigney Jr.) had been planning this little tale for a while. He began planning and sketching out the series in 1984, back when I was still in elementary school. He actually published the first book Eye of the World (well, I guess his publishing company did that) in 1990. That was when I was in high school. By the time he died in 2007, after publishing 11 books and a prequel for just that series along, I was well into my 30’s and the father of two elementary kids. He spent time on his death bed getting things ready for another author, Brandon Sanderson, to continue on with the series. Jordan was thinking that it was going to be one more book to wrap up this epic story. That book expanded into three books and took Sanderson about five years to get done. But it did get done, 14 volumes of 4.4 million words, more than any other mainstream fantasy series out there at the moment.
As you can tell, fantasy can be a bit of a time sink.
That’s to be expected, honestly. You have to build a world, decide what past societies and cultures might be an influence, construct the very shape of your physical setting, design such things as magical systems, religions, and perhaps whole new species of beings. There’s all of that, and you have to build all of the regular stuff like characters, plots, themes, and all the like. It’s quite like science fiction in that way, actually.
So, on top of trying to dip my toe into self-publishing, figuring out how to reach out to prospective audiences, and all these other items, along with actually continuing to write fiction and this blog, I’m now going to try and fit this obsession into my life.
Like with Jordan’s work, this might take a while.
Sooo, this is my status as of now. I have purchased the e-book version of Eye of the World. (There’s no way I’d be able to fit in even 14 paperbacks in what I have for book storage.) It turns out my family already has Amazon Prime, so I’ve got access to the new television series as well.
As a result, I might start talking about my impressions of the book and the series, and get into a little bit about how I consume the books and television that I like. It might not exactly be a review, it might be more than a blog, and like the whole Wheel of Time series, it might take a little while to get through. The subject of spoilers might come up as well.
Anyway, that’s where I’m going to leave it for now. We’ll pick this up again soon. Take care, everyone.
I finished up the last two chapters of Book One of The Fellowship of the Ring and got started on Book Two. The reading and the action I’m reading about is coming fast and furious. My disjointed review of those chapters can be found here. Enjoy.
I forgot to mention that I’m finally continuing my Lord of the Rings reviews. I realized that I needed to just read through them as quickly as I normally do and save the deep analysis for rereads. I remember it took me my 10th reread of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy before I even started comprehending all of the jokes.
So, I decided to start a review/reaction for my first ever reading of Lord of the Rings. I’ve gotten through Chapters 1 and 2 and decided to do a video reaction to it on my Facebook author’s page, since my WordPress account doesn’t allow video hosting. Give it a look if you want.
It’s been a couple of weeks since Game Of Thrones ended and I’m still not really over it. There have been arguments all across the Internets about whether the entire series is a failure or success based on the final season (or, in the case of some viewers, seasons 6-8 when the D&D team (I’m too fracking lazy to look up the full names of the Game Of Thrones showrunners) ran out of sweet sweet George R.R. Martin material to adapt).
In reviewing their concerns, they have laid their complaints squarely at the feet of the writing of D&D, and not anyone else involved with the production. There are at least a few brave souls online (mostly in the r/gameofthrones section of Reddit) that are attempting a straight-faced defense of Season 8 as a massive success in closing out one of the best series in TV history. And, there are a few people who are just online for the memes and fun (the r/freefolk section of Reddit).
For a couple of weeks, I’ve been trying to wrestle with how I feel about the series as a whole and Season 8 in particular. I’m in the (not surprising) position of wanting to argue a point but not to the degree that I have to put a massive amount of effort and research into the piece. (I’m just here to talk fantasy and writing, tbh, I’m not trying to put together the ultimate think-piece on GOT. If someone wants that, they can easily go to The Onion A.V. Club or i09 or Tor or wherever else they geek out about fantasy.)
What I am here to do is to talk about writing, which I personally agree with most of the commentators was the main problem with Season 8. However, if I’m going to label this series anything, the two words I would use to describe it would be: Flawed Masterpiece.
There’s so many aspects of this series that worked superbly throughout its entire run. The production design for GOT was never less than stellar. It always created a specific sense of place and culture, no matter where the action was. It did a great job of suggesting distinct cultures that were inspired by real-life culture but never exact copies of them – in fact, most of the time they would up being glorious remixes. The same goes for the costume, prop, and makeup departments.
The direction and cinematography of the series (notwithstanding Season 8 Episode 3’s darkness) were always top-notch. I loved how the action sequences were framed up and constructed from the beginning of the series to the end. Also, any stunt crew that can set records for longest combat action sequence on film and the most people on fire in a single shot are top of the line in my eyes.
Then there was the acting. Holy buckets, the acting was aces from the very first episode to the last. There were many different actors that had been there and done that (Sean Benn, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage) and some veteran actors I’d never heard of (Iain Glenn, Charles Dance). Everyone proved why they were top of the line. There was great young talent (Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, Alfie Allen, Richard Madden) that the producers took a chance on and they carried the show on their backs. (I have no idea how this season would have gone if Emilia hadn’t leveled up on her acting skills and sold her entire arc.) Then there were the kids, Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner chief among them, who grew up on set and I know are going to be the next biggest actors to have both superb child and adult acting careers (Roddy McDowell, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, Kurt Russell, Jodie Foster, Drew Barrymore, and Ethan Hawke* among many others).
No, for me, if there were flaws in this series, it came down to the writing. And trust me, I know about flaws in writing. I make enough of them to be sure.
I don’t want to speculate about the reasons for the abbreviated seasons. People say D&D wanted to get it over with so they could start working on the Star Wars franchise, not that I’m probably going to watch anything regarding that except for maybe Episode IX. To be honest, I think the cast and crew could have easily been the ones saying they wanted to wrap it up after all that time on the job. The impression I got from the actor interviews was of a cast that both didn’t want to end things and yet felt it was getting to be time for the end.
So, let’s get into each of the episodes. I’ll spend more time on some than the others, but there’ll be something about them all and some side conversations as well.
S8E1 – I thought this was an acceptable intro to the rest of the season. It effectively showed the tensions between the Dragon Queen and her army and her new northern allies. Plenty of good reunions all around (especially those involving Arya), and the scene at Last Hearth was spooky as hell.
The thing that bothered me on the rewatch – I got the sense that with the dragons flying over Winterfell for the first time, that Dany’s prideful reaction is intended to show how she seems to be overly enamored of showing her strength and just expecting people to follow her.
Unlike many people, I was not opposed to the Mad Queen scenario. I could absolutely see Dany feeling entitled to wear the crown of Westeros because it was her destiny to do that, it was her destiny to free all of the peoples of the world. But they needed to do better planning for that. Yeah, I saw the hints looking back at the different instances where she was a cold-blooded killer. But they needed to do better prep for that, man. At minimum, they needed to tell Emilia what was up long before the final season. She did everything she could to sell this last season, and I honestly think she grew several levels as an actor as a result of that, but it would have been so much better to let her in on the action when you know it’s happening, you know that it’s going to be part of GRRM’s endgame.
Just compare springing this on Emilia to what happened with Alan Rickman and the Harry Potter series. They let him in on what was happening from the beginning and it informed his performance throughout the entire series; it added so much weight to what eventually happened.
(OK, I had to take a break and watch the “Always” scene in the Deathly Hallows 2 film and start crying at the heaviness of all of it. I DON’T CARE. There, now.)
S8E2: easily among the top five episodes in the series, bar none. Where do I even start? The home truths between Jaime and Bran, Jaime and Tyrion, Jaime and Brianne? Gendrya happening in a way that felt right? Everyone contemplating death? And the big reveal between Jon and Dany? Absolutely perfect.
S8E3: OK, not too much to pick apart here. I can see the Dothraki making a suicidal charge into the Army of the Dead. It doesn’t make sense for the soldiers to be in front of the barricades keeping the wights out of Winterfell. Also, I have no idea why the catapults were stationed outside the castle rather than inside. (My father has no military experience whatsoever, but even he wondered what the hell was going on.) And honestly, it would have made sense for the NK to take down Rhaegal during this episode rather than having some random Ironborn scorpions do the job (see S8E4).
The rest of it, however, made sense, and I will always be a fan of Arya being the one that kills the Night King and passing into legend.
I admit Jon screaming at the dragon was pretty silly.
S8E4: This is a contradiction of an episode. It is both possibly the worst episode of the series, and yet contains some of the best scenes.
Good parts: The opening sequence of the funeral for all of the dead. Man, Kit killed that speech at the beginning, didn’t he? The reactions of all of the actors was spot on. Also, the feast that night was the bomb, wasn’t it? I didn’t realize how much Northerners of all types loved drinking and cutting loose.
Bad Parts: Where do I fracking start?
The whole reveal of Jon’s identity with his family. Yeah, I get that you didn’t want him to repeat his story a half dozen times, but don’t you think how his sisters and brother take this is important in establishing his relations with them going forward? At the bare minimum?
The Arya brushoff was handled totally wrong. I think I should be able to correct that in my epilogue for the series, and I am going to consider that cannon from here on out; no one else is going to consider that otherwise.
Rhaegal’s death from random scorpion fire (see S8E3).
The Jaime/Brianne brushoff. I can perfectly see why Jaime would want to do this, and I’m not of the opinion that his decision “ruined his redemption arc.” I’ve heard enough stories about addicts to know that not every one of them redeems themselves. In the end, Jaime was a flawed man who could rise to the occasion when absolutely necessary but in the end fell into his old addiction (in his case, Cersei). Just a few additional lines of dialogue would have been sufficient to show the conflict Jaime had between his love for two different women.
S8E5: I loved the action in this episode and it worked out far better than what I feared it was going to be. (Full disclosure: I was pouring over spoilers for this series from the beginning. Some people hate spoilers with the power of a thousand suns; I am all for them.) My complaints for this episode:
Again, the problem with the Mad Queen situation. I am OK with what happened, but they needed to make it slightly clearer that they were going this route from the beginning of the series, at least more clear than they did before. (See the S8E1 complaints.) Despite everything, Clarke totally sold this transformation and I think it will help her grow as an actor.
The Jaime/Euron meeting was trash. (Also, D&D really junked Euron’s character; I felt so bad for the actor playing him.) I think a fight could have taken place, but not the way it did. I could picture Jaime and Euron clashing after they both sneaked into the Red Keep trying to find Cersei.
The rest of it, I didn’t have a problem with.
S8E6: The ending worked better than I expected. Kit and Emilia really pulled off her death scene well. I thought the fates of the other characters made sense. I had no problem with Bran becoming king – again, this should have been developed more (along with his powers and what he was doing as the 3ER, as well). There were some hints about this in the series, but the idea wasn’t developed as much as it could have been.
(For those who are hoping that GRRM’s books will change the characters’ fates significantly, bury those thoughts in your backyard or garden. D&D are working from Martin’s outline and his desired ending. Hopefully he’ll develop those plots more thoroughly.)
The things that didn’t work for me:
I’m fine with Arya going exploring, but it doesn’t make sense for someone who believes in family so much to act like she’s never going to see her family again. Just adding something like “I’ll see you once I find out what’s west of Westeros” would have done the trick. Sansa agreeing to help her out (with a ship) would have filled in a couple of gaps.
The ever changing size of the Unsullied and the Dothraki drove me up the fracking wall. Did they all get killed off or NOT? If this would have stayed consistent, it would have solved one of the biggest plot holes in the entire episode – why the Unsullied and Dothraki were so willing to go along with the decision of the Westerosi council.
How it should have gone would be like this: The Battle of the Long Night reduces the effective force of Dany’s army severely. Let’s say there were less than 500 Unsullied left and maybe 1-2,000 Dothraki around. (Of course there might be more Dothraki left in Essos, but they wouldn’t come into play). If this force is surrounded by, say, a 30,000-50,000 person army of bannermen from throughout Westeros, the threat of destruction becomes very real. Now, the Dothraki might still want to take everyone on due to their blood oaths to their queen, but I can easily see Grey Worm stopping them because he wants to at least survive and keep his promise to protect Narth. This scenario would have made much more sense.
I personally believe that Sansa, Tyrion, and all of the Westerosi lords were gaslighting GW by saying Jon was going to the Night’s Watch when he was really going to go beyond the wall. This need to be made clear because the way it was laid out in the episode was the height of stupidity.
Why does Westeros still need a NW when there’s no more Night King and the North are friends with the Freefolk? If it’s more of a general force to serve the whole realm (such as the French Foreign Legion), wouldn’t they have NW garrisons throughout Westeros (except for those sentenced to the NW; they could be sent to the Wall).
Once this was clear, all they would have to do would be to slip in another statement or two during Season 8 from Jon along the lines of “Oh, in many ways I wish I was north of the wall instead of here; things were so much simpler then.” Then, during Tyrion’s last conversation with Jon, after he discussed sending him to the Night’s Watch, he could have added, “…so that’s what’s going to happen to you as far as everyone’s concerned. But we’ve got another plan instead…”
Not even giving the Dorne guy a name? Seriously?
Not even a look between Arya and Gendry in that last episode when they were on the same platform?
Queen Yara needed to remind Bran of the promise Dany had made to her that the Iron Islands would be independent. He could still do that and claim to be ruler of the Six Kingdoms. Come on, a promise is a promise.
In the end, I think the screenwriters/showrunners collided with some Writing Fiction 101 no-nos that could have been easily avoided. They include:
If your plot only works because your characters are too stupid to figure out better plans or courses of action, then your story is going to run off the rails and destroy any suspension of belief that you might have. It’s OK for some characters to be that stupid, but it’s infuriating for an audience to see characters of reasonable intelligence or even high intelligence wind up doing dumb and dumber things. This is related to the next problem.
You need to have characters take actions and demonstrate behaviors that are consistent with who they are. It takes time and craftsmanship to create those characters and their identities. You can’t have characters suddenly take actions that don’t make sense to them. That kills off the ability for readers or viewers to believe in the action, and it’s an insult to characters that they have invested themselves in.
So, that was my very basic, bare-bones assessment of Game Of Thrones. I have no idea whether I will watch any of the prequels/sequels that will come out, but I will always recommend the series to others, I will root for the GOT actors in all of their future endeavors, and I will always appreciate it for reaffirming my love for fantasy writing.
*Ethan Hawke is the greatest actor of my generation (Generation X). Try and prove me wrong (protip: you can’t).
Anyone who tells you that writing is just a profession is either a liar or delusional. If you’re serious about writing, it is a way of life. Money is an important thing, you know that you are a writer when you are so compelled to tell a story you can’t not do it. That was my lesson this week.
BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION HERE
Speaking of writing and talking about it, this is just one last reminder that I’ll be at the Rock Island (Illinois) Public Library at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday) giving a book talk about my book, The Holy Fool: A Journalist’s Revolt, as well as a few things about my life as a writer. Here’s the event announcement if you want to see it. You know I truly care about this event because I’ll be missing the first part of the UEFA Champions League Final featuring my English Premier League team, Liverpool FC. I might have to run to the nearest sports bar to catch the rest of it.
BLATANT SELF-PROMOTION ENDS
As for the rest of my weekend not having to do with promotion, football, or life changes, I need to finish at least two book reviews for people and get active on my Goodreads doing reviews there. I’ll probably wind up posting some of those reviews on here, as well.
Coming up will be the regular weekly journal report on Sunday, and my Game Of Thrones reaction (as well as that epilogue I’ve been writing) maybe by the middle of next week. See you then.