Medieval Medley Part 2: Where I do an in-progress review of the first Wheel of Time book and the the pilot episode of the television series without seeming too lame because some people have already done a decent job of it and it’s not like I’m getting paid for this just yet LOL

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.

It’s been a weird time for me recently. For the past couple of years, I’ve found myself, for various reasons, writing fan fiction that has been very satisfying for me emotionally and artistically, but has not helped me make much progress toward getting published again, or on other original fiction. I’ve discussed before how the combination of COVID-19 and my move to south central Iowa derailed what little progress I had been able to make toward publishing success. Now, I’m gradually beginning to look at self-publishing because I’m getting tired of the hurry-up and wait process of that traditional publishing seems to be and is becoming more and more pointless. If I’m going to be a starving artist anyway, I might as well have some actual books to show for it. Anyway, let’s move on.

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.

The Book

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).

This is probably where I should tell you now that I’m fighting a bit of a cold as I struggle to put together anything that is remotely coherent. It’s the type of cold where your nose runs constantly, and things around my eyes feel a bit stuffed. Luckily, I just think it is a cold and not something even more severe? At this point, if I put together some sort of shambolic stream of consciousness writing together that vaguely makes sense, then I’m going to consider it a win.

I wrote this bit a few weeks ago, so I’m doing fine now.

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 – before I 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.

Take care, everyone.