One of my favorite fantasy epic series is Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.
- The Eye of the World
- The Great Hunt
- The Dragon Reborn
- The Shadow Rising
- The Fires of Heaven
- Lord of Chaos
- A Crown of Swords
- The Path of Daggers
- Winter’s Heart
- Crossroads of Twilight
- Knife of Dreams
This series opens with a couple of kids from an isolated village being drawn away from their cozy corner into the complexities of the world at large after three boys are attacked by monstrous man-beasts. What follows is the epic battle between good and evil through the perspectives of several main characters (and some minor characters) in an intricate tapestry that reveals a fantastic world to the reader. Slowly revealing the mighty destinies of these characters, the eleven books listed above takes the story to the brink—the moments before the Last Battle. With the next book all the promises of those eleven books are to be fulfilled.
Sadly, James Oliver Rigney, Jr., a.k.a. Robert Jordan, died on September 16, 2007, before the twelfth and final book could be completed.
James Rigney passed away, but not without warning. He left behind a legacy in the form of detailed notes entrusted to his wife and editor, Harriet Rigney. She was, as per his request, to find someone to finish his work.
Harriet Rigney selected Brandon Sanderson to complete the series. Instead of one final book, the notes Robert Jordan left behind were fashioned into an ending trilogy: The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight are now available, and A Memory of Light will be released at some future point.
I began re-reading the first eleven books in preparation for reading Sanderson’s culmination of this incredible series. Due to the frustrations of the abrupt ending, it had been a while since I’d picked up these books. The books are still wonderful, but what I bring to them as a reader has changed since my first youthful reading of them.
One major shift in my perspective is the discovery that many of the female protagonists are all too comfortable bullying other characters. From the beginning, this is apparent with the appalling behavior of Nynaeve, who beats, badgers or bullies the younger characters into submission. She tries to do this with anyone who does not do what she believes they should. Other main female characters rely on bullying to get their way to one degree or another, from subtle manipulation and conditioning to using magical powers to force others to do what they want. Throughout most of the series, these behaviors are actively encouraged between the women (except when two or more main female characters are working at cross-purposes, which happened regularly between Moiraine and Nynaeve). The acceptability of these behaviors was not really questioned by the women who used them until Brigitte, who is a woman who gets along with the men, took a major role in the story. Discovering this reliance on bullying to characterize the main female characters, and to move the plot along, was something of a let-down for me. It became very difficult for me to sympathize with these women and their struggles.
Another major shift in my perspective is the discovery that The Wheel of Time series isn’t perfect. The first time I read these books, I followed along in awe as the complex story unfolded. It amazed me to see how thorough and how well-written these thousands of pages of story were. And yet, this last time I read them I caught onto certain imperfections which made the books even more wonderful. As a young writer, still very much trying to grapple with my craft, I thought I could never write anything like this. And, perhaps that’s still true. But…it’s not because Robert Jordan’s work is perfect. From minor grammatical errors and misplaced words to weak passages and slips in the storyline, these small imperfections make the work human. And what’s more impressive: a masterwork that is perceived as flawless and forever out of reach or a masterwork that is perceived as having been envisioned, written, revised and edited by real people who did their wonderful, but imperfect best? For me, the latter is definitely more inspiring.