A little while back I wrote a piece making fun of Amazon Studios for raping the corpse of Robert Jordan. Then I wrote a fun little fake script for season two of this necrophilia. In between the writing of those two pieces I downloaded the kindle version of the first book in the WOT series, the Eye of the World. When I was trapped with no computer I took this as an opportunity to start reading “The Eye of the World,” and surprised myself by eagerly finishing it.
I had read the book a full two decades ago, around the age of ten. Ten year old me thoroughly enjoyed it, and went on to read about six of the books in the series before finally giving up on Jordan ever finishing the main plot. I quickly learned that I remembered absolutely nothing from the book, aside from one seemingly random passage involving Loiel. The line that goes something like “from a distance it could have looked like a large man on a small horse, but as they got closer it was obvious that this man was a real beefcake.” Obviously it’s not written like that, and the line isn’t particularly important in any case.
I don’t know why ten year old me found that line so important, but aside from that I came into The Eye Of The World almost completely fresh. I say almost, because I had read and watched some spoiler free content that informed me that Eye Of the World is one of the weaker entries in the Wheel of Time series. The gist of it is that there are repetitive scenes with Mat and Rand, the story is somewhat generic, and the finale is a letdown. In addition to that, I fully expected to dislike the story as not to my own personal taste, as many of the fantasy elements that would have excited ten year old me would no doubt annoy me now.
This sentiment appeared quite prescient after the introduction chapter involving Lews Therin. I wouldn’t say that it’s outright terrible, but the story of the crazy magic user who kills his entire family did not captivate my attention. I think The Dark One, the main villain, is not nearly as compelling as Jordan believes him to be, but he starts off on his lowest note. The dream sequences that come later show him to be far more interesting and dangerous.
Personally, I always roll my eyes when powerful magic exists central to a story. Having magic break the worldbuilding one too many times is essentially what got me to quit the fantasy genre in my late teens, so I was left with a sour taste in my mouth after the guy teleports and then proceeds to literally break the world.
This sour taste was almost instantly washed away when the real story begins. We pick up three thousand years after the prologue with our protagonist, Rand, helping his father, Tam, take cider from their farm into town as they get ready to celebrate some festival I forgot the name of but will call Festivus. Jordan does a good job of not rushing the pace, and we’re introduced to all the main characters in an organic but effective manner, with numerous bits of world building seamlessly woven into the story.
Rand sees his love interest, Egwene, with her hair partially braided, indicating her ascent to womanhood. Mat, Rand’s best friend, plays a childish prank on two other kids that takes us on a tour through the town where they meet up with Perrin, the third and final of the three male friends. Nynaeve, the very young village Wisdom who wants to apprentice Egwene, is shown being in a constant state of PMS due to her mispredicted weather forecasts. Trust me, it makes sense, and works in context.
With the cider delivered Rand and Tam go back to the farm for one last sleep before Festivus. But they don’t get that sleep, because at that point trollocs, who are kind of like orcs, attack the farm. Rand and Tam escape, with Tam being critically injured, and Rand desperately drags him back to town while listening to some very important delirium induced revelations from Tam. Upon arriving at the town they find it partially destroyed. It would have been completely destroyed if not for a combination of the male villagers doing what they can against the trollocs, a very powerful magic woman named Moiraine, and her soldier companion Lan.
Rand, Perrin, and Mat, and Moiraine informs them that the trollocs attacked because they were here, something which they find easy to believe since they had as much as deduced that already. Staying in Emond’s Field would endanger everyone, so they set out on the road with Moiraine. Egwene comes along because Moiraine noticed that she has the spark of magic in her, and she wants to get training in Tar Valon. Nynaeve, the overbearing village Wisdom, sets out to get them and bring them all back before getting swept up in their journey as well.
From there much happens that I don’t want to spoil. In broad strokes the group gets split up, tries to meet back up in a city called Caemlyn, and eventually those who are able make their way to The Eye of the World. Once there Rand partially defeats our Big Bad Guy. I thought the climax was solid, if not spectacular.
My favourite sequence from the book is the part that is supposedly the worst as viewed by much of the fandom. Mat and Rand meet a character named Thom who is basically a high quality bard/stand up comic. He takes Rand and Mat under his wing as apprentices, knowing that the skills he can teach them may be the difference between life and death.
He’s fears are proven correct as they get separated. Mat and Rand try to stay off the beaten path and rely on the charity of farmers, before reluctantly being essentially forced to put their novice performance skills to good use at various inns on their way to Caemlyn. This entire section of their journey, from sleeping on the side of the road, occasionally stopping to do work for a farmer in exchange for a roof and bed, and finally playing and then enjoying playing at inns is one of the most charming parts of the book. It may be fairly slow paced, but there’s a big difference between a slow pace and no pace. The relatively long journey also helps establish the world of The Wheel Of Time as a large and real place.
This climaxes with their their inn performance escapades going horribly wrong. First, against their better judgement a thunderstorm pushes them into an inn of ill repute. They realize that they’re almost certainly going to get robbed by the innkeeper himself as they start playing to the rowdy crowd, but his hired men guard the door. Worse, minions of The Dark One show up and start watching them. Rand also gets a well foreshadowed bout of sickness at just the wrong time, and they have to deal with an assassination attempt in the barn. Finally, they get taken upstairs to a room with seemingly no way out.
Sure, there are murder attempts, but if the tribulations of the traveling teenage band members sounds fairly quaint and innocent in a world after Game Of Thrones, that’s because it is. I’ll try to avoid any more major spoilers, but Eye Of The World may be a rare case of a fantasy work actually benefiting from the works that come after, and aging quite gracefully. The lack of gratuitous violence and sex makes the novel come across as a breath of fresh air.
The boys are all about eighteen, with Egwene being sixteen and Nynaeve in her early twenties, and they have a very traditionalist morality. They have plenty of youthful angst, without it ever becoming obnoxious, and much of the joy of the novel is taking these goodhearted country kids and throwing them into very serious trouble in a very serious world.
They do not start banging each other. They do not stab each other in the back. Everyone on Team Good Guys is a legitimately compassionate person, and even the supposedly annoying character, Nynaeve, I found endearing because of her willingness to sacrifice herself first to bring the teenagers back to Emond’s Field, and thereafter to ensure their safety and survival. It’s refreshing to see such an absence of nastiness or grimdark in a fantasy work.
I have quite a few complaints with the Eye Of The World, as well as the prologue which I also read. But the charm of the main cast is what makes it all work. It was a pleasure reading about these non-degenerate teenagers finding their way through a dangerous world. Making the best of a bad situation. That’s something that you just don’t see from mainstream fantasy works these days.
This is why Amazon Studios aged up all the main characters and then had Rand and Egwene bang in public spaces. Also Egwene is Indian now.
Also Perrin is now Black and has a wife now who he kills in the very first episode.
Moiraine is now a vagina hungry lesbian.
That’s it, I think I have to watch the first episode of the The Wheel of Time. And I will as soon as I can pirate it.