On the 15th of January 1990, The Eye of the World, written by James Oliver Rigney Jr–otherwise known under his pen name, Robert Jordan–was published by Tor Books. At first glance, it seemed like it was just another book hoping to ride off the coattails of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ridiculously successful Lord of the Rings series. But The Eye of the World was the first step to the fantasy powerhouse that is Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.
But what makes separates The Wheel of Time from all its competitors? What is it about this series that makes it one of the best, if not the best, fantasy series of all time, rivalling and sometimes surpassing Lord of the Rings? (Yeah, you read that right).
Well, in my opinion, there are several:
- World-building and detail
- The Characters
By all means this is no comprehensive post about all the great parts of The Wheel of Time, but they’re just my opinions.
Perhaps one of the best parts of The Wheel of Time (henceforth known as WoT since I can’t be bothered to write it in full every single time) is also one of the things that makes it so hard for people to get into it–the sheer immensity of the series.
This series spans fourteen novels (fifteen if you count the prequel), each book averages 888 pages and 315,002 words. It’s an incredibly large series, by any metric. Even the Companion, which includes just glossary entries from the other books, is the size of two novels combined. Compare this to the three main novels of LotR, or the seven of Harry Potter.
The series follows three to seven main characters–depending on where you are in the books and what you constitute as ‘main characters’. Some characters are given POV chapters but are not main characters. Most of these characters are usually split up across a massive world, following their own adventures that eventually loop back and intersect with other characters.
Okay, I realise that I might be focusing on the size aspect of the series a bit much, and that may seem like a turn-off but don’t let its size fool you. Fourteen novels allows Jordan to spend so much time with this world, and boy, does he really take advantage of that. Because we get so much material, we get to spend more time in this world. We grow attached to the events and the history, the characters and the locations. And we get all these details and all this information about the events, history, character and locations in the series. The scope is really a by-product of how information we get and how much detail is crammed into every book. And, let me tell you, it’s in the details that really make WoT shine.
World-building and detail
I think know more about the characters’ taste in dresses than I do some of the subjects I learn at school. I’m exaggerating, but the way that Robert Jordan writes is incredibly detailed and in-depth. The scenes come to life in his vivid prose. I could probably find my way around some of the locations in his books than I can in real life.
The series is one of the longest and most broad in scope so far in all of Fantasy. Robert Jordan kept detailed files on every character, every nation, culture, every facet of the world that he has created. We’re given so much information on the world that nothing feels like left out and that’s what makes it feel like a real world–it has all of the complexities that we would find in real life. Some authors do this thing where, to give their world a sense of history, they write these callbacks to previous events that we never get to see before. And while that does work for some writers, Jordan has actually planned out and explained, thoroughly, about the history behind his world. While some authors are content with doing something like:
Character 1: “Hey, remember that thing that happened? That thing that happened that probably won’t get explained but sounds vague and cool?”
Character 2: “Yeah, I remember that.”
Character 1: “Yeah, that was such a crazy/sad/happy/joyous/badass moment. I’m so glad we have all this history together, etc.”
Jordan does something like this.
Character 1: “Remember that thing that happened?”
Character 2: “<INFO DUMP>”
You get the point.
There is a planning and a sense of realism that you find in every description of every event, city, every town and village, every person.
The detail is just incredible. All books must have some sort of descriptive writing, you can’t just have characters spout dialogue without describing who’s saying what to who as well as where and when (unless you’re like Raymond Carver), however Robert Jordan takes that to the next level with the Wheel of Time. From the subtlest things such as a maid’s dress to the grand–like the look and layout of an bustling, sprawling city–there’s no shortage of vivid imagery in the Wheel of Time.
What can I say of the characters in the Wheel of Time? Well first, let me ask you a question.
How many characters have you spent 14 books on?
For a lot of you, that number might be a resounding zero. The benefit of such a long series is that we are with the characters of this series for so long that we know them on such an intimate level. Pretty much all of the books spend most of their time on the characters. This is not like those series where it’s all about the action–even though you can find that aplenty in Wheel of Time. There is a ton of character development.
The five main characters–Rand al’Thor, Matrim (Mat) Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, Egwene al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara– are all youngsters from the same small village. Over the course of the fourteen novels, we see as they grow up and become more mature. We see them gain more responsibilities and growing as individuals and as leaders.
The characters develop so much that they are almost unrecognisable by the end of the series, compared to where they first started. Robert Jordan does an incredible job of having them grow organically, instead of hamfisting character development into their arcs.
The characters also feel like real people. They act based on what they know, not on what the author makes them do for the sake of convenience or for the sake of the plot. They act like real people, making assumptions (sometimes wrong, sometimes right) and then going off of them. It’s amazing to see how all of the characters adapt, learn from their mistakes and then continue on their journey just a bit more mature each time.
In my opinion, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series is a monument of great fantasy. Not without its shortcomings, mind you, but for me, I find that its positives outweigh its negatives.