I began reading fantasy novels during my high school years as a means of escaping the harsh reality of my life. Stories of knights and wizards taking on the forces of evil were comforting for me because I knew that the good guys would always triumph at the end. It started with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as it most likely does for every lover of the sword and sorcery tales. Soon I was devouring lesser known fantasy works while playing Dungeons & Dragons on the weekends with my friends. Since those early reading years, my tastes in literature, have expanded, but I still carry a love of the fantasy genre to this day. The Eye of the World is the first volume in Robert Jordan’s massive Wheel of Time series. Heralded as one of the greatest epics in fantasy, I decided to finally give it a try after putting it off for years. Although I found The Eye of the World to have a familiar feel to the likes of Tolkien and Terry Brooks, I also saw some tantalizing glimpses of how this series could eventually become something even greater.
The book begins with a banger of an opening prologue. A beautiful palace lies destroyed with all of its inhabitants dead. A lone man walks among the ruins, clearly insane as he is taunted by a mysterious figure who emerges from the wreckage. Although we have no idea what is occurring here (and will not for the majority of this book), we sense that we are witnessing the end of world-changing events.
“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend.”
Following the cracker of an prologue, the story proper begins with a small rustic village in preparation for its annual Spring festival. The environment is reminiscent of Tolkien’s Shire, but rather than a hobbit we are introduced to Rand, the son of a simple farmer. As the festival is about to begin, Emond’s Field is visited by two mysterious strangers. Moraine is what is called an Aes Sedai, a powerful witch who is capable of wielding extraordinary magic. She is protected by her Warder Lan, who acts as a type of knight. After an attack by Trollocs, monsters who serve the Dark One, Rand and his friends find themselves swept up into an adventure they could never imagine.
While the above description sounds exciting, believe me when I say it takes a while to get there. As the book is nearly 800 pages in length, the pacing is incredibly slow as Jordan takes time to develop his main characters. If I am being totally honest, I will admit that it took quite some time for me to make it past the first half of the book as the action does not gain ground until just past the midway point. Rand and several of his friends join Moraine and Lan as they learn that they are part of a pattern of events that are unfolding. Also, one of them may be the chosen one that will help defeat the Dark One.
Does this sound familiar? The similarities to works such as The Fellowship of the Ring and The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks are numerous. The group embark on several dangerous adventures, get captured or nearly captured numerous times, and eventually get divided before rejoining in the final third of the book. The story is truly reminiscent of the standard fantasy novel: 1) ordinary boy leads a simple life, 2) monsters attack, 3) mysterious wizard (in this case witch) leads boy to think he may be the chosen one, and 4) the adventure begins. Yes, this book does follow a formula. As someone who enjoys this type of story, I was completely alright with this. There are a lot of aspects to this world to understand, and to his credit, Jordan builds quite an intricate world. Although there are some pages of exposition, often we are left to figure out some of the puzzle on our own.
I appreciated how gender is treated in relation to the wielding of magic which has a male half and a female half. There is what is known as the One Power or the Source where an Aes Sedai such as Moraine can draw power. It is established that if a male touches this power he becomes insane. The Aes Sedai are often treated with disgust because of their extraordinary abilities. There is a lot of philosophy embedded here, but I thought it was really interesting how there was a gender division to magic. It made me wonder if Robert Jordan did any studies on Carl Jung who explored the male and female halves of human psychology. Hopefully, this will be explored further throughout the series.
A struggle I had with Eye of the World was a failure to truly connect with any of the characters. Although Jordan spends a lot of time building his characters, I still had a hard time feeling any emotion for them. I will admit that this improved slightly in the second half when the group was divided. As this series is incredibly long at 14 books, I hope that I can connect more strongly with these adventurers later in their travels.
The Eye of the World, while typical in many ways to other fantasy novels, had some aspects that were quite revolutionary to the genre. While I was never a huge fan of the whole chosen one plot, there was enough here in regards to twists that kept me engaged. I look forward to reading the next in the series to see the direction Jordan takes with the story. The interesting facets to this universe help this novel rise above the issues I had in regards to pacing and the characters themselves. The potential for The Wheel of Time to rise among the ranks of works by Tolkien and Brooks is clearly there leading to an exciting prospect.
“As the Wheel of Time turns, places wear many names. Men wear many names, many faces. Different faces, but always the same man. Yet no one knows the Great Pattern the Wheel weaves, or even the Pattern of an Age. We can only watch, and study, and hope.”