What defines a fantasy book? To me, it is a long, long plot with anywhere between 500 and 1000 pages. It strikes a balance between two things. For one, a characters needs a journey with multiple obstacles and a resolution. After the resolution, they are fundamentally changed. For another, the world builds a deep and detailed index of places, cultures, and practices.
When I think of fantasy, these are the two patterns that emerge. The weight on writing about the Hero’s Journey and the number of video tutorials on World Building prove that not only are these well know ways to classify a fantasy book, but also that readers and writers have spent a lot of time thinking about what fantasy is, and what it means to them.
Regardless, I had an experience reading Wheel of Time Book One, and these are some thoughts.
What is it about, then?
Following the Hero’s Journey, a young man named Rand al’Thor is called on a journey across country with a warrior and a wizard, a cleric, a few other characters from their home village out in the country. They overcome obstacles and slowly realise a prophecy to stop a dark lord.
Reductive in the extreme, I have skipped over all the detail to get to the basic pattern of events and characters. This way, I can now highlight the details that made the book an entertaining and thoughtful experience for me.
The Wizard and the Cleric Clash
Moiraine and Nynaeve are not friends. Nynaeve is grumpy at Moiraine for taking her apprentice Egwene and three boys from the safe home village on a dangerous journey without her clerical permission. She is also envious of how close Moiraine is to Lan, the rugged warrior, whom she is developing romantic feelings for.
Moiraine is calm and unflustered. Nynaeve is brash and angry. Seeing these two interact and get on despite dislike and danger built up, for me, a fun image of character.
There is an Ogier called Loial who is my favourite
My favourite character was the calm, hulking Ogier named Loial. Ogier sound to me like the species called Firbolgs from Dungeons and Dragons. Loial has a deep connection to the environment around him, can read ancient, lost texts, and has incredible size and strength, but does not use it to intimidate and frighten the humans he meets.
I value this kind of gentleness and intelligence written effectively in a character.
Is it often non-human characters who embody this combination of personality traits? If so, what does that say about us as writers and readers who enjoy characters like Loial the Ogier? Are we enjoying thinking about the impossible to make it more possible? For instance, characters like Loial might inspire readers to be a bit more aware of their environment. The might inspire readers to pay attention and to listen rather than intimidate. Without turning a fantasy story with a known pattern into a moral fairy tale with stark education lurking under the covers, there exist some underlying thought and emotion here worth looking at and thinking about.
The Villain has a dark horde, shadow powers, a bit of necromancy, to name a few of their skills
I remain unsure of what else to say. Ba’alzamon as he is called lives behind the mountains of Dhoom in the fortress of Shayol Ghul. They have fire instead of eyes.
Going past the surface, this dark lord lies to everyone. I wonder if they are lying to themselves most of all. They believe that they have infinite time to take the whole of this world under their command because no matter how many times a hero wielding a light sword and magic turns up to stop them, they will simply wait, restore their power, and begin again.
I question if they can continue this pattern for an infinite amount of time and remain unchanged. This type of dark lord seems a bit comical and exaggerated when all the parts of their appearance and ensemble are laid out plainly. Underneath it all, I believe, are the difficult emotions we as people repress: anger, pride, and rage to name a few.
We keep coming back to heroes confronting dark lords, I believe, because this confrontation make a calm and nonthreatening play out of the difficult task of processing unwanted and difficult emotions. It’s all a part of living day to day that might influence a reader to think and reflect.
“So, will you read on in the series?” Asked someone
I will certainly try. I have found a secondhand copy of book two, and will see what happens next.
The Wheel of Time Book One: The Eye of the World is written by Robert Jordan. It was first published in Great Britain in 1990.