The Wheel of Time

Roughly 30 years ago, at the age of 11 or 121, I was in the library looking for books in the fantasy/sci-fi paperback section and The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan caught my eye. I think the only reason I checked it out was because it was massive.2

Over the next decade, I continued to read the series, never quite knowing how long it was going to be or when it would be finished. In the early years, the books came out quite quickly, and I’d just read the new book. As time progressed, the cadence slowed to every other year, and I’d start to forget details in the preceding novels. I’m sure all the distractions and changes associated with highschool and college didn’t help. As a result, I would periodically have to start over from the beginning. I’ve probably read the first novel 5 or 6 times by now.

Sometime in graduate school, I decided to shelve the series and reread it from start to finish when it was all over. I’m not sure how far I actually read; I own the 10th and 11th books, but do not recall reading them. My copy of the 10th book doesn’t even have a cracked binding.3 Around this time, Jordan became terminally ill and passed away before finishing the “final” novel. Another author was chosen to work from Jordan’s notes and finish the series, though it was understandably delayed for a few years.

It must have registered at some level that it was finally completed in 2013, but, I guess time got away from me. A lot has gone in the last 8 years, and I never got around to picking up the series again. Recently, I decided to finally read the whole thing from start to finish. Approximately 270 hrs of reading later, I am now done.

Ravens chapter header image from the book

It’s a bit strange to finally be done with it. I have been reading this series more or less since I was 11–I’ve been carrying it with me most of my life. It’s always been there as this thing I’m reading, either actively or passively. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the reading of it straight through. I loved the series when I was younger, and for the most part, it holds up. It will always hold a special and unique place for me, due to how it bridged so many different parts of my life. I’ll never be able to start another series at the age of 12, only to finish 30 years later…

Now, I’m not saying the books are all amazing or everything in them is perfect. In one of the volumes around the fifth,4 some of the characters, descriptions, and phrasing get a little monotonous. The story remains good though, and things smooth out in the next book or two. They can also be a bit verbose in certain places as well–who would expect that in a series that spans 14 novels?

On the other hand, the first few books are really good. I remember Mike taking the first novel on a trip to England one summer and loving it so much that he had to purchase the second volume overseas to continue reading. He was too impatient to wait the two weeks to come back home and read the copy we had there. This is the same person who leaves bookmarks in unfinished books like a squirrel burying acorns before winter.

Another quality of the series that was mostly lost on me is Jordan’s weaving of many bits of myths and legends into the world and storyline. One very obvious allusion is Callandor (the Sword That Is Not a Sword), which happens to reside in a fortress called… the Stone.

Callandor resides within the Stone of Tear at its heart, just as the sword which Arthur first draws resides within the heart of a stone, and just as Excalibur resides within a lake which surrounds the heartstone of Avalon. Excalibur was returned to the lake after the battle of Camlann, and Callandor is apparently left behind in the Pit of Doom (formerly a lake of lava) after the Bore is sealed.

The Thirteenth Depository

Details like this make for a very rich reading outside of the face value entertainment value. It goes much deeper than a simple retelling of Arthurian legend. Much, much deeper.

It is kind of amazing that the story is captivating or coherent at all. After all, this work spans almost 12,000 pages and over 4.4 million words. Is it a bit derivative of Tolkien? Sure. Is everything perfect in it? No. But it is still very enjoyable, and I’m glad to have finally finished it.

Wheel and Great Serpent  chapter header image from the book

  1. I can’t remember if this was 1990 or a year or two later, so I was probably about 12 at the time. The book was definitely the mass market paper back version, which came out at the end of 1990. If I recall correctly, our library didn’t keep paperbacks like this on the little carousel racks forever, so it was probably early 1991. 
  2. About 800 pages. 
  3. On the other hand, my copy of The Eye of the World is absolutely tattered. 
  4. It was one of the books between #4 and #6. Also, Jordan goes a little heavy on “bosoms” and the phrase “plumply pretty”.