An interesting thing about books is that they never change – but we do. This has never been more apparent to me than when rereading the Wheel of Time series written by the late Robert Jordan.
I recently finished the second book in the sprawling, revered fantasy series (14 books!) and something is different this time through. I find myself struggling to continue reading a series that was pivotal in the formation of my love of fantasy writing.
I’ve been consuming the series via Audible this time around, and at the end of the book, there is an old interview with Robert Jordan about how he came up with the idea for the series. Here is a snippet from that interview:
“I wondered what it was really like to be tapped on the shoulder and be told ‘You were born to be the savior of mankind.’ I didn’t think it would be very much the way it is in so many books where someone pops up and says ‘Hi, I was born to be the savior of mankind and here’s the prophecy,’ and everybody says, ‘Well, ok, let’s go then.’ I thought self-interest would play a big part…”
I’d been struggling with my nebulous feelings about the series and fighting against the cognitive dissonance I was feeling, when I listened to that little piece of audio and it kind of clicked – my problem is one of motivation.
‘Why?’ is one of my favorite questions. That question can help you get to the root of something, can transform how you view someone’s behavior, help you duplicate a result, or help you avoid the same mistake a second time. I use that question a lot in a workplace setting to challenge the status quo. It can annoy people at times, and it might annoy you here.
I found myself asking ‘why?’ while reading these last two books. Jordan’s interpretation of being called to be the ‘savior of the world’ was transformative at the time of writing, but in review, the character’s motivations strike me as… please don’t hate me for this… whiny for the sake of being whiny.
None of the core characters (with the potential exception of Egwene) are interested in participating in the story. In fact, Jordan builds in a way to force these characters to do what the ‘Wheel wills,’ quite against their wills.
They want their lives to go back to the way they were, struggling internally and externally with the changes that are constantly being forced upon them.
There is no middle ground here. They grow very little in finding peace with their situations, in trying to make the best of their lives and learning to accept who they’re becoming. After a while, I found it grating.
“Death is lighter than a feather, duty heavier than a mountain.”
This is what the main protagonist’s mantra becomes. There is a tension here, which in its own way is beautiful, however, that tension carries throughout fourteen books before there comes any acceptance, any peace. Not only the main character but the other two ‘central figures’ are sullen and angry, fighting against what the Wheel has forced upon them.
I have changed
Fighting. That’s what has marked most of my life. Fighting against who I feel I should be, fighting against what I don’t want in my life. Thoughts, feelings, self-perception. That’s the way to change, right, to fight against it? Fight for who you want to be and you’ll become that person.
I’ve found the truth to be the opposite. The most transformative moments in my life have been marked with surrender and self-acceptance. I’m in a different place now than I was when I first read this series.
I still sympathize with these characters, with their fight to be someone different than who they are becoming, but that struggle is the defining characteristic of most major characters in this series. They become one-dimensional in the face of that struggle, and what struck me as unique and powerful now strikes me as grating and frustrating. I find myself asking ‘why?’ Why do they hate what they’re becoming so much? What drives and motivates them?
I feel bad for writing what can be perceived as negative things about a series that I hold so dear, however, I recognize that this isn’t about the Wheel of Time, but about me. This is still a great series, with an incredible world, a wonderful magic system, and more characters than I can reasonably count. I’ve simply changed.
I often wish my own mind weren’t so complicated. Why can’t I just enjoy something without overanalyzing it, without drawing so many parallels, without asking ‘why’ all the time? Then again, maybe it’s best to just accept that I am who I am and that I’m always going to ask those questions. Maybe it’s alright to accept that part of myself. Huh, maybe I learned something today.
Image: Slash Film