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Jocelyn (The Reading World)

I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;) 



Review of The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time, #1) - Robert Jordan

A lot of readers of the Eye of the World seem to be in complete opposition to each other to the point when it’s difficult to meet any mutual understanding. That’s probably what got me interested in this book, more than its concept could have, anyway.

A good example would be these two reviews:


And this discussion, starting with this comment (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...).

I fall somewhere in the middle category, though it’s not quite like, say, this review (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...).


The first impressions of TEotW weren’t the best.

As I’m sure you’ve heard repeated several times by other reviewers, Jordan’s writing style annoyed me right off the bat. Within ten pages I was completely bored; within fifty I was ready to give up altogether. And honestly, I probably would have, if I didn't feel any obligation to continue reading from the pressure of a couple of friends.

It’s not merely Jordan’s style as a prose writer; it’s his method of plotting, characterizing and establishing his world as a whole. The story moves like a glacier, and not just because it’s slow; it’s also lumbering, and clumsy, and massive, slowly groaning forward in bumpy jerks and pushes. In the beginning, there’s not much to drive the story forward except the sheer will of the author himself. Part of the reason is because Jordan’s so accommodating for the tiniest of details and the way he awkwardly introduces his world. His style hampers the flow of the story more than it facilitates it. Certainly, he’s doing some setting up which will presumably be fleshed out and expanded upon one way or the other in the future novels, but it’s possible to be more efficient with world-building even as detailed and massive as Jordan’s.

I just found it too dull, too uninspiring, too homogeneous. All the characters blended together into a blurry mix of sock puppets vaguely slipping along plot threads in accordance to the Hero’s Journey monomyth, driven by equally vague motivations. But it wasn’t necessarily the unoriginality that bothered me (indeed, most of the heavily criticized clichés Jordan supposedly mixes into his writing slipped past my notice several times during the book). The writing style is descriptive, but it didn’t ingrain any vivid picture of the setting in my mind. The characters have their motivations occasionally spelled out by the narration, but it was rarely convincing.

Most of all, what irritated me (as often happens with most Hero’s Journey archetypes) was that the characters didn’t seem to be doing things because of their internal motivations; they act the way they do because it’s imposed on them by Moiraine. Jordan hardly bothers to distinguish Rand and his friends as anyone besides “so-called heroes playing follow-the-leader with the Aragorn-figure.” They rarely interacted with the plot, and the only changes in their characters are the ones Jordan tells us transpired, not ones that he showed us. They simply followed through on a predetermined path already laid out for them. It was mundane, repetitive, and painfully homogeneous.

And yet, unlike many others, I strongly hesitate to blandly dismiss Jordan’s work as another sloppy copycat of Tolkien fastening itself on the LotR storyline and failing to replicate it. In spite of the obvious similarities, I don’t think Jordan was trying to replicate Tokien’s work in the first place, as he constantly digresses away from Tolkien to develop his own ideologies and plot elements.

Nor do the listed problems above remain pervasive throughout the book. The story picks up considerably more momentum once Jordan finally manages to start spinning the wheels of the plot—namely, a little after our protagonists depart from the Two Rivers. The seeming homogeneity is broken by the continual clashes between the protagonists and other sides of the cultures in Jordan’s world, mostly for the purpose of highlighting contrasts and offering occasional glimpses into how the present situations are built into the overarching narrative. It’s through this vehicle that Jordan creates a sort of charming variety that can stand perfectly fine on its own regardless of what the future novels may bring. To be sure, this is a common technique, but one Jordan uses to his advantage; the brief glimpses we get into not only how subplots are woven together but what they meanand how they affect the plot is really quite clever. And finally, the separation of Rand’s party and isolation into different groups allowed for a more critical examination of the characters’ motivations, as they are thrust into an adventure they aren’t prepared to survive in without the help of Moiriane. Thus the original barrier on their capacity to act that first blurred their motivations is thus removed.

Some differences between Tolkien and Jordan:

—The distance they maintain with the narrative. Tolkien, being as conservative as he was, always kept an aloof, consistent distance from the narrative throughout. Jordan, by contrast, constantly varies the intimacy with his characters, first pushing how close he can get and then dancing away—rather like a movie camera filming up close, and occasionally zooming out for the purpose of giving the audience a wider perspective of what’s happening. It ties in a bit with his method of punctuating the continuous medium of the plot with a chance to look at how it integrates into a more complex story.

—The role of the setting. The Lord of the Rings was essentially not about Frodo destroying the One Ring, but about Middle-Earth itself. Middle-Earth, not Frodo, was the main thing at stake if Frodo failed to complete his mission. Jordan’s characters, on the other hand, interact with the setting far more. The interplay between the two combined with the interplay between the protagonists and other groups of characters (or one could even argue that setting and supporting characters even merge together) is the main object of interest for TEotW. Gradually these clashes continue to progress toward an even higher pinnacle, both for EotW as a standalone and as the first in a series (as I’m suspecting that Jordan will continue with this technique in the sequels), hinting at eventual conflicts inspired by the Tolkien but to be developed to greater complexity.

Which brings me to my next point. A lot of my appreciation for The Eye of the World is simply because it excites me about the sequels. Jordan is, like I said, a little clumsy at first, but once he has things mostly set up he knows how to start handling his story with more control. There are bits of potential scattered throughout the book, enticing glimpses of what may come, huge ranges of possibility of what the protagonists could evolve into. It’s a kind of “everlasting continuity” feel to it, reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings, but again, much less conservative. There’s no guarantee that the heroes will continue to be perfect good guys destined to overthrow a bigger power—they could becomeanything.


So why only 3.5 stars? Well, it’s not anything particularly significant, but The Eye of the World isn’t always very entertaining. I know “it’s boring,” sounds like a crude criticism, but the truth was that The Eye of the World was never vivid enough for me to be truly hooked. His descriptive style never succeeded to integrate all the parts of the setting he described. The tension here is extremely minimal (with admittedly a few exceptions), as the pacing was so uneven and plot points unnecessarily prolonged. The aforementioned glimmers of potential were never allowed to come to the fore for more than a few instants, which is a pity, as Jordan certainly demonstrates in those rare times that he can actually be a masterful storyteller. 

While Jordan avoids a lot of pitfalls of most mainstream fantasy authors, he falls into them as well. The plotting is frustratingly linear—possibly because of the scope, but so early on in the story when he’s barely begun to establish it, Jordan doesn’t really have that excuse. And, of course, you have your typical tacked-on climax of the mysterious-bad-guy-appearing-in-the-heroes’s-dreams-for-fuck-knows-why coming out of nowhere to kill the protagonists—one of whom, predictably, “by pure luck” whips out an inadequately foreshadowed power no one EVER HAD FOR A THOUSAND YEARS to defeat him. Ba’alzamon’s motivations and role in the story are irritatingly glossed over, then completely buried once he is defeated, which I can’t see as anything but a sign of laziness and lack of control.

A few more complaints, albeit much more trivial and pertaining to isolated parts of the book more than anything:

--the characters of Nynaeve, Egwene, Moiraine and Lan still remain extremely vague by the end of the book. Generally, Jordan seems much more focused on developing Rand, Mat and Perrin, so I don't know if this act is deliberate or just from a lack of skill, but it annoyed me nevertheless.

--the storyline of Perrin and Egwene was beyond mundane. None of their actions affected the plot in any significant way, and their personalities certainly weren't developed enough to make the time spent on them worthwhile. Eventually, it left me wondering why Jordan didn't just lump them together with Moiraine, Lan and Nynaeve, since having them separate and reunite served so little purpose. 

Having said all that, The Eye of the World is still a worthy read. Not quite riveting, but certainly charming in its own right. I only hope that Jordan will actually exploit his potential instead of glossing over it. My friends have repeatedly reassured me that he does, but there’s only one way to find out. I'll be reading the sequels for sure.


Cross-posted in my corresponding Goodreads account: