Monday, March 11, 2013

Re-reading the Wheel of Time

Having just gotten a signed version of In Memory of Light, the last Wheel of Time book, at Quail Ridge Books, it should come as no surprise that I am now beginning an endeavor to reread the entire Wheel of Time series. Yes, all 14 books. Yes, the first one was 2068 pages on my Nook, and they don't get shorter.

Yes, I read finished the first one over a weekend. And no, I didn't get anything productive done in that time period.

So I don't usually do book reviews on this blog (that's what GoodReads is for, right?), but because this was an old favorite series of mine for a while, I'm suspending that rule for a little while. Mostly nostalgia, but because there are some things I like about this series.

First of all, the first book was published in 1990 (I did not read it when it first came out. I was, in fact, still learning to spell words like "cat" and "dog" and "has" at that point.) But this is important, because that time period rather marks the end of the Good Ol' Boys Club of literature. In other words, while there were some bestselling novels being written that didn't treat women as objects or side characters, they were still considered somewhat innovative for not doing so, and the majority of books were still centered around male characters who collected females like pokémon. Epic fantasy was ahead of the game, and had been for a while, in that while many of the epic stories had male protagonists, women were given actual roles in the stories, and weren't always treated like collectibles, walking enigmas, or villains-because-boobs. It was, what I call, just the beginning of the Golden Age of fantasy (in which we still reside).

So that's the historical turning point that saw the Wheel of Time step into the scene. And one of the first things I noticed when picking up the books, both the first time and now, is that the female characters do stuff. I know, that seems weird to be the first thing I notice. After all, lots of books published in the 90s had female characters that did stuff.

But in these books, the main character is male. In fact, there are 3 central male characters whom I would argue are the primary protagonists. Despite this, numerous female characters have POV parts and are integral to the story--even have their own plotlines. You see, they have their own motivations. When they get in trouble (and they do), it's usually because of something they did themselves, and not because they happened to know the guys. And they don't wait for the guys to come rescue them, either--when the guys do happen to rescue them (which does happen a couple of times), they're angry as all about it. Usually they manage to get out of the trouble themselves, or by helping each other.

Also worth noting is that, for the first three books at least, none of the lead female characters are fighters. Can they fight? Yeah. Do they fight? Heck yeah. But they're not "butt-kicking, trained from birth" warriors. They're farm girls and a princess. Yes, a pretty-pretty princess. Who spends half her time doing the dishes, the other half caring more about becoming an Aes Sedai than queen, and most of both those halves channeling her way into trouble.

Having strong gender roles in a story sometimes ends up with the women being weak. But in this epic fantasy series, that's anything but the truth. Women have different roles in the different cultures, meaning Jordan gets to play with what position they have in society depending on where they're from. Nor are any of the positions portrayed as purely subservient, even in the least egalitarian societies--his female characters help determine how their worlds are run, regardless of whether or not men think they do.

What Jordan does so well is to make strong female characters who aren't necessarily strong. That's something that a lot of authors struggle with: as if making a woman a warrior makes her a strong character, and never mind that half the women warriors are flat as a pancake when it comes to characterization. Is he the best author at it? Not by a long shot. In many cases, for example, he portrays women as constantly manipulative, and even the female characters POVs are obviously written through the filter of a man's head. But he does a lot better than many of his contemporaries in making women real characters instead of plot points, and as a female reader, I notice that.

I enjoy re-reading the series, and as I'm about to begin #4 (of the 14-book series), I find myself falling in love with this world all over again.

Have you read the Wheel of Time? What's one thing that stuck out to you about the series?


  1. I've been thinking lately about partaking in that long, epic journey myself, and may very well do so before the end of the year. But my, is it intimidating to look at a giant stack of books by one author (mostly) and say "I'm going to read all of those, and nothing else, for the next X number of months."

    I'm actually doing that right now with the Dark Tower books. Before starting, I set out to read not just the main books in the series, but all of King's books that have some tertiary relationship to the series as well. And there are A LOT. I did a lot of research on the "proper" reading order and dove in. Five books in (and only two books into the main series itself), I had to take a break and read some comic books. I'm enjoying the series, but I didn't realize how much I appreciate a change in author voice every couple of books.

    I still intend to tackle the Wheel of Time this way, but I think I'm going to plan steady breaks throughout. :P

    1. Steady breaks? Heh, can't imagine why! I'd be surprised if I don't end up taking a break or two myself... Good luck on the Dark Tower marathon! That's not all that much shorter.

  2. About halfway through AMoL (no, I don't know how it ends and I refuse to read any spoilers), the character Matt struck me as the most interesting.

    His sacrifices, when rescuing Moriane or in marrying Tuon :) his take on life... in a nutshell, he's someone I'm happy to toss back a few jars of Oosquai with!

    1. I can never quite figure out whether I love Mat, or if he just plain drives me nuts... >.> Both, I think! He'd certainly be an interesting person to hang out with, though, and while I wouldn't dice with him, it'd be fun to meet him. And no worries on spoilers--I haven't read any of the last 3, and am assiduously avoiding them myself!