Happy Cinco de Mayo, mis amigos! Have a completely unrelated Wheel of Time Reread Redux post to celebrate! Today’s Redux post will cover Chapter 52 to the end of The Eye of the World, originally reread in this post.
All original posts are listed in The Wheel of Time Reread Index here, and all Redux posts will also be archived there as well. (The Wheel of Time Master Index, as always, is here, which has links to news, reviews, interviews, and all manner of information about the Wheel of Time in general on Tor.com.) The Wheel of Time Reread is also available as an e-book series! Yay!
All Reread Redux posts will contain spoilers for the entire Wheel of Time series, so if you haven’t read, read at your own risk. And now, the post!
Before we start, apparently in the original commentary I had not yet started the last-post tradition of commenting on the cover art, so for completeness’s sake I guess I should do it here, since I can’t actually remember whether I ever said anything about TEOTW’s art specifically or not.
This is the cover that tends to get the most love from fans, and certainly it’s striking, especially the gorgeous blue color of the background, which I remember definitely made it stand out attractively on the shelf in the bookstore. Which is exactly what you want cover art to do, so well done there. I had noticed TEOTW’s cover quite a lot, actually, in my time browsing the science fiction/fantasy shelves, long before that fateful day in Texas when I was finally convinced to pick it up.
But honestly, unlike many other fans, the cover art was also one of the reasons I didn’t pick it up for so long. The much bigger reason was that I was resisting starting a series I had figured out hadn’t been finished yet (HAHAHA), but the fact that the lady on the cover looked so disproportionately tiny next to the giant dude on the warhorse next to her always kind of threw me.
This was back when I was young and stupid and still judging books by their covers… okay, no, I can’t claim that with a straight face, I still do that. I try not to, but I do, even though I know it means I’m missing out on some awesome stuff. (Case in point: Cordelia’s Honor is now one of my favorite books in one of my favorite series ever, but my friend Noell had to practically duct tape me to a copy of the paperback to get me to read it the first time, because I was so put off by the horrendous cover art.)
But I think I am something of an outlier in this regard. Not in how I think the WOT covers as a general rule have great backgrounds and horrible foregrounds, because I know there are a whole lot of folks who agree with me on that, but in how much I let it influence my opinion on whether to read the thing or not in the first place. Most other SFF fans, I think, have long since accepted that occasionally highly dubious cover art is a feature of the genre and not a bug, and are much better at not letting it keep them away from a good story.
For the purposes of fun trivia: this is also the cover of the infamous “extra person”, where if you look at the complete wraparound art of the cover (and also the art on the inside cover), you can count that there are nine people depicted in the party, where there are only eight in the story (including Nynaeve). This is because, we’ve been told, Jordan originally had a fourth boy from the Two Rivers coming along on the journey, and by the time Harriet had convinced Jordan that the fourth boy was completely extraneous and needed to be cut, the art had already been commissioned and it was too late to change it. Apparently the fourth boy was meant to be Dannil Lewin, who later becomes Perrin’s right hand man in TSR and onward, but personally I prefer my old friend Mike Hoye’s assertion that it was actually Harry Potter, because LOL.
So, yeah. And now let’s finish this one up, shall we?
Chapter 52: Neither Beginning Nor End
In the original commentary to this chapter I talked about whether the end of TEOTW was a deliberate subversion of the One Ring Central Magical Thingamajig trope, or not, considering how the Eye is the Macguffin our heroes spend the entire book chasing down, and yet after this book it’s pretty much never mentioned again.
I still think that query is valid, but there’s another way to look at it that (depending on your point of view) will cast the situation in either a more forgiving light or a much harsher one. Basically TEOTW in the aggregate strikes me as being constructed much more like a TV pilot shot on spec than anything else. Or alternately, like a movie that’s intended to be the beginning of a franchise, when there is a possibility that the sequels may never get greenlit.
It’s a very specific kind of narrative problem, really. Some might find it a tad déclassé, with its perceived kowtowing to commercial considerations, but personally, as both a realist and someone who appreciates interesting narrative tricks, I think it’s an impressive accomplishment if pulled off correctly. You want your inaugural movie/pilot/book to set up your larger story and intrigue your audience into wanting to read/see more, you see, but you also have to provide enough of a sense of closure in that inaugural work that, if the wherewithal for its sequels never materializes, the work can still stand on its own. There’s a balancing act required there which is fairly unique, I think.
Now, this was not actually the case for TEOTW—sort of. Most WOT fans are more than familiar with Jordan’s initial (and now infamous) claim to Tom Doherty of Tor Books back in the 1980s that the series would only be six books, and as I understand it Jordan signed a six-book contract on the strength of the TEOTW manuscript. So in that sense the sequels for this particular inaugural work were technically already paid for.
However, that said, “a six-book contract” is not necessarily the same thing as “a contract to write six Wheel of Time books,” and I’ve definitely gotten the impression from various interviews and such over the years that whether Tor would publish more books in the series was contingent on how TEOTW performed in sales. Which only makes sense, after all; it’s not exactly a fiscally sound plan to publish sequels to a book no one is interested in reading.
Fortunately for Jordan and WOT (and us), that turned out to be massively not the case, and here we all are, but at the time, I imagine, that wasn’t anything like a foregone conclusion. So it is, I theorize, that TEOTW (and to some extent TGH) have a much more self-contained air to them, as compared to the rest of the novels in the series, because Jordan had to take into account the possibility that they might be the only part of the story he would be allowed to tell.
The Eye of the World in TEOTW was not meant to be the Central Magical Thingamajig of Jordan’s story—but it was meant to stand in for one if necessary.
Of course, it’s probably funny that I’m talking about this in the commentary for a chapter that is basically nothing but set-up for The Ongoing Saga, but I stand by the statement. The harbingers and foreshadowings of this chapter and the next are set-up for the larger story, but they can also be taken as atmosphere to assure the reader that the world in the novel extends beyond the boundaries of the story we’re given. It would not have been entirely satisfying to leave the story here, I don’t think, but nor is it the kind of deliberately dangling end we’re given in, say, TDR, by the publication of which there was (I think) no doubt anymore about whether Jordan was going to get to tell the whole story.
Or at least that’s what I think. Others may disagree, obviously.
“I begin to wonder,” Moiraine said. “The Eye of the World was made against the greatest need the world would ever face, but was it made for the use to which… we… put it, or to guard these things?”
I do kind of love the perhaps deliberate irony that the story got rid of one MacGuffin, only to reveal that it had been hiding three more MacGuffins inside it. Passing the torch, you might say, ha.
And before you quibble with me over terminology, the items found inside the Eye may not be MacGuffins in a strictly traditional Hitchcockian sense, but not everyone agrees with Hitchcock that MacGuffins must be pointless or irrelevant in and of themselves. And the Horn of Valere was absolutely a MacGuffin, in TGH and again in AMOL, so nyah.
The seal and the Dragon banner are not as obviously so, but they are certainly symbolic of larger, very MacGuffin-like pursuits over the course of the series. The quest to find all the seals before they’re broken is clearly a MacGuffin-style quest, if you ask me. And one can argue that the banner represents a sort of reverse MacGuffin, one that the protagonist spends a great deal of time and effort running away from, rather than one he’s pursuing. In terms of plot devices it comes to much the same thing, in the end.
Chapter 53: The Wheel Turns
I wonder if Loial’s work to save Someshta’s grave held all the way through to the end of the Blight. For the sake of warm fuzzies, I’m going to assume that it totally did.
And Rand starts running away (or trying to, at least) from his reverse MacGuffin pretty much immediately, too. With the benefit of knowing the rest of the story (and really, probably even before any of us knew the rest of the story), his attempt to convince himself and Moiraine and Egwene that he just won’t do anything with the terrible gift he’s had dumped in his lap comes off as delusional and pathetic, but I can’t honestly claim I wouldn’t be just as tempted to stick my head in the sand for as long as possible either.
Jordan once said somewhere (and I’ve definitely mentioned this before too, but it bears repeating) that part of his big idea behind this whole WOT thing was the idea of asking what would it be like if one day someone came up to you out of nowhere and was like, hey, guess what? You get to be the Savior of the World! SUCK IT, BRAH.
(Though I am relatively certain that that is not quite how Jordan originally phrased it. Thbbt.)
My point is, that sucks, a whole lot. All Hero’s Journeys suck, objectively speaking, but I’m prepared to argue that Rand’s suckage level was above the average. So his denial for umpteen books that he is the Dragon Reborn was frustrating, but not actually unbelievable at all.
(I do not, however, believe I would be so delusional and arrogant as to believe I’d actually offed the Dark One. Maybe just because I’m way too genre savvy to suppose that my first boss fight would also be my final boss fight, but even without that, c’mon, man. Get real.)
“We won, Lord Agelmar. We won, and the land freed from winter is the proof, but I fear the last battle has not yet been fought.” Rand stirred, but the Aes Sedai gave him a sharp look and he stood still again.
Yeah, that pretty much sums up what I’ve been saying about the ending of this book, I think. I’ve been trying to think if, post-AMOL, I feel any differently about TEOTW overall than I did before, but I think mostly I’ve felt the same, except to wryly note that the end of the very first book is the only one that really felt very much like the end of the very last book, owing to the way it’s the only other one with a real ending, mostly. So that’s nice, in a bookend-y kind of way.
I feel like I should have more to say here… but I really don’t. I said in the original commentary that TEOTW is maybe one of the best first books in a series ever, and I still think that. It sure hooked me like a fish. What more is there to say?
Well, maybe this (from the original commentary):
“So, an ending. Not the ending, for there are many endings in the Wheel of Time. And beginnings. And middles. And also, wind. Very windy in WOT.
*snort* Well, it made me laugh, anyway.
And thus we come, once again, to the end of the beginning of the Wheel of Time! Join me next week as we plunge straight into The Great Hunt Redux! Whoo!