Robert Jordan’s Raw Creativity on Display: The Wheel of Time Companion

HEY YOU GUYS, GUESS WHAT: it’s a beautiful day for Wheel of Time fans! Why, you ask? Because, today is the release date of The Wheel of Time Companion: The People, Places, and History of the Best Selling Series, on both virtual and actual bookshelves now! Huzzah!

And, concurrently, I also have for you my personal review of this thang, because for some reason They think I know a few things about this Wheel of Time thingy. They so silly.

But, uh, yeah, as it happens I do have a few opinions to share. I know, you’re shocked.

Be warned that spoilers for the series lurk ahead—not terrible ones, I think, but they’ll be there. If you have not read the entire Wheel of Time series, read at your own risk.

And now, the review!

[A caveat before we begin: the text I am working from is a non-final draft of the Companion, from before it went to print. Ergo, some aspects of my copy were not complete, and there are some things I may note which have since been changed and/or corrected. Just So You Know.]

First off, I have to state upfront that this is, objectively, a simply stupendous work. In the literal sense of “stupendous,” as in “staggeringly huge.” As someone who’s been summarizing/analyzing this series in one way or another for, well, longer than I’d ever have believed possible at this point, let me just say I have a deep appreciation of how incredibly difficult and frustrating that task can be, and how much work had to have been required to pull it together in a remotely orderly fashion. So at the very least I must extend congratulations to Team Jordan on simply getting this behemoth off the ground. Y’all did good, y’hear?

But beyond that base-level kudos, there’s no question that this is a comprehensive and carefully compiled compendium (alliteration, whee!) of WOT minutiae that any detail-oriented fan should absolutely not be without. True, a great deal of the information within it is available online, from one fan-based website or another (which Team Jordan acknowledges in their introduction), but there is also a good amount which is not, for the very simple reason that any worldbuilder worth his salt will have an awful lot of things that he knows about his created world that no one else does, usually because it’s not important enough to be included in the actual story but is still important for the author to know in order to write that story.

So in that sense, there is definitely a certain fascination, for the hardcore fan, in gaining this glimpse directly into the raw creative notes of Jordan when he was laying the foundation blocks of what would become the Wheel of Time series.

The result is that you get many little pockets of overall-irrelevant-but-still-interesting bits of information. Like, for instance, the detailed histories and provenances of the various Third Age nations. Or the strength ranking of practically every single named channeler in the series (already documented on Tor.com with EXTREME NERDITRY by Chris Lough, Giant Nerd Extraordinaire, hahaha). Or the presence of surprisingly in-depth backstories for seemingly random minor characters, e.g. Doesine Alwain, and some not so minor, like Setalle Anan/Martine Janata, Cadsuane, or Alviarin; things which clearly wouldn’t have fit into the narrative proper, but which developed these characters for the author’s own benefit.

These occasionally included intriguing bursts of insight, like this bit from Aram’s entry: “He was an engine without a governor; growing up totally shunning violence, he had little sense of how much was acceptable.” That’s… a really interesting thing to consider.

Team Jordan states up front that many parts of the Companion were lifted directly from Jordan’s notes with no alteration, which means that the language sometimes veers into the hilariously slangy and/or overly literal. For instance, apparently Therava had “the hots” for Galina, and Toveine “always had the ability to cut out one’s heart and eat it while one watched.” Heh.

And then there are the things which just have to be inside jokes, like the entry for fangfish, which is, evidently, “a dangerous fish of editorial nature.” Reeeeeally.

And the best inside joke of all is in the “B”s. I won’t spoil it for you, but fans will know it when they see it.

(For my part, I LOL’d extensively. Harriet, you little sneak.)

All that said, I do have a couple of criticisms.

The apparent decision to arrange the entries for cameo and very minor characters by “last name, first name”, and less minor-to-major characters by “first name, last name” makes sense to a certain extent (people are going to look for “Rand,” not “al’Thor” for the most part), but it was still a little confusing. Not least because there seemed to be some misunderstanding as to whether certain characters crossed that line from “very minor” to “less minor,” with the result that some characters had two entries—one under their first name, one under their last—or even more if their name was complicated enough. Similarly, I’m not positive it was necessary to repeat entries for books under every single proper noun in the title and under both the fictional author’s first name and last name. I understand a certain amount of repetition in this format is unavoidable, but that seemed a little excessive.

Other than that, my only other real criticism, or perhaps it would be better termed as “my only real disappointment,” is that there is hardly any accompanying artwork at all. The Supergirls and Superboys got portraits, along with Cadsuane, Lan, Moiraine, Thom Merrilin, Verin, and, weirdly, Padan Fain, but otherwise the only art is a landscape of Shayol Ghul, one of Thakan’dar (both by the fabulous and talented Paul Bielaczyc), and various maps. Granted, I think a couple of the maps were new—e.g., a map of the Two Rivers, which I don’t think I’ve seen before—but I really would have liked to have seen more art than that. And not even a mention of the icons!

Again, this is with the caveat that my version of the book is not the final one, so maybe there were more pieces added for the final version, but still, this was awfully sparse. Bummer.

[Chris Lough, Giant Nerd Extraordinaire notes: There is indeed art in the book that was not available in the version he sent to Leigh. Including a really cool sequence of new maps that details the progression of The Last Battle.]

A much more minor critical note are the things notable by their absence, namely, a full accounting of quotations from book openers or endings, prophecies, Min’s viewings or Egwene’s Dreams. Various of the prophetic items were mentioned in the entries relevant to their subjects, but there was not a separate list of them in one entry, which would have been nice. However, this is a pretty minor complaint, because exhaustive lists of those things already exist elsewhere, after all. And as a mollifying element, there were exhaustively complete lists of other things, like names of sword forms, song titles, and (amusingly) all of Lini’s didactic aphorisms.

None more exhaustive, by the way, than that of the Old Tongue, the entry for which would have been a feast to my old Usenet friend Aaron Bergman, whose Compleat Old Tongue, originally compiled around 1998, is preserved on Encyclopaedia WOT’s website, and was (and possibly still is) the most comprehensive fan-produced dictionary of the Old Tongue around. The one in the Companion, though, is much more compleat, for obvious reasons, and also features a visual rendering of the Old Tongue alphabet, which I thought was pretty cool. Also included: the full Old Tongue text of the writing on Mat’s ashanderei, which I don’t think exists anywhere else and was also super cool.

In short, this is a book which is absolutely worth having if you are a dedicated Wheel of Time fan, and I know for sure that I will definitely be referring back to and discussing many elements of it in my Reread going forward, as it offers many bits of information and insight that we did not have access to before its publication. I have notes, you guys, it’s gonna be fun.

So! In conclusion, if you are any kind of Wheel of Time fan this is a thing that you should own, and I look forward to the many fights discussions its innards will generate for me and mine in the time to come. Yay!

The Wheel of Time Companion is available now from Tor Books.
Explore the Companion further with excerpts and other analysis here on Tor.com!

Leigh Butler is a writer and blogger for Tor.com, where she conducts the Wheel of Time Reread and A Read of Ice and Fire, and wants you to know that she bets there was a lot more profanity in those notes than we got to see, and finds that hilariously awesome.

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