Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Eye of the World

OK, signed up for the Wheel of Time big read-in on Book Love Affair blog.

Just happenstance that I started reading WoT. I really liked George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire (so far) and wanted to indulge my LoTR-inclination, did some research, and picked up The Eye of the World.

What I enjoyed in this book:
  • Large, detailed world with (typical fantasy-lit) medieval-style political/economic/technology/cultural setting
  • Plot-driven, suspenseful writing
  • Sense of an epic, unfolding narrative
  • evocative villages/towns/cities, buildings, clothing, and landscape descriptions
  • Likable characters
  • Tolkienesque equivalents are enjoyable homage: Aragorn/Strider, hobbits, wizards, Sauron.

What I didn't enjoy in this book:
  • simplistic, unexplained good vs. evil scenario
  • uncomplicated (dare I say shallow, one-dimensional) characters
  • some continuity/context errors

I read this because I wanted to escape to a world where actions matter and individuals have a chance to make a substantial difference in their world, and where there's a sense of something great at stake. An individual can develop powers and capabilities that change who they are. In other words, nothing like how I live life today.

What I find disappointing is whatever breaks my ability to "suspend disbelief", to accept the premise. I'm quite willing to imagine and float on a well conceived vision. I don't lack imagination. But I find some problems with the narrative.

Simple "good vs. evil" is just a barren, thoughtless notion, and I can't find it stimulating, even in fantasy worlds. The key to 'evil' is that it's usually committed in the name of 'good'. No one became a Nazi because it was "evil". Does no one read Plato any more? And yes, this is the weakest part of the Tolkien landscape, too, although he goes a fair distance toward giving some account. But... this is only the first book of a 12 (!) book series, so maybe there's more insight offered deeper in. It should already be hinted at, though.

Why shouldn't the characters in a fantasy world have some depth? Was a medieval sensibility as shallow as all that? Let's give Rand some inner landscape, not just "I'm a simple shepherd and I want to go home and I want to believe that my adoptive Dad is my real Dad!" Real 16-year-olds are a good bit more complex and interesting than that. Real people are always struggling with their desires, judgments, ideas about themselves, the world, and others. And that's what I really liked about George R. R. Martin's characters: none of this all-goody-two-shoes or all-bad-evil-bad.

Regarding editorial continuity: After Whitebridge, Rand and Mat are wearing black scarves that were given to them by a farmer, but the scene in which the farmer gives them the scarves is later. (no, I don't have page numbers or chapters at hand, too much work without digital text to search.)

Regarding context: Are horses faster than Trollocs, or slower? On the first flight from Emond's Field to Baerlon, the Trollocs are gaining on them. But later, when they are fleeing toward the river (I forget where) we learn that the horses can outrun Trollocs. OK, it's a fictional device, but inconsistency breaks the conceit.

I'm going to read The Great Hunt, and see if I still feel strongly about these sorts of criticisms.

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