Can I read over 3,000,000 words in six months (and keep my job and friends)?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Have YOU got the Horn?

Book: 2; The Great Hunt

Chapter: 16; In the Mirror of Darkness

Character Groups:
Rand           Perrin                   Egwene             Moiraine
Loial            Mat                      Nynaeve            Lan
Hurin           Ingtar
                   Various soilders

Here is a question. What do the "infinite improbability drive", "Narrative Causality" and the "Chevalier Effect" have in common? That's right children, they are all ironic plot devices that allow a story to take great leaps of logic or justify enormous coincidences without breaking the mechanics of the world in question. (For those who are interested, the guilty authors are Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and Robert Rankin respectively. The late, great, Mr. Adams actually scores a twofer in my library with the "interconnectedness of all things" in the Dirk Gently novels.) There is probably a proper, literary name for this sort of thing and if anyone knows it, feel free to tell me, but I shall call it a McGuffin.

With that in mind, what are ta'veren? You do catch on quickly, they are the WoT McGuffin, although in this case there is rather less of the irony.

About half way throught tEotW, Loial revealed that Rand, Mat and Perrin are all ta'veren, people whose very presence bends chance, luck and fate around themselves, and now no-one seems to be able to shut up about it. To be fair, it is quite elegant. Ta'veren fit perfectly into the mythology and can be used to explain pretty much anything. How did Perrin meet the only man in the world who could teach him the talk to wolves? Ta'veren. How was Rand separated from anyone who would recognise the signs of his channeling just as those signs showed up? Ta'veren. Mat hasn't done anything too obvious yet but eventually he becomes the most blatent ta'veren of the three, although not the most powerful.

Now, in other news, you may have noticed the list of characters above is getting bigger and more complicated. From here on in, this becomes a major feature of the WoT books. Smaller characters appear and disappear, the major characters bounce about all over the world. The reason I put the current groups at the top of each entry is that I find it the easiest way to keep track of the story, certain plot threads are always attached to certain groups. Today's new additions are Hurin, Ingtar, and a group of Shienaran soilders. Ingtar and the Shienarans are not to interesting right now but I'd just like to say a few words about Hurin. 

Hurin is a Sniffer. He can smell violence and track murderers by scent. He joins the Great Hunt of the book's title to track the Darkfriends and Trollocs that have stolen the fabled Horn of Valere. Nothing wrong with that really, but Hurin has always seemed such a flimsy character. All there seems to be to him is his ability and his obssesion with fawning over "Lord Rand" (long story). He mentions that he has a wife but otherwise there seems to be very little to him. Now it could be that his only purpose in the story is to go missing with Rand and Loial so that Perrin can have a chance to shine as a fake "Sniffer" or that he is there to make Rand accept some responsibility for once but when every other character in the series, even the walk on parts, seem to be so fleshed out, Hurin grates.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

An Ending

Book: 1; The Eye of the World
Chapter:  53; The Wheel Turns. THE END!
Character Groups:
So that was the book that was. Having slapped the forces of evil around a bit, our heroes have returned spring to the land faster than Aslan himself could have managed.
Those of you who are paying attention may have noticed that a new name has appeared in the character list. Loial (a name I was saying wrong for years until a character said that he was “as loyal as his name” or some such) is the runaway Ogier that despite being ninety years old, is considered too young to be out in the world on his own. In order to continue avoiding the elders of his home stedding, legendary sanctuaries that the Ogier rarely leave, he has tagged along with Rand et al in the hopes of finding adventure. He is not disappointed. For some reason, whenever I read a description of Loial, 10 feet tall, wide mouth, long eyebrows and tufted ears, I can’t help but visualise the Luck Dragon from The Neverending Story.  
Something I have always loved about these books is that each time I read them, I spot something I missed before.  First time, of course, you miss things because they are deliberately ambiguous or their significance is not immediately apparent. Second time, you spot the events that happened before there was any exposition. This is something that happens a lot in WoT, the longest delay between event and explanation that I can think of off the top of my head is eleven books, about three years for the characters. But even now, on my umpteenth read through of a book I first read ten years ago, I read something that the significance of which had completely passed me by before.
In the space-warping climatic Battle of Tawin's Gap at the end of tEotW, where [!!SPOILER WARNING!!] Rand uses the One Power to destroy a Trolloc army in a wave of fire and brimstone, a voice rings out in BIG CAPITAL LETTERS (which makes it all the more embarrassing that I have missed it before) saying that “ I WILL TAKE NO PART. ONLY THE CHOSEN ONE CAN DO WHAT MUST BE DONE, IF HE WILL”. Whose is this voice? For the life of me I cannot remember any time where any of the characters have remarked on this moment, I don’t even think it has come up in Rand’s PoV chapters. The only other things the voice said are “IT IS NOT HERE” and “NOT HERE” so that is nice and coherent. It some times seems to be answering Rand but the responses do not seem to make much sense. Is it the Creator? The Power itself? I could theorise for ages but I will restrain myself.
Moments like this send happy chemicals straight to my nerd brain. Rest assured, I will be watching very carefully for anyone speaking with caps lock on.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Hungry like a Wolfbrother

Book: 1; The Eye of the World

Chapter: 30; Children of Shadow

Character groups:

Rand         Moiraine           Perrin
Mat           Lan                   Egwene
                 Nynaeve           Elyas

After a series of very unfortunate events involving Trollocs, Myddraal (the aforementioned Dark Riders) and heat-seeking death fog, the wonder team has become separated. Thus begins my favorite ten chapters of this particular book.

First though, a few words about that there death fog. Mashadar is, I feel, one of the best monsters in the world of the Wheel. As big as a city, mindless and hungry, it is not even a creature of the Dark One like all the other evil things we have seen so far. It was born of the hatred and jealousy that destroyed the city of Aridhol two thousand years previous and now hunts in the ruins. Appearing at sunset as a glowing mist that rolls in thick tendrils through the streets, if it touches you, you die, screaming. Even Trollocs and Myddraal are reluctant to enter Aridhol (now called Shadar Logoth or Shadow's Waiting). Just think, misshapen half -man-half-beast creatures and men who can instill paralysing fear with a look are mortally afraid of something created by human beings.
Also, in the otherwise terrible Wheel of Time computer game, Mashadar was absolutely terrifying.

Right, back to my ten favorite chapters. In this section of the book, we finally get to see inside the heads of someone other than Rand. We had a section from the PoV of Nynaeve which was all very... angry... but I'm mostly interested in Perrin. Now, this will be a good way to check if my lovely boyfriend actually reads this, but I used to have a bit of a crush on Perrin. He is tall and strong with a mass of unruly dark hair and a beard. Perrin looks roughly the same (see what I did there Jon, dear?).

Up until this point, Perrin has been a bit of a background character and you would be forgiven for wondering what he is doing here at all but it turns out there is a lot more going on under that mop of a hairdo than is immediately apparent. He is a thinker is Perrin, the quiet type, but he can still rise to the challenge when necessary. As he and Egwene make their way across the wilderness in the company of wild men, gypsies and wolves (yes, wolves) he begins to show his natural leadership and determination, as well as some more interesting abilities.

Thats right, its superpower time! We already know about Moiraine and Egwene being Channelers (read magic, the force, whatever makes you happy) and can now add Nynaeve to this group (although that just makes her angry) but so far, apart from the odd... er... odditiy, the three central chaps have only demonstrated a remarkable ability to nearly get killed at every turn.

Well now we know, Perrin is a Wolfbrother. Able to see, hear and smell with wolf-like sensitivity as well as communicate with the noble beasts themselves. In Elyas, he manages to find into the one person in the whole continent that can teach him how to use those abilities, what are the odds eh?

Friday, 9 September 2011

Lord of the Wheel

Book: 1; The Eye of the World
Chapter: 20; Dust on the Wind
Character Groups:
So the magnificent seven have sallied forth from The Shir... sorry, the Two Rivers with Dark Riders on their tail and a singing, soul-sucking batman in the skies.
Other, better people than me have pointed out the parallels between The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time, I think there is even a book that boasts the fact as a cover quote. The seven that flee the Two Rivers can be directly related to characters from early in The Fellowship of the Ring. The four locals, Rand, Mat, Perrin and Egwene are the Hobbits (though at this point, you are not supposed to be able to tell which is which) Moiraine is Gandalf and Lan is the expert woodsman with a mysterious heritage. Thom is... well... Tom, and herein lies my point.
Tom ‘Bloody’ Bombadil was the character that almost made me put Fellowship down and walk away. He was BEYOND annoying with his stupid singing and his creepily cheery disposition. Thom Merrilin, by contrast, is just cool. Sure there is still singing and stories but they rarely go on for more than half a page and always seem relevant. Another factor may be that he keeps more knives about his person than is reasonable and can make them appear and disappear with a wave of his hands.
I would say that the characters are the main reason that I prefer WoT to LotR. Even though they are in many cases so obviously analogous, I just like them better as people. I actually CARE about their hopes and fears. A few chapters ago we were introduced to Min, a tomboy soothsayer who gives whole new meaning to the phrase ‘love at first sight’. Clapping eyes on one of our heroes, she knows that she is destined to fall hopelessly in love with him. She accepts that it is unavoidable but doesn’t just moon over him. Actually, the lovebirds’ first conversation ends in him fleeing from her in terror. I like Min. You just don’t get that kind of characterisation in Tolkien, especially in women.
The thing with WoT is that this similarity to LotR could be very deliberate. One of the central tenants of the world is that time is cyclical hence the ‘Wheel of Time turns, Ages come and pass...’ bit. There are seven ages on the Wheel and the shape of history in each is roughly the same each time it passes. Current events are happening in the Third Age, The Age of Prophecy, which was preceded by the Age of Legends, an idyllic time of peace and prosperity. It could be said (and has been) that the adventures of Frodo, Sam, Gandalf and the rest were simply the events of eight Ages ago, the last time the Age of Prophecy came through. I know this probably sounds like I’m making excuses but there are other hints that something like this might be going on. Maybe I’ll get a chance sometime to talk about Lenn, who flew the moon in the belly of an eagle made of fire, and his daughter, Salya, who walks among the stars (a story from the Age before the Age of Legends some say!)  

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A Beginning

Book: 1; The Eye of the World.   

Chapter: 9, Tellings of the Wheel 

Character groups:

Rand          Moraine         Nynaeve         Thom
Mat            Lan                Egwene

 "The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past..."

So begins each book of the Wheel of Time series and they have become almost a meditation for me. I read those words and I can shut out the rest of the world and focus on a different one.
That paragraph can also tell you quite a lot about what is to come. You can expect cryptic phrases, sparse explanations and a liberal sprinkling of Capital Letters.

To be fair, the first few chapters of tEotW (The Eye of the World, get used to the acronyms) are actually quite heavy on the exposition, even if it is history 101 for the last 3000 years rather than current events. To be honest, its pretty impressive how these people can know, so certainly, what happened over three millennia ago when we in this pitiful dimension can't be absolutely sure of what happened last week! We have learned about cataclysms, prophecies and the fall of the great nation once occupying our heroes' homeland but only had a few paragraphs about the war going on in the next kingdom over! Oh well... I'm sure it will turn up again later if it was important.

We have also been introduced to most of the main characters at this point. Rand is a shepherd, Mat is a farmer and Perrin is a trainee blacksmith. Nynaeve is the Wisdom (village healer) with an anger management issue and Egwene is her new apprentice, just allowed to braid her hair signifying that she is now old enough to marry, a revelation that terrifies Rand. Thom is a travelling performer. Moraine and Lan are the mysterious strangers revealed to be a powerful Aes Sedai and her Warder (magically empowered super-soldier) when all hell breaks loose in the quiet farming village of Emond's Field. Well, not all hell, but a large enough portion of it to make an impression on the terrified villagers.

So I'm nine and a half chapters in and the players are in place. Normality has been torn down clearing the way for the band to get on with some serious sword and sorcery stuff. After all, that's what we are all here for right?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The Wheel of Time Turns...

Alright, I know I said that the first update would be on the fourth but I felt the need to post a bit more pre-amble.
First, some rules.
1.       No summaries.
It is not my intention to write the York Notes for The Eye of the World here. There are much better places (and much better people) doing that sort of thing. Thirteenth Depository is running a detailed and expansive chapter by chapter summary of The Gathering Storm at the moment, the length of which sometimes seems to be trying to rival the chapters themselves. If word counts are your thing (and, lets face it, if you are reading Wheel of Time, they are) I direct you to Thirteenth Depository.
Also, I read uncommonly fast, even if I say so myself. Normally I can polish off a WoT book in less than two weeks. With each book having around 50 chapters, I would need to post an update 3.5 times a day. Not only is this impossible with current technology but as I may have mentioned, I would like to keep my job and friends for the duration.
2.       No Epics
This one is simple. I shall endeavour to keep the word count of each entry below 500 words. This is because I know I can go on a bit and a bit of self imposed discipline can only be a good thing.  
3.       No Slacking
I will post an update at least once a week. Really. I mean it.
There we go. Them's the rules. And what do we do with rules children? That’s right, we break them.
Now, where's my book...?