This week, I finally managed to finish the first in my attempt at a Wheel of Time re-read before the last of the series comes out. The Eye of the World has a lot to live up to, for me; it was my first ever epic fantasy read, after all, and the book that launched my interest in all things fantasy way back in my first year of high school.
A friend recommended it to me and I can still remember that first time I went into the bookstore and held it in my hands. I opened it up and started reading, just to make sure I was interested before I invested my $7, but as soon as I’d read a paragraph I knew I was ready to buy. Fantasy worlds were so new to me, and so appealing, that I inhaled the book when I read it, and then went on to read the rest of the series, up to book 9, in relatively short order. Then, disappointed by book 10 and waiting for what felt like an eternity for book 11, I stopped, and now I’m trying to pick up the pieces.
So, how did my original foray into fantasy hold up, more than ten years later?
Surprisingly, it held up very well. It took me what felt like forever to read (more than a week, which is a long time for me), and I had an unfortunate habit of falling asleep while reading, but it was still a very absorbing and interesting read – I can see exactly what appealed to my fourteen year old self. I was shocked by how little I remembered the story, even though bits and pieces popped up as I read. Mostly I remembered the Trollocs invading Rand’s home, to be honest, and the beginning with Lews Therin Telamon. There were parts of other sections, particularly as I read, but beforehand there was very little in my head from the first time I’d read the book.
What I think struck me the most this time was how very typical a fantasy it is. It so obviously draws from Tolkien and a lot of other fantasy I’ve read draws from it, so it was simultaneously comforting and odd to put together the pieces. I hadn’t read anywhere near enough to pick that up the first time, but here – it’s that farmboy on a journey yet again, that farmboy with a fantastic destiny, who is forced to leave home and who must then go on to save the world. Obviously, it has plenty of its own twists to it, and there is no question in my mind at least that it fills the stereotypes quite well, but it was familiar not only because I’d read it before in this book, but because I’d read it before in others.
Much of the book defies the stereotypes as well, though. Even though it is Rand who is slated to save the world, he is far from the most powerful character at this point, and often reads like a lost puppy who has no idea what to do with himself. There is Lan, who is the most powerful human male we come across, but even he is ruled by the Aes Sedai he serves: Moiraine. Their strengths work together more than they work separately. And that’s what I liked about this book, this time, possibly the most; that the women are the powerful ones. Knowing what comes after does dim that a bit, but I loved that the women are regarded as the ones to keep the party safe, by not only Moiraine but by the people they meet on their journey as well. Yes, the three farmboys are ta’veren, the ones who change fate, not the women, but women hold the men’s destinies in their hands regardless.
You could say as well that the fact that the Aes Sedai are regarded as unnatural, terrifying witches in the country is yet another take on the very real practice of pulling powerful women down – the constant desire to explain away powerful women by turning them into evil is a theme that’s repeated not only here but in the real world as well. For me, this aspect made the book even more interesting, but didn’t really lessen the fact that it genuinely is the women who can protect the men. There are a lot of complex dynamics going on here and I’m looking forward to exploring them as I continue with the series.
The other thing I noticed was that the book is very clearly a first book. There are many little flaws in it that annoyed me; people keep doing the same actions over and over again. Nynaeve chews her braid, for example, while others are always chewing their lips, people blush more often than they ever would in real life, the characters are always throwing their heads back and laughing, and the descriptions of clothes never really flowed properly. It is a great story, and immediately absorbing, but it is not the world’s best written book.
All of that said, of course, I could so easily see what pulled me and so many others into this story. I doubt this is the last time I’ll read this book. My husband decided to read it first and immediately tried to get me to read it because there was so much to discuss, then he immediately moved on to the next book (which he is still reading now). Obviously, The Eye of the World is still very appealing, more than 20 years after its first publication date. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series, now.