Still a favorite, after all these years

The Eye of the World - Robert Jordan
Long, long ago – while I was manning a pharmacy cash register on my first job, so long ago that cigarettes were about $10 a carton and candy bars were a quarter and some newspapers were a dime and I really shouldn’t be dating myself like this … that long ago, I happened to look at the tiny rack of paperbacks the store boasted, and saw a big fat book with a Darrell K. Sweet cover. Especially when younger I always gravitated toward chunksters, and especially chunkster fantasies, so I pounced, and unwittingly started out on a journey which, some 24 years later, had still yet to end, for me at least.

I loved it. I loved it to pieces (literally; the covers on paperback chunksters don’t tend to fare well). And whatever happened with the rest of the series, whatever my impatience or frustration or other brand of aggravation, I still love it. I’ve read EotW several times, since my tendency is to start over at the beginning every time a new book comes out in a series, and it has held up. I am still impressed by the skill with which a huge story is handled, how characters are introduced and kept individual and distinct in the reader’s mind, how cultures are kept individual and distinct, and with the tantalizing glimpses at the distant past. I love the story of Rand al’Thor, the ordinary country boy who discovers he is far from ordinary, and who has to deal with the million ramifications of what he actually is. Whatever else I may – will – say about Robert Jordan and the Wheel of Time series, I will never detract from the sheer brilliance of the concept and of its initial execution.

I am not quite sure what prompted me to embark on this journey when I did last year – partly, I think, exhaustion at having so much of my reading dictated by Netgalley and suchlike. I picked up book one at the beginning of the year, and made my way – ploughing, at times – through the series over the next nine months, with only a handful of side-trips. This played merry hell with my reading challenge for the year – at one point I was about 40 books behind. There were a lot of factors in that … but probably the biggest one was that Robert Jordan never did “short”. Or “succinct”.

So, back at the beginning of 2014, I read Eye of the World for – what, the tenth time in 24 years? And it has held up. It was the first reread in many years (ten?), which had the added benefit of letting me forget a lot while still being extremely familiar with plot and characters. My overall impression? Despite the very first Nynaeve braid tug, and the very first Nynaeve sniff (if you don’t know what I mean, stay tuned for reviews of the succeeding books) … Yes. Yes, this is why I kept going with the series despite all the hurdles, despite the deterioration in later years, despite the huge chunks of time and chunks of pages involved. Because there, in that first book, the characters – all shiny and new, young and innocent – are well drawn. Because the settings are vivid without being a distraction. Because the world-building is in my opinion nothing less than spectacular. Because it’s still just plain exciting: can Moiraine and Lan be trusted? Can anyone? Holy crap, those Trollocs are scary – and despite quite a few similarities to Nazgul the Myrddraal make them look like fuzzy puppies. EotW still ranks high in the genre for me.

The rest … varies. Wildly.