Now, back to the Wheel of Time.
(Content: gender essentialism. Fun content: how excited are you about blatant theft from random cultures, languages, and mythologies? No? What about Mallory Ortberg?)
The Eye of the World: p. 1--31
Chapter 1: An Empty Road
There's a lot of advice out there about how to start your book: with action, with things happening, with decisions being made, with whatever the real inciting event is. Famously, fantasy novels are bad at this, spending endless quantities of time meandering about with farm chores and pub crawls to be more like Lord of the Rings before they get around to the plot. I am unsurprised that EOTW is a great example of the latter.
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long 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, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.Nice for them as likes it, I guess.
Our Hero, Rand al'Thor (and his dad) are walking down the Quarry Road that I thought was a river but in fact just ends at the start of a river, feeling uncomfortable in his wet cloak on a blustery day, other hand on his bow in case of wolves. Summarising the first three pages: wind, trees, foresty, cold, Dad al'Thor is a tough salt-of-the-earth man, Mom al'Thor is long dead (although it's preemptive, I'm still going to call that Fridged Women Tally: 2). Four pages in, Rand sees a mysterious black rider on a black horse on the road behind them, who has disappeared by the time Rand points him out to dad. They agree they need to go smoke and booze in a warm house, and dad suggests Rand wants to see Egwene, the mayor's daughter, though Rand silently disagrees because she makes him feel funny in his bathing suit area without even meaning to.
He we hoping his father had not noticed he was afraid when Tam said, "Remember the flame, lad, and the void."
It was an odd thing Tam had taught him. Concentrate on a single flame and feed all your passions into it--fear, hate, anger--until your mind became empty. Become one with the void, Tam said, and you could do anything. Nobody else in Emond's Field talked that way. But Tam had won the archery competition at Bel Tine every year with his flame and his void.Now we've got this randomly introduced pseudo-zen thing from Tam, but also an obvious reference to Beltane, so evidence continues to lean towards this story randomly hodgepodging cool things from various cultures however Robert Jordan whims. Is there an actual reason this farmer dude is a zen archer? I'm hoping so, but I'm also worried it's going to be terrible.
They arrive in Emond's Field, where the heads of houses are called "goodmen" and "goodwives" and gender roles are enforced by cosmic law.
Whether or not leaves had appeared on the trees, no woman would let Bel Tine come before her spring cleaning was done. [....] On roof after roof the goodman of the house clamebered about, checking the thatch to see if the winter's damage meant calling on old Cenn Buie, the thatcher.I feel like I'm in the medieval fantasy version of Pepperidge Farm, except that would probably be more like Mallory Ortberg's Letters from Chris Kimball, which are masterpieces of sothothic horror. Someone named Wit Congar stops the al'Thors to complain about the Wisdom of Emond's Field, Nynaeve, who is apparently a person and chosen by women. She apparently badly mispredicted the severity of the last winter, and Wit wants the Village Council to overrule the Women's Circle, but he gets called out by his wife Daise, "twice as wide as Wit, a hard-faced woman without an ounce of fat on her", so as we can see when people don't conform to their expected gender positions they are whiners and nags. The al'Thors book it before Daise notices them, because they are both single men and therefore the women of Emond's Field would like nothing more than to set Tam (and now Rand) with a widowed friend or someone's daughter. Rand is much too stubborn to allow himself to be set up with any farmgirl he likes, or something.
I'm skipping a lot of description of the layout of the grounds and of Pepperidge-Farm-remembers type narrative, like the Pole (obviously a maypole): "No one knew when the custom began or why--it was another thing that was the way it had always been--but it was an excuse to sing and dance, and nobody in the Two Rivers needed much excuse but that." ITS FOLKSY, GOT IT? DO YOU GET IT?
They're also very excited about the prospect of fireworks for the first time in a decade.
The al'Thors arrive at the al'Veres' place, home of the mayor/innkeeper, and they all talk grumpily about the weather and the prospect of next winter never ending and everyone freezing to death, et cetera. Rand instead talks with his buddy Mat, who plans to set an old badger loose in town to scare the girls, but by sheer coincidence he also immediately brings up that he recently saw "a man in a black cloak, on a black horse [...] and his cloak doesn't move in the wind" , just as Rand did, and then he vanished as soon as Mat looked away.
"I actually thought--just for a minute, mind--it might be the Dark One." He tried another laugh, but no sound at all came out this time.
Rand took a deep breath. As much to remind himself as for any other reason, he said by rote, "The Dark One and all of the Forsaken are bound in Shayol Ghul,beyond the Great Blight, bound by the Creator at the moment of Creation, bound until the end of time. The hand of the Creator shelters the world, and the Light shines on us all."Well, that's one way of getting exposition out of the way. Just so we're clear on this, that's Shayol as in the Hebrew Sheol, and Ghul as in demon. Jordan must have spent at least half an hour creating his mythology.
Mat gets roped into helping unload the booze from the cart, with the promise of then getting to go see the visiting gleeman, who is apparently made of awesome.
To have one there actually during Bel Tine, with his harp and his flute and his stories and all... Emond's Field would still be talking about this Festival ten years off, even if there were not any fireworks.I'm going to assume that 'gleeman' is a euphemism for 'marijuana dealer'. Nothing much else happens for the rest of the chapter as far as I can tell, beyond talking about how much people will be excited and how much the fireworks cost.
Chapter Two: Strangers
The Village Council (which appears to be all men--please tell me that the neutrally-named council isn't the male counterpart to the Women's Circle, please please please) are gathering in the mayor's home, looking grim and smoking and suchlike. The mayor's wife arrives with food, of course, and Rand likes her because she doesn't try to set his dad up with anyone.
Toward Rand her motherliness extended to warm smiles and a quick snack whenever he came by the inn, but she did as much for every young man in the area. If she occasionally looked at him as if she wanted to do more, at least she took it no further than looks, for which he was deeply grateful.The mayor's wife wants to jump our teenage hero, but she only gawks, so he's grateful for the relative lack of inappropriate actions. Le sigh. That is not how gratitude is supposed to work. I suppose/hope Jordan just means grateful in the sense of glad, but the connotation is not the same. Rand and Mat finish hauling in the booze kegs and meet a younger boy, Ewin, who tells them all about the strangers in town. Not the black rider:
"And his cloak is green. Or maybe gray. It changes. It seems to fade into wherever he's standing. Sometimes you don't see him even when you look right at him, not unless he moves. And hers is blue, like the sky, and ten times fancier than any feastday clothes I ever saw. She's ten times prettier than anybody I ever saw, too."I'm kind of charmed by the way everyone in this book at the same time has no familiarity with magic but are constantly like 'Did you see someone teleporting on the road today?' 'Yeah, and the dude in the inn can turn invisible!' It's almost like magic realism, minus the realism. Also, while the dudes thus far have been characterised with their skills, their philosophies, their senses of humour, their jobs, all that jazz, all of the women have been characterised based on their interactions with men and/or their physical attractiveness. That's a lot less charming.
Oh, wait, no, we play Six Degrees of Bechdel Separation, because Rand hears from Ewin who overheard the visiting lady Moiraine talking to the village Wisdom, Nynaeve, who got all huffy because Moiraine called her "child" while asking for directions. She apologised upon realising she was talking to the Wisdom, and asked a bunch more respectful questions. So our two plot-relevant living women have now been characterised by their failure to get along and Nynaeve's uncontrolled temper.
Outside, Rand gets another unpleasant feeling of being watched, which apparently comes from a raven on the roof of the inn. He and Mat both whip stones at it, but it sidesteps them, and then takes off when Moiraine appears and calls it "A vile bird [...] to be mistrusted in the best of times." Harsh, gal. #notallravens
Moiraine is indeed the tiny woman from the cover, only as tall as Rand's chest, young but "there was a maturity about her large, dark eyes, a hint of knowing that no one could have gotten young". Her clothes and jewelry get a half-page of dedicated description. They all trip over their tongues introducing themselves, and Moiraine explains that she's a historian, come to Two Rivers as "a collector of old stories". There's some rambling chatter about the Wheel of Time and the Great Pattern and how the names for things and people change over time,and then she leaves,"appearing to glide over the ground rather than walk, her cloak spreading on either side of her like wings."
So far I have no reason to believe Rand is a more interesting protagonist than Moiraine would be.
They finally spot her bodyguard, Lan, standing by the inn, stealthy and hard-faced with a hand on his sword. Ewin guesses he's a Warder, but Mat shoots this down because Warders are 1) fictional and 2) covered in gold and jewels and spend all their time slaying monsters in the Great Blight up north, which... look, are they real or not? If your case is 'that's not real', maybe just stick with that, rather than adding the details of the not-real thing you're saying doesn't exist?
Moiraine hired them all as assistants while in town, and pressed a silver coin on each of them that Rand estimates is worth a good horse. They each agree that it seems like it would be wrong to spend it, and will keep it as their bond with Moiraine, and then they see a huge eight-horse wagon rolling into town, the peddler.
It was going to be the best Bel Tine ever.Christmas is going to be ruined and I'm legitimately looking forward to it.
So, apart from the rubbish representation of women so far, what I'm noticing is mostly that if I had actual affection for this story, instead of the cold stony husk that is my unbeating heart, I could imagine finding this crawlingly slow opening rather relaxing, the kind of thing that I would look forward to rereading on days when I just wanted something soothing and familiar to dwell in, the literary equivalent of petting a cat. However, it should probably be noted that I recently started some really great antidepressants and I find damn near everything soothing compared to how I felt a month ago, so maybe I'm not the most unbiased opinion on such matters.