Earlier this summer, Jackie @ Death by Tsundoku and I decided to buddy read the first book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series, The Eye of the World. It was a reread for both of us, but it had been a long time since either one of us read it. We kept up an ongoing conversation as we read. It grew to be a long conversation, so instead of posting it as one giant chunk, we split it into three parts and will be posting it in three parts today and for the next two Wednesdays.
My own history with The Wheel of Time had its ups and downs. I started reading it in August 2001 at the urging of my then-boyfriend, who adored the series. I read the first three books in a few days each, and I thought they were fantastic. My boyfriend, another friend, and I couldn’t stop chattering on and on about the books as we walked to class, and everything was fantastic.
The next few books took a little longer to read. This was partly due to classwork, which I had a lot of, but part of it was because of the books themselves. For me, the pace slowed down, events were drawn out far longer than necessary, there were too many points of view, and there was too much repetition of phrases and character tics. If I had a dollar for every time Nynaeve tugged at her braid, I could have paid my tuition that semester. By the time I reached book nine, Winter’s Heart, I was thoroughly fed up with the series and decided not to read the rest of the books when they came out.
And yet… Here we are. It’s been nearly eighteen years since I picked up a Robert Jordan book, but thanks to endless praise from a few of the BookTube channels I watch most, I decided to give the series another try. I’m older, a bit wiser, and I will undoubtedly view things differently from the way I did then. When Jackie and I got to chatting about books, we decided to buddy read The Eye of the World and record the conversation we had as we made our way through the book.
The Influence of Tolkien in The Eye of the World
Kim: I’m on page 67. I keep hearing that, especially in book one, Jordan took a lot of cues from Tolkien. So far I don’t see it. The main similarities I see are that both Emonds Field/Two Rivers and Hobbiton are small towns preparing for a celebration. Am I missing something?
Jackie: WOW! You do read more quickly than I do! I only just finished ‘Gleeman’. I agree that small towns are preparing for a celebration. I also see the contrary nature of the women vs men in Two Rivers; most particularly in Nynaeve, the Coplins and the Congars. Everyone is in everyone else’s business and thinks the other people are doing it wrong. Rand is similar to Frodo in not understanding why anyone would want to leave The Shire, I mean, Two Rivers. I also see parallels with Mat to Merry and Pippin and Perrin to Sam. Mat wants to release a badger in the village green to scare the girls while Perrin wants to wait until they are sure before talking to the Mayor about the cloaked figure. And, finally. The cloaked figure reminds me of the Nazgul. Just, conceptually, with the creepy nature and the darkness and the like. I mean, we haven’t even gotten to the Orcs, uh, Trollocs, yet…
…okay, yeah, now that I think about it deeply, I see a lot of parallels. But I had to *think* about it. Thus far, Jordan isn’t overt. I like that. Plus, I know more influences are coming further in the novel.
Kim: I’m farther along now, and definitely seeing Tolkien parallels. The shrouded figures chasing them, the wise magician (Moiraine/Gandalf), having to leave home to keep the rest of the people in Two Rivers/the Shire safe. Baerlon seems a lot like Bree, with the inn where they find brief refuge and a helpful innkeeper. There are times where it feels like a beat for beat imitation of The Fellowship of the Ring, but I’ve heard from WoT fans that Jordan wrote it that way on purpose, to sort of start with something familiar, and then take it in an entirely different direction.
Jackie: Agreed – the further I read the more parallels I see. Now it’s a bit of a fun game I’m playing with myself: How many parallels can I find in each chapter?
With Jordan’s writing, no words are wasted. It’s clear to me that Jordan knows exactly what will happen in this novel. He knows where each character is going and (mostly) how they will get there. Every word feels intentional. Pair this writing with his parallels to The Fellowship of the Ring and it’s obvious to me this would become a fantasy bestseller.
Kim: Definitely. The story flies along at this stage. Whenever I look up from reading, I’m always startled to see how far along I’ve gotten. There is a lot of detail, too, so it’s not like Jordan is just sketching out concepts. The story is richly drawn and full of imagery. I like how there are ruins from earlier times, and the current people only have faint stories about their origins (that’s another Tolkien throwback if you want to make it that way).
Jackie: I hadn’t noticed the Tolkien throwback about people not knowing their origins and why that matters. But I did notice that there are tons of rumors and misinformation which inform the actions of our characters. There are so many legends and so many myths that have been shared over the years and diluted. I love that debunking these myths, that sifting truth from fiction, is such a core part of the beginning of this book. Are you familiar with the All Myths Are True trope? I appreciate that this doesn’t hold in The Wheel of Time. Yes, some of the things said about Trollocs, Myrddraal, Aes Sedai, and Warders are true– but not most. Watching the Two Rivers folk try to sort out the horror stories of their youth which they believed to be fiction always makes me smile.
Kim: The main Tolkien influence I saw there was the idea of the previous age being greater and more magical. The people were more heroic. Buildings and cities were bigger and more impressive. But as the ages of the world progress, things and people diminish. It’s not a literary idea that was around much until Tolkien came along, and now it’s in a lot of fantasy. Plus, the giant statues of ancient heroes along the river mimic the Argonath in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Jackie: Yes! The idea that the future diminishes is very Tolkien. And it parallels to the legends and myths gaining so much credibility in the world Rand and his Fellowship live in. This makes me realize The Age of Legends from The Wheel of Time parallels the fall Numenor in The Lord of the Rings, for sure. But Jordan reaches places with his mythos Tolkien did not.
Where Tolkien’s work reached back infinitely, I appreciate the Jordan calls out the cyclical nature of his mythos. Yes, Tolkien’s characters learned from and drew from the ages that had come before, or, at least as well as they could with the bits that remained. Jordan’s characters, however, are caught in a trap that very few truly understand. The reader and some rare few characters understand that the same events will happen again in this Age – the Dark One will be broken free by his followers, the Dragon will be reborn in the time of the world’s greatest need, but to imprison the Dark One again the Breaking of the World must occur. I won’t pretend to know anything about Jordan’s religious beliefs, but Tolkien’s mythos feels distinctly based in the mythologies and concepts of time which stem from Europe – Pagans, Romans, Greeks, and other common folklores. Jordan’s idea of cyclical time feels more Eastern – Buddhist, Shinto and the like.
Kim: The cyclical nature of Jordan’s world does have an Eastern feel to it, but I think the mythos, especially later on with the Forsaken, has distinct roots in Western lore. There are unsubtle Arthurian references, and several of the Forsaken have names rooted in Judeo-Christian lore. One of the names for the Dark One, Shaitan, comes directly from Arabic lore. These direct references annoyed me the first time through, but I think they would bother me less now. Though, I could wish Jordan had been less heavy-handed with his references. Still, it adds a layer of meaning to his world that sometimes lacks a deeper meaning for me.
Jackie: As I keep reading The Wheel of Time I’ll definitely be looking for more of these references. Tolkien’s subtlety is sometimes lost on me, and only by reading more in-depth studies of his works can I finally see the magic and intricacies of he was doing in The Lords of the Rings. Sometimes, it’s nice to have overt references thrust in my face and not work so hard.