Monday, November 21, 2022

Origins of The Wheel of Time Book Chat

November 15
th (which was this past Tuesday) marks a full year since I finished and closed my reading of the final book in The Wheel of Times series, A Memory of Light. Still remember that day. Still remember when I began reading the series in 2019. Still remember many of my high points and low points. And frankly I still miss reading the books, however exhausting the journey had been. So, naturally, seeing a WOT-ish book coming out earlier this month, there was no question I was going to grab it. To my bookstore I went to grab a copy of Origins of The Wheel of Time by Michael Livingston. 

Now the thing is that I don't have a "galaxy brain" when it comes to all the ins and outs and machinations of The Wheel of Time, in both the intricacy of the overall story as well as the fandom. So, no, I'm not gripping the deeper threads of details. I'm not chewing on theories and conspiracies related to WOT's all encompassing being. Heck, I don't even have a connoisseurship when it comes to reading and critiquing fantasy novels in general. But this book was great for me as well, because of my casual interest. I mainly had an interest in Jordan's writing style, choices, and the string of ideas implemented in The Wheel of Time books themselves. I do love taking the opportunity to learn something from an author as is.

Nonetheless, I wanted to share a few of my takeaways from indulging in this book. First, my interest lay primarily in the first half of the book where the author focused on relaying Robert Jordan's (or his actual name James Oliver Rigney, Jr.) beginnings as a child up until adulthood and his ultimate passing before the series was completed. It's always cool to relate how an author's life experiences translates into their fictional world; here, Jordan had a plethora of life experiences he could somehow fashion and relay into The Wheel of Time. Nevertheless, though I've heard the story, I was particularly interested in how The Wheel of Time came about from its original conception, the timeframe in which Jordan mulled over it before writing, the subsequent publications of the books, and his final days in maintaining his work for afterwards. All of these are shared within this book. Shoot, for a moment I felt as if I were reading a memoir. Nevertheless, I appreciated this portion of the book because it made me feel closer to Jordan and The Wheel of Time.

(Side story here. The Wheel of Time was actually introduced to my reading life after Jordan's death in 2007, despite my having started reading the books twelve years later. At the time, I was working at a Borders in Atlanta. After the news of his death, several of the staff members were broken. I specifically remember one assistant manager at her desk bawling her eyes out. I was bemused, but aware at how the expressed gravity of the situation was how The Wheel of Time would never be finished now. Anyway, of course the books were suddenly flying off the shelves, so I grew increasingly curious.

However, at the time, I had just discovered the urban fantasy genre and was reading Kim Harrison and Laurell K. Hamilton books. So I was completely unsure about if I wanted to engage with The Wheel of Time after witnessing all the depression surrounding me at work. But it was that same tearful assistant manger who walked me to the shelves and handed me The Eye of the World. I was utterly intimidated by it and instead grabbed Zombie Lover by Piers Anthony (which was awful) to sort of situate my seed of interest. Then I clocked out and went to Six Flags never to have given The Eye of the World a try until over a decade later.)

Another glowing piece of insight in the book is how Jordan borrowed/sampled and constructed many of the names of his characters as well as the various cities and landscapes seen within The Wheel of Time from real and fictional materials. I think it's kind of pretty much obvious and expected for fantasy authors to borrow heavily from various cultures, mythologies, and classic text as is. However, specifically locating how Jordan framed characters (such as my favorites Rand, Moiraine and Nynaeve) and settings was great. Unveiling the original conventional fantasy classics sources, plans and plots for his characters was eye-opening. Yet, if you're familiar with the classics he sampled from (such as Beowulf) the connection can be apparent if you happen to spot them during the reading of the series.

I wasn't that great at this during my reading of the series, at least any further than surface recognitions.

Nonetheless, one trail of Moiraine and Nynaeve's original conceptualized animus did kind of surfaced in the first book in the series (at least for Nynaeve) per the origin material that crafted the two to begin with. Even some plot threads featured in Moiraine's story did arrive in the series, except underneath different circumstances however it was drawn from origin source sampling. So much of the characters' origins and original narratives being unveiled then matched with their eventual designs within the books was fascinating to me. I was impressed by the well of dedication Jordan put into his work. And I mean layers upon layers of context driven into each individual aspect of The Wheel of Time. To me, it's comparable to the deep dive stuff I've gotten out of Naoko Takeuchi's work where even the simplest of a character's outfit color or attitude is linked to something much more grander and intentional.

Though I couldn't get too much into the "crafting a language" parts of the book, I did enjoy the split and correlation drawn from Tolkien’s work to Jordan's. I remember when I first started reading WOT when a lot of long-time fans of the work would tell me the first three books were Tolkien-ish. It was at book four, The Shadow Rising, where Jordan really bloomed the series into his own. This notion was reciprocated in Origins of The Wheel of Time, and now it's up to me to read Tolkien’s work beyond The Hobbit to sort of fill in the gaps. So I have some work to do on this part. However, even reading about the comparisons and striking differences and impacts both authors made within literature alone begged for a book within itself.

Anyway, there are numerous other nuggets and insights in this book that I also enjoyed. There's even a glossary that provides brief but in-depth snapshots of information from characters, places, and artifacts seen in The Wheel of Time. And not by a simple definition of what they are, but by where these things came from in the overall conceptualization of the series. Heck, some unique words and such within the series even have a blemish of anagram properties to them.

So, as I’ve stated, I don’t have a galaxy brain when it comes to The Wheel of Time. However, for the areas I am curious about knowing and understanding, I appreciate finding some of those answers in this book. While learning a host of other things that I would have never seen underneath the final work provided by The Wheel of Time series.

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