This essay will feature spoilers for the entire series. I will make several requests of you. First, if you have not read The Wheel of Time but plan on doing so, then please stop reading now and do not come back until you have finished the series. Second, if you have not read The Wheel of Time and do not plan on doing so, then go ahead and keep reading. However, if you find yourself at any point of this essay convinced to try the series out, then stop reading the moment you have been convinced. If not, then I encourage you to keep reading this essay until the end in the hopes that maybe the essay as a whole will convince you. Third, if you are in the midst of reading the series, then stop reading now and go back to whatever book you were on. You have been warned.
New Summer: The Introduction
- It was about a journey and a destination
- It was about a cast who eventually felt like family
- It was about a place as alive and ever-changing as any character
- It was about Bayle Domon
- It was about the moments where nothing much happened
- It was about the climaxes
- It was about the Hail Marys
- It was about the road trips
- It was about people who care
- It was about a woman who would not bend her back while she was beaten, and who shown with a light for all who watched
- It was about mystery
- It was about danger
- It was about a beginning
- It was about an ending
New Summer: The Introduction
One summer, near the beginning of my career as an undergraduate student at university, I was walking through a bookstore with my family. We were planning a trip, I was looking for a good book to read, and my interests guided me to the fantasy section. It was there that I saw the cover of the mass-market paperback brick that was the first book of The Wheel of Time; The Eye of The World. The classic style cover art by Mr. Sweet captured my attention, and I knew immediately that this book was probably something special. I don’t even like Mr. Sweet’s art that much to be honest, but there was something about it that felt… quintessential fantasy.
I had never heard of the series, so I picked it up on a whim. When I saw on the back of the book that there were thirteen more paperback bricks in this series, I thought to myself, “there’s no way I’m ever going to read this all”. How wrong I was. This purchase kick-started a one-year journey through fourteen books, a journey that I knew would be something I would never forget, a journey that would stick with me, and an ending more perfect than any other I have seen. I fell in love with The Wheel of Time. It is quite possibly my favorite story of all time.
Do I think it’s perfect? No. Far from it in fact. I have a great many grievances with this series, but this essay is not about my grievances. This essay is about the things I love about The Wheel of Time.
What do I love about The Wheel of Time? Is it the characters? The setting? The plot? Sure, it is all of those things, but I want to get more specific than those broad and simplistic categories. My love for this series is a story in and of itself. It can be described, summarized, and analyzed. So here is a better question. What was my love for The Wheel of Time about?
1. It was about a journey and a destination
The Wheel of Time, written by Robert Jordan and then later finished by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s death, is a fourteen book fantasy epic that is both the embodiment of the hero’s journey, and at the same time a subversion of it.
It is a story about a young man, Rand al’Thor, who is chosen by some higher power and given a destiny that he must fulfill. That destiny being to sacrifice himself in order to defeat a great evil being known as the Dark One. Going by this description alone it sounds like standard fantasy fare, yet it is so much more at the same time.
The Wheel of Time is also the story of a man who gets beaten, broken, and traumatized, but who is able to stand up against his demons through the help of the people around him. It’s a story about overcoming all kinds of adversity, about not letting anything keep you down.
Yes Rand al’Thor is the chosen one, but unlike so many other “chosen one” stories The Wheel of Time examines how placing such a burden on someone affects them. It is a story about real people with real reactions to the terrible things that are done to them. The journey of the Wheel of Time is not just about characters preparing themselves to take down the evil God at the end of the series, instead the journey is watching each of the characters overcome adversity, make difficult decisions, and reckon with doing the wrong thing. The characters are extremely fallible, and no one represents this more than the primary protagonist Rand al’Thor.
Rand begins the series as an innocent and naive farm boy with little to no worldly experience. This innocence is Rand’s downfall. As the series progresses and Rand ventures out into the world against his will, he is continuously beaten down, and he has absolutely no way of defending himself. In Book One, The Eye of The World, Rand learns that he can channel a force called the One Power. However, because the half of the One Power only men are able to access, Saidin, is tainted he will eventually go mad. Once he has fully lost his mind, he will then lose control of his power and potentially kill everyone around him.
This fate is inescapable, and it looms over Rand for much of the series. Rand is faced with the existential question: “does anything I do matter if nothing can be done to change my fate?” Rand knows from a very early on that he will die soon, and that he may also hurt those close to him. Watching Rand struggle with this existential crisis, as well as all of his friends try their best to help him is what the journey of The Wheel of Time is really about.
The characters learn the hard way that just because the end of the world may be approaching soon that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try their hardest to make the world a better place. And so all of Rand’s friends over the course of the series spend their time holding together the pieces of the world. Through example Rand sees that even if your fate is inescapable, even if you’ll die tomorrow, what you do today still matters.
The destination of The Wheel of Time is just as important as the journey. The destination at the end of the series is the moment when we finally get to see all of the characters come into their own and show that no matter what happens they will try their hardest. We finally see Rand beat his inner demons and overcome adversity. We see him stand tall in the face of imminent death, and the journey is made retroactively so much sweeter.
A huge part of why this series is important to me is because it is a story about ordinary people not letting the hardships of life break them, no matter how dire things seem. This message resonates with me on a very personal level, and I still look to it as an example so long after I finished reading this series. I, like the characters, will try my hardest to never let life break me down no matter what it throws at me, and it has thrown a lot at me over this past year. That is part of why I chose to write this essay now. The message of The Wheel of Time has never been more relevant in my life.
2. It was about a cast who eventually felt like family
The Wheel of Time is four and a half million words long. That length is absurd. For context that is about three-hundred and forty-six times the length of this essay. You spend all those words with the same cast of characters. The result is that this cast ends up being as familiar and recognizable as your own family.
Many stories have characters that you learn to love almost like family, but what sets The Wheel of Time apart is how author Robert Jordan uses his page count. It is only through the series’ sheer length that the character development and relationships are fleshed out to an incredible magnitude. It is a difficult feeling to describe to someone who has not experienced it, but by the time you are reading Book Nine and beyond, you are so intimately familiar with each of the series protagonists that you gain the confidence that you would be able to do them justice were you to write them yourself. I know exactly how Nynaeve would react if she were made to wait in line for two hours at Disney World, or how Rand would react if he had to quarantine for two weeks during a pandemic, or how Perrin would react if he found someone pulled over to the side of the road with a flat tire.
There are plenty of other stories that have this phenomenon of developing an almost familial bond with the main cast of characters, but what sets The Wheel of Time apart from the rest is the amount of characters it accomplishes this with. This is how Jordan uses his page count to its fullest. Rather than just giving us a ridiculous amount of time with a few main characters, we get to spend a lot of extra time with side characters, time that most other stories can’t afford.
Over the course of the series the six protagonists of The Wheel of Time, Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne, all end up separating from each other and walking their own path through the story. Rand begins to divert from the rest when he first travels to the Aiel Waste in Book Four, The Shadow Rising. From then on Rand begins to collect more and more new and old characters around him; characters who will stay by his side for the majority of the series. Characters like Rhuarc, Cadsuane, Bashere, Min, just to name a few. What this means is that Rand develops a cast of his own dedicated to his character.
This dedicated cast does two things. The first is that all these characters exist to serve and build up Rand’s character arc over the course of the series, providing him with important moments and opportunities for character development as well as reacting to the things he says and does. This allows Rand room to breathe separate from the other five protagonists giving him the space he needs to grow.
The second thing the dedicated cast does is it gives an important place in the plot for many side characters to shine. There are so many characters who are part of Rand’s own personal cast, and because they are contextualized in the story as being integral to Rand’s character arc, they are given a place to influence and be involved in many of the most important events in the story without having to fight for attention. In this the dedicated cast is a symbiotic relationship. Rand’s arc is propped up by having so many characters dedicated to his development, and in turn those side characters are given a chance to be important.
This phenomenon is not exclusive to Rand either. Perrin, Mat, Egwene, and Elayne each build their own dedicated casts with the exception of Nynaeve who spends her time bouncing between all the characters. This means that for much of the series there are five large casts each being fleshed out in this manner.
The end result is that we are left with a massive cast that has been thoroughly fleshed out. The reader ends up knowing hundreds of characters like the back of their hand, not just a handful. So when asked the question, “what sets the familial bond the reader feels for the characters in The Wheel of Time apart from other works with a similar phenomenon?” The answer is that the cast is not just a family, but a huge family.
3. It was about a place as alive and ever-changing as any character
One character who should be talked about and analyzed before any other is a character who, as far as the actual text of the series is concerned, has no actual name. Despite this, the character is the most prevalent in The Wheel of Time, and is involved in every single plot-line in the series. Fans have taken it upon themselves to dub this character “Randland.”
Randland, or the continent upon which The Wheel of Time takes place, is more than just a setting or a backdrop for the events of this series. It is a character with an arc, a past, a future, and relationships with the people who tread upon it.
Like any character, Randland is introduced to us with just a surface level impression. The Eye of The World starts the series by showing just a slice of this large continent, mostly just in the Queendom of Andor. We come into this world through the perspective of five youths who barely understand the world they live in beyond the superficial level of understanding that one has when they first meet a new person. With them we travel across Randland, and mile by mile, city by city, nation by nation Randland reveals themselves, both to the characters and to the readers, in a way that feels similar to learning more and more about someone whom you have a relationship with.
But before I get too ahead of myself, let me talk about my experience coming to know this world. In The Eye of The World, the world seemed to me to be a very basic and straightforward medieval fantasy setting, and in a lot of ways that assessment would prove to be accurate in the long run. Yet at the same time this world is also so much more complex than I first made it out to be. As I moved on from the first three books, I found that they had only been something of a tutorial on Randland and the story at large. I got the sense that the “Prologue” of The Wheel of Time had only just ended, and that now I could move on to engaging with the real stuff.
Randland is introduced first through broad strokes, explaining the most clear cut and obvious things about the world, from the nations, to the Aes Sedai, to the Ajahs, to the Aiel, to the Darkfriends and the Forsaken. Once the surface is established, it then spends the back eleven books diving as far as it can into each of these categories showing just how deeply they have taken root in Randland’s soil.
The Wheel of Time has over two-thousand named characters, and each one helps give some insight into a culture or group. There are dozens of factions who all want something different and each one will go to great lengths to get it. In this way Randland almost feels like a stage set for a battle royale. But what really sets this world apart is not how deep the world building goes, it isn’t how intimately familiar the reader becomes with each of the world’s cultures, nor is it how interconnected everything is.
What personifies this world is how the world changes over time. The world of The Wheel of Time is intricate, but it is also unstable and ever-changing. Established norms in this world are challenged, social structures are torn down, nations are swallowed, cultures are forced to change and evolve, and things the people accepted as truth and reality in the beginning of the series have been completely turned on their heads by the end. No matter how intimately familiar one is with the world they can never truly describe it in a matter of fact way, because the world at the end of the series is unrecognizable from the state it was in when the series started, just like the series protagonists.
This does not mean there are two different versions of Randland, a before and an after, there is only one version, a during. The changing nature of the world means world-building has no objective truth. Altara in particular changes drastically over the course of the series, but we see this change occur over a long period of time. The place it is when they first arrive in Salidar in Book Five is different from how it is in Book Six, which is different from how it is in books seven, nine, eleven, and so on.
This lack of objectiveness about the world makes it feel fluid. What’s more is that the reader is led to believe that this impermanence will continue into the future of the series past the ending. The world will not stay as it is.
This is achieved through the relationship Randland has with the characters of the series. The characters in The Wheel of Time make waves constantly, and these waves change the socio-political landscape of Randland. One of the best examples of this in the series is Rand’s conquest. Over the course of the series cities fall into states of disrepair, whether it’s from the Forsaken, evil immortals and leaders of the shadow, pulling the strings, or external forces such as the Shaido Aiel armies. Rand steps in to liberate each of these cities from these threats, each time through military force, and taking multiple nations under his banner. Nations who, prior to the events of the series, were always separate entities that were consistently at odds were now all working together and ruled by the same man. Then, before long, Rand loses control over each of these nations, each gaining sovereignty, and two actually being gobbled up by Elayne.
The characters’ effect on the world is profound, and with their motivations and the influence they have by the end of the series it is clear that the state we left the world in will not persist for long. The world will continue in an endless cycle of change.
4. It was about Bayle Domon
Before I can even begin to talk about the more important players in The Wheel of Time, we must first talk about Bayle Domon. Bayle Domon is a man who captains a cargo delivery ship. He is a minor character, one who does not have significant importance to our series protagonists. Yet Bayle Domon is also a symbol. He is the poster child for a type of character in the Wheel of Time.
Minor characters in The Wheel of Time are substantial, as I have mentioned earlier, but they deserve a more careful examination. Bayle Domon is the perfect example of a minor character with a significant role who ends up being important to the plot, and he is far from the only one.
Every story in existence has what I would like to call ‘Character Importance Tiers’. What these tiers represent is the level of importance these characters carry in the plot. For example, our six series protagonists would constitute the “first” or “highest” tier of the cast of The Wheel of Time, because they are the most important characters to the plot. These tiers continue in descending order of importance, each tier getting more densely populated than the last, as The Wheel of Time has over two-thousand characters and they can’t all be important.
The tier in which Bayle Domon belongs to exists just below the top and far from the bottom. It is in my opinion, the most intriguing tier in The Wheel of Time. It is a tier filled with minor characters. In any other story this tier would be a relatively small one as it is closer to the top of the list. It is the first tier after what I consider to be the most important tiers filled with all the main characters and their immediate friends. Yet this tier, which I will dub the “Bayle Domon Tier” or the BD Tier for short, is monstrously large. Of the two-thousand characters, a very significant number of them fall into this tier.
These minor characters provide a base for the main characters to stand on, propping them up, and nearly every member takes a significant role in the plot. That is part of why this tier is so special. Bayle Domon illustrates this well.
Bayle Domon is a character who is introduced as an inconsequential nobody who hangs around for a few chapters in Book One. Most readers who finish Book One for the first time would be hard pressed to even recall his name. Readers would expect to never see this character again, and yet… Bayle Domon returns. He returns in Book Two with a slightly more significant role and even some chapters from his perspective. When he returns, the reader, who has since forgotten Mr. Domon, gains a vague recollection of the time when the characters traveled aboard his ship in Book One, then say to themselves out loud while sitting on their couch, “Oh yeah! I remember this guy!” This phenomenon continues.
Bayle Domon returns again and again after parting with characters, each time his role becoming more significant. He returns in Book Four with his biggest role yet, then after a long absence, returns again in Book Nine and remains present and at the side of series protagonist Matrim Cauthon for the next four books. He is present for Tarmon Gai’don, The Last Battle, in Book Fourteen. Over the course of the series he meets a woman, Egeanin (later Leilwin), and marries her. Leilwin is also a member of this tier, being present nearly every time Domon is, and having an even more significant role, ultimately becoming Egwene’s warder in The Last Battle. Domon has an arc over the course of this series. His character grows and changes, and by the end he finds himself in new circumstances. He is important to the plot and has a direct hand in major events throughout the series, and he helps to further the arcs of other characters both major and minor.
And so, it is with every other character in this tier. I will name a small number of them now. Bayle Domon, Leilwin Shipless, Morgase Trakand, Basel Gill, Lini, Dain Bornhald, Verin Mathwin, Silviana, Leliane, Romanda, Sheriam, Alana, Davram Bashere, Pevara, Androl, Olver, Satelle Anan, Jur Grady, Berelain, Gaul, Hopper, Gareth Bryne, Elyas Machera, Talmanes, Tallanvor, and many more. Almost all of these characters have near the same level of significance and importance to the plot or more than Bayle Domon has. The BD Tier is significant.
I have another detailed example of the last character in that list’s importance to the plot in this twitter thread I made a while ago. Check it out here if you’re interested: https://twitter.com/Bhrostpikman/status/1248497008060420099?s=20
Many minor characters end up feeling substantial, and this helps strengthen both the world building and my own investment in the plot. There are not just a few characters that I care about, but a massive cast, and it is so easy to love so many of these wonderful people. None of them feel forgotten or wasted. When the story cuts to their perspective it feels exciting, engaging, and rarely does it ever feel like it is taking away from the main plot or the action.
These characters are invested knee deep in the events around them, which leads them to propping up our protagonists. Most of them have some significant impact on the protagonists’ character arcs. They help them grow as people. Were I to remove any of these characters, I would feel the effects of their loss reverberate through the whole story. Mat’s dynamic with Olver ends up being such a huge part of Mat’s character, and without that we would lose out on something very special.
Building up such a stellar and extensive minor cast for the main cast to stand on is a huge part of what makes The Wheel of Time an engaging journey. The Wheel of Time respects itself. It cares about each and every one of its characters, and that in turn makes me feel justified in caring for them too.
5. It was about the moments where nothing much happened
As I said earlier, The Wheel of Time is over four-million words. What this means is that it is very difficult for the series to always be chugging along at the same pace. Instead, like a train, The Wheel of Time’s pace fluctuates greatly, from speeding along the rails, to slowing, and eventually stopping at stations. And it was these slow moments that I took for granted the most while reading through the series.
I didn’t actually realize how integral these slower sections were to my love for The Wheel of Time while I was reading it. I always wanted to get through to the next page, the next chapter, the next event, the next book, yet when I looked back after finishing the series, I found myself feeling nostalgic for those slower, quieter moments.
When The Wheel of Time slows down, it is giving us time to just enjoy these characters being themselves and hanging out. To some this may not be appealing, but to me, someone who adores these characters, the prospect of seeing Mat just hang out with his friends while traveling with a circus is enticing. It is only because this series has made me love these characters so much, that just hanging out with them is exciting.
I suppose this section could also be named “In Defense of Crossroads of Twilight”, because I’m essentially going to make a case for that book being good. I’ll say it plain: Crossroads of Twilight (CoT), or Book Ten, is my least favorite book in The Wheel of Time. It is slow, it barely moves the plot forward at all, it resolves exactly none of the ongoing plot-lines, and about half of it only happens over the course of a day. If CoT were a standalone novel, I would absolutely hate it for its slow pacing and uninteresting plot, but it isn’t a standalone novel. CoT comes ten books into a long running fantasy epic. This means that CoT has context.
Context, and context alone, is what elevates this book from being straight up bad, to being enjoyable. In Elayne’s first section of this book we see her and Aviendha doing nothing at some random person’s house away from all the action. They can sense one of the biggest events in history, the cleansing of Saidin, taking place half a continent away with Rand at the center of it. They decide to not get involved. And so, it goes with everyone else who knows this is happening. We get their reactions, which nine times out of ten amounts to the characters just going “huh,” and shrugging it off.
But none of that matters, because I’m still having fun. What is Perrin up to? I don’t particularly care what he’s up to this time, I’m just excited to hang out with his character because I have grown to adore him over nine books. So, when he spends an entire chapter just stocking up on grain for his army, I welcome the opportunity to just get inside his head. The Wheel of Time earns its moments of nothingness.
This means that while it may not be the most exciting book in the series, CoT feels earned by the time we reach it. It is a moment for the characters of the world, as well as the reader, to just take a breather and just enjoy spending time in the world of The Wheel of Time. When the series ended, I found myself longing for more moments of nothingness to cling onto. I found myself feeling nostalgic specifically for the part of the series people call the “slump”, because that’s where I spent the most time just hanging out. This isn’t something I could just get in any old series.
Some people might call moments like this “filler” with the intention of criticism. I, on the other-hand, welcome “filler.” When I love a story and its characters, filler is almost always welcome. Filler is the author indulging me. Respect to filler, and respect to Robert Jordan for giving me these quiet moments of filler.
6. It was about the climaxes
The Climax is a staple of nearly every story, but Robert Jordan seems to understand how to create an engaging climax on a level I have not seen in most other works. Almost every Wheel of Time book delivers on their climax. Indeed, there is something special to be said for the last one-hundred and fifty pages of any Wheel of Time book.
There are several factors that help make each climax standout from the rest of the book. The first, is change. Every climax in the Wheel of Time ends with something fundamental about the world changing. In Book One we see the forsaken freed and Rand awakening to his channeling, in two we see Rand accept his role as the Dragon Reborn and rebuffing the Seanchan, in three we see Rand announcing to the world that he is the Dragon and taking Tear for his own. Throughout the series kingdoms get swallowed, new orders of channelers get established, Saidin gets cleansed fundamentally changing male channelers’ place in the world, people die, people are rescued, rulers are overthrown, places are protected, places are destroyed, enemies return, enemies are extinguished, so on and so forth.
This may seem straightforward and simple, but this is crucial in understanding how these climaxes work. This leads on to the second factor, how the ending makes the reader feel. Because the fundamental dynamic is changed at the end of every book, even the slow ones, I was left wondering what will become of the world going forward. This feeling was so intense that it dug hooks into my flesh and dragged me forcibly on to the next book. The endings left me with the burning desire to know what was going to happen next.
Book Nine, Winter’s Heart, has one of the most exciting and significant climaxes in the series. The cleansing of Saidin is a moment in which we get to see nearly every major villain clash with the members of Rand’s pillar all at one location. At the same time Rand and Nynaeve are performing the most terrifying and awesome act of channeling we have seen in the entire series, using both Saidin and Saidar to squeeze the Taint from Saidin and funnel it into the abandoned city of Shadar Logoth, creating a great dome of blackness, ultimately destroying it.
This climax has a lot going on and it changes the world more than most climaxes in the series. When the reader finishes the book, they are riding a wave of adrenaline. They feel and know its significance by the time they are finished. Men being able to channel without going mad carries significant implications for the future of the series and the world. Not only that, but the reader also knows that the other characters who were not present for the cleansing will have felt it happening. They are immediately appeased in Crossroads of Twilight when the book spends a lengthy amount of time having characters around the world react to the massive amount of the One Power being used. This serves to retroactively give the event importance as the characters spend time in the following book reacting to it.
While CoT’s reaction to it is admittedly a bit overkill, this action-reaction relationship between a book and its sequel is something that permeates the whole series. This is the third factor, reaction. Each climax feels important, because it is not forgotten. Characters constantly call attention to past events and it really feels that despite a lot of these events occurring in the middle of a massively long-running story, they all end up feeling important. The Wheel of Time is telling you that every single one of these events matters, and nothing will be outright forgotten.
In this, Wheel of Time books feel like they have the structure of a joke. Set-up, punchline. The entire book is a fun and enjoyable build up, then the climaxes come in like explosive bombs that leave you on a high every single time.
7. It was about the Hail Marys
The Wheel of Time never forgets anything, and this is one of my favorite things about it. The Wheel of Time takes full advantage of its length by remembering every little thing and every little character. It sets up arcs that don’t end up paying off for eight books or longer. It brings back characters you haven’t seen in over five books, whom you’ve completely forgotten existed, then uses them to further the plot.
Every single detail in this massive series is used to its fullest and everything matters. These long-term payoffs are what I like to call “Hail Marys”. Like a quarterback throwing a pass, Robert Jordan sets something up in the story, and that set up launches high into the air like a football. That football then does not land for a very long time, but gravity dictates that it must. And so it is that every football Jordan throws ends up falling back down to the field at some point right back into Jordan’s hands, catching his own throw.
The Tower of Ghenjei is first introduced in Book One of the Wheel of Time when Mat and Rand are riding on a boat and spot it glistening in the distance. A tower made entirely of metal is something that stands out in a fantasy world, and the reader immediately knows that Jordan is setting something up. The Tower will come up again. What the reader doesn’t anticipate is Jordan’s restraint. Jordan doesn’t jump the gun to include this aspect of the world, he waits until it is the appropriate time to bring it up again, giving more pressing plot points their time to shine.
We don’t see the tower again for three books. We see Perrin chase Slayer into it. Instead of following Slayer inside he is given a warning from Birgitte Silverbow that the Tower of Ghenjei is dangerous (keep her in mind). Seemingly unrelated, and occurring around the same time, Mat travels to the land of the Snakes and Foxes twice in this book, and we learn much about this strange place. Then in Book Five Moiraine drags Lanfear into the door ter’angreal that is the entrance to the world of the snakes and foxes, destroying it in the process. At this point she is presumed dead and she leaves a letter with Rand that is addressed to Thom.
In Book Six Mat delivers this letter to Thom, though the reader does not get to see its contents. Mat also essentially adopts a young boy named Olver whose only possession is a board game called “Snakes and Foxes”. The reader then puts all this information out of their mind and continues on their merry way. Five books go by and in Book Eleven the reader is asked to recall the letter Thom received. Thom hands the letter to Mat. The letter informs both Mat and the reader that Moiraine is in fact still alive and trapped in the land of snakes and foxes. She requests rescue.
Mat is dismayed because the entrance to the Land of the Snakes and Foxes has been destroyed, and they have no way of getting there. That’s when Olver brings up the Tower of Ghenjei, and he explains that Birgitte told him it acts as an entrance to the land of the Snakes and Foxes. Birgitte has gone through the tower in a previous life, and died inside. So, we now know that when she was warning Perrin in Book Four, she was speaking from experience. Noal points out that they don’t know where the tower is. But Mat does. He recalls his boat ride, all the way back in Book One, where he saw the Tower of Ghenjei in the distance, and the Hail Mary finally lands after eleven books.
This is one of the most significant examples of a Hail Mary in The Wheel of Time, but it is far from the only one. This series is littered with examples like this. Plot-lines that take a back seat, slowly but surely being set up, until they eventually pay off much later down the line. This restraint that Jordan shows in resolving plot-lines helps make the series feel rich with ongoing events, plans, and schemes. It helps the world come to life and feel as dense and active as the real world.
Mat and Rand meet a farmer in Book One who gives them a ride in his wagon. That character does not appear again for thirteen books! But return he does, as does nearly every other character. At that moment The Wheel of Time looks you in the eyes and says “In case you had any doubts I just wanted to make it clear that I will never forget anything.”
Hey there’s a place to the east called Shara — you should probably forget about it though because it’ll never come up… psyche! The Wheel of Time saves the continent of Shara for the very last book, using it to answer the question posed in and repeatedly after Book Six, “Where in the world is Demandred, and what is that prankster up to?”
This series leaves almost no detail unexplored. The Wheel of Time catches all its own Hail Marys.
8. It was about the road trips
To read The Wheel of Time is to read a detailed account of what it is like to travel across its world. Throughout the series, characters spend a lot of time traveling from point A to point B, and we essentially get what amounts to each character’s travel logs.
This does several things for the story. It gives us a sense of distance and scope when it comes to locations and their placement relative to other locations. It helps us understand just how far each character is from the other characters at any given time. It helps us shape our mental image of the environments and scenery each nation of the world has, from the cold, wooded Mountains of Mist, to the dry and hot Aiel Waste. We get to see much of the world we wouldn’t otherwise see. We get to see many of this world’s inhabitants, living in their tiny villages. Perhaps most importantly we get to see the characters interact with each other and either progress or develop their relationships for the reader.
The idea of fleshing out already existing relationships is an important one, and when characters are traveling and away from the action, one of the only things they have to do with their time is learn more about each other.
There are many such sections in the series, but two in particular stand out in regard to the last point. Those being Mat’s journey across Altara and Murandy with Luca’s Grand Travelling Show and The Band of The Red Hand, as well as Perrin’s journey through Ghealdan and Amadicia to rescue his wife Faile from the Seanchan.
In the former, Mat builds a relationship with several characters who were, prior to this arc, mostly unimportant. He builds a tempestuous dynamic with Jolyne and Teslyn, two Aes Sedai he is travelling with. By the time they reach their destination in Caemlyn the three of them feel like friends, which is something I wouldn’t have believed going into this arc. He also learns more about Satelle Anan, an innkeeper with a surprising past who he trusts to look after Olver, Aludra, a former illuminator who helps him develop weapons of war, Noal, a traveling old man with a big secret, Leilwin, who eventually ends up becoming Egwene’s warder in The Last Battle, and perhaps most important of all Tuon, the future Empress of Seanchan — may she live forever — and also his future wife.
This is a simple arc, and in terms of actual plot events not too much happens aside from them getting from Ebou Dar to Caemlyn. Even so, I would not trade this arc for anything else. It gives me so much more insight into characters I would otherwise know nothing about, and makes so many side characters likable. It also helps build on the locations in the world, in particular the town of Hinderstap which is under a strange curse. Hinderstap is a two-chapter side arc that is not only excellent, but contributes to an amazingly hype moment in The Last Battle.
In the grand scheme of things, this journey does not offer up too much to the overall plot of the series, but it offers enjoyment and a sense of security. What I mean by security is that this journey is a section of the series where by nature of what is happening, I knew that the characters were reasonably safe. This made for enjoyable light reading by a massive floor-to-ceiling window in my university’s library, as snow cascaded down outside and I sipped hot chocolate. It was not overly exciting nor overly stressful; it was enjoyable.
This is a flavor of reading. Not every moment has to be action packed or exciting. By this point in the series I am already invested and committed for the long-haul, so giving me a variety of flavors helps me stay interested. Variety is important in writing, from sentence length, to tone, to conflict.
The flavor of relaxation is one that the Wheel of Time indulges in, as it should, considering its length. Traveling sections are not always without stress in this series however. Mat’s journey to Caemlyn is contrasted at the same time with Perrin’s journey to save Faile, as well as his own journey to Caemlyn where he ends up reuniting with Mat.
Perrin’s journey is filled with conflict as we see Perrin slowly let himself go and Faile forced into slavery. Perrin is distraught for several books, dealing with negative rumors about him from his own men, another potentially harmful army shadowing him, Seanchan, and Shaido Aiel, as well as his right-hand man Aram slowly turning on him. This all comes to a head in a massive war against the Shaido in which Perrin carefully and systematically rips them apart like a blacksmith’s puzzle, and gets Faile back, who was already in the process of escaping.
We then see Perrin journey to Caemlyn, a journey which is fraught with conflict, and eventually he reaches his destination. Once there he meets Mat and we can contrast their journeys immediately in the way that each journey affected each character.
The flavor of Perrin’s journey was one of anxiety. The reader worries for the characters and wonder if they will come out of it unscathed. Every scene is rife with uncertainty. Threats lurk around every corner, and the characters have a rough time of it.
Despite both being journeys, Perrin’s is an entirely different flavor that’s used to contrast against Mat’s, showcasing the versatility traveling arcs can have in this series. There’s a lot of them, but they’re all different.
Both journeys had conflict, though of a different kind, and they differed greatly in tone.
9. It was about people who care
I’ve gone on long enough without addressing the series’ six protagonists. Everything in this series matters, from the smallest of side characters to the slowest of moments — I love it all — but there’s no denying that the protagonists are the heart and soul of The Wheel of Time. What makes the protagonists special is that they actually care about the world they live in and the people who inhabit it.
The character who most overtly exemplifies this trait is Nynaeve al’Meara. Nynaeve is introduced to us from the get go as a village Wisdom, which essentially means she is a village doctor. Her biggest priority from the beginning of the series to the very end is making sure that the people she cares about don’t get hurt. She wants everyone to make it out okay, and she contributes through her unmatched skill in healing.
While she does care for those who are immediately important to her, Nynaeve also grows to care for everyone she meets. This is where Nynaeve really shines. She is so resistant to leaving her home and focusing on anything other than her original goal of seeing her friends safe in the beginning, but we see that she cannot fight her nature. She cares. She cares about everything and everyone, and she will not stand by while she knows she can be doing something to help the people of the world at large. So, even when she tries to hold herself back from helping make the world a better place, she fails.
Nynaeve is someone who cannot stand injustice. In contrast to her original desire to cling to her cultural traditions, Nynaeve is someone who grows to challenge established norms. Why do Aes Sedai with a lower power-level have to bow to those who are stronger? Why do Aes Sedai who are younger have to bow before those who are older? Why should we just accept that something is impossible just because someone told us it is? Why should she sit around and listen to her superiors when she could be out there making a real difference?
These questions that Nynaeve asks herself over the course of the series are what guides her character. Nynaeve gets things done because she cares very deeply about making a difference, about making the world a better place, and she will bulldoze anyone who gets in her way. Nynaeve can and will punch you in the face if you do what she deems to be wrong, and that is made so much sweeter by the fact that Nynaeve is rarely ever in the wrong. She is strong willed, and while other characters in the series might make bigger waves than she does, Nynaeve not only makes waves, but she becomes the waves themselves. Nynaeve is a physical force that washes over Randland, and no garbage human, silly rule, or outdated establishment is safe.
She is also one of the most accomplished characters in the series, from facing down forsaken, to cleansing the taint from Saidin, to curing the madness caused by the taint, unraveling compulsion, healing those who have been stilled or gentled, correcting the weather, helping Rand come back to the light, sealing away the Dark One, etc. So many of these things were accomplished simply by the fact that Nynaeve was the only one who bothered to care enough to do something about the problems facing the world, and for that she is one of the most inspirational characters in the series
Nynaeve spends a large majority of her time with her partner in crime Elayne Trakand. Elayne is a different beast entirely from Nynaeve. Elayne also cares about what is happening but in a very different much more personal way. Elayne transforms from being a pampered rich girl who wants a taste of adventure into a pampered rich girl who wants a taste of adventure that can also lead others. Elayne has a strong sense of responsibility to her duty, whatever that duty may be at the given moment, and to those important to her. Her relationship with Birgitte is key in her evolution as a character, as Birgitte helps Elayne to reel in her childish ways, and instead step up to act like an adult.
Elayne learns to trust another person’s judgement and authority through Birgitte, and with her help Elayne is able to get her priorities straight and put her role as Queen of the two nations before herself. Elayne can and will do anything to protect Andor in a time where most other people care more about just surviving rather than worrying about any one specific place or group of people. Elayne decides to care about how her people will survive The Last Battle as a nation, and remain strong in the years to come. The preservation of society is important to her. She is a forward thinker, she wants to help advance technology and society through her research with ter’angreals, and funding other projects such as Aludra’s “dragons”.
One character who helps Elayne get over herself a bit is Matrim Cauthon. Mat in particular is a special case, because on the surface he is quite possibly the most selfish protagonist. His selfishness is only skin deep however. It is a facade he clings to because he doesn’t want to get caught up having to do anything, when in reality Mat is someone who cannot turn a blind eye to those in need, nor will he ever break a promise. Even if helping someone means throwing himself into the jaws of death, Mat will leap gracefully and without hesitation into death’s proverbial maw, and he’ll complain about it the whole way.
Mat cares begrudgingly. He wants nothing more than to live a peaceful life of revelry, but he keeps being presented with scenarios that his very nature will not let him ignore. He refuses to let Olver live on his own as just another urchin and instead takes him in almost as his own son, saving him from a life on the streets. He saves Egwene, Nynaeve, and Elayne from prison, and he travels across the entire continent just to do it. He smuggles channelers out of Seanchan territory at the expense of his own safety. He travels to another dimension to face-down creatures that want desperately to kill him in order to save a woman he thought long dead.
Each time Mat saves someone he willingly takes on a huge burden. It is never easy, and he knows it. Part of the reason why Mat does these things, is because the person he trusts more than anyone in the entire world is himself. So, when he sees someone in need of saving, he knows instinctively that if he leaves their rescue up to anyone else then that person will do a much worse job than he would. He wants things done right, and Mat lives by the adage “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” This is part of why he so willingly takes up the mantle of lead general in The Last Battle. He just can’t let things be taken care of by someone else. He cares way too much about everything to just leave everything in the hands of another person.
Perrin Aybara is the opposite of Mat in that he is very open about the fact that he cares and wants to help people. Perrin is the epitome of being a “good guy”. He’s a stand-up man that will always go out of his way to help others and will rarely ever consider it a burden.
Perrin is the member of the group who looks out for the little man. The ones who are unimportant and are mostly relegated to minor positions. He becomes a leader to these people. He cares about each and every last person that exists and he will always try to do right by them. Because of this, people end up following and revering him, despite his wishes. He ends up with thousands of followers, and Perrin’s nature forces him to care for each and every last one of them.
Nothing exemplifies Perrin caring for the little man more than the Battle for the Two Rivers. Perrin, who is in the middle of helping the Dragon Reborn attempt to save the world, drops everything to go defend his home village, because it is being threatened by Whitecloaks and Trollocs. There is so much going on in the world, and the Two Rivers are far from the only place in need of aid — it’s just a collection of tiny villages and farms — but Perrin cannot turn a blind eye to the people he grew up with. He is willing to give away his life just to save these small villages, because to him everyone is worth it. He stands up for the vulnerable because others will not. Rand and the others can trust that he will handle it.
Rand, in contrast to the rest, has trouble with the fact that he cares. He’s the character who suffers the biggest beating of the bunch, both physically and psychologically, and that is in part thanks to the fact that he is the Dragon Reborn. The role paints a huge target on his back. The damage he sustains causes him to close up and lock his feelings away. He becomes afraid of caring, because if he cares about something, and then that thing gets taken away from him, it will cause him more pain than he thinks he can handle.
Rand’s arc then is not necessarily about how his caring nature evolves, but rather learning that it is okay to care. He eventually falls so far that he becomes entirely apathetic, barely even caring for the ones he loves most, and it is when he has fallen his absolute farthest that he learns the most important lesson. You can only protect the things you care about by actively caring for them. We see this with Nynaeve in her war against injustice, we see this in Elayne in her sense of duty to her kingdom, we see this in Mat in his burning desire that those who are in need get the proper help they deserve, we see this in Perrin in his concern for every person he meets, both important and not.
Rand learns that he has to care if he wants to make a difference. If he wants to enjoy his life then he has to learn to care. People live specifically for the things that they care about, and without that then life becomes empty and soulless. Rand can be one of the most frustrating characters in the series with his depression and apathy, but I find his personal struggles, and the lesson he eventually comes to learn, to be moving.
There is still one more protagonist to talk about. One who embodies this last point even more than Rand does, and she deserves her own section.
10. It was about a woman who would not bend her back while she was beaten, and who shown with a light for all who watched
I would like to begin this section with a statement of my own personal opinion (which you might as well take as fact, because all my opinions are true, and good, and just, and flawless, obviously).
Egwene al’Vere is the best character in the entirety of The Wheel of Time.
That’s right. In The Wheel of Time there are approximately two-thousand and seven-hundred named characters who are worse than Egwene. Clearly you can tell that she’s my favorite character. Grandiose and potentially inflammatory statements aside, this character really is special among the protagonists as I believe she exemplifies what I talked about in the last section on a much deeper level than the other characters.
Egwene has always cared about what she believes in. Her convictions are strong, and right from the very beginning of the series this is made clear. Egwene follows an arc that in many ways mirrors Rand’s, but where their arcs differ is in Egwene’s unfaltering faith in the path she walks. Rand says very early on in the series that Egwene is someone who throws her whole being into everything she does, never slacking. We see this as she suffers similar beatings to Rand, both physical and psychological, but unlike Rand her conviction keeps her from ever breaking or even cracking.
Egwene suffers slavery, beatings, attacks, imprisonment on several occasions, humiliation, the loss of loved ones, having her authority stripped, and yet all this washes over her like waves breaking before a rocky shore. She stands tall and proud through each and every one of these attempts at breaking her, and where Rand comes out of similar experiences damaged and regressed, Egwene instead comes out of each stronger than she ever was before.
One of the best arcs in the series is when Egwene, acting Amyrlin Seat of the rebel Aes Sedai, is captured by the opposing faction in the White Tower and is demoted from a full Aes Sedai to a mere novice. She is humiliated, beaten for even the slightest infraction, and is condescendingly preached to as if she isn’t already one of the most powerful and accomplished women in the history of the White Tower. Through it all Egwene stands tall, and she does not sit still and let them beat her. She shows them what a real Aes Sedai is supposed to look like, she is never afraid of reprimanding those who deserve it, and she refuses to accept her new station as a novice, instead asserting that she is the true Amyrlin.
Egwene commands respect from all. First the other novices end up revering her, then the Aes Sedai who are all complicit in keeping her down learn to respect her. Before long, she turns the entire tower against Elaida, the opposing Amyrlin, from the inside, single-handedly settling the split in the tower and uniting the Aes Sedai by herself. This all comes to a head when the Tower is attacked by the Seanchan and she, despite her position as a novice, takes charge of the battle and fends the Seanchan off herself on the front lines.
During all this Egwene comes to learn and then exemplify all the best qualities of each Ajah, including the red who were almost uniformly against her, and becomes an Amyrlin who is truly representative of every group within the tower. She expunges the tower of corruption, ousting the black Ajah, then in the following book literally wills one of the Forsaken, ancient powerful immortals from the previous age and leaders of the shadow, to break before her. Rand is broken and reforged, whereas Egwene is tempered more and more over the series until she becomes unbreakable.
She is the most inspiring character in the series for me. If there is any character in fiction who I want to be like, it’s her. Seeing her journey from a confident and determined village girl to the most powerful woman in the world was uplifting, and it made me feel that, like her, I could do anything. Egwene cares about what she believes in, and she will not bend her beliefs for anyone. She is a role model.
The only thing over the course of the series that is able to do Egwene in is herself. If you have made it this far into this essay, and you haven’t read the last book of the Wheel of Time, but have been convinced to try out the series… Then first of all, what are you even doing reading this far into the essay? And second of all go away because I’m going to drop a super big spoiler that’s even bigger than spoiling the Perrin x Loial kiss scene. You have been warned.
Egwene dies. She is the only protagonist who does. The way Egwene goes out is amazing. She furiously kills a forsaken with a beam of pure radiance, The Flame of Tar Valon, a counterpart to balefire that reconstructs instead of destroys. The pattern is also on the verge of being unraveled entirely by all the balefire being blasted around, so as her final act in life Egwene uses up her entire being to reinforce and reconstruct the world, taking all the enemy Sharan channelers with her. Like Rand was fond of saying in the beginning of the series, Egwene likes to put her entire being into everything she does, and so it is fitting that her final act is to literally put her entire self into saving the world from destruction.
This scene was the most emotionally impactful scene for me in the entire series. I cried like the tiny baby I am while reading it. I loved, cared, and admired this character so much that her death felt to me like the single biggest event in the series.
It gets even better though. Egwene cannot be stopped; not even in death. Rand is struggling in his confrontation with the Dark One. He blames himself for the deaths of everyone in the last battle, and seeing people who matter to him die is almost too much for him to bear. At his lowest moment Egwene’s unbreakable spirit comes to him and urges him to accept the deaths of those he cares about and to not blame himself. Egwene’s death serves as the final example for Rand, and he learns to be like her. No matter how much someone tries to beat you down, you must stand tall against them, and you can’t let the bad things in life break you. Never give up, and always put everything you have in what you are trying to do.
“And then, Rand al’Thor — The Dragon Reborn — stood up once again to face the shadow.” — A Memory of Light, Chapter 38: The Place That Was Not.
Egwene is my favorite character for all these reasons and more. The only thing that I don’t like about her is her horrid taste in men; #FuckGawynTrakand. Nevertheless, she is my favorite, and even if she isn’t yours, I hope you can come to at least appreciate her.
11. It was about mystery
The Wheel of Time adores mysteries. The series is rife with them, and the questions they provide the reader are a major motivator in getting them to read more. In this series there are two kinds of mysteries that each serve a different purpose.
The first kind of mystery in The Wheel of Time are the mysteries that end up getting answered. These mysteries are sort of like the Hail Marys I mentioned earlier in that usually they will be set up in one book, then held off to be answered in a later book. These mysteries help the reader to think about the world and start theorizing. They’ll engage with the world and the world-building on a much deeper level, because they’ll go looking for evidence to fuel their theories.
An example of this kind of mystery would be the Aes Sedai agelessness. The Aes Sedai have an ageless appearance that makes it difficult to pinpoint what age they are. Almost immediately the reader is wondering why Moiraine has an ageless face, and the book just gives the reader a simple answer to placate them: it’s because she can channel. The reader accepts this explanation because they don’t know much about the world. Then later the reader starts to come across other women and characters who can channel and have been doing so for a long time, but do not have the agelessness; Sorilea being the primary example.
Once faced with this new information the reader starts questioning the answer they’ve been given before. They notice that the only people that have an ageless face are full Aes Sedai, and they begin to suspect that there is a deeper and potentially darker secret to be uncovered. This mystery is a simple one, but it is a cheap and effective way of getting the reader to engage with the work. Many other such mysteries are woven throughout The Wheel of Time and the reader is constantly left guessing, which is part of why the world of the Wheel of Time is so engaging.
The second kind of mystery is much more interesting to me than the first. These are the mysteries that stay mysteries. There are many little details sprinkled throughout the world that imply a deep and rich lore is hiding behind the scenes. Lore that we don’t have access to. These mysteries serve to deepen the world-building by withholding information from the reader. It’s like an iceberg. You see the tip of it as you sail past, but if you know anything about icebergs, you’ll know that ninety percent of the iceberg remains underwater.
One of the most interesting mysteries in the series to me is Callandor. Callandor, Rand’s sa’angreal that works for both Saidin and the True Power and can also be used to trap another channeler, is an object with unknown origins. We don’t know who made it or how. Rand is even surprised when he picks it up while possessing Lews Therin’s memories as he does not know who made it a sa’angreal for the True Power or even why. This implies Callandor has a rich history that we can only wonder at. This object alone helps give a massive sense of scope to the history of this world. The same can be said for the portal stones which predate even the Age of Legends.
There are many more mysteries out there. Who is Nakomi and what the heck is her deal? What was the original purpose of the glass columns in Rhuidean, what other ways can they be used, are they alive somehow as Aviendha sensed?
Aviendha’s visions of the future she sees in Towers of Midnight, Book Thirteen, are among the most interesting. They imply so much about the future, technology, cars, guns, a war between the Seanchan and everyone else, yet they only give us a brief glimpse and leave us with more questions than answers. Is this future avoidable? It seems that is the case, yet we don’t know how much of it is avoided or what ends up specifically changing about it. We can only guess.
I could go on and on about unsolved mysteries in The Wheel of Time — I could probably write an essay to rival this one in length composed purely of speculation — but the important takeaway here is that sometimes not showing the reader things but implying they are there, teasing them, can be more effective in making the world feel dynamic and alive than giving all the answers. The Wheel of Time not only understands this, but it makes liberal use of it to its benefit.
12. It was about danger
Danger is exciting! Nothing gets the blood pumping like a good threat. The world of the Wheel of Time is steadily built up as a place that is filled to the brim with people and things the reader and the characters can’t trust.
Darkfriends, people who align with the shadow, help turn The Wheel of Time into an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” story. It is established as earlier as Book One that any character our protagonists meet could be a darkfriend. This instills a fear in the reader. They start questioning every new character that gets introduced into the story. When the story shifts to the POV of a character who has never gotten a POV before the reader immediately worries said character will be revealed to be a darkfriend, and sometimes that is what happens.
This constant distrust is fueled further by characters in positions of authority, such as Moiraine and Thom, informing the protagonists that they can’t and shouldn’t trust anyone — especially not Aes Sedai. The distrust the reader feels for strangers in this world is then used to provide a constant lurking threat no matter where the characters go. At almost no point, even the quietest moments, do the characters feel truly safe. This means that conflict is ever present, and the story efficiently keeps up the excitement in the reader.
Not only are the darkfriends a helpful tool to incite anxiety in the reader, but they also make it much more convenient for Jordan to put the protagonists in a truly dangerous scenario, because they can be betrayed at any time, no matter where they go or what they do. The Darkfriends are like a gun that is being constantly aimed at the protagonist’s heads, and if Jordan or Sanderson want to spice things up all he has to do is pull the trigger.
There are many examples of Jordan/Sanderson pulling this trigger, but one of the most eventful is the scene where Semirhage dies. Semirhage, one of the forsaken, is being safely held prisoner by a group of Aes Sedai that Rand trusts. All is well, at least until Elza, one of the Aes Sedai, turns out to be a member of the Black Ajah and frees Semirhage unbeknownst to Rand. And so, it comes as a shock when a quiet intimate moment Rand is having with his girlfriend Min gets interrupted by Semirhage sneaking up on him disguised as a serving girl and snapping a male a’dam, a device used to completely control him, around his neck. What ensues is one of the most disturbing and emotionally devastating scenes in The Wheel of Time.
Just when the reader assumed Rand and Min were enjoying a moment of safety and peace, they have their sense of security ripped away from them and replaced with anxiety. From that moment the reader, like Rand, learns to always stay on edge for potential betrayals. This scene communicates to the reader with finality that, in case it wasn’t clear yet by this point in the series, anything can happen at any time, and no one is safe.
There doesn’t even have to be any immediate danger. The looming threat alone is enough to keep the reader on edge, and this thrill of constantly being kept on guard, on the edge of my seat, is something I absolutely adore about the series.
13. It was about a beginning
The beginning of The Eye of the World is one of my favorite sections in The Wheel of Time.
This section does so much in just one-hundred pages that I often look to it for inspiration when working on my own novels. It starts with a prologue stuffed full of mysterious fantasy lingo that the reader doesn’t need to understand, and gives us a glimpse at an extremely important event in the history of this world, complete with showing us how powerful the “magic” of this world can be. This prologue serves one main purpose, and that is to communicate to the reader that, one day, the series is going to be as crazy and fantastical as what you’re seeing right here in this prologue. It sows the important seed of expectation in the reader’s cute little mind.
Then after that brief prologue we move into the introduction of the series. Within the first few pages we learn about the main character Rand, his father, what he’s doing, the fact that he likes some girl named Egwene, and we see an ominous cloaked rider following him through the woods. A rider who also strangely disappears into thin air and goes unnoticed by his father. This immediately introduces the main conflict of the book, that some strange dark force is after Rand. Already we have a protagonist with established relationships, mystery, expectation, a main conflict, and it’s only been a few pages.
We then move on to the next section which swiftly introduces the setting and the other protagonists of the series in a systematic and organized manner. First, we see Emond’s Field, the small village where most of the characters live, and we are given a sense of place. Then we are introduced to Mat, who wastes no time in showing us that he’s a troublemaker who tries to avoid responsibility. His introduction literally serves as a thesis statement for his entire character. We learn Mat saw the cloaked rider as well, and we can deduce that he is involved in the conflict.
Then we hear of three groups of strangers coming to town. The first is introduced in an intriguing and mysterious fashion. Moiraine Sedai claims she is here in this village looking for ‘stories’, and she hands Mat and Rand Tar Valon coins before heading off and claiming that she will speak with them later. Again, this introduction serves as a thesis, Moiraine is a woman of mystery who always seems to know what she’s about without ever feeling the need to inform others.
Padan Fain comes to town. He is a peddler and he brings news from the outside world, so essentially, he brings world-building with him. We learn of the concept of false Dragons, an extremely important topic, and we learn that men who can channel the One Power are feared, which is even more important. We also meet Perrin who is described as being a kind and careful young man, who takes great care in all his actions, following the trend of thesis statements.
This trend continues with Egwene and Nynaeve and we immediately get to see their personalities on display as they clash with the boys. Their introductions are as thorough as Mat and Perrin’s. Same goes for the worldly Gleeman Thom Merrilin.
This section in Emond’s field is peaceful, yet has an underlying sense of unease pervading it with talk of false dragons, mysterious riders, the Dark One and the Forsaken, and a lone crow eying the characters. The reader is introduced to many topics that are presented with care and they come out of this section with a solid grasp on all the most essential things to know about the world and nothing more. The Wheel of Time never dumps too much on the reader, instead feeding them information at a comfortably digestible pace.
This sense of ease builds until finally the pressure becomes too much and a Trolloc comes bursting through Rand’s front door. His farm is attacked and the characters are immediately thrown into a chaotic situation. The reader rides a wave of excitement and anxiety as Rand carries his injured father back to town through the forest and all the horrors of the night. During which time we learn Rand is adopted, another crucial piece of information.
We get to the town, and it’s in shambles from having been attacked. Moiraine Sedai is the only one able to help heal Rand’s father from the corrupted wound he suffered, and Rand and friends learn that they are the target of the monsters. Faced with this information Moiraine tells Rand that if he wants to keep the village safe then he’ll have to come with her to Tar Valon where he and his friends can be kept safe. Then the entire group sneaks off in the night and the plot is fully set into motion.
Let’s make a list of everything this first one-hundred or so pages does. It introduces five of the protagonists and three of the biggest supporting characters, it introduces a villain Padan Fain, it introduces the main conflict of the book very early on and also hints at the overarching conflict of the series, we get a sense of setting and place as well as some background for each of our characters, it strongly implies that Rand is somebody important, we get a pretty good idea of what kind of threat the characters face, it gives us an expectation what the series is going to become, and we are given unique relationships between each of the characters.
This is a lot to accomplish in such a short time. In the beginning of the series The Wheel of Time starts off at its finest. The quality does rise and fall over the course of the next 4.4 million words or so, but that’s to be expected given the length.
The Wheel of Time is hugely influential on me as a writer of science-fiction and fantasy, but the beginning of it in particular is a section that I will always look to as an example of the kinds of things you can accomplish in the beginning of a story.
14. It was about an ending
My favorite chapter in The Wheel of Time is the very last one, “Epilogue: To See The Answer”. I consider this ending to be the perfect send off for the series, but more than that, I consider it to be one of the best endings to any story I’ve seen.
There are many reasons why I love this chapter, from the beautiful send off it gives each character — Birgitte’s in particular gets me every time — to the mystery and intrigue that underlies it. The thing I want to talk about the most though is that this ending does not just wrap up all the plot threads in a neat little bow.
The ending of The Wheel of Time intentionally leaves several long running plot threads unresolved. What this does is give the story the feeling that this will all continue beyond the events of A Memory of Light. The world is an ever-changing place, and leaving these plot threads open allows us to imagine what the future of the world might look like. We can picture how the characters might end up working with Fortuona, the Empress of Seanchan, may she live forever, to eventually free the women enslaved as damane. We can picture the kinds of adventures Rand will go on now that he’s free. We can imagine the lives of each of the characters, and what they’ll have to deal with going forward.
There is so much that is left open at the end of the series that it genuinely feels like Brandon Sanderson, who finished the series after Jordan’s death, could potentially write an entire book of epilogue. There is beauty in leaving questions unanswered. We can believe that not only does this story have a rich and deep past, but that the future will be just as vast.
With the future spanning ahead of us and left to our imaginations, we can focus on the present. The events of this chapter are emotional and mysterious. We have Rand stumbling out of The Pit of Doom carrying a dying Moridin, before he collapses himself. We see a vision of a mysterious Aiel woman who many assume is Nakomi from Book Thirteen. She says cryptic and mysterious things, and the reader, who is sitting on their couch, leaps to their feet yelling, “Who are you and what is your deal!?” *cough*NakomiIsEgwene*cough* (I’m kidding, calm down. (I’m not kidding)).
We then get a bunch of heartfelt scenes. People watch “Rand” pass away. Moiraine brings back the line from her letter back in Book Five telling him he did well. Nynaeve breaks down in Perrin’s arms because she can’t do anything to help. They weep for him and for Egwene, before Nynaeve and Lan are reunited. Rand’s three girlfriends (lol) are all acting strange for some mysterious reason. They aren’t reacting to the death of their boyfriend, despite their bonds having presumably been severed. Mat learns he is going to be a father. Perrin finally reunites with Faile in a very cute scene where he clutches her close as she is getting healed. Loial is off being Loial somewhere, classic.
It all finally culminates with Rand’s funeral, where we get Rand’s father Tam’s perspective as he walks by all the characters, then looks down at his son’s corpse before lighting the pyre. I’d like to give a quick shout out to Michael Kramer’s performance in the audiobook as Tam in this scene, he made me ball my face off when I listened to it after finishing the series.
Then, finally, we get Min’s perspective as she and her two girlfriends stand in front of the big burning pyre watching their boyfriend burn. They say something mysterious, “Now we make sure that everyone well and truly believes he is gone.”
We get Rand waking up in a tent.
We immediately learn that Rand, through some mysterious means, switched bodies with Moridin before he died. Rand uses this opportunity at a new life and new identity to sneak from his tent and steal a horse. He watches his own funeral from a distance, before riding off, and lighting a pipe with some power that is completely unexplained — he can no longer access the One Power nor the True Power. He muses to himself about the adventures he’ll have now that he no longer has to fulfill some predetermined destiny.
And to drive the point further that the world will continue to grow and change into the future, we move to the POV of the narrator as he tells us that, “there are no endings, and never will be endings to the turning of The Wheel of Time,” but this chapter, this moment, is an ending.
This chapter has it all, from emotionally joyous moments, to somber moments, to grief, to excitement. It has mystery and intrigue; it promises that the world will continue and adventures will be had. It gives us everything we could possibly want, and the release of finally reaching this long-anticipated moment and closing the last book of The Wheel of Time provided me with a feeling of satisfaction I have not felt with other stories.
Other stories I’ve consumed and loved had me feeling that I didn’t want them to end by the time I reached their endings. I did not feel that with The Wheel of Time. I did not feel it, because The Wheel of Time left me feeling satisfied. I needed nothing more, I wanted nothing more. I had everything I needed from the series and I was ready to say goodbye.
Every story has to have an ending, and endings are often some of the best parts of any story. I would never want to be deprived of an ending, and I am extremely grateful to Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson for providing The Wheel of Time the ending it deserved despite Jordan’s death.
This series is so special to me that I could never put my love for it into words, nevertheless I still figured that I should try to. Regardless of whether I have adequately captured my love for this series or not, I am sure by now that you will trust me when I say that I’m in love with The Wheel of Time.