The Eye of the World Looks Down Upon a Fantastic Universe

Fantasy addicts looking for their next fix of sword and sorcery should check out Robert Jordon’s modern classic The Eye of the World.

Published in 1990, the novel is the first in a saga called The Wheel of Time. It opens in the tiny village of Edmond’s Field, where stubborn shepherds raise sheep and equally strong-willed farmers wrestle with their crops. It’s been a hard year for the Edmond’s Fielders — the winter was long and grueling, and spring couldn’t kill it.

Driven by hunger caused by the non-existent spring (and perhaps darker things as well), wolves have come down from the mountains to feast on live stock and men. And no one wants to think of what will happen if the weather doesn’t turn.

And watching all of it is the Dark Lord. Known throughout the land by many names, he was imprisoned by the Creator at the beginning of the world. A prophesy says that he will be released at the end of the world — and he is eagerly seeking those who can help bring about this apocalypse. While he can’t act directly, his agents can. He sends them to Edmond’s Field to search out three very special young men, one or all of whom could determine the fate of the world.

The Dark Lord isn’t the only one looking for them. The Aes Sedai — wielders of the magical One Power that’s a residue of the world’s creation — are looking for them as well. Because they also believe that they will determine the fate of the world — and stop the Dark Lord.

An heir to Tolkien?

Like most geeks, my first exposure to fantasy was through the grandmaster of the genre, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I devoured those books in 8th grade, loving Tolkien’s the rich historical tapestry of his writing, the inspiring stance of his heroes and the horror-inducing power of his villains. The thought of the Ring-wraiths pursing the hobbit Frodo still gives me shivers.

A few years after finding Tolkien I discovered the Dragonlance novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Where Tolkien had a high literary feel to his writing, Weis and Hickman’s approach was straight pulp fiction. It didn’t matter — they created book filled with high heroics, fun characters and oh yes, dragons. Lots of dragons.

Robert Jordon’s Wheel of Time falls nicely between the two, combining the detailed history of Tolkien with the expansive heroics of Weis and Hickman. His writing style also falls between the two — it’s not as sophisticated as Tolkien, but it’s not as simplistic as Weis and Hickman’s. Jordon’s heroes are likable, and it doesn’t take long for the reader to become caught up in their fates.

Jordon’s plot device for getting the heroes together — a monstrous evil is looking for three boys — is a variation on the theme from The Fellowship of the Ring, and it works just as well as it did in Tolkien’s masterpiece. Like Tolkien, Jordon paints a frantic chase scene that sees his band of heroes broken and reformed throughout the novel. This isn’t to say that Jordon’s book is a knock-off of Fellowship. They share a similar theme — evil chases good — but the execution is very different.

Of course, there’s the overarching evil represented by the Dark One, but the forces of good are divided. The Aes Sedai are powerful magic users, but they are at best feared — and at worst hated — by many in the world. The Whitecloaks are religious zealots who hate the Aes Sedai and anyone associated with them. And then there are the common folk, who are caught in between all of these powerful forces. It’s an interesting mix, and it makes for an exciting read.

Final Analysis

Jordon’s introduces numerous, complicated plots in the book, but The Eye of the World wraps nicely, without leaving the readers hanging too much. The only thing lacking from this book is one, great, epic sword battle — the heroes spend most of their time on the run and evading danger rather than fighting it. From what my friends tell me, those kind of battles show up in the later book and I look forward to reading them.