Trying to Commit Art

Posted on 12/09/2011 by



There was a period of time where every author I considered analysing as part of my doctorate promptly dropped dead. From an academic point of view that’s sort of useful because all of a sudden you’re dealing with a closed body of work, but from a, you know, human point of view it was a bit horrifying. Someone died and also no more books!

Maybe that’s why I didn’t end up focusing on any individual authors, seemed safer all round.

Robert Jordan was one of those unfortunates to be hit by this curse before I knew what I was doing. When I think about this in the clear post-thesis light my brain spasms and goes, What were you thinking? Just reading his Wheel of Time books is an epic undertaking, becoming familiar enough with them to write about them with any real authority would have been nightmarish.

But they are an incredible example. Sometimes I wish that he’d stopped at three though. That they’d been a trilogy. I would have been happy with that. I didn’t need to know the rest of the world was out there.Wheel of Time symbol. A brass wheel with a snake winding around it to make two other circles.

But. That’s the thing. Much as I critique them (and I have to because dear God did they get out of hand) his capacity for world building is spectacular. Really, an awful lot of the awesome of the books is inextricably knotted up with what is most wrong with them. Which is, obviously, that they go on forever. Because he writes them like they’re life. It just keeps happening, and there are hundreds of characters who wander in and out and you’re never really quite sure if it’s going anywhere.

The fantastic thing is that every character that wanders across his stage has this kind of complete rounded humanity to them. And he switches perspectives so cavalierly and so completely that in the moment, no matter who you’re with, from the hero closest to your heart to the worst of the villains — you understand, you get it, and you want them to win.*

I am, of course, exaggerating. By the time you work your way through eleven books most people have seriously considered wholesale slaughter of the entire cast just to get them to stop. But try asking someone who their favourite character is — you probably won’t get the same answer twice.

Which is genuinely cool. As is the depth and complexity of the world they inhabit. The sheer scope of the series allows Jordan to do some amazing things with his creation and I don’t begrudge him the space he spends on it. The problem is not actually that the series is long, it’s that it’s unmanageable. Because it stops reading like a narrative and starts reading like a history.

History is interesting. It’s fascinating. And it can be entertaining. But there’s a reason the movie versions have ‘based on a true story’ stamped on them. The real story, with all the characters and all the parts, would be confusing and probably boring, with lots of stuff no one cares about, spiked only briefly by excitement that even the main protagonists don’t understand.

So just like the later Wheel of Time books. What Jordan did with the series (quite impressively) was to create life (like Frankenstein!) but he was trying to commit art, so he missed a bit on the follow through.


* Except for Perrin apparently, who some people seem to hate rather a lot. Not totally sure why.


Posted in: Kandace, Research