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The Wheel of Time
By Wesley Williamson, May 2001

The Wheel of Time series is, of course, written by Robert Jordan. The name is a pseudonym for James Oliver Rigby Junior. The author has also written under the names of Reagan O'Neill (the Conan fantasies), Jackson O'Reilly, and Chang Lung. However The Wheel of Time is markedly superior to any of his other works, both in content and in style. So far it encompasses nine massive volumes (over 7500 pages) with more to come and no end in sight. It has accumulated a vast audience, who wait eagerly for each new volume, and swamp many dedicated web sites with praise, criticism, and sophisticated theories on the development of plot and character.

J. R. R. Tolkien began the current trend to epic fantasy series and his work has become the standard by which its successors have been judged. The Lord of the Rings has spawned many imitations, and a very few worthy successors. Tolkien had, in my view, one great virtue, and one unfortunate invention (apart from his execrable verse; I refuse to call it poetry.) The virtue was his skill at developing believable and relatively benign non-humans such as the Hobbits and the Ents. They are invariably much more complex and interesting than his human characters.

The invention, which has bedevilled (literally) the fantasy field since, was the introduction of an almost invincible evil spirit, whose inevitable though unlikely defeat fuels the whole of the plot. This was adopted by David Eddings in the Belgariad, and later by Jordan as the Great Lord of the Dark. Some other writers have abandoned this concept with advantage, while adapting Tolkien in other ways, notably Elizabeth Moon in her outstanding fantasy epic Deed of Paksennarion.

Jordan has not copied Tolkien in the development of non-humans, with the notable exception of Loial the Ogier. He has more than made up for this by the wide variety of human characters, both good and evil, in the series. In fact there are so many that it is becoming very difficult to keep track of them all. Unfortunately, making the plot hinge on an almost all-powerful evil being has forced his primary hero into a straitjacket, restricting his development. The result is that Rand's friends Matt, and particularly, Perrin have come to the forefront as instigators of action and drivers of the plot, leaving Rand as a rather bland and colourless symbol. This became evident as early as the fourth volume, where the sub-plot featuring Perrin, Faile and the battle against the Trollocs to save Three Rivers overshadowed the struggles of Rand at Rhuidean.

Although the last two volumes have been criticized as doing little to advance the story, merely acting to set up conditions for future books, there are encouraging signs. Rand has apparently succeeded in removing the taint of the dark Lord from saidin, the male half of the One Source, the driving force behind magic in the world. Hopefully, this will spur the plot onward. Also, Matt has now met the Daughter of the Nine Moons, which should result in greater integration of the Seanchan sub-plot. So there are sound reasons to look forward eagerly and anxiously to the next volume, as Jordan's Wheel of Time keeps turning onwards.
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