Monday, 2 January 2012

The Big White Book: The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Chapter 2 to End

The One Power:
The workings of circles and population statistics for wilders are better explained here than in the series itself, even compared to the Glossaries.
Writing lessons: even when the mythology and rules are all worked out in your story, you’ve got to decide whether the reader needs to know that level of detail to appreciate the story or action that it relates to. Jordan mostly hit the mark with his explanations of One Power usage, except for Rand’s first use, but I’ll deal with that in The Eye of the World.

The Age of Legends:
The use of semi-mythological names invokes certain images, notably Paaren Disen (Paradise). Jordan made good use of names to invoke certain connotations and associated feelings in readers.
Unlike the One Power, where we are heavily reminded of rules, ter’angreal need no explanation other than ‘it makes toast’ or ‘it spins you upside down’. We’re never specifically told about any rules governing ter’angreal, but because we’re so well versed in the other rules for angreal and channeling, we export that perception to ter’angreal. I suppose there is technically no one in-story who could explain how they work the way they do, but I had never noticed how he gets away with making magic objects with no more explanation than “those snazzy Age of Legends people made it that way”. Convenient. I bet he had 52 pages of notes on ter’angreal construction.
Writing lessons: Make use of reader’s existing perceptions and biases to elicit the reaction you want, or impose some perceptions and biases on them. Make rules, follow rules, explain rules if necessary.

The Fall into Shadow:
Please do yourself a favour and read Jordan’s original short story, The Strike at Shayol Ghul, which has a little less detail, but certainly more flair than this chapter which is mostly comprised of the same information. Jordan somehow creates a tension that doesn’t come through in this chapter’s description of the same events. I’ll look at how he does it under a post dedicated to the short story.
The main question I had was whether the Dark One could be cut off from the main part of the Pattern by creating a wall around the Bore. The Strike at Shayol Ghul answered that question. Read it.
Writing lessons: You could always add more information and detail, but you should be concentrating on how your text will be affecting the reader, not how much background you can provide.

The Forsaken:
How do we know anything about the Dark One at all? The only reliable sources are all Forsaken, no one else has spoken to him. The Dark One could verify any information about the Wheel of Time and Creation, presuming he can observe it from his prison. But would you trust him?
And there’s the problem with Ishamael. He’s got all this insight that you either have to take at face value, or question because he’s untrustworthy. Many of the arguments I’d use at Theoryland were ‘negated’ by the fact that Ishamael had spoken the words I was using as proof, therefore I was wrong. Certainly we’ve seen that Ishamael believes what he’s dishing out, but that still doesn’t satisfy the critics. Sigh.
Ishamael is cheeky though. At a conference discussing the crisis, he tells them who’s behind it all, then says he’s joining forces with this Dark One. That is the kind of sweet detail and characterization I wish had made it into the books.
So, there’s a whole cosmology that everyone believes in, but the only entity who could verify it is the enemy of all existence. And the only reason anyone does believe it is because of the supposed existence of this enemy whom no one knew existed until Ishamael told the world about him. As I say, in-story they take it on faith, but as a reader and theorizer, it bugs me that there’s this disconnect between what is verifiable and what is stated. The Big White Book makes official that neither the Dark One nor Ishamael appear to be lying about the cosmology, but the bias against anything else they say is maintained. That’s what you get for naming your villain Father of Lies.
By my count, Aginor killed more than any other Forsaken, some 54 million people in his experiments. 10,000 per day were collected for 5 years, more than double that for the next five. Some of this exposition would have been nice to know before he made his first on-page appearance. Same for the other Forsaken. I think Jordan once mentioned Sammael as a dud, but we didn’t see him that way. Each of the Forsaken was a potential treasure trove of conflict with Rand, since they had dealt with Lews Therin in the previous Age. Jordan used that in some places, and seems to have purposefully underplayed it in others, preferring to build up the intermediaries than the big baddies.
Writing lessons: You’ll have to work hard to get readers to believe your unreliable viewpoint characters. Which is too bad, because their viewpoints are very useful. Think about which characters you’re building up, and why. Does it serve the story? Are you concentrating on the right characters?

The rest of the Big White Book:
It devolves into details which mostly get shown in-story in much more interesting fashion than here. I’m sure we’ll get some chances to discuss these throughout the reread.

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