Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Wheel of Time - Act 1 - Books 1-3

Treating The Wheel of Time as one long novel, the books The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, and The Dragon Reborn make up the first act. The groundwork is laid for the series concept as a whole, and all of the most important thematic elements are introduced. The beginning and end of the story are bookends, what shows up in one should be resolved in the other. So what are those elements that we can expect to see in the final act and the final volume A Memory of Light?
The first act is where Rand is told he must save the world, which is reportedly the idea that got the series started in the author’s mind. By the end of the first act, Rand accepts that this is true, and he is the saviour of mankind. The second act will be his struggle to convince others that he is the saviour, and the final act will be where the world saving takes place.
I’ve mentioned several times that self-awareness and force of will are defining characteristics of the heroes. In the most recent books Rand is using his force of will to make it to the Last Battle in a way that is counter-productive, becoming almost as bad as the force he is trying to defeat, running headlong down the path that Mordeth took, leading to the destruction of Aridhol. Mordeth’s drive and desire to root out evil was described early in the series, because that destructive single-mindedness is the major pitfall Rand has to overcome. As a saviour figure drawn from Christian religion, forgiveness and acceptance are the character traits that are supposed to save mankind from its sins, and those are the characteristics Rand must embrace before he shares Mordeth’s fate, and humanity suffers Aridhol’s.
Seven of the original characters are defined by their willpower: Rand, Perrin, Mat, Egwene, Nynaeve, Lan, Moiraine. Each of them has a drive to accomplish their goals that far exceeds that of the characters around them. Lan’s influence has been detrimental to Rand, as it has introduced him to the myth of the lone warrior fighting an impossible war, a myth which Rand is eager to star in. Readers are told several times that Lan will die alone in the Blight if he carries on this way, but he looks forward to that romantic death. A similar fate awaits Rand if he follows Lan’s footsteps, yet Ba’alzamon has laid just such a path before Rand.
Ba’alzamon, as the force of doubt, undermines Rand’s trust in others, making him think he has to do battle alone. Rand’s friends seek to support him, but his chivalric view that people must be saved in spite of their own wishes will make him dismiss their help over time. Ultimately, defeating Ba’alzamon requires rejecting the ideas he represents. Rand will have to realize that all humanity will be fighting the battle, and it will be a battle of ideas and willpower, not of bloodletting. Individually, no one can stand against the Dark One, but collectively, humanity can reject the selfishness he represents and stand united.
None of that is any good against Trolloc hordes, but there is one place in which ideas and force of will can fight battles: tel’aran’rhiod, the World of Dreams. Here, ideas are given strength. The idea that the world can rally around is that there is a person who can defeat the Dark One, a Dragon, and in tel’aran’rhiod you can lend strength to the Dragon by believing in him. If one person can alter reality by thinking it, how much more powerful would it be if a group of people collectively will it to be real in tel’aran’rhiod? But first, he has to believe in himself, which point he has reached at the end of Act 1.
Every book in Act 1 ended with a battle in tel’aran’rhiod. The last book should also end in tel’aran’rhiod. The Pandora/Eve who freed the Dark One is especially knowledgeable about tel’aran’rhiod. She was encountered early in the story, therefore she should have a role to play at the end of it. Her sins must be redeemed by the Dragon if the story is to follow western religious myths. Dreams and willpower are the common link between several important characters and plot elements.
Each book so far also has a magic object used in the final battle: the Eye of the World, The Horn of Valere, and Callandor. This practice should generally continue, but for the final book, it should be a magic object introduced much earlier than in that book. Tel’aran’rhiod itself qualifies, even if it isn’t an object, but an environment.
This series should rightly be classified as American Fantasy, as it incorporates several important historical and mythic elements from that culture. The Seanchan’s role as invaders from across the sea who require absolute devotion to their ruler evokes the War of American Independence. The slavery that the Seanchan built their empire on speaks to themes from the American Civil War. The myth of the self-made man, the lone cowboy, is one that permeates American culture and the egos of Rand and Lan. Despite the many other mythic influences of far older cultures, American Mythology also stands out prominently.  

No comments:

Post a Comment