3.16.2011

Currently Reading: The Dragon Reborn (The Wheel of Time, Book 3)


Egwene stepped out of the silver arch cold and stiff with anger. She wanted the iciness of anger to counter the searing of memory. Her body remembered burning, but other memories scored and scorched more deeply. Anger cold as death.

"Is that all there is for me?" she demanded. "To abandon him again and again. To betray him, fail him again and again? Is that what there is for me?"

Suddenly she realized that all was not as it should be.

Author: Robert Jordan

Synopsis: Tortured by the future the Wheel is weaving for him, and wanting to be sure that he really is the Dragon, Rand flees Moiraine and company in the middle of the night and heads for the Stone of Tear, where the sword Callandor awaits the hands of the Dragon Reborn and no one else. Hoping to keep him alive, Moiraine and Perrin give chase.

Meanwhile, Egwene and Elayne are raised to Accepted status in their Aes Sedai training, and the Amyrlin gives them and Nynaeve the task of discovering the members of the Black Ajah, who have infiltrated the White Tower.

Notes: This far into the series, some spoilers are inevitable. If you’ve never read the first three books, be forewarned.

After spending eighteen hundred pages getting to know the world and its inhabitants, I'm totally caught up in numerous characters' lives. At the end of book two, I was furious with Min Farshaw. And I'm glad I went online to find out what would happen, because that gave me time to reconcile myself to the way the romances are going to go down. I’ve got a strong tendency to root for first love, and accepting that Rand and Egwene were not going to end up together has been hard.

Sixty-four pages into book three, Min had showed enough feeling that I'd decided to cheer for her after all. And then she disappeared from the book. Not cool, Jordan.

With Rand on the knife-edge of insanity, this volume focused on Egwene and Perrin, sometimes Mat. All of whom were far more interesting to follow around than Bayle Domon in the last book. But I missed Rand. Whenever he did come onstage, I wound up heartbroken for him.

For the first time, I almost liked Mat Cauthon. At the moment I'm reserving judgment, but I think his heart is mostly good.

As for Perrin—I love that guy, and he has proven consistently heroic. It made my day to see him go after Faile.

Egwene got to hang around with Elayne, whom I like, and Nynaeve, whom I continue to love despite her tendency to pull her braid in every scene and her furious transparency about Lan. I like Lan all right, but honestly haven't caught on to that aspect of Nynaeve's emotions. Also, her need for vengeance has gotten a little old.

One of the more powerful scenes in the book, and one I've especially waited for, was Egwene's trip through the three-arched ter'angreal. Robert Jordan didn't disappoint me. He made me cry, actually. It gave me a few ideas about who Egwene might become to Rand: not his wife, but something almost more—leader of the yang as he leads the yin, and through her choice of Ajah, I'd expect her to fight alongside him in Tarmon Gai'don or at least the overarching war. I could live with that.

Now, on to symbolism. First: A sword in a stone that can only be drawn by one person? Hello, King Arthur.

Second: The ter'angreal are truly interesting. Sheriam introduces the three arches as a facing of fears, and certainly Nynaeve and Egwene face fears inside each arch, but their primary test in each case is to obediently leave right in the middle of the most difficult part. I haven't quite figured out what to make of that.

Then there's Egwene's dream ter'angreal: a Möbius strip, a ring with a single edge. Infinity upon infinity? I wish I knew more about Eastern mythology for this sort of thing. These books are circles and threes at every level, and judging from all the red and gold that keeps cropping up, I'd guess they're alchemical, though I haven't caught sight of a pattern yet. I'm less than a quarter of the way through the series. But the Wheel of Time, the ouroboros rings, the White Flame of Tar Valon and the Dragon Fang—these all point to the esoteric, probably the Gnostic and hermetic thought Jordan drew from his Freemasonry.

As a Catholic, of course, I can't reconcile some of these ideas with my own. I ran into one particular philosophical roadblock in this book: Moiraine (if I remember rightly) describes the Dark one, Ba'alzemon, as—among other things—the "embodiment of paradox." My brain went straight to one of Chesterton's discussions of symbolism:
"For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed for ever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox in its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travellers."—Orthodoxy, Chapter 2
Symbols are merely expressions of ideas, and not necessarily fixed in their interpretations. I'm pretty sure that Jordan, an Anglican, wouldn't equate Jesus with the Dark One. Still—I've long believed that lone ideas can be dangerous, especially in reaction to an apparent opposite, and that paradox brings light and order and beauty to the world. You'll never catch me calling it the epitome of evil in one of my books. :P

Be that as it may, Jordan is an impressive symbolist. It's part of what makes reading his work so fun.

Anyway, I'm tasting a bit of my love for Harry Potter in the way I'm feeling about this series thus far. There's a lot left to read, though. I remember the niggling worry in the days leading up to Deathly Hallows, wondering—how is Rowling going to resolve all this? Will I be as happy with the seventh book as with the previous six, or will she kill it for me? Jordan could go either way. For now, I intend to read on.

Recommendation: I just compared my feelings for The Wheel of Time to Harry Potter. If that's not enough recommendation, what is?

4 comments:

  1. Oooh, and you're just coming up on the best books! I'm loving re-reading these vicariously through you, even if our reactions are startlingly divergent at times. (While Perrin is the protag that I relate to most, Mat always makes me grin, and may be my favorite.)

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  2. Chris, as subjective as reading always is, these books seem to bring out wildly different responses. :) My best friend likes Perrin but finds Rand annoying, and never thought the Rand/Egwene relationship was very interesting. And I have another friend who apparently ranted so much in school about how much he couldn't stand Robert Jordan that his buddies actually started calling him Robert Jordan. :P

    Mat irritated me in the first two books, but I've liked him a lot better in the third and fourth (just finished the fourth--review coming in a couple of weeks.) He did make me laugh a few times in book four, as I recall. I can see how he could become a favorite.

    I've got book five on request at the library, and can't wait to read it!

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  3. He he he, so glad the enjoyment continues. Just popping in to respond to your thoughts on Mat. For what it's worth, *later* in the series (i.e., the part of the series I stopped at for now--somewhere around book 10), Mat became one of my main reasons to keep reading. His character gets more and more developed as you move further in the series, and in my opinion, likable.

    And, as a teenager reading the books, of the three main male protagonists, Perrin was always my favorite--so heroic :)

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  4. Good to know, Donna. I'll keep an eye on Mat. And Perrin is great--truly wonderful guy. :D

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