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  #1  
Old 09-04-2013, 09:24 PM
Great Lord of the Dark Great Lord of the Dark is offline
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Default This is why the Wheel of Time 'bloats' in the middle

This is a thread about how the scope of the series gets broader about 6 books in. Please, no comments on Brandon vs. Jordan, no comments about about whether it sucked or not, stick to why it gets 'bloated' and what was achieved both successfully and unsuccessfully. Thank you.

The Wheel of Time is the story of how Rand, a simple farm boy with a well-entrenched world view and morality goes out into the world in search of adventure. Early in the books, the point of view is restricted to other like-minded characters and the action and plots are straightforward. The villainous Seanchan are so alien in their adoption of slavery that they are presented as nothing but the enemy.

The series takes a major shift in The Shadow Rising, where even wider and stranger locales and cultures are encountered. The Aiel in particular present a new framework of ethics that Rand struggles to adopt out of necessity of keeping their warriors allied to him.

Rand begins to try to wrest these other cultures to his way of thinking by force, imposing laws and penalties on those who act against his morality.

Lord of Chaos is when Rand's confusion over how to reconcile these cultures is represented as a constant jump from one character to another, usually showing a new or different point of view. This jumble is purely intentional.

Soon, Sea Folk and Seanchan points of view show up, lasting for only one chapter, that character's viewpoint then vanishing, never to be seen again in the series. Bethamin offers one of the first times Seanchan are presented somewhat favourably. These represent the ever-expanding number of cultures Rand is being exposed to.

In reaction to his inability to dispose of the new moral frameworks being thrust at him, in Winter's Heart, Rand tries to toss his original moral grounding away, resorting to base assassination to achieve his goals, which have taken precedence over all other considerations. He soon finds this leads down a sombre path.

Crossroads of Twilight offers no Rand perspectives but for the epilogue, which is told in an omnipresent voice. The other characters founder, searching for their own guiding principles.

Rand discovers that his chosen path of no conscience at all ultimately leads to killing his own father, and rejects it. He grounds himself in acceptance. He cannot change the world, he can simply save it and let it change itself. He decides to trust others to do what is right, based on their own culture and morals.

Ultimately, he expresses his newfound balance between the various needs of the world's cultures through an elegant tool: the Dragon's Peace. He uses the one element he can control as leverage to persuade the others to meet him part way. Every one has to give up some part of what distinguished them. Ultimately, he must accept that he cannot end the hated Seanchan culture of slavery on his own. The people who survive the Last Battle will take up that cause, if they so desire.

When Rand goes to Shayol Ghul, it is with a form of his early morality, slightly changed by exposure to the different cultures which have shown him other ways of living, some better, some worse, usually a mix of both. He is not the one to judge whether the way they live is right, he is the one to earn them the chance to live their lives at all; they will choose what to do with it.

Rand's victory over the Dark One comes after he relearns this lesson in battle, and accepts what he cannot and should not change. Like Tam, he was changed by what he lived outside the Two Rivers, but his core stayed true. Rand has grown into adulthood.

A Memory of Light represents this by focusing back in on familiar characters who have also been changed by what they have lived, but who are in majority the same ones seen in The Eye of the World.

The structure of the entire series, from simple and straightforward, to expansive bloat, to resolution, is not one of author's ego after hitting the big time, nor one of not knowing when to stop hitting the keys, nor showing off all the cool world building he created. That big puffy bump in the middle is intentional, and represents what all of us must learn to cope with the world, wherever we were raised.

Theoryland already existed as a microcosm of that theme, where each of us brought some perspective to the table that was unique, and broadened everyone's view, against our will quite often, just as was done to Rand.

In conclusion, the change in pace in the middle of the series was done intentionally to represent Rand's state of mind as he attempted to reconcile the different cultures, ethical frameworks, and standards of morality of the various factions of the world. Robert Jordan executed this exceedingly well and subtly, such that a majority of fans did not recognize the purpose of the change in pace and number of points of view. A Memory of Light brought the elements of this theme to a logical, consistent, and satisfying conclusion, both in terms of plot elements and structure.

That is my theory.

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  #2  
Old 09-05-2013, 08:42 PM
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Just because something is intentional doesn't necessarily mean it is a good idea or works well, or is the best way to show a thing. I still maintain that a tighter focus would have improved the series. I really didn't need POVs from Random Aes Sedai #4050 or Random Darkfriend #27 to show me that Rand was learning and changing as a person, nor did I need Perrin to take quite as long as he did to do, well, anything, nor for Mat to have a learning experience whilst travelling with Valan bloody Luca's bloody circus. Cut away some of those unnecessary POVs and tighten up the plotlines for the main characters and you have a better series without losing any of the imagery which you talk about.
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Old 09-05-2013, 11:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Zombie Sammael View Post
Just because something is intentional doesn't necessarily mean it is a good idea or works well, or is the best way to show a thing. I still maintain that a tighter focus would have improved the series. I really didn't need POVs from Random Aes Sedai #4050 or Random Darkfriend #27 to show me that Rand was learning and changing as a person...
This was always part of what made the series interesting to me. If I liked stories with limited cast, I would have fallen in love with something else. I don't think the mid-late books were bloated so much as they were incomplete. Easy to forget that the books not only took longer to write starting with ACOS, they also got shorter. It's clear in retrospect that this is when RJ's health started to decline; he said that LOC almost killed him, and that after his initial six-book contract was up he followed doctor's orders to cut back on his writing hours. If he could have done 7-11 in 3-4 books instead of 5, I think fans would have overall been happier with what happened in the story.

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Crossroads of Twilight offers no Rand perspectives but for the epilogue, which is told in an omnipresent voice.
We also get him in Chapter 24, and the epilogue bit is not Omni.
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  #4  
Old 09-05-2013, 11:55 PM
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This was always part of what made the series interesting to me. If I liked stories with limited cast, I would have fallen in love with something else. I don't think the mid-late books were bloated so much as they were incomplete. Easy to forget that the books not only took longer to write starting with ACOS, they also got shorter. It's clear in retrospect that this is when RJ's health started to decline; he said that LOC almost killed him, and that after his initial six-book contract was up he followed doctor's orders to cut back on his writing hours. If he could have done 7-11 in 3-4 books instead of 5, I think fans would have overall been happier with what happened in the story.
I've had several near-arguments with Lupus about this very thing, and it's interesting, because she's always been able to point out to me exactly why a certain POV is there (even down to the bath scenes) and what it shows or tells us. Of course, my counter-argument is always that there was a better way to do it, and that if RJ had decided to use less POVs he would have had to change the plot to make those things happen in other ways, and it would therefore have made the series tighter, but as Isabel would say, that's a what if game .

For my part, as far as personal appeal goes, I think what really grabbed me at a young age was the sources, and the way the world was drawn. A world which could be our world in the future (or indeed, in the past) retained just enough of the fairy-tale mystique whilst drawing from enough different sources that it felt consummate in its approach to the creation of a fantasy story. As the series drew on, it lost some of that feel, precisely because the sheer scope of the world and the number of viewpoints diminished the sense of wonder; we started to learn how everything worked. Next to RJ, my favourite pure fantasy writer is probably Robin Hobb, and in (IMO) her strongest work she uses first person perspective; I contrast Fitz knowing the baddies are up to something but never knowing precisely what with having an actual point of view from Moghedien thinking, essentially, "Eh, I'm dead evil, me," and find RJ comes up short, even though the construction of the world and the plot is far more final. WOT's greatest strength, for me, was in taking the ideas developed out of Tolkien and before Jordan and bringing them to a point of completeness where the story had been told. In my opinion, closing that chapter on the entire fantasy genre allowed for other authors such as Brandon Sanderson and China Mieville to find entirely new directions to take their stories. It completed the trope of the chosen one as much as it could ever be completed, and now we're ready for different stories and different ways of building a secondary world.
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Sa souvraya niende misain ye

Master of the lightnings, rider on the storm,
wearer of a crown of swords, spinner out of fate.
Who thinks he turns the Wheel of Time,
may learn the truth too late.

Light is held before the maw of the infinite void, and all that he is can be seized.

The one who Death has known
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Old 09-06-2013, 04:11 AM
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WOT's greatest strength, for me, was in taking the ideas developed out of Tolkien and before Jordan and bringing them to a point of completeness where the story had been told. In my opinion, closing that chapter on the entire fantasy genre allowed for other authors such as Brandon Sanderson and China Mieville to find entirely new directions to take their stories. It completed the trope of the chosen one as much as it could ever be completed, and now we're ready for different stories and different ways of building a secondary world.
I think that's really well put. WoT really is/was revolutionary in 1991 when it refused to delegate the female characters into the "your princess is in another castle" role; when it blurred the lines between good end evil; and when it refused to fall for the human-dwarf-elf trope. That there are gender and social perspectives there that in 2013 seem outdated simply shows how fast the world has changed.

Yes, there are even more gritty writers with even less distinction between good and evil nowadays, yes there are even more believable female *and* male characters, yes there are more diverse ecosystems... but all of that has come in the last... maybe 10-15 years? Back when Jordan pitched his story, everyone was reading Eddings, Feist and Brooks and thought that THAT was what Fantasy was supposed to be like. There was Anne McCaffrey of course, but her writing was a blend of SciFi and Fantasy; when it came to "pure" fantasy then yeah... there were very fixed rules, and Jordan broke those rules.
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Old 09-06-2013, 04:37 AM
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I've had several near-arguments with Lupus about this very thing, and it's interesting, because she's always been able to point out to me exactly why a certain POV is there (even down to the bath scenes) and what it shows or tells us. Of course, my counter-argument is always that there was a better way to do it, and that if RJ had decided to use less POVs he would have had to change the plot to make those things happen in other ways, and it would therefore have made the series tighter....
I don't think that your definition of "tighter" is the same as mine. For the most part, I can't see why I would have wanted any scenes to happen in a different way or with different characters. To use baths as an example, since you brought it up, taking baths is something that people do; if the story never mentions it, then it becomes a bit unrealistic, but RJ always layered such scenes with plot, starting with the Stag and Lion in Baerlon and ending with the Sea Folk bargain in KOD. But there aren't many baths on screen, which makes me wonder why people keep going on about it.
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Old 09-06-2013, 04:39 AM
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Nitpick: Eddings didn't have all that many dwarf princesses in castles.
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Old 09-06-2013, 04:52 AM
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I don't think that your definition of "tighter" is the same as mine. For the most part, I can't see why I would have wanted any scenes to happen in a different way or with different characters. To use baths as an example, since you brought it up, taking baths is something that people do; if the story never mentions it, then it becomes a bit unrealistic, but RJ always layered such scenes with plot, starting with the Stag and Lion in Baerlon and ending with the Sea Folk bargain in KOD. But there aren't many baths on screen, which makes me wonder why people keep going on about it.
It's the one in COT, where Elayne is pregnant, and RJ goes into exacting detail about how the water is heated and brought up to the rooms, etc, that I'm generally referring to when making snide comments about bath scenes, and I think that's the one that made a lot of other people start rolling their eyes. Lupus has a different take on it, but I guess I'll let her expand on that if she ever gets back on here...
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Old 09-06-2013, 05:32 AM
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Two copper bathtubs sat on thick layers of toweling laid atop the rose-colored floor tiles where one of the carpets had been rolled up, evidence that word of Elayne's arrival had flown ahead of her. Servants had a knack for learning what was happening that the Tower's eyes-and-ears might envy. A good blaze in the fireplace and tight casements in the windows made the room warm after the corridors, and Essande waited only to see Elayne enter the room before sending Sephanie off at a run to fetch the men with the hot water. That would be brought up in double-walled pails with lids to keep it from getting cold on the way from the kitchens, though it might be delayed a little by Guardswomen checking to make sure there were no knives hidden in the water.
That is "exacting detail"? Really?
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Old 09-07-2013, 07:57 PM
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That is "exacting detail"? Really?
I think an entire paragraph about how the bath is prepared is pretty exacting as compared to "Elayne had a bath", especially when the paragraph doesn't, on the face of it, tell us anything else. Of course on more careful analysis it tells us a great deal else but on a first read through it still feels pretty exacting to me, and IIRC comes immediately after some other fairly boring chapters.
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Master of the lightnings, rider on the storm,
wearer of a crown of swords, spinner out of fate.
Who thinks he turns the Wheel of Time,
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Light is held before the maw of the infinite void, and all that he is can be seized.

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Old 09-08-2013, 03:33 AM
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I'll admit, it does get annoying, some of those parts (Elayne's baths, obviously), but for the most part, I did enjoy learning other character's perspectives on the world at large. Like some farmer learning he can channel while Rand and Nynaeve work to cleanse Saiden.

These little bits showed that what the main characters were doing did actually have far reaching consequences and effects, and not just for other powerful people (Aes Sedai get thrown in this too), but for the regular oridinary person.

Granted, this sort of thing doesn't always work and can become convulated and overall lose you (some book series based off of WWII but in a fantasy world setting, each chapter was some different character you never hear from again). But RJ did it in away it all tied in well and made sense, and (for the most part) without having a bunch of useless stuff in there.
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Old 09-08-2013, 09:35 PM
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Default No real disagreement?

addressing everyone's comments in order:

Zombie Sammael (still one of the best usernames ever): Could Jordan have achieved the same in less words? Most readers feel as you do, that the story was going nowhere fast. I submit this was part of the point he was making when he stretched those sections out. The structure of the story matches the theme at each point of the story. In this section, you can't know where you're going with no moral compass to guide you. It's a quagmire.

Let's say he did write it more succinctly. Does the story lose anything by the fact that the structure doesn't necessarily match the themes? In most cases, it's balancing the need for the story just the way the author wants vs. entertaining the audience. Failing to entertain is a cardinal sin.

Although I now enjoy this part of the story much more than I used to, I suspect the trade-off is not worth it in most readers' view.

There is something right to your idea that once you tell readers the inner workings, it's time to end the story. I suppose keeping inner workings secret is where many RAFOs come from.


Terez: This is what happens when you write in a tiff and use memory instead of databases. Good catch.

I agree that the diverse and immersive points of view are something Jordan does best, and added the rich depth that kept us coming back for more.


yks 6nnetu hing: I think you're correct about some of what made Jordan stand out at the time. I do not know which, if any, of these authors have made the story structure match the story's message and themes. Perhaps it's only something which is of little interest to casual readers?

Rand al'Fain: At the end of the series, Rand is meant to represent everyone, so the farmers and soldiers and such each face choices in the vein of Rand's major conflict. Broadening the cast to convey the scope of the Last Battle, yet bring it all back to a very personal set of common choices was very well executed throughout the series.

THE BATH!

Technically, Rand has way more baths than Elayne.
Learning from the above, I actually went back to the books and found that I misremembered where the bath scene takes place. Elayne's major bath scene is lengthy because she keeps getting interrupted, a metaphor for duty before pleasure.

A similar complaint in The Shadow Rising was the interminable walk through the Waste in which 'nothing happens'. Except for Rand's budding romance with Aviendha, clues about Lanfear and Asmodean, and all the background on Aiel culture you need to interpret the rest of the story.

To Zombie Sammael's point, the placement of a description near other uninteresting details adds to the perception that it is overdescriptive. It seems to happen most often when the context of the story at that point is that the character must wait for something, which takes control of events away from them, and creates that feeling of 'nothing happening'.


So far, I sense little disagreement to the idea that the structure does in fact match the story's theme. So well, in fact that it throws readers off.
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Old 09-09-2013, 12:44 AM
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(I've always thought you had a pretty sweet username too, as it happens)

Though you are correct that slow down does to some extent thematically match the portions of the series in which it takes place, that doesn't necessarily make it a good idea from a storytelling perspective. I'm a comic book fan, and we complain a lot about decompression as a storytelling technique over recent years, since it makes it feel like we get less bang for our $3.99 per issue. That sort of thing isn't strictly speaking a problem for a writer like RJ, since he isn't writing an ongoing periodical, but it does cause the series to extend, even when that extension serves a metaphorical purpose. It isn't necessarily good writing; Stephen King, for instance, might be likely to argue that putting symbolism before storytelling is putting the cart before the horse. If I believed there really was no other way to demonstrate these things, I'd probably agree with you that it works as an amazing structural metaphor and I really love it, but as it is, it slows down a story that by that point ought to be racing at breakneck speed towards a thrilling conclusion. YMMV.
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wearer of a crown of swords, spinner out of fate.
Who thinks he turns the Wheel of Time,
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Old 09-09-2013, 03:54 AM
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YMMV.
Which may very well be source of the whole issue. Some writers are very good at writing short stories, some are very bad at it. It may be that Stephen King could have written this series in just half a dozen books, but I don't think RJ could have done so. And if SK had written it, then it would have been a very different story, I suspect. So the kind of approach to telling the story (your mileage) you get depends upon (varies with) the author who is telling the story.

Of course, some authors are capable of improving their style; but it seems a bit unfair to chide RJ for not managing to do so now.
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Old 09-09-2013, 06:04 AM
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Terez: This is what happens when you write in a tiff and use memory instead of databases. Good catch.
I was using memory. Just saying. (It's not hard for me to remember that one because the general lack of Rand POVs in that book stands out.) (I misplaced a bath scene in COT to KOD, though. My memory is not always perfect...)
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Old 09-09-2013, 06:15 AM
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(I misplaced a bath scene in COT to KOD, though. My memory is not always perfect...)
That's just a matter of spelling, though, as COT and KOD are pronounced the same.
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Old 09-09-2013, 06:24 AM
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Only if you are a Germanic barbarian.
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Old 09-10-2013, 11:31 PM
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Default The Wheel of Time is the best series ever!

Zombie Sammael: Decompression may be why I never walk out of the comic store with a comic after flipping through a pile of them.

I can't argue that Jordan could have taken half as long, or twice as long to convey the same message through the structure of his writing. I am somewhat surprised that no one has previously theorized that he may have been doing this intentionally. I still think it adds a lot to the story, but can see that it doesn't compensate for the perceived lack of progress in many readers' minds.

After these recent posts and seeing some of the vitriol expressed by several commenters on the blog of the fellow who used Goodreads and Amazon stats to visualize fan appreciation of the Wheel of Time, I am struck with how intensely many still feel at the 'betrayal' by a favourite author. Most striking is that supposed fans' very first thing to say is that the Wheel of Time is long and boring in the middle.

They won't be selling many copies to their friends like that.

Does no one remember how awesome the series is? Those moments of epic resolution? The sense of wonder in the early books? Appreciation of the goofy relationships between the sexes in every culture? Are we all done recommending this series to friends?

Why do fans feel the need to add the caveat about the middle books to every review, commentary, or summary?

I can only surmise that the emotional wounds from those books still run deep after all this time, and never had a chance to heal properly after Jordan's death, so a bitter aftertaste is the last most powerful memory many retain.

Can anyone say 'The Wheel of Time is great!' without adding the caveat?
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Old 09-11-2013, 02:46 AM
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Does no one remember how awesome the series is? Those moments of epic resolution? The sense of wonder in the early books? Appreciation of the goofy relationships between the sexes in every culture? Are we all done recommending this series to friends?
Bela died.
Spoiler:
That is, admittedly, not quite such a big thing as one might assume without this spoiler.
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Old 09-11-2013, 09:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Great Lord of the Dark View Post
Zombie Sammael: Decompression may be why I never walk out of the comic store with a comic after flipping through a pile of them.

I can't argue that Jordan could have taken half as long, or twice as long to convey the same message through the structure of his writing. I am somewhat surprised that no one has previously theorized that he may have been doing this intentionally. I still think it adds a lot to the story, but can see that it doesn't compensate for the perceived lack of progress in many readers' minds.

After these recent posts and seeing some of the vitriol expressed by several commenters on the blog of the fellow who used Goodreads and Amazon stats to visualize fan appreciation of the Wheel of Time, I am struck with how intensely many still feel at the 'betrayal' by a favourite author. Most striking is that supposed fans' very first thing to say is that the Wheel of Time is long and boring in the middle.

They won't be selling many copies to their friends like that.

Does no one remember how awesome the series is? Those moments of epic resolution? The sense of wonder in the early books? Appreciation of the goofy relationships between the sexes in every culture? Are we all done recommending this series to friends?

Why do fans feel the need to add the caveat about the middle books to every review, commentary, or summary?

I can only surmise that the emotional wounds from those books still run deep after all this time, and never had a chance to heal properly after Jordan's death, so a bitter aftertaste is the last most powerful memory many retain.

Can anyone say 'The Wheel of Time is great!' without adding the caveat?
I can
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