Friday, 16 April 2010

Robert Jordan, Wheel of Time 6: Lord of Chaos (1994)

I am posting these Lonesome Dove-style ‘trekking through the wilderness dragging behind me the corpse of my interest’ posts on Jordan’s Wheel weekly, every Friday. But thanks to Blogger’s pre-posting facility I’m not reading them as regularly as this regimen perhaps suggests. I can be more specific: I read the first three Wheel-vols pretty much one after the other; and then it was only a short interlude before I tackled four and five. But after that I didn’t read another Jordan novel for quite a long time. Somehow I couldn’t quite summon the energy to pick up the effectively cuboid, thousand-page (‘megapage’?) Lord of Chaos. At the back of my mind was the thought: but even when I finish this one I won’t yet have reached the halfway point! And at the front of my mind was ‘No! No! No!’

That Lonesome Dove reference, up there, dates me rather, doesn’t it though?

Still, eventually I screwed my courage to the sticking point, or to be precise, stuck my courage to the screwing point, or screwpoint-and-sticked, and I read the thing. And the result was: dear merciful God. That pretty much sums it up. ‘Oh God!’ is an interesting utterance, isn’t it? It can be spoken by someone at the very point of orgasm, as a signifier of extreme pleasure; or it can be groaned out by someone facing horrors, terrors, pains and an eternity of dullness. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine which usage applies in this case.

To be a little more specific: this seems to me a novel written by a man who has only too effectively painted himself into a corner. The overarching narrative is the battle of Good versus Evil. Evil has a seemingly neverending supply of bestial trollocs, various high-placed traitors and wizards, and all the cool black clothing. But by volume six Good has acquired not only the draconic magical leader destined by prophesy to overthrow evil; but also an enormous army of impossibly gifted warriors of a naturally martial race; a general who can channel all previous genius-generals; an invincible magical sword that can destroy whole cities; and a horn that can summon the greatest dead warriors of all time to help you out. The implication, it seems to me, is that ‘Ayn’ Rand, Jordan’s hero, could wipe the floor with Evil's Minions any time he liked. But Jordan has many more fat volumes to fill. I suppose he could balance each of these laboriously acquired magical positives with magical kryptonite-equivalents to cancel them out, until the final showdown. But he chooses a different textual strategy: he dillies, and dallies. He dallies and dillies, misses the cart and, furthermore, he cannot find his way home.

Volume six is a lengthy exercise in treading water. Nothing at all happens for hundreds and hundreds of pages. And when the reader has got on top of that, nothing at all happens for hundred of pages more. Finally there’s a big battle, but by this point the reader’s brainwaves will long since have assumed a perfectly sine regularity. For almost the whole of its length this is a novel that absolutely point-blank refuses to get off its arse and do something, anything. Anything at all. Reading it is the equivalent of spending ten hours staring at a portly man slouched in a bean-bag.

What happens? Some more magical artefacts are discovered to add to the characters' lumber room: here a crystal bowl that affects the weather. Egwene, Rand's former girlfriend, hooks up with a fellow called Gawain. The Aes Sedai split into two factions, and Egwene is elected Grand Panjandrum, or Grande Panjandra, of one of these. There are various assassination attempts upon Rand's life (think how much more interesting the sequence could have been had one of these succeeded!) Then Rand is kidnapped, put in a small box, no, really, and carried away; and Perrin leads an enormous army on a rescue mission. There's another big dust-up, during which Rand gets free on his own without anybody's help, and then, after E-e-evil has been knocked on the head, that's your lot.

Also: I appreciate that Jordan wasn't responsible for the cover design, up there. But still. Hard to look at it and not think; 'Gold! (Gold!) Always believe in your so-houl!'

And finally Esther (and finally Cyril), this week’s Robert Jordan’s Proverbial Wisdom:

Never prod at a woman unless you must.” Good advice.

Cheer the bull, or cheer the bear; cheer both, and you will be trampled and eaten.” Since bulls eat grass rather than people, I would say that implicit in this proverb is ‘… eaten by the bear.’ Or to paraphrase: the bear doesn’t mind if you cheer him, or if you cheer the bull; but for some reason he gets very cross if you cheer them both. I daresay the bear has his reasons.

The only man completely at peace is a man without a navel.” Only with plastic surgery will you attain peace.

If the world is ending, a woman will want time to fix her hair.” There’s a word for proverbs like this. The word is ‘sexist’.

Caution once forgotten could be forgotten once too often.” Um …

If wishes were wings, pigs would fly.” Because what pigs truly wish for is wings. Little curly wings.

The best way to apologize to a man is to trip him in a secluded part of the garden.” The second best way is to say ‘sorry’. But, really, you should go with Plan A in the first instance.

You put your cat in your hat and stuff it down your breeches.” This one is attributed to that ill-starred Dr Seuss porno project you've probably read about.

16 comments:

Chris said...

Fantastic stuff, as ever. I really hope you stick the course with these ones, although that does sound a little sadistic now I've written it down.

The title of the entry should be Lord of Chaos, rather than Lord of Heavn by the way, although it's a perfectly reasonable mistake to make, given the general vagueness and haiku-rigid structure of Robert Jordan's titles.

Adam Roberts said...

Chris. You're absolutely right; have corrected. Thanks.

Larry said...

Oh, and I guess I should note that it was Perrin and not Mat that led the rescue party. Before the rabid fans start arriving and such.

Yeah, I remember this book being a slog, but no comments on the "kneel" scene at the end of the novel? Grist for the mill, that line can be.

David Moles said...

Ah, if only there was a fight scene anywhere in Jordan as good as the bull vs. bear scene from Lonesome Dove.

Wally said...

No, sir!! You bust out 'cuboid,' setting all my nerve endings a-tingle, but then use the limp 'perfectly sine regularity' in lieu of (say) the throbbing 'perfect sinusoidal regularity' or the magnificently necropriapic 'cold dead sinusoidal character'?!

Sigh.

Adam Roberts said...

Larry -- you're right. I've corrected.

Adam Roberts said...

Wally: I am shamed.

Miles said...

Surely if you cheer both the bull and the bear, you will be trampled by the bull and eaten by the bear.

Although I would think that cheering either would only attract unwanted attention and the better advice would be to keep quiet.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I only recently read this series myself, I read it in early 2009 when there was still some chance that #12 would actually be the last volume.. So I eagerly read the first 11 only to find that I'd have to wait at least another 3 years (if TOR, Harriet and Sanderson don't decide they want more money and split them further)to finish it.


Your reviews/commentaries are beginning to more and more remind me of a tongue in cheek version of Moorcocks' "Epic Pooh", He simply was far more vitriolic, mean spirited and less funny than you are being.

I will also say, in regards to your seemingly incessant desire to have more sex scenes in the books.. if I wanted Sex, I wouldn't be a Fantasy reader..

GeoX said...

I don't think it's a desire for more sex scenes so much as a desire that, if sex is going to be dealt with at all, that it be done in a mature way.

Mark_W said...

Lagomorph Rex

(if TOR, Harriet and Sanderson don't decide they want more money and split them further) to finish it.

By Jove, that’s more than just a little bit harsh (and mean spirited), isn’t it? Whatever one thinks of the WoT (and Adam has already got further than I did) RJ was, by all accounts (accounts which, it seems likely, to someone who never met him, but who read various posts by him, and those who knew him, on the intertubes, to be entirely accurate) a thoroughly decent and splendid person. Likewise his widow, and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, the guy in charge of sf at Tor.

Mightn’t they just want those (vast numbers of) fans of WoT to have the ending that RJ wanted in the (given the circumstances) best/most convenient/economically viable/etc. way possible? Those of us that aren’t interested, or have given up, are just as free as ever we were to ignore the final volumes (or, of course, to carry on and read and review them however we please -- and I hope Adam does) after all...

I will also say, in regards to your seemingly incessant desire to have more sex scenes in the books...

For every reader there’s a different interpretation and all that, but I’ve got exactly the opposite from these reviews (and others here).

So it goes, I guess...

Mark_W

PS: Having written all this down, it seems much more like a personal attack on you (and far more pompous) than I intended, for which I apologise. I only meant to try and disagree with you in a constructive way...

marco said...

if I wanted Sex, I wouldn't be a Fantasy reader..

Very well put.
However, I don't think the rabb...er, lagomorphs in your triskelion emblem agree with you.

Lagomorph Rex said...

Harsh, maybe. I'm just a cynic at heart I guess.

I'm certainly not saying they WILL do it, just that I'm not ruling it out. Just like I'm not ruling out Martin croaking before he finishes ASOIAF either. I'm the sort who wakes up every morning and thinks " Right, I'm awake now.. time for stuff to go wrong ".

And yeah I guess a lot of it is probably personal perception.. I certainly would rather it be handled in a mature way too. But that dosen't mean adversely it needs to be done graphically like Richard K. Morgan or some one.

Mark_W said...

Lagomorph Rex

Fair enoughski...

I'm the sort who wakes up every morning and thinks, "Right, I'm awake now...time for stuff to go wrong."

Ha! Yeah, I've had times when I know what that feels like...

Mark_W

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