The Wheel of Time – 3,430,682 Words Later…

I wrapped up the last available book in Robert Jordan‘s “The Wheel of Time” saga, “The Knife of Dreams,” this past weekend.  I am now all ready for the last entry in the series, “The Memory of Light” which is due out this fall and which might end up so long that it may need to be broken into two books to accommodate the estimated 700,000 additional words that have gone into this partly posthumous work.

I did cheat a bit to get to this point.

You will note I did not say I read the series.  I listened to the whole thing in audio book form.  Audible.com has the entire series available in unabridged format. (I insist on unabridged.)

The series adds up to nearly 350  hours of audio, or about 14 and a half days to listen to all 11 books plus the prequel.

Most of that listening was done in the car during my commute to and from work, a 60-90 minute round trip.  I started listening in mid-January 2008 and just finish in mid-March 2009.  I am afraid that MMO related podcasts suffered a downturn in listening on my part as a result.

One of the nice things about listening to the whole series is that I know how to pronounce everything!  I compare this to my attempt to read The Silmarillion for the first time; I could not pronounce anything correctly!  Too many umlauts, for a start!

At least I sort of know how to pronounce every thing.  The book was read by two people, a man for all the parts that were from a male perspective and a woman for all the parts that were from a female perspective.  Unfortunately, for the first few books they appeared to be working with different pronunciation guides, so a change of narrator would change how some things were said, sometimes dramatically.  For a while I thought there were two different characters, one with a name that sounded like “Moe-gah-dean” and one with a name that sounded like “Muh-gid-ee-en.”  After a while they seem to have had a meeting of the minds and settled on a single pronunciation of Moghedien.

On the other hand, I couldn’t spell very many names of people of places.  Rand and Lan I could handle, but Egwene and Nynaeve, and frankly many of the female names, were not so easy for me to sound out into written form.  I had to go look them up, even to write that last sentence.  Robert Jordan seemed to relish coming up with names that were spelled in unexpected ways, at least when compared to how they were pronounced.

Another nice thing about going through the whole series as audio books is that I have a good deal more tolerance for… well… the tedious or boring bits.  One of the issues with the series is that it follows the paths of so many different people that it makes the works of James Michener read like The Bobbsey Twins.  And amongst all those threads (yes, I get it, they all weave together on the wheel of time) there are a few that I just didn’t give a damn about or that I felt could have gotten the point across in a couple hundred less pages.

Having gone through the whole series almost one after another, I started to notice patterns as well.  Repeated phrases began to grate, rather like the constant reference to cigarettes, their availability, price, and quality, by nearly every character in the Harry Turtledove Timeline 191 series.  Some that come to mind:

Must we hear about the ageless quality (or lack there of) of the face of every Aes Sedai that shows up?

Smiles that do not reach the eyes – can we come up with another description?

Tugging on braids; it was bad enough when just Nynaeve was doing it, but later other female characters show the same mannerism, at least when they aren’t needlessly/nervously smoothing their skirts, or stopping short of doing so.

And speaking of skirts, do skirts with multiple colors ever have a second color that isn’t a “slash.”  Blue skirts slashed with red, brown slashed with green.  Had they not discovered stripes?  Was plaid beyond them?  Maybe I am just unclear on the concept.

And, finally, can we dispense with the stock descriptions of some characters after the first couple of usages per book? Do I need to hear how Vanin, Mat‘s best scout in the Band of the Red Hand, sits in the saddle like a bag of suet every time he rides up?  Must I hear about Julin Sandar‘s red, flat topped conical cap (read: fez) or Thom Merrilin‘s mustaches every time they show up?  Every second tier character seemed to have some stock phrase associated with him or her that had to be used every time they showed up and it began to get on my nerves.

I know, who am I to nit pick?  I write a blog post and then I have to go back and remove my own excessively used turns of phrase, like starting sentences with, “So,” “Of course,” “On the other hand,” and the others that I over use out of habit.  And Robert Jordan has passed away, so it isn’t like he’s going to do a re-write for me in any case.

Still, maybe some author will take this to heart.  When you compare this with Patrick O’Brian‘s Aubrey/Machurin series, a 20 book epic of its own (also available on Audible.com) you will find that Mr. O’Brian never fell into this sort of repeated usage of the same phrases until they became tired cliches within his own work.  I have read interviews with him where he went on about the craft of writing and keeping just that sort of thing from happening.

Enough of that though.

I made it through the whole thing, listened to every word, never skipped ahead, and do not regret the effort.  I enjoyed most of the books and I do plan to read or listen to the final book(s) when available.  I have to find out how things end up for the five people who started off from the Two Rivers all those books ago, even if I am not so concerned about some of the people who they have met along the way.

But a company out there, Red Eagle Entertainment, says they are going to make movies and an MMO out of the series.  Is that viable?

For an MMO, there certainly is enough background material there.  There is a large and reasonably well described world.  There are key cities with lots of sparsely settled or empty space in between.  There are enough factions to go around and then some.  There is a set group of bad guys with their own army of slavering minions, plus a whole evil infrastructure in the dark friends to root out.  There is a wide range of potential classes.  The right company could make a Lord of the Rings Online level of game out of it.

I think the right company is the key, of course.  I know nothing about Red Eagle, so my confidence in there ever being such a game is pretty low.  And since they made their initial announcement, EA has loomed into the picture, adding not a whit of confidence on my part.  The wheel weaves as the wheel wills. (There was an oft repeated phrase that disappeared around book 7 or so.  I wonder why?)

As for movies… I rather picture the whole thing done as a low budget BBC 100 part series with old “Dr. Who” or “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” level of props but excellent writing for the screen play adaptation.

But that just might be me.

27 thoughts on “The Wheel of Time – 3,430,682 Words Later…

  1. Darraxus

    I read the first 7 books and loved them! I just cant find the time to read them again so that I remember everything that happened. there is no way to make it into one movie. Making it into 4-5 movies would be pushing it as well.

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  2. mbp

    I started reading WoT in the early 1990’s. I quickly fell inlove with Jordan’s epic fantasy and devoured each new book as it came out. It kept getting better and better until about book five (Eh.. wasn;t this supposed to be a trilogy?) Then I found I could no long erremeber all the characters and was confused by the way Jordan kept starting new plot threads without closing off old ones. Nevertheless I stuck with the series even though every time a new book came out I had to consult faqs and fan sites to remind myself who everybody was. Somehow I like many other WoT fans knew that it was dreadfully inevitable that Jordan would die before he finished although I ever expected him to catch that dreadful illness at such an early age. I wonder if my love hate relationship with Jordan would have been different if i didn’t start reaing Wot until last year. Book 11 was one of the better later books I thought – Finally some plot threads being closed.

    By the way did you know there was a pretty good shooter a few years back based on Wheel of Time. You play a white sister. A lot of the book locations are used and the waypaths are particularly well done. The Quake 2 era graphics would be quite ugly to a modern eye but the clever use of magic puts it a cut above the normal mindless shooter of the period.

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  3. syncaine

    Working on book 9 right now. I do love the series overall, but you are dead on about the repeat use of phrases. It’s needed the first few times in each book because of how many characters exists, but not the 3-4 time in the same chapter.

    You missed one of the worst ones though, the whole drawing of the power. I get it, it’s hard to control, it’s awesome, fills you with life, bla bla bla. NOT EVERY TIME SOMEONE CHANNELS! Imagine that every time you pressed a hotkey in an MMO, the game played a mini-movie like a summon in Final Fantasy. That’s kinda like what reading Jordan is like (which goes to show how great the story really is, if we can deal with all that for all those pages)

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  4. magnoz

    Re “repeated use of same phrases”: I was thinking exactly the same thing, tugging on braids started to really get on my nerves =D
    I still can’t forgive Jordan for not finishing the series. After all I only started reading it two years ago because I thought “he’ll have the last volume finished by the time I’m through the available books”.

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  5. Randolph

    Please quit posting things that interest me. I don’t have time for this.

    I’ve been a long time fan of audiobooks as well. For me though, so much is riding on the narrator. That can make or break a listening experience for me like no other. I remember trying to get through some audio cassette (remember those?) version of Dune and it was like the gentleman narrating it was about as enthused as a sleep-deprived Perry Como on valium. At the other end of the spectrum is Jim Dale’s rendition of the Harry Potter series. It still amazes me how he was able to come up with and maintain distinct voices for all the characters. These days on our commute to work (it’s about the same duration as yours) we find ourselves listening to children’s songs—the same children’s songs—over and over again. Our back seat driver wouldn’t have it any other way.

    RC

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  6. JC

    I had the same experience mbp did — I got introduced to the series about the time book 6 came out and read them all through at once.

    Book 7 came out about a year later and I mostly remembered all the characters,

    Book 8 came out and I couldn’t remember anyone but the 5-ish mains anymore. Add that the entire 800+ page book covered what. . 3 days?

    Anyway… I decided to wait until Jordan said “I’m done” with the series, then read it all through at once in order to not lose the threads of all the characters. But he died.

    Still, Mr Sanderson is a most excellent author in his own right, and reading some of his blog on what he’s doing with the series in order to be as faithful to Mr Jordan’s “vision” and writing style for the final book(s), I have high hopes for it all.

    Though I admit the repetition in descriptions and descriptive language got old early on.

    BTW, I’d also recommend you read Mr Sanderson’s books as well. Elantris is a stand-alone in its own world. The Mistborn Trilogy (Final Empire, Well of Ascension, Hero of Ages) is simply amazing. I love the magic system he came up with for it too.

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  7. Graktar

    I got started on the Wheel of Time books back when the first one was released. I think I was 13 or 14 at the time, maybe (I’m in my 30s now). I loved the first few books, but as the series progressed each new novel became less and less interesting. A TON of stuff happens in the first few books. The pacing is pretty good, the plot moves, things happen, and conflicts get resolved. I gave up around book 9 I think, when after finishing the book I realized that absolutely NOTHING actually happened in the entire thing. The entire book was nothing more than setup for the next book, and that just killed the entire series for me.

    The constant re-use of phrases (noted above) was bad enough, but it was pretty clear at that point that he was milking the series for all it was worth rather than trying to tell a compelling story and bring it to a close.

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  8. Cyanbane

    You should start the Malazan series. I am on book 2 now. So good. Jordan got a little long winded there some at around book 4, but overall WOT is a fantastic series.

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  9. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @mbp – Yeah, I am glad he actually started resolving a few things in book 11. By books 8 or 9 it was starting to feel like one of those four hour long, no agenda project meetings. New things keep sprouting and you starting thinking, “Dude, we have to start wrapping this up soon, right?”

    Of course he resolved was Elayne Trakand‘s issue of the throne, one of those plot lines I was less than enthusiastic about. If it wasn’t for Birgitte, the whole plot line would have been a serious yawn for me.

    @Randolph – I’ve been a fan of audio books since back when we called them books on tape. I still have an excellent audio version of “Flight of the Intruder” on tape. But, as you said, it is the voice talent that makes or breaks an audio book.

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  10. Hulan

    If you like epic fantasy series you might like to try Steven Erikson’s Malazn Empire series, they will keep you going for months :)

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  11. dave

    I had the great fortune of meeting Robert Jordan when he was on the book tour for “The Knife of Dreams”. I took a half day off work to drive to the bookstore and buy it to get signed. It was the week it came out so I had held off purchasing it knowing he’d be in town. I’m very glad I did.

    He was passionate about the pronunciation of his words. He actually did a 10 minute speech on it :) I am heartened to know that your audio book voice actors finally got on the same page.

    It blows me away that I read my first Wheel of Time novel 19 years ago.

    I have high hopes for the final book. I deliberately sought out all of Brandon Sanderson’s works and read them to get a feel on his style. I think he has the chops to pull it all together and he certainly has the work ethic and proper attitude based on his blogging and writing podcasts which I love.

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  12. Yeebo

    I have to agree with Graktar’s sentiment. It have always found it boggling that the WoT series has so many fans. Whether you are looking for fluffy fantasy or serious literary fantasy, there are simply tons of better choices (imo). I will admit that the first few books are good fun, he did create a compelling world. However by the fourth of fifth book he’s obviously just milking the series. I suspect you could read the first two books, and then skip to eleven and barely miss anything important.

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  13. Marchosias

    I read the WoT series last summer from beginning to end, and am now waiting for the final book. I have to agree that some of the middle books were a little slow, but they all had at least something interesting going on. As for audio books, I tend to download those from my library’s web-site and listen to them while I’m mining in EVE or doing some other mindless gaming, hehe. Esp. with fiction titles – I most recently listened to the the dragon series (Eregorn/Eldest/Brisingr) ya, I can’t spell :P

    If I’m doing research or for other genres of books (like biographies), I tend to prefer reading a regular book in my Lay-Z-Boy – preferably with a great cup of coffee too!

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  14. zadyes

    If I’m not mistaken “The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills” was a favorite saying of Moiraine and I don’t believe it’s been used since she “disappeared” from the books. I say “disappeared” because whether she’s actually dead or not is a subject of great debate amongst Wheel of Time fans. I could be wrong on that though as it’s been around two years since I re-read the series.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Jordan at two book signings and the thing that has always amazed me was that, at the second, he remembered my name even though there was around three years between the meetings. I have yet to figure out whether it was because he just had that kind of memory or if I’m just that ugly. I have heard from others that he remembered their names as well though.

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  15. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Zadyes – Yes, Moiraine was certainly the first person to say it, and said it regularly, but I recall that once we ran into other Aes Sedai in the book, some of them used the phrase as well, so it became, in my mind, something Aes Sedai said as opposed to just her. Even Rand was throwing it out every so often.

    But then it faded, along with most talk of the pattern, threads, and such.

    But ageless faces… that went on and on.

    It is interesting to hear from people who got to meet Mr. Jordan. I’m afraid he had already passed away by the time I started in on the first book.

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  16. Random "Troll" Person

    I gotta be honest… I got too bored to read more after book 2. I found that I just didn’t care what happened to Ralph or Rand or whatever. Overall my favourite scifi or fantasy author is Micheal Moorcock. I’m tired atm so I’ll wax lyrical bout him later.

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  17. Bullshatt

    When I deign to consider this series I am reminded of saying: “The difference between a master and an apprentice? The master knows when to stop.”

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  18. Stabs

    Re-read the whole series about 6 months ago. I agree with you regarding the literary weaknesses. I thought he was particularly bad at understanding women – they always seem to be furious with or mooning over men with no other modes of existence.

    All told though the series is a marvellous read and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Missed a lot of sleep wanting to read just a bit further to see what happens next.

    Possibly reading it helped me to keep the various characters together, I rarely found I wasn’t interested in a sub-plot or couldn’t remember where it came from.

    His names are quite poor. While many are simply from old cultures (eg Egwene is Old English and Nynaeve is Old Irish) many were far too similar. Must have been about 6 characters called Lord Darshivan or something very close, just lazy writing.

    The series is a classic and the great length allows you to identify with and root for characters that you wouldn’t feel quite so passionately about in a trilogy. I found myself particularly looking forward to Matt Cauthon making an appearance as his personality was much more interesting than the others and I liked the writing about generalship. He would have made a much better dragon than Rand.

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  19. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    @Stabs – While he was quite annoying for the first couple of books, Matt ended up being the most interesting character to me. Perrin, at least when he was exploring the whole wolf brother thing, was a close second.

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  20. *vlad*

    Let’s say 10 Cents per word, so that’s roughly oooh 343,000 Dollars.
    Not bad.
    No, I don’t really know what his contractural arrangements are, but pointless descriptions are usually for padding a story out (clearly not needed with Mr Jordan), or because the author is paid by the word/ weight of his books!

    Anyway, give me the Silmarillion any time.

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  21. syncaine

    I remember reading a while back that the series was originally planned as 8 books, then the publisher stretched it to 10, and finally 12. Considering the pacing of books 6-10, it makes sense.

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  22. dorgol

    Funny you should mention Turtledove’s writing. His excessive repetition (and it is DEFINITELY not limited to 191) is the reason I stopped reading his books.

    Haven’t read WoT, probably won’t. I’ve heard too many people talking about the “milking” of the series.

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  23. Wilhelm2451 Post author

    I could forgive Turtledove the whole cigarette thing in 191, as excessive as it was, because I could see that he was using it as the barometer for the fortunes of the United States. The better and the more available cigarettes, the better the US was doing.

    But since he finished off 191 his work has become very thin retelling of other events, very much like Jerry Pournelle’s work went. So “In the Presence of Mine Enemies” is the downfall of the Soviet Union, only it is Nazi Germany, while “The Man with the Iron Heart” is the war in Iraq, only moved to post-war Nazi Germany.

    Now, that might just bug me being a history buff and having been in the Soviet Studies program in college (just the way Pournelle’s stuff irked a bit because I had seen “Casablanca” and had read “Homage to Catalonia”), but I think his work is getting less compelling as his work contains less interesting, speculative, or divergent thought.

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  24. Katherine

    zadyes said: “I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Jordan at two book signings and the thing that has always amazed me was that, at the second, he remembered my name even though there was around three years between the meetings. I have yet to figure out whether it was because he just had that kind of memory or if I’m just that ugly. I have heard from others that he remembered their names as well though.”

    Wow, maybe that’s an insight into why he had so many characters that you needed to keep track of in his books. He could keep track of that many people in his mind so he assumed everyone else could. Or maybe by writing so many characters into is books he needed to be able to track that many people so he trained his mind to be able to do it!

    I think the reason later books got more meandering may be because that is what he preferred to write, but earlier books had more input from his editor. I heard they usually put less in once they know an author will sell. Could easily be wrong though.

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  25. liznoland

    If you’re a fan of the WoT audios, you may also the audiobooks of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, which are out now at Audible and iTunes. Sanderson is co-authoring A Memory of Light, the final installment of WoT, and the Mistborn audios are read by Michael Kramer, who is one-half of the narration team for the WoT audiobooks.

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  26. michael, St E

    Ah, happy memories of rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan, before the death of USENET. The regulars regarded Jordan as great mind-candy. Fun to crunch on, but not exactly nourishing in the long-term.

    Jordan’s editor was his wife – I assume this wasn’t the case for the earlier novels, but I’m not sure.

    I’m currently prepping for The Last Novel with a fairly gentle re-read, this time cross-media. Audiobook, physical book, and occasionally e-book. It’s an interesting experience, hearing pronunciations and consuming the story aurally for the first time. I started the series at University when book five, tFoH, had just been released in paperback, so I’ve ground through it all rather more times than is sensible.

    I find Erikson’s Malazan novels (8 books so far out of a firm 10) very interesting. Long and prolix, but refreshingly grim in a post-Black Company way (Erikson wrote an introduction to a recent BC reissue). I met Erikson at a UK signing in Manchester last year – the topic of MMOs was discussed, and he mentioned playing Age of Conan with his son.

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  27. MyWag

    3,430,682 words …..
    ….. where 1,200,000 would have worked.

    Braids, dresses, cleavage, bosom and also the constant switchback of verbal to internal thought.
    I think Jordan might have been schizophrenic.

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