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.