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Ironic Contradictions

I'm a long time reader - since way back when I was seven. That makes it over three quarters of my life that I will be a reader for. But it is worth it. When I'm not reading or wasting my time online on here or Goodreads I'll be off playing video games, studying teaching and messing around with friends and pop culture. Or reading some more.
A Memory Of Light: Wheel of Time Book 14 - 'Robert Jordan',  'Brandon Sanderson'
A Memory of The Wheel of Time

Three or so years ago I moved churches in the wake of a crisis at my previous church. One of the very first people I met at this new church was the associate pastor and that day before I left he came up to me and said, 'so I hear you're into fantasy books.' At least he said something along those lines. I of course indicated that yeah I was into fantasy books. His final parting comment was 'Get on the Wheel of Time, it's a must read fantasy series. The guy who wrote it died sadly before finishing it but some other guy is finishing it instead.'

Well I went away and decided to look into this Wheel of Time stuff, in fact I decided to look it up online. What I read about the magic and the creatures and the characters interested me. It sounded like a cliché fantasy novel without the overwrought cliché, rather a novel that used an archetypical fantasy setting to tell its own story. It turned out that I couldn't get the first novel, so I picked up the second and read part of the way through it before deciding that it wasn't working and I'd pick it up later. The next thing I knew the third book was at the library and then suddenly it was on top of another stack of borrowed books at home. Starting the third book was what really drew me into this story, I saw the amazing ideas and world-building spread out before me as the author told a fascinating story. Sure, there were bits of information I missed (which I caught up on through Wikipedia and going back to read the first few books) but the book was remarkable in how different it was to anything I'd read written after Tolkien. Sure, [b:Eragon|113436|Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)|Christopher Paolini|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1293505063s/113436.jpg|3178011] had been fun but it lacked intellectual depth and was a mixture of different stories which where in themselves archetypical. [b:The Sword of Shannara|15575|The Sword of Shannara (The Original Shannara Trilogy #1)|Terry Brooks|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1218672503s/15575.jpg|877015] was fun but incredibly unoriginal with its sequels being better yet still remarkably derivative. The myths, legends and fairytales I grew up with were good but overly familiar, they were not fresh or fascinating in the way that reading a new fantasy story could be. The Wheel of Time as a series was compelling and fascinating, and to this day more intriguing to me as a fantasy epic than other novels I have read. The only books to compare with it in epic fantasy are [b:Gardens of the Moon|55399|Gardens of the Moon (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, #1)|Steven Erikson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1355144064s/55399.jpg|2646042], [b:A Game of Thrones|13496|A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)|George R.R. Martin|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1359134576s/13496.jpg|1466917], [b:The Name of the Wind|186074|The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)|Patrick Rothfuss|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1270352123s/186074.jpg|2502879] and anything by Brandon Sanderson.

The reason I write this reflection is to serve as an indication of the investment I made in this series. It may be a small one compared to those who have followed this series for the decades in which it stretched yet it is an investment nonetheless and when one makes an investment in regards to any novel there is always the expectation of an emotional reward at the end. Series in particular demand a reward for your diligence in putting you as a reader through so many trials and tribulations. There are those series which end anticlimactically, for instance as a teen I found [b:The Singing|2550219|The Singing (Pellinor, #4)|Alison Croggon|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1331239719s/2550219.jpg|2557914] a very anticlimactic ending to an interesting series. There are those series which end with a shock twist as in [b:The Hero of Ages|2767793|The Hero of Ages (Mistborn, #3)|Brandon Sanderson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1312051231s/2767793.jpg|2793516]. And there are those series that end as The Wheel of Time does. Gracefully, with honour and majesty, and in the way they deserve to.

A Memory of Light

As a novel A Memory of Light does have its flaws. For instance some characters are more or less ignored until close to the end then casually and easily disposed of while not given the truly climactic death I as a reader was hoping for. However I find such a thing fascinating in that it creates a realistic edge to this novel. As this is a fantasy novel one could be forgiven for arguing that 'realism' is something that can be done without. To an extent this is true, no one wants realism to be pursued to the extent where the reader is told everything about the exact weather patterns for the different environments alongside how Aes Sedai have their tea and what the mating rituals of Trollocs are. Yet one does expect that a fantasy novel does have a sense of the real to the point where it reflects on reality and the fact that there are unsatisfactory conclusions to some characters does create that sense. After all, reality is no neatly packaged fairytale.

Question: So what is in this novel? Answer: A stunning conclusion, in fact a breathtaking conclusion. There is a high death toll, plenty of conclusions to character threads, tons of action and a gripping story that is the summation of thousands of pages. Everything in the series has been leading to this book and it delivers. Perhaps some others will find themselves jaded by the length it has taken to get to this book yet I found this an emotionally charged final chapter. I find that I know when I great conclusion has been written in that it leaves me feeling both emotionally satisfied and wanting a little more. This is what this conclusion successfully achieved for me. I personally appreciated the ending with Rand, the tragic hero of our fantasy epic, being reduced to the new role of an unknown man, a role he has always wanted. Such is the role of heroes in the pattern of the Wheel of Time, where men constantly change.

Ultimately I'm sad to see the end of this book series. Yet all readers of this series know that there is no true ending to The Wheel of Time and the characters within the pattern. And that is why this book succeeds. It leaves the reader understanding that though this part of the fantasy tale is over the deeper ideas and the true hidden beauty of the story remains. As history is bound to repeat itself so too may The Wheel of Time repeat itself again and again with its heroes arising again to face new conflicts. What will happen to Mat in the end? What will happen to Perrin and Faile? What will happen to Nynaeve and Lan? And most importantly what will become of Rand al'Thor without the One or True Power and perhaps, the power of his will?

The Wheel of Time turns...

The Wheel of Time, as can be told by the title, has many references to other religious and spiritual movements along with mythologies, legends and fantasy works. It is the particular 'weave' of ideas and references which work to make it a unique series. Yet at the same time this particular tendency to refer to other ideas is a double edged sword, like Callandor in this novel. In fact much of Robert Jordan's work in The Wheel of Time series is a double edged sword. His writing style is at once verbose and charming with the occasional clumsy phrase and expression. His world-building while impressive is often too overdrawn, leading to the great length of the series. Indeed these various elements are both a great power in the novels and a curse, leading to the polarising nature of the series. For while they have great strengths they also have great weaknesses. One thing I haven't properly done in my reviews of the various books in the series is discuss the aspects which I find of particular depth in the series. I perhaps have done this in part, but not in full.

Male/female relationships

The male/female relationships and dynamics in the entire series are some of the most criticised elements. Yet, they are criticised for good reason. Try as he does, Robert Jordan lacks a true understanding of women when compared to other greater male writers. Perhaps there are elements which are true about his female characters at times yet they are for the most part, often highly stereotypical depictions. The braid tugging and tendency to bully male characters is a fine indication of this. It appears to me that Jordan holds a juvenile perspective of women, and as such writes female characters which are more often girls than true women. Speaking from a little experience I know very few women who would constantly tell a man how everything he does is inferior, yet I know several girls who would more readily state this, along with the statement that 'girl's rule and boy's suck'. In connection he perpetuates the myth that many women are closet lesbians until they 'grow up' with his ridiculous idea of Aes Sedai pillow friends. Something that is slightly balanced in this novel with the hints that gay male characters actually exist.

It is this facet of Jordan's world which creates the idea that fantasy is a 'boy-zone' when connected to the fantasy of Tolkien ([b:The Hobbit|5907|The Hobbit|J.R.R. Tolkien|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1353852111s/5907.jpg|1540236] is remarkably woman free) or G.R.R Martin (his depiction of female sexuality being very centred around a male perspective). Yet, as mentioned Jordan does try to write strong women and a world in which women are treated fairly. The countries of his world are often matriarchal or evenly balanced in leadership, it is men who lack the powers of magic until later on and there do exist several female characters who break from the normal stereotyping of this world. For instance Tuon, Faile and Egwene (Egwene particularly more so in the last three books than the first).

Politics

There is nothing especially extraordinary about the political systems of Robert Jordan's world. However it is worth noting that politics plays a large role in the entire story particularly when it comes to aspects like The Game of Houses and getting countries to agree to different proposals and alliances.

History

The idea of history repeating itself is one that is fully present in this series as I've mentioned before. The reincarnation element whereby heroes are reborn into the Wheel when they are needed again is a great symbolic indicator of this. Then again, the fact that the series centres around prophecies and villains rising up from centuries earlier is another. Later on in the series the various characters reveal further aspects of how history repeats itself with the discovery of new abilities from the past. Mat has his old lives awoken again in his memory, Rand becomes one with Lews Therin, Egwene discovers travelling and dreaming and Perrin discovers the wolf abilities. At the same time the Seanchan invasion is a further sign of history repeating itself, as they are descended from the past Artur Hawkwing's armies.

Transformation and heroism

Though The Wheel of Time series has become the whipping boy example of the 'farmboy becomes a hero' fantasy cliché I believe the story goes far beyond this cliché idea. Though our main ta'veren characters do all come from villages, their pathways towards hero status are unique and fraught with many tragic and glorious twists and turns. Admittedly the first novel, in seeking to establish itself in the epic tradition, relies upon this village dweller to hero idea almost too strongly. Yet the later novels move away from this and towards a sense of originality whereby characters such as Rand, Mat and Perrin become heroes. It is this sense that anyone can become a hero in the Wheel of Time that is appealing, as is the idea that any hero can fall or be turned to the Shadow.

Rand is a fascinating character as a hero prophesied to die and restricted by a fate woven out for him in advance through prophecy. It is intriguing how Jordan deals with the dilemma of an all powerful 'messiah' figure in Rand, making him suffer many losses and emotional struggles before reaching the Last Battle at the end. Mat again is another intriguing character and one must suspect that Robert Jordan divulged a lot of his own personality into Mat while avoiding transforming him into an object of wish fulfilment. Mat is the heroic figure who refuses to be captured by plans and regulations and who sees himself as no hero or lord. He is chaotically good and though he never seems to be in the right place when needed he eventually makes his way to where he should be. Perrin again is a different type of hero. He is the hero who struggles with the 'primitive' wolf side of his personality. A man, like Mat, not trying to be a leader, yet he does it out of a sense of personal duty rather than because he avoids commitment.

Morality

Though much fantasy is often considerably cardboard in its morality I do not see this as a problem in The Wheel of Time series. Though we have an ultimate battle between good and evil this does not necessarily mean that the morality is black and white. There are many Dark friends who perform good deeds and there are many heroes who turn toward darkness. In a time where many fantasy writers attempt to create moral ambiguity (often forming a complete lack of moral guidance for their characters) through forced writing I see Robert Jordan's world as naturally exploring good, evil and the in-between areas. Rand's use of balefire to destroy Graendal's palace is a fine example of this moral ambiguity. This final chapter particularly emphasises the fine line between good and evil in how the Whitecloaks and Seanchan are required to work with those who consider them as an evil second only to Shadowspawn. The climactic scenes where Rand confronts the Dark One are also fascinating from this perspective as they consider whether he is truly evil or simply acting out of his nature. Rand's conclusion is that it is men and not the Dark One which are the greatest source of evil, an idea which is confronting and powerful. I particularly liked that this series had a true confrontation with The Dark One as rarely do fantasy novels truly confront the evil threat in their pages.

Magic

The magic system of Robert Jordan's world is one that has been used before. The idea of five elements of water, earth, air, fire and spirit is one that has existed for centuries. Yet the way in which Jordan uses this concept is unique. Creating a magical system called the One Power and then dividing it into female and male halves is a fascinating way of approaching magic. Added to this is the idea that the combinations of these 'elements' of the One Power create different weaves which produce different magical effects.

Unlike other fantasy novels, Robert Jordan's magic is also, as Brandon Sanderson explains it, both a hard and a soft magic system. Hard magic systems are strongly defined with laws and regulations built in, much like how the One Power works with channelling. However there are also soft magic system elements, the sense that magic in this world is a free agent and capable of doing extraordinary things that cannot be logically explained.

A Tolkien clone?

One could be forgiven for labelling this series as a Tolkien clone. Yet I do not believe it is so simple as that. Though there are similarities to Tolkien's work it bears more similarity in my mind to a combination of the legends of King Arthur, religious influences and the Greek/Roman/Celtic mythologies. It reminds me in places of [b:The Once and Future King|43545|The Once and Future King (The Once and Future King, #1-4)|T.H. White|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1338741283s/43545.jpg|1140206] (one of the greatest fantasy works) and yet it stands alone. I challenge you to not read this as simply another Tolkienesque series but as a series that stands on its own.

There are no endings to the Wheel of Time

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading these novels. And at the end of the day if there is one thing that any novel should be able to do it is to create joy. I do not refer to mere escapism for escapism's sake, however. I refer to the way in which a novel can touch and individual, shape them and allow them to find pleasure in their reality. The way in which a novel. Often as a readers I can get caught up in trying to read 'highbrow literature' because I simply understand that I should. And as such I take the pleasure out of reading. Yet reading should exist to remind us that there are joys in life and that there is great beauty, for what is more beautiful than language and being able to communicate with other individuals? I certainly have found moments of beauty in this series and hopefully will into the future.