We live in a world dominated by technological immediacy. In so many ways, the interest and ability to get lost in a long story that takes us away from this world is fading from our popular consciousness.
Sometimes, we need to take a Pause. Pick up a book you may never have thought of reading before and get lost in a different world. You just might find something that becomes an integral part of how you live your life, away from the distractions of Twitter and Facebook, iPhones and Android.
My escape from technology (and all of the other tribulations of life) has come in the form of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. The 15-book series was 23 years in the making. Each book has been a New York Times bestseller. The final book, A Memory of Light, was released earlier this month and is already an Amazon bestseller.
Below is a tribute to the series, told in the style of Jordan, which chronicles my journey through the Wheel of Time and how it has long served to put the real world into perspective.
Book 1: The Eye Of The World
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one age, called the Modern Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose among the islands of the Gulf of Maine. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginning nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
Inland the wind blew. Cold and bitter, it whipped the trees on the coast and frothed the tops of blue-grey waves in to white caps. It blew through the sea walls and around small islands, casting icy tendrils of snow across the landscape lush with green pine trees. The wind followed a road, long with pavement broken by years of patching from the damage of excessive winters, towards a small two-story house that lay slumbering in the predawn light.
The wind rattled the windows of the house, causing a boy, midway through his 10th year, to pull his blanket closer around his shoulders. It was Christmas Day, or the Festival of Lights as the boy was beginning to think of it, and he had woken before the rest of his family to raid his stocking, bulging full next to those of his brothers and sisters. He was allowed to open his stocking when he woke up – but not yet the massive pile of wrapped gifts under a well-decorated and brightly lit tree next to the hearth.
A pile of candy and small toys lay strewn around the boy. His mother, he was long past the concept of Santa Claus, always liked to stuff the stockings with goodies for the children, along with items that would likely prove useful in the year to come. A paperback book lay among the rubble, small but thick, with a picture of two people on horseback, one a tall man in majestic armor, the other a small woman garbed in white. The boy looked at the book and set it aside, moving on to more exciting discoveries among the stocking.
The title of the book read The Eye Of The World, the first book of The Wheel of Time, by an author named Robert Jordan. The boy did not know it at the time, but the book, and the series that followed, would consume his consciousness and inform his life for the next 20-plus years.
Book 8: The Path of Daggers
The boy was growing into a young man. Not quite yet an adult, he sat in his basement bedroom in the new house his parents had just bought. It was late June and the boy was alone and angry. His parents had moved from that Maine house to one in mountain foothills of Virginia, taking him away from the friends he had known all his life, just as summer started. So, he turned to friends he knew would never abandon him, devouring the books that had become some of his most prized possessions.
He was reading The Path of Daggers, the eighth book to the Wheel of Time. It had come out the fall of the year before, but the boy had not yet gotten around to reading it. He had a tradition that must be followed. When Jordan released a new Wheel of Time book, the boy would read every book in the series again before starting the new one. With every book nearly 800 to 1,000 pages, the tradition was beginning to take a long time.
He followed the path of his friends. Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn. Mat Cauthon, the scoundrel, gambling son of battles. Perrin Aybara, the stolid blacksmith. Egween al’Vere and Nynaeve al’Meara, the stubborn but talented fledgling Aes Sedai. The people of the Two Rivers that fought to save the world and win Tarmon Gai’don, the last battle between the forces of Light and Shadow.
The books were the boy’s solace and his escape, especially through this summer, one of the most difficult and disappointing of his life. He had begun to associate himself with various characters’ traits. He thought of the Two Rivers as his former home in Maine, a place he had been forced to leave. He did not know it then, but just like the characters of the Wheel of Time, leaving his Two Rivers would ultimately be the best thing for him.
Book 11: Knife of Dreams
The boy was now a man, still young and full of the arrogance of a young adult who has tasted some early success.
There was also pain. Deep, emotional pain. He did not know it then, but this pain was a thing that many people his age experienced. It was an existential rift, threatening to tear his soul apart.
The young man swallowed the pain, allowed it to harden him and make him cold, calculating. He believed that allowing the pain to make his heart a stone gave him strength. He did not know how foolish he was.
The young man sat in his apartment, reading Knife of Dreams, the 11th book of the Wheel of Time, which had just been released. He was alone, except for his dog, and enjoyed the silence and solitude of his self-mandated exile to University. He had left his friends behind and looked to make a new life for himself.
It was hard not to notice the similarities between himself and Rand al’Thor. The Dragon Reborn also faced an existential crisis, allowing himself to become hard to the point of breaking. A darkness was consuming him, to the detriment of the world he was destined to protect.
While the young man sympathized with the Dragon Reborn and saw the correlation in their predicaments, he thought himself more like Mat Cauthon. Mat was a gambler and a carouser, a world-class complainer, a scamp, a rogue and a scoundrel. These were traits that the young man could get behind. Mat was also brilliant and crafty and, while he complained about it, would always end up doing the right thing. Even if it was difficult.
Book 12: The Gathering Storm
It had been years since the man had thought of the Wheel of Time. Robert Jordan had died in 2007 and the man wondered if the series would ever be finished. Finally, a new book had been released, completed by Brandon Sanderson, a fantasy writer picked by Jordan’s widow Harriet McDougal to finish the series.
The man had, more or less, passed his existential crisis. Reading The Gathering Storm, the 12th book of the Wheel of Time, the man hoped that the Dragon Reborn would as well. After all, the fate of the world rested on his shoulders.
The man, no longer a boy and past the angst of young adulthood, begun to think of himself like Perrin Aybara, the blacksmith turned wolfbrother, turned reluctant lord of his people, turned force of nature. Perrin, above all else, was responsible. Levelheaded and deep thinking, practical and meticulous, Perrin’s ability to think through all the aspects of a problem gave him power. Once set upon a task, Perrin would see it to the end and do it right. Though the man still embodied aspects of both Rand and Mat (especially Mat), Perrin was a guide through the heart of darkness.
By the end of the 12th book, Rand indeed had found his heart again. He learned how to laugh, to accept his fate while marshaling his skill and resources to the task in front of him. It had taken a long time for Rand to come to grips with himself and learn to smile again, to trust people. Just like it had been so many other times in their lives together, the man and the Dragon Reborn had reached the same point in their lives at the same time.
Book 14: A Memory of Light
The Last Battle was coming. The man could not wait.
He took upon the massive undertaking in July to read all 14 books (including the prequel New Spring) before the 15th and final book, A Memory Of Light, arrived in January of 2013.
It had been a long time since the man had read all the books. The longer the Wheel of Time series ran, the harder it was to re-read all the previous books leading up to the latest one. The man had taken to re-reading only the previous two or three before starting the newest release.
It was like coming home.
He relished the flight from the Two Rivers, having forgotten how engaging and exotic the first few books had been. He grew weary when the story dragged after the eighth book, when Jordan spent more time letting Aes Sedai argue than advancing the plot. He felt the tingle of anticipation reading the two Sanderson books before A Memory of Light, and respecting Sanderson for his brilliant stewardship of the beloved series.
As the man moved through the series, all four million words of it, he recalled the path he had taken to this point and how the characters of the Wheel of Time had been his companions, his Light, through his life. It was a catharsis, the pain and joy, trials and tribulations of his teens and 20s put to bed through his journey, one last time, through the Wheel of Time.
The series, like it had been so many times before, were his escape. His Pause. A respite from a life that had become dominated by smartphones and social media, the endless maw of his own writing, chronicling the world of technology in his day-to-day life.
And finally, after so many years of waiting, the final chapter had arrived.
The man wept. Uncontrollable, body-shaking sobs ran through him.
He had been up most of the night before. A Memory of Light, it turned out, was almost all he had hoped it to be. Characters he cared for fought and died, hundreds of pages of endless battle making up for the middle books that had been nothing but dialogue. The Last Battle grew desperate, the characters weary and exhausted from fighting the Shadow in a battle that seemingly would never end. The man, fighting his own exhaustion, fell asleep with the book in his hand.
When he woke, he could not simply put the book aside and start his daily work. After more than 20 years, he was not going to wait another hour to see if the Dragon Reborn would kill the Dark One.
The last 300 pages of the Wheel of Time were intense and chaotic, hope mixed with despair. The man’s weeping had much to do with the plight of the characters, but also the path of his own life reflected through them. In the end, he felt raw, tired but happy. He knew the Wheel of Time was more than just an epic fantasy series written by a talented author. It was part of him and he was part of it. He closed the book and sighed, wiping tears from his cheeks.
There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was an ending.
Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.