The End Is Here

So after 18 years, 4,410,036 words printed across 10,173 pages in 14 books, the end is here. Trollocs and Darkhounds and Channelers; Myrddraals and Draghkars and Gholams; Darkfriends and to’rakens and more! All finished, the good guys won, and the survivors get to start the fourth age of man.

I am talking of course about Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time” epic, a Fantasy/SciFi epic which I started reading in 1996 and finished this past Friday night.

I’ve been a SciFi Fan since back when everyone called it “Science Fiction” and lot of English teachers warned us kids about the dangers of reading such trash, as opposed to reading “Classical” literature. They missed the part about Science Fiction already being part of classical literature with writers such as Jules Vern, H.G. Wells and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. American Science Fiction that was available in the 1960’s were more contemporary and included Issac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury, just to name a few. Many of the books published in the 1950s-1960s are considered “Classics” today and I suspect English teachers are including them in their reading lists. And no doubt warning their students about other types of “trash” books.

As much as I loved Science Fiction I mostly stayed away from the “Fantasy/Swords and Sorcerers” genre of books. Other than reading “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings” as a young teen, my taste in Science Fiction revolved around space travel and underwater adventures. I was a geek but I did have standards. I loved to read and could easily spend an entire day lost in a book.

Fast forward to February 1996. I was retiring from my navy career, getting ready to leave my last ship “Port Royal” in the Persian Gulf and head home to Mississippi. One of my fellow Chiefs gave me paperback copies of the first three books in “The Wheel of Time” series as reading material for my long flight home. I’m not sure how long he thought my flight was going to be, but even as fast as I read the first book “Eye of the World,” at 702 pages, took a while to finish.

I actually wasn’t too impressed with the first book. The characters were somewhat interesting and the premise of the world that author Robert Jordan had created was intriguing. But I thought he was trying too hard to riff off  “Lord of the Rings” concepts (characters breaking out into reciting poetry of ages past, etc) and not really doing a good job of it. I also thought the plot was laid out poorly; the entire theme of the book revolved around the main characters trying to get to the city of Tar Valon, but then in the last hundred pages they took off towards an entirely different destination. That book ended with a battle that had no buildup in the plot line. But by now I was home looking for a new job and had lots of free time so I kept reading.

The second book “The Great Hunt” was better in some ways. Better plot, the characters actually arrived at the fair city of Tar Valon, and more interesting stuff happened. Robert Jordan’s world became more filled out, and I began to enjoy what he was creating. By the end of the third book,  “The Dragon Reborn,” I was hooked.

In April 1996 when I finished the third book there were “only” six books in the series published. I read the next three books (“The Shadow Rising,” “The Fires of Heaven,” and “Lord of Chaos“) over  the next several months while job hunting. The seventh book “A Crown of Swords” was published that May in hardcover. Given that I was unemployed and couldn’t afford the hardcover, and my local library didn’t have the book, I had to wait a year for the paperback version to be published.  It finally came out and I whipped through the book in a few days. Then I had to wait again for the next book.

I became busy with jobs and life in general, so it was several years before I read the next books in the series. Around 2004 I was able to borrow “The Path of Daggers,” “Winter’s Heart,” and “Crossroads of Twilight”  from co-workers. Once again, I whipped through the books in a few weeks, then resigned myself to waiting for what happened next.

I picked up the eleventh book in the series, “Knife of Dreams,” about 2009. By this time, I was having trouble remembering the minor characters and many of the story lines.  But I thought the book stood up fairly well on it’s own merits. At the time the twelfth book, “The Gathering Storm,” had been published in hardcover but the paperback version  hadn’t been released. So, I waited to continue the series. Meanwhile, life happened again.

A few months ago I was waiting for a flight, and happened to see some of the “Wheel of Time” books in an airport bookstore. I couldn’t remember which book I had read last so I bought “Knife of Dreams” and after about 100 pages recognized that I had in fact already read it. It was OK; re-reading it helped me remember the plot lines.

Given that by now the final three books had long since been released (“The Gathering Storm,” “Towers of Midnight,” and “A Memory of Light“), I was finally able to finish the series. I have free time for reading now while commuting to work in ad-hoc car pools or by bus, but it was really hard to read in only 45 minute segments. I found myself reading in the evenings, something I rarely make time for anymore.

Friday night, after 18 years and five months, I finished the last book of the series.

There is a series prequel, “New Spring,” published in January 2004 that I haven’t read yet. There’s also a companion book “The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time” which is described as a canonical book filling in more of the details of Robert Jordan’s world, and does sound interesting. I have those two books on my reading list.

I don’t do much pleasure reading now-a-days. It seems I’m always busy with stuff, and the reading I do is either job-related or keeping up with news and current events. The “Wheel of Time” series brought back the pleasure of books I knew as a kid; reading for the sake of reading and pure escapism from the world around me.

I may re-read the entire “Wheel of Time” series, just because.

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