The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow.
When The Two Rivers is attacked by Trollocs—a savage tribe of half-men, half-beasts— five villagers flee that night into a world they barely imagined, with new dangers waiting in the shadows and in the light.
This is a feminist take on this novel. Not on the series, but this novel specifically.
Robert Jordan transformed the misogynistic idea that women are to blame for picking from the tree of knowledge and writes a feminist fantasy world where the power of women, including their knowledge and wisdom, may save the world from the sins of men. Rather than creating a fantasy world based on medieval Christianity, he picks from a matriarchal-based Celtic society.
“The women were not part of it. It was the men who went mad and broke the world.” (152)
- Matriarchal society? Why hello there.
- Cozy fantasy feels? All the fireplace fuzzies.
- Hot meal porn? You will drool.
- A Stoic warrior who has a thing for a magical lady? It is AGONIZING
- People who aren’t described as white? YUP
- Anti-nazi narratives? Yes, fuck all the fascists.
- Female characters put on a pedestal? Go read a different book.
- A male author using fantasy to discuss toxic masculinity published in fucking 1990? Close your mouth. You’re drooling.
When Lews Therin Telamon (the dragon) resealed the Dark One’s prison, the male Aes Sedai went insane. They caused environmental destruction and in general…men became super toxic. After the madness in what is called the breaking of the world, the dragon killed every living person who carried his blood, including those he loved.
Moraine Sedai, basically a powerful sorcerer, is searching for the one who will end the Dark One. She finds Rand al’Thor and his friends. Unless they want another Trolloc attack on their village, Rand and his friends must go with her and Lan, her warder, to prevent the Dark One from his vainglorious scheming.
Jordan uses a lot of dragon imagery, both from christian beliefs and from celtic ones. In Christian belief, dragons symbolize the bringing of knowledge. When god commanded woman not to eat from the tree of knowledge, the snake (or dragon) convinced her to eat from it. The dragon eating its own tail (like Moraine’s ring), the ouroboros, means eternity or the cycle of life. The ouroboros is an awakened consciousness.
In Celtic mythology, the dragon is a guardian to knowledge and secrets of the world. Jordan writes a fantasy where knowledge is not sinful or evil, as it is in Christian beliefs. Women having knowledge and wisdom in this world, like in ours, is wrought with distrust. The truth is women are not the ones to blame. Before the breaking of the world, male Aes Sedai and female Aes Sedai created a balance in the world. Male Aes Sedai became corrupted and insane when the dragon broke the world. The actions of men brought chaos and evil to envelope itself in the world. Saidin, the power of male Aes Sedai:
“Saidin”-she lifted one hand, then let it drop-”is fouled by the touch of the Dark One, like water with a thin slick of rancid oil floating on top.” (141)
Jordan makes it clear: it’s not men that are the problem but toxic masculinity that’s a problem. It’s something impacting everyone involved. It is destroying the world and corrupting those in it.
While this society is traditionally matriarchal, the sins of men have corrupted this society into believing women are to blame. In this world, powerful women are seen as a threat. Rand’s father fears Aes Sedai, as do many other men in the community. Women use knowledge and the power gained from that knowledge to save the world from toxic masculinity, from beings such as the Dark One.
Jordan doesn’t just discuss toxic masculinity in this feminist world he’s created. He also uses toxic masculinity to discuss this world’s version of white supremacy and male domination. Trollocs, human allies, darkfriends, dreadlords become this world’s Nazis and their sympathizers.
“The Dark One-they called him Sightblinder-intends to blind the Eye of the World” (538)
The Dark One is called The Great Lord of the Dark, conjuring Nazi or white supremacist traditions of naming their one true leader (like Grand Wizard or Führer). Both invite a darkness and a taking over of the world. Blinding the eye of the world makes me think that he’s blinding one’s conscious or ethical compass, much like Hitler or Trump.
Jordan tells the story of the Dark One and how he manipulated people to his side. Like fascism, these people slowly envelope into the ideologies and sympathizes of the Dark One. He makes them question themselves and the reality of the world. In our own history, western nations did not know what to do with Hitler. Many lords, aristocrats, nations became enamored of him. Jordan weaves that same tale into an anti-nazi, anti-fascist narrative.
“The fools said they could be swept aside like rubbish. How many battles lost, how many cities burned, before they faced the truth? Before the nations stood together against them?” (71)
And once again, we are reliving this reality with Trump, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and their good buddies, men’s rights activists. ‘If they wear a suit, are they a nazi?’ becomes the question the media asks every month. If something doesn’t look evil is it? These are the questions our society asks itself, which make it easy to normalize fascism. I talk about politics here because it is impossible to read this and not see politics. Fantasy has always been political, whether people want to admit it or not. There is no neutral stance in politics here.
Jordan has always been clear that his world is diverse and critical of the sins of white men. Any reader who thinks Two Rivers people are all white needs to do a closer reading because those covers are VERY inaccurate (https://www.tor.com/2019/08/20/from-the-two-rivers-casting-and-race-in-the-wheel-of-time/). I don’t want to hear the tired argument “I see them as having the skin tones of Greeks or Italians.” Italians and Greeks have light skin tones. They are not dark.
I’m honestly surprised a white man wrote a fantasy novel (published in 1990 for fucks sake) with such complex female characters. He doesn’t try to make the women into those misogynistic ‘imperfectly perfect’ characters. He writes them as complex so we know they’re human. We’re not always going to agree with everything they say or do. Unless you’re a misogynist and you just think all women are annoying and selfish. In which case, feel free to exit immediately.
Egwene and Nynaeve are two of my favorite characters. Jordan describes these two characters as having dark skin tones. He’s not another fantasy author writing about different ethnicities and races without including black and brown people. He shows us his world really is a diverse one. In Jordan’s world it’s not just white people that get to be magical bitches.
He doesn’t erase black and brown people in this book. Two of the most centric female characters are dark skinned. HELLS. YES.
Related: Amazon is currently filming the tv show right now. Look at all the diverse hotness. Robert Jordan would be proud. The racists are BIG mad.
What I love about Egwene is she doesn’t buy into Rand’s toxic masculine bullcrap. He assumes she wants to go on adventures because she likes all those fairy tales of powerful women.
How. Dare. She. Oh no, a woman not interested in marriage or swooning after the chosen one? Drop everything and figure out how to insult her like a child. Emergency: women have their own dreams! OH. FUCK.
“Maybe I want to see some of the places I hear about in the stories. Have you ever thought of that? “
“Of course I have. I daydream sometimes, but I know the difference between daydreams and what’s real.”
“And I do not?” she said furiously, and promptly turned her back on him. (37)
If they ever turn into something, I’m going to need Rand to exit this toxic masculinity stance he’s got going on. There’s an actual scene where he expects her to be nice to him so he can apologize for being an ass. She’s not nice to him. And who would really? He gets pissy at her because everything is her fault, apparently.
Rand is constantly pressuring Egwene to give up her dreams. He dislikes it when she listens to Moraine or Nynaeve more than him. Rand, like all basic white dudes, feels threatened by their power and authority. Jordan is very clear in the tone. He shows us misogyny and then it’s critiqued through the female characters. Occasionally he doesn’t critique misogyny, like when Rand ignores men slapping women. What a hero. It’s not without any criticism but for the most part I’m happy with how misogyny is handled in this novel.
I’m going to talk about a particular ship I’m really into. Be warned, there be spoilers abound:
I need to talk about Lan and Nynaeve. I love the romantic tension building between them. I’ve got a serious weakness when it concerns silent warrior types and powerful ladies. I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of the huge age difference but I’m willing to forgive that because it’s so well written.
They’re both so careful about their feelings. What they say to each other. How they glance at each other. Jordan was a big softie.
“I will never shame you.” The gentle tone, like a caress, sounded odd to Rand’s ears in the Warder’s voice, but it made Nynaeve’s eyes brighten. “I will hate the man you choose because he is not me, and love him if he makes you smile. No woman deserves the sure knowledge of widow’s black as her brideprice, you least of all.” (614)
“Alexa: play I will always love you by Whitney Houston.”
Just a warning to readers: this book can be slow in some places. The characters are separated from each other for a large chunk. It slowed the novel down and made it difficult for me to finish the novel. Don’t expect this to be a constant stream of action. The world is shown to us slowly, as are the characters and their personalities. This is the type of book you take your time with. Grab some cookies and hot cocoa and just sink into it.
If you’ve lost faith in men writing fantasy, you’ve given up on seeing complex women in fantasy, want a book where women are not just prostitutes, mothers, or rape victims? Read this monster of a book.