There are spoilers below, covering the first four Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan.
The Wheel of Time books are complex on many levels. They’re complex in and of themselves in terms of the world and story, and they’re also complex in terms of their broader existence in the world. They were written and released at a time when the Internet was really taking off, and many, many people talked about the books on early web pages and Usenet. The connection to the author through those routes was something new for many people, probably including Jordan himself.
There’s been a lot written about the books, both about the issues of feminism they seem to raise (or misogyny and misandry depending on your view), and about Jordan’s ‘errors’ as a writer. Personally, I think he needed a much stricter editor, and the books from around 4 or 5 onwards would have been a lot better.
You’ll also find people screaming about how the characters are stupid. Especially in terms of female and male interactions, and in not sharing what they know. Too often you might feel if they had just shared what they knew then the Shadow would have been defeated more easily. The whole male/female thing is just infuriating, where all the characters seem to have no clue how the other gender operates.
However, I see those two things as part of the plot, or the world structure. I hope there’s some allegory in there, and some comment on how the world was broken and now the genders don’t trust each other (we’ll see if I’m right when I finally finish the series).
What irritates me far more than those, is when characters that are not stupid act in a stupid way. I can never work out if Jordan thought his readers were stupid, if he thought his characters were stupid, if he was trying to be subtle and failing, or if he just never noticed what he was writing (and his editor didn’t speak up).
The moments in question pull me right out of the books, and make me want to punch the furniture. During the particular sequence I’m going to describe in a moment, I killed at least one stuffed pillow on the sofa.
- Perrin, Morraine, Lan and Loial have been traveling towards Tear, and they travel through Illian. While there, they learn that one of the Foresaken has risen to be ruler of Illian at some stage, they’re not sure when.
- Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne are also traveling towards Tear. When they get there, they find the Black Ajah already ensconced.
- In Tear, they hear of a High Lord who has risen through the ranks in weeks, despite no one ever hearing of him.
- They learn that he is Foresaken.
- During a discussion on one particular page, Elayne, Egwene, Moraine, Nynaeve discuss why Rand should go to war. One of them (I can’t recall which) says something about Rand not having a choice, and who knows which other nations Foresaken have decided to take a controlling interest in. It is obvious from the discussion that all the women realise this is something very real, very likely, and very dangerous.
- That conversation finishes, and Moraine leaves. On the very, next, page, there is a discussion about how Elayne’s mother, The Queen of Andor, has a new adviser no one has heard of and the Queen appears to be in love with him.
- Not one of the girls puts two and two together. They just totally dismiss it. Not one of them thinks ‘hang on a stark raving minute, but we were just discussing how the Foresaken might try and control nations, and now, Andor, one of the most powerful, has a new adviser to the Queen that until a few weeks ago no one had heard of‘.
We don’t know when Mat told Elayne and the others of this new adviser. We have to assume it was not in the presence of Moraine, since Mat avoids her like the plague. So, we can forgive Moraine for not knowing about it here, but the three girls have absolutely no excuse.
These are the same three girls who have hunted Black Ajah, captured two of them, escaped from the Senchean, seen horrors beyond telling and are not, in any way, stupid. Why then, does Robert Jordan write them in this way, with moments of complete stupidity. Is it meant to be that way, or is it accidental? I don’t know, but it’s seriously irritating, either make them dumb, or make them clever but at least be consistent.
This is only one example – there are plenty more, when some obvious fact or notion is overlooked by everyone involved (and all the characters suffer, not just these three), for reasons that can only be described as stupidity, when at other times the characters demonstrate a perfectly reasonable amount of intelligence.
It’s one of the things that makes the series hard for me – I could cope if Jordan ever explained the stupidity, if he made it obvious it was intentional, or if he just said it was a mistake, but unless something is revealed in the last 5 or so books that I’ve never read, it’ll continue to drive me mad when I do try and read them.
Why Jordan? Why are the characters so inconsistently stupid and blind?