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Originally Posted By: Randomizer
Sad news. Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld series among other things, has announced he has early onset of Alzheimer's disease and it is affecting his work.

Another fine author will soon cease to write. frown


He's also recently started making arrangements with the Swiss Dignitas clinic to end his life if he feels it's necessary in the future. It sucks that it has to come to that.
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Based on the fact that this topic has over 1.5 million views, everyone's answer should be "What have you been reading recently?"

The topic is dead! Long live the topic!   —Alorael, who will throw in The Ringmaster's Daughter, a relatively normal and therefore still quite unusual novel by Jostein Gaarder. Unlike Sophie's Wor

It was in one of the introductions for a book. Part of the problem was he had a few children and was trying to save for their future educations.   The figure I've seen is that a basic paper back

I've finished Leviathan while on vacation, and now I'm slowly chipping away at the next book on my "obtuse political/historical tomes list"* (which is thankfully now very short), The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler. After working through the five prefaces and introductions that my edition has, all I can think is wow, WWI and post-WWI era Germany must have been a really depressing place to live.

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Originally Posted By: Dantius
I've finished Leviathan while on vacation, and now I'm slowly chipping away at the next book on my "obtuse political/historical tomes list"* (which is thankfully now very short), The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler. After working through the five prefaces and introductions that my edition has, all I can think is wow, WWI and post-WWI era Germany must have been a really depressing place to live.


anywhere in Europe was, really

i mean that's basically why The Waste Land got written
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  • 3 weeks later...

So can we do play reviews here?

 

No?

 

Too bad.

 

Went to watch Twelfth Night in Hawrelak Park as put on by the Free Will Players. Not going to talk about the play itself; go ahead and read the synopsis if you're not familiar with it. They did it as a straight up farce... until the very end. Malvolio's final scene pushed the pathos lever to eleven (am I a bad person for thinking "Sequel Hook!" at his final line?). Also, they ended with Sir Andrew dejectedly walking off the stage, suitcase in hand, followed by Fabiana (a female part in this play), Sir Toby, Maria, and Feste, presumably dismissed for the part these four played in the B Plot. I dunno; ending on that melancholy note was kinda jarring.

 

While Shakespeare gives his main characters sufficient depth and backstory, I find that the supporting characters, especially comic relief, are only defined in terms of the main characters. Obviously this isn't a bad thing, but I can't help but wonder what it would be like giving Sir Andrew or Malvolio the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead treatment. I remember sketching out a scenario from the POV of Dogberry's watchmen.

 

The costume design was interesting. Steampunk. Aside from the opening scene (a submarinewreck instead of a shipwreck), it didn't have any impact on the play. But there were a lot of trench coats and goggles. I think Antonio was supposed to have a robotic hand. He also had a heavy Spanish accent (which I assume he used for the title role for Othello, which plays on alternating nights). Had he used his normal voice, I probably would have recognized him, 'cause after reading the cast page I found out he's Mark Meer.

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Why is Julius Caesar almost never performed? Why is Romeo and Juliet so incredibly overdone? Why do directors insist on robbing his plays of historical and social context by setting them in the modern era/Victorian era/WWII/what-have you? Why are Marlowe's plays only done a tenth as often as Shakespeare's, despite him being at least as good a playwright as Shakespeare?

 

We may never know.

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Originally Posted By: Tyranicus
Originally Posted By: Dantius
Why are Marlowe's plays only done a tenth as often as Shakespeare's, despite him being at least as good a playwright as Shakespeare?
I would say the fraction is even smaller than that.
That's probably why I haven't heard of Marlowe until now.
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Originally Posted By: Dantius
Why is Julius Caesar almost never performed?

All of the history plays get shrift. I've encountered more performances of Julius Caesar than, say, Richard II.

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Why is Romeo and Juliet so incredibly overdone?

It's the iconic tragic romance. It has entered the popular lexicon and the standard curricula, and everyone is at least comfortably familiar with it.

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Why do directors insist on robbing his plays of historical and social context by setting them in the modern era/Victorian era/WWII/what-have you?

Not only do I not know, but I find it incredibly strange that the first half of the 20th century seems to be the most popular temporal setting for Shakespeare. Maybe period costumes aren't cheap or readily available, but you could at least just make it modern. Or go crazy and set it in the future! In space! Where everyone is an uplifted marmoset!

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Why are Marlowe's plays only done a tenth as often as Shakespeare's, despite him being at least as good a playwright as Shakespeare?

His body of work is smaller, his protagonists are often more inaccessible, and his work has been eclipsed by others'. Doctor Faustus has been replaced by Goethe's Faust, which lacks that pesky message about irrevocable damnation. The Jew of Malta is overshadowed by The Merchant of Venice, which has the advantage of not making everyone look petty and evil.

—Alorael, who also just doesn't think that Marlowe's plays have the beauty of Shakespeare's. They're great, but they're not as great.
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Julius Caesar isn't one of the English history plays, but it's one of Shakespeare's history plays. Yes, it gets filed with the tragedies, but it's one of the plays about history. In this case it's a useful distinction because I don't think the three history-tragedies are performed as often as the other tragedies. Of course, Troilus and Cressida and Cymbeline are probably the least performed of the tragedies, and not histories.

 

—Alorael, who thought that Marlowe survived the killing, became Shakespeare, and then went into suspended animation (with extensive rejuvenation) so that he could become Elvis several centuries later.

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It's about a historical figure. That's hardly the same thing as saying it's about history. In Shakespeare's day it was an order of magnitude further in the past, compared to the English histories, and I think it's fair to say that it has more in common with Hamlet or Othello than it does with either Henry IV.

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Originally Posted By: Second Culture Warrior
Marlowe survived the killing, became Shakespeare, and then went into suspended animation (with extensive rejuvenation) so that he could become Elvis several centuries later.


Bah. That's just what the Establishment would like you to believe. Free your mind!
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Originally Posted By: Second Culture Warrior
[...] his work has been eclipsed by others'. Doctor Faustus has been replaced by Goethe's Faust, which lacks that pesky message about irrevocable damnation.


lolwut? There was never any question in Doctor Faustus that Faust was damned solely because he chose to stay upon a course of action that would lead him to damnation. Even in the very last hours of his life, the old man still offers him eternal life in heaven and redemption if he just repents his wicked ways. His actions led directly to damnation not regardless of, but in spite of the constant offers of redemption he received. It's hardly "irrevocable" when it's made quite clear through the entire story that all he had to do was repent to become un-damned.
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Rand stared at the chest. Selene's company was far from burdensome, but near her he could not help thinking things he should not.


One month later, it's time for a review of Book Two! Once again, there are spoilers for events up to and including Book Twelve.

Click to reveal.. (Book Two)

First off, let's talk about the infamous Tor cover. Yes, apparently Trollocs are black men. I really don't want to judge books by their covers, but let's face it. The Tor covers are pretty crappy. The only cover that clearly indicates the events of the book is the one for Book Three. Seriously, go ahead and take a look at the Tor covers, and try to remember the major events of that book. Take Lord of Chaos for example. We've got some dude -- Rand? -- chatting with some Aes Sedai while a Draghkar is overhead. Hmmm, not ringing any bells. Let's take a look at the e-book cover. Oh right, Book Six ended with the Battle of Dumai Wells, the horrific battle that destroyed most of the Shaido, revealed the Asha'man to the world, and gave Rand PTSD. Seriously, with the exception of Books One and Three, all the e-book covers depict major events from that book, and do so with better art to boot.

(Also, Raymond Swanland kicks ass and is Rebecca Guay 2.0 in a perverse roundabout way. Have my babies.)

Anyway. On with the story.

This one isn't a mere Tolkien derivative, and moreover it plays with the reader's expectations a bit. The Gandalf figure take a vacation for this book. It's less 'action-packed', and focuses more on character development. It really spreads out which characters get POV chapters; in Book One, only three characters got them. It really sets you up for this big confrontation with Fain, and then it never happens. This book felt like it belonged in a series, while the first book felt more stand-alone-ish.

A fourteen page prologue. Bah. Minuscule. We do get the introduction of "Bors", who I think must hold the record for the longest-lived minor villain in the series. Like most minor villains, he eventually meets a horrible, horrible end, but wow, does he stick around for a long time.

I'm having trouble reconciling the Ishy of Books One and Two and the Ishy Moridin of the later books, especially Book Twelve. There he's a lot more reserved, and also aware and accepting of the fact that oblivion rather than eternal life awaits if the Dark One wins. In these earlier books, he's less a nihilist and more "Join me, and together we will rule Randland for all eternity!" Maybe he thinks he can get away with lying to Rand in the early books, or maybe it's some other reason.

Lanfear is also introduced in this book, but she doesn't really do much, other than act mysterious and sexy around Rand and try to make him use the Power more. You get this JailBaitWait vibe from her, which is (probably intentionally) creepy.

As for new locations and cultures, we get to see Tar Valon, Toman Head, Cairhein, and the Seanchan. Tar Valon is pretty much as advertised in Book One. Toman Head is, well, pretty boring, being only defined in relation to the invading Seanchan.

The description of Cairhein only deals with the noble class (the Cairheinin are fleshed out in a lot more detail in later books, though). I always feel a little let down by the simplistic politics in the series. To be fair, the series doesn't have politics as its focus as in, say, Song of Ice and Fire. But still, more could have been done than having the idiotic nobles read hidden meaning into what is clearly nothing at all. It wouldn't take much effort to improve. You have Barthanes asking Rand about the Choedan Kal, to which Rand gives his honest opinion which seems to imply that he's working against the King. That was alright. Have more stuff like that. Random Noblewoman #1 asks if Rand if he thinks the King's Gift should be abolished. Random Nobleman #2 asks about the current contract for the grain barges. Would have been more interesting than Rand being propositioned by three random noblewomen.

Ah, the Seanchan. Everyone's favourite fantasy fascists. Not too much to say about them for now, except to note that this batch is a little more 'honour-bound' (read: stupid) than the later batch is. I'm just going to assume that it's just people attached to Turak's House that are this dumb.

Nynaeve and Egwene start training at the Tower, and they meet Elayne and Min there. Egwene and Min become best of friends, and have slumber parties where they talk about boys. And by boys, I mean Rand. Gag me with a spoon. I can see Egwene chatting about him; she was practically engaged to him. Min talks about him a little despite only meeting him once, but then again she knows what the future holds. But Elayne? She's shared the stage with him for a grand total of one scene. Seriously, is it just some idiotic infatuation? I already have problems with your character without such stupidity being thrown in. Yes, I know the whole "talking about who will marry Rand" is foreshadowing. It's also very, very creepy foreshadowing.

In most other books, there would be a series of really boring chapters about their training at the Tower. Don't know if I've mentioned this before here, but I really don't like Magic School Fiction. Thankfully, we can skim over their novice training while still having them competent with the Power thanks to the Portal Stones dilating time for the other characters. I'm pretty sure the Stones were written in for this purpose alone; unlike other parts of Jordan's cosmology, the Stones never appear in the series again as far as I can recall.

Then the 'heroines' get willingly abducted by Liandrin, who's got to be the most obvious villain of all time. I guess it's just a comment on how training novices to accept orders without question is a Bad Thing, but still. Dumb as rocks, ladies. On the other hand, you've got to be paying close attention to pick out Verin's first lie of the series.

Egwene and Min get captured, while Nynaeve and Elayne escape. Nynaeve is a pretty competent leader here; again, why does she have to be so incompetent and unlikeable in later books? Egwene gets a grand total of one chapter dealing with her breaking process. Seems a little short, but then, I'd rather that than something like the torture sequence from Wizard's First Rule.

The climax was decent. Not the best of the series, but I got more into this one than the previous one. I think most readers predicted that the Horn would be blown, but I'm sure Mat blowing it was a surprise to most (it certainly was to the other characters in-universe). Really, the book is kinda awkward in that it stands between Book One and Three, which form an unofficial trilogy of sorts. You end up wanting to read more, which I suppose is the mark of a good book.

VITAL STATISTICS:
Achievements for Team Light: Retrieved the Horn of Valere, used the Horn of Valere to drive off the Seanchan Expeditionary Force, initial declaration of Rand as the Dragon Reborn.

Forsaken Count: None. Total of two dead, for now.

Seals Count: Two, both destroyed. Total of three destroyed.


So, um, anyone actually reading this?
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I just did, but I'm afraid your review doesn't make me want to read this series myself. I'm getting the impression that it's basically competent, has a few cool things, but also a lot of stupid things, and thus adds up only to mediocre. I don't have time for a mediocre series that long.

 

Or did I misinterpret your general take? Are you a true fan who takes all the awesomeness for granted, so you don't dwell on it in your review?

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The question of the inevitability of Faustus's damnation is possibly one of the best things in Marlowe's play, but also really problematic.

 

Faustus apparently believes all along that he can simply repent at any moment and be saved, but he continually procrastinates. Then in his last hour he seems to have given up his hope of repentance. But it's not clear why; he simply tips abruptly from complacency to despair.

 

The puzzle is whether this is psychologically credible stupidity, the kind of thing we can all see ourselves doing, or just the plain stupid stupidity that bad playwrights write into their characters in order to force the plot along.

 

The best interpretation I can find is that 24 years of diabolical power has badly corroded Faustus's mind and character, to the point where he is easily manipulated by his nemesis. The problem is not that God would not accept his repentance, but that Faustus is no longer able to repent. He just can't achieve that state of heart and mind. He still thinks he can repent; but this is the way a person who hasn't spoken their native language in twenty years thinks they can still speak it, until they try, and discover they have forgotten far too many words.

 

I'm not sure what I think about that theologically, but psychologically I find it quite plausible. In the end the point may well be that Faustus's damnation really was inevitable, simply because nobody can survive many years of magical power with enough strength of character to repent.

 

The problem, though, is that slow character degradation isn't very good theatre. The point of Marlowe's middle two acts of farce is supposed to be that Faustus has sunk to the point of having sold his soul for stupid pranks, but it would have been better to have shown the decline, rather than cutting ahead to the end result, and dwelling on it through those two tedious acts. But showing the slow decline might not really have worked, either. It's a tough problem.

 

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Originally Posted By: Student of Trinity
The problem, though, is that slow character degradation isn't very good theatre.


which is, perhaps, why the status of Goethe's Faust as a closet drama makes it work better

well that and the fact that literally the first thing he does after making the deal is to throw a huge party with bottomless kegs of wine
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I'm still getting around to trying Goethe in German. My vocabulary is too sparse for that level of literature, and it's tedious plugging through with a dictionary. But there are a lot of things I like about Goethe's version. The premise of the bargain is just really intriguing: Faust is the ultimate perfectionist, to the point where he is literally willing to bet his immortal soul that he will never, not even for one moment, not even with all the power the devil gives him, be truly content. Even more: he actually says that if he ever conceded contentment, he would want to be damned for it.

 

Originally Posted By: Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Werd ich zum Augenblicke sagen:

Verweile doch! Du bist so schön!

Dann magst du mich in Fesseln schlagen,

Dann will ich gern zugrunde gehen!

 

If I ever say to the passing moment,

"Stay but a while! Thou art so fine!"

Then you may cast your chains upon me,

Then I will gladly die and burn!

 

In comparison, Marlowe's Faustus is just a guy who wants as much gravy as he can get. Goethe's Faust is really someone. Bottomless kegs of wine are his kind of party.

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Originally Posted By: Dintiradan
So, um, anyone actually reading this?
I am, and I am quite enjoying these reviews. Btw,
Click to reveal..
Rand does use the portal stones again to travel to the Aiel Waste in The Shadow Rising.
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I still prefer Kaufmann's version:

 

If to the moment I should say

Abide, you are so fair--

Put me in fetters on that day

I wish to perish then, I swear.

Then let the death bell ever toll

Your service done, you will be free,

The clock may stop, the hand may fall,

As time comes to an end for me.

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Originally Posted By: CRISIS on INFINITE SLARTIES
Abide, you are so fair--


but that translation doesn't make it work nearly as well as a pickup line

also the rhyming feels a little forced to me
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Originally Posted By: Dintiradan
So, um, anyone actually reading this?
I am! Even though I've read the series more times than I can remember, your reviews still put Jordan's writing in a new light.
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Well, I don't know. I'm at an awkward stage of partial fluency, where I can recognize that a translation doesn't quite fit, but couldn't recognize that it fit as well as it possibly could (in which case it would have to be considered good). I think it's really hard to translate poetry well in any case.

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Faustus can work very well, but it can also be a weird play that starts with ambition, turns into odd slapstick, and then ends with pathos from nowhere. If you don't have good acting, great directing, and sound dramaturgy, you end up with something not quite worth seeing. Shakespeare tended to write plays that hold together better despite what other people do to it.

 

—Alorael, who thinks that last minute redemption will play better with modern audiences than inability to repent.

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This is gonna be embarrassing but I'll say it anyway. My nephew had one of those 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' books lying around so I picked it up and read it. I finished it in about 70 min. His mom (my sister) bought the Rodrick Rules movie and I watched it with the kids last night. Now I want to read the other books and see the other movies.

 

By the way, the movie was really crazy funny!

 

Post #576 cool

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Originally Posted By: Goldenking
I'm halfway through Nietzsche, and so far it's been divine.

In the meantime, I've started (and nearly finished) The Prince by Machiavelli. It's funny, because when I read excerpts of it at first, years ago, I, in my youthful innocence, thought it was evil. Now, having developed my mind and my life more since then, I can see the wisdom and practicality in it far more.


I finished both Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Prince.

Both were lovely, but as far as Nietzshe goes, I'm preferring his On the Genealogy of Morals that I'm reading now. Less character building, more argumentation. While the story type format of Zarathustra's journeys was interesting and novel, it's refreshing to get back into the more classical fashion of nonfiction.

I'm also reading Ovid's The Art of Love. I can understand better why Augustus exiled Ovid in the first place, now.
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Originally Posted By: Tyranicus
Btw,
Click to reveal..
Rand does use the portal stones again to travel to the Aiel Waste in The Shadow Rising.
Oh, hey, totally forgot about this. And I suppose that usage going off without a hitch implies to the reader how much Rand has grown in the Power in the time between.

Originally Posted By: Student of Trinity
I just did, but I'm afraid your review doesn't make me want to read this series myself. I'm getting the impression that it's basically competent, has a few cool things, but also a lot of stupid things, and thus adds up only to mediocre. I don't have time for a mediocre series that long.

Or did I misinterpret your general take? Are you a true fan who takes all the awesomeness for granted, so you don't dwell on it in your review?
Okay, fair enough, I'm not portraying the series in the correct light. I admit that I'm writing the reviews for others who have already read the books in question. I view my reviews as a compromise between the positive blog posts by the new author and the ISAM satirical summaries. I feel kinda bad that you as a non-reader read the spoiled review, because in it I'm revealing plot lines that quite literally unfold over the course of a dozen books. So, I guess I should write a non-spoiler review of each book? More writing?

(Shudders.)

Anyway, I don't want to leave you with false impressions about my feelings for the first two books. I liked them a lot. I really did enjoy them. A lot of the stuff I'm complaining about in my reviews (so far) is, honestly, just nitpicking. And the rest isn't really complaining, more like remarking. I really don't mind that Liandrin is obviously working for Team Dark, or that Seanchan society is more honour-bound than I remember them. I'm just pointing out things that are surprising me on the reread.

The real issue is that I'm reserving my superlatives. The climax for Book Two is really good. But if I spend a lot of time talking about how good it is, what am I going to say about the ending to, say, Book Six? On the other hand, I talk a bit about how I'm irked by the Supergirls in Book Two. They're annoying, sure, but no more than most protagonists at the beginning of a long series. I'm saving my vitriol for the truly annoying characters, like Faile or Gawyn.

To remedy the failings of the above reviews, here's a (not so brief) review of the books (that I've read so far), which is (mostly) free of spoilers. I'm not going to talk about the setting itself; the Wikipedia page is pretty good for that.

What's good about the series? Quite a bit. You start out with what seems like standard fantasy fare. A young hero has to go from Point A to Point B in order to defeat the Big Bad. But complication after complication arises. The cast of characters continually increases from one to several to a true ensemble cast. Soon, as a reader, you discover that this is more than one person's story, or even many people's stories. This is a series about the death of an era, and the birth of a new. We get to see cultures like the Cairhienin expand and adapt to the turmoil over the course of the series. A number of people consider the Wheel of Time to be the War and Peace of fantasy. I've never read Tolstoy, but the series does have an epic feel.

It's very driven by character development. True, most other books are the same way, but this series doesn't use the linear growth model that other books do. It's not like Book A is where the character discovers the Power of Friendship, and Book B is where the character discovers the Power of Love. It's not so clear cut, and being spread over the course of fourteen books, the development isn't a monotonic function. For the more important characters, we also see character development over multiple axes. So for one character, we see her progression from puppet to pawn to figurehead to ruler, until she finally realizes the ideals of servant leadership. At the same time, she's integrating into multiple cultures, and realizing that perhaps none of them will survive the coming events, and works to save what is good and right about them while condemning what is wrong. At the same time, it's slowly revealed to the reader how scarred she is from events earlier in the series, and it's foreshadowed how she'll have to face those demons. And so on.

As an aside, this is what really bothers me about the characters who are usually reviled as the 'annoying' ones. Sure, I don't like annoying characters, but I'll put up with them if I can tell that they are progressing as characters. It's the final redemption that makes the entire arc worthwhile. No, it's the characters who don't receive any development at all (but rather Flanderization) that I dislike. Worse, it's the characters that do 'develop', but seem to promote bad messages. I'll get to those later.

What else is good about the series? World building. It has one of the best developed cosmologies I've ever seen in fantasy literature. It feels like a living, breathing world. On their first introduction, the various cultures look like a Planet of Hats, but they are revealed in more detail as the series progresses (well, except the Sea Folk; they start out "mysterious and exotic", but just turn out to be "Aiel 2 -- The Jerkening"). There's the usual "three thousand years ago..." that you get with a lot of fantasy literature, but at the same time there are a lot of recent events that shape the current day affairs in the series, such as the Aiel or Whitecloak wars.

The series is really big on the cyclical nature of time and the cycle of rebirth (hence the name). Prophecy also plays a big part. The central character knows from nearly the beginning that he's destined to die in a struggle against the Big Bad. Thus, the struggle with inevitability is a major component. There's a lot this series has in common with Dune (I've only read the first book). In both, you have a central character prophesied to be a Messiah figure. They have to intentionally mold themselves into the prophesied figure, and try to minimize the turmoil and destruction that rides in their wakes while still facing their prophesied ends.

Most interesting to me at least is the way the series tries to be a superset of every other legend and myth in existence. It uses the cyclical nature of time aspect to create a universe where all legends are true; the events of one Age fuel the myths of the next. Moreover, the characters of one Age fit the mold of characters in the previous; hence, the central character of the series is "The Dragon Reborn", the rebirth of the maligned Dragon of legend, the madman who ended the previous Age. One thing I forgot to mention in my recap of Book Two is how the central character receives stigma-esque marks; brands on both his palms, and he is dealt a never-healing wound on his side.

Other legends are just as obvious. There's Artur Paendrag Tanreall, the High King who a thousand years ago united all the lands under his rule, a hero of legend who can be called back from the dead to fight when the need arises. The Once and Future King indeed. Others are less obvious. As the series progresses, the central character takes on the qualities of the Fisher King, a maimed ruler, and the weather begins to mirror his moods. The three ta'veren (an in-universe term for people who quite literally have Plot Immunity) begin to mirror the Norse deities Tyr, Thor, and Odin. You've got the Wild Hunt. You've sort-of got the Sidhe (of the Unseelie Court variety). Even the stories and legends -- heck, even the tavern names -- are references that are very easy to miss, from Culann's Hound to The Bells of St Clements to Lord of the Rings. Just, just go ahead and read the WotFAQ.

Finally, and on a completely subjective note, I just like the writing style. Other works like Dune and The Saga of Recluce have a lot of the same feel to them, but I was just turned off by their writing styles.

If the series had all of the above attributes and none of the following faults, I'm sure it would be well-regarded as one of the best high fantasy series ever. The fact that many people hold that opinion despite the following flaws says something about how good the good parts are. So what are these ugly parts of the story?

First off: gender relations. This is the big one. At first glance, the series takes place in one of those idealized "Middle Ages as they should have been" universes. Women aren't viewed as second-class citizens, as they were in reality or in 'realistic' fantasy fiction such as GRRM's Song of Ice and Fire. If anything, there's a bit of a stigma against men. I suppose there's a good reason for this in-universe; magic-users were the effective rulers three thousand years ago, and then every male magic-user went insane and destroyed the entire civilization. One of the mandates of female magic-users of the present day is to track down and deal with male magic-users before they go insane and do the same.

Well, that doesn't seem bad so far, right? Well, there's just one, tiny, teensy problem. Robert Jordan could not write women. Hate to say it, but many of the female characters are jerks. The women in the series can be crabby. Or childish. Or arrogant. Or possessive. Or... you get the picture. And you don't see the unmarked gender getting any of these negative attributes (not that having horrible female and male characters would be the solution). You can really see the distinction in some books. You've got the main male character, burdened with the task of ruling several diverse nations, trying to keep subversive nobles in line, resisting the advice of competing allies who try to make him a tool for their various causes, constantly hounded by enemies of a bygone era who vastly outmatch him in experience, all the while struggling with his increasing insanity and faced with his inevitable death. Now, he ends up emotionally shutting himself away from the world, which isn't a good thing. But it's good reading, and good character development. In the same time period, we've got two female characters who are constantly squabbling because they're escaping town in a traveling circus and it's cramped quarters and they're hot and sweaty and they don't have enough clothes with them. Oh, the humanity. All too often, the female characters are unbearable, and all too often the typical male response is "Oh, women are such mysterious creatures. Who can fathom their ways? Ah well, we love them anyway." I don't.

It gets worse with romantic relationships. In the entire series, I don't recall one healthy romantic relationship. Not one. The main on-screen marriage is one of doubt, jealousy, argument, and a struggle for dominance. What's worse, by the end of the series, it seems that the author(s) goal is to marry off every single character, despite how little compatibility or screen-time shared the couple has. Seriously, it feels like I'm reading a crack pairing thread. I really didn't like the romantic pairing that happens more and more near the end. Actually, romantic stoichiometry would be the better term, because one relationship is polygamous. Never mind that the male character spends far more time with Female B than Female A, and far more time with Female C than Females A and B combined.

The Altaran culture sums it up nicely. A fantasy author who created a society where women were subjected to strict societal norms and men were permitted and expected to stab them with knives if they deviated or went against their wishes would be vilified. But if you flip the genders, it's apparently empowering.

The second major complaint you hear about the series is the pacing. Again, I want to point this out: I enjoyed the pacing of the two books I've reread, and I don't recall any real problems with the next several books. By all means, the books aren't fast-paced, but the early ones don't drag. In the next few books I'll review, a number of characters transition to political roles, and the action drops a bit, but that's not the problem. By around Books Seven or Eight, the cast of characters has exploded, and the action continually shifts around between different points of view and different theatres of operation. Major events do still happen, but things start to drag.

But the biggest problem people have is the infamous Book Ten. Now, Book Nine ends with a bang. The events of its climax have earth-shattering implications. So, apparently, it's appropriate to have Book Ten consist of nothing other than minor characters responding to the events of the previous book. I repeat: Nothing of note happens. Nothing gets resolved. It's horrible, and made a lot of people doubt that the original author had any plans to end the series. I was one of those people. See, I had started reading the series late. Thus, I was able to read one book after the other, all the way up to Book Ten, before I had to wait for the next one to be published. Book Nine was great; hey, look at all this stuff that's happening! The series must be moving to a close, right? Book Ten was like a punch in the gut.

I want to leave off with a silver lining: Book Eleven was the last one written by the original author, and it succeeded in snapping the 'tension line' taut again. It did redeem the author of the previous book. It's made abundantly clear that the series is nearly at its end. Awesome stuff starts happening again. Then the original author died, but not before leaving copious amounts of notes behind. A new author is finishing the last three books, and judging by Book Twelve, it's more or less consistent with the writing of the previous author (it helps when the editor of the series was also the wife of the previous author). Book Twelve is awesome, continues the precedent set by Book Eleven, and lack most of the flaws that are in the previous stretch of books.

In conclusion, your comment about the series "averaging out the mediocre" is dead wrong. It's not like you're drinking a smoothie, made with equal parts fresh fruit and rotten fruit. Instead, you're sipping a delicious glass of Australian Shiraz. A glass of Shiraz that has a number of dead flies floating on the surface. On the one hand, the series is a broad, sweeping epic about the end of an Age that gives every major character the Monomyth treatment. On the other hand, one book has a Rape as Comedy subplot (don't worry, Female on Male is A-OK!). Some of those flies are pretty horrific. But if you're willing to pick them out of the beverage, you'll have a good drink.

EDIT: Look, the fact that I'm willing to write so much should count for something.
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I agree with some of what you have said about the Wheel of Time series.

 

Book 10 was the worst and I hope the blame was the author's illness and someone else just publishing a story based on notes. But the problem has existed before in filler chapters. It seems that the books have started with a great idea and then started to drag as the author became more interested in going off on tangents rather than keeping to the main quest line.

 

I'm holding off on finishing until the final book is written because it's gotten to be a drag reading and then in doesn't finish a main point. It's like a badly written Hill Street Blues where they never resolved the main plot and kept leaving cliff hangers.

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Thanks for the more general discussion, Dintiradan. That does explain more about why so many people are happy to read such a long series. I see what you mean with the flies-in-wine analogy.

 

I simply don't really have time for such a long series these days. Between work and kids, I can get some time to relax, but not enough to make rapid enough progress through that long a story, without losing track of what is going on. Or at least, it would be a strain to fit it in. So naturally I'm looking for excuses to decide that the grapes are sour and I'm not missing much. Unfortunately, your 'dead flies' assessment is just what I need for this.

 

I've always tended to let a few things in a book color my reaction to everything else, whether for good or ill. Often I'll decide a book is really good, if it has a few really good things and the rest are mediocre, because I'll start giving it every benefit of doubt. But on the other hand a few really bad things are enough to make me hate a book entirely, even if it has other great things. All I can think of is what a shame it is that such a potentially great book was ruined.

 

The problem with the beverage metaphor is that there's usually no literary analog of picking the flies out. Sometimes a flaw is so weakly linked to the rest of the text that you can just edit it out. The awkward frame narrative at the beginning of The Worm Ouroboros, for instance, I can just ignore. But normally the flaws in a book are stirred well into it. If I keep the beverage analogy, then for me I'd say that a good book with serious flaws is like a bottle of wine that is, as one says, "corked".

 

This happens to any wine occasionally, especially if it's stored a long time. Something goes wrong with the cork, and the wine picks up an unpleasant musty-dirty taste. This is why one sniffs a wine cork — any hint of mustiness is a bad sign, though the problem hasn't always spread to the wine itself yet. Anyway, corked wine still has all its good flavors, but the nasty added taste is in there, too. It's hard to just ignore it and enjoy the good tastes. The standard thing to do is to throw the bottle out. If you are served corked wine in a restaurant, you're normally entitled to get a replacement bottle for free, if you point out the problem to the waitstaff, and they can confirm it's there.

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Originally Posted By: Student of Trinity
If you are served corked wine in a restaurant, you're normally entitled to get a replacement bottle for free, if you point out the problem to the waitstaff, and they can confirm it's there.


so what you're saying is we should hold a seance and get bob jordan's ghost to write another series for us
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Well, if they're all out of that vintage, they'll give you a different bottle as a replacement. Write to the publisher. I'm sure they'll understand. Just make sure you can prove you haven't yet drunk the original bottle.

 

To mix this thread with another one, I wonder whether the future will be full of purified mash-up versions of all flawed books. Maybe fans will get together and re-write WoT to fix it. How hard would that be? Obviously not easy. But maybe not impossible?

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if you want a vision of the future, imagine a zombie stamping on Jane Austen's face, forever

 

(what i'm saying is that i don't trust the sort of person who would embark on a project like that in the first place to make the original work better)

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I agree with Lilith. *shudder*

 

You get whatever prejudices the replacement author takes pride in writing. Instead of continuing in the literary vein of the original author, you get a parody emphasizing certain aspects.

 

The Wall Street Journal had a literary review on the latest author to be given the official task of writing sequels to Ian Fleming's James Bond series. The chief complaint against most of the authors was that their books were based upon the movies instead of the original book versions. Gadgets instead of ability.

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Originally Posted By: Lilith
if you want a vision of the future, imagine a zombie stamping on Jane Austen's face, forever


Well put; that's exactly the biggest problem. On the other hand, though, I haven't actually read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies; just glanced at the cover in a bookstore. I blinked, grinned, and passed on. No harm done; no characters were injured in the making of this pastiche.

This might be silly, might just be a bee in my own bonnet, but I really think mash-up is a major intellectual issue. What makes a version — of nearly anything — the authentic version, when it's so easy to edit and distribute any number of variations? This is a hugely pressing legal issue, of course, but ultimately that is because it's a basic and important problem. The historical accident of authorship is probably just too tenuous for enforcement, because once the text is out there, there simply isn't any connection to the author any more. Socrates was onto this, as I've recently learned from Dantius, but it has taken over two thousand years for technology to give Socrates's bark some bite.

An English professor of mine once asked (in different words), "Are stories real?" My standing answer is No, because in a story you can sit on a chair that isn't made of anything in particular. With a real chair, the particular material may not be important, but it has to exist.

So I can maybe restate my interest in the wikification of all thought in a way that indicates both what I'm wondering, and how seriously I take the problem, because I mean the question literally:

Does a story have a soul?
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