Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, took over two decades to complete, comprising 15 books (including the prequel), or 11,916 pages, or 4,410,036 words, or 461.4 hours (for the audiobooks). I don’t put those stats there to frighten you, but rather to give you an appreciation of the epic 114-week-long read along that it took to read all 15 books as a group.
Yeah, we’re that kind of crazy.
What follows are our comments not only on the series, but on the experience of reading this epic fantasy as a group at ~100 pages a week. We welcome your thoughts in the comments.
Originally, it was Anya’s idea (Anya of On Starships & Dragonwings). She and I had done other read alongs and we are both Brandon Sanderson fans (he co-wrote the last 3 books in the series after Jordan’s passing). Then there was my man who loved the series, hadn’t finished it, and used his puppy dog eyes to convince me to give Jordan a shot.
My current love of WoT was slow to blossom. In gentle terms, the first book, The Eye of the World, raised nostalgia for Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I actually read The Eye of the World when I was 17 and really didn’t like the similarities to Tolkien’s work as it made the plot, and sometimes the characters, predictable. But I was ready to give it another shot and see what all the fuss was. We were lucky enough to have two experienced readers, Liesel of Musings on Fantasia and the Nordic WoT Encyclopedia Eivind, to encourage us on. Sue from Coffee, Cookies, & Chili Peppers, was also there from the beginning and she was brand new to the series.
The first three books were a bit of a struggle for me, but come Book 4, The Shadow Rising, Jordan let his voice shine through and the series, for me, improved greatly. His characters were growing and the plots weren’t predictable any longer. More characters and cultures were pulled in as the series grew. The complexity of the series makes me think of a writer’s den covered in maps, timelines, sticky notes, and various weapons and clothes representative of the characters. That last is so Jordan could invite the unsuspecting guest in to help act out a fight scene!
So why did I stick with this series if it didn’t really grab me until Book 4? WoT has women warriors, main characters that aren’t white, polygamy, lots of creative swearing, extremely creative hairdos, homosexuality, gripping fight scenes, nudity, stalwart friends, multiple forces of evil, & spankings. I’ll leave it up to you to determine which of those held my attention the most.
Rand al’Thor, the main hero, is indeed white. But most of his friends are from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Perrin Aybara, Egwene al’Vere, and Mattrim Cauthon, all from Rand’s home village, have lightly brown skin, brown hair, & brown eyes and they are all main characters. I found this incredibly refreshing as much of SFF has been light on the melanin for so long.
I wasn’t expecting polygamy! While the series focuses on one man with multiple women, there were more than one side female characters that had multiple men in the relationship. Sooner or later, all the main characters got a spanking. If you ever read through our discussions, you will see there were segments in the series where the spankings abounded and we couldn’t help but make some remarks! Towards the end of the series, we have a few lines here and there that refer to homosexual relationships. The series stops short of actually having these characters on scene, but at least half the time, they have names. It’s a start.
By the time we got to the final three books, co-authored by Brandon Sanderson, my original goal of reading Sanderson’s works was not so important. After all, we had traveled with these characters & in this world for nearly 2 years at that point. Jordan’s ability had also grown with the series and it was a little sad to have him bow out, even though he left his work in capable hands. It was a worthy adventure, both in completing the series, but also in sharing the adventure with a group of friends. This series is a touchstone for so many folks my age or a little older and I am now very glad to be a part of that group of folks who knows how dangerous it can be to play Kiss the Maiden, or desperately wish they could sing the plants into unfurling, or occasionally have your dreams haunted by the Ways and what lurks in them.
I honestly can’t tell you how we started this crazy adventure. I might have mentioned on my blog that I wanted to read the series, possibly after I accidentally purchased New Spring, or maybe someone else mentioned it and I said I’d help. In any case, I was pretty determined to read WoT because I’m a diehard Sanderson fan and want to read every single thing he’s written. I’m really close, even including rarer books like his convention novellas, so a read along for WoT seemed perfect to enable me to get to those last books!
Sometimes you’re just in a mood for some delicious and classic high fantasy, and when I was in that mood, I really really enjoyed our read along. Read alongs make me think deeper about what I’m reading so that I can come up with questions and they help me not miss connections since I can rely on others to point out things I miss. The only downside to read alongs is of course the time investment.
I co-led our crazy experiment for three books and then realized that I needed to take a break. I like to take pretty long breaks between books in series so that I don’t get tired of them and WoT wasn’t working for me when I wasn’t taking those breaks. The third book seemed too similar to the first and second for me and I knew I couldn’t give this much beloved series a fair shot if I didn’t let myself reset. That plus grad school ramping up made it pretty clear that it was time for me to bow out of helping with the read along so that I could let WoT wait for when I’m ready to read some more. I hear the audiobooks are great, so maybe I’ll try that route ;-). More than introducing me to a new series though, this read along helped me make some really great new reader friends who are just as obsessed with door-stopper fantasy as I am :D.
Epic fantasy was always my destiny. My dad has been a Tolkien fan since his high school days. As a child I was put to bed with stories of Frodo and the One Ring. My mother read C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia to me as well, and in grade school, I discovered Lloyd Alexander’s Black Cauldron. I couldn’t rest until I’d read the entire series.
But those all paled compared to Robert Jordan’s epic. Weeks before my sophomore year of high school, I walked into the local bookstore (shocking, I know!) and discovered a beautiful cover. It showed an army, led by a man holding a sword and wearing a crown. I returned several times and was always drawn to the cover. A Path of Daggers by Robert Jordan, book eight of The Wheel of Time. Eventually I located book 1.
The rest is history. I was completely drawn in—as in hook, line, and sinker—by the end of the prologue. Once I became immersed in Jordan’s world, I never wanted to leave.
I write my own stories now, across several genres. I’m just now venturing into high fantasy, centering on dragons. To say the Wheel of Time series has influenced me would be the understatement of the century. I would not be who I am as a person, a reader, and certainly not a writer, if I hadn’t discovered this epic world.
Re-reading the series was a blast! While I’ve read most of the volumes more than once, it’s been piecemeal. I hadn’t read the series in its entirety since A Memory of Light came out. Picking up on symbolism that will be actualized later brings on chills, in the best way. Reading it with people experiencing it for the first time is exhilarating. (For me it’s also humbling. Jordan—and Sanderson, too—is a master story teller. The amount of planning he did ahead of time makes my head spin. It drives home how much of an amateur I still am.)
I will always be grateful for the Wheel of Time series, and will probably revisit it often in my lifetime. The world is as familiar to me as my own, and the characters are some of my dearest friends. My experiences reading about their lives have been some of my favorite ever.
You can only read a book or a series for the first time once. For some books, that’s fine, but the Wheel of Time is loved by many (myself among them) and we all bemoan the fact that the ‘first time’ is now lost to us forever. Perhaps the closest I’ve come to it was this read along, which allowed me to experience the whole thing again through the eyes of our new readers: Susan Voss and Sue Bricknell. As much as I enjoy discussing the minutiae of the series, seeing people react to it for the first time was what made it really worth the while. To the best of my knowledge, this is the only project of this kind and scope—people blog as they read, but they invariably do book by book where we were able to discuss every few chapters, and Leigh Butler’s famous and thorough re-read remains but a re-read, and not a ‘read’. I’m happy to have been allowed to do my part in this, and can only hope that we have inspired others to tackle the series (and Anya to finish—there are a couple hundred questions waiting for her!)
Hello, my name is Sue and I am addicted to read alongs.
The Wheel of Time read along was certainly massive, but it was not my first venture into this form of extreme reading. I was enticed into the seedy world of shared book dissection by a reTweet advertising a read along of The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch back in March 2012. Ten titles later, I had been exposed to some amazing authors and was ready to commit to something seriously silly. So, in December 2012, I posted my discussion for the first week of this epic journey through the entire Wheel of Time series.
Without wishing to be overdramatic, I can safely say that this series is the longest that I have ever read. At the beginning I had an intellectual understanding of its size, but that did not really translate into an understanding of the actual task involved. Perhaps I never really thought that we would finish, or perhaps I was simply delusional about what was involved. I tried to continue my other writing as well, but soon realized that I had a simple choice to make: continue my normal blogging routine or drop The Wheel of Time read along unless I could somehow stop sleeping.
Whilst I was tempted to drop out of the massive read along, by the time that I had to make this decision I had become completely engaged by Mr. Jordan’s series and really wanted to continue with it. Also, the great advantages of a read along are the slower reading pace and the ability to discuss and speculate as you go along. I have always been terrible at identifying the motivations behind characters’ actions when I read fiction. Knowing that I will be answering questions about a section of reading makes me concentrate on it slightly more than normal. It also gives me the time to review and digest what I have read so that I can spot connections and hints much more easily. Then there are the wonderful group discussions, which will almost inevitably produce ideas and theories that had never occurred to me. Every person who reads a book takes different things from it, so sharing those thoughts enriches the experience for everyone. In this case, we had the advantage of two re-readers who could continually look smug about the foolish comments that Susan and I would make in our first time through.
Whilst many might dismiss this series as simple escapism, I have found it to be a thought provoking and often profound read. It does follow in the tradition of the epic battle between Good and Evil, and we certainly see history unfolding at a world-changing level, but the characters are firmly grounded in everyday reality and show a degree of three-dimensionality that is refreshing in a genre that can rely on cliché to a woeful extent.
Not only are our characters growing and changing in response to the massive challenges that they face, but they are most definitely not perfect. They make poor decisions, often for very good reasons, and ignore things that they expect will be difficult to face. This makes them very frustrating to read, as you find yourself shouting at them whilst reading, but it also makes them so much more human and appealing. We can see ourselves making the same mistakes or at least identify behavior that we recognize in other people. This helps us to bond with our heroes, some of whom we grow to love over an amazingly short time frame.
However, I think that the thing that I found most impactful about the series is that it truly made me think about the human condition. By presenting a variety of societies and cultures, I have been placed within the mindset of a wide variety of belief systems. Some of these have been very alien to me and I have struggled to be non-judgmental of certain characters. Perhaps the most difficult for me was the pacifism of certain groups. Whilst the Ogier live a mostly peaceful life, they will take up arms in order to protect themselves if pushed to the extreme, whereas the Tinkers refuse to fight even when faced with their imminent demise. Perhaps it is a sad indictment of my world experience that I find their attitude to violence so much more difficult to understand than any other belief system presented in the series, even the acceptance of slavery by those held in chains.
Throughout the series I have been forced to consider the relationship between Good and Evil, and their impact upon Free Will. Again and again we have seen characters doing what they believe to be the right thing and yet ultimately they have been serving Evil with their actions. Especially in The Memory of Light, the necessity of Evil to provide an incentive for Goodness is a recurrent theme that has placed the emphasis upon the actions of humans with Free Will. Ultimately, the series is about those who make the hard choice and willingly risk death for what they believe to be in the greater good. Those who act out of self-interest and baser emotions are baffled by the concept of self-sacrifice and are, therefore, defeated.
In the end, the final chapters of the final volume are indicative of the whole series. Horrible things happen to perfectly nice, brave people because the world is full of evil and individuals who are more than happy to do the Wrong Thing. This does not diminish their sacrifice but, in fact, elevates it because they act without certain knowledge that they can be victorious. Their hope and belief in the fundamental goodness of humankind is a wonderful message to take away from any book and this series shouts it loud and clear.
I would argue that the final fate of our hero, Rand, is unsatisfying. I have great respect for authors who refuse to provide a Happy Ever After for all of their characters, even though it can be upsetting to read the death of someone that you have grown to care about. I do not want to be more specific over my criticism of Rand’s fate, because it is more than a little spoilery, so I will just say that it left me feeling a little cheated. However, I think that this is a relatively minor criticism considering how much I have enjoyed this experience and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading Fantasy. If you can get someone else to read along with you: even better!