A special note: I first want to say that I am shocked and sorry to hear about Robert Jordan’s physical ailments. I sincerely hope he will pull through and (in spite of this post), I consider him to be an excellent writer. His creativity, imagination and writing skills do make him a very unique treasure to the literary world.

(Update on Sep 18th, 2007: It was indeed sad to learn yesterday that he did not make it – he passed away on Sep-16. I am deeply saddened by the fact that he did not get enough time to finish the tale that he had spend so many years carefully building – paying attention to the smallest of the details.  I now am a bit ashamed at having ranted about the things I did not like about the series just a few weeks ago.)

A few days ago, I went to the nearby Borders bookstore to help a guest at our house buy something. It’s been a while since I went there and I decided for “old time’s sake” to check out the Sci-Fi/Fantasy aisle, pretty much convinced that nothing will entice me nowadays. My eyes fell on the latest book on the ma….sssive epic series Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan titled Knife of Dreams, Book #11 in the series. Yes, book #11, and each book is 700-1000 pages. Like I said – ma….sssive epic.

I stood there for a few minutes contemplating Hmm…. should I? Will I be able to get into it again? Will I be able to get through it? I soon decided why the heck not and bought it. I have started reading it – at a very slow pace. Gone through about 120 pages in a few days. With family, I can find only one hour max in a day, and that too not every day.

I used to be a huge, huge fan of Robert Jordan. However, like many of his fans I got disenchanted – e.g. see the reader comments about for any of his The Wheel of Time books on amazon.com. I eventually got too frustrated by the persistent snail pace of the books weaving a slow, meandering tale that seemed to be on cruise-control heading down a barren desert highway.

After book #5 or so, I started having thoughts like – Wait a minute! The story isn’t freaking moving! Why is he saying the same things again and again? The first four books are phenomenal – you will be immersed into a fascinating, rich and complex world that he weaves with exquisite detail. But those details soon can get old for many readers. It got so for me and I actually decided to stop reading.

Until now. For no reason other than to try to rekindle a flame …

The last nail in the coffin that made me stop the first time around was book #8 I think. Or was it #9? That’s part of the problem – after a while they all seem like the same. Anyway, it was towards the start of a book where the hero and one of his heroines finally “do it” (Side Note: Ya. Three heroines? What’s up with that? On some kinds of books this could be plus-point, but not here 🙂 It just doesn’t seem to jell with rest of Jordan’s world) . But in true Jordan style, it seemed to take 100 pages of meaningless build-up. Wait! In case, you get all too excited and place an immediate online order to buy it – I am not talking about a super extended foreplay. If it were, I wouldn’t be complaining – would I 😉 ? It was utter meaningless chatter, not important to the story, not important for character development either (this was book #8 eh?). It was excruciatingly boring. But still the faithful fan that I was, I trudged along.

But come Book #10, I must confess I could not get past 50 pages. It was over. The fat book lady had sung. The fire was dead.

Now, I have started to read Book #11 without finishing Book #10. It doesn’t matter. I am convinced that skipping Book #10, and also not remembering any details of the last few books don’t mean squat. I was running a marathon that seemed to go on forever. I was completely gassed, and I took the bus for the last mile. Big deal!

As I read the first two scenes in Book #11, it was suddenly more clear to me as to why I love Jordan’s writing at times, and also why I can’t stand it at other (more frequent) times. The first scene is a brilliant one – an officer is heading to challenge his commander in a dual-to-the-death. Jordan describes the journey, the thoughts that run through the man as he contemplates on what he has do, what he thinks of his friends who are risking their careers and lives. He explains the location, the characters, and the fight scene brilliantly. It is a gripping 20 page account. Many of his books always start with a powerful scene like this – it always hints at so much potential.

But the scene then shifts to the White Tower, and mostly into the mind of an Aes Sedai woman, who is involved in figure out which of her “colleagues” have gone over to the dark side. Jordan again spends a lot of detail – mostly about thoughts running through her mind. But the trouble is all the extra details about the happenings in the White Tower, the kind of thoughts that run through an Aes Sedai’s mind etc. are things he had written many many times in earlier books. How the woman over-analyzes every tiny gesture another person makes, looking for signs of suspicions in a breath, a sneeze, a fart; How Aes Sedai don’t really like each other, and suspect every other of some scheme, how they scheme against each other; How “cool” and high-handed they are etc. etc. It was all nice and fascinating the first couple of times, but after that it gets plain dry and boring, and very soon very irritating. Besides 9 times out of 10, the scene doesn’t mean a thing to the story.

But then I thought – his style of writing is indeed very consistent. He gives the same level of expansive detail for every scene, every person irrespective of their importance to the story. It is a very vivid picture of the world and the people. It is almost as if he is describing something in “real time”. It is indeed very impressive and I can get a glimpse of his immense creativity.

The only problem is most readers don’t care about the details if the scene carries zero weight. In short, the scene matters. You have a powerful scene, then even if it doesn’t have a direct bearing on the story, the vividness of the details make it all the more powerful. You have a dull scene – the vividness makes you yawn and skip the pages. Now that I remember, I think in from Book #5 onwards, I must have safely skipped 150-200 pages worth here and there in the middle. I just ran out of energy to prod through the details. Mostly boring details about Aes Sedai which includes many of the women lead characters who were Aes Sedai wannabees then. Now it is great that women in this story hold a lot of power, but that is about where it starts and ends. As I said before, the main problem is he seems to repeat the same details for similar scenes.

I don’t remember when, but I quickly started to despise Aes Sedai scenes. He seems to stereotype almost all of them with the same annoying demeanor that soon made me wish I could wring their necks – each one of them – including Egwene, Elaine and Nynaeve (they are first in line 😉 ). But now, I cannot decide if I want to wring the necks of the Aiel Wise Ones first. Oh yes they are stereotyped too. And guess what – that stereotype is similar to Aes Sedai stereotype! Yes, I wish I could wring all their necks.

I hope the rest of Knife of Dreams is peppered with more good scenes like Galad vs. Eamon Valda – that will make me love Jordan’s penchant for detail again. If not, I will probably finish it still – after skipping 200-300 pages in the middle 😉

The moral of the story is: Scenes matter more than the details. Well, to me anyway. And after a while … 🙂

(note: image borrowed from Wikipedia)