The recent influx of modern fantasy books and television shows, such as the “Twilight Saga” and “True Blood,” has poisoned a genre that has always struggled with a bad reputation. At the worst of times, the fantasy genre is known as the sanctuary for every lunatic who thinks they can write, and at the best of times, it is looked upon as nothing more than cheap entertainment.
However, despite its reputation, the fantasy genre harbors some of the most talented authors the world has ever produced. One such example is the late author Robert Jordan, who caught the world by surprise in 1990 when he published the first book in his “Wheel of Time” series.
Critics loved the series. A New York Times reviewer claimed “Jordan [had] come to dominate the world Tolkien began to reveal.” The Times called the books “epic in every sense.” The “Wheel of Time” series has sold over 40 million copies, and still occupies a place on the New York Times best sellers list.
Despite its popularity with avid book readers and the media, the “Wheel of Time” books have struggled to make it into the main stream. Without hordes of young girls to wear t-shirts confessing love for one of the story’s characters, or a family member willing to disregard the author’s wishes and sell the books rights to a film company, as was the case with “The Lord of the Rings,” the “Wheel of Time” series is ignored by most readers.Its easy to look at the elaborately illustrated covers of the “Wheel of Time” books and assume that they were created by a mediocre writer who really had a thing for swords. However, behind the often tastelessly illustrated covers, a deep reading experience awaits.
While some fantasy writers rely on unique creatures and strange animals to entertain their readers and keep their plots moving, Jordan’s books are remarkably empty of fantastic races. Yes, there are a few creatures that sprang from Jordan’s imagination, but the majority of the books are focused on the human race, a race that is just as divided, unique and aggravating as the one that exists in the “real” world. Each of Jordan’s characters is startlingly realistic. The good guys aren’t perfect, and the bad guys aren’t completely corrupt. Each character is so well designed and so dynamic that they become real for the reader in a way that is almost impossible to describe.
Not only are the characters excellently written, the plots they take part in are outstanding. Every decision affects the world in ways that the characters, and often the reader, never expects. There is no simple idea or sub-plot in the “Wheel of Time,” yet the books are so well written that instead of becoming confused, the reader becomes engrossed in the stories playing out on the page.
While many fantasy books are deemed unworthy of being called literature, the “Wheel of Time” is more than a piece of entertainment. The series provides readers with unique insight into their own world. Often a reader will begin laughing at the stupidity of one of the characters, only to realize that they often make the same mistakes.
Even without the characters, plots and themes, the “Wheel of Time” would still be a best seller because it is so well written. Ideas that readers would often scoff and laugh at become plausible, and realistic when they are revealed by Jordan’s masterful pen. His ability to write in different voices, to paint vivid pictures, and draw the reader into his world is unmatched by any other author – fantasy or otherwise.
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