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Unlike the first two novels in the series, very little of The Dragon Reborn is told from the perspective of what I assumed to be the main character of the book, Rand. Instead, most of the book is told from the perspective of Egwene as she continues her training as an Aes Sedai sorceress, and Perrin, Rand’s childhood friend who has unique supernatural powers of his own. Many other of the stories characters feature prominently in the book, of course, all taking their own turns as the reader’s focal point.
On the one hand, this is a refreshing change. By the end of the second book in the series, I had had just about enough of Rand and his doubts, fears, and brooding. I had begun to dislike the character, and that sentiment carried over to the first part of this book, too. Meanwhile, Perrin had become a bit of a favorite of mine, so it was nice that he featured more prominently in this book.
Unfortunately, much of what I liked about Book 2 over Book 1 was abandoned here. The characters in the first book were a little uni-dimensional, especially the females. That got better in the second book, but worse here. Three books into the series, and it’s still not yet clear who among the female characters is definitely a protagonist. I like thematic ambiguity and intrigue as much as the next guy, but it would be nice to know who I’m supposed to be cheering for by the end of 2,100 pages of reading.
Furthermore, some of the female heroines are downright mean. There’s a scene in the book in which some of them are saved by a male character in the book, and they treat them in an extremely rude and haughty way. It’s evident that Jordan intended this for comedic effect, but it’s so out-of-place that it merely highlights the female characters’ meanness. When I first started the series, I forgave a lot of this behavior as part of the author’s feminist proclivities, and to a certain extent, this works. The books were written in the early 90s, which was a time when spunky, headstrong heroines who threw their male foils for a curve were a popular thematic device. So, that could be part of it, too.
Even so, it’s tiresome when page after page of story is filled with well-meaning men doing what they think is right, and cruel, condescending females who consider themselves to be above almost all interaction with the male characters. I look forward to the parts of the story that do not involve any male-female interaction, if only because I’m guaranteed that none of the heroes will antagonistically condescend to the others.
...except, of course, that isn’t true, either. The Nynaeve character in the book is practically defined by that sentiment, and by the end of the book it has bled over to Egwene as well.
Robert Jordan writes a wonderful story, and The Dragon Reborn is certainly no exception. It is, however, the third book in a row in which I find myself despising characters that I think I am supposed to like. Time will tell if this holds throughout the series. For now, it’s on to the fourth book.
A long while back, I read an article about a man who realized that he did not have enough time left in his life to listen to all the album in his record collection. He did have a rather large record collection, but not so large that he did not know what he owned. He wasn't collecting for the sake of collecting. He was buying albums that he was legitimately interested in listening to. It just so happened that he reached middle age and realized that there were many records in his collection that he would never hear a second time.
In part, he meant this as an exposition on focusing on what you love. In part, he meant it as a commentary on the sheer volume of music out there, and how most of it is destined for obscurity. In part, he meant it as an expression of the realization that life is so very short.
Children, with their whole lives ahead of them, can afford to while away some of their time. For them, it's not really "whiling away," anyway, since children learn by playing, after all. For adults whose life path is essentially set, however, time is of the essence. There are only so many performance reviews before you have to give up on ever getting that big promotion. There are only so many years to start saving for your child's education, or for your own retirement. There are only so many summers to be spent climbing Kilimanjaro or visiting the Louvre. You don't have to do it this year; but you only have so many years, and if you don't plan on doing it during one of those years, at least, you'll never do it at all.
It takes time to lose weight and get in shape, time to get yourself "beach-ready," time to get dressed up and go to a fancy party. If you don't start today, how much time will you have? Do you think you'll be "beach-ready" when you're 65 years old, no matter how good of shape you're in? You need to be fit today to get to the beach tomorrow. You need to train today to run a marathon next year. You need to apply now if you want to get a passport for this summer.
The book I'm reading now is seven-hundred pages long. I can read fairly quickly, but it still takes time to read seven-hundred pages. If you want to read the great literature, you need to get started. If you're as old as I am, it is already likely that there is some great literature you'll never have the chance to read, no matter how fast you read. And if you want to write a book one day, suffice it to say that it takes longer to write seven-hundred pages than it does to read them; longer still to have them edited; and longer yet again to have them published -- if your first attempt is even good enough to be published!
To strum a few chords on the guitar or to plink away on the piano doesn't take all that much time. It does take months, though. And to play with any degree of pleasantness, you'll have to study for a couple of years. As for mastery, you had better be in it for decades. How many decades do you have left? If you've ever dreamed to learning to play an instrument, you ought to start now.
As for love, the time is simply now. Now or never. You offer your love to those who might want it today, or you waste your years away loving no one. Every day spent without love is a day never to be regained, and love itself evolves as we age, going from one phase to another. A truly mature love requires as much time as anything else, and probably more.
You may have supposed that my purpose in writing this is merely to say carpe diem. Sure, seize the day, that's a good idea. But my real point is to spend your time wisely. Invest in the things that you want to say that you did. If you want to say that you made great art, or achieved great work, or loved passionately, then do those things. Do them now. Invest yourself now.
Do not spend any more time "binge-watching" television programs. Do not waste any more time scrolling mindlessly through social media. Do not lose your hours to soap operas and other such time-thieves. Imagine how embarrassed you will feel on your death bed when you realize that the time you invested in The Sopranos could have taken you to The Matterhorn, or that the time you spent on Facebook could have enabled you to retire in the tropics, if only you had invested yourself a little differently.
|Image courtesy Wikipedia.org|
The best part of The Great Hunt is that it seems to have overcome almost everything I disliked about The Eye of the World. The female characters have more depth, and the story is told less from a strictly male perspective. The action is a lot more exciting, since Jordan was unencumbered with having to establish the foundational mythology of the book’s world. (Obviously, the first novel in a series has to provide a lot of context, but subsequent novels need not move so slowly and provide so much background information.)
The result is a fantasy novel that focuses on the action. My favorite aspect of this novel was the “political” intrigue in the book. That is, I found the various competing interests of the groups in the book to be more compelling and exciting as they unfolded than even the sword fights and thrilling chases. There is not a lot to dislike about the novel.
If I’m nitpicking, I do have a few criticisms to make. At this point in the story, the principle character, Rand, is among the least likable people in the book. I don’t like his attitude, I don’t like the way he treats other people, I don’t like how gullible he is, and I don’t like that the hero of a story is constantly wracked by fear and self-doubt. If any other character in the story were like this, it would be fine — but the hero?
Another criticism mirrors a problem with the first novel in the series. While the female characters are much more interesting in this book, they still feel like “character-types” rather than real people. You’ve got the sweet one, the older sister type, the sexy one, the spunky one... like the Spice Girls.
My final criticism is that there doesn’t seem to be a moral to this story. It’s just a series of exciting events unfolding, with no greater thought about how we readers might apply these ideas to our own lives.
Still, though, it’s a great book.
Just because you lack will power, that doesn't make you a bad person. Everyone lacks will power when it comes to something.
For example, I don't know anyone who always drives under the speed limit. Not a single person. Everyone I have ever met in my entire life, and in any culture in any country, has occasionally driven faster than the speed limit. If we're being honest, most of us would have to admit that we exceed the speed limit pretty darn often.
It may seem unusual to think of speeding as a lack of will power, but what else is it? We all know what the posted speed limit is, and yet we choose to exceed it anyway. We all know exactly what we'd have to do in order to avoid speeding, and yet we don't do it. In the end, we don't care so much about the posted speed limit. We're normalized to a world in which exceeding the speed limit is common and socially acceptable. So we don't have any incentive to be the one person on the road who adheres to the posted speed limit sign.
Since this is true, we ought not cower away from saying it like it is: none of us has the will power to consistently obey the speed limit. It doesn't make us bad people, it just means that we ultimately don't care about speed limits. That's just fine.
Unfortunately, when someone makes the same point about obesity, the world objects. If I were to say that obese people aren't bad people, but they simply lack the will power to be thin and healthy, many would start talking about the supposed "addictiveness" of sugar, or the hormones of obese people who lose weight, or the notion of body-shaming, or etc. etc. I think these objections only serve to defend against the charge that obese people are bad people.
But obese people aren't bad people, even if they do lack the will power to be thin and healthy. So, rather than object to the notion that they lack will power, we should embrace the inherent truth of it. Every obese person knows what it takes to lose weight, and to keep the weight off. Everyone who has ever gained weight knew full well what eating all that crap and never exercising was going to do to their bodies. They know, and they don't care, because they don't have the will power to fight against it any more than they have the will power to obey the speed limit consistently. And, just as they are not bad people for speeding, they are not bad people for putting on weight. But that doesn't mean they have will power, either.
As with speeding, obesity is so common that we now live in a society that doesn't much care about it. Obesity has become so normalized that it's no longer discussed using the language of will power and self-control. Why practice self-control, anyway? You can still be a good person, even if you're obese. So, really, why bother?
Well, there are many reasons why a person should aim to be healthy, but I think many adults underestimate just what is required to avoid obesity. One either has to be willing to eat very small meals and seldom snack, or one has to exercise almost constantly, or both. It's painfully obvious that the average American has no intention of living this way any more than the average American intends to follow the speed limit. It's a lack of willingness to do what's necessary to achieve a particular goal, plain and simple. A lack of will power.
It doesn't mean you're a bad person, but it is what it is.