“If you ever meet a Malkieri,” Noal said, “you tell him Jain Farstrider died clean”.
The Wheel of Time has dominated the last 11 months of my life. It’s a massive saga that is not easy to read. It’s not always thrilling, the pacing is trash, characters are frustrating, but oh my god, I think it’s finally worth it. “Worth it” almost doesn’t do it justice in this context. Spending a month or two reading a challenging novel is “worth it”. Spending an entire year (somewhat slavishly) devoted to one series is an entirely different ask.
What is the point of reading? I’m not sure, but I like to think it’s helpe me to learn how to be a different person. To learn how to live in a different life. To learn how to be something else. The Wheel of Time is fascinating to me, because it is simultaneously a story about both doing that in the meta-story (myself as the reader) and the characters (in their world) doing the same exact thing. In order to truly enjoy this massive series, you have to accept that both you and the characters are here to learn and grow.
The immediate question should be: learn about what? It would be difficult to justify reading a 14 book series to answer just that one simple question. Instead, you get to learn about:
- Your destiny
- Your control of it
- How large your sphere of influence is
- How you deal with others in it
There are many characters in this story, probably too many. Each one of those comes from a certain rung of society and gets to a higher rung. This doesn’t mean they aspire to it, nor does it mean they maintain it. It simply means that, however briefly, they rise above their station and seize their future. Not their destiny, because you quickly learn that your future may not be your destiny. It often is, but not always. If you don’t like it, well… you can run, but not hide, from your destiny. It’s a cliche that gets hammered home in this series (sometimes literally) but you really start to appreciate and understand it.
I wanted to write an entire post on that quoted line at the beginning. It’s all about my favorite topic: ghost stories. They have a somewhat unfortunate name in my opinion, and I’ve written about them several times. Ghosts are not bad, they are simply real. When someone with so much power and influence is now forever gone, it is ludicrous to suggest that they disappear with a snap of your fingers. Their prescence is always around. So many stories try to deal with the all too common case, which is somewhat of a step function. Be it moving, graduation, death - we are all too accustomed to our deltas arriving as step functions of life. In reality, they are far more likely to be
sinc functions - slowly echoing in and back out, peaking at a certain point.
It’s wrong to say that
|sinc(x)| are the same function. They look very similar, just a few vertical lines on the outside. Those absolute magnitude signs mean a literal world of difference. Not all loss is bad - just because it’s painful doesn’t mean it’s negative. They cut deep into your life either way. If you are suddenly relieved of a large burden due to one of the above reasons, the gut instinct of guilt is not justified at all. But so, so much more important, is the long tail of
sinc(x). It dies out. It ripples on and on, but eventually goes away. That’s life. The most fascinating parts of life are when we get to experience the large swinging pulses of someone else’s
Not a typo.
sinc is fascinating to me because it forces us to recognize some periodicity in things that do not seem periodic at all. If something is periodic, it has to be in
sync. At which point, I might cheekily add, we are now in full circle (a-ha, what a long setup for an awful pun that was). These emotions beat in and out, with strong but decaying amplitudes. This is what The Wheel of Time really, really excels out. It can mix
sinc functions with
sync functions like the best. It can be very painful as a reader, never knowing which exact peak or valley you’re at. But, dear reader, you have to trust me. It is so worth it.
The constant beating is what makes it all worthwhile. If you knew where every peak and valley was, and knew which slope you were riding, what would even be exciting? Maybe it just speaks to me on a very, very personal level given by current predicatement. I’m turning 26, which is on the 30 side of life. Am I ascending? Am I descending? Will I be forgotten, or remembered? Can I stop this, or is it inevitable? I don’t have the answers. I don’t think anyone does. However, it brings me great joy to see that the characters in The Wheel of Time go on the exact same journey of discovering these problems, and in the very, very rare cases where they find somewhat lucid answers to all of this, they seek to rage against what they’ve been told.