Wheel of Time, any thoughts?

(17 Posts)
MephistophelesApprentice Fri 04-Sep-15 15:28:56

I was wondering if anyone on this board had read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series?

For those who are wondering why I'm asking on the feminist board (and haven't read the books) it's a high fantasy series which (amongst battle, magic, etc) explores themes of gender difference, gender roles and the impact of different male/female power dynamics on societies.

I've been wondering what perspective a feminist might have on it and the usual sites I'd go to don't have large feminist communities, so I'm asking the question here on the off chance anyone has read them.

PlaysWellWithOthers Fri 04-Sep-15 15:37:47

I've read them. All of them <twitch>

Not really thought about them from a feminist pov, interesting question though.

What do you think Meph?

MephistophelesApprentice Fri 04-Sep-15 15:55:21

First off, I loved the series and was quite happy to shut down the critical analysis and just enjoy. But as someone who read Narnia I'm always left on the lookout for allegory.

The idea of 'tainted saidin' I found interesting, because I could see it in two ways:

A reaction to the 'demonisation of masculinity' that some people see in pre-feminist western society: male as uncontrollable beast, automatic threat, must be 'gentled' to be made safe for women.

Or an interesting perspective on the idea of 'toxic masculinity'; That social structures from previous ages have continued to dominate and MAKE men unsafe around women.

So that raised questions of how other people would interpret it.

I was also interested in the ideas around 'gender essentialism' - that men and women were fundamentally different but ultimately complementary, that a degree of low level conflict between male and female perspectives was inevitable but ultimately beneficial to the dynamic and of course the way that descriptions of 'saidin' and 'saidar' related to concepts of male and female. To me they felt slightly, though not malignly, anachronistic (though I think a universe arranged in such a way would be quite pleasant).

I'd love to hear what you thought of it, or if you think I was overthinking it!

ObsidianBlackbirdMcNight Sat 05-Sep-15 09:14:18

I loved the series and the matriarchal structure of the power base appealed to me! However the gender essentialism is grating from a feminist PoV and it would be very easy to pull it apart. I'm not going to though as it's not really worth the bother!

YonicScrewdriver Sat 05-Sep-15 11:35:49

How many books are there?

PlaysWellWithOthers Sat 05-Sep-15 11:39:45

About 400?

(But actually only 14, plus a prequel and a "this is what it's all about" book)

YonicScrewdriver Sat 05-Sep-15 11:49:38

14?

Oh no, I am too much of a finisher completer to open the first one then. Maybe in the Xmas holidays...

LightningOnlyStrikesOnce Sat 05-Sep-15 12:58:07

I read it a few times blush and as with Obsidian, loved the fact that it had strong female characters, almost to the point of matriarchy. The other thing that annoyed me apart from its length though is the way that all the female characters seemed to morph into one as soon as they came to dominate the story. All weepy and crying everywhere but toughing it out regardless. Not really a feminist observation, but there it is. The new writer really brought a breath of fresh air to the series, dragging it out so far nearly killed it.

Yonic, you could try the prequel as a taster, it works well as a standalone. It's called "New Spring".

airside Sun 06-Sep-15 13:04:29

Have any of you read Kameron Hurley's Mirror Empire? She plays with and subverts lots of gender stereotypes but there's one bit in particular where a man is being treated badly by his dominant female partner and colludes in seeing his abuse as something romantic rather than abusive. It shows very clearly how much fiction normalises the "taming of the shrew" style plot where love and romance spring stockholm-syndrome-like from controlling abusive behaviour.

PlaysWellWithOthers Sun 06-Sep-15 16:36:57

Hi airside, anything to say about the subject of the thread at all? Or did you want to start a new one?

airside Sun 06-Sep-15 16:44:23

Ooh sorry, I know it's a different book but I thought the subject of the thread was to do with gender portrayal and it provided a nice contrast to the Robert Jordan. Didn't mean to wander off topic - apologies for the distraction.

MephistophelesApprentice Mon 07-Sep-15 10:01:57

LightningOnlyStrikesOnce Obsidian

It's interesting that you both mention the matriarchal society. I saw interesting parallels between the Aes Sedai and the Roman Catholic church, particularly the way that the gender primacy of the Aes Sedai impacted on gender relations throughout the described societies. I remember a speculative thread Buffy once had where she was musing on what sort of society a more gender equal history would produce and the Wheel of Time immediately sprung to mind. What was interesting is that in the WoT world, women being considered the more 'righteous' and powerful (in contrast to our own history) nevertheless didn't produce many negative effects for those men who did not channel the One Power.

I do agree that the female characters, while seldom positioned as 'weak', did tend to blur a bit despite the authors best efforts. I suspect this is a consequence of the gender essentialism that made all of us feel a bit 'itchy'.

airside

I'll have to take a look, I haven't read it myself. Comparisons are welcome, however.

WoTmania Mon 07-Sep-15 10:34:00

It has come up on threads before - may be worth a search. Marking place to return later when I have more time.

l12ngo Mon 07-Sep-15 19:48:54

This surprises me. I'm a guy and loved the WoT series but always felt the women in it were generally very poorly written.

Far too often these women with super powerful abilities ended up sitting around in their nighties braiding each other's hair chatting about how much better than the men they are before ballsing something up the next day. Even the highest echelons of power seemed to just be extensions of the same thing, the Knitting Circle for leaders of the kin, the Wise Ones leading the Aiel. It all just seemed to be written by an adolescent who struggled to come up with things for the women to do. The fact that the main man got himself 3 beautiful wives, and there were a load of 'pillow friends' in what was essentially a girls boarding school (the Tower) sort of reinforced that. Contrast the whole making best of friends for life in the Tower approach with the male school where they just blast stuff to pieces later in the books and it just seems very slugs and snails vs sugar and spice.

I do think there were some good points. The reversal of power by handing exclusive access to the source in the early books was refreshing and Moiraine was one of his best female characters. This sort of changed in the later books where men seemed to become dominant. When he was focusing on conflict, Jordan did make the female characters seem quite formidable. The Green and Red Ajahs came across pretty well and some of the female forsaken were impressive. The Seanchan weren't done too badly either.

In terms of relationships, basically every major woman who had a relationship seemed ultimately to get put in her place by her man when she got too maniacal and loved him for it. Whether it was a slap she got, sex, or both, it was all good. Oh to be in love.

I think he started the series well, but got lost in the middle and by the end it was a mess. It was a big shame as I really got into the series (which is massive - though maybe not as long as this post). Surprised it's been so well received here.

YonicScrewdriver Mon 07-Sep-15 19:54:48

Lingo, I wouldn't say it's been so well received - most of those who've read it have given it good and bad points.

l12ngo Mon 07-Sep-15 20:53:38

Fair enough, I think I was ultimately really disappointed with the way the series developed after a strong and interesting start.

It may be that he ran out of ideas a little in the middle books and obviously his illness and passing had an effect on the end so maybe it's a bit harsh to judge. Obviously an awful lot of work went into the early books and the whole world development was pretty amazing. I just didn't really see the male characters tail off quite as spectacularly as the female ones.

IKnowIAmButWhatAreYou Tue 08-Sep-15 08:11:15

The fact that the women were judged solely on their strength and how the elders, when defeated, turn into sulky, simpering girls annoyed me no end.

That and the fact that Jordan strung it out so bloody long that he died!! I gave up after trying to read number 13.

We all knew what was going to happen after book 2 or 3 anyway.....

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