Whatever greatness there is in Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World lies almost exclusively in its promise of momentous things to come, in how it establishes a world that is sufficiently expansive for one of the largest, longest-running fantasy series ever created.
Don’t get me wrong: standing alone it a pretty decent fantasy novel. Pretty decent, but not great. Not only are we already catching glimpses of the irritating “quirks” that carry through “The Wheel of Time” (overdrawn character descriptions covering minute costume details, characters doing infuriatingly stupid things), but there are moments where it seems as if Jordan hadn’t quite yet figured out in this first installment how he was going to manage this epic tale. For example, two major weak points were 1) the ill-handled flashback in chapters 31-34 (made more convoluted by having another flashback within the flashback), and 2) the surreal and rather ambiguous climax (What was the Eye of the World for, again? Did Rand actually go to Tarwin’s Gap, and if so, how? It didn’t look like any mode of Traveling we see anywhere else in the series. Whose voice is it that Rand hears telling him “IT IS NOT HERE,” and what is that even supposed to mean? Did Ba’alzamon really have Kari al’Thor held prisoner? And did Rand really just kill the Dark One?).
But these murky narrative waters are entirely navigable, and even the irritating quirks don’t seem all that bothersome after all in the re-read, at least for me. The fact is that there is so much that Jordan does well in The Eye of the World. In just one book we have a large set of characters that have been firmly established, each already moving down his or her own separate path. We have a world that is already large, but as of yet barely explored, holding the promise of so much new ground to cover. At the same time, without feeling (for the most part) that we have been force-fed facts and information about that world, by the book’s conclusion we have come to know enough of the One Power, of places and kingdoms and legends, to feel the gravity of Rand’s realization that he is a male channeler, and, possibly, the Dragon Reborn. Even in a large novel this is a lot to accomplish; in spite of a vigorous program, though, Jordan somehow keeps ending up on his feet, even when he doesn’t always stick the landing.
In short, The Eye of the World, while not a perfect book by any means, hints at such tremendous possibilities for the future books that it is no wonder that millions have been drawn into “The Wheel of Time” series.