Tis the Season
I meant to post this a few days ago, but life just goes that way sometimes. Enjoy!
Its Christmas Eve, so that means most of us are buying those last-minute Christmas presents and/or driving to those ever so joyous and eventful holiday get-togethers. This time of year can be both fun-filled and over-stuffed with stress. We often forget, and it’s all too easy to do so, why this time of the year means something more than just presents and eggnog.
But don’t worry, I’m not going to lecture everyone on how we are missing the boat and that we are all going to burn and need to “repent.” (But that does sound fun, doesn’t it?) All I ask is that even if each of us just take the briefest of moments (and yes, I forget to do this myself from time to time during the holiday season) to just give thanks for the lives we have and the people that are in our lives that make us who we are. It can be easy to see all that is wrong with the world and to only see that. But all of us have been given a gift, the gift of life by God, the universe, or whatever else you wish to call it.
The world today leaves many viewing the world in disgust and feeling jaded. Much of our art and literature reflects this cynical feeling that many in society have. From The Handmaiden’s Tale to Game of Thrones, there is no more good vs evil, just shades of grey with each character seeing themselves as the hero of their story. There is some truth to this. Rarely are things in life just black and white - neatly cut down the middle. Real life is messy and often confusing. I think in so many ways, that was why I gravitated towards Roberts Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series.
So, let me start at the beginning, well at least the beginning for me. I will try my best to avoid spoilers that would give away the entire series. I was one of those nerdy kids in high school who read the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter as well as watched all of the movies in theaters. But there are only so many times you can reread the same books. So, through some internet searching and some recommendations from friends, I began reading the Eye of the World, the first book in Roberts Jordan’s epic Wheel of Time (WOT). 18 years later I finally finished book 14, A Memory of Light. What can I say, after years of procrastination, graduating high school and college, getting married, and building a home, I stayed up into the early hours of the morning to finish the last 200 pages that Brandon Sanderson and the late Robert Jordan co-wrote.
In terms of fantasy epics, I’d call it a spiritual experience if ever there was one. It occurred to me the that for 18 years I had been on this journey; it’s amazing how with books, stories that are the pure imagination of the author, we come across characters and places that become real to us. They become dear friends and we live and grow with them. Whether its Rand, Mat, Min, Nynaeve, Perrin, Egwene, or Elayne, we follow this group of friends who in turn become our friends.
I think what draws me the most to WOT is not that terrible things happen to the characters and their world, but through it all, goodness is defined and sought as something worth fighting for. Rand al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, spends almost the entire series discovering who he is and coming to understand the prophecy that guides his life. It is his destiny to face the Dark One (the devil) and he can either run away from his fate or accept it. It would be a hard pill for anyone to swallow, and most I feel would collapse and succumb to the pressure.
The WOT is perhaps one of the most philosophical fantasy works I have ever read. Yet, the story and message are not overbearing. There is just that feeling - even with impending doom hanging over you - that no matter how bad things might appear, things are worth fighting for if there is just a sliver of hope and goodness left in the world.
The Dragon Reborn is named as such because he is the reincarnation of the Dragon, a title for a man (Lews Therin Telamon) who lived 3,000 years prior to the time of our story. His story is one of triumph and absolute tragedy. It makes a good parable for our own time as well. Even if you are the proclaimed savior of the world – blessed and talented - unbridled pride and hubris are sure to doom you more than anything else. Through WOT, it is clear that it was not one particular thing that Lews Therin did but rather a steady flow of decisions that one by one built him into something not much different than the evil Dark One he opposed.
Rand spends much of the series being both hero and tyrant. There are times when he yearns for love and affection and times when he decides he must be cold as steel and cut himself off from all love and affection. He learns through trials and tribulations DNA alone does not determine who we are. We are made by the people we know and love. The places we’ve lived in a visited have also formed us. A sense of belonging and love for a place are real things. Love and belonging, that’s what home is. It shapes our very essence and how we view the world.
Our three friends, Rand, Mat, and Perrin, all grew up in a remote area known as the Two Rivers. Though they each had humble origins, Rand a sheep herder, Mat a horse trader, Perrin a blacksmith, each rises to great wealth and power. And though their fortunes changed, none of these men could completely forget who they were or where they came from. Give a Two Rivers man a crown, great wealth, or just fancy cloths, there would always be that backwoodsman who was never quite impressed with the illusions of the world.
I am a huge Game of Thrones/Song of Ice and Fire fan. If you watch the show or read the books, the cynical nature of that universe becomes very apparent. There are certain characters and even families that are “good” or “honorable”, but they tend to be trampled and defeated simply because they try to do the right thing. This same issue occurs in WOT, there are many men and women who try to do the right thing or be just and are destroyed for it. By the end of the series, there are dozens of lead characters all with the one purpose of resisting and defeating the Dark One. Plenty of our characters have the opportunity to take or steal power and they don’t. In the end, they know their fight is not really about them and their petty issues, it is about fighting for the strangers they will never know and the children yet born so all of humanity will have a chance to live free.
For those of you who have not read WOT, I have tried my best to not give away everything about the series. Truth be told, if you count the prequal novel, there are 15 total WOT books. But if I was to sum up WOT with one character, it would be Tam al’Thor, Rand’s father. Why do I choose Tam? Well, because of love. Because there was only one man who possessed the strength and love to raise the savior of the world. Tam allowed the soul of Lews Therrin a second chance to learn how to live and how to fight with love. Hatred and arrogance had condemned the world, and love would see to its salvation.
As we celebrate Christmas and the birth of Christ, I find it fitting to discuss a series of books whose main character is as close to a “messiah” or “chosen one” that you can find in literature. WOT is different from so many other works because the most powerful force in the world was a father’s love for his son. And that love gave Rand al’Thor the strength to take on the Dark One himself.
May all who read this rejoice in the joy of good will and love. May you all have a merry and happy Christmas.