Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Ways = The Mines of Moria?

Today I watched The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time in ages (*gasp* Ruthann! Get back to your NaNoWriMo writing!) (that’s what all of you should be saying right there) and a few things struck me. Robert Jordan has been on my mind this week, which made it a lot easier to see some of the connections between The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time.

It started with just words here and there. I was trying to listen to the Elvish lines while reading the subtitles, and managed to pick out one of the two Elvish words that I’m capable of recognizing: galad, which means “light”. (If anyone is curious, the other word I know is estel, meaning “hope”, which is also the name Aragorn was known by while he was growing up. Incidentally, if you think of Aragorn and hope as interchangeable, a few scenes in the trilogy – especially The Two Towers – gain a whole new level of meaning.) I immediately thought of a WoT character named Galad: a man whose defining characteristic is that he always does what is right, to the letter, no matter what the cost to himself or other people. His half-sister doesn’t like him very much, but he certainly was an appropriate character to be named after a reference to light… hey! That was foreshadowing! Now I really feel like an idiot. Of course his name means light! He joins the Children of the Light, and if I remember correctly he recently became the leader of a segment of them. Hmmm. I wonder if that also means he’ll succeed in gaining control of the rest. Leah, make a note of that. I’m interested in your thoughts on the subject.

Anyway, the comparison that really hit me during the movie was how similar the journey through the Mines of Moria is to the journey through the Ways in the first WoT book. They are journeys of similar duration, where the only illumination is a torch or lamp that barely penetrates the darkness all around; the pathways in both places have severely deteriorated and are still crumbling; there are goblins in one and Trollocs in the other (although the only ones they see are already dead, this time); and finally, near the exit of both, they encounter a dark evil which they just barely escape. Granted, the WoT company has better luck evading Machin Shin than Gandalf with the Balrog, but the loss of Gandalf actually means that they end this section of their travels with groups of equal number: eight.

It’s not surprising to see connections. WoT is full of references to the legends and mythologies of more cultures than I can name. That’s part of what gives the series a legendary feeling itself. It's fun to recognize stuff. Galad's half-siblings are named Elayne and Gawyn - Arthurian legend, anyone? That's in addition to an ancient hero named Artur Hawkwing, by the way. There are also allusions to Japanese literature here and there. Those are just the things I recognize; I'm sure people familiar with different subjects would catch different references. It adds to the depth of the world of The Wheel of Time. The references are so ecumenical because the story encompasses the entire world and all the cultures contained within it. The carriage house where Robert Jordan did his writing contained (besides a wide variety of hats, a pipe collection, and several hundred bladed weapons) literally thousands of books. I have no doubt that he used a huge portion of them in his research.

I was just talking with Leah this evening about how Robert Jordan is the Tolkien of our time. When he wrote The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien really set the standard for what fantasy was going to look like in the decades that followed. His work affected everything in the genre that came after it. Robert Jordan’s work is the next stepping stone in the progress of the fantasy genre, and the effects can already be seen.

If you are still reading this, you have dedication. I applaud and thank you. I also promise to soon give a better-detailed report of my dinner with the authors from Writing Excuses. For now, it’s back to NaNoWriMo.


Leah said...

Two of my favorites were ones you caught: that the Aiel word algode comes from the Spanish for cotton and that oosquai is a corruption of whiskey. They're both great uses of language :)

Hmm... Galad is an interesting question. If I recall correctly, the Children he was with were the ones with a foremost leader, which he slew under approved conditions, and they then began according him the title of the leader of the Children of Light. Whether other factions will respect that is another question of course but it seems as if he's in a strong position. A judicious liberation of Amador would seal the deal...

Ruthann said...

Well, you know Galad. He wouldn't be able to kill anyone if it wasn't according to the rules. I'm just wondering how far to take this Galad = light thing...