The OF Blog: WoT Ten Years Later: Robert Jordan, Crossroads of Twilight

Monday, May 10, 2010

WoT Ten Years Later: Robert Jordan, Crossroads of Twilight

OK, so I've finally reached the point where the review series' title is misleading.  This tenth volume of the WoT series, Crossroads of Twilight, came out in January 2003 in the US.  However, for reasons I stated in my last commentary, I did not actually read the book until three and a half years later.

Over the years, this book has borne the dubious distinction of being considered the "worst" WoT book of them all.  Even fans of the series tend to view it as containing mostly extraneous material that could and should have been included in the previous two volumes with no loss in narrative flow (if anything, narrative flow would have been sped up, these people would argue).  This book is held in such low repute that back when I was a moderator for two of wotmania's forums, there were people who kept urging me to "review" the book just to see how much fun I could have in ripping it apart.  So I agreed to do so almost four years ago.  Too bad this one clip is the one preserved piece of that epic parody walkthrough, as I did do a part with the infamous "Elayne bath scene" where I spliced quotes from that chapter with the opening scene of Modris Eksteins' excellent World War I cultural history, Rites of Spring (the automobile graveyard, for those who are curious).

So I suppose I am at the point where those who've taken exception to my commentaries on the series are hoping that I'll be so disgusted with the horrible prose, the mostly flat and dry characterizations, the execrable plotting, and glacial pace that I'd do a Roberto Duran and cry out, "No más, no más!"

But there's this funny thing called developed tolerance.  If I can tolerate the increasingly tepid subplots, most of which are repetitive in feel (Nynaeve and Elayne are headstrong, view men dimly, get in trouble, luck out in the end, for example) and with little in the way of good character development (I know Jordan tried to develop his characters, but most of those attempts felt a bit forced and rather odd in their timing, to say the least), like I have over the course of this series, then Crossroads of Twilight isn't going to be noticeably worse than most of the preceding volumes.  If anything, it is more of the same.  Adam Roberts, who's reading this series for the first time and has been commenting on one book a week for the past two months, had two interesting posts that include guesses as to why this might be the case with the series, particularly in its second half.  Many readers want "safe" and "more of the same" and in Crossroads of Twilight, they get plenty of both.

I suppose some might wonder what "safe" means when in the story there are ghosts and the beginnings of reality itself becoming unraveled.  From a narrative point, yes, the stakes are raised higher, but on a thematic level, there is nothing really threatening about what's happening.  The readers "know" that the characters will eventually triumph and that a return to peace and justice will (largely) occur.  There are no challenges to how the reader perceives the meta-story or to the reader's preconceptions of the world surrounding them (the "real" world, not the faux "world" of immersive fantasies).  What's left inside the narrative, especially this one, is such a focus on the material aspects of society (the teas of various sorts being sipped, the grains purchased, etc.) that for me, the whole thing feels like a bourgeois model of a fantasy rather than anything that truly "lives" or "breathes" any sense of différance; things are what they are, semantics-wise, in the fantasy world as they are in the "real" world.  The character concerns are virtually the same, once you strip away the setting and lurking evil, with those of merchants and industrialists rather than with farmers and artisans of the medieval and early modern eras (WoT purportedly being set in a Renaissance-level society minus firearms).  While for many readers this makes it easier to get inside the characters' "heads" and to enjoy what's happening (since they can understand their motives better), for some, such as myself, this is a jarring event that makes the "fantasy" appear to be more than a commodification of folk beliefs and practices. 

As I said above, Crossroads of Twilight is merely more of the same.  It just continues the pattern (pun?) set down in the earlier volumes.  Nothing much is advanced, and in fact almost 3/4 of the novel is devoted to covering the other characters' reactions to what was occurring in the Cleansing scene at the end of the previous novel.  There are no resolutions to speak of and one little cliffhanger at the end.  But even that cliffhanger doesn't mean a character is threatened, but more something that will depend on the next two books in the series for it to be resolved.  Again, the basic pattern just repeats here, with nothing much to praise and little to condemn that hasn't already been condemned in the previous novels.  Just more of the same, just the way the author probably hoped the readers would like it.

But for me, Crossroads of Twilight was just another bourgeois fantasy that aped the mannerisms of more dangerous, challenging fantasies.  As I'm now passing the halfway point in the next volume, Knife of Dreams, can't say there's any change to the overall structure or attitude within the series.  It's not good, far from it, but by this point, the reader has imbibed enough sauce from reading this series to be numb enough to continue on.  Since I've already reviewed the twelfth volume, The Gathering Storm, a little over six months, Knife of Dreams and the prequel New Spring will be the last two WoT books discussed here.  The sameness is almost hypnotic, but I can break this wheel of (reading) time, I know I can!

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