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Homer, Tolkein, and Jordan
Granted, Homer was required reading in sophomore world lit., but The Illiad and The Odyssey are forever burned into my literary consciousness, not to mention my soul. Grand, larger than life tales of adventure, colossal battles, and mythical heroes litter the ancient landscape. Homer took a collection of myths and wove them into a historical tale worth believing.
Two years after Homer, I found myself reading The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was my girlfriend's (now my wife) doing, actually. She had read The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I had little to no interest in Tolkein at the time, but seeing as how everyone seemed to make such a big deal about him, I figured I had to at least attempt to maintain literary relevance.
I found myself stretching The Silmarillion over a summer, savoring a few pages at a time. It was a relatively new experience for me, really. I'd grown up hearing no epic tales outside of the Old Testament. I had loved superheroes and comic books, but I was never exposed to any other tales of heroism or fantasy.
What I found within the pages of The Silmarillion was nothing short of brilliance. This man had managed to create an entire world. Not just a story, or a novel, but an entire world. I was reading what can be best described as a combination of Old Testament, Homer, and other ancient myths. There was creation, fallen angels, elves, battles, adventures, tales of uncommon love, heroism, and many magnificent creatures. There was paradise, and the curse of rebellion upon the land. But through each tale, I could sense the thread of time as though it were real and history was being taught to me.
Fast forward three years. Enter The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. I had first heard Jordan and this series mentioned while in college some four or five years ago. I was undecided as to my source's credibility, so I did not pursue at that time what I assumed to be just another collection of novels based upon some role-playing game.
How I came across him again in 2005 I cannot remember. Perhaps I was simply searching for fairy tales in the library and came across the familiar author's name. I really don't know. But I do know that since this past summer I have read four 600+ page books in the series and am well into the fifth. It appears that this author has no life; otherwise, how could he possibly have the time to imagine all that he has written. For those who are interested in checking out The Wheel of Time series, here's a list of the books in chronological order within the story:
* New Spring: The Novel * The Eye of the World * The Great Hunt * The Dragon Reborn * The Shadow Rising * The Fires of Heaven * Lord of Chaos * A Crown of Swords * The Path of Daggers * Winter's Heart * Crossroads of Twilight * Knife of Dreams
And one more is expected to complete the series, with perhaps another two prequels.
I've worn myself out on Tolkein that I barely have the reserves right now to discuss Jordan, which is a grave disservice. He is a master of epic fantasy and adventure. After reading more than 2,500 pages of Robert Jordan's massive project, I can say that he has more than my attention... he holds my anticipation.
How do I differentiate Homer, Tolkein, and Jordan? Well, each owns the right to a different slice of the Epic pie. Homer is the king of poetry, first of all. He has woven centuries, if not millenia, of mythology into brilliant tales of earth-shattering importance.
As for Tolkein, I have read no further than The Silmarillion and, for the time being, I have no desire to. That collection of tales stands alone as the pieces of another world's history... conceivably our own, though too ancient for recorded memory. This collection of tales inevitably sets the stage for the four more popular books (Hobbit and the Trilogy), and without them those latter tales are incomplete at best. He weaves mythology, history, religion, and fantasy together in such a way as to convince the reader that one's understanding the past must embrace all four as integral and irreplaceable.
How to describe The Wheel of Time? Truly, I do not yet know. With at least 4,000 pages yet unread, I hesitate to make any broad sweeping statements. I will say this: I am disappointed that so far I have not read enough of his world's history to satisfy my curiosity. Each book drips with references to rich historical information which I have yet to be privy to.
From the Aiel Waste to Tar Valon to the land of Tear, Jordan's world draws from mythology, Arthurian legend, Tolkein-like religious history (without exposing as much detail), and (dare I say it?) Star Wars' Jedi qualities. Jordan causes the reader to sympathize with the main characters because of their initial commonality and lack of pretension. That they were thrust into the adventure of all times makes them all the more desirable. Tolkein did this to a lesser degree by resting the burden of Middle Earth upon the shoulders of meek little Hobbits. Hobbits are not human, however, and their dissimilar qualities and lifestyles prevent the reader from completely identifying with the little heroes.
I could go on forever, and perhaps I will pick this up again when time permits. For now, each author holds a place of honor, beside the only other deserving author in my mind - C.S. Lewis.