My reading life started with fantasy literature. At six I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and at seven I read The Hobbit. When I was nine I started The Lord of the Rings, and in my early teens I moved on to the Dragonlance novels, Dennis L. McKiernan, and anything else with cool cover art involving swords, magic, elves, or ogres.
During my first few years in the navy I spent a lot of time reading -- about five books a week. It was then that I made my shift toward literary fiction, but I still mostly read fantasy. When Robert Jordan's first Wheel of Time book, The Eye of the World, came out I snatched it up and read it quickly. It was great. Broad, detailed, and fresh. Well-executed. Then I read the second, third, and fourth books as they were released.
At intervals of about a year and a half.
I got tired of waiting for each new book, and I was firmly in the grip of "real" literature in my mid-twenties, so I dropped the series. Twelve years or so passed, and this last summer I thought I'd try Jordan again. The situation was right: I always read something light (read: genre fiction) right before bed to rest my mind, and Jordan has finished eleven of his twelve novels in this series, so there won't be too much waiting in between (unless Jordan dies before he finishes number twelve, which is a possibility). So I started at the beginning again.
Lord of Chaos is book number six, and I've reached the midpoint of this series with mixed emotions. Fantasy literature operates with a different set of requirements from literary fiction, and one of those differences is in purpose. The fantasy author is creating an escapist work, building a new reality for the reader to inhabit, and that habitation rivals character development and plot in importance to the genre. In this respect, Robert Jordan has no equal. The world he has created in The Wheel of Time is complete, tactile, and vivid. After six novels (and about 4,000 published pages) I've spent more time with Rand al'Thor than I have with my friends in the last half year.
The first few books in this series moved well. It seemed each event was necessary, compelling, and served the plot. That becomes less the case with each book. It feels like the need to go twelve volumes has overtaken Jordan's obligation, in Kurt Vonnegut's words, to "start as late as possible and end as early as possible." I hate to imagine what would happen to this story if it were rewritten for the sake of plot-coherence. It might become a trilogy.
I feel like I've invested too much time to give up on this now, but I'm only halfway done. And I can't shake the feeling that Jordan's dragging his feet. He has so many story arcs going we go hundreds of pages without reading about central characters. It's crazy.
So, I don't know. I guess I'll keep going, but I hope in the end I don't wind up like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he decodes the message after getting his ring: "A commercial? A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!"