Graduate Student in Literary Studies Focuses in Medieval Lit, Epic Lit, Lit Crit, and Spec Fiction

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    Questions of Gender and Relevance in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time

    As I’m doing my mid 20s reread of Wheel of Time, I’m stumbling across many ideas and themes I hadn’t noticed the last time I read (which was perhaps 6 years ago?).

    One such theme is that of healthy masculinity and gender conceptions. In Michael Livingston’s 2022 book Origins of the Wheel of Time, the author reflects on Robert Jordan’s desires to dismantle the binaries of patriarchal society – reflected largely in part through the narrative of male magic wielders going mad, and the Aes Sedai order (essentially the Vatican but magic) being entirely made up of women.

    Yet contemporary reader must know that gender is a far more complex issue and question than depicted in the novels. I am particularly drawn now to the parallel plots of Mat, Rand, Lan, and Perrin. We see Rand learn to "harden" himself like stone, steel, and cuendillar, and suffer immensely throughout the series as a result. He also continually blames himself for the deaths of women whom he is unable to protect. Perrin grapples with his humanity, and tries to do his best to be a good husband to Faile yet at the same time often makes decisions without consulting her. On the other hand, Mat learns to treat women as more than sexual companions (though I wouldn’t say he ever objectifies women the way many men are conditioned/encouraged to do) and though he often butts heads with women (much like Perrin and Rand), it’s interesting to see how each of these three wishes his friends were there to give him advice on "how to deal with women" (i.e. how to deal with people who act in ways he doesn’t understand). Lan, meanwhile, learns to heal and give up his unending solo quest against the Blight, for love. He falls in love with Nynaeve, and learns to embrace life, rather than death – yet ironically, in the final book, Lan "sheathes the sword," and performs a maneuver that should result in his death.

    My question(s) I suppose are: can we still find relevance in this series in the way it engages with gender, sexuality, and especially masculinity? Especially when (for the most part) it is pretty essentialist? Livingston seems to think so, going so far as to assert that if Jordan were alive and writing now, his books would be championing gender-queer and non-heteronormative questions and issues. I want to agree, but I’m curious what other people think and why.

    If we can still find relevance in these topics, how might we be able to continue to interpret and reinterpret the questions of h


      The Hero vs The Villain

      When consuming television media, do you find yourself gravitating more towards the hero or the villain? To whom do you more relate and why? What are your criteria for determining who you’re rooting for? This is an extremely subjective question, but often stories are not presented in nuanced ways that fully do justice to all the sides.

      A good example is the "Karate Kid" franchise. The first three movies are set up to tell a one sided story following Danny, and until recently, that story has gone unquestioned. With the inception of Cobra Kai" lends more dimensionality to the narrative; it shows how the rivalry between Danny and Johnny still exists, but has changed, and allows for a more nuanced understanding of the story as a whole.

      I suppose what I’m asking is how do you determine whether the hero is actually "good" and the villain actually "bad"? Do you hold heroes and villains to the same standards? How, and why?

      • this topic may benefit from being opened up to matters of broader philosophical stances. like who are the bad guys in Star Wars, the Light side or Dark side wielders? Jedi or Sith? Can Dark siders be good guys? Jedi can certainly be bad guys (dark Jedi), as has been seen in legends. Another potential would be analysis from the intuitive background info, and putting one's self in the "villains" shoes. For example, was Sharpei a true villain in High School Musical? her attitude was bad and mean spirited, objectively, but she had the right to be angry, self-conscious and confused that her adeptness she trained her whole life for (theater performance) was suddenly under harsh question. A true "hero" would step up to the challenge graciously, but would a true human? probably not. – adhyuki 1 year ago
      • I think this is a really good topic and one that I've been thinking a lot about myself. I think it's really important to look at the character's past as well as their environment, as that would help us understand what makes one a hero and the other a villain. I think it would be useful to look at this topic through a more psychological perspective in order to put yourself in a character's shoes and analyze their past. – dashatsymbalyuk 1 year ago

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      Latest Comments

      Exactly. Watering down these stories for mass media distribution and consumption is frankly misleading.

      From Mythology to the MCU: Egyptian and Norse

      That’s partially the fault of adaptation; we all know Moriarty from the original ACD stories, the various movies, radio adaptations, and television adaptations. Is SH culturally significant? Yes. Is SH predictable at this point?

      Preservation, Insight and Growth Through Literary Modernizations

      The implication that Egyptian mythology/stories are not as widely accepted and must be reinterpreted/simplified is silly. MCU’s changes clearly do not understand the necessity for those complex political stories…

      From Mythology to the MCU: Egyptian and Norse

      I appreciate the information regarding Gladstone’s works. I’m adding them to my list, and am very excited to check them out. One thing I would have liked to see clarity of is the difference between Medieval style fantasy that is derivative of the Medieval times (like lotr) which for all of its ‘darkness’ still contained a remarkable amount of cultural exchange and academia, and fantasy that is merely derivative of lotr itself, and therefore revile tech etc. because they think that’s what fantasy should be.

      Medieval Fantasy: A Success and an Impasse