Graduate Student in Literary Studies Focuses in Medieval Lit, Epic Lit, Lit Crit, and Spec Fiction
Junior Contributor I
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?