Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Memory of Light

I started reading this series of books in a difficult point in my life.  I had quit working because of an illness that turned out to be severe depression. I couldn't work, I spent most of the day in bed. After being introduced to therapy and prozac I felt much better, but had a hard time finding a new job.  While I was trying to find things for my newly energized self to do, a friend gave me the first four books of the Wheel of Time series. I blazed through them in three days, then went to the library to get the next two. According to Goodreads that is 4864 pages.  I read them in a week. 

I seem to remember reading one, straight through, sleeping, then starting the next one.  Food may have happened, but I can't really be sure. I started talking about the characters as if they were real (I still do sometimes). I dreamt about them. I couldn't stop thinking about these books. It was slightly scary. It was probably more scary for my roommates.

For our first Christmas together my sweet husband sold his soul (temporarily) to the Book of the Month club so he could get me the first seven books in hard cover. I still have all but one of them. For many years I would read all of them when a new book came out.

When the author announced that he was very ill with cardiac amyloidosis I began following a blog for the first time in my life. When he died I cried for a man I had never met and wouldn't know on the street.

Later it was announced that Brandon Sanderson, an author I had never heard of, would be writing the last book of the series. I immediately looked up what he had written and started in. He was LDS, teaching creative writing at my alma mater, BYU. I shared his Alcatraz series with my children. We own all of his books.

Through Sanderson's works, and his blog, I became aware of other writers: Dan Wells, Howard Taylor, Patrick RothfussMary Robinette Kowal and many others. I learned of Writing Excuses, which is the best podcast I've ever heard, as well as the best motivator to write. Even for slackers like me who really don't intend on writing fiction anytime soon.

I've shared all of these things with my husband, my children and anyone who will let me talk about books with them. My brain will forever be in debt to the man from Charleston, South Carolina.

That is my story of the series. The end was amazing.  The criticism of A Memory of Light was similar to that of The Hobbit movie; too long, too rambling, disjointed and blah blah blah. I don't care. I loved them both. I read this book in two days, while still managing to feed my family.  I bawled like a baby. It was a sweet farewell to something I have kept in my mind for  sixteen years.

With all of this background I am not sure I can give a real review. Every part relates back to the other books.  All of my memories are intertwined with my own experiences through them. I nursed babies, let toddlers climb on me, cooked dinner and talked with my husband while reading this series. They have probably influenced my opinions and thoughts on many subjects in ways I don't even realize.

But the one thing that I keep thinking about, more than two months after I finished is the solidarity of the characters of the books. In most epic fantasy, the hero goes off to save the world and does so alone. Sometimes there is a small team, or even an army, but what is the rest of the world doing? Do they even know that their existence is in danger?

That doesn't happen in this book. Everyone can see the signs, the world is coming apart in easily visible and understandable ways.  Food rots in the blink of an eye, ghosts wander and the world decays and no one can pretend or look away.

So the last battle isn't just the hero's battle. Everyone who can come is a part of it. In the beginning of previous books we see people leaving their homes, knowing that this is everyone's fight and they need to be a part of it.

The battle is most of the book. It truly is the Last Battle. In this fight of good vs. evil everyone has a stake in the game. There are small characters from the beginning of the series, fighting and dieing. Those sworn not to fight still care for the injured. Those who have no skill in fighting bring food and supplies, send messages, wash bandages. This is the world's fight and all who value good come to help.

That is not to say everyone is abandoning self-interest. There is still politics and maneuvering for power. There are still those who loot the bodies or go over to the other side. But the universality of the struggle was powerful in a completely unexpected way.


The themes of fantasy are ideas that many think of as old fashioned: good vs. evil, the hero fighting for right, courage and honor. When the only one fighting is a knight with a sword facing some black-robed sorcerer it is easy to dismiss these ideas.  When an author gives you the image of entire villages coming to fight, men, women and children. Of a woman leaving her best pots to a neighbor so she can go. Of farmers bringing every animal they have, because if the wool isn't needed, the meat will be. Regular people are easier to relate to than some fantastical hero. Or so we are told.

I could see our world, our fight of good vs. evil. Those who would destroy our world don't wear black or cackle.  They convince us we can't do anything. They tell us those with whom we disagree are bad and compromise is the last refuge of the coward. They tell us everything is fine. They convince us that only the heroes can help, so it is OK to watch evil and do nothing. They spread ignorance and complacency over our minds like a blanket. Then tie it tight with fear and violence.

But even as it is easy to see the cracks and decay in our own world it is easy to go out and fight. We don't have to leave everything behind and fight horrible monsters. Really all we need to do is expand our awareness a little. Volunteer -- anywhere -- if we all gave a few hours a month, so much good would happen.  Read something from the opposite political view. It might make you angry but it might make you think. Smile to others when you are in Walmart. Get outside yourself just a little and you are fighting the battle. No sword necessary.

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