This week’s ‘Texts That Made Me’ blog post features a very special guest: Beth Hellen — Research Services Librarian, Geneticist, and an avid reader of fantasy…
In my family we believe in Dragons. Fantasy has been a part of my reading life for as long as I can remember. My Dad read us The Magic Faraway Tree books as a child, my Mum introduced us to Shannara and an English teacher introduced me and my sister to the books of David Eddings and Raymond Feist.
But try as I might, I can’t remember when I was introduced to the books that would twine around and through my life from my early teenage years to my mid-30s, where I find myself now. Maybe it was at the library, maybe a book shop, but at some point when I was 12 or 13 years old I read The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, the first in what would turn into the enormous fourteen-book Wheel of Time series.
I enjoyed the first book, but it was slow and similar to many other fantasy stories. The themes are all there: young people on the brink of adulthood discovering powers, a great evil to defeat, exciting strangers to take them away from their lives. It follows in the track you expect from a fantasy book of its era. However, at this point it was impossible to see the scope of what would come.
There are many, many characters in the Wheel of Time, but the journey of one character in particular has always resonated with me: Perrin, a blacksmith who will eventually help his friends to save the world. He’s not the main character, he’s not flashy, he doesn’t have magic, but he leaves the village for adventures in order to protect his friends.
One of the great themes associated with Perrin’s journey is the balance between his craftsman’s life as a blacksmith, symbolised by his hammer, and the warrior’s mantel he is forced to take up to protect his friends, symbolised by his axe. So often in life we think of ourselves in just one way. I’ve always found thinking of Perrin’s balancing act between the hammer and axe to be an important lesson: different parts of ourselves are useful for different times in our lives. Just because you’ve chosen one path before, it doesn’t mean you have to make the same decision in the future.
The other major facet of Perrin’s character is his association with wolves; he speaks with them and can enter the ‘wolf dream’, a dream world mirroring the waking world. Although this is a huge discovery for the character, for me it changes nothing about him. From the first few chapters it is clear that for Perrin, his friends and family, his pack, are the most important thing to him. Saving the world is important, but there’s no point in doing it if it’s not for the people you love.