Wheel of Time versus Chekhov’s Gun

I know I said I was done writing about Wheel of Time, but this came to me as I’m editing down the length of my own book.  I’m a firm supporter of the dramatic concept of Chekhov’s Gun.    For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s a principle that states that anything you introduce into a story be relevant to the plot (if you introduce a gun above the fireplace in the first act, at some point that gun is going to be fired, I think is the gist of the name).  I try to adhere to it in my writing, which is a challenge since my style tends to be … a bit more on the rambly side of things, so it’s usually down to my editing process to make sure I haven’t introduced overly many elements that have not served some kind of purpose.

And this got me to thinking about Wheel of Time.  Wheel of Time is the most expansive series I have ever read, in terms at least of scope and epic scale.  Plot points are introduced and then left to hang for books at a time before being picked up again or suddenly concluded, characters disappear or are presumed dead, or a minor character you thought little of suddenly proves to have a big role to play.  At the end of the book, I felt relatively satisfied that everything that I had been keeping an eye out for had been tied in a neat bow (some more satisfactorily than others).  But how well do Jordan and Sanderson actually fair when brought against the concept of Chekhov’s Gun, how many elements are introduced and never play a role in the unfolding plot?  I decided to test my memory (with a little/lot of help from Dragonmount) and find out.

Of course there are way, way, way, waaaay too many elements introduced over the course WoT for me to analyze each one without this turning into some kind of dissertation, so … broad strokes.

Min’s Viewings: Min had a lot of viewings throughout the series.  Like … I did not even realize how many until I used Dragonmount to refresh myself and I realized the ones I was thinking of was just scratching the surface. Some of them were pretty plot critical, and the Talent overall was essential to the storytelling.  Looking back at her first viewings from TEOTW, it’s actually really impressive the amount of foresight Jordan had when planning his plot so far in advance (either that, or he was really good at remembering things that needed to be important later and fitting them in).  Not all of her viewings have the most satisfactory conclusion (still a little sore about how Alivia ‘helped Ran die’) and some really didn’t come into play in a noticeable way.  The fanbase seems to have devoted some serious effort into deciphering what each of her viewings meant now that it’s all said and done, some are a little bit more of a stretch than others but I will accept them at face value.  Even if Jordan/Sanderson missed a couple, I think the viewings, in general, satisfied the requirement.

Prophecies: Man, did Jordan love foreshadowing, and he was not light handed with it, as evidenced by his love of prophecy.  Really, when it comes to prophecy, the important thing is that it gets fulfilled in some manner…well, I guess unless the prophecy is just worldbuilding and not meant to get fulfilled, let the Tinker ‘song’.  I’d argue the purpose of the song was to help explain Tinker ways and why they were nomadic, and thus was not superfluous element.  But most of the prophecies seemed to come true in some way, even if not immediately apparent (Sanderson claimed that all the prophecies in the Karaethon Cycle and Book of Dark Prophecy came true, though there are a few that are still fuzzy to me).  I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they all got met at some point and were all essential.

Lands/History/Culture: WoT encompasses a very diverse world full of clashing cultures and peoples.  It’s all part of the worldbuilding that makes the world so unique.  But how much is acceptable worldbuilding, at what point are these elements superfluous that are not needed for the telling of the story, for the betterment of the overall plot?  There was certainly a time during TSR where I felt we spent a bit too much time in the Aiel lands, learning about their culture. You can argue about whether Jordan’s obsession with laying out so much of his cultures’ specifics, dresses, and dialects make the books better (and I’d say, for the most part, they do) but it’s pretty clear a lot of it isn’t absolutely essential.  So at least on this point it fails the requirement.

Minor Characters: WoT boasts a cast of named characters large enough to populate a small town.  Perhaps a mid-sized town…the kind where you sort of know everyone but plenty of them only by face.  Part of this is Jordan’s habit of introducing minor characters who you shrug off after leaving them only to find them return to join the main cast. There is also just … a huge number of Aes Sedai.  Props to anyone who can actually keep them all straight in just their head.  So how many of them are non-essential?  Quite a few, likely.  I recall in the early books Jordan had a habit of naming every boat and its captain, every innkeeper, and not all of them are seen again.  You remember Adelin, the first Maiden to lead Rand’s escort?  She cedes the position to Sulin after one bad night and is pretty much not heard from again (kind of expected at least a flash of her in the Last Battle, given her early importance).  Point is, it’s impossible, in a cast this size, for everyone to be essential.

Overall Conclusion: Given the scope of the series, I’d say WoT actually scores really well in a Chekhov’s Gun test.  Jordan and Sanderson love their reveals, many of them satisfying, but all with a sort of ‘finally’ or ‘oh’ or ‘I remember that!’ feeling.  It’s not perfect, and I’m sure you all can think of a dozen examples of things and people that would not fit, but overall I think that it gets a passing grade.  B+, but A for effort.

What do you think?  Do you think WoT holds up against Chekhov’s Gun?  And what’s your favorite example of it happening in WoT?

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