Monday, January 21, 2013

Reflections on A Memory of Light (or: Why I Love Things that Depress Me)

I finished reading A Memory of Light on Saturday, 12 January, 2013.  It was good.  Like, really good.  I know it was good, because I was depressed after I finished it.  In fact, I'm still a bit depressed, when I think about it.  And I couldn't be happier about that.

Let me explain.

The onset of a certain depression after finishing a book or TV series, or set of movies, is a sure sign that said media has cut me deep.  I could almost count the number of times this has happened to me on one hand:  (1) finishing the game Final Fantasy VII in middle school, (2) finishing The Lost Years of Merlin series in high school, (3) watching The Return of the King in the theater for the first time, (4) watching the last episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and (5) watching the last episode of Battlestar Galactica.  There might be two or three other works that haven't come to mind yet that also deserve a place on this list, but really, that's about it.

The aforementioned media aren't necessarily my all-time favorites.  Some of them are, others aren't quite.  They don't all have the best writing I've ever scene, although some of them certainly do.  Most of those works are actually very inconsistent in one way or another--the acting isn't always top notch, or there are some holes in the story, or parts that go on too long.  None of these works are perfect*.

But they all seem to have effected me in this particular way.  I love them, and then they end, and then I'm really, really sad.  Actually, it's maybe more accurate to say that I love the characters, and then the story ends, and then I'm really, really sad.  For me, it's all about characters.  They're what really drive the stories I love.  So when those stories end, and I suddenly lose all contact with these characters I've grown to love, it's actually quite upsetting for me.  I come to the sudden realization that these characters will no longer be such an integral part of my life, and that is always a very sad time.  Bittersweet, of course, because I love seeing these people characters live complete their lives arcs, but difficult because it is also a goodbye.  I can return to these worlds and characters, of course, but I'll never live the experience like I did the first time around.

I can't quite pinpoint exactly what sets these works apart from the hundreds of other things I've read and watched, but there's something there.  Of course, there's something to be said about the length of things.  If you read 5+ books, or watch 5+ TV seasons, in any given series, you're bound to grow some kind of attachment to the characters.  At least I am.  But there's more than that.  I loved Harry Potterbut I wasn't depressed when I finished reading those books.  Same with the Ender series, AngelLost, and all sorts of other things.

There's some combination, something that tweaks me just so, and each work on the list I gave above has it, whatever it is.

And, having finished A Memory of LightThe Wheel of Time series now joins that elite company.

I will say, however, that The Wheel of Time has not been my favorite series by any means.  The first 6 books were quite good.  Books 7-11 were, for the most part, a real chore.  And that's five books.  For the most part I've been pleased with what Brandon Sanderson has done with the ending of the series, but these last few books have their flaws, too.  Part of me sees some reason behind the decision to change what was supposed to be a 12-book series into a 14-book series, but part of me is also pretty annoyed.  It feels a bit like a Peter Jackson maneuver, if you catch my meaning.  And this last book...well.  One battle takes up about 500 pages, one chapter covering 250 pages or so of said battle.  The rest of the book is...other battles.  There's lots and lots of battles and fighting.

Of course, what do I expect?  It's the Last Battle, after all.  But seems things could have been trimmed down just a bit.

The POVs are pretty jumpy, too--more so in this last book than usual.  It was very difficult (perhaps "annoying" is a better word, here) to keep track of who was fighting where and who was with whom and so forth.

Well, enough about the imperfections.  There were others, but I don't want to dwell on them.

There were some really awesome things that happened in this last book, too.



Giant deathgates.

And, of course, there was the ending.  The ending really did make it all worth it.  That's kind of cliche, I know.  But in a series like this, a series that has had so many fantastic highs and almost as many dismal lows (in so many more ways than one), the ending really makes or breaks the thing.  That last bite, the final taste, is what people take with them.

Mine was, I think, nearly perfect.  I was delightfully depressed, and felt the missing-ness (as we say in Italian...) of the characters as soon as I finished the last word.  It was lovely, and sad, and wonderful all at once.

So thank you, Robert Jordan, and thank you, Brandon Sanderson.  It's been a long journey (even for me, and I entered the game late--right around when book 10 came out, I think), but it's been worth it.  Like I said, there are very few works that have the power to depress me.  But this was one of them, and I'm grateful for it.  I look forward to the next, whatever that may be.

May the dragon ride again on the winds of time.

*  Except for Buffy.  Buffy is perfect.

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