Okay, so I’ve started The Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time book by Robert Jordan. After a brief prologue, which mentions the Nine Rods of Dominion — anything like the Nine Rings of Power Sauron gave to men? — I turn to a map that shows part of a large continent, with an ocean to the west and a large north-south mountain range marking the eastern boundary of the map. Like the maps of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, in other words. The story proper begins with the comment that memories become legend, and legend becomes myth, which, substituting “history” for “memories,” is a close paraphrase of a comment we find in Tolkien. We’re told that the story takes place in the Third Age of the world, just as The Lord of the Rings does.
The first chapter is set in a place that’s near the ocean, but not right on it — overlay a map of Middle-Earth on Jordan’s map and the Shire would be just slightly north of Two Rivers. One notable feature of the landscape is the Mountains of Mist, presumably not to be confused with the Misty Mountains in Tolkien’s world. We meet characters in Two Rivers who comment on the strangeness of people in the not-too-distant town of Taren Ferry, in exactly the way that people of the Shire talk about folks from Bree. And all of Two Rivers is excited about an imminent festival at which fireworks are promised, in precisely the way that, at precisely the same point in The Lord of the Rings, the residents of Hobbiton await Bilbo’s birthday party, at which fireworks are promised.
Soon there arrives a strange cloaked man, who, it is speculated, could be a Warder who lives in the north, fighting forces of evil. Might those Warders be anything like the Rangers of the North in Tolkien, who also work to keep evil at bay?
Sigh. Okay, I know that Jordan’s fictional world will diverge from Tolkien’s, but why in the world doesn’t he start by at least making an effort to differentiate his creation from Middle-Earth? This is like Stephen Donaldson all over again. I’ll keep going, but good grief, how annoying.