Updated: Sep 6, 2021
There are a few things that people often hear about The Wheel of Time. It's awesome!
It's 14 books!
The characters feel real!
It has Eastern influences!
It's a SLOG.
On January 15th, 1990 TOR published Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World. Thus began the cycle of The Wheel of Time. Only 10 short months later the second book in the series The Great Hunt released on November 15th, 1990, and the third The Dragon Reborn was released 11 months later on October 15th, 1991. Following this Jordan would adhere to a yearly publication schedule until 1994 when the sixth book, Lord of Chaos, was released. Let's pause here. Between 1990 and 1994 Robert Jordan released 6 full-length complex epic fantasy novels. The pace was revolutionary for a series of this magnitude and Jordan helped usher in the explosion of Fantasy fiction in the 1990s. Many fantasy authors either hit their stride or appeared during this decade thanks to the fast popularity of The Wheel of Time.
With the growing scope of the story, Jordan swapped to a biennial schedule to accommodate for the extra care he needed to take while crafting the middle section of the books. This decision would prove to be a double edge sword. While it gave him time, it also lost some fan favor. Many in the community dubbed the books released between 1996 and 2003 "The Slog." Consisting of book 7 A Crown of Swords to book 10 Crossroads of Twilight, "The Slog" represents for many an intentional slowdown by Jordan, both in publication and story pacing. NOTE: Some fans also consider Lord of Chaos the beginning of the "The Slog," but believe it gets a pass from other fans due to the events at the end of the book. Sometimes it will appear in lists of the "The Slog."
Daniel Greene touches upon the pacing issues in the "The Slog" in the below video from 4:10 to 7:11 and while I do not agree with his assessment 100%, I cannot deny that he makes valid points. The pacing does slow during these books, but the depth of the world-building grows exponentially. Throughout "The Slog" we learn more about how The White Tower operates, get to dig into various political machinations and experience some of the best moments in the series. I understand that it gets repetitive but you have to recognize that Jordan was attempting to keep long-time readers aware of how the systems function. Not every reader we back through the entire series every time there was a new book.
For many fans, "The Slog" represents the low point of the series, and for new readers, a hurdle. What if I asked you that instead of thinking of "The Slog" as 4 books of The Wheel of Time, we view it as a period in the history of the series; a point in time during publication that many fans endured?
I contend that "The Slog" is a piece of history in The Wheel of Time's epic history, especially now that the series is complete. It is much easier to binge through the books knowing there is an end you can reach. However, back during the years that constitute the "The Slog" everyone was unsure of how many books the series would contain.
Was "The Slog" so terrible though? Take a look at the books that came out and the years that it spans:
6 Lord of Chaos* 15 October 1994
7 A Crown of Swords 15 May 1996
8 The Path of Daggers 20 October 1998
9 Winter's Heart 7 November 2000
10 Crossroads of Twilight 7 January 2003
PQ New Spring January 2004
11 Knife of Dreams 11 October 2005
NOTE: Lord of Chaos is sometimes included in "The Slog," but not all consider it such.
As the table above demonstrates Jordan published 6 works within 9 years, a strong pace by a metric excepting modern fantasy hero Brandon Sanderson. So then, if the books were being published in a timely manner where did the feeling of slogging through the story come from?
Minor Plot Spoilers Start
As I mentioned above, and Daniel as well in his video, the story pacing slows down for our main cast. Focus also shifts from Rand and expands on the sections for Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, and Mat. A specific plotline that is held up as indicative of "The Slog" is Perrin's arc. We spend a lot of time in Perrin's head during "The Slog" and through these books, there is a sense of some backpedaling with his characterization. Many of the gains he made from The Shadow Rising through Lord of Chaos seemed to vanish. He then is placed into a situation where he must track people down, through the snow and the readers can feel the pain of how slow that trek is.
This is typically not viewed negatively (well maybe Perrin's arc is…), but there are other storylines that become interspersed between these PoVs. This division of storylines necessitated the repetition found throughout "The Slog" as RJ needed to remind contemporary readers of what was going on and where it was happening. Jordan also noticeably increases the amount of inner monologue many of our PoV characters expound, mostly to serve this purpose. A lot of Perrin's trudging through his snowy camps and he sees someone he needs to speak with. He thinks about the snow, the actions of what the person he wants to speak to, and describes in detail much of the scenery as he walks. Perrin is not the only character guilty of this expansion of inner monologue. Rand, Mat, Egwene, and Nynaeve also increased how much they say in the head, along with most of our new side characters.
One of the aspects RJ expanded on greatly in "The Slog" books was the political intrigue within the White Tower. The necessitated increasing the cast of Aes Sedai and for some reason, he decided that names starting with the letter "S" are great for Aes Sedai. Despite these storylines taking significant page time RJ often took long multi-chapter breaks between them. It was difficult to keep track of the many new characters and even harder with names like we have below:
NOTE: Many of these introduced in LoC appear frequently throughout the "The Slog"
This is nowhere close to all of the new Aes Sedai we meet in these books. Truly the expansion of the Aes Sedai characters and their tendencies for secrecy and politicking makes keeping track of the over 200 named Aes Sedai characters difficult, especially over the years of publication.
With all of this densely packed information, repetition, and stream of consciousness monologues present in the series, why do I think “The Slog” no longer exists? We have the ending. The series is completed and with its cathartic close, the fans no longer feel the existential dread of wondering when, or if (this was a very real fear), the saga will finish. The books commonly referred to as “The Slog” no longer represents the final hurdle for RJ, fans, and new readers to clear but instead is a wealth of world-building that allows us more time to spend in a universe that we all know and love. While these slower story arcs proved troublesome in the past, now that the series is completed I believe now that the series is completed it is possible to binge right through what used to be "The Slog" and come out the other side with a significantly richer The Wheel of Time for it. Ultimately as we move further in time, fewer fans will likely even know that there was a “Slog.” Thanks to the modern-day binge culture most new readers will be able to fly through the books and will never have to experience the publication period that made up this point in the history of the series.