6.01.2011

Lan: A Face all Planes and Angles

Every once in a while, an author makes a seemingly conscious decision to use piss-poor language to describe a central character. Occasionally the description is evocative enough that the author decides it is all that is needed, and he may even use it more than once. However, poor language can become a crutch. This should be avoided.

This brings us to Rule 39: Do not beat the reader over the head with descriptions that say next to nothing.

Rule 39 is prominently violated by the dearly departed fantasy author, Robert Jordan, in his 13 book epic Wheel of Time series. The following is a collection of descriptions of character Lan Mandragoran, drawn from multiple books throughout the series. Citations compliments of Google books.

From the Wheel of Time series:
  • The Eye of the World (book 1):
“That face was made from stony planes and angles, weathered but unlined despite the gray in his hair” (46).

  • The Great Hunt (book 2):
A narrow band of braided leather held the Warder's long hair back from his face, a face that seemed made from stony planes and angles, a face unlined as if to belie the tinge of gray at his temples” (2)
  • The Dragon Reborn (book 3):
“The flames cast flickering shadows across the Warder's face, making it seem more carved from stone even than it normally did, all hard planes and angles” (27).

  • The Shadow Rising (book 4):
A braided leather cord held Lan's dark hair, gray-streaked at the temples. His face looked to have been carved from rock, all hard planes and angles, and his sword rode his hip like part of his body” (92).
  • The Fires of Heaven (book 5):
“Which was to say as still and calm as his face, all stony planes and angles in the moonlight, and with an air of being on the brink of sudden movement that made the Aiel appear placid in comparison” (165).
  • A Crown of Swords (book 7):
Brilliant blue eyes regarded her intently from beneath lowered brows, in a face all planes and angles that might have been carved from stone” (237).
  • And from the Eye of the World series, From the Two Rivers:
“That face was made from stony planes and angles, weathered but unlined despite the gray in his hair” (30).

Taken individually or together, these descriptions lead to only one possible mental image:
A stony face all planes and angles.
This is a composite sketch from the many descriptions of the character. What could Lan be, but a face all planes and angles? Twin-tailed plane for lips? A plane for a nose? Biplanes for eyes, perhaps? As for the angles, his description does not reveal the true degree measurements, so the true angles are unknown. There is a gray tinge in his hair, and his face is kind of like stone. The character, as described, may have difficulty passing through society without notice.

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