Dovie'andi Se Tovya Sagain
The best Fantasy is metaphorically a fun house mirror, twisting and distorting, but basically showing us our own image. Jordan has taken his knocks as a sell-out, and for being too commercial. It is not a totally undeserved criticism, but at it core, I think his, Wheel of Time, series does an unparalleled job of reinterpreting our modern experience.
One of the pillars of Jordan's expansive world is the dominance, both politically and domestically, of women. It's a woman's world - men are equals at best and often discriminated against. This social order is justified partially by the idea that men are spiritually corrupted. Women can reach out freely to, "The Creator," or, "The Light," but men are unable to commune directly with these powers w/o terrible risk to themselves.
By inverting the dynamic of sex and gender in our real world, Jordan is commenting on society's attempt to deal with a long history of unjustified discrimination against women and indirectly against other races or ideologies. Much of which discrimination was buttressed by religion, or an idea of "spiritual inferiority."
The primary "magical" element in Jordan's fantasy is the, "One Power." An ability with which a skilled user can do virtually anything you can imagine. Not everyone can access this ability, and some can to a greater or lesser extent.
A friend once suggested this "One Power" is a metaphor for Atomic Energy / Weaponry. I think the interpretation can be even broader. Like Tolkien who explored the implications of industrialization for society and the individual, here Jordan is exploring the implications of individual empowerment manifested by technology.
Using the "One Power", an individual or small group can heal hundreds, even thousands of the injured and sick; but they can also become a frightening force of destruction. Users can communicate with others, travel wherever they want, manipulate the Earth, build amazing structures; any of this starting to sound familiar?
What are the consequences of having some much power in the hands of so few? It is quite a unique situation in human history. The decisions of a few hundred, maybe a thousand people, decide the fate of this world every day. We don't like to think about it, but that doesn't make it less true. Jordan's "Age" begins just after the previous Age's researchers / magicians reach too far into the "One Power," destroying themselves and, "breaking the World." I think his implied warning is clear.
Jordan has received myriad praise for his ability to write character. And well deserved too. He has a keen understanding that everybody thinks he or she is the hero of the story. He is careful to fully develop his villains giving them convincing backgrounds and motivations. And it is not always easy to tell the difference, since the "good guys" cause a fair amount of death and destruction themselves. Of course there, is also a legion of two-dimensional, creepy crawly types for the heroes to practice on; but the real enemies are very compelling characters. It is hard not to root for them (poor Asmodean he was my favorite).