Robert Jordan seems even more unsure of his books's relationship to Tolkien than I am, which contributes to the book's lurching start. Like the Fellowship of the Rings, this book begins with a group of untraveled country folk led on a desperate flight from a dark lord by a wise mage, and there are a few moments that I could swear were copied from the Lord of the Rings frame by frame. In this early phase, even the worldbuilding (which later on is the strength of the novel) is clumsily done.
About two hundred pages in, Robert Jordan suddenly finds his feet and from then on the book is amazing. Like most fantasy novels, The Eye of the World can be judged by its setting, which is complex, well developed, and impressively not really Tolkienesque at all. Where the tales of Middle-Earth focus on an inexorable and slow fall from grace, Robert Jordan's world moves through a repeating cycle of seven ages. There are no grim men returning from the wild to lead kingdoms and find elven wives here, but there are men who were once kings wandering around killing Troll-things. And so on.
Along with their setting, epic fantasy novels live or die by their endings; since these types of books focus on some great and terrible evil, there are many unique ways for them to mess this up. Some sort of a magic power that the hero pulls out of his hat with no foreshadowing, the plot strangling itself through its own complexity, the Great Dark One Beyond the Ken of Mortal Man being killed in a brawl - none of these things happen at the end of The Eye of the World. What does happen is well-executed and satisfying without falling into the trap of obsessively tying up every single plot thread.
All in all, this is more than just a fun read, although it is that. Robert Jordan has written a book that adds to the lore of fantasy without being overly derivative. You should read it. (If you're reading epic fantasy, you should also read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and A Song of Ice and Fire, by the way.)
Demerits: Starts off thinking it's Tolkien. Stumbles a bit.
Merits: Everything else.