Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Death Will Not Hold Me Down: A Tribute to Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan. Where can I possibly start?

Robert Jordan was the pen name of James Oliver Rigney, Jr., under which he was best known as the author of the bestselling The Wheel of Time fantasy series. According to the author bio inside his books, he taught himself to read at age three and was reading Mark Twain at five (or something like that – my books are in storage!). That has always impressed me. 

Robert Jordan
I was eleven when I first encountered the work of Robert Jordan. That’s right, eleven. At that time (1992) there were four books available in his Wheel of Time series, with the fifth, The Fires of Heaven released around that time or shortly after. Now, in 2011, aged 30, I am still awaiting the conclusion to The Wheel of Time. That makes me a fan of The Wheel of Time for two-thirds of my life. If you’ve been a fan for a greater proportion of your life, please leave a comment to let me know you’re out there!

The Wheel of Time was one of the things I shared with my Dad as I grew up. We read the same books and of course the epic proportions of The Wheel of Time loaned itself to the wasting of many hours discussing the multitudinous possible outcomes, guessing at the identities of villains reborn, villains concealed, the identities of prophesied heroes, and the love lives of the many characters. I still remember wandering down a dirt track on horseback speculating about the revelations to be had in the next book.

I know some people tired of the story, either because it was too big, or too complex, or just dragged on for too long. But I never did. Was it my age? A child’s endless fascination or the ability of my brain at that age to grasp and keep up with the many plots, subplots, tangents and secrets?

I don’t know but I love the books and I don’t see that ever changing. I have lost count of the number of times I have read them. As a general rule, I reread them every time a new book comes out. There are thirteen books and there were four when I started, which means I have read some of these books as many as nine times. It’s probably more, because for a while there I would reread them every year and it was about two years between books. 

As a writer, I am in awe of Robert Jordan’s sweeping epic. To write a story of that complexity on such a grand scale boggles the mind. Although there have been many criticisms of his writing (particularly over-detailed attention to irrelevant scenes), credit is due just for the sheer scale, complexity and genius of the story alone. I could not conceive of imagining a story of such reach and scope. My modest aspirations include only a six book series, which is technically two connected trilogies. Fourteen books? This is the point where I feel I should get down on my knees and worship.

The Wheel of Time turns...
It is true that fourteen books could be fourteen books of crap but it’s not. Robert Jordan gets credit just for keeping his stories straight. And while his technical writing could maybe have done with a brush-up, there are many other elements of genius. Like the moment of awe you get when you realise a revelation in book ten, for example, was foreshadowed four books earlier. There are plot twists and secrets, the foundations for which were laid in the very roots of this story, that aren’t revealed for many books. 

And that’s maybe where my awe really lies. To write a simple, straightforward story that spans fourteen books is one thing. To write a story as complex as this, with so many secrets, plots, misdirections, prophecies, players and vested interests, is something else again. The words even escape me to describe the sheer complexity of this tale. If you’ve read it, you don’t need me to tell you. Love it or hate it, I don’t think you can deny the work that went into keeping the story straight.

Someone once said to me they didn’t believe Robert Jordan knew where his story was headed, that he didn’t know where it would end. 

They were wrong. 

On March 23, 2006, Robert Jordan announced he had been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis and that with treatment his median life expectancy was four years. Though he said he intended to beat the statistics, he died on September 16, 2007.

He spent the last weeks of his life dictating all the major plot points and twists in the remaining volume (later decided to be split in three) of The Wheel of Time. In other words, he dedicated his last time on this earth to ensuring that someone would have everything they needed to finish The Wheel of Time the way it had always been intended. Clearly he knew exactly where his story was going. 

I also don’t believe a story this complicated could have held together if he didn’t know how it would end and how to get there. I believe, when we learn how it ends, we will discover it was foreshadowed in the very first books. His blood on the rocks of Shayol Ghul... If you’re a reader, you know what I mean. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about how that will turn out. For the record, I don’t believe Rand will die (or at least, not die and stay dead). What do you think?

Did Robert Jordan dedicate his last hours to preserving his story because he couldn’t stand the idea of leaving such an epic work unfinished? Dedication to his fans? I don’t presume to know. Maybe it was a bit of both. But only death could part this writer from his passion. 

I still remember the day of his death, when I learned he had passed away. It was a shock to the system. I don’t presume to say I was as grief-stricken as his family, or as grief-stricken as I would be about my own family. It would presumptuous to say the least if I were to assert that. But I definitely felt that someone I knew was gone and they weren’t coming back. I had shared, at this point, The Wheel of Time journey for fifteen years. It was akin, I suppose, to learning that your local baker, or doctor, someone you had known since you were a child, had died. I even went so far as to shed a tear. 

It was a profound moment. And of course, though many mourned his passing, I am sure the next question on the lips of many was what would happen to The Wheel of Time? 

Fortunately the decision was made to have someone else finish it using the notes and details Robert Jordan had left. The man chosen was Brandon Sanderson and a fine choice it was. Though I can clearly see the difference in the writing styles, the characters have been executed true to themselves. I don’t read the books thinking ‘But if Robert Jordan had written it he would have done this.’ 

Two books have been completed by Brandon Sanderson and he is working on the last book now. I can hardly wait though I wonder what my life will be like without the next Wheel of Time book to anticipate. I have been doing it for so long you see. 

But to the memory of Robert Jordan – a toast. A great mind and a great man have gone, a genius I dare not aspire to match. But it is clear that while he was here he loved his writing and his worlds with a fierce passion. 

Most of all, I thank him for being generous enough to take us along for the ride. He is one of my greatest influences.

Would I be a different person if The Wheel of Time never existed?
A dragon, Wheel of Time style, as depicted on the banner of Lews Therin Telamon
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Terri Rochenski said...

A true fan here as well.  Thanks for an awesome post.  I couldn't agree more with what you said.  Looking forward to that final book!!!!!

Shannon Mayer said...

I think I might beat you at the time I have spent as a fan. I was 10 when I started reading Jordan's series and I am almost 33. This was a great post, one that as I read it, was nodding along with everything you wrote. I think it will be a sad day to see the series finished, to know that it is over, but at the same time, can't wait to get my hands on that last book! Thanks for this tribute! :D

Raine Thomas said...

A lovely testament, Ciara!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Man, how much are we hanging out??? I've been dying for that last book for naerly twenty years LOL

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Wow! You are the first person I've met who has been reading it not only longer than me but a greater proportion of their life. Congrats, you clock in at nearly 70% of your life! Isn't that scary? I know exactly what you mean. When the Sword of Truth series ended I was 'Wow, it's over, no more to look forward to...' That was when I first realised that there might be a sense of desolation when The Wheel of Time ends. But I'm still itching for that book.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks Raine. I don't feel I could find the words to really give Robert Jordan credit.

Dionne Lister said...

Hi Ciara. OMG! I can totally relate with everything. I have to read the other books when a new one comes out so I can remember what's going on and am eagerly awaiting the finale. I didn't notice irrelevant scenes, I was just happy sharing the character's experiences. The books are all on my bookshelf waiting to be joined by their siblings.  Didn't realise that was his pen name, I'm a bit vague sometimes :). Really enjoyed your post.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

It was usually over-describing of scenery that he did. I would never notice on a first read, but stood out for me on re-reads. The story is powerful enough to overcome those flaws though. I am so anal, from book 6 onwards all mine are large paperbacks. Once I committed to that first large paperback I had to keep buying them - so they would 'look right' in order on my bookshelf! Speaking of bookshelves, I'm going to need a new one when we move house....

Prudence MacLeod said...

Robert Jordan certainly had an incredible mind for a story. I stopped reading after book four as life had gotten too hectic, and those books demand a span of time to read. I never did get back to them, at least not yet. The writing world has lost a giant, a world builder, and to many, a god.

Amberr Meadows said...

I've never read the series, but the post gave me goosebumps. To imagine someone devoting their last bit of time to finish a book series shows how important it was to him. I'm going to download the first and take it from there. I haven't explored much fantasy, but I'm curious. :-)

Amberr Meadows said...

I also stumbled the post. Hope the weekend rocks!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

You definitely need a certain amount of time, or at least lack of distractions, to read them. I admit to ripping through a new one in two days, but that was pre-baby.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

I won't deny it needs a lot of stamina. People either seem to love it or hate it. I am obviously one of the latter. I just think it's a totally realised world and the story is on such a grand scale - but still so compelling. These are the books that make me get all excited when I realise there's a new twist. Totally gripping. I CANNOT put the latest Wheel of Time book down until I finish it. Forget writing when I have my hands on one of these.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks Amberr, hope you had a great weekend too :-)

Honey_be1 said...

i too have reread each book from the first novel every time another book comes out, and i NEVER tire of reading this series. i always interpret something new every time i read the series and i think 'how'd i miss that before?!'i await the last novel with some trepidation, will brandon sanderson pull this epic series off?? 

Ciara Ballintyne said...

 I know, all the little clues and you don't put two and two together until you reread a book! I believe Brandon Sanderson can pull this off, he has very much impressed me. I met him at a book signing recently, and he told me he does twelve drafts of a Wheel of Time book! It's slated to be released in January 2013.

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