It isn’t perfect but it is something I’ve wanted to say, and should have said, when Robert Jordan passed away back in September of 2007. I don’t think my attempt back then really reflected what I felt. In fact I didn’t talk too much about it when it happened, probably because it hadn’t really hit home or because I had too much going on in my own life at the time. HoweverLeigh Butler’s re-read of The Wheel of Time over at Tor.com got me thinking about things again. I’d been meaning to write something trying to put my thoughts to together. What I got was this. Hit the jump for the text or ignore this as you wish…
I’m thirteen years-old and the light cast by the lamp next to the couch gives casts the room in a faint golden glow. I don’t remember what season it was but in my head it was winter and I stand on a lonely wooded road, as a young man watches a dark rider whose cloak remains untouched by a chill wind. I huddle against the armrest book clutched firmly in my hands feeling that same icy wind. The book I’m holding in my hands is Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World the opening volume to the well-know oft-loved, oft-maligned Wheel of Time series. When trying to trace my own reading history I am tempted to start with Mr. Jordan. I know that I enjoyed reading before discovering The Wheel of Time. I mean, I had read plenty of mainstream and well-known genre authors before that point. Everything from Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising sequence and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia to a steady diet of Star Wars novels to the more “mainstream” works of Dean Koontz and Michael Crichton. But it is only after encountering Rand al’Thor, Perrin Aybara, and Matrim Cauthon that I become less certain that I devoured books and more convinced that it was the books that devoured me. I certainly don’t remember lying to friends about having chores or being grounded just so I could read before I encountered the Wheel of Time but maybe that’s just nostalgia talking.
I devoured the rest of Jordan’s series, left waiting and desperate for the next oft distant entry in the series. I would periodically return to the beginning of the series both as a means to refresh myself on what had happened in the series and as a kind of comfort food. Once in college, feeling a bit down, I decided a re-read was in order only to discover that I had not brought my books with me. Rather than wait until I had a chance to go home I of course went out and bought new copies of The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, and The Dragon Reborn. I hesitate to total up the total number of pages I’ve read, or likely days I’ve devote to this series, suffice to say I’ve probably read through the entire series more than 3 times. Like most fans I was dissatisfied with many of the series’ late entries. Path of Daggers in particular I found difficult, and slightly dull. It remains, to this day, the only volume of the series I don’t own in print (I bought on audio cassette, and later CD, when it first came out). I groaned when Jordan decided to release a prequel novel prior to a new entry in the main series, especially since it was based on a previously released novella (I bought and read it anyway). I almost stopped reading Crossroads of Twilight when I found out it advanced none of the plots from Winter’s Heart because it took place during the same time frame as that volume. I was worried when Knife of Dreams came a long, things had been looking grim, my frustrations with the series teetering on overbalancing my enjoyment but, truth be told, I had been in it for too long. I was glad I didn’t give up since I felt that Knife of Dreams was the closest Jordan had come to recapturing the excitement and adventure of the earliest novels. We were nearing the endgame and it was starting to look like it would be something fantastic.
Then Robert Jordan died.
It wasn’t a total surprise. He was a sick man and, optimism asside, the possibility had always been there. Looking back at my reaction at the time I think I was a bit numb. I was never heavily involved in the fan community and had no interactions with the author himself beyond the text of his fiction and I assumed that the news didn’t hit me quite as hard as those who were deeply involved like the folks over at wotmania (where I’ve lurked for years) and Dragonmount. Honestly, I just don’t think I realized at the time just how important to me that single interaction, the act of reading, had been. I didn’t really get, at least on an intellectual, how much of my adult reading life was informed by my first experience with The Eye of the World. Now, looking back, every fantasy series I’ve touched since then, every author I’ve read, has been an attempt to recapture that same feeling of wonder, excitement and awe I felt the first time I sat down with each and every book from The Wheel of Time.
Now, as Tor pushes towards a November 2009 release date for Brandon Sanderson’s and Robert Jordan’s A Memory of Light I find myself experiencing a range of emotions. These aren’t just characters but people who have been a part of my life for the better part of fourteen years. Through high school, through college, through graduate school, and into my working life I have grown with these characters and the thought of seeing their ultimate destinies fulfilled, their stories brought to a close leaves me filled with a profound sense of both excitement and melancholy. Regardless of my mixed emotions regarding the conclusion to The Wheel of Time, or frustrations with Jordan as a writer I realize now I owe him a profound debt of thanks not only for the journey his own fiction has taken me on but for the host of authors and books that has since followed.
Without Robert Jordan I would never have journeyed alongside FitzChivalry and Nighteyes, never feverishly read (literally, I had a fever at the time) A Darkness at Sethanon, never walked with Roland and his ka-tet as they sought the Black Tower, never delved into the annals of the Black Company, never skulked across the mean streets of Chicago with Harry Dresden, never sat horrified at the red wedding, never stepped accross the wall into the lands of Faerie, never…I could go on but I won’t. The list is long…really long and it gets longer every year. Would I have come to fantasy without Robert Jordan? I don’t honestly know the answer to that and, truth be told, I don’t need to know the answer. I’m here now and there are no real signs that I’ll ever stop.
So, Robert Jordan, thank you and in your own words (and as I believe others have eulogized already):
“May you shelter in the palm of the Creator’s hand, and may the last embrace of the mother welcome you home.”