I noticed awhile back that it’s been ten years since the passing of Robert Jordan. I was surprised to see that it had been that long. I guess I’m getting to that point in my adult life where things that happened ten years ago still feel like they only happened yesterday as opposed to the eternity that would’ve seemed when I was younger.
I was super obsessed with The Wheel of Time when I was a teenager. I’d chatted with a few people who were obsessed with it over ICQ, which is another line that’s dating me, and I eventually decided to pick up The Eye of the World near the end of my sophomore year of high school. I still remember going out to dinner with my family one Friday night when I was near the end and instead of going in shopping with them like I usually did after dinner I sat flipping pages in my mom’s car reading by the dome light and having my mind blown as I finished EotW.
Jordan’s work was a revelation at the time, and I think it’s one of those things where he was so revolutionary and there were so many people who moved to copy him after the fact that a lot of people look at Wheel of Time now and find themselves wondering what the big deal is.
It’s difficult to describe if you weren’t around the fantasy fandom at the time, but it was nothing short of amazing. Strong female characters. A subtle depiction of a world where women hold the power. I always found it endlessly amusing that people criticized Jordan’s female characters by calling them shrill, shrews, commanding, demanding, etc., and never once do the people leveling these criticisms seem to have the introspection to ask themselves if they would level the same accusations at their fantasy heroine if she was a hero.
Jordan had a well thought out world that felt lived in. He had an intricate magic system where, as he said in a signing I attended, the magic is their technology. He took familiar fantasy tropes and turned them on their ear.
Sure the books start to plod after about book five. Sure it felt like the plot was spiraling out of control with new characters being introduced when you wondered why he wasn’t just wrapping the damn thing up. Sure some of the descriptions can get a little samey after awhile, and he had an obsession with fashion that was a bit odd.
But I still think they’re wonderful books that are well worth exploring. They were groundbreaking in their day, but even these days they’re still a fun read. Maybe skip Crossroads of Twilight since nothing of consequence really happens in there.
I had an opportunity to meet Robert Jordan when he was on tour for Knife of Dreams. I’m so glad that I took the time to go to that book tour because it turns out that was the last one he’d ever go on. He had a presence that filled the room. A severity and an attitude that said he’d been on enough of these tours and dealt with enough fans trying to get him to reveal something that he wouldn’t put up with nonsense, but he still made the room laugh.
At the signing he said he was planning one more book in the series, and that he would make the publisher put it on the shelves even if it was a foot long. Which is a little ironic in hindsight considering they ended up splitting the book into three after his death. He did a rundown of how to pronounce the names, and deftly handled a Q&A where it was clear there was a room full of fans who were eager to get him to reveal something or catch him in a “gotcha” question.
When it came time for the signing itself everything was brief. We got up and I bought hardcover copies of Eye of the World and Knife of Dreams for him to sign. I could kick myself, because once we got to the signing I saw other people there who’d brought giant bags full of their hardcover collections for him to sign. I’d been building my own hardcover collection from used bookstores at the time and I had everything but The Dragon Reborn at that point. Of course the signing was a good three hours away from where I lived so there was no way I’d be able to go back and get those books, and while he was happy to sign more than two books the people who did that had to wait until the end of the night so it’s not like it would’ve been workable.
When I got up to his table he hit me with a look that I can only describe as piercing and severe, but not unfriendly. I stammered something out about how much I enjoyed his books, nothing profound from me meeting this particular hero, and then he signed the books and it was over.
One other thing we remarked on at that signing was how thin he looked. He was definitely more gaunt than he appeared in his book covers, but my friend and I who made the drive out there assumed he’d been losing weight for health reasons or something. It wasn’t until after the tour that his diagnosis was announced and the world realized how bad it was.
I still remember sitting in a computer lab in college browsing Digg, another tell as to what an old fart I am in Internet years, when I read the news that he’d passed. It was a surprise as they’d been optimistic and upbeat in all the updates, but not a huge surprise since his disease didn’t have a great prognosis.
The fantasy world lost one of its giants that day. I still wonder what might have been if he’d been allowed to finish the series. Brandon Sanderson did a wonderful job of tying up a series that had too many dangling threads to count, but fantasy fans are always going to be left wondering how Jordan’s take would’ve turned out.
To Robert Jordan. One of the greats. I’d say he was gone too soon, but it seems like he lived a long and fulfilling life and will be remembered fondly by fans and those who knew him, and can you really ask for more than that once you’ve shed this mortal coil?