I am ashamed that, as a self-proclaimed fantasy fiction fan, and a writer of the same, I came so late to The Wheel of Time series. I picked up The Eye of the World about three years ago, anxious to learn whatever I could about what made the series so successful and what had driven so many people to obsess over the world Robert Jordan had created. Perhaps, I thought in my simplistic scribbler’s mind, I can find some sort of magic bullet that will help me achieve a similar level of success.
What I found, however, was far more valuable than any shortcut. Beyond anything I learned as a writer from the adventures of Rand al’Thor and his friends, I was captivated by Jordan’s mastery of the genre, his striking detail and his brilliant characterization. Rather than taking notes on the structure of the story or his use of modern themes, I was swept away by the sheer force of Jordan’s storytelling. Instead of dissecting the tale to see how its parts fit together, I sat in wonder at the whole, too awestruck by the narrative machine to even consider how it worked.
I have read one book in each of the last three years and am still planning to pick up the fourth from my local library as soon as I’m ready to take it on. A great deal of fantasy fiction is like fast food–it satisfies for the short term, but leaves the consumer longing for something more, something substantial. In The Wheel of Time, each book is a feast of the imagination, a seven-course meal of unrivaled description and sublime dialogue that leaves the reader full and sated. Each turn of the wheel, like any exquisite culinary masterpiece, requires time for digestion, which explains why I have only read one per year. It is possible to be overwhelmed by Jordan’s prose and creativity, to almost be intimidated by the ferocity of his voice. Still, regardless of the time in between turns for the individual reader, the story’s resonance is such that at any point I could pick up the next volume and know exactly where I left off.
Ranking the most influential fantasy authors of all time would produce very few names, if any, before Robert Jordan. Along with Tolkien, Lewis, and, now to some degree, Rowling, he helped define, not the boundaries that ruled fantasy fiction, but the idea that no boundaries existed, that all was possible. Drawing from his life experiences and his expansive personal knowledge, Jordan created a world that the reader experiences with all the senses, a setting so real that reality itself disperses in its wake. One does not simply read Jordan’s work, one lives it.
The true tragedy of Robert Jordan’s passing comes not from the loss his devoted fans will feel, but from his being robbed of the opportunity to complete his life’s work, to bring the Wheel through its final turn. According to the sources I have seen in the media, the last book in the series, tentatively titled A Memory of Light, will be completed by his family and published. While this will bring grateful closure to the many fans of the series, the moment will be bittersweet as Mr. Jordan will not be here to experience it with us or to hear our praise.
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. This passage began the series that so many of us have come to love. Again, the Wheel has turned and an Age has passed with the death of Robert Jordan. To fantasy fiction, to our hearts and minds, he is a legend, but now that legend has become memory.
Mr. Jordan, you are missed.