I remember the day I was introduced to Robert Jordan as if it were yesterday. Bright yellow light flooded the master bedroom where three of the Brigadier’s grandchildren and I sat talking. The three older ones were telling me about this fantastic book they’d all just finished reading.”I’ll let you borrow it,” R said, while M and K nodded their heads vigorously.
“Okay,” I said a bit dubiously. I wasn’t too sure about this story set in an alternate world full of magic and gender conflict but when it came to books, there wasn’t a person I trusted more than R.
“It’s part of a trilogy,” she confided. “We’re on the lookout for the other parts. If you like this one, we’ll let you know if we find the rest.”
The book turned out to be a proper doorstopper called The Eye of the World and it was most emphatically not part of a trilogy. It was the first of what would eventually become a 12 part series collectively known as The Wheel of Time. It was written by a man named Robert Jordan. And I didn’t know it back then, when I tentatively took hold of the mammoth paperback, but he was going to gift me some of the happiest hours of my life.
When news broke early this week that author Robert Jordan had finally succumbed to amyloidosis, a rare blood condition for which there is no cure, I thought it was just another instance of rumor going into overdrive. After all, fantasy fiction circles have long been abuzz with news of his imminent demise – something that both he and his family periodically refuted over at his blog, Dragonmount, while posting updates on his continuing struggle.
And then came the confirmation from Dragonmount itself. Robert Jordan was dead at the age of 58.
In the real world RJ, as his fans called him, was James Oliver Rigney, a Vietnam War vet who was once nicknamed “Ganesha” because, he said, his fellow soldiers thought he was so good at removing obstacles. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bronze Star for his service. His wife, Harriet McDougal, was also his editor and he dedicated all his books to her. They have a son together. He was a nuclear engineer with a degree from the Citadel who began writing in the 1970s. He lived in Charleston and loved it. He was a churchgoing man until his illness made it virtually impossible for him to sit through service – and so the Rigney family received communion at home.
At the time of his death due to complications arising of cardiomyopathy, he was looking at a severely restricted lifespan and was determined to fight it. The Wheel of Time was coming to an end – not the end, but an end as he would say – with A Memory of Light, originally scheduled to come out sometime next year. He had plans to write a couple more prequels along the lines of New Spring and perhaps an epilogue (postquel?) exploring Mat and Tuon’s life together. Exciting news for WoTfanatics such as myself.
He also wanted to write another series, one that he said he’d been planning meticulously for many years but couldn’t begin until he had finished the mammoth undertaking that was the Wheel of Time.
Such are the plans of mice and men.
I had an opportunity to meet him once. He had come for a book signing at the Barnes and Noble right across the square from my apartment. I debated all day as to whether or not I should go. On the one hand, this was Robert Jordan! I was bubbling over with questions I wanted to ask him and not all of them were related to his work. On the other hand, this was Robert Jordan, the man responsible for my favorite fantasy series. What if meeting him face to face changed something fundamental in our relationship?
Because, believe me, we had a relationship.
It doesn’t matter that he never knew that I existed. It doesn’t matter that I finally decided against walking those few steps to the bookstore and meeting him face to face (I thought I’d have time in the future, once the series was over. One of the few decisions I’ll always regret). By writing those books, RJ will always be a part of my life.
This has its uncomfortable moments too. Like when I first found out that RJ was suffering from a deadly disease, I was shocked to find that my first thought was: What about the books?
In a way it’s a tribute to his genius. I don’t think I’m generally that selfish a person – God, I hope not – but that’s how invested I feel in his work. And I’d like to think that RJ recognized that. According to what he and his family have written over the past few months at Dragonmount, his mortality and the possibility of an unfinished masterpiece were weighing heavily enough on his mind for him to make copious amounts of notes and dictations… just in case.
Whether or not A Memory of Light ever comes out, whether or not it meets the impossible expectations of every fan of his work, including myself, I will always remember that at the height of his illness, he thought enough of his fans to continue his work.