And the Dragon comes in the night

Monday, 17 September 2007 — 10:47pm | Literature

Robert Jordan has died. He leaves behind the unfinished manuscript of the twelfth and final volume of The Wheel of Time, tentatively, poignantly and now permanently entitled A Memory of Light. I am reminded of the blurb about the author at the end of almost all of his books: “He has been writing since 1977 and intends to continue until they nail shut his coffin.” I guess he kept his promise after all.

As my longtime readers are probably aware, among authors of popular fiction, Jordan finishes second only to Dan Brown when I’m in an irritable mood and I want to pick on somebody’s bad writing. But ever since I found out he was racing against a rare terminal illness, I’d been secretly rooting for him to finish his life’s work. The fans who were tenacious enough to stick with him deserved at least that much. And while I never plan on revisiting the series again—life is, demonstrably, much too short—I really wanted to know who killed Asmodean.

And we’ll probably find out. Jordan kept extensive notes, and as a contingency, recounted his grand design to those closest to him. Considering that his wife was his editor (though to be perfectly frank, I’m not sure about the extent of that editing), the chances of the book being completed and released in some form are good. At any rate, discovering what happens isn’t going to be an issue, nor is the prospect of getting the major questions answered.

I’m not the one to speak, as I’m not by any means a fan of the series, but I think that in such a position I would prefer that the book be released unfinished and with notes, instead of (or in addition to) being half ghostwritten. First of all, I can’t imagine that anybody in his right mind actually reads The Wheel of Time for the prose: the appeal of the series, even when the activity of reading it descended from “guilty pleasure” to “irrational personal obligation,” was always to find out what happened next, who did what, how certain prophecies would come to fruition, and what kind of sucker punches the author had in store. One can’t help but stand in awe of Jordan’s sheer breadth of imagination, but in terms of delivery, I think I’d almost prefer the notes.

People who take Jordan seriously will probably disagree. Reading the notes doesn’t offer the same kind of satisfaction or emotional resonance as seeing everything delivered in plot-order via a methodical sequence of pull-back-to-reveals, and in the specific case of The Wheel of Time, the book might even benefit from being in someone else’s hands. The weak link in the stories was always Jordan’s prose, particularly his control of pacing, and how he never appeared to grasp the idea that what to leave out of a story is often just as important a decision as what to put in it.

To be fair, he wasn’t bad at writing climaxes. The experience of reading a Robert Jordan novel, for me, went like this: he’d lead me along for the first ten pages while I was still happily drugged by the universal euphoria of starting a book, I’d put up with seven hundred pages of ostensibly magical women turning their noses up at each other’s dresses in the heat of political rebellion, and as his part of the bargain, he would provide an epic boss battle against the Forsaken-of-the-Month and cap it all off with an epilogue that asked a whole new set of questions and promised wonders to come.

In fact, I think I gave up after seven volumes because in the eighth, I couldn’t even make it past the first ten pages of the seventy-to-eighty-page prologue without having to stop and look up some of the names in the back; and all the while, the doe-eyed Western Canon shook its head at me disapprovingly from atop the shelves on high, and asked me if this was honestly the most productive use of my finite and valuable time.

Curious, that. Since I stopped reading Robert Jordan, I haven’t found any comparably effective method of tempering my rampant insomnia. I remember cracking open one of his books on a city bus once: I was out cold in five minutes flat, and I missed my stop.

But I’ll stop being facetious for a minute and say this: I know what it’s like to lose a cherished author too soon (Douglas Adams), and I know what it’s like to genuinely fear for an author’s health and safety in hope that he or she will finish a series around which you’ve planned your life (J.K. Rowling), so I offer my deepest sympathies to those who cared about not only the continuing story of Rand and company, but its author as a dedicated human being.

As for the late Mr. James Oliver Rigney himself, much as I have criticized his writing for the direction in literature it represents, I have the most genuine respect for a man who can tell himself, “I’m going to sit down and be a writer, goddamnit,” and churn out word after uninhibited word to his very last breath. While it’s true that his writing suffered from a lack of self-control, I think the greater challenge is and always will remain the task of confronting the inhibition or procrastination that discourages you from putting pen to paper in the first place. The individual we knew as Robert Jordan wrote with the furious purpose of a runaway locomotive and never looked back. I envy that, I really do.

At risk of being insensitive, though: you do have to wonder if taking some time off the main series to write that New Spring prequel was absolutely necessary.


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One rejoinder to “And the Dragon comes in the night”

  1. JiaLi

    i was searchin on youtube for two songs, Alice in wonderland and When sunny gets blue.. and i found YOU playin em!! how wonderful!! i wanna screaaaaaam!! u played so well, i feel.. shame on myself.. how did you do that??!?!? any piece of advice for me??
    lookin forward to hearing frm u!!

    Monday, 17 September 2007 at 11:22pm

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