Robert Jordan

September 17th, 2007

News has spread quickly that James Rigney, aka Robert Jordan, best known as author of the massively successful The Wheel of Time series, has passed away after a struggle with a rare and difficult disease.

I am so very sorry to hear of his death.

I never met him, so his death does not touch me on a personal level in terms of friendship. But I do mark certain kinships with him:

He was a writer.

He wrote, among other things, fat fantasy novels (a term I use with affection, not disdain) published as installments in a long series. Indeed, one might argue that his monumental success with The Eye of the World and the volumes that followed made my career (and that of others) possible, much as – to use that well-worn phrase – a rising tide lifts all boats. Some years ago there was even a notable New York Times Book Review article by Edward Rothstein calling him the American Tolkien comparing his work to Tolkien’s, in terms both of his influence on the market and his use of specifically American tropes and sensibilities in his writing.

Update: The article can be found here.

I read part (not all) of the first novel, and while I did not go on to read any more of the series, my gut instinct from reading what I did of his work was that it mattered deeply to him, as the work of writers does matter so very deeply to all of us. It’s part of us. It’s inseparable from us, from who we are, from how we live in the world.

Obviously it is a truism that we none of us know how long we have. And while some live a long life and come to its end feeling that they’ve accomplished everything they’ve wished for and are content with how things stand, many more go out with unfinished business or goals left unmet.

So I am saddened to hear of his passing. I am sorry about the bereavement of his loved ones and friends. I am sad that so many readers who got such pleasure from his work will not be able to follow the tale to the conclusion that only he could have written (I am sure that the story will be completed as faithfully as possible by another hand, but it can’t be the same).

But I tell you. As a fellow writer, it really hurts to know that this man who surely invested so much of himself, his passion, his skills, and his life into this series did not get to finish it, as he must have wished to do.

RIP, Robert Jordan, the writer, and James Rigney, the man

8 Responses to “Robert Jordan”

  1. Kate Elliotton 17 Sep 2007 at 10:06 pm

    In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in the name of James Rigney to:

    Mayo Clinic Department of Hematology — Amyloidosis research

    200 First Street SW, Rochester, MN 55905.

  2. Carol Bergon 17 Sep 2007 at 11:49 pm

    Beautifully said. Thanks.

  3. Madeleine Robinson 18 Sep 2007 at 12:43 am

    Thanks, Kate.

  4. Elio M. García, Jr.on 18 Sep 2007 at 3:09 am

    I’m one of those people who was an avid reader of the series, until a certain point, and I’m rather sorry that the story he told in his later volumes was not a story I could enjoy. His first books were eye-opening to me (at that point in time, I’d only read one epic fantasy, LotR), and had a breadth and ambition of scope that was palpable. Jordan had a considerable talent.

    As a brief aside, the NY Times reference to “American Tolkien” is incorrect. TIME magazine’s Lev Grossman named George R. R. Martin that, and a quick search of the Times archive shows they’re referencing Grossman’s remark. That said, had someone named Jordan the “American Tolkien” (especially some years ago), I would have agreed with the idea behind it.

  5. Kate Elliotton 18 Sep 2007 at 3:22 am

    Yes, I recall the George RR Martin article now, and you’re right about that particular phrase – so I changed it. Thanks for the heads-up.

    But there was an article rather more years ago that made a similar point about Robert Jordan and WoT while comparing WoT to LotR if not in substance then in influence. I thought for sure it was the NYTimes. Perhaps it appeared elsewhere.

    Constance, if you read this, do you have any memory of it? Anyone else?

  6. Kate Elliotton 18 Sep 2007 at 3:39 am

    Found it and linked it. Elio – thanks again. Your ‘aside’ got me to go look, as I should have done to begin with. It’s a good essay.

  7. Laurieon 23 Sep 2007 at 12:22 am

    This is a sad loss. I enjoyed his world building quite a bit, personally. The story kind of got lost in it, now and then, because I do think he loved that world a lot. The latest book was a lot tighter than its recent predecessors, and I was hoping for a really good final volume. I know he was, too.

    As to who will end his story, I hope they do it justice though you are right and it won’t be the same. I also hope they don’t try to squeeze the content for every last bit of revenue. I really would like to think that we won’t see umpteen volumes of ‘based on’ or ‘expanded universe’ like all that mediocre-at-best Dune work that’s floating around. We’ve got everything except ‘Unwed Mothers of Dune’ at this point, and I’m sure that’s forthcoming, eventually.

  8. Leon Staufferon 23 Sep 2007 at 6:10 am

    Laurie, you’re absolutely right about his world building overwhelming the story. I never quite thought of it that way, but that describes exactly what happened and why I both loved and hated his work at the same time. The usual way for me to end a WoT book (and friends have told me I’m not alone in this) was to vow to not read another one. But eventually, I just HAD to know what he’d throw into the mix in the latest book.