After Book 11, Knife of Dreams, it seemed certain that Robert Jordan was back on track and finally ready to deliver the ending to the series that many of us had been waiting years and years for. Anticipation was high, he now had a blog going on dragonmount.com and fans had much more access to his activity than ever before. Jordan had finally entered the internet age, he was talking about projects after The Wheel of Time, possible prequels and "outrigger" novels, the New Spring comics had started, there was talk of a possible movie production... lots of good things going on.
I don't think anyone expected what happened next.
Before you continue:
- This is part 12 of my The Wheel of Time retrospective
- See this blog post for an overview of the retrospective
- These blogs are most effective with your own re-read of the series
- Warning: CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE ENTIRE SERIES
The Last Book, No Matter What!
Throughout Jordan's book tour for Knife of Dreams, he kept telling everyone that the next book would be called A Memory of Light and that it would be the last book no matter what, even if it was so long it had to be trundled out on a cart and Tor had to "invent a new way of publishing." I was very excited about this.
At first, I really did believe Jordan. The last couple of novels had moved a lot of pieces into position and it seemed there were only a few major plotlines that needed to be resolved before Tarmon Gai'don. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to doubt that it would happen. This is the same author who spent three novels describing a few things in mind-numbing detail, dragging out minor plotlines and focusing on a plethora of throwaway characters. Now he's going to cram a number of Big Important Things into a single final volume? Would he really be able to do so?
Just think about what still needed to happen at this point:
- Mat going to the Tower of Ghenjei to rescue Moiraine
- Mat developing the Dragons and other modern weapons
- Seanchan attacking the White Tower, Egwene unifying the Aes Sedai
- Finishing off the Black Ajah
- Rand making peace / submitting to the Seanchan, uniting enough lands / people to march to Tarmon Gai'don
- Perrin's reconciliation with his wolf side and accepting leadership
- Everything about the Black Tower
These are events we all knew were going to happen in some form or fashion, based on prophecies, Min's viewings, Dreams/Foretelling, all the good stuff that serves as fodder for countless theories. And on top of those, we still had Tarmon Gai'don and some aftermath to go through. It did not seem possible to me. But I had stuck with Jordan this far. Even though he said many times that some plotlines would be left unresolved at the end—there probably wouldn't be a fairytale ending—I trusted that he'd resolve it sufficiently enough when all was said and done.
So I hunkered down to wait, continuing my life in Reston, VA, expecting it to take him another 2-3 years at the minimum. I met my future wife through the local community theater during this time. I got rather involved in gaming after many years away from the hobby. Lots of things changed for me, but The Wheel of Time would always be there, Robert Jordan and the series was one of the few constants for me throughout the years. Or so I thought.
James Oliver Rigney, Jr.
If somehow you were not already aware, Robert Jordan's real name was James Oliver Rigney, Jr. I followed his blog regularly and kept up with WoT news, so I heard about Rigney's diagnosis of cardiac amyloidosis in early 2006 not long after it was announced. I had never heard of this disease, so I did a little research. Learning that it was a rare disease and that median life expectancy was only a couple of years, I became very worried. Would the worst happen? Could Rigney possibly die before finishing the series, something my friends and I used to offhandedly joke about a decade ago? It wasn't so funny now.
Having had a couple of family members die of cancer, I personally know how much of a struggle something like that can be, how much it takes out of someone and how quickly the end can come. Knowing that treatment for amyloidosis involves chemotherapy, I had an idea of what Rigney was in for. But it seemed that if anyone could beat the odds, it would be him. He was so positive in every posting, told everyone he had many books to write, had promised his wife (and editor), Harriet, to be around for their 50th anniversary, etc.
I kept him in my thoughts and hoped that he would pull through. Of course I was worried about the last book. Anyone who had been reading the series for 15+ years at that point thought about it. Would he be able to finish the book in time? What if he didn't? Would we even get an ending after all these years? Would he refuse to let someone else finish the series?
There were occasional updates on his blog and he was still working on the book, but we also learned that he was getting sicker and that he had started to dictate the rest of the story to his family, even telling them the complete ending he had had in his head all these years (and which no one else knew). Just in case the worst happens, he said. I wasn't sure what to make of it all, but I didn't expect him to actually die. Not being there, we had no idea how sick we really was.
The Dragon is Gone
And then on September 16th, 2007, he died. His cousin, Wilson, announced it via Rigney's blog.
I was shocked. I couldn't believe he had actually died. I pretty much spent the day trawling the internet, looking for more info, updates and reactions. My mother even texted me about it, having seen the headline. It was one of those days where you don't get any work done, unable to focus on anything.
I'll just say that like many others, The Wheel of Time has had a profound effect on my life. I wouldn't be writing these blogs if I wasn't passionate about the work. Robert Jordan brought a whole new meaning to the term "epic fantasy," and his contribution to literature will never be forgotten.