Loved and hated by fans … author Robert Jordan “My job is not to screw it up” … author Brandon Sanderson
Nine hundred pages. It’s not enough. Not nearly. It’s an odd thought. To approach a tome of such size with a sense of trepidation. Not borne from some child-like belief that it will be impossible to read such a behemoth, but from the knowledge that these are the final words in a story, a relationship, that has lasted more than half my life and which cannot, will not, ever be enough.
The book is A Memory of Light and these are the final pages in the Wheel of Time series.
Over the coming weeks, you can expect to see grown men and women carrying around a fantasy novel. They should be easy to spot. It is hard to conceal a gleaming white book the size of a family tissue box. It is even harder to hide the glow of joy and excitement that an unexpected reunion with your past heroes inspires.
Robert Jordan wrote many fantasy novels, under several pen names, yet it was the release of The Eye of the World in 1990 that began this series and elevated him to superstar status. Since then, he has been loved by millions for the world he created. He has also been hated, the hatred only the most passionate fans can summon. Hated for the sometimes two-year wait between novels. Hated for delivering one massive long-anticipated instalment that only advanced the story 24 hours. Hated for releasing a prequel before finishing the series. In short, hated for never being able to quench an insatiable demand for more information about this world we so loved. We wanted more about Rand, Mat and Perrin. About Nynaeve, Egwene and Moiraine, About Aes Sedai, false dragons and the Chosen. About ogier, trollocs and the Aiel. Jordan’s universe was so richly populated, so gloriously engaging and we as fans always wanted more.
Then he died.
When Jordan died in 2007, with 11 books published and no end in sight to the saga, his fans grieved the passing of an icon, but also the presumed loss of any chance at closure. Jordan had spoken publicly of his desire that on his death his notes be destroyed, his hard drive be formatted, his fantasy world – and its conclusion – be lost for eternity.
Thankfully, he changed his mind, or, as his wife believes, never really meant in the first place to abandon the fans he loved.
Instead, Jordan left more than 3 million words of notes, two full-time researchers and his wife, Harriet – his primary editor – who took up the search for an author to complete the quest.
That author was Brandon Sanderson, a writer in his own right, but long before that a fan of Jordan and The Wheel of Time. He was commissioned, nay ordained, to finish the series with what was originally to be one book, but became three.
Sanderson almost didn’t take on the role. Not for lack of interest; rather, because he was too much of a fan. ”That was actually a consideration in this for me,” he says. ”I would not be able to read a Wheel of Time book when everyone else got to.
”I balanced it with the knowledge that I got to go and read the ending he wrote. Because he did write the last chapter of the series himself before he passed away.
”I got to read that basically before anyone else except for his wife and his assistants. Getting to read it a few years early was a pretty big advantage.”
One other consideration almost held Sanderson back.
”I sat there thinking, ‘I’m setting myself up to fail. No matter how good a job I do, it’s not going to be Robert Jordan’s book. Why am I saying yes?”’
Once more, his passion as a fan won out. ”The thing that made the distinction for me was when I realised if I said no and someone messed it up, I would be responsible. If I wanted to make sure that a fan took control of The Wheel of Time and did it in a way that a fan would, then I needed to do it myself.
”My job is not to save The Wheel of Time, to fix The Wheel of Time, or anything like that. My job is not to screw it up.”
So, as the wheel comes full circle, as millions of Wheel of Time fans approach that final chapter written by Jordan, having farewelled many beloved characters and witnessed a Last Battle that exceeds expectations, and having experienced the joy, and shock, of recognising how many events were so expertly yet obliquely foreshadowed 14 novels, 23 years and 4 million words ago, there is a bitter-sweet realisation that it is too soon. This immensely satisfying conclusion is still not enough.
Perhaps it’s time to start rereading from book one.
A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson is published by Orbit, $35.
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.