EUOLogy: Goodbye Mr. Jordan
Cross posted from the EUOLogy section of my website:
My career, like many young fantasy authors, has been deeply influenced by Robert Jordan, and I find his passing a to be a tragedy for the entire community.
I still remember the first time I saw EYE OF THE WORLD on bookshelves. I was at my local comic store, which was the place where I bought my fantasy books. I went to buy the next book in the Guardians of the Flame series, and while browsing the new paperback shelf, I saw this HUGE fantasy novel there.
It was so big that it scared me, and I didn’t buy it. (This is particularly ironic for me, who now regularly publishes books of 250,000 words or so.) Still, I can almost FEEL that moment, standing and holding the book in my hands, listening to someone play an antiquated upright of Cadash in the background.
EYE had such a beautiful Darryl Sweet cover. I’m often down on him as an artist, but with EYE OF THE WORLD, I remember why he became one of the powerhouses he is now. I think, even still, the cover of EYE is the best he’s ever done—one of the best in fantasy. I remember opening the cover and seeing the second illustration on the inside flap, and wondering if it was a rejected cover design.
Either way, I loved the cover. The feel of the troop marching along, Lan and Moiraine proud and face forward. . . . The cover screamed epic.
I bought the book a few weeks later, and loved it. I was happy when, several years later, the next book came out in hardback. I couldn’t afford it then, but I could afford DRAGON REBORN when it was in hardcover, and so I bought it. That has been my tradition ever since—I buy them, even if I haven’t read the last two, as I wait for the series to finish.
I still think EYE is one of the greatest fantasy books ever written. It signifies an era, the culmination of the epic quest genre which had been brewing since Tolkien initiated it in the 60’s. The Wheel of Time dominated my reading during the 90’s, influencing heavily my first few attempts at my own fantasy novels. I think it did that to pretty much all of us; even many of the most literarily snobbish of fantasy readers were youths when I was, and read EYE OF THE WORLD when I did.
Eventually, I found myself reacting AGAINST Wheel of Time in my writing. Not because I disliked Jordan, but because I felt he’d captured the epic quest story so well that I wanted to explore new grounds. As his books chronicled sweeping scenes of motion set behind characters traveling all across his world, I started to set mine in single cities. As his stories focused on peasants who became kings, I began to tell stories about kings who became peasants. One of them those was ELANTRIS.
I only saw Robert Jordan one time. By then, I had begun attending the conventions. You could say I’d become a journeyman writer; I’d developed my style, and was now looking to learn about the business. At World Fantasy one year (I think it was Montreal), I saw a man in a hat and beard walk by in the hotel hallway outside a convention room. He was alone, yet distinguished, as he walked with his cane. I’d never seen him sit on panels, yet I felt that I should know who he was. I turned to the person beside me and asked.
“That?” they said as the figure hobbled around the corner. “That was James Oliver Rigney, Jr.”
“Uh . . . okay.”
“Robert Jordan,” they said. “That was Robert Jordan.”
Eventually, I got an offer on one of my books from an editor whom I’d met at that same World Fantasy convention. My agent suggested that we play the field, using that offer as bait to hook a larger deal at another publisher. But, this offer had come from Tor. Robert Jordan’s publisher. Some fifteen years after I’d picked up that first printing copy of EYE OF THE WORLD, I still felt the influence of Jordan. Tor was his publisher. That MEANT fantasy to me. It’s where I wanted to be.
I took the deal.
Now, he’s gone. I’m sure many see this as an opportunity, not a tragedy. Who is the heir apparent? I wonder how many authors emailed their editors Monday, asking if someone was needed to finish the EYE OF THE WORLD series. Even if none of them are chosen for that task, there will be a feeling that Tor needs to push somebody to fill the hole in their line-up.
And yet, I sit here thinking that something has CHANGED. Something is missing. Some hated you, Mr. Jordan, claiming you represented all that is terrible about popular fantasy. Others revered you as the only one who got it RIGHT.
Personally, I simply feel indebted to you. You showed me what it was to have vision and scope in a fantasy series—you showed me what could be done. I still believe that without your success, many younger authors like myself would never have had a chance at publishing their dreams.
You go quietly, but leave us trembling.