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Sunday September 23, 2007

Wheel of time stops


James Oliver Rigney alias Robert Jordan 1948-2007
Fans of fantasy writer James Oliver Rigney, alias Robert Jordan, tended to have intensely personal yet ambivalent attitudes towards him. His death, however, all would agree, is a blow to anyone who loves the genre. 

I FIRST encountered Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series in 1997 when I came across a battered and weathered copy of the interestingly named The Eye of the World on the dusty shelves of a book rental store. On a whim, I decided to give the book ago. 

I finished that particular book within a day, and began making regular trips back to the store for the subsequent books in the series. Thus began my love-hate relationship with a fantasy series that would span more than 10 years. 

Even though the series constantly frustrated me with its slow pace, endless subplots and its seemingly needless complexity, the epic scope of the tale and the details Jordan wove into his novels made it one of the most complete – arguably overly so – fantasy worlds ever conceived, in my humble opinion. 

The first (above) and last (below) covers of Rigney’s Wheel of Time series. The final 12th book will be published posthumously in 2009.
Which is why it saddened me so to find out that the Wheel of Time had finally stopped turning for James Oliver Rigney, otherwise known as Robert Jordan. Rigney died on Sept 16, having finally lost his battle with cardiac amyloidosis, a blood disease that caused the walls of his heart to thicken. 

According to an AP report, Rigney was a graduate of The Citadel, South Carolina’s storied state military college in the United States. He worked as a nuclear engineer at a naval Shipyard before taking up writing full time in 1977. He served two tours of duty with the US Army in Vietnam during which time he was decorated several times, including winning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star. He is survived by his wife, Harriet McDougal Rigney. 

It took Rigney just three years after becoming a full time writer to publish a major, best-selling historical series, the Fallon trilogy. The Fallon Blood, The Fallon Pride and The Fallon Legacy were all published under the pen name Reagan O’Neal in 1980. 

He went on to author countless other books including several volumes on the Conan the Barbarian character created by American writer Robert E. Howard in 1932. It was the Wheel of Time series, however, that brought him to the attention of fantasy fans globally. Written under the pseudonym Robert Jordan (his pen names were all chosen from three lists of names using his real initials), this series has to be one of the most popular yet most frustratingly complex fantasy series of all time. 

An epic fantasy saga 18 years in the making (The Eye of The World was published in 1990), it currently spans a whopping 11 novels and a prequel; and more than 30 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide. 

While the story pretty much revolves around Rand al’Thor, Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara, who are destined to lead the battle against the Dark One and save the world, the scale of Rigney’s tale is so vast that it is almost impossible to describe the series in a few paragraphs. 

Unfortunately, the massive scale of his world is also what bogs the series down at times – with so many characters, made-up terms, historical references and subplots running through the novels, they can be incredibly frustrating to plough through at times. 

In fact, at one point I got so confused by all the names that that I even considered drawing a flowchart to indicate which character appeared when! 

Despite all the frustrations most fans have with the slow pace of the books, Rigney’s death was still lamented widely as he had been working on the 12th book with the working title A Memory of Light. This was supposed to have wrapped up the series once and for all. 

While we will never know now how Jordan intended the series to end, fans can nevertheless rest assured that the series will not be left hanging, as the author had already imparted significant plot details of the final novel to his family.  

Rest in peace, Robert Jordan. May the Wheel of Time never stop revolving around your legacy. 

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