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Borders Interview November 1998
The Path of Daggers is Book Eight in the highly anticipated return of Robert Jordan's epic fantasy series Wheel of Time™. Mr. Jordan took a few moments to speak of the latest addition in this exclusive interview.
The Chicago Sun-Times calls your work "A fantasy tale seldom equaled and still more seldom surpassed in English." This is rather high praise! What does fantasy mean to you? Why did you decide to write epic fantasy?
Robert Jordan: It is certainly high praise—embarrassingly high! I chose fantasy in large part because of its flexibility. It is possible to talk about right and wrong, good and evil, with a straight face in fantasy, and while one of the themes of the books is the difficulty of telling right from wrong at times, these things are important to me. There are always shades of gray in places and slippery points—simple answers are so often simply wrong—but in so much "mainstream" fiction, there isn't anything except gray areas and slippery points, and there isn't ten cents worth of moral difference between "the good guys" and "the bad guys." If, indeed, the whole point in those books isn't that there is no difference. Besides, while I read fairly widely, fantasy has been in there since the beginning. My older brother used to read to me when I was very small, and among my earliest memories are listening to him read Beowulf and Paradise Lost. I suppose some of it "took."
As a man who served tours of duty in Vietnam, how does your epic reflect your own personal experience with war, and how difficult is this for you to write about?
RJ: It really doesn't reflect any of my own experiences, except that I know what it is like to have someone trying to kill you. I don't try to write about Vietnam; I thought I would, once, but now I don't believe I could make myself. But I know the confusion, uncertainty, and outright ignorance of anything you can't see that exists once the fighting starts; I don't think war will ever become sufficiently high-tech to completely dispel "the fog of war." So I can put these sensations into my writing.
What do you hope readers will gain from reading your novels?
RJ: I do hope that people will occasionally think about "the right thing to do," about right behavior and wrong, after reading one of my books. I certainly don't try to tell them what right behavior is, only to make them think and consider. But mainly, I just want to tell a story. In this case about ordinary people pushed into extraordinary events and forced to grow and change whether they want to or not, sometimes in ways they never expected and certainly wouldn't have picked out given a choice. I am a storyteller, after all, and the job of a storyteller is to entertain. Anything else is icing on the cake.
It has been said that the elaborate and rich descriptions you use to create your worlds and characters bring your stories to life. Where do your descriptions come from? Are any of your characters based on real people?
RJ: The descriptions come from years of reading history, sociology, cultural anthropology, almost everything I could get my hands on in any and every subject that caught my eye. Including religion and mythology, of course—necessities for a fantasy writer, though I went at them first simply because I wanted to. It all tumbles together in my head, and out comes what I write. I don't try to copy cultures or times, only to make cultures that are believable. I can't explain it any better than that. I don't base characters on real people. With one exception, at least. Every major female character and some of the minor have at least a touch of my wife, Harriet. I won't tell her which bits in which women, though. After all, what if she didn't like it? She knows where I sleep.
What does your fan mail tell you of the chords you've struck to create such a devoted following?
RJ: In large part, that I've created characters people believe in. One fairly common comment is that the reader knows somebody just like Mat or Nynaeve or whoever, or that they feel they could meet them around the next corner. Character is very important to me; story flows from character. Also, I suspect that the strong interweaving of mythologies from a number of cultures plays a part, too. Modern society—at least in the West—pretends that we have outgrown the need for myth and legend, but people seem to hunger for them. Where we have forgotten our myths we create new ones, although today we don't realize what we are doing. But then, maybe people never did truly realize what they were doing in making myth; perhaps it has always been an unconscious act. The cultural trappings surrounding myth and legend vary widely by country, but if they are stripped to the bare core you find among them the same stories repeated over and over around the world. However different their cultures, customs, and mores, people share many of the same needs, hopes, and fears. Anyway, I believe there is a strong echo of myth and legend in my writing, and I think people feel that.
The Path of Daggers is Book Eight in the Wheel of Time™ series. Do you know how many more books there will be? Has that number changed since you started writing Wheel of Time? Do you have plans for a new or different type of series?
RJ: I believe—believe!—there will be three more books. I am trying to finish up as soon as possible, but I cannot see how to do it in fewer than three more books. That isn't a guarantee, mind!
In the beginning, I thought that there would be three or perhaps four books total, but it might go to five, or even six, though I really didn't believe it would take that long. It wasn't a matter of the story growing or expanding, but rather that I miscalculated—brother, did I!—how long it would take to get from the beginning to the end. I've known the last scene of the last book literally from the beginning. That was the first scene that occurred to me. Had I written it out ten years ago, and then did so again today, the wording might be different, but not what happens. It has just taken me longer to get there than I thought.
I do have another series perking around in the back of my head already. Books generally have a long gestation period with me, so this is not at all too early. There isn't a word on paper yet, of course. It will be different in that it will be set in a different world with different cultures, different rules, a different cosmology. Nobody likes to redo what he's already done.
Interview with Robert Jordan, copyright ©1998 Waldenbooks, Inc. All rights reserved.