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Sci Fi Weekly Interview March 29, 2004
The big Wheel of Time keeps on turning for fantasist Robert JordanEdit
By Michael McCarty and Mark McLaughlin
Robert Jordan is the author of The Wheel of Time, the number-one international best-selling epic fantasy series, with more than 11 million copies in print. "Robert Jordan" is actually a pseudonym—he is saving his real name for the dust jackets of any nongenre literature he may produce. His actual name is James Oliver Rigney Jr., and he lives with his wife, Harriet, in Charleston, S.C.
Robert Jordan was born in 1948 in Charleston. He is a graduate of The Citadel, the military college of South Carolina, and has a degree in physics. He served two tours in Vietnam with the U.S. Army; among his decorations are the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star with "V," and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry.
He has been writing since 1977 and has no intention of giving up. Like the Wheel of Time, he's going to keep on rolling on. The Wheel of Time books are published in America by TOR Books, a label of Tom Doherty Associates, and in the United Kingdom by Orbit Books. They have been translated into over 25 languages, including Hebrew, Japanese and Swedish. He has also written a western novel and a series based on Robert E. Howard's character Conan.
The Wheel of Time series includes 10 novels, starting with The Eye of the World, released in 1990. His latest in the series is a prequel called New Spring.
Why did you decide to write a prequel to the Wheel of Time series?
Robert Jordan: It's a complex answer, really. My publisher asked me to. I had written a novella for Robert Silverberg's anthology Legends. When I first sat down to do that novella, I had an idea of what I wanted to write and realized I could not put all the story I wanted to into that novella. It would be a novel.
I mentioned this to my publisher and he said, "Would you do the novel for me?" Since I had everything in my head already, it was a fairly quick write. It's not just an expansion of the novella. There's a lot more story and a lot of things that aren't hinted at in the novella.
Is it harder to write a prequel or a sequel?
Jordan: I think the prequel, because you don't want to give away things that come as a surprise in the main sequence books. You want to be a surprise as much as possible. That means you have constraints. I don't want to take away any of the "wow" factor from the main books for someone who has read New Spring first—that they can do, of course. You don't have to have read me before to read New Spring—which, I hasten to point out, is not the case of most of the books in the main sequence. With the main sequence books, you must start with The Eye of the World. If you picked up the latest book, Crossroads of Twilight—you'd read 10 pages, and if you hadn't read the books before, you'd quit from frustration. You wouldn't understand who these people are or what they are doing and why they are doing it.
What is your favorite Lord of the Rings movie?
Jordan: (Laughs.) If I have to pick a favorite, I will pick The Return of the King. We get the climax, the triumph of good and all of that.
Talking about movies, will any of your works be making the jump to the big or small screen? Any Wheel of Time movies or TV shows in development?
Jordan: There is no development going on right now, but we'll see what happens. There is some interest, some sniffing around.
How has the Wheel of Time series evolved from the first book, The Eye of the World, through subsequent novels?
Jordan: It's a continuous story. I've known the last scene in the last book for about 20 years. I know exactly where I'm heading. I try to make each book better than the preceding books. I don't think you can say that it has evolved so much as grown in the direction I wanted it to grow.
The Wheel of Time series includes 11 books now, 10 novels and one prequel. How many more novels do you plan to write for the series? Are they going to be sequels or prequels?
Jordan: The plan is to do a main sequence book—which I'm working on now, and then a prequel, then another main sequence book and another prequel.
I hope—please God, are you listening?—that there will be only two more books in the main sequence. When I started out, I thought it was only going to be five books. I thought I could fit the entire story into five books—maybe it might take six. When I finished The Eye of the World, I realized it was highly unlikely I'd be able to finish in six books.
The problem is, although I know what I want to happen, every time I begin a book, I realize I can't fit into that book everything I wanted to get into it. Some things had to be left over, to be taken up in another book.
I'm not at a point where I think I can see the end. For which I'm very grateful. It's been about 20 years of my life I've given to these books.
Do you have another series planned after the World of Time ends?
Jordan: Yes, a much more compacted sequence of books. Set in a different universe, different world, different rules and different cultures. Nothing that will be reminiscent of The Eye of the World or The Wheel of Time at all. With the sole exception that one of the cultures is somewhat like Seanchan in the way it is, but a much different world.
There is a lot of magic in your writing. Do you believe in any form of magic? How much of your spirituality is reflected in your writing?
Jordan: No, I don't believe in magic, which is one of the reasons I structured the One Power very much as if it is a science. In fact, the technology of the preceding age was based on the use of the One Power.
As for how much of my spirituality is in my books, I leave it to anybody else to say whether I have any spirituality. I think I'm pretty grounded.
How did you go from nuclear engineer to writing fantasy for a living?
Jordan: Are you familiar with Schroedinger's cat?
Yes—that's quantum physics. That's the theory that if a cat were put into a steel chamber with radiation, the feline would be alive and dead at the same time. This is because of the superposition of possible outcomes that exist simultaneously.
Jordan: Schroedinger's Cat is really a test in a way. If you can wrap your mind around Schroedinger's cat and accept that, than you are ready to take on quantum physics. I also think, if you can wrap your mind around Schroedinger's cat and accept that, than you are ready to write fantasy.
I don't keep up with the current literature in physics. Occasionally, at conventions, I have been put on panels with physicists—because I have a degree in physics. The only way I can hold my own with the physicists is if I forget talking about physics and start talking theology. If I talk theology, they seem to understand what I'm saying and we get along quite well.
What does the title New Spring mean?
Jordan: New Spring, on the one hand, is the birth of the child who will save humanity. But also, the simpler explanation: It is a time of year in the Borderlands, a time they refer as "New Spring." The snows have gone, but it is still so cold that anybody from further south would think, "This has to be the depth of winter."
Why do you think the World of Time series is so popular?
Jordan: I really don't know. If I knew, I would guarantee that I could do it again. I think it is all a good story. The characters seem to be real people. They behave in the way real people behave. Perhaps that has something to do with it.
You've written a number of Conan books. What aspects of the Conan adventures appealed to you, to get you involved in that project?
Jordan: What got me involved in the project was a lot of bullying by my wife and my publisher, my wife being my editor. And at that time, she was also the senior vice president and editorial director of TOR Books.
I agreed to do one Conan novel—very reluctantly. I had a lot of fun doing it. I searched around to find some time in his life that hadn't been written about and settled on writing about him between the ages of 18 and 22. It is an age range where most young people think they have everything figured out. You know how the world works now and you are ready to take it on, and you are absolutely wrong—you don't know how anything works.
I had such fun doing that book, in a weak moment I agreed to do five more and a novelization of the second Conan movie [Conan the Destroyer]. By the end, I was glad to get out, to go back to writing my own stuff.
What was your first fiction sale?
Jordan: A historical novel called The Fallon Blood, which was set during the American Revolution in the South. The state of South Carolina had approximately one quarter of all the battles, skirmishes and engagements fought in the American Revolution. It's been said of the colonies as a whole, a quarter of the people supported the revolution, a quarter of the people opposed it and the rest wished it would go away. That wasn't the case in the Carolinas and Georgia, where there was quite a bloody civil war fought between partisans for the two sides.
You have loads of fans—do any of them get a little carried away or become over-zealous sometimes?
Jordan: Occasionally. But I haven't had anybody give me a freeze-dried cat or slit a wrist and ask me to autograph my book in blood. Both of those things happened to Clive Barker. Occasionally someone will get a little over-enthusiastic, but by and large fans are very nice people and very well behaved.
Jordan: I hope everybody enjoys my book New Spring.