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Sense of Wonder October/November 1994
(from the October/November 1994 issue of Sense of Wonder, a B. Dalton publication)
SW: It's an exciting fall for fans of Robert Jordan's phenomenal series The Wheel of Time. Book Five: The Fires of heaven, which was a New York Times best-seller, finally came out in paperback this September, and the long-awaited sixth book, Lord of Chaos will be out in hardcover this October. Since this series has captured the imagination of so many readers, I asked Robert Jordan to talk to Sense of Wonder readers about the inspiration behind his remarkable Wheel of Time series.
RJ: The first inspiration was the thought of what it was really like to be tapped as the savior of mankind. In a lot of books that have somebody who is the "chosen one" if you will, it seems that the world quickly divides into allies who are strongly behind the "chosen one" and the evil guys. It seemed to me that if somebody is chosen to be the savior, there is going to be a good bit of resistance, both "Let this cup pass from me," and a lot of people who aren't going to be that happy to have a savior show up, even if they are on his side nominally. That established, I began to think about the world.
What I'm trying to do here is rather complex. The usual thing is to either tell a sweeping story that is, in effect, the history of a nation or a people, or to tell a tighter story that is very much inside the heads of individuals themselves. I am trying to do the stories of individual people, a large number of them, at the same time as I tell the story of a world. I want to give readers an entire picture of this world-not just its current history and situation, but its past as well. That's hard to do at the same time we're so deeply involved with individual characters. The complexity of that combination is one of the reasons the darn thing has gone on as long as it has.
There are a number of themes that run through the series. There's the good old basic struggle between good and evil, with an emphasis on the difficulty in recognizing what is god and what is evil. There's also the difficulty in deciding how far you can go in fighting evil. I like to think of it as a scale. At one end you hold purely to your own ideals no matter what the cost, with the result that possibly evil wins. At the other end, you do anything and everything to win, with the result that maybe it doesn't make much difference whether you've won or evil has won. There has to be some sort of balance found in the middle, and it's very difficult to find.
Another recurring theme is lack of information, and the mutability of information. No one knows everything. Everyone has to operate on incomplete knowledge, and quite often they know they are operating on incomplete knowledge, but they still have to make decisions. The reader quite often knows that the reason why a character is doing something is totally erroneous, but it's still the best information that the character in the book has. I like to explore the changeability of knowledge, the way that, in the beginning, charactes see things in one way, and as they grow and learn more, we and they find out that what they knew as the truth wasn't necessarily the whole truth. Sometimes it's hardly the truth at all. When Rand and the rest first met Moiraine, they saw her as an Aes Sedai, and they thought of her as being practically omnipotent. It's only as they go along that they begin to find out that the Aes Sedai have limits. In the beginning everyone says the White Tower makes thrones dance and kings and queens play at their command, but the characters begin to find out that, yes, the White Tower has certainly manipulated a lot of thrones, but it's hardly all-powerful. Characters learn more about the truth as time goes on, and sometimes found out that what they knew before was only the first layer of the onion. That's a major theme, really, in the whole series, that changeability - the way something starts out seeming to be one simple thing, and slowly it is revealed to have a number of very complex layers.
But for all the grand events and great hoop-la and whoop-de-do going on, the things that really interest me more than anything else are the characters themselves. How they change. How they don't change. How they relate to each other. The people fascinate me. And, of course, there are things happening that major characters sometimes don't even see, and the reader sometimes does. There's a lot going on beneath the surface that major characters don't realize, despite the fact that they do see a lot of what seems very furious activity.
SW: Is there any way for readers to contact you to talk about The Wheel of Time?
RJ: Well readers can always contact me through Tor Books. Just address letters to Robert Jordan, c/o Tor Books, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010. Do put my name on the envelope. If it just says Tor Books it takes longer to get to me, because people open it to see what it is and sometimes the envelope gets lost and I get a letter which has no return address. Also, Tor is talking about a tour, starting mid-October, something like eleven cities in fourteen days. There's been talk of new York and Atlanta. Boston, Chicago and Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Phoenix, Denver, and more...but the actual itinerary isn't firm yet. As for conventoins, I've accepted an invitation to a literary convention in Bath, England, next February, because the organizer is an old friend. It's not a science fiction convention, per se, although the organizers say they hope to have me on a panel with David Eddings and Terry Brooks and a couple of other people. Beyond that, I plan to go to the World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow next summer, though in truth I'm largely planning to go to that because I can catch the tail end of the salmon fishinjg afterward.
SW: That brings us to your intersts outside of writing fantasy. Could you tell us about them?
RJ: I like to hunt and fish, primarily fly fishing, though I'm not a absolute purist. If the fly fishing isn't going well, I don't have any objection to spin casting. I like to play poker and shoot pool, and play Go. Well, I like to try to play Go. I also collect antique weapons, swords and old muskets and that sort of things and also Asian and African art. Of course, writing is what takes up most of my time. I hope people are enjoying The Wheel of Time.
Robert Jordan '94 Interview with Sense of Wonder / Carolyn Fusinato