Sense of Wonder
October/November 1998 (B. Dalton)
Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is one of the major fantasy landmarks of the past twenty years, and a very real bestseller as well. In the course of its seven volumes to date, this epic saga of enchantment, battle, prophecy, and intrigue has reached literally millions of readers…but the author himself is seldom hear from. With the eighth eagerly-awaited volume, The Path of Daggers (Tor, $27.95), due out in late October, this seemed the perfect time to seek out the talented author whose efforts have so captivated readers' imaginations, and ask him to share a little of his personal perspective on his fascinating creation:
Sense of Wonder: The Path of Daggers is Book Eight in the Wheel of Time series. Can you tell us how much is still to come, and if you know yet how the series will end?
Robert Jordan: I've known the last scene of the last book from the beginning. That was the first scene that came to me. Had I written it ten years ago, and then again today, the wording might be different, but not what happens. It has just taken me longer to get there than I thought. At the onset, I thought that there would be three or perhaps four books all together, but it might go five, or even six, though I really didn't believe that 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 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!
Sense of Wonder: In a field where J.R.R. Tolkien has been used as a yardstick that leaves most authors far behind, the notoriously discriminating New York Times says you have come to dominate the world Tolkien began to reveal. As your Wheel of Time series has grown, the richness and compelling nature of your creation has also been favorably compared with that of other great masters in creative fields, including the Brothers Grimm, Aldous Huxley, Stephen King, Michael Moorcock, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, and Beethoven! You are part of a distinguished heritage. What do you feel is most distinctive about your work?
Robert Jordan: Well, I believe I write with a distinctly American voice, and a distinctly Southern one to boot. There is a great story-telling tradition in the South. My grandfather, father, and uncles were all raconteurs, and I grew up listening to their stories, as well as those of other men. There's a tough of oral tradition in my writing. Maybe that's where Beethoven comes in. A spoken story must flow musically, in words and in structure. I believe that my fiction reads as if it were meant to be read aloud. It certainly goes well in the unabridged audiotape versions. In short, it is a matter of time and place and experience. I grew up in a different place and in a different way from any of those men, and lived a different life. I am none of those men, could not be, and don't want to be. I am myself.
Sense of Wonder: Speaking of coming from a different time and place, it has often been said that your military experience leaves a clear mark on your work. It's a matter of record that you served two tours of duty in Vietnam and your decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star with "V," and two Vietnamese Crosses of Gallantry. How would you say your military experience is reflected in your Wheel of Time series?
Robert Jordan: My writing doesn't really reflect any of my own personal war experiences, except that I know how it feels 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 think I'd be able to. However, I know the feeling of confusion, doubt, and plain ignorance of anything you can't see that exists once fighting starts. I don't think war will ever become so technologically advanced as to completely dispel "the fog of war," so I put those feelings into my writing.
Sense of Wonder: You are a strong support of literacy programs, such as Reading is Fundamental (RIF), and your novels have been praised by the American Library Association, VOYA (Voice of Youth Advocates) and Library Journal. Do you hope your work will be used to further literacy?
Robert Jordan: I hope so, and I also hope that people will occasionally think about "the right thing to do," about right behavior and wrong, after reading one of my books. I don't try to tell them what is right or wrong, only to make them think and consider. But primarily, I am a storyteller, and the job of a storyteller is to entertain. In the case of the Wheel of Time, I tell a story about ordinary people pushed into extraordinary events and forced to grow and change whether they want to or not, sometime in ways they never expected.
Sense of Wonder: Can you give us a hint about anything new and exciting readers might learn in The Path of Daggers?
Robert Jordan: You wouldn't want me to spoil things for you. Would you? I have to fall back on that useful Web acronym, RAFO. READ AND FIND OUT. But I suggest you watch your back if Bela happens to be around.