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Interview with Robert Jordan: December 9, 2002Edit
At last! Having just recently finished Crossroads of Twilight, Robert Jordan agreed to answer questions from Dragonmount and wotmania.com. Both sites collected well over 1,000 questions before narrowing them down to what you see here. Thank you to everyone who submitted questions. We're very sorry that many of the good ones submitted never made it in. There's always next time!
We are very proud that this an interview without a single "Read On And Find Out" answer.
We also interviewed Harriet McDougal, Robert Jordan's wife & Editor. Be sure to check out that interview as well.
Questions From DragonmountEdit
Question: As of right now, what are your plans for supplemental books? Could you give us your plans in regards to the upcoming short novels, a second Illustrated Guide, etc? Do you have any plans on when you might release them in relation to the upcoming books?
RJ: The first short novel is to be an expansion, or rather, re-writing, of NEW SPRING. I had to crop and compress in order to fit the story that I wanted to tell into the required space for a novella, but this time, I intend to simply do it without regard to length. That isn't to say that it will be the length of the books in THE WHEEL OF TIME. I expect it to be about sixty thousand words, give or take. The other two short novels will be centered around two other events before the main story that I've often been asked about. How did Tam al'Thor end up back in the Two Rivers with his wife and the child, Rand? And, how did Moiraine arrive in the Two Rivers just in the nick? The intention is to release them in between the larger books of THE WHEEL.
As for supplemental books, the only thing I intend at present is a sort of Encyclopedia Wotiana based on the list I have giving every created word, every name, place, term etc. That, of course, won't come until the cycle is completed. There wouldn't be any point doing it earlier. I won't say that there will never be anything else, because never has a way of coming back to bite you on the ankle. I once said that I would never do a prequel, yet that's what these short novels are, prequels, but I don't have any other plans. At present, anyway. And if anybody has any suggestions, please keep them to yourself. I am trying to move on, folks.
Question: By far the most common question asked: What are your feelings on a movie version of your books? You've said that, to you, only the books really matter. Do you feel that a movie would do them justice though? Or do you think it might be too complex for the screen and even hurt their reputation? What about making a movie that focuses on a different time from the story you've told?
RJ: My feelings about the possibility of a movie are ambivalent. It would be very nice if a movie or movies, or a series on HBO or whatever were made, but that really would be something extra. I write books. If a movie is made, good. If not, I won't cry.
I don't think that a bad movie would do the books any damage, but with any movie, the writer of the book has to give up control to someone else and trust that other person to interpret the writer's vision. (God, that sounds pompous!) I used to think that it might be impossible for a movie to really encompass any of the books, but since seeing The Lord of the Rings, I've changed my mind. In any case, Harriet says (and Plato agrees with her) that the only thing to do when you sell a book to Hollywood is to take the money, walk away very fast before they can take it back, and never, ever go to see the movie. Of course, any movie depends on someone making an offer for an option and then following through to exercise the option, and so far, that hasn't happened. The option, bit did, true, but not the rest. We are now waiting, as they say. But not very anxiously.
Question: Do you ever use ideas that fans send in to you in regards to the WOT storyline? Even little ones?
RJ: No. Not even the little ones. It's my story, guys. If you have ideas, write your own stories.
Question: Why can't Ogier channel the One Power?
Why can't fish sing? Why can't sparrows do the tango? Why can't I figure my own income tax? I'd really like to know the answer to that last one!
Follow up: Can they be Darkfriends?
RJ: Of course.
Question: There is definitely a change in pace from the earlier books to the later ones. Does this reflect a change in style over the last decade, a change in the story's pacing, or something else? What would you say to the critics out there who think you've been doing this just to stretch the series out longer?
RJ: In the beginning, I was writing about a very few characters, relatively speaking, on a relatively constricted stage. They were, for the most part, people with very small experience and a very small world view. From the start I expected this to spread out to cover more people over a much wider stage, and for the characters to expand their world view. Nobody is a kid from the sticks any more! Plus which, a little time has to be spent on some side characters, and what might be considered side plots, because they are important to the development of the main plot lines, keys to why things happen in the way that they do. Writing it any other way would require what seems to me to be entirely too much deus ex machina. The things I want to happen not only have to happen, they have to happen in a way that is believable.
In each book, there was has been a widening of scope over the previous books, though I am beginning to narrow it down once again. To some extent, anyway. And, no, I am not trying to stretch it out. I have had the same difficulty with every book from the very beginning. Namely, I could not put into it the amount of the story that I wanted to. Believe me, I will finish WHEEL in as few books as I can while telling the story I want to tell. After all, this is a multi-volume novel. When you set out to run a marathon, it's twenty-six miles and change. Getting a good time over fifteen or twenty miles doesn't mean a thing. You have to reach the finish line, or you might as well not have started. I'd like to finish this race.
Question: You have a very solid international fan base. When the books are translated, do you ever worry that maybe some of the story might be lost in translation?
RJ:Not really. The possibility of something being lost in translation is always there, and I have been told by some foreign readers that they buy the English language versions because the translation in their language is terrible. Then again, I've been told that some translations are excellent. And there are always the difficulties of conveying the authors intent versus a literal translation, and difference of meaning or nuance in some phrases from language to language, not to mention colloquialisms, Southernisms, invented words and the like. Worrying too hard about matters over which you have no control will earn you stomach ulcers, but it won't change a thing, so I smile when I hear of a good translation, and when I hear of a bad one, I go look at the gold fish and smoke a pipe.
Follow-Up: Do you read the translated versions at all (assuming you are fluent in those languages?)
RJ: Lord, no! I would if I could, but my French and my Spanish are far too atrophied to be of any use, and I couldn't begin in the rest.
Question: Do current events and world politics, such as the tragedy on September 11th, ever end up influencing the events within the books? If so, what are some examples?
RJ: Only by accident. Any writing is always filtered through the writer, and whatever the writer lives through always changes the filters, but I don't consciously set out to mirror current events in any way.
Question: How is it possible for Aes Sedai who have taken the Three Oaths to become damane and use the One Power as a weapon?
RJ: They can't us the One Power as a weapon, not in any conventional sense. This presents some problems for the Seanchan, but then, damane are used for more than just weapons. And from the Seanchan point of view, at worst, an Aes Sedai who has been collared is one less marath'damane running around loose and doing the horrible things that their history tells them such women inevitably do. Remember, Seanchan history records a time under Aes Sedai rule, when no one could go to sleep at night with the certainty they would wake in the morning and Aes Sedai took whatever they wanted and killed anyone who crossed or opposed them. To the Seanchan, just removing these horrors from the board is a win.
Question: You have been awarded with the Bronze Star and other awards in Vietnam. Would you care to tell us how one or all of those awards came about?
RJ: (*sigh*) Everyone knows about one way of winning a medal. That is, to see something which needs to be done and to consciously do it at the risk of your life. I never did this. Relatively few people do, which is why we mark out those who do as heroes. But at other times, you can realize that you are going to die in a very few minutes, except that if you do something incredibly stupid, you might just have a small chance of living. And against all reason, it works. Or you take a step without thinking, and then it's too late to turn back, maybe because turning back is just as dangerous as going on, or even more dangerous, or maybe because you know that you will have to look in the shaving mirror, and that every time you do, you will remember that you turned back. So you keep going. Or perhaps it's because you are with your friends, and you have to back their play, even if it's crazy, because they're your friends, because they've backed your play, even when it was crazy. I was with a group of men who had a certain air about them, and if you didn't have it when you joined them, you soon absorbed it. A plaque in our day room read: Anybody can dance with the Devil's daughter, but we tell her old man to his face. At a time like that, in a place like that, you're all young and crazy, and if you've been there long enough, you know you're going to die. Not from old age; next month, next week, tomorrow. Now, maybe. It's going to happen, so what does it matter? In the end, for most of us, the medals boiled down to managing not to die. If you're alive when the higher-ups think you should be dead, it discombobulates their brains, so they hang a bit of something on you to balance things in their own heads. That's how it happened for me. That is why I am not I repeat, not! a hero. I just managed to stay alive. And I even managed to get sane again. Reasonably sane, anyway.
Question: If a gateway opened in front of you leading to your world in the books, would you and Harriet step through knowing that you could return to our "real" world? What if you couldn't come back? (If you do go, please finish the series first!)
RJ: Harriet might. She's the adventurous one, and sometimes (nobody will tell her I said this, right?) sometimes she has more courage than sense. The ONLY reason that I'd go through would be to get her back. She can get into some hairy situations without me there. She LIKES getting into hairy situations. The world I write about is fun to write about, and I suppose fun to read about, but there are many places I find interesting to read about that I'd never want to go near. A man could get killed in a place like that! In fact, I think I'll go smoke a pipe and look at the gold fish until I can stop thinking about it.
Question: How has writing such a successful series changed your life? As a result of that success, how has your life changed the story and your writing?
RJ: I have to steal an answer from Stephen King, here. I read it in an interview with him, and his answer seemed so obvious, so right, that I said, "But, of course!" The biggest change in my life, and the best thing about having a successful series, is that now I can buy any book I want. I don't have to wait for the paperback or haunt the remainder tables or plow through the second-hand bookstores. I can just buy it. Being able to travel is great, especially when there is fishing to go with it, but being able to buy the books is bloody neat! As for my life changing the story: no, the story is still the story I set out to write God help me! more than fifteen years ago. My writing, of course, as distinct from the story, almost certainly has been changed by my life. No writer can be so isolated from life that what he lives through has no effect on his writing. Or if he can isolate himself, either his writing isn't worth reading or he himself is nuttier than a fruitcake! But I can't tell you how it has changed, except that I hope it has gotten better. After all this time, I would hope to God I've gotten at least a little better at it.
Question: BEFORE you say "RAFO", and BEFORE you choose not to answer this next question, please consider the following and hear us out: You claim you've already written the ending of the series. You probably enjoy us squirming as we endlessly try to predict the outcome of the Last Battle. We've been patiently waiting for over a decade. Now that we're nearing the end somewhat, could you please, please answer this question: What is the last word of the last chapter of the last book? JK Rowling told the world that Harry Potter ends with the word "scar". Come on....we know you can give us something like that to chew on.
RJ: First off, a small correction. I have NEVER said that I had already written the last scene of the last book. I HAVE said that I COULD HAVE written the last scene of the last book in 1984, and that if I had done so and now chose to write it again, some of the wording might have changed, but what happens in that scene would be the same, now as then. Given that, as envisioned in 1984, the last scene would have ended with the word "world". Today, it might end with word "turns." Now what does that tell you? Not much, I think. I mean, you can extrapolate at least part of the final sentence of Harry Potter, at least part of what it will say, from JK Rowling's "last word." For me, it only means that I have to be careful how I end the next book, or some of you might think it's the last.
And, oh yes. I do like seeing you squirm.
Questions from wotmania Edit
Question: How do you feel about WoT-oriented fan fiction?
RJ: I am really only barely aware that it exists, I'm afraid, and the question is a delicate one. I don't go looking for it, but if I find out that someone is writing using my characters, and publishing it (including posting it on-line) then I MUST do something about it as a matter of protecting my copyrights. (Although this is a different matter, some other time, I'll go into why pirating books and stories to post them on-line is no different from taking somebody's ATM card and making a series of withdrawals from their bank account. Whenever I see anyone post a defense of pirating, I really, really want to get my hands on his ATM card and PIN.) Writing in my world is a different matter I think; my lawyer may tell me I'm dead wrong on that. The one thing I do try to keep an eye out for is /slash/ or KS fiction using my characters. If you want to write erotica, fine. I like reading erotica, sometimes. But if you write erotica using my characters and post it, I WILL find you, and I will come down on you like the Hammer of God. I've found some very raunchy, and very badly written, examples of that, and I don't like it a bit.
Question: How does the idea of souls apply to constructs such as Nym and Trollocs? Could either of them be reborn?
RJ: To whoever put this one forward, this is one of the best questions I've ever gotten! Nym and Trollocs both have souls, and either could be reborn, but since Nym were a pure construct (i.e. each of them was individually made, like hand-crafting) a Nym would not be reborn as a Nym. You might say that a Nym's soul was borrowed temporarily from the supply of souls awaiting rebirth. A Trolloc, however, bears a twisted, or corrupted soul, and would be reborn as a Trolloc. Though frankly, a Trolloc's soul is such a pitiful thing, it hardly seems worth calling a soul.
Question: How accurate is the information in the WoT RPG? For instance, it says that Taim was captured by Black Ajah. In your books, though, you seem to leave this issue open to debate. Does your official approval of the game extend to its plot interpretations?
RJ: I didn't consult with them on interpretations at all, really. I was trying to let them set up situations where the game could be played parallel to to the story arc, or perhaps outside it. I did try to find anything that contradicted the books, or what I intended in future books, and I caught a few errors when going over their galley proofs. I would have asked them to remove this, had I caught it.
Question: When you have the choice of many characters in a scene, how do you choose which character you will take the point of view from?
RJ: Choosing the POV character is a matter of choosing whose eyes are the best to see a scene. What do I want the reader to know in that scene? What do I want to leave them uncertain about? Since the POV character is the one whose thoughts you have access to, the easiest way to leave someone's motivations, reactions or future plans murky is to have someone else be the POV character. Or, if I want to set a certain tone, or to present events in a particular way, that influences the choice of POV character. Faile and Perrin, for example, will not see the same event in exactly the same way or react to it in the same way, nor will Min and Rand, or Nynaeve and Elayne and Egwene, or Rand and Perrin and Mat.
Question: Why have we not seen any Aiel Asha'man?
RJ: The Aiel have a different tradition, as I have mentioned in the books. When a young Aiel man learns that he is beginning to channel, or thinks that he is, that is taken as sign that he has been marked out to try to kill the Dark One, and he sets out for the Blight in an attempt to do so. And given that any Black Tower recruiting party that showed up in the Waste would very likely find itself in a fight to the death fairly soon after arrival, it isn't a spot that anyone would pick for recruiting. Now, it may be that some Aiel may finally join the Asha'man (I'm not saying they will!) but traditions are hard to change, especially when they have religious overtones and have lasted a few thousand years.
Question: Is there a reason the Dark One could not or would not re-taint 'saidin'?
RJ: The conditions would have to be exactly right. Those conditions were set up while the seals were being placed on the Bore. The chances that exactly those conditions would occur again are fairly small. And that is saying that it was a volitional act rather than a side-effect of trying to stop the seals from being placed. After all, if the Dark One could taint 'saidin' at will, why could he not taint '''saidar''' as well, and why would he not have done so?
Question: Why have we not seen any Malkieri Aes Sedai?
RJ: Who says you haven't? I have not given a nationality for every sister I have shown.
Question: What is the origin of the raven as a symbol of the Seanchan Empire? Why isn't it a hawk?
RJ: The conquerors of Seanchan suffered the fate of many smaller groups that conquer larger. They were, in many ways, absorbed by the conquered, with only an over-layer remaining of what and who they were before.
In pre-conquest Seanchan, the raven was a symbol of rulers because (1) it was supposedly wise, and (2) (perhaps more importantly) it supposedly saw and knew everything that happened. Nothing escapes the eyes of the raven, and frankly, any hawk or eagle that tries taking on ravens, gets chased off. So, the golden hawk remains the symbol of the Imperial family, descendants of Artur Hawkwing, but the raven is the symbol of rule and of Empire.
Question: Has the Padan Fain/Mordeth character been present in previous Ages, or is he unique to this particular Age?
RJ: He is unique to this particular Age. A very unique fellow, indeed. In some ways, you might say he has unwittingly side-stepped the Pattern.
Question: Was Erian Boroleos meant to disappear during the battle at Shadar Logoth or was that a mistake?
RJ: Erian Boroleos was not meant to disappear. In my notes, she is placed guarding those with Cadsuane who cannot channel and not too pleased about it (there are reasons why she was chosen out for this, which I won't go into here), and there is even a note (under CHECKS AND CORRECTIONS, a category I use to make sure that I haven't blinked at the wrong time) to make sure of mentioning her in passing. It didn't happen, for which, mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I was so certain that I had done it, that I didn't find out I hadn't until the paperback came out, but a correction will be made.
Question: In Winter's Heart, Min doesn't recognize Birgitte, but they were in Salidar at the same time. What is the story there?
RJ: No story at all. In Salidar, Min knew Birgitte as a adventurer, you might say, but not until Caemlyn did she realize that Birgitte was, in fact, BIRGITTE BY GOD SILVERBOW!
Question: In a lot of ways WoT to this point could be viewed a series of trilogies - Rand coming to realize who and what he is, Rand rising to power, the Shadow striking back at Rand, and now (perhaps) we start moving toward the final showdown at Tarmon Gai'don. Is this a valid way of looking at WoT? And would this have an implication in terms of the series ending in twelve books?
RJ: No, it really isn't a valid way of looking at the books. From the beginning, I haven't thought in terms of trilogies, but in terms of one long novel. Longer than I had hoped, in truth. I tried from the start to structure things so that the books would not only bear re-reading, but so that re-reading a book after having read later volumes would mean that you saw what was happening in a slightly different way, yet with the first few books, I also tried to make each volume entirely self-contained (with varying degrees of success) so that anyone could pick up any book and start there. After all, I really had no way of predicting that the earlier books would remain in print, especially not all this time! Eventually, though, I decided that I could not waste time on explaining again what I had already explained. THE WHEEL OF TIME is one rather long novel. You really have to start with THE EYE OF THE WORLD, or you won't understand what is happening, why it is happening, or who these people are.
Question: Do you ever feel like other fantasy writers are envious of the success that WoT has attained?
RJ: I shouldn't think so. I mean, I'm not jealous of Stephen King, and he has a lot more success than I do. So do a number of other writers. Some people sell fewer books than you do, and some people sell more. There really isn't any point in jealousy. You just keep trying to write the best book you can. Besides, remember that MOBY-DICK was both a commercial and a critical flop when it was first published. Anybody want to try naming the top ten sellers of that year? I didn't think so. Of course, I hope for the longevity of MOBY-DICK (I don't think there is a writer who doesn't!) but I trust you get the point.
Thank you, Robert Jordan!