Thursday, September 20, 2007

RIP Robert Jordan

As many of you have heard by now, the author known to us as Robert Jordan has passed away. This isn't the forum to recount the medical details, but my friend who's a registered nurse tells me that the disease he had is a rough way to go. Regardless of what any of you thought of the man or the writing he left behind, no one should have to die badly at 58. My thoughts go out to his family and all who knew him personally. That said, I'm going to talk a bit about my experience as one of his readers.

Like many fantasy readers, I followed Jordan's Wheel of Time series in the 90's. I really enjoyed the first few books, and looked forward to the story unfolding with each new release. Sure, it wasn't blazing all new ground, but it was pretty darned good epic fantasy. I went back at that time and read his Conan novels, which are fun little books, if you like the character and setting.

Around the third book of the series, I started to wonder about the direction Jordan was taking (if, indeed, he was taking a direction at all). Still, the story was smoothly told, so I steamed right along despite my mounting doubts. I assumed that, given another book, he'd start tying up the loose ends an send us rushing toward a rip-roaring conclusion.

I'm not certain which book was my last Jordan, but I believe it was the 5th or 6th. By then, I found that I just couldn't cope with the ever-expanding story that seemed doomed to never finish. The characters I had really liked early in the series had grown grating. I was knocked out of the "flow" of reading, only to realize that Jordan was spending a vast amount of time and text on inconsequential details. And then there was the constant horror of the characters bickering with each other.

Anyway, I stopped reading, but I'd look at the new books as they hit the stands, wondering if they had improved or continued to devolve. Those with either more or less willpower (that's a debate for another day) kept on and found that out.

I always felt sad that the story seemed to "get away" from Robert Jordan. I think that he was a very talented writer, in terms of line-by-line readability and smooth prose. I feel like his advisers failed him, really. If there'd been a few people who'd pushed him a little to be more concise, to bring the story to a close in a more reasonable amount of time...but that's all leaves blown on the wind now. The books are on the shelves, and it seems as if there'll be a 12th, probably finished by a co-author from his notes. He'll probably be remembered as the guy who had a chance to write the definitive epic fantasy of our time, but couldn't quite pull it off. Still, he sold a whole locomotive full of books, and got a lot of people reading fantasy. That's a lot more than most people can claim. Maybe someone out there'll tell me how the whole story ends.

No comments: