When Tor.com asked me to write up a thing celebrating what would have been the 66th birthday of Robert Jordan, I was initially at something of a loss. Firstly, because I’ve been writing about Mr. Jordan and his works for approximately a million years now (okay, or five, whatever), and I thought to myself, what could I possibly say about him that I haven’t said already? And secondly, I thought, surely everyone already knows about this man and who he was and what he’s done, right?
But then I remembered that hey, guess what, everyone in the world is not me! (Shocking!) And ergo, there may be people out there who don’t know about Mr. James Oliver Rigney, Jr., and what an amazing person he was, and how many amazing things he did in his life even aside from writing one of the most popular and beloved fantasy series of all time.
Like how he was a decorated veteran, who served two tours in Vietnam as a helicopter gunner. Or that he had a degree in physics from The Citadel, one of the most prestigious educational institutions in the U.S. Or that he worked as a nuclear engineer, and was a member of the Freemasons. Or that he was a fine Southern gentleman, who liked to hunt and fish and sail and play poker and smoke pipes, and could wear a hat like nobody’s business. He was a man who, one senses, most definitely did not believe in living life on a small scale—and that comes out in his writing just as much as in any other aspect of his life.
Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series has often been a subject of contention among literary critics and within the SFF community. One critic, I recall, described it as “Tolkien on steroids,” and he did not mean it as a compliment. But for me, like so many of the readers who fell in love with The Eye of the World and all that followed it, that was sort of the point. The New York Times blurb that has appeared on every cover of the novels in the series probably sums it up best: “Jordan has come to dominate the world that Tolkien began to reveal.”
Basically if you’re looking for the epitome of “epic fantasy”—of that concept presented in all its unabashed, undeconstructed, straightforward glory, and taken to its most, ahem, epic extreme, The Wheel of Time is where the buck stops. Even the story of how the series came to be, and the twists and turns of how it almost never got finished, and how it finally did get finished, is in itself an epic tale.
Everything about Robert Jordan’s opus is grand in scale—including the author himself. And there’s something wonderfully appropriate about that.
So here’s to Robert Jordan—a man who lived as epically as he wrote, and whose legacy will continue to be writ large, both in the annals of fantasy literature, and in the memories of his fans and loved ones, and who was taken from all of us far too soon.
Leigh Butler is a writer, blogger, and opinionator for Tor.com, where she conducts The Wheel of Time Re-read and A Read of Ice and Fire, and still remembers fondly that time she got to have dinner with Robert Jordan and listen to his grand tales. She currently lives in New Orleans.