Oct 17 2013 8:30am

L’Esprit d’Escalier: A Tribute to Robert Jordan on his Birthday

Robert Jordan Art by David A. JohnsonWhen asked me to write up a thing celebrating what would have been the 65th 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, 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.

Robert Niner
1. RTN13
As much as I enjoyed the last 3 books in the series there will always be a part of me that wonders how it would have turned out had he been around to finish it himself.

So here's to you Mr. Jordan on your birthday. You are still very much missed. R.I.P
Gary Singer
2. AhoyMatey
Nice tribute Leigh.

I never got to meet him, but from what I've seen of his family, friends, and colleagues, they're warm, wonderful people. His work has definitely had positive impact on my life. And the series was completed with grace, tact and skill.

R.I.P. Jim.
Ted Herman
3. WinespringBrother
Let the dragon fly on the winds of time.

R.I.P. Jim.
Bob Verow
4. Bob Verow
I just wanted to say that you wrote a very fitting tribute and thank you
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
6. Lisamarie

Beautiful tribute. I wish I'd had a chance to meet him, becuase I've heard he was just an all around great guy. But, at least I got to read his books!
Andrew Berenson
7. AndrewHB
Leigh, nice tribute.

Let me get this straight -- you just "tossed the dice" and wrote your tribute.

When I first saw the scetch of JOR Jr., I thought how strange: a tribute to Mr. Rigney with a picture of GRRM. Anybody else think that.

Thanks for reading my musings,
Jordan Hibbits
8. rhandric
Very nice tribute, Leigh.

R.I.P. RJ, and happy birthday.
Bob Verow
9. Cecrow
Your opening statement about who doesn't know RJ reminded me: on a recent episode of "Jeopardy", there was a ""2013 Authors" category. The contestants had a guess for every clue, except for one. They all drew a blank on the Wheel of Time creator.
Bob Verow
10. MikeOfThePalace
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.
I spend a lot of time on SF/Fantasy lit forums defending WoT, and this is EXACTLY what I've been trying to articulate when I do so.
Kim B
12. Amaranthine
Lovely tribute, Leigh. He was a wonderful writer and, from what I've heard, a wonderful man. His books inspired me to become a writer, and consequently changed the course of my life.
Bob Verow
13. j.m.s
R.I.P, Mr. Jordan. Thank you for everything, including the Wheel of Time - hours upon hours of my life were spent exploring the world you created, and I don't regret a second of it.
Bob Verow
14. plimes
RIP RJ, you are still sorely missed and always remembered. Great job Leigh!
Bob Verow
15. Kae
You are missed, Sir. RIP, you live in our hearts, always.
Bob Verow
16. JimF
Well done, Leigh. I love Tolkien's work, and long held it as the epitome of the art of science fantasy. But then I read The Eye of the World, and I had to make room for a new master of the art. The Wheel of Time is an epic story, with incredible, indelible characters and fascinating new concepts, while still hewing the good vs. evil divide that Tolkien so clearly set out. Brilliant works by both men, not to be missed if you like such simple, yet complex tales. On his birthday, I can say I miss Mr. Rigney - Robert Jordan in my mind - and wish him peace and comfort in the knowledge that he will be long remembered and admired.
Bob Verow
17. dbnob777
very well done Leah !
Martijn Coppoolse
18. vor0nwe
Requiescat in pace, mr. Rigney. (Unless you’re a Borderlander; to them, peace! means something else... May you shelter in the palm of the Creator’s hand).

(Nice tribute, Leigh. Though I’ve always hated that blurb — no-one is dominating anything; that’s the point of fantasy universes: you can read and love all of them at once!)
Bob Verow
19. docrbk
Amen to all. I had the opportunity on several occasions to meet with RJ/JOR and, along with my enjoyment of the WOT series (no, I'm not a total nut, but have read each book at least 3 times and listened to the audiobooks 3 times, most recently in prep for the final tome-and, of course, waited what sometimes seemed interminably, for several of the later volumes) found him to be a truly "educated" man...not just "smart", but "educated", as in a man with "classical education" background and multiple interests.
Bob Verow
20. Algemar
Jesus wept. (And so did I)
Bob Verow
21. Laurine
I bless the day I walked into Sam's Club and saw "The Eye of the World" on the book counter. Picked it up and thought "this sounds interesting" and thus began my 30+ year love affair with WOT. I prayed diligently when Mr. Jordan became ill, and cried very hard when he died. He left me (and all his fans) with amazing memories of how an epic story should be written. Mr. Sanderson did a very, very good ending of the series, but I, too, wonder how many more books and stories we might have had, had Mr. Jordan lived.

Leigh that was a very touching tribute, it made me cry, which, to me, is what a fitting tribute should do. Thank you. And thank Mr. Jordan and Mr. Sanderson for their beloved works.
Bob Verow
22. AndrewV
I consider the day I met Robert Jordan and had an all too brief conversation with him as one of the most impactful days of my life. I've met several favorite authors since then and they were great, but Robert Jordan had an epic presence around him.

He was one of a kind. I hope we get an authorized biography someday.

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