Guest Post: A Memory of Light and Memories of the Wheel of Time, by Clint
Twenty-three years after I first read that passage, it still gives me shivers. Perhaps more so today than any other, as today A Memory of Light, the final book of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, is released.
Part of me is squealing like a prepubescent teenager at her first pop star concert. But if I’m being honest, a larger part of me is mourning. The ride is ending; the journey is over. It’s a wistful feeling, knowing that these will be the last time I turn the pages to learn what happens next to Rand, Perrin, and Mat. This story has been a part of my life for so long now, I really don’t want it to end.
Ask any fan of the Wheel of Time where they first picked it up, and you’ll get a vivid story. We each remember it fondly. For me, it was the winter of 1990-91. I was a night-shift security guard at an apartment building in Hollywood. Mostly, this meant sitting in a parked car for hours at a time, watching the tenant’s automobiles to prevent break-ins. Those were some long, lonely nights, but a good book was just the thing to make them pass all the quicker. I had seen this new novel at my local bookstore called The Eye of the World, a monstrous tome, three times as long as any other fantasy novel on the shelf. I initially discarded it as too daunting, too pretentious. “Who the hell writes 700 page books?” I thought. But I was going through a typical sized book every night at the security gig and decided something that beefy would be just the ticket for a week long read.
I read it in one day.
Once the sun came up and my co-worker relieved me at my post, I put the book down long enough to drive home, where I picked it right back up. I certainly didn’t intend to skip sleeping; night-shifts are rough on you like that. But I just had to find out what happened next. And I think that’s how I’ve felt about the story ever since then. I just had to find out what happened next, from one page to the next, from one chapter to another, eagerly awaiting the next installment.
There was a lot of waiting over the following years, as the interval between each new book grew longer and longer. There were points in the story that dragged out and keeping track of the myriad characters was exhausting. But me and my fellow fans persevered. We spent the years between books pouring over the pages, looking for the tiniest hints and details, comparing notes and theories on the multitude of newsgroups, then web forums, that sprang to life around this incredible story. Some of us wrote our own stories set in Mr. Jordan’s world, sharing fanfic in r.a.sf.w.r-j or playing them out on the MUDs in the early days, on Dragonmount and TarValon in the latter. It was the Wheel of Time that introduced me to the world of fandom, that let me know that it was okay to be a geek and gush forth the love. We weren’t weirdos or mental, just regular folks who had something in common. My world grew larger, and for the better.
I was at work when I learned that Robert Jordan had died. Knowledge of his illness had been wide-spread for some time, but most of the updates about it were positive and encouraging. When his health took a downturn, I hadn’t heard about it, since there had been no need to check his site daily. He was sick, but getting better, and the next book would come out when it was done, simple as that. I can’t recall exactly how I learned of his passing, whether an email, some web site announcement or a phone call; all I do remember is staring at the monitor, for hours, in a fugue. I was saddened at his death, and I felt for his wife and family, but honestly, I was selfishly thinking what it meant to me. No more story. I’d never learn what happened next, or how it all ended. I was despondent for days, no, for weeks afterwards.
But this is the Wheel of Time. And there are neither beginnings or endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. So when word came out that Brandon Sanderson was continuing the series, I met it with both hope and trepidation. Hope to finally get to the already-written end-scene that had been promised all these many years. Trepidation that it wasn’t going to be the same story. I think Sanderson has done a fantastic job of continuing the story without slavishly trying to replicate Jordan’s voice. I was one of many fearing that stretching out the “final” book into three parts was a blatant cash grab. I’m more than pleased to say I’ve reversed that opinion. The pacing of The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight has been frenetic, wrapping up subplots and character arcs with refreshing speed. So much to cover and bring together, and Sanderson has proven to have a deft hand at weaving it all into a powerful and cohesive story, with few flaws (*cough* Mat *cough*.)
And now, at last, after years of waiting, after delays and extensions and setback after setback, the end of the story is in my hands. I am frantic to turn the first page. I am dreading turning the last. This story has been going on for more than half of my life. A part of me has visited the Eye, Hunted the Horn, fought the Forsaken, crossed the Waste, seized Saidin, and surrendered to Saidar. Part of me has run with wolves, walked in dreams, knelt with the Aes Sedai and stood with the Asha’man. That part is coming to an end and I can not help but feel something, something a little sad and yet triumphant, like all good endings. And for that, I am immensely grateful to Robert Jordan. Thank you for sharing your world with me.
It’s been a helluva ride!