I can clearly remember standing in line at Waldon Books, some time in 1990, waiting to pay for a purchase. Right next to the register was a pile of thin books with a big star-shaped “Free” sticker on them. I remember looking around to get some sense of whether it was really alright to take one of the books, which nobody else seemed to have noticed. A free book! Nine at the time, I was an avid reader. I had already drunk deeply from Hemmingway and Steinbeck, had conquered Tolkien and Donaldson, and was quickly burning my way through the science fiction/fantasy section at our tiny local library. A new book, especially a free book, was exactly what I needed. I had found an advance sample copy of the Eye of the World, by someone name Robert Jordan. Thus began my journey through life with the Wheel of Time.
I have always said that there are some books that change your life. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson were like that for me. If I hadn’t read those books, there is no way that I would be the same person today. There have been hundreds of books like that in my life. The Wheel of Time books were different, though. Robert Jordan’s books didn’t change the course of my life. They were the course of my life. I grew up with the Wheel of Time books, greedily finishing a new book in a single evening, and then having to wait years to find out what happened next. I became a teenager, and then an adult, a husband, and a father, all in the context of the existence of those books.
For obvious reasons, I was as shocked as any of the other millions of Robert Jordan’s fans when the great author died. I wonder if perhaps, because of my unique long-term relationship with the series, I was let down just a little bit more than many others were (I mean, really, what other 9 year old started reading the series before the first book was even officially released to stores?). I have heard many complaints about potential commercial motivations behind the direction that has been taken by the publisher and the editor in having the series finished. I have to say that I am deeply grateful that there were sufficient notes to finish the series, that both the publisher, and the author’s editor (his widow), were able to agree on the selection of Brandon Sanderson to complete the series. I can’t believe complaints I have read that the series is so long or that it will be another three books to finish. If the ending is consistent with Robert Jordan had planned, I have no complaints, and am eager to dive in.
This morning I got an e-mail from the library, telling my that the newest book “The Gathering Storm”, the first part in the three-book conclusion being written by Sanderson, was on hold for me. I walked down to the library during lunch and picked it up. Tonight I begin down the last segment of a road that began almost twenty years ago. That began two thirds of my life ago. Tonight, I begin finishing reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.