Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Two years ago today, Jim Rigney sadly left us, all too soon. I extend my wishes and thoughts to all his loved ones on this second anniversary of his passing.
I never had the chance to meet Robert Jordan – the only direct interaction I had with him (and one that brought a lot of chuckling, to me and to him judging by the tone of his answer) was via his blog, but his work, his passion for it, his humour have left a deep mark in my life.
This blog of course wouldn’t exist, and none of you would be here reading it, without the Wheel of Time, but even more it wouldn’t exist without the passion and fascination the work of Jim Rigney is able to inspire to his readers. From Dragonmount to Theoryland, from The Wheel of Time Encyclopedia to Leigh Butler’s popular reread on Tor.com to Charleston and Provoh where Harriet and her team, and Brandon Sanderson are hard at work giving the series the ending it deserves, the legacy and spirit of the Dragon endures, thrives and rides on the winds of time today, and will, for years to come. Thanks with all my heart to all those involved in making sure the pattern is not only complete one day, but completed with all the respect, passion and love for this series Jim Rigney deserved. Theirs is a major contribution to help Jim's story live on and continue to touch other lives. Stories that stir such passion and joy shouldn't die - and this one won't.
One of my teachers decades ago told me the greatest writers are always the ones whose works you enjoy the most. More than critical and literary acclaim, this passion for the Wheel of Time in the hearts of those who bring it to completion and those of the thousands and thousands of readers who celebrate it virtually on a daily basis and that I see today as alive and enthusiastic as ever in my years of involvement in the WOT online community is the true testimony to the power of Robert Jordan as one the great storytellers of our times, an Alexandre Dumas for the late 20th/early 21st centuries.
I did not grow up reading the Wheel of Time - it was written to late for that - but it’s given me something as great if not greater than chilhood memories: with Robert Jordan’s books I have rediscovered in my thirties all the excitement and pleasure I felt as a kid reading Dumas, Twain, Leblanc, Tolkien, Yoshikawa, Luigi Natoli, Clavell, Dickens, the medieval epics and legends and many others, a joy reading great stories I had not felt in some years despite my enduring passion for books, and didn’t quite expect to return one day, not so strongly and with all this freshness and excitement. I certainly didn't hope I'd find in new books the same feelings I felt reading Le Comte de Monte-Cristo at 12, but with Jordan I did find that, and more. The Wheel of Time has reminded me of all the pleasures of getting involved in a good story, in adventures, mysteries and great characters and it made me return to the great books of my youth and rediscover them with a new, more analytical adult eye but the heart of a kid again. And this is a priceless gift I owe to Jim Rigney’s breadth, to the power of his voice. I could not possibly count all the hours of happiness this series has given me in the last twelve years, from the big laughs and smiles brought by Jordan’s humour, the intellectual stimulation of theorizing away – but also the friendships I’ve made with fellow Wheel of Time enthusiasts, the joy I derive from sharing with others my interest for these books, or my passion for folklore, myth, early modern history Jordan’s work has rekindled, or contributed keeping alive, or deepen (Jordan stands right there with Umberto Eco as the novelist who's made me read the most non-fiction books over the years).
With his blog in his last years, Jordan made me discover a bit of the man behind the series, intelligent, funny, epicurian, loving (who can’t fall in love with his Harriet after this endearing portrait of her Jim painted all these years?), passionate and goodhearted – a man of conviction and courage in the face of adversity - a man I can admire beyond his books, a man who seemed to have even more layers than his story and who I wish greatly I had more time to get to know better.
As the combined efforts of so many who loved the man and his work, his widow Harriet, his friend Tom Doherty, long-time fan Brandon Sanderson, his assistants Allan and Maria will start bringing us tomorrow some of his last prose, something I’ve awaited with as much excitement and anticipation as I could the next Star Wars as a boy – I will raise a glass and salute the man to whom with owe this all, celebrate all the joy his story has brought me over the years, and that yet to come, with the sincere conviction that this man’s great legacy has far from finished bringing pleasure and passion to his old fans and his new readers who will discover him, something he could be very proud of and a feeling I hope dearly he was able to enjoy before his passing.
Robert Jordan is deeply missed, but the spirit of the Dragon endures - and may it do for a long time. Thanks Jim for the story, you great mind, the humour, the generosity toward your readers and all the good times you've brought and keep bringing me and so many others - and wherever you are, I salute you.
I had the privilege of attending a booksigning and meeting RJ in Sydney in about 2000. This was before I joined the online WOT community, so I had far fewer questions to ask than I would these days! RJ read the passage about the Amayar in Chapter 1 of The Path of Daggers. One thing he remarked while signing books was that he was surprised by the number of readers who found Semirhage unalarming, because she certainly scared him. (I think that, luckily, many people don’t know what pain can do to people and what people can be made to do to avoid pain.) I was delighted to meet RJ, and wish that I had been able to do so more than that one brief time.
To commemorate the second anniversary of his tragic passing, the Thirteenth Depository is re-publishing the collected interviews, blog posts and Q&As of RJ that were in the Wotmania FAQ. While the interviews, reports from booksignings and TOR Q&A replies throw much light on the WOT series, many people, including myself, found his more chatty and personal blog posts to be delightful and sometimes revelatory. Once such post, revealing that RJ was a Freemason, inspired me to write up an analysis of Freemasonry references and influences in The Wheel of Time and this article too is now released in the blog’s Reference Library.
The basis of Freemasonry being symbolism and allegory, it’s hardly surprising that it pervades the Wheel of Time series so. I think it would be safe to say that the series is built around symbolism. The extensive use of real world history and myth that RJ made in building his fantasy world is also not unusual, although the enormous breadth and interesting combinations of these allusions may be. But RJ’s other interests incorporated into the books, such as card games and board games, which are not merely pastimes for the characters, but serve to reflect the strategies used against others in battles and politics, or just plain survival, are quite remarkable and finely done indeed.
Freemasonry probably also accounts for RJ’s appreciation, getting rare in the 21st century Western world, of artisans, their craftsmanship, and the role of their guilds. He was well aware of the making of things, and that they don’t turn up magically in shops.
Then there is his frequent, realistic, and to me enjoyable, inclusion of textile references in many guises from theology and philosophy, to luxury items, to clothing and even gifts (I’m thinking of Mat’s gifts to Tuon, here). The creation, manipulation and use of textiles were important in earlier times. I think that someone close to RJ, maybe more than one someone, works with or creates textiles – spins, weaves, knits, quilts or embroiders, or some combination of these. I for one do the last three activities. This is obvious from RJ’s correct usage of terms (rare for non-needleworkers!), his enthusiastic (and not-so-enthusiastic!) embroiderers, and the way his needleworkers, such as Semirhage and Cadsuane, really notice the quality of the light whatever they are doing.
The more one looks under the surface of the story, the more there is to find, and that is what makes reading the Wheel of Time series so rewarding for me.