Posted on 22 April 2011

Chapter Sixteen: From the Shadows

So, last weekend I was at JordanCon as the toastmaster. While my opening ceremonies (watchable here) were well in the tradition of past years, that is to say, completely zany and awesome, I did leave a bit at the end for a serious speech (which is the better part of part 4 in the youtubes). For those who prefer to read than watch, here is the speech as I wrote it. I seem to recall that I didn’t miss or change anything, so, here it is. The general topic (as is easy to figure out) is what Robert Jordan means to me as a writer.

What I’d like to talk about now is what Robert Jordan and his work has meant to me as not a fan, but as a writer. See, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. My honest to Light earliest memories are of having watched the movie Dragonslayer and thinking “I can do better than that,” and then proceeding to steal my mom’s old typewriter and pluck out a chapter book. Sadly, it never got past the first chapter.

But even then, for as much as I wanted to write stories, I never really seemed to have the full motivation to actually do it. I read C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, David Eddings and Piers Anthony, Margret Wiess and Tracy Hickman. But all of that always just scratched an itch for fantasy. It didn’t push me over the edge. Then, one day in ’98, a friend hands me The Eye of the World. Now, my deep dark admission here is that I only got to Four Kings before I put the book down because of various other distractions, and I didn’t pick it back up again until ’03 and realized what I’d been missing.

Dark secret aside, something stuck with me from what I read back in ’98, and that was the prologue, Dragonmount. Those pages have been emblazoned on my mind, and even though I wasn’t completely aware of it, they were molding me. See, I’ve read numerous books with prologues, and nearly every single one of them did it poorly. And those that didn’t still didn’t really need them. But Dragonmount set the stage perfectly for the Wheel. I’ll openly admit that it was shortly after reading Eye of the World that I started putting pen to paper with any commitment. In fact, I wrote several wonderful and complete knockoffs of Dragonmount to prologue my own stories, and I am thankful that they have all been lost in hard drive crashes and cross-country moves. And, despite my, um, “homage” in my writing, I don’t think it was until recently that I was able to really see how Robert Jordan had started the ball rolling for me. And now, much like any writer who grew up reading Jordan, I desperately would love to tell my own grand epic and am doing what I can to perfect my words until I’m ready.

But, what is it about Jordan? He is hardly the first person to write a massively long series or even an epic fantasy. Why did Tolkien or Lewis not spark me the same way? I’ve thought long and hard, and the seed of this answer came after JordanCon I. Somewhere at that convention, among meeting Team Jordan and the other fans, I realized a unique truth.

Robert Jordan’s true legacy is not just ink on paper. Nor is it even a well thought-out and realized world and story. It is something more than that, something that is living and breathing. It is a seed that grows in our minds and makes us really think. In the Wheel of Time, we find mirrors for our own society and the hard questions we must ask. Rand may be fighting the ultimate war of Good and Evil, but there are a thousand ways that Jordan has challenged us to think about our own, internal struggles.

And that literary strength is what grew in me starting with Dragonmount. There is a scope and power imbued in those words that let you know this is not just any other book. Even in Lews Therin’s madness, we can see ourselves. We can feel his loss and his failure. And that is what Robert Jordan means to me. It isn’t the gorgeous description, or the vastness of the world, or the diversity of the characters. It is that he makes me feel what they feel in a way that no other fantasy ever has.

And he did it with careful thought, and a desire to ask questions without giving answers to them. If he had his own answers, he did not presume to tell us, because, I think, he knew that any answer out there was greater than one person. He wanted us all to experience it for ourselves, because, after all, one of the cardinal rules of writing is to show, not tell. And that idea, that power that Jordan has written with is what drives those of us who have been inspired by his work. We want to tell our epics, but what’s more, if we can examine and realize it, is that we want to ask questions that will make people think. We want to tell stories that will make people discuss. We want to make worlds where we can find our own answers and then share those worlds so that others might find their answers as well.

And so now, let us ask our questions, discuss our thoughts, and try as we might to find our answers. We are on the brink, not of seeing the end of a series, but of being posed a final query. When we thought all might have been lost, a storm gathered and the towers of midnight themselves stood before us. Soon, the pattern willing, we will have our conclusion. So, join me, here, as we all march on to Tarmon Gaidon with naught but a Memory of Light to guide us.

4 comment to Legacy

  • Rebecca says:

    What a beautiful tribute. I too find Robert Jordan inspiring as I strive to be a writer. He so perfects “show, not tell” in a way I can not even begin to. That is where my revising is focused right now, and if I can do it a quarter as successfully as he did, I will be content. Like you, his books stir a passion in me that no other books do. They make me WANT to write, to perfect, to create. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Jennifer says:

    I found this through Tor.Wot on Facebook. It is brilliant.

  • […] after I had Rickroll’d the entire convention.) If you are interested, you can read the speech here, or watch the whole opening ceremonies […]

  • […] of James Oliver Rigney Jr. I was then further honored when JordanCon and Dragonmount linked to my Legacy post, which contained the transcript of my speech at JordanCon III, saying that they “spent […]

  • Leave a comment

    You must be logged in to post a comment.

    WordPress powered. Copyright © 2009-2018 Richard Fife.