Search the most comprehensive database of interviews and book signings from Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson and the rest of Team Jordan.
2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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When Robert Jordan's parents couldn't find a babysitter, they would utilize the services of his redoubtable older brother, who read to his four-year-old sibling from a rich varied repertoire of Mark Twain, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and the like.
The common thread was a zestful, sometimes wry imagination. And Jordan was an exceedingly quick study.
"On the one hand, I'm flattered. On the other, I would have to say it's overplayed. On the third hand, Tolkien encompassed so much in The Lord of the Rings and other books that he did for fantasy what Beethoven did for music.
"For a long time, it was believed that no one did anything that did not build on Beethoven. For his part, Tolkien did provide a foundation while himself building on an existing tradition. Although it's difficult now to forge a singular place in this foundation, people like Stephen R. Donaldson are doing it. I hope I am as well."
In the realm of fantasy writing, Jordan has been less influenced than simply entertained by such works as Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series and the horror writing of Stephen King.
He never reads fantasy when he is in the midst of writing it.
As regards Randland being the future/part of our world, he made a reference to the game 'Chinese Whispers'. He said that, like in the game, the happenings of our time/age will be changed/twisted [my words] into Randland's myths, and similarly the occurrences in Randland will/have become our myths.
He also mentioned the fact that he tried to 'reverse-engineer' [his word] the current myths that we have into WoT's happenings/history, and our history into WoT's myths.
Red Ajah: not all lesbians—just manhaters. RJ knows non-manhating lesbians. Not based at all on Agnes Scott girls. Based on some girls he knew as a child.
All women in Randland—based on his wife. "Does she tug her hair?" "No. Mine."
Language—It is planned. Based on Russian, Chinese and a bit of Spanish with a lot of Gaelic thrown in.
Cultures of influence—he's real big on Chinese history right now.
Why the swords?—As in Japan, gunpowder is suppressed so martial arts are developed and are based on the sword and on agricultural implements.
(from the comments)
One other way to think of it is thus: The Wheel will keep on turning, and the Age that we live in (or like unto it) will someday arrive. Legends from what is happening in these books will have survived, and become the Arthur legends during our day. Or, in other cases, stories of other characters have survived in other mythologies. (Look up the Slavic god Perun sometime.)
Perrin is not a god, nor is Gawyn the knight of that story I linked. But perhaps someone who lived long ago, in another Age, gave birth to rumors about a young nobleman who made a mistake, and bore the weight of that sin for the rest of his days. And that gave birth to stories, which in turn inspired a poet to write a tale.
Overheard early during the signing: the history of the Da'shain Aiel is based on the history of the Cheyenne Indians during their several-generation migration from east of the Great Lakes to the Rocky Mountains—a period in which every man's hand was raised against them.
We talked a bit about the Aiel culture. Robert constantly referred to the Amer-Indian, Arab, and African cultures. In particular, how come they don't show signs of being malnourished? "Belly dancers live in the desert and yet, have been known to be full bodied. It is the people who have had their fields burned that might be a little malnourished."
About skill comparisons between main character swordsmen:
"Read the book." About the forms used: I was curious, so I asked if he had studied the sword fighting arts or just researched. It's research, and the forms come from Japanese sword fighting and some European fencing, before the advent of well-designed and well-made guns made swords obsolete. He mentioned one book in particular, but I can't remember the title... :(
Physics/Math background and how it affected his writing:
—only marginally useful
—Schrödinger's Cat and other Quantum Physics stuff helps with conceptualization of fantasy structure.
—His editor (also his wife) said that the physics and math was more important than he gave it credit for. ;)
4. I heard about the hoax. Thanks for the printout of the posting. I suppose whoever posted it thought this book—The Westing Game—had some influence on some part of my writing. I'll have to try finding it; it would help, of course, if I knew whether it was fiction or non-fiction, and who the author is. Or maybe it's part of the hoax, too. The Eddings War? The Grin Thingy War? The Lanfear Trials? Elucidate further, my dear. Sorry to hear of so many falling by the wayside.
A note: Taim, whether you mispronounce it as TAME or pronounce it correctly as tah-EEM, doesn't rhyme with the others. Isn't anyone required to write poetry in school anymore? Of course, that dates me to the Dark Ages by most peoples' view, but I can still knock off a fairly good sonnet, Elizabethan or later.
5. Re: the Forsaken working together. Do some reading on Hitler's henchmen. Also Stalin's, and Mao's. There are plenty of other examples, but these are probably the easiest to find. In each case you find that the fellows were out for what they could get and just as likely to try pulling down one of their so-called compatriots, or at least undercut him, as to help if that was the route to greater power. Check out Goebbels-Goring-Himmler and Beria-Molotov-Kruschev, for examples, these are much easier to document than that Chinese tangle.
The question of what is evil is always difficult on the one hand and easy on the other. Is the sexual abuse of a child evil? I think that it is; I can see no excuse; I would offer no mercy. An octogenarian friend and I used to discuss the nature of evil, until he died. He would protest when I brought up something such as the Holocaust, say (though he was Jewish), because he wanted to keep it all on a level of purely Platonic ideals. It was always an effort for me to do that. To me, evil is real and palpable. The problem is, and always has been defining it. Harming someone without cause? Hitler had cause, a reason, [a carat and line leading to "however moral it was" in parentheses in blue ink] for murdering millions of people; so did Stalin and Mao. At the other end, how much harm? If you tell a lie that causes two people to argue, you have done harm, but was the act evil, or merely wrong? There are infinite shadings of degree, intent and effect to take into account.
Dear Bruce et al.,
Your questions are complex, or at least their answers are, and I'm afraid that the time I put into answering letters is time not put into writing, but I will try to answer you. Though I suspect not as fully as you would like. (I have 60 letters to answer today.)
What language is the Old Tongue based on? Gaelic, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and some additions of my own—bridging material, if you will. Grammar and syntax are a blending of English, German and Chinese, with some influences from a set of African languages, read about long ago and all but the oddities of structure long since forgotten. There are inverted constructions, for example (as in Mordero dagain pas duente cuebiyar!—literally, "Death fear none holds my heart!") and places where the article is omitted, especially where the word is a title or has gained enough importance to now incorporate the article; the absence of article indicates that it is the important or special meaning of the word that is intended. Though even then, it is not a hard and fast rule; the same inconsistencies of English are incorporated here. I am attempting to create a language which has grown, not one which was made.
Majority rules, my dear? You should know that I am neither Democrat nor Republican; I am a monarchist. For the church for the laws, for the king, for the cause! For Charles, King of England, and Rupart of the Rhine! Ah, for the chance to re-fight Malvern Hill. God send this crumb well down!
Ah, me. To do evil without doing wrong. What about the law of unintended consequences? An example, partly fictive, but possible. We have passed laws protecting harp seals. The result so far, an explosion in the harp seal population, an explosion in the orca population (they feed on harp seals, among others) and a sharp decline in commercial fishing in those waters (orcas and harp seals both like to eat the same fish that people do). Nothing evil so far, just fishermen and cannery workers out of work and some fishing towns in depressions, but here is the fictive yet possible part.
Population explosions frequently result in waves of disease, quite often new and deadlier strains of something that has been around in the population with less effect for some time. As witness AIDS, Ebola, Zaire and the Devil's own litany of others, these things can be devastating. So, postulate that the explosion in harp seal population results in the appearance of a virus among the seals—call it Seal Ebola—and the next thing you know there aren't any harp seals left at all. (Some of these things do seem to come close to 100% lethality, and if you only have 90%, which is the rate among humans with Zaire, I think, you are left with 10% of the population weakened and in no shape to escape orcas or sharks and with systems weakened to where they would be easy prey for other illnesses that they usually shake off.)
Worst case. Seal Ebola does not only infect harp seals. After all, most diseases that affect one part of a species will affect the rest. So seals vanish. All of them. Or maybe it's the orca explosion, and all the whales and dolphins that are wasted. The ecology of the oceans is thrown into a tailspin from which it might never recover. Now, will future generations record what we did as evil? If they use out present manner of viewing history—holding everyone in history to the standards of our time, usually more tightly than we hold most of our own populations, holding them to account as if they had our knowledge and lived in a world with our moral views, and condemning those ancestors who fail to measure up—if thy use that method, they certainly will. Would what we did be evil? I don't know. An act taken with the purest of intentions that resulted in the death of an entire species. The result could not be called other than evil, but does that make the cause evil? Now more than ever, I regret that Robert Marks, an old friend, died some years ago. This is the kind of question that would make him want to open a bottle of good brandy and discuss it for hours.
"No man is an island, but every one a part of the main. Therefore, send not to ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee." John Donne.
Don't worry about grinning over the fate of the poor string bean. I have heard people express the belief from the heart. Not from the brain, though; I think that they lacked that particular organ. Then there is the group of rather vocal people who believe that human beings have no more rights than any other animal ("a boy is a cat is a dog is a rat"), though they generally express it by saying that animals should have the same rights as people. To vote, perhaps? To hold elective office? We already see enough jackasses in public office.
Don't worry too greatly about how much of what you said there that you actually believe. The purpose of the sort of discourse you engaged in is not so much to express belief as to explore ideas and possibilities. you say, if this, then maybe that, and if both things, then this other should follow. None of that is saying that you necessarily believe in any of the points, though it can lead to belief in various things. It is a good way to reason out what you do believe in. Much better than simply taking someone else's word for it. That is fine for 1 + 1 = 2, but not so good on points of morality, ethics, philosophy, or whether monarchist feudalism would function better than the mish-mosh of corruption, self-interest and idiocy we are saddled with at present.
In the end, I believe that we ourselves define what is good or evil. Several hundred years ago, slavery was seen as good and right. I don't mean just black slavery; there were white slaves in Europe—and slaves in Asia, Africa and just about everywhere else—for thousands of years before the first black slave was brought to America. Helping a slave escape was theft of property at best and an abomination in the eyes of God—or the gods—at worst. Time passes, and our views alter significantly.
If an Avatar of Pure Good appeared and told us that in order for Good and Light to triumph over Evil and Darkness, the human race must be extinguished, I think we would decide that old Av was sliding us the long con. And I think we would be right to. Not only as a matter of species survival—any species that is ready to slit its collective throats for whatever cause should go ahead and do it now; it isn't up to survival in a universe that, if not malignant (I do not believe that), is certainly neither benign, compassionate nor caring—but also because I would seriously doubt the Good- and Light-hood of whoever/whatever made such a pronouncement. The Devil can quote scripture, and all that.
Jordan's books have been called a combination of Robin Hood and Stephen King. He manages to create characters that seem real, perhaps because he uses many of his own personal experiences in the telling of these epic stories. Do you ever use your experiences in Vietnam in your stories?
Yes, indirectly. I know what it's like to have somebody trying to kill you. I know what it's like to try to kill somebody. And I know what it's like to actually kill somebody. These things I think help with writing about people being in danger, [or] especially if it's in danger of violence ... which happens occasionally in my books.
The reason Robert Jordan chose to write fantasy was its opportunities to build cultures and experiment with them, in a way and with a freedom to comment that is unachievable with a "realistic", domestically based world.
Well, it's not all that hard in my head because I grew up in Charleston, which one writer once said makes Byzantium look simple. But I couldn't do it in a computer. I don't have the time to invest in that much effort on the computer simply to keep track of it.
There are a lot of layers—everything is an onion. And we're talking almost a four-dimensional onion here. Any particular point that you look at—almost any particular point—has layers to it. It's one of the interesting things to me, is how much can I layer things without making it too complicated. It's quite possible for somebody to read these books as pure adventure, and I actually have twelve-year-old fans who do that. I was surprised to find that I had twelve-year-old fans, but I do and they read it just like that. Other people spend quite a lot of time discussing the layering, and it's fun for me to do.
It's not only an ancient structure like that. It's in places like, oh, say a country that has a tradition of the common man born in the log cabin and rising to the White House. You know, anybody can be President. And in recent years, anybody has been.
It's an old tradition, and it's not just American. I've seen it in Japanese and Chinese mythology and African mythology. In Asia and Africa, more often the fellow who's the commoner who aspires to greatness gets punished for it by the gods. It is more—I should say, not exclusively—but more of a European and Middle-eastern tradition that the common man can challenge the gods, the entrenched powers, and conquer, or at least work out some sort of rapprochement.
And yeah, I work with that. I've tried to mine myths from every country and every continent. And reverse engineer them, of course. The Arthur myths, the Arthur legends, are easily recognizable in the books. I tried to hide them to some extent, but frankly Arthur is, I believe, the most recognizable legend in the United States. More people know about King Arthur than know about Paul Bunyan or Davey Crockett or anything that we have out of our own culture. But the others—myths from Africa and the Middle East, Norse mythology, Chinese mythologies—those things I could bury more deeply, more easily, because they're not very much recognized here.
Well, more often they're trying to work out details of what I'm intending to do, and what I have meant by things that I've already written. I've been sent in some cases sheets of Frequently Asked Questions and the answers that have been deduced. The only thing is, they're right between 20 percent, and oh, 33 percent of the time. They're almost right maybe another 20 percent of the time, 25 percent. And the rest of the time, they've gotten off into an incredibly wild tangent that makes me wonder if I ought to re-read the books to figure out how they came up with this.
I do look at what they have said. And by that, I mean I look at it when somebody sends me a print-out. I'm not on the 'nets, normally. But sometimes people will send me a print-out of a couple of days of discussion, or a Frequently Asked Questions list, as I said. And I'll look at that, and it does give me some feedback.
There are things in the books that I have tried to bury very deeply. And if, from the discussion or from the questions, I can see that they're beginning to get close to something I want to keep buried, I know that I have to be more subtle from now on, that I haven't been subtle enough. Or, on the other hand, there are some times when I realize that they're spending a lot of time discussing something that I was certainly not trying to make obscure that I thought was perfectly obvious. Then it becomes plain to me that I've gone the opposite way. I didn't say enough about it for them to understand. So then I have to maybe reiterate a little bit.
But I certainly—I don't change the plots or anything like that. I'm certainly not going to alter the fates of major characters or anything of that sort, whether someone has figured out what that's going to be or not. I must say, they've not figured out very much of that accurately, but it's fun to see.
Actually, all that really helped me with is that I know what it's like to have somebody trying to kill you. I know what it's like to have a lot of people trying to kill you. And I also know what's it like to kill somebody. These things come through, so I've been told by people who are veterans of whether Vietnam, or of Korea, or combat anywhere—Desert Storm; I had a lot of fan letters from guys who were there.
As far as the Machiavellian part, as I said I grew up in a family of Byzantine complexity, in a city where there has always been a great deal of Byzantine plotting. The court of Byzantium never had anything on Charleston for either plotting or blood feuds. It came as mother's milk to me.
There are a number of characters reflected, mythological characters, reflected in each of the books. Because of the basic theme, if you will, of the books, that information becomes distorted over distance or time, you cannot know the truth of an event the further you get from it. These people are supposed to be the source of a great many of our legends or myths, but what they actually did bears little resemblance to the myth. That is the conceit, that time has shifted these actions to other people, perhaps compressing two people into one or dividing one into three as far as their actions go.
So Rand has bits of Arthur and bits of Thor and bits of other characters. And so does Mat and so does Nynaeve, and so do others. And yes Mat does have some bits of Odin, but not exclusively. He has bits of Loki and bits of Coyote and of the Monkey King.
Also, there's another (non-FAQ-related) note concerning the pre-Bore Age of Legends...
RJ had mentioned (in response to another question) that what the characters believe does not make it so (Moiraine's statements were used as an example), so I asked whether the pre-Bore Age of Legends was the Utopia that the characters believed it to be. His reply is paraphrased below:
Compared to their current world, it certainly would be a utopia. However, that doesn't mean that it wasn't perfect. Of course, outbreaks of diseases were kept to a minimum, but it and other disasters of that ilk still occurred. Evil still existed, as well.
The Forsaken, for example, weren't exactly a stellar bunch to begin with. Semirhage, for example, was a sadist. (I'll skip his description of what a sadist is.) She went into her profession (the equivalent of a surgeon) because it provided an outlet for her sadism. (He then cited some studies that showed that there were more people with sadist tendencies in the medical profession, and surgeons in particular, to support his point.) Aginor (whom he said after some prompting had several elements of the classic mad scientist type) was a biological scientist who never considered the consequences of his actions. Aginor would say, "I wonder what would happen if I took the ebola virus and altered it to be an airborne virus." He'd go ahead and do just that, all without realizing he'd be creating a potentially unstoppable plague. All Aginor would reply to that was, "Hmm. Interesting." (Jordan then mentioned Aginor's creation of the Trollocs, their defects, "It was strong, big, tough to kill, and...... stupid," and that it was the birth of the first Myrddraal that saved the Trollocs from being a complete failure.)
Even back in the Age of Legends, regular, ordinary folks could do some pretty nasty things. He then cited a study about a small town of ordinary Germans in WWII who did some pretty horrific things (I believe he was referring to the book "Hitler's Willing Executioners").
Vietnam/Rand's "No Kill Woman" Thing
RJ vividly described an experience he had in Vietnam where he killed a female Viet Cong. He said he simply spotted a figure holding a weapon and fired on it, then "acquired the next target." He then realized that he had killed a woman—the first (and I believe only) time he's done that. This provides an obvious basis for Rand's "Achilles' Heel." (I thought he should have offed both the Tower Aes Sedai in the beginning of A Crown of Swords and Lanfear earlier, but I'm rude like that.)
The descriptions come from years of reading history, sociology, cultural anthropology, almost anything I can put my hands on in any and every subject that caught my eye. Including religion and mythology, of course, necessities for a fantasy writer, though I went at them first simply because I wanted to. It all tumbles together in my head, and out comes what I write. I don't try to copy cultures or times, only to make cultures that are believable. I can't explain it any better than that.
I don't base characters on real people. With one exception, at least. Every major female character and some of the minor have at least a touch of my wife, Harriet. I won't tell her which bits in which women, though. After all, what if she didn't like it? She knows where I sleep.
What if you were tapped on the shoulder and told you had to save the world?
What are the sources of myths? "Reverse-engineered" legends.
The game of "telephone". (He calls it "whisper").
Proud of the little things that slip up on you, like Callandor being "the Sword in the Stone."
When China Ruled the Seas
Evidently, China was a real behemoth in the Middle Ages, right on the track to world domination, until they decided they didn't really want to rule the world. The following is a summary from hastily scribbled notes on a subject about which I am relatively ignorant; if I fuck up, it means I can't read my notes.
In the time before Columbus...
China had a huge fleet of ships (3000 of them, half-million crew), printing presses, generally huge technological advantage over everywhere else. The fleet is commanded by a name that translates as "Three-Jeweled Eunuch" (although he was evidently not a eunuch??). The fleet had superior logistics (well, something about logistics right about here) and had reached Madagascar. They were planning to round the Cape of Good Hope and see what they found.
The year they would have reached Europe...and overwhelmed it.
Unfortunately, bad things happened. The current Emperor died and was succeeded by his son, who was young and had self-confidence problems. The palace eunuchs (evidently a powerful political force) grew concerned over the changes caused by outside influences, believing them to be corrupting Chinese culture. They convinced the Emperor to shut China off from the rest of the world by burning seafaring boats (including that huge fleet!), restricting foreigners to certain cities and killing them if they were caught outside, and killing Chinese who left to see the world and then returned.
It seems the Japanese also did this—twice, in fact.
Where did the idea of the Wheel of Time come from?
If you mean simply the concept of time as a wheel, that comes from the Hindu religion, though many cultures have or had a cyclical view of the nature of time. If you mean the books, then the idea came from many things. From wondering what it really would be like to be tapped on the shoulder and told, "You were born to save mankind. And, by the way, you’re supposed to die in the end, it seems." I wondered what a world might be like where the feminist movement was never necessary simply because no one is surprised to see a woman as a judge or ruler, a wagon driver or a dock hand. There’s still some surprise at a woman as a soldier—a matter of upper body strength, and weapons that need upper body strength—but by and large, the question of a woman not being able to do a job just doesn’t arise. I wondered what it wold be like if the "wise outsider" arrived in a village and said, "You must follow me on a great quest," and the people there reacted the way people really react when a stranger shows up and offers to sell them beachfront property at incredibly low prices. I wondered about the source of legends, about how events are distorted by distance—either spatial or temporal—about how any real events that might have led to legends would probably be completely unrecognizable to us. This is getting entirely too involved, so let’s just say that the books grew out of forty-odd years of reading everything I could get my hands on in any and every subject that caught my interest.
Have any writers influenced you?
Yes, I think so. I believe that the major influences on my writing are Jane Austen, John D. MacDonald, Mark Twain, Louis L'Amour and Charles Dickens.
Do the events of the outside world (i.e. current affairs, politics and the like) affect what you write in your books?
They must filter in, to varying degrees. I follow the world news assiduously, and I can’t see how I could keep events in the world from affecting events in the books. But it happens when and as I choose. Refugees in Kosovo, ethnic cleansing, famine in Africa, civil wars, upheavals, floods, whatever—you might say I use those events to give authenticity to similar events in the books. I don’t like preaching, but I always hope my readers will think a little beyond the story, and I think that acquired authenticity helps.
Oh, Lord. Almost anything. Half the books I read are nonfiction and it can be about anything under the sun. I'm just finishing up a book called Strange Victory, which is about the German defeat of France in 1940. What's fascinating about that is why it happened, because as the author points out, any time computers are allowed to run that scenario—the German invasion, the French defense—the French always win. The French had more tanks and the tanks were just as good. They had more men and the men were just as well trained. They had as many airplanes. Their airplanes were as good.
But what happened was, the French did a couple of things that were very wrong. One, they had a high dependence on advanced technology and the arrogance, if you will, that comes from that, that says that technology will win for us.
They relied on that, and the second thing that happened was that because they had suffered tremendous casualties in World War I, they were very reluctant to suffer casualties again. The politicians were and the country was. And the third thing was that because of the reluctance to suffer casualties, they made all of the decisions be reviewed in Paris. So they had a slow decision-making cycle. If you put those together, does it give you an image of anybody else in the world right now, maybe?
Anyway, the next book up is called The Code Book, and it's about development of codes and ciphers throughout history. As I said, I read about anything and everything... Whatever catches my eye.
Not one-to-one. Not for any given cultures. Well, the Aiel for instance, there are bits of Berber and Bedouin cultures. Zulu. Some things from the Japanese historical cultures. From the Apache Indians. Also from the Cheyenne. I put these things together and added in some things that I also wanted to be true about the culture beyond these real cultures.
Then I began to figure out if these things were true, what else had to be true and what things could not be true. That can be very simple. If you have a culture living in a land where water is scarce, well, obviously they value water. It's necessary for human survival. On the other hand, if they live in the middle of a waterless waste, dealing with crossing rivers or lakes is going to be difficult for them. They don't know how.
No, the cat is not either way; it is both. It is 100% alive, and 100% that the cat is dead, and both things are true. And must be acceptable as true. If you cannot accept this as true, then you are not ready for quantum...for the most basic quantum physics, much less getting into anything beyond.
But the thing is that if you can wrap your mind around Schrödinger's cat, you can also wrap your mind around fantasy. As a matter of fact, the thing that I find very interesting is that...I don't really follow theoretical physics to any degree now, and haven't for more than twenty years. But when I find myself talking to a theoretical physicist, I sometimes get stuck on panels with theoretical physicists. I'm always afraid that I'm going to be left way behind because I haven't kept up in the area, but I find that I can keep up quite nicely. As long as...while they're discussing theoretical physics, I discuss theology. And ah, I find myself able to keep up quite nicely, talking about the same thing.
(And then the first half of my tape was gone, and I decided to save most of the rest for the audience questions.)
Jordan mentioned all the different cultures and myths he used in WoT. That he'd mined everything from Europe and Asia and Africa etc...
[first sentence paraphrased...only started taping again halfway through this] I don't know how it is in other places, but the best known legend for the American audience, that I had in mind ... when I wrote this for ... that legend is King Arthur. I would imagine that more people know the complete story of King Arthur and Guenever and the round table and the whole nine yards than know any other myth or legend, or perhaps more than know all the other myths put together. Now there are Arthurian elements in these books, but I had to try to bury them, for that reason, make them not so readily apparent. And while I had a particular part of the Arthurian legend mentioned from the first book, it was not until the third book that people began to realize what it was. In fact my editor, who is my wife, and who is a very very sharp woman, uhm, had edited the book and was writing the first version of the flap copy for the book, when she suddenly shouted down the stairs to me (if you're young, forgive me):
[loud] You son of a bitch, you've done it it to me again! [laughter]
Because she had suddenly spotted, not until reaching this... not until reaching the cover flap, she suddenly spotted by a... chance connection of words, this one particular Arthurian thing. [Jordan never mentioned what this was, but the logical option is of course Callandor.] And that you see, to me it's very obvious that the Arthur legend and all of the others are in there. If you spend time on the net, you find sites where they discuss these legends. [People sitting around me knowingly chuckle] I have to tell you that if you visit any of these FAQs... I haven't seen one in a couple of years, but the last time I was sent copies, I've read the printout of the FAQ, and when I was through it. And about a third of the answers in there were correct.
Nynaeve is the name of the nymph who in some versions of the Arthur Legend, imprisoned Merlin. Amyrlin is of course a play on Merlin, as is Thom Merrilin, a play on Merlin, and Rand al'Thor is a play on Arthur, as well as on Thor, but then so is Arthur Hawkwing a play on Arthur, because as I said before it's not a retelling of the myths... As things are done by in the myth, in the legend, if things were done by one man, were actually in both done by several perhaps and had become inflated in time.
But the names come from everywhere. I read the ... in the New York Times, or the London Times, or something mis-seen on the street, I see, I catch a sign from the corner of my eye, and I misread a word on the sign because I only see it out of the corner of my eyes. And I jot it down, because it sounded like a good name.
Amongst others. Any group that believes to know the Truth with a capital T and want you to believe the same. Mostly it's based on groups like the Teutonic Knights, however, since they don't hide behind anything. The Church in the early Christian days, like the Taliban now, are people who know the Truth, and they will kill you if you don't believe the truth.
He did not pick up bits and pieces of groups like the Ku Klux Klan, but the Whitecloaks are simply that, a group of people who know the truth, Veritas.
Do current events and world politics, such as the tragedy on September 11th, ever end up influencing the events within the books? If so, what are some examples?
Only by accident. Any writing is always filtered through the writer, and whatever the writer lives through always changes the filters, but I don't consciously set out to mirror current events in any way.
There are a lot of battles, wars, and great conflicts in your books. Did your military experiences influence that part of your writing?
To some extent, but mainly the thing that comes out of my experiences in the military is that I know what it's like when someone is trying to kill you. And I know that being in a battle is confusion. You know what you can see; you don't know what is happening beyond your sight. That's what comes from the military. To tell you the truth, the battles aren't nearly as interesting as the people. I like the interactions of the people—the character development, the way people play off one another.
Are there particular historical eras that influence your stories?
Well, to give you an example of the way these things work... the Aiel. They have some bits of Japanese in them. Also some bits of the Zulu, the Berbers, the Bedouin, the Northern Cheyenne, the Apache, and some things that I added in myself. They are in no way a copy of any of these cultures, because what I do is say, "If A is true, what else has to be true about this culture? If B is true, what else has to be true?" And so forth.
In this way I begin to construct a logic tree, and I begin to get out of this first set of maybe 10, maybe 30 things that I want to be true about this culture. I begin to get around an image of this culture, out of just this set of things, because these other things have to be true. Then you reach the interesting part, because this thing right here has to be true, because of these things up here. But, this thing right here has to be false, because of those things up there. Now, which way does it go, and why? You've just gotten one of the interesting things about the culture, one of the really interesting little quirks.
To me, that in itself is a fascinating thing—the design of a culture. So that's how the Aiel came about. There are no cultures that are a simple lift of Renaissance Italy or 9th-century Persia or anything else. All of them are constructs.
Are there any characters in the books that are based on historical figures?
No. The groups are sometimes in ways based on historical organizations. The Whitecloaks have a lot of, say, Teutonic Knights. The Aes Sedai organization comes from the way convents were organized between A.D. 1000 and 1800, a time when there was real political power behind convents.
There is one real-life individual who has contributed a lot. My wife has given me, involuntarily, at least one major character trait for all of the major female characters in the books. I'm very mean to her, I won't tell her which character traits I have taken.
The women characters in your books are really interesting, not at all the cardboard cutouts that appear so often in fantasy. Did you do that consciously?
In part. In this world, given the history that divides this world, women had to have real political power. But on the other hand, I simply consider women to be more interesting if there's more about them to be interesting. A real live Barbie might be a lot of fun for a weekend if you're 22, but after that there's not much to it. Empty calories.
They are complex women, strong women, the sort of women I've always found interesting. As my grandfather said, "Boy, would you rather hunt rabbits or leopards?" No choice there.
I don't really think that any of the major characters are very much like me, although there's some bits in Mat that remind me of me when I was younger.
Followed by the regular "I think of myself as Lan; my wife says I'm Loial."
The Seanchan also are the melting of things that have come from many different human cultures to make their culture. There have been many rigid stratified, rigidly hierarchical cultures. It's a very human thing. The concept of being able to climb above your station is a relatively new one in human culture. You were born where you were born for a reason, and that is the place you will stay, that has been the norm for human culture, for most of history.
I mean, even the groups...the Whitecloaks are the people who know the truth. Not just truth, they know Truth, they know Veritas, they know Truth with a capital T, they're the Taliban, the Ku Klux Klan, they're the people who know the truth and you must believe their truth or they will kill you. but they're not the Taliban, they're not the Teutonic Knights, they're not the Ku Klux Klan. They are simply that concept.
And the circus happened to have a lot of acts that... (were) from Asia. I don't know why they seemed to have such a disproportionate number of acts from Asia. They were much different than most European circus acts and American circus acts, which are very similar to European circus acts. And when I went to my desk the next morning, I realized I knew exactly how Elayne and Nynaeve were going to travel. With Valan Luca's show.
I have read for close on to fifty years, everything I could get my hands on. Various bits and pieces have been stuck in my head. And I use them. And sometimes...and if I see anything that's interesting, and a lot of things interest me, cultural anthropology, development of cities, how a windmill works, how does a waterwheel work? these things interest me, as much as how a modern day skyscraper is built, or how do you go about building a base on the moon?, or how do you go about building an industrial facility in an L5-point? Sometimes I do research and then... Well, I know nothing about blacksmithing really...[followed by that story you've heard before] No matter what you know, if you're an expert blacksmith, I want you to read right past that blacksmith scene, and believe it. And of course very few people will be expert blacksmiths, but that's fine. Because no matter what the scene is, I want you to believe it. No matter what your own knowledge is.
We get close up in line and I can start hearing things, but nothing of importance. A lady—clearly a fan—in front of me must have asked him about the female characters in his books:
His reply is that his whole family is filled with very strong women...
"All of the men in my family are strong, because the women in my family would kill and eat the weak ones."
Um, if you consider King Arthur to be a Jesus figure—the king who must die. [more, indistinct]
[I'm not positive on the exact wording of that question. It's indistinct.]
Who do you base your female characters on?
I take some of the characteristics from my wife, and I distribute them through all of the female characters. I am, however, being very mean and I won't tell her which characteristics those are.
How do you create the names for the characters?
(He said a really long answer, and I will summarize it. He basically takes names from legends and twists them, mainly King Arthur. The two characters that are based after King Arthur are Artur Hawkwing, obviously, and Rand. For example, the "sword in the stone." He says that the Wheel of Time could kind of be known as the basis of where all of the legends and myths come from. He said he tried to bury King Arthur very deeply, because if people thought that The Eye of the World was just another King Arthur book, nobody would buy it.)
Yes, it seems to me that the SF you like, as do I, so often the "ta-pocketa-pocketa" if you remember the old Walter Mitty movie, the ta-pocketa-pocketa takes over and the characters are just there to see that it happens at the right time. The best SF goes much beyond that and there certainly a lot of flaws in a lot of Fantasy as well, but perhaps that's the reason I decided to go with Fantasy instead of SF.
Also, SF has absorbed something from mainstream literature, and that is something I think of as a moral ambivalence, which is the erroneous application of situational ethics. There really isn't anything that's right or wrong, there is no good or evil, it all depends on the circumstances.
And the technology is very often much more important than the issues, it seems to me.
I say this as someone who likes Neil Stephenson. I like Greg Bear. I reread Heinlein periodically...I love Science Fiction.
No, I don't believe in magic, which is one of the reasons I structured the One Power very much as if it is a science. In fact, the technology of the preceding age was based on the use of the One Power.
As for how much of my spirituality is in my books, I leave it to anybody else to say whether I have any spirituality. I think I'm pretty grounded.
No, the women in my books are not obnoxious. The women in my books are strong. I grew up in a family where all of the men were strong, and the reason is the women in my family killed and ate the weak ones.
When I was a boy, just old enough to be starting to date in a fumbling way, I complained something about girls. And my father said to me, "Would you rather hunt leopards or would you rather hunt rabbits? Which is going to be more fun?" And I decided I'd rather hunt leopards.
According to RJ, "Jak o' the Shadows" should be sung to the Garryowen, which is the official march of the US 7th Cavalry.
Here are the lyrics:
Jak o' the Shadows (Band of the Red Hand version)
We'll drink the wine till the cup is dry, and kiss the girls so they'll not cry, and toss the dice until we fly to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
We'll dance all night while the moon runs free, and dandle the lasses upon our knee, and then you'll ride along with me, to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
We'll sing all night, and drink all day, and on the girls we'll spend our pay, and when it's gone, then we'll away, to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
There're some delight in ale and wine, and some in girls with ankles fine but my delight, yes, always mine, is to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
We'll toss the dice however they fall, and snuggle the girls be they short or tall, then follow young Mat whenever he calls, to dance with Jak o' the Shadows.
His answer was a description of his bookshelf at home, which begins at the left side with the Christian Bible, continues into more Judeo-Christian texts, then picks up with the Quran, with books on Hindusim (I got the sense he was referring to the Bhagavad-Gita, but would need to check with him to be sure), Buddhist texts, and then what he called various "discourses" on world religion and spiritual philosophy.
In short—RJ is a student of world relgion, which explains much of the religious diversity of his work, not just in terms of the many cultures of his world but in terms of the underlying metaphysical structure of his universe.
By the way, Robert Jordan also sent me an email recently further describing his book collection.
The bookshelf I spoke of is one bookcase that holds my books on religion. There are a couple of others for mythology, and a great many covering nonfiction and fiction. At present, the total collection is around thirteen thousand volumes in my study. That's the carriage house behind what is colloquially called "the big house" in Charleston, the main dwelling, whether it is all that big or not; books in the big house aren't part of this total since most of them are Harriet's, and she doesn't catalog her books. I'm trying to pare that number down because I don't have enough room. Unfortunately, as fast as I can give books away, I buy more. Oh, well.
During the course of the meal, we eventually got on the topic of his time in Vietnam. What he revealed to us was deeply personal, disturbing, and moving. Although I will not comment on the specifics (it's his story to tell, not mine), I can say that it was the first time ever that I truly saw and felt the very essence of his books before me. In the days to come Melissa and Brad and I would talk about how it was during these stories that we saw Perrin, and Mat, and Rand in his eyes. We understood where their sad reluctance for war comes from. Their sense of duty.
A few years ago, Robert Jordan talked about some of these same topics in an interview that he did with Dragonmount and Wotmania. Go here to read it. The part about Vietnam is about halfway down. It's one thing to read it and a whole other thing to hear him tell it. I think war in general is like that. I wouldn't know, because I have never served time in the military. But I have the deepest respect for those who do.
Character names—they come from all sorts of places. Some come from historical and mythological references, e.g., Rand al'Thor comes partly from Arthur and Thor. Artur Hawkwing is also from Arthur. Nynaeve is also a direct mythological name if you know the right version of the right myth. Other names are tweaks of foreign names he's seen that piqued his interest.
Cool moment from the book signing. An artist brought in a drawing of a Maiden of the Spear and asked RJ to name her! He thought for a few moments, then wrote "Ahrmin" on the print.
Lan and Rand's swords are loosely based on the katana, and another style of sword I had never heard of before (sooba? something like that anyway. SilverWarder might know) and that others were based on medieval European styles. He said that blademasters don't follow one particular historical style of fighting, but that different blademasters have different styles depending on their culture of origin.
At this point he went off on a little tangent about Miyamoto Musashi, a reknowned Japanese swordsman that developed a two-sword style of fighting that was revolutionary at the time. He related that Musashi developed his fighting style after fighting in the Philippines against fighters (Dutch? Portuguese? I didn't write their nationality down, but somebody here might know) that were using swords and dirks in a two-handed fighting style. In any case, I think his point was to demonstrate how fighting styles, like other knowledge, disseminates from culture to culture, but is changed and adapted into something unique in each locale.
Of course, RJ denied that, and said that after he had handed in The Eye of the World, he was asked to provide a map. "Why do you need a map?" RJ asked, and he was told, "Tom Doherty likes maps." So, RJ slapped a couple pieces of paper together and drew in the mountains, then scattered the countries around, added some cities rivers and other geographical features and sent it off to Tor. Tor revised it a number of times until Elise Mitchell produced the version that became part of The Eye of the World. RJ also stated that if you look at a map of southwestern Saudi Arabia you'll see two mountain ranges that intersect at right angles.
When asked how aware of geography he was while writing, RJ said that he created the city maps whole, but only roughed out the larger ones. The bigger ones were then polished by the people at Tor before being printed in the books. I took it to mean that he wasn't all that concerned with larger geographic features, which might explain some of the geographic discrepencies in the story.
Largely it was to make things realistic, as realistic as I can. Background in physics and engineering; I also tried to structure channeling as if it were a science or technology. No eye of newt, hair of dog. There are real limits, there are rules, there are technological structures to channeling which I think are fairly obvious to anyone who looks at it. That was the major influence.
Plus making sure that I see that everything is real. Well if I bring about a blacksmith, well I don't know anything about blacksmithing, but I was able to get some nineteenth century books on blacksmithing, and once I had written the scenes I sent them to a woman I met that was a blacksmith and farrier, and she said you need to do this and you need to do that, but otherwise it is okay.
Um, when I was much younger, before I met Harriet, I had two girlfriends simultaneously, who arranged my dating schedule between them, who was going to date me on which night. They chipped in together to buy me birthday presents and Christmas presents. You know, they just sort of shared me between them, you know. And they had been friends before, and I am not quite sure whether or not they made the decision they were both going to date me or not, on their own, before they first met me, it just came about. But I figured if I could manage two, surely Rand could manage three. Besides there are mythological reasons to have these three women involved with him.
As far as my view on this, with Harriet, I have many more than three women, there are so many facets to her personality she quite often makes me dizzy, I am quite satisfied there. About how she feels about this, I suspect you want her answer, I seem to remember her saying to me, you do remember this is fantasy right? And I think it was an accident she was holding a carving knife to my throat, just coincidence, but I am not sure.
I see a number of posts about that, and I find them a little surprising. Anybody out there ever read about the internal workings of the Third Reich or the reasons why the Nazis made some of their major, and often disastrous decisions? It was a zoo. A madhouse! Just for an example, even in the last days, they were sidelining trains carrying desperately needed supplies to the front in order to use the engines to transport more people to the death camps! And yet they came within a whisker or two of winning. There are hundreds of counterfactuals—the historian's name for alternate histories—showing how the Nazis could have won outright as late as Normandy, at least to the extent of hanging onto Germany and quite possibly France, or pulled out a tie as late as the Battle of the Bulge. The internal workings of the Soviet Union under Lenin, Stalin (even more so) and most of their successors often made the Nazis look almost sensible, yet Stalin did manage to defeat the Nazis, though largely with the inadvertent help of the Nazis themselves. And his successors, frequently making decisions in nearly buffoon-like fashion, came very close to pulling out a victory over the Western democracies. Henry Kissinger actually saw his position as negotiating the best second-place position he could for the United States vis-a-vis the Soviet Union and the inevitable triumph of communism. True fact. You can look it up. Both Kissinger's feelings and the view of many intelligent people on this side of the Iron Curtain that we were fighting a losing battle are a matter of record. I lived through a lot of that, took part in some of the skirmishing, and I'll tell you, it was a damned close run thing.
The Forsaken are a group of power hungry people who don't like one another and vie with one another for power as much as they vie with the forces of the Light. Much like the internal politicking in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. But look at the situation in the world as it actually stands, from the White Tower divided to crop failures caused by a too-long winter and a too-long summer and people fleeing their farms because the Dragon Reborn has broken all bonds, meaning still less food, and that spoiling at a fearsome rate, from chaos in Arad Doman to a large part of the Borderland armies out of position, from the arrival of the Seanchan focusing too many eyes on them instead of the Shadow to the strongest single nation, Andor, riven by civil war in all but name and Tear split by open warfare, from.... Well, take your pick. There are lots more to chose from. Take a step back and look at what the forces of the Shadow have wrought. The world and the forces of the Light are in bad shape. At this point, boys and girls, the Shadow is winning. There are glimmers of hope, but only glimmers, and they MUST pay off for the Light to win. All the Shadow needs for victory is for matters to keep on as they have been going thus far and one or two of those glimmers to fade or be extinguished. The forces of the Light are on the ropes, and they don't even know everything the Dark One has up his sleeve.
Think of it this way. The bell is about to ring for the fifteenth round, and the Light is so far behind on points the only way to win is a knockout. Our boy is game, but he's wobbly on his legs and bleeding from cuts over his eyes. Now he has three minutes to pull out his best stuff and deliver the punch of his life. The Dark One has taken a few shots, but nothing that has really damaged him. He's still dancing on his toes and talking trash. His head shots can fracture a skull, and his body punches can break ribs. And now he's ready to unveil his surprises. You didn't think all it would take is for Rand to show up at the Last Battle, did you? According to the Prophecies, the Light has no chance without him, but his presence doesn't ensure victory, just that the Light has a chance. Gotta stiffen your legs and blink the blood out of your eyes. Gotta suck it up and find that punch. Three minutes to go, and you gotta find that knockout. That's your only chance.
For Rohit and Mand680, Robert Jordan doesn't come out of Hemingway. In fact, when I first made the connection, I had already written three books under the name. My pen names have all been chosen from three lists of names using my real initials. It has been a matter of one from column A and one from column B, or maybe column C. One pen name actually managed to contain all three initials in a first name and a surname.
For Children of the Light, the Whitecloaks were inspired by the Inquisition, the SS, the Teutonic Knights and others. In fact, they were inspired by all those groups who say, "We know the truth. It is the only truth. You will believe it, or we will kill you."
For Child of Lir, until I recently learned that there is a fern called leatherleaf, I thought that I had made the name up out of thin air. In any case, mine is a tree. Several of the trees I have named have been, I thought, my inventions. I am surprised that that they actually exist.
Also for Mr Mashadar, I think, my favorite fantasy novel is The Lord of the Rings, hands down. The largest effect that it had on my writing was a desire to be the flip side of the coin, to take the comfortable old tropes and put a different spin on them. Also, the creation of paradox is one source of balefire's danger. Remember that in the War of the Shadow, even the forces of the Shadow gave up using it because of the fear that reality itself might unravel.
For Paetram, the game of Stones is very much like Go. No, I don't play go myself, only go-moku. It is remarkably hard to learn the game when you have no one to play against. I would love to find a computer game to practice against, but I haven't been able to find one. I probably haven't looked hard enough. There must be one out there.
For Child of Lir, peaches being poisonous in the world of tWoT is one of the things I did to make the world different. Though peach pits do contain small amounts of cyanide, which was once manufactured through processing peach pits. Several other fruits with pits, such as apricots, also have trace amounts of cyanide in the pits. And almonds may be the first genetically engineered plant since humans bred the deadly, to humans, cyanide levels out them to make them edible for people.
One was evidence of discovery of steel, the first manufacturer of steel, which was discovered—we found countless places where the first smith discovered how to make steel, or at least a smith discovered how to make steel, and by all the evidence, no one else in that area had known how to make steel before him—but of course when he could make steel, his weapons were much better than anybody else's. He had provided steel swords to use against bronze, or iron, and...wow, he had sort of a magic sword here, didn't he? And he sure as hell didn't teach anybody else how to do it, so from the time that men began discovering steel, and the secret began dying with them, to the time when steel began to be manufactured semi-widely, was about a thousand years.
The first time that gunpowder—that we can find evidence of gunpowder being used as a weapon—was in China, when the inhabitants of a besieged city made huge fireworks and dropped them over the wall onto soldiers trying to climb ladders, siege ladders up over the walls of the Chinese city. It's not a very efficient way to use gunpowder, but what's interesting is that it was something over a thousand years after gunpowder, by the evidence, had been discovered in China, and for all of that time, it had been used for nothing more than making fireworks, firecrackers, just...that was it. That was the whole use. So, we have a world where there are no guns because nobody knows how to make gunpowder, except for this guild, and they're not going to put the secret around.
For Anonymous-George, long ago I saw one of the first, I believe, novels about a young woman who wasn't allowed to use magic or whatever because she was a woman, and the thought occurred to me as to how it might go if men were the ones who were denied the right to do magic. Or whatever. I hate using the word magic. From that long ago thought grew the One Power divided into saidin and saidar with the male half tainted and the reasons for and results of it being tainted. Now in most of these societies—Far Madding is the obvious exception—I did not and do not view them as matriarchal. I attempted to design societies that were as near gender balanced as to rights, responsibilities and power as I could manage. It doesn't all work perfectly. People have bellybuttons. If you want to see someone who always behaves logically, never tells small lies or conceals the truth in order to put the best face for themselves on events, and never, ever tries to take advantage of any situation whatsoever, then look for somebody without a bellybutton. The real surprise to me was that while I was designing these gender balanced societies, people were seeing matriarchies.
"The spoken word is the basis for all storytelling," he told us from his 1797 home in the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina. "My father and my uncles were storytellers. When we went fishing or hunting, there was always storytelling at night. I grew up with that oral tradition. I've always thought that my writing lends itself to being read aloud for that very reason."
We asked him about the advantages of listening to a book as opposed to reading it.
"When reading an actual book," he answered, "it's possible to skip over things. You make connections in your head, and you find you're not registering every word. But when it's read to you, there's a difference. You hear every word."
For a fan of rolan_dcs, no characters in my books are based on any real people, living or dead. With the possible exception of myself, anyway. And the bits I took from Harriet for various female characters.
By the by, I've seen a lot of comment, apparently from men, that my female characters are unrealistic. That's because women are, for the most part, consummate actresses who allow men to see exactly what they intend men to see. Get behind the veil sometimes, boys, and your hair will turn white. I've been there, and mine went white and didn't stop there; a great deal of it actually turned dark again, the shock to my system was so great. Believe me, I mild it down so as not to scare any males into mental breakdowns.
One thing that strikes me is people's perception of the Wheel of Time. The Wheel of Time is just a structural device: it has seven spokes which represent the seven Ages. The Wheel turns; people forget about the previous Age and a new Age is entered. It goes around seven times and it starts again from square one. Very similar patterns of events occur in each Age, but they are changed, just as two people can have very similar personalities but still be very different people in many other respects. The same way with the different Ages.
So the Wheel does not have a specific purpose. It does not have a motivation. It is not a conscious being. The Wheel is just there, operating as an organizing principle of the world. Jim played down the religious aspects of all this. There is a creator, but there is not even a notion that the creator is God. The creator, of course, is God, but it is the creator. And the creator is not given much of a personality in these books. The creator is a stand-back kind of entity, less so than the Dark One, which opposes the creator and everything the creator has created, which is mankind.
And so, that's all I'm saying: don't read too much into the Wheel of Time. I think the Wheel of Time is also drawn in part from the Buddhist concept of the Wheel of Life. The Wheel of Life is something that we are on. In creation, we are created in who knows what form, evolve through many, many lifetimes, until we no longer have to be on the wheel. We have reached our goal, which in Eastern Thought is being one with God, part of the infinite ocean. In Jim's world, it is not so cut and dried. As far as we know, individuals stay on the Wheel of Time forever.
Peach PITS are poisonous here and now. They're full of—strychnine? Arsenic? I've forgotten which, but they really are bad. The flesh is not. You could look it up. But after one encounter with peach pits, a person would decide the whole thing was poison. This is on a par with the eighteenth century belief that tomatoes were poisonous—some people have an allergic reaction to them.
And in some locations, six-toed cats are common.
He spoke about magic system creation and that he had a science background that inspired him in creating Allomancy which has a scientific basis, and elements of chemistry, biology and physics. He also mentioned a podcast he is a part of, Writing Excuses, and that one episode was about creating magic systems.
I began writing the Wheel of Time because a great many notions had been bouncing around inside my head and they started to coalesce. I wondered what it was really like to be tapped on the shoulder and told you were born to be the savior of mankind. I didn't think it would be very much the way it is in so many books where someone pops up and says, "Hi, I was born to be the savior of mankind, and here's the prophecy," and everybody says, "Oh well, let's go then." I thought self interest would play a big part, on other peoples' parts.
And I was also wondering about the source of legends and myths. They can't all be anthropomorphizations of natural events. Some of them have to be distortions of things that actually happened, distortions by being passed down over generations. And that led into the inevitable distortion of information over distance, whether that's temporal distance or spatial distance. The further you are in time or space from the actual event, the less likely you are to know what really happened.
And then finally there was the thought about something that happens in Tolkien and a lot of other places. The wise old wizard, or whatever—the wise old fellow shows up in a small country village, and says, "You must follow me to save the world." And the villagers say, "Right then, guv, off we go!" And well, I did a lot of growing up in the country, and I've always thought that what those country folk would say is, "Oh, is that so? Look here, have another beer. Have two, on me. I'll be right back. I will, really." And then slip out the back door.
There were a lot of things that came together, and even once I started, of course, a lot of things built in, and added in, and changed.
Hi, This is Laura Wilson of Audio Renaissance, and I'm speaking with Robert Jordan. How did you decide to start writing the Wheel of Time series?
I began writing the Wheel of Time because a great many notions had been bouncing around inside my head and they started to coalesce. I wondered what it was really like to be tapped on the shoulder and told you were born to be the savior of mankind. I didn't think it would be very much the way it is in so many books where someone pops up and says, "Hi, I was born to be the savior of mankind, and here's the prophecy," and everybody says, "Oh well, let's go then." I thought self interest would play a big part.
And, I was also wondering about the source of legends and myths. They can't all be anthropomorphizations of natural events. Some of them have to be distortions of things that actually happened, distortions by being passed down over generations. And that led into the distortion of information over distance, whether that's temporal distance or spatial distance. The further you are in time or space from the actual event, the less likely you are to know what really happened.
And then finally there was the thought about something that happens in Tolkien and a lot of other places. The wise old wizard shows up in a country village and says, "You must follow me to save the world." And the villagers say, "Right then, guv, off we go!" Well, I did a lot of growing up in the country, and I've always thought that what those country folk would say is, "Oh, is that so? Look here, have another beer. Have two, on me. I'll be right back. I will, really." And then slip out the back door.
There were a lot of things that came together, and even once I started, of course, a lot of things built in, and added in, and changed.
What about this notion of time as a wheel? Is that your idea?
No. It's not mine. It is from Hindu mythology that time is a wheel. But actually, most eastern cultures believed that time was circular. The Greeks gave us the great gift of believing that time was linear. And that's a great gift because if time is circular, if everything repeats in cycles, then change is impossible. No matter what you do, it's always going to come back to what is here. But if time is linear, then change is possible. But I wanted the circularity because I wanted, again, to go into the changes by distance. So, the myths and legends and a few of the stories that these people tell, well, some of them are based on our own current events, on the present. What they are doing is based on our myths and legends. So they are the source of our myths and legends, and we are the source of theirs.
So what religions or mythological traditions are your stories based on?
Different religions, different mythologies. I felt that because America is a melting pot, I had at least some right to mine the mythologies of any nation that is represented in the United States, and also religion. So there are elements that come out of religious books, and there are elements that come out of mythologies, as well. Not done in a mythological way. I try to present these things so that you feel you are in a place that is quite real, and this could actually happen.
It's really hard to say. There's all sorts of things that come about before you start writing a series. You don't have "an idea" that becomes a short story, or a book. A short story is maybe hundreds of ideas that have come together, a novel is thousands of ideas that have come together. But The Wheel of Time—I was thinking at one point about what it'd really be like to be tapped on the shoulder and told "You were born to be the savior of mankind. And oh yes—you're probably going to die in the end and no, you can't resign—it's your job, you're stuck with it".
Then I had been thinking about the source of myths, the source of legends. About whether some of them might not have been personifications of natural events, the way we say some of them are supposed to be. What if some of them were things that people had done, and had simply been told and told until it became a myth and legend?
At the same time, I was thinking about the degradation of information over distance. The further you are from an event in either space or time, the less reliable your knowledge of the event. Information inevitably degrades over distance, whether it's spatial or temporal.
I was thinking about lots of other things too, and it began to coalesce. It was the beginnings of what would become the Wheel of Time. I let it mull over for four or five years, then I thought I was ready to sit down and write. But it took four years to write The Eye of the World because I discovered there were a lot of other things I had to think and sort out.
This surprised me, there has been a thread around here in which was stated that Dragon, Caro-Kann and the Coramorant (I'm not sure of the last one) are chess openings. If he had answered with a yes then I would have asked why because they're all variants played by black and rather defensive but I needn't.
In many ways, yes, I listen to every sort of music. Classical, Rock, Jazz, Country, Western, Ethnic music from various countries... I do not write to Jazz, or Rock. I like all country western, I like to listen to it, or blues, but I can’t write to it. I write, or at least maybe I can write to some Jazz, I mainly write to classical music, and some jazz. I usually have music playing when I write.
If a well-known composer would like to compose a musical score for your entire books, what would your opinion about that be? Would you like it?
I’d be very interested to see what he or she would do! [smiles]
Charles Dickens, John D. MacDonald, Louis L'Amour and Mark Twain.
I've learned different things from different ones.
Yes, yes. One thing you have to remember about Jim is he never did a single reference in any of his descriptions, whether it's a military uniform, a city, a character—everything seemed to draw from multiple sources. So yes, Cairhien was most likely in part based on London, but you look at the map of it, and you can see it's very different as well. It's laid out in a very rigid grid fashion. You could say in that case, well, maybe it's based on New York City in part as well, and it has a palace up on the highest hill within the bounds of the city. That's not true of London, but it's true of other places. And London wasn't the only city burned by attack; there were many others. But yeah, I mean Jim had a huge number of books in his reference library, and he traveled a lot as well, so he saw many of these places, and in typical Jim fashion...you know, I wouldn't be surprised if he had eight or ten or twelve influences in the creation of Cairhien.
That's great, because what actually caught my notice—because, even the Great Fire of 1666 probably would have passed me by in connection to the Wheel of Time world, except for the fact that, then I looked at the semi-Puritanical dress that the nobles in the city were taken to wearing, and then we were…I actually on the day I thought of this question was sitting there looking at a screen with the picture of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector, and I was just like, "You know, that's like, almost what I kind of envisioned the Cairhienin nobility to kind of look like."
Well, one thing we've never seen in any of the Wheel of Time history that I can recall—and London, just talking about it brought it to mind—is, we've never seen a large-scale plague in history, like with the Great Plague of the year…I've forgotten now.
Well, of course, so many of the rats have been eliminated, but they're back now.
They're back! Maybe your plague is coming, like they need more trouble. [laughter]
The Last… (cross-talk)
No, go ahead…
The Last Battle is…
It's funny that you brought up London as an influence, because most people when they're talking about influences on Cairhien, they really pick up on the court of the Sun King and Marie Antoinette because the style is very, you know, 1700s, late-1700s and Marie Antoinette, and there's also a lot of Japanese influence, and that tends to be what people pick up on. So this is the first time I've had somebody say, "You know, I think there's a London in Cairhien," so that's kind of interesting.
I guess everybody brings something different to the books, and interprets them in their own way.
Oh yeah, definitely.
Yeah, another interesting point: anyone remember what the name Cairhien means in the Old Tongue?
Hill of the Golden Dawn.
Hill of the Golden Dawn. The Order of the Golden Dawn was an occult society in London back before the beginning of the 20th Century.
Yeah, that's right. I'd forgotten that.
Which I just bring out as, you know, yet another thing that Jim latched on to and threw into the mix.
Most people think 'the hill of the golden dawn' is like, 'Oh, the land of the rising sun!' which would be Japan, because there's a heavy Japanese influence in just the style of the buildings and things like that seem very Japanese.
Sure. And the Sun King of France.
Yeah. It's kind of like he just pulled everything that was related to the sun and just kind of melded it together to make Cairhien.
He liked mixing things up.
And it works really well. That's the surprising thing to me is that he was able to pull from so many different sources and make things seem very coherent and logical for the cultures.
Yeah, I like the fact that everything that you read as you're going along, all these things sort of tug at the back of your mind and you're thinking, 'Oh, this reminds me of this, and this reminds me of that', and it makes you really think that it adds a depth to the thing that you can come back later and explore it again.
Okay, I've got a game for you. Go to Wikipedia. Put in something like 'golden dawn', let's say…or just anything. Pull anything from the Wheel of Time books that's distinctive. Put it into Wikipedia until you find a hit. I almost guarantee, within that article, you're going to find yet another reference from the Wheel of Time. Track that. See how many hits you can go before you run out.
I'll have to try that.
I did that the other day, and I wound up spending an hour and a half of just going from one thing to another. It was really amazing.
Yeah, I can see myself losing an afternoon doing that.
Oh yeah, easily.
I've lost too many hours to Wiki-walking already.
I guess that's why it bothers me so much about that library ter'angreal…if I had that, I'd never be able to put it down, and I guess I just don't understand how somebody could…if they can't deal with it, then delegate, but this is me. It's the equivalent of having a computer hooked up to the internet; I could not walk away from it. It would be a Mindtrap for me. [laughter]
Oh, you're spot on. Spot on.
Jim actually spoke pretty extensively in public about the Old Tongue, and I even pulled up a letter that he had written about it in which he says, "The Old Tongue is based on, for example, the languages: Gaelic, Russian, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and some additions of my own—bridging material if you will. Grammar and syntax are a blending of English, German, and Chinese with some influence from a set of African languages read about long ago, and all but the oddities of structure long since forgotten." He has converted constructions…the thing about the Old Tongue, the way that it's constructed…it is a very loose language, like Latin I guess; it can be presented in almost any order and be intelligible to someone who knows it, and there are several conventions involved in it which could be explained for a longer podcast, but those are the basics. He really did pull them from a lot of different areas, and he started by constructing the language—as I recall there is a list of 850 or 880 common words that you need to know to be able to speak in English, and I don't know who created these, but he had that. We have file, and he modified that, kicking out some words like 'electricity' and so forth that wouldn't be useful in this, and adding some others, and putting definitions to them in Old Tongue. I never added it up, but he said we had a file of about a thousand words, and this dictionary will be published at a later time.
That is awesome.
And that will be part of the encyclopedia, actually.
That'll be great.
I can't wait. That sort of leads me into my next question which is something that, two years ago when Brandon was out on the Mistborn tour—the last Mistborn book tour—during an interview, I asked him if he could please come up with some way for us to say phrases having to do with the Light, such as 'Walk in the Light,' or 'May the Light illumine you' in the Old Tongue, and he said he would do his best, and I think he just forgot. But we do have the audio; he kind of sort of promised us. We're hoping that maybe you can bail him out on this one. [laughter]
Well, I think all will be revealed in the encyclopedia.
Aww, I can't wait that long!
Except what isn't revealed.
How far is the encyclopedia coming? People ask me about it occasionally, and I'm like, 'I dunno; they're working on it.'
Well, it's been back-burner recently because we're doing Towers of Midnight, but that's my next project to get back into, doing basically the skeleton for it, and after A Memory of Light we will go full bore on it.
Oh, excellent. I remember Harriet saying that it was due one year after the final book, whenever the final book is out.
And we're working on it in between when we get time, when we're not doing podcasts and so forth. [laughter]
Oh, now you're making us feel guilty. [laughter] But not very.
Oh, yes. I used Arthurian legends, Chinese and Japanese mythology, Indian mythology, traditions from Latin America and Africa. Some myths from Europe, but not much of Celtic because it’s been done so much.
This means you’ve read about all of these subjects?
I read about everything. My knowledge is this wide and much less deep. I truly like to read about a lot of things.
I do in my writing style, not in the stories I tell. I believe six writers to have influenced the way I write: Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Louis L'Amour, Robert Heinlein and John D. McDonald. I know it’s a very wide range group of writer….
Well, it certainly tells a lot of the wide range of your readings.
(Laughs) Jane Austen gave me an insight in the relationship between characters and in what we might call “social relationship”.
Mark Twain did something that was unheard of, in his time: he had people speak the way people really spoke. I think it was revolutionary. Twain was the first to use the common language of the day, he taught me to use language the way I wanted. Dickens did some of the same, but later.
L'Amour, John D. McDonald and Heinlein all gave me something about the use of language, mainly a certain freedom in using words, a lack of rigidity.
During the era when I was trying to find my voice and find out what I was going to do as a writer, I felt that Robert Jordan had really captured the story of the hero's journey, the monomyth type epic fantasy, and done it about as well as it could be done. And so I started to look for things that I could add. This was very good for me to be doing, to be spending this time thinking about, not just retreading what had gone before, but really doing what some of the greats in the past had done.
One of the reasons I love the Wheel of Time is because I felt that when it came out, it best blended what was familiar about fantasy with a lot of new concepts. A lot of the books that were coming out were using the old familiar tropes: elves, even if they called them a different name, and dwarves, and even dragons, and these sorts of things. And then you came along to the Wheel of Time, which didn't use any of those things, or if it did, it twisted them completely on their head. No one knew what a dragon was, and a dragon was a person. And you know, the magic system having a logical approach to it rather than just being something that happened. And he really took the genre in a different direction. And I said, I have to do something like this. Not that I ever wanted to, or intend to, or think that I could be revolutionary in the genre in the way he was, but I wanted to add something. I wanted to take a step forward rather than taking the same steps that people had taken.
And so I began to ask myself what hadn't been done. And so you end up with me, Brandon, who...sometimes I look at myself as a postmodern fantasy writer. If you read the Mistborn trilogy, it's very much a postmodern fantasy epic. It's the fantasy epic for someone who's read all these great fantasy epics. And the story's kind of aware of all of those. It's the story of what happens if the dark lord wins? What happens if the prophecies are lies? What happens if all the things we assume about the standard fantasy epic all go horribly wrong?
I don't want to simply be someone. . . to be postmodern, you have to be a little bit deconstructionalist, which means you're relying on the very things that you're tearing apart. I think there's a level beyond that, which is actually adding something new, not just giving commentary on what's come before. But I do love the whole postmodern aspect. I love delving into that. It's something that I think can be unique to my generation because we've grown up reading all these epics, where the generation before us didn't.
I go into books trying to present characters who are real. That said, some things in the real world that have influenced me are these questions of, what are you willing to sacrifice in the way of freedom in order to have security? I think that's a big theme recently in the Wheel of Time that Robert Jordan was dealing with, and that The Gathering Storm deals with a lot.
I was most fascinated with Egwene's progress as a leader through the entire series. And the things I was allowed to do because of what Jordan had done in Knife of Dreams and the set up in previous books, and then what was in the notes, was really exciting to me because she was able to come to encapsulate what a leader really is, I think. There are some great scenes in Gathering Storm that I got to be part of, where, you know, we've had Aes Sedai acting kind of as bullies, some of them. And we've had various people through various factions acting as bullies. And there has been this sense in the Wheel of Time that people believe that might makes right. And yet it doesn't, and the books imply that it doesn't. And Egwene is the first chance we've really got to see of someone with no might making an even better right.
I'm glad you say that, because again, you know, I'm an aging flower child, so that ought to tell you a lot. And you know, Tolkien—that was where it was at—Lord of the Rings. A now a lot of people—a new generation, after the movie came out—have gone back to read that. And you know, it was a different time, obviously. And I'm glad you brought up Tolkien because many talk about this as the new Tolkien—kind of like if you liked Tolkien, you're going to love Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. How do you feel about that?
You're going to love the Wheel of Time. I've read a lot of fantasy, a lot of fantasy. I've read a lot of things – I like to read widely now that I'm older. I think it's important to read widely and to be sampling lots of different stuff, particularly viewpoints you don't agree with so you can see what people are saying and listen to them. I think that's really what has to happen. But anyway, I love fantasy, I've read a lot of it. And no one got it right like Robert Jordan got it right. Meaning, Tolkien did something amazing. He blew our minds, is really what happened. There hadn't been anything like Tolkien. There'd been fantasy, but never epic fantasy, with the real world that just feels like it's got a history and a lore and everything together – never been anything like that before. And a lot of people tried to imitate Tolkien, and what they did is they copied him. They copied the tropes. They used the same types of races, the same type of story, and yet they didn't get the core of it right, in my opinion. Not until Robert Jordan, where he did the lore and the mythology, and it was all his own. He wasn't copying Tolkien, and yet he was using the process that Tolkien did.
I mean, a part of the genius of these books, the Wheel of Time, is this idea of the circular nature of time. The idea is that the world of the Wheel of Time is actually our world in the future and in the deep past, because ages come and pass. And so, in the Wheel of Time books, you'll find references to things like a man who flew to the moon in the belly of an eagle, which is a reference to Buzz Aldrin, and things like this. Our history has become their mythology. And yet the things they're living through are the foundation for some of our mythology. There's a character who's—you can see, if you really research it—Robert Jordan is using Odin and Loki as mythology that this person is starting, as in when our time comes around again this person was the foundation of what became the Odin and Loki mythology. And so, it's fascinating how he's interweaving our world becoming their world, which is becoming our world—just wonderful sort of philosophical use of mythology. But of course, the real core is the characters. It's not about philosophy, it's about characters that you love and you care about as they live through all of this.
Melissa Craib, this year's JordanCon master of ceremonies, asked the Team Jordan members which parts of the story they had been surprised about.
Harriet told about an incident she has described before from when she was writing the blurb for the dust jacket of The Dragon Reborn and finally realized that RJ intended Callandor to be an analog of the sword in the stone. She yelled down to RJ, "You son of a ****, you've done it to me again!"
Maria said that she was surprised... well, actually I've forgotten what Maria was surprised about. Maybe somebody else remembers...was it from Knife of Dreams when Semirhage blows Rand's hand off? That's what comes to mind, but I don't remember any details about why that surprised her, really, so maybe that's not it. :s
Alan at first said that he wasn't surprised by anything; he had figured it all out, of course. Then he owned up to being a little surprised about the scene in Crossroads of Twilight in which Perrin chops off the hand of one of the captured Shaido, because it showed the depths to which a person could go when pushed to the brink.
Peter said he was surprised when it was revealed that Demandred was... (yeah, he was messing with us).
Nalesean at Theoryland pointed out that Maria said that she was surprised by the death of Rolan during the battle of Malden.
Moiraine's blue stone is a dig at Marion Zimmer Bradley.
When RJ was working on the first Conan book, he got the movie script and was told to stick as close to it as possible (though he did alter some things and later got approached with "man, I HATE what they did to your book"). After the book was published and the movie out, he one day got a letter from Marion Zimmer Bradley threatening to sue RJ for copyright infringement because one of his characters had a (blue) stone hanging on her forehead. RJ then sent a letter back referring her to the studios and the original script in which the stone appeared. The lawsuit never happened and Moiraine has a blue stone on her forehead.
The last battle strategy and body count were in RJ's notes, the specifics not. So he did specify who'd die but not how. Help was gotten from Bernard Cornwell. (woohoo!)
RJ set up the whole layout of the battle, who would be where and who would not make it out but he kept insisting that he'd write the Last Battle on the fly, so to speak. Apparently Bernard Cornwell lives kind of close to their place so one day Harriet asked him over for coffee and he had a few good pointers for the battle (which I personally think is great because his battle-style has a very similar immediacy in scale as RJ displayed in Dumai's Wells and while I also think that BS writes good battles, he's better at the one-on-one type things and not so good with the massive event that the Last Battle would be).
It's a fantasy War And Peace, a story not only of individuals but also of cultures clashing across a continent. It will take at least three more books to finish. I worry that someone will walk up to me and say, 'I want an end to it now or I'm going to bash your head in.' On the other hand, I've had people threaten to desecrate my grave if I die before I finish it!
But if the main thrust of the story's already mapped out, couldn't another author complete it from Jordan's notes?
If I die, my computer's hard drive will be reformatted four times. I defy anybody to pull anything off it after that, and I've made arrangements that anyone who tries to finish the series after my death will have their kneecaps removed.
That's an ironic attitude for an author who gained kudos for his additions to Robert E. Howard's Conan saga, surely?
If he could reach us, I'm sure Howard would strangle me, Andy Offutt and all the rest of us. But I don't want somebody messing around with my characters, putting their boots all over my world.
"The Wheel of Time" is in effect a recreation of the source of legends. I gathered together a lot of legends, fairy tales, and folk tales from around the world and stripped away the cultural references, so that just the bare story was left. The I reverse-engineered them.
You might recall a game: I've heard it called "Whispers," I've heard it called "Telephone"—a child's game. If you remember, the last child in the row stood up and said aloud, and what actually happened is what's on the piece of paper. So I've reverse-engineered to try and get back to something like what the piece of paper says. King Arthur is there, but most people don't recognize him right off. And there are a lot of other myths and legends too, although King Arthur is the most easily recognizable. As a matter of fact, I was shocked that some people didn't realize that Arthur was in the books until they read the third volume.
The story begins with The Eye of the World. That's the first book. And it begins in a very pastoral setting, with people who are very...well, innocent is the word. They are rural, they are themselves pastoral. And I tried to make the beginning almost Tolkienesque, as a homage, and as a way of saying, "This is the foundation that we're all jumping off from." But it begins to change, because I'm not trying to do a Tolkien pastiche in any way. And as we leave that pastoral setting, things begin to change. You begin to move away from the style of Tolkien. The characters begin to learn more about the world. They become more sophisticated, in the sense of having more knowledge, and thus they see the world in a more sophisticated way. They're not as innocent, as time goes on, as the books go on, as they were in the beginning. And so the tone of the books changes slightly with their worldview.
As to where the books are going—I know that exactly. I've known it from the beginning. I've known from the beginning what the last scene of the last book was going to be. I know how I intend to tie up the major threads. I know who's going to be alive, who's going to be dead, who's going to be married to whom, all these things. I know the details. I could have sat down six or seven years ago, and written the final scene of the books. And there wouldn't be a great deal of difference in what I'd write when I actually do reach that point.
I also asked him if the character of Verin had any mythological parallels.
He said that he doesn't know and would have to see if there is anything in the notes. He also said that most of that stuff was done by RJ but he did add some of his own. He specifically mentioned that Perrin getting wounded in the leg in Towers of Midnight was his own addition. He didn't elaborate but there are a number of deities (particularly blacksmiths of some sort) like Vulcan and Perun who were wounded in the leg.
Well, you know, fortunately I have listened to radio interviews that Robert Jordan did, and someone asked him that. And so I can just give his answer. His answer for the Wheel of Time: the Wheel of Time is about what it's like to be told when you're just an ordinary person that you have to save the world, and it's about the journey that an ordinary person makes, becoming the person who has to ultimately probably sacrifice himself, his life, in order to save the word. And I think that's an eloquent way to put it.
In a more general term, I can talk about fantasy for those who haven't read it, what it is and what it means to me. Because I came to fantasy kind of late; I discovered it as a teen. I wasn't reading it when I was very young, and it is the genre of imagination. And I worry that sometimes, in our modern-day lives we get so hung up on what is that we forget that, as human beings, part of our job is to, you know...part of our souls is to imagine what cannot be, and fantasy books in my vision are kind of like push-ups for your imagination. We tell stories about what maybe could be, what we wish could be, what could not be but we imagine could be, and that's what the Wheel of Time is really about. It's about that imagination, about creating a place that feels real while you read it, completely real with its own history and its own culture, its own everything, and for those brief moments, making that place is impossible become something real.
And it's got strong elements of mythology that feel as though they're drawn on European models, Asian models...
There's a lot about....well, the Wheel of Time is to do with the cyclical nature of time that I guess we associate with Asian, mystical religions, I suppose. There's a creation story in there that sounds a little bit like the Christian story.
Yep. He was very much a mythologist; Robert Jordan studied myths and legends, and the Wheel of Time is fascinating in that what he tried to go about is, the characters in these books he implied are founding myths that will eventually become stories and legends during our time, as the Wheel turns back to our time, and yet, things they reference in their lives were myths started by our time. It's cyclical, and so they'll talk about ancient legends that you pick out are them talking about the Cold War, America and Russia, except they become giants that threw spears of light at each other, and things like this, and yet we have people who are fulfilling things like the Odin mythology and the Loki mythology, kind of on the sly. You don't even figure it out unless you know mythology, and you're like, "Wait a minute. These people then found myths that, during our day, are our stories and legends, and yet we are their stories and legends." It can be kind of mind-breaking to try and parse it all together and figure it out.
"There are bits and pieces (of Charleston) here and there, though I continue to stress that the Two Rivers (home of the series' three main protagonists) has no relation between the Ashley and the Cooper, but of course things filter through. It's impossible to write without keeping who you are and where you're from out of it," says Jordan.
"History is mutable. It's so dependent on who you remember and what you remember. For instance, with the American Revolution, Charleston was written out of the history books because of the secession. You know, during the Boston Tea Party, we sent more food and aid to Boston than any of its neighboring colonies. But that's not something that children read about in school. The solid tones of the past are not that solid. They are a thin facade placed by partisan observers," he says.
Somewhat inevitably, perhaps, Jordan ended up being compared to fantasy's other master—J.R.R. Tolkein, of Lord of the Rings fame. And from a powerful source, too.
"Jordan has come to dominate the world that Tolkien began to reveal..." crowed the New York Times. Perhaps it was his battle scenes, which portray a realism that only one who has experienced battle—Tolkien in the World Wars and Jordan in Vietnam—can truly contemplate, although Jordan says he reached further back for his sources.
But it was more likely something deeper. Tolkien had a great mastery over the world in which his characters lived. Indeed, that was why he wrote his stories at all. As a master linguist who was utterly fascinated by ancient British and Norse mythology, his goal was to create a separate world. He even created a language to go along with it—Elvish—which anyone with a great deal of time and inclination can learn.
Jordan, too, has created a new world, but his world is a byproduct of his story.
"The beginnings of the story came first, then the world began to grow." he says.
"I was rather shocked by the write-up in the New York Times comparing me to Tolkien. We have totally different backgrounds. He has an English voice and drew strongly from English and Norse traditions. I have a Southern voice. He had two women of note—Arwen and Eowyn. In my world's mythology, women tell half the story. I grew up around strong women. Women killed and ate the meek men in my world," he says.
Another thing that sets Jordan apart from Tolkien is an ever-present sense of hope—something that has kept readers reading for 7,000 pages and will keep them reading 'til the end of the series, which Jordan says will take a minimum of two more books. No matter how bad the odds are against his characters, no matter that the world draws ever closer to its final battle with the Dark One, Jordan slips in enough events to stop readers from becoming fatalistic.
Tolkien, on the other hand, was a profound fatalist himself. And, indeed, while his characters did, for the most part, achieve their ends, there is a sense of bittersweetness that pervades his works. His attitude is evident even in his relationships with the young children he left at home while off fighting World War II (and dreaming up his master work). Speaking metaphorically of the war with the Germans, he wrote his youngest son Christopher, saying, "We are attempting to conquer Sauron with the Ring. ... The War is not over (and the one that is or the part of it, has largely been lost.) But it is of course wrong to fall into such a mood, for Wars are always lost, and The War always goes on; and it is no good growing faint."
It would be hard to picture Jordan announcing that wars are always lost to a young child; instead, he has a childlike sense of wonder and enjoyment of the world around him that his predecessor lacked.
He began all his books with the wind blowing. Breath, to instill life into his characters. In the Bible, Job 33:4 says, "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life." When other writers would talk of their characters taking on life of their own, and controlling the story, he said, "I am an Old Testament creator: My fist is in the middle of my characters' lives."
Oh, dear, dear man. And what a creator he was! And, as Scott Card said of The Eye of the World, what a powerful vision of good and evil.
On January 8 you will see the final turning of his powerful vision. It comes to you with his love. And mine.
How was the Old Tongue created?
Jim had books on almost every language in the world in his study. He drew inspiration from those.
A lot of it comes from those and at the same time a lot was just his own creativity in adapting that into this world which he has created.
Will anything be done specially for those who won the contest to have their names in the book?
In The Gathering Storm, many fans stated that the names felt off, and Brandon agreed. Robert Jordan's character names were inspired by the real world, such as Ogier St. in Charleston, his stove, medications he was taking, etc. There had been a fundraiser for one person to have his name included in one of the books, and that was being continued. Brandon decided to increase this, and put many people in the final two books. The short answer: Nope, the name in the book is the something special.
(Note: Later, I happened to be sitting up front when the person who asked this question came to the front, with his wife and an absolutely adorable two-year-old little girl. Turns out, he had his daughter's name placed in the book instead of his own. Brandon signed the book at the place where she was mentioned.)
Did Charleston have a lot of influence on the Ogier?
The Two Rivers? Ogier Street?
Actually, it was later revealed that Ogier was a subconscious thing, as Jim wanted something close to the term "ogre".
And, Jim grew up in a small town, much the same as the Two Rivers in their treatment of strangers.
"These papers document not just the context, contributions, and creativity of one very significant Charleston writer, but will be used by researchers exploring a popular global phenomenon," says Harlan Greene, the senior manuscript and reference archivist of special collections at the Addlestone Library. He thinks this collection could have as much popular appeal as the books themselves. "One of the most interesting parts of archival life is not knowing how the materials we preserve may be used by researchers," Greene adds. "Will fans want to touch the manuscripts? Will scholars want to see how plot and characters changed, or how Jim's editor Harriet influenced him? Will students of Arthurian legends want to check out Jim's sources? Or will others studying the effects of technology come to see if Jim's writing style changed as he moved from handwritten script to typing to computers?"
Let me answer that in reverse. The whole fan name thing, where it came from is, I wrote the first book, The Gathering Storm, and I got several notes from Maria that said, "You know, a lot of your names don't feel right. They don't feel like Wheel of Time names." And it was one of the areas that, fans noticed it too when the book came out. I named people like I name people, and so for Towers of Midnight, I felt, "I need to radically change the way I name. I need to use Robert Jordan's methods." So while talking to Maria and Harriet, Harriet told me this wonderful story where...you think he named someone after...(to Harriet)...a washing machine, was it? You remember you said, like there's a little name on one of the washing machines...was it you?
The stove is a Jenn Air, and every time I looked at it, I would think of the Jenn Aiel. [laughter]
And at one point I was taking allergy medicine, and whoever considered Corianin's surname—Seldane?
And there's an Ogier St. in Charleston. And beyond that, Robert Jordan was naming a lot of characters in the books off of mythological figures, with some twists. And so I felt—I actually said, "I'm going to grab a phone book, and I'm just going to go looking for names and try and tweak those names to start naming in the Wheel of Time." And when I did that, I stopped and thought, "Wait a minute. I had a list of names; it's in the list of the names of the fans who were part of this one charity drive we did." So I just started grabbing their names; that's as random as the phone book for me, and that's where the naming [characters] after fans thing came from. It was me forcing myself to try and do something different in the way that I'd been naming.
Now, back to the original question, did I name anything after myself: Actually, there's a cameo by Robert Jordan in the books, of Robert Jordan. Do you guys know what it is? If you know, raise your hands. If you don't know...most of you do know? No, most of you don't know. There is a statue of Robert Jordan in the books. It is discovered among the ter'angreal that were originally in Rhuidean, right? Rhuidean? No, Ebou Dar; that's right, it's the Ebou Dar cache. See, that's why I looked at Maria, and I'm like, "Where did they come from?" And there's a man that has the contents of many stories contained, and that was described to look like Robert Jordan.
I gave myself a similar cameo to that, in that, one of the times when I was visiting Charleston, Wilson—who was Robert Jordan's cousin, and they were very dear friends, like siblings—was taking Robert Jordan's weapons collection, and figuring out what to do with, and he had so many weapons. [laughter] It was really awesome to go walking through his workshop, so to speak—where he'd work—and see all these weapons, and see all of the different versions of the ashandarei that he had, and you can just imagine him swinging them about and deciding how he was going to do this, and describing certain weapons. He had everything, and so he'd use it. And Wilson was doing this, and he said to me, "Brandon, go out there and pick one, anything you want. Go grab one." And so, I couldn't pass up an opportunity like that, stunned though I was, and I went out there and I found at the very back a katana with a scabbard that had a red-and-gold dragon on it, twisting around the scabbard. And I don't know if the idea for Rand's dragons came first, and then he bought the scabbard and the sword because it looked like that, or if that was part of the inspiration. I suspect it was the former, that he saw that and thought, "Wow, that's just like the..."
But either way, I picked that one, and then I wrote that sword into the books, which you will find if you look around; that sword is mentioned. So that's my cameo, is I put my sword in. It now hangs on my wall, inside a case—my wife had it, got a case and a little plaque that says "Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time," underneath. And it hangs on my wall with Robert Jordan's birthdate underneath it.
It was based on a lot of different languages. He had shelves and shelves of language books—every language, practically, known to man—but it was a lot of creativity on his part to put it all together.
Another fun story here. At one point, when I was visiting Charleston, I was talking about the mythological significance of certain things, and I'm like, "I can't figure out the mythological significance of the ashandarei." I knew pieces of Mat's mythological significance—not based on language, but the mythology—and Harriet said, "Oh, I know where it came from." She ran out to his library, selected a specific volume, came back with it and gave it to me and said, "It's this chapter right here." And showed me a chapter in that book that I could read that talked about the mythological significance of that specific piece of the Wheel of Time world. And so, there are all sorts of things like that that he used.
My name is Anthony Gould. I've been reading the series quite a bit. I've read 1-13 ten times. [murmurs, woos] And so...and I actually planned to read A Memory of Light ten times in a row before I read any other book...[laughter]...just so I have something to say instead of saying, "I've read every other book ten times, and I've read this one once." That'd be bad.
But yeah, so my question I think is directed at Harriet, mostly. I was thinking, well, is the character Mat Cauthon—did Robert Jordan base that character on him?
Maria was saying something earlier today that would suggest what you think he did...? (looks at Maria)
Somewhat. I would go for that. He told somebody, I think more than once, that all the female characters were based on me. [laughter] In the same way, I think that perhaps he based all the male characters on him, including Padan Fain and the like. [laughter]
Traits he had in common with Mat: There's one point Mat's talking to Olver about turtle shells, and Mat's thinking about a turtle shell he had. Jim—Robert Jordan—had a shelf of turtle shells in the office, and he did like to play cards and other games. [laughter] Yeah, there were aspects of Jim in Mat.
And to quit a job as a civilian engineer working for the United States Navy in order to write fiction...if that isn't the act of a gambler, I don't know what is. [laughter, applause]
Alright, well thank you then!
Thanks, Bob. You rock.
So what kind of prewriting did you do for A Memory of Light @BrandSanderson?
Lots of practicing character viewpoints. I also make a huge outline, which started on big sheets of butcher paper.
Is there anything specific process-wise you learned from completing WoT that you will apply to future projects?
I'm in awe of RJ's subtlety and hope to be able to transfer my understanding of that to my own works.
Did the ending of A Memory of Light influence the end of Emperor's Soul?
Not intentionally, but it's hard not to be influenced by projects like this.
For example, I wrote Rithmatist while developing the revision for The Way of Kings, and both ended up with a redhead artist.
Did the confrontation between Vin and Ruin in Hero of Ages influence the Rand v Dark One scenes?
Everything I do influences everything else, so I'd say yes—but in this case, I had RJ guiding me as a greater influence.
How does it feel now that the Wheel of Time is over?
Sad. Awesome, but sad.
Is it tough knowing you can't continue the story?
Yes, and no. I feel the ending is the right one. And I can imagine in my head what happens, so for me, that is enough.
Although I think you're right—we are getting into kind of details, but I do want to come back to the worldbuilding a little bit later in the conversation. But without giving too much away about the final book–there's a lot of fighting because, you know, it is the Last Battle, right?
And I know that your husband had a military background. Can you talk about that, and how it may have influenced his writing?
Yes, he served two tours in Vietnam, in the Army. He was a helicopter door gunner.
And a Citadel graduate, right?
Yes, he was. He went to The Citadel as a Veteran student, and loved that institution and the Army with–with all his heart, you might say. A friend of his said to me once, "Some people take off the uniform, and that's that. Other people, the uniform sinks right into their skin." And my dear husband was one of the latter.
And it really shows in the books. There's a lot of tactics, a lot of military strategy.
Yes, it does. The New York Times said at one point that the books reflect the last 30 years of American experience, including war, in the way that Tolkien's book reflected the last 30 years of the English experience when he was writing during World War II, that Robert Jordan's battle scenes are pretty wonderful.
That's an interesting parallel to Tolkien actually.
The New York Times' article on Tolkien and Jordan, published in 1996, can be read here.
Did the name "s'redit" have anything to do with "editor"?
No, she didn't think so; however, she told the story... The Ringling Brothers (I think) circus came to town and she & Jim went to watch the elephants being unloaded. It was quite an impressive sight, and she indicated that was when he decided to put them in the books. Also, watching the (incredible!) acrobats, she's pretty sure that's when the ideas for Luca's menagerie etc. came into being.
What are the top three characters in which her personality dominated that character's personality?
(joking) Graendal, Moghedian, ... (lots of laughter) Probably Nynaeve. Harriet remarks that she has several home remedies for any ailment. She states that Robert Jordan said all of the women characters stem from her and makes a comment about nagging Robert Jordan to take out the trash.
A fan asked him if Alivia's role in the epilogue was her fulfillment of Min's viewing and he said that it was very clear that that was all that that viewing meant. He said that fans are speculating that she played a part in the body swap but she did not.
Brandon went in to little detail about the body swap, saying he knows as much about it as we do and the notes just didn't give more. He asserted that he has to do with the balefire streams touching and the fact that Moridin no longer wanted to continue to exist but that Rand very much wanted to continue to exist.
Most of the questions during the Q&A centered on the writing process in one way or another, either of these last three Wheel of Time books or of his other works. I had never before had a grasp on the sheer size of what Mr. Jordan had thought about and committed to (digital) paper about this series, all the details that will probably never see the light of day, until Brandon commented that his attempt to put Jordan's massive document onto his own computer resulted in it crashing after 32,000 pages. If we ever need a metric to relate how real the world Jordan created was, that is as good as it gets.
Brandon also shared the funny and idiosyncratic way Mr. Jordan would get his inspiration for names; it wasn't all just Norse and Hindu myth all the time, but apparently also everyday objects—streets in his home town (Ogier Street!), his washing machine, and random strolls through the phone book. If you've lived in Charleston in the past 23 years, who knows, you may have made an appearance as an Andoran Noble or the Old Tongue name for an Aiel warrior society!
(Concerning the crystals collapsing into the hill after the battle) Have you heard of a myth about Merlin in a crystal cave and the Holy Grail? We all know what its other name is.
Yes but there are many layers there. The sa'angreal was shaped like a cup (-which I did notice earlier-). And Bao the Wyld, think about the name, it sounds like Beowulf (-looks like I should read that for more theorizing-).
Um...did you notice...(in a louder voice)...has everybody standing around me read the book?
Okay, spoiler! Just warning you.
Spoilers! Okay, did you notice any good foreshadowings for Egwene's death aside from Guinevere and the Year of the Four Amyrlins?
Um...(laughs, looks at Jenn)....those are very good. I mean, it's mostly, you know, the Guinevere myth and things like that, but there's...(to Jenn)...there's others, aren't there?
The Year of the Four Amyrlins is the only, like, really nice one that I've latched on to, you know? Because it's like, she's talking about, "It's almost like now..." and it's like, "Everybody came to grief in the end...." And it's like...yeah.
The name...how do you pronounce it? Is it no-tay, or no-tie?
Oh, it's...you pronounce the K.
Oh, you pronounce the K!
....according to Alan, who is the Old Tongue expert, who corrected me on it even though I named him.
So say it!
k'no-tie. But Alan can correct me, because Alan is the expert.
Does it have any mythological basis that you know of?
No, it does not that I know of, because that one, as most of the names—not all of them, but most of them that I named, because I named him—came from me writing something in English, and saying, "Alan, give me the Old Tongue."
And so, there are times where he'll find something, and I'll be like, "Oh, that sounds like this! Let's use it. Oh, this sounds like this; let's use it." Most of the time, it's...he comes up with the direct translation.
Like, Shaisam, actually...
Yeah, I mean that's easy to figure out for us, right?
Yeah. And there are some where I say, "Let's find something that feels like this..." and then, you know, of course, Perrin's hammer, right?
That's one where you're like, you know, let's find an Old Tongue translation that works for what the mythological symbolism is.
And that works well. It's hard to pronounce though.
Yeah, it is a little hard to pronounce though.
Can you pronounce it?
MAH-HAHL-in-ear? Eh...ask Alan.
Was Min's "three ships sailing" inspired by the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María?
I don't believe so. Wow, but I don't know, so I can't say on that one...
Oh, it wasn't yours?
It was in the last book: three ships sailing, insect in the darkness, red lights....
Yeah. It's not the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María....
Yeah, well I thought it might have been inspired by that...
We'll have to dig into the notes on that one.
The [offscreen] conversation between Tuon and Hawkwing, can you tell us anything about that?
I can tell you that it did take place, and that Hawkwing is more inclined to agree with what's going on in Seanchan than I think what fans expect him to be. Now, remember that Hawking was not fond of Aes Sedai. Part of that was not his fault, but he was not fond of them. He is not just King Arthur, he is Alexander the Great. King Arthur ruled through justice. Artur Hawkwing ruled through justice and ruthlessness. It will certainly be a conversation filled with emotion and passion, but I don't think everyone expecting Hawkwing to take their side is understanding who Artur Hawkwing is.
It's a really interesting thing. When I got to college, I decided I wanted to be a writer, and I started reading the books that I loved as a youth and studying them and trying to figure out how to do writing. Because . . . I love my professors, but writing teachers don't actually teach you how to write. I don't know if any of you guys have taken writing classes, but they're like well, let's explore your inner voice. And I'm like, you're telling me I have to hear voices? Well, I already do but they're not telling me how to write. How do I write? How do I make a character cool? And teachers aren't really big on teaching you how to make characters cool. They like to teach you how to develop your style.
And so I started reading books, and I was actually very very disappointed because some of authors that I read—I won't mention names—but some of authors I read as a youth did not hold up when I was an adult. And they were perfect for me at the age, but as I tried to inspect them as an adult writer trying to develop my style, I didn't find the depth that I wanted to dig into that I thought would teach me how to write. Robert Jordan still did. In fact, Robert Jordan was the one that I would dig into and find how much I'd missed. I constantly tell a story about as a 15 year old reading these books, you know, there's this character Moiraine who's just like always keeping the boys down and not letting them . . . She's always giving them orders, and I was always like, Moiraine, just leave them alone, they need to go off and do cool things! And then I read the books as an adult and I'm studying them and I'm like, you stupid kids, listen to Moiraine!
There's this depth to Wheel of Time books that the various characters are all expressed on very different levels. And Moiraine has an entire story going on behind the scenes that you don't see because you don't see through her viewpoints. And there's a little subtlety and detail. I mean, maybe I'm dense, but I didn't get the whole thing with it being our world, and there . . . and who was it? Not Buzz Aldrin, um—
John Glenn being in the book referenced, and America and Russia and the Cold War being referenced in legend. I didn't get that stuff till I was in college, and I'm like how did it miss that? You know, it's like a smack to the face, right, the first time you realize that Egwene is Egwene al'Vere, which is Guinevere. And you know, I didn't get this as a kid, and building these things out and understanding them and seeing the depth of writing that he was capable of—the really wonderful sentences that evoke so much feeling, emotion, and description.
I started studying the Wheel of Time to learn how to write. It became my primary model, just on a prose level, of how to do this thing that no one could teach me how to do. I spent the next . . . I decided I wanted to be a writer—actually, I was serving mission for the LDS church in Korea. The reason is I . . . I really wanted to be a writer before then, but my mother convinced me that writers don't get scholarships, and that I should be a doctor instead. And so I actually applied to BYU—I grew up in Nebraska—to go be a chemistry major, because that got scholarships. And then I got into college and realized what they do to all those people who just said they want to be chemistry majors to get a scholarship, is they put them in a really hard chemistry class that other people don't have to take their freshman year to show you what chemistry is like.
And I then went to Korea and was so happy to be on a different continent from chemistry. I did not enjoy that freshman year, but I did spend a lot of that time writing. And I decided I missed writing so much, but I didn't miss chemistry, that I had made the wrong choice, and I decided to start writing a book on my days off during my missionary work, and I just started writing in a notebook. And I completely fell in love with the process. I'd known since a kid this is what I wanted to do, but that's the first time that it clicked for me, that what I loved to do should be my job, right? That I could spend eight hours working on a story and come out of it feeling awesome and have not missed that time at all. I get the same thing from a lot of my friends who are code monkeys. It kind of scratches the same itch—that you get into it, and you're creating something, and it's working, and it's clicking. And yes, it can be hard but you love it at the same time. That's what I wanted to do.
Over the course of the next eight years I wrote 13 novels, trying to break in. And I eventually sold Elantris, my sixth book. And I sold it to Tor books. And when I got an offer from Tor . . . It was funny, I called up my agent. He said, well, I want to take this and I want to shop it, because usually you can get a better offer if you have one offer from somebody. This is basic business philosophy, right? And you go to everyone else and say, well, we got this offer from this company, will you beat it? And I said no, you can't do that. And he's like, but we can get more money. And I said, Tor is Robert Jordan's publisher. [laughter] We're not going anywhere else. When you have an offer from the top you just take it, and I did. And he, to this . . . not to this day, because things have kind of changed in my career, but there were many years where he would say to me, you know, I still wish you'd let me taken that, I bet we could have, you know, got a bigger launch, and yada yada yada. And when I did start working on the Wheel of Time, I actually called him and I said, so do you still wish? And he's like ah, you know, ah . . .
During Towers of Midnight, Rand says "How I wish I had listened to Gilgame..." while he and Min are in Far Madding. Was Rand going to reference Gilgamesh before Min interrupted him?
He finished the word, I believe. Gilgame is the person referenced.
Oh, my question was does Perrin lose a body part in the book, since Mat has lost one, Rand has lost one, does Perrin lose one next?
Perrin’s body part was the knee, where he got shot through the leg with the arrow. Because the mythological symbolism is with Mat- it’s the Odin mythology, and Odin lost an eye. Perrin is actually the blacksmith mythology, which if you’ve read in Hephaestus and Perun and of the various blacksmiths, they usually have a bad leg. I wasn’t going to chop off his leg. I had that wound, and he kind of feels a phantom wound, if you’ll read in the last book there are several times where his leg aches even though he was healed. That’s the symbolism there.
So, did you just decide to [inaudible] or was that..?
No, Robert Jordan had done that, that was him.
I wasn’t sure if I was just coming up with a fantasy or not.
Though I knew he had to be wounded in the leg, I didn’t know how or how badly so I kind of came up with how it happened.