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Interviews: Meeting Robert Jordan - Leigh Butler





Sep 17th, 2007




Leigh Butler


Leigh Butler's blog

  • 1

    Leigh Butler

    "It's amazing what you can get out of books if you read long enough, isn't it?"

    Here's a story that, for some reason, I don't think I ever told on LJ or the newsgroup. I'm not sure why, but no matter. I'll tell it now.

    A few years ago, I got an email from Jason Denzel, whom some of you may know runs Dragonmount, one of the largest Wheel of Time fan sites on the Internet, if not the biggest. Jason told me that he and a few friends were going up to Oakland, CA in November to meet up with one James Oliver Rigney, Jr. and his wife Harriet for dinner and a VIP tour of Pixar animation studios, and did I want to come along?

    Well, now there's a stupid question.

    My sister Liz and I, accordingly, rented a car that weekend and drove up to the Bay Area. The rental company gave us this ridiculously purple PT Cruiser which was about the last car I would ever have owned, but as a weekend rental was hilariously awesome. It was so, so very purple. Not only that, but Liz and I showed up at the rental place separately, and realized we were both wearing—purple. when the rental car lady handed me our rental agreement in a purple folder, it was over. The trip became The Great Purple California Trip of 2004.

    The trip up was relaxing and uneventful, the only shame being that we didn't have enough purple music for our purple trip. (No Deep Purple.) We did, however, stop and buy some purple wine, so that was all right.

    We arrived at our hotel in Oakland, which was sadly lacking in purple decor, but consoled ourselves that the bedspreads in our room were kind of deep red-purplish. If you squinted.

  • 2

    Leigh Butler

    The next day we drove to Pixar, and met Jason and his wife and a couple other friends of his, including the lovely _____, who was giving us this private tour of the studio. Jason, I'm pleased to report, is a Nice Guy (and not in the bad way, either!), and we got along well from the get-go.

    Soon after that, Mr. and Mrs. Rigney arrived. Mr. Rigney walked slowly, with a cane, but seemed lively and genuinely pleased to see the studio. Mrs. Rigney was just adorable. Hopefully the big grin I had on my face when introduced to the couple was put down to fannish delight, and not what it actually was—sartorial glee.

    Guess what color Mr. Rigney was wearing?

    So, so perfect.

  • 3

    Leigh Butler

    The tour was fun and interesting. As an owner of pretty much every Pixar movie on DVD, much of it was stuff I had heard before on commentaries or extras, but it was still cool to see it all in person. My favorite bit was the life-size stuffed Sully (from Monsters, Inc.) in the foyer. He was very huggable.

    We mostly stuck to Pixar/animation topics, but at one point we strayed into a discussion of our favorite Wheel of Time characters. Mr. Rigney seemed bemused to hear me state that I had loathed Mat for the first three books, up until his fight with Galad and Gawyn in the Tower, and that afterward he became my favorite character in the series.

  • 4

    Leigh Butler

    We wandered about Pixar for a good hour or so, and then we trundled off to dinner. Jason had chosen this Moroccan place, the name of which I can't remember. There was a bit of a snag when we realized that Moroccan-style dining involved sitting on the floor, which Mr. Rigney was not able to do, but the staff kindly set up a Western-style table for us toward the back, so all was well.

    As it happened, Jason and I were sitting right next to Mr. Rigney at the table on opposite sides, and therefore shamelessly monopolized him for most of the meal, while his wife held court at the other end. He told fascinating stories all through dinner, and I'm now kicking myself for not having written anything about them down at the time. Three years on, sadly, I can't really remember the substance, though at least a few of them involved anecdotes of his childhood, and we compared notes on growing up in the South. I do remember at one point gaining startled kudos from him for knowing what l'esprit d'escalier meant.

    He seemed...contented, to me. And by that I mean not just in emotional terms, but as an entire - outlook on life, I guess. What I have no doubt struck some as insufferable arrogance, came across to me as a relaxed self-confidence that needed absolutely no outside validation. Truly, an intensely annoying attitude, to those who see it as an affront to their own lack of security.

    This was a man who knew exactly who and what he was. He was a storyteller.

  • 5

    Leigh Butler

    Mr. Rigney, of course, is better known to the world as Robert Jordan, the author of the worldwide best-selling fantasy series The Wheel of Time. He died yesterday at the age of 58, his last Wheel of Time novel unfinished.

    I'm sad that he died without finishing what must be called his opus, but I'm not sad that he started it and got as far as he did. How many of us will create so much in our own lifetimes?

    I'm glad I got to meet him. I'm glad I got to tell him that his books indirectly changed my life, by leading me to a strange new world called Usenet, and a group called rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan, where I made friends I still have today and will (I pray) always have, and went on adventures I never would have otherwise, and learned things that life ought to teach you but often doesn't.

    One may debate whether Robert Jordan's work may be considered art. I certainly had my issues with it, as did many others, even as we read and reread and discussed and made FAQs about it.

    The Wheel of Time may never be held up as a great classic of literature. But I'm not sure that's particularly relevant. The purpose of art, in my opinion, is to create reaction. It is supposed to affect the recipient in some way, whether that way be joy, awe, shock, laughter, sadness, fury - whatever. It should create discussion, it should move people to feel about it. It should alter the viewer/reader/listener's life, even if only in a tiny way.

    By that criteria, the Wheel of Time has been one of the single most influential pieces of art in my life.

    Requiscat in Pace, Mr. Rigney. You will be missed.