Robert Jordan:

Where good and evil are absolutes


It has been a long time coming, but Robert Jordan is being hailed as a "Tolkien Reborn."
The fantasy writer feels that sense of tradition in what he does: "I sometimes feel a connection between me and the itenerant storyteller of medieval times, with his bowl in front of him. If he told a good story, he would get something to eat that ni ght," Jordan said during an interview.
Jordan's good stories no doubt provide all manner of dinner--his success is nothing short of incredible. The demand for the six volumes of the Wheel of Time cycle has grown to such proportion that despite paperback reprints, Tor Books maintains the e ntire series in hardcover editions--an imressive fact indeed when you consider these books average 600 pages. Now, the sixth volume has been published: Lord of Chaos (Tor, $25.95), and at this point the series' rapidly growing popularity ha s elevated Robert Jordan to the stature of a national cult hero.
The Wheel of Time cycle is the mythical saga of Rand al'Thor, a young man from a humble farming village, who is destined to become the Dragon Reborn, the long-prophesied savior of the world who will overcome the evil force known as the Dark One. And there is Egwene, the lovely, darkhaired innkeeper's daughter who is torn between her love for al'Thor and her own sense of destiny. It is prophesied that in the saving of the world the Dragon Reborn will run amok and kill all those near and dearest. Ran d al'Thor is fleeing from his destiny.
Originally Jordan conceived the cycle as encompassing six volumes, but now the blockbuster series is projected to run at least two more volumes.
"This is not an open-ended thing I'm doing...The Wheel of Time cycle has an end. If you haven't read me before, I urge you to pick up a copy of The Eye of the World and begin at the beginning," Jordan says.
His writing is distinguished as literature by the richness of its fabric, with all the charm and naivete of the Brothers Grimm and the social/moral commentary of Huxley's Brave New World. With his well-fleshed-out characters, dark imagery, com ic relief, vivid landscapes, and a fascinating sense of timelessness, Jordan has created a complex literature with a language and reality all its own.
Born in Charleston, SC, in 1948, Robert Jordan is a lifelong resident of that storied old city. Like many cultured Charlestonians, Jordan grew up in a family who loved to read.
"I came up in a family of raconteurs. My father was a uncle was a talespinner." Jordan speaks with the careful phrasing and inflection of someone with a passion for the theater. In the past, he has written theater criticism.
Jordan and his wife live in Charleston's historic district in a house dating from 1797. Although around town he is a familiar figure recognized by his neighbors as having a certain sartorial panasche, he is quite protective of his privacy.
Typically, Jordan has little to say about his adolescence that would predict his hard-chargingentry into manhood. From 1968 through 1970 Jordan served two historic tours in Vietnam. Returning home, Jordan enrolled in The Citadel where he graduated w ith a degree in physics. After graduation he went to work for the Navy as a nuclear engineer.
In the late '70s, hospitalized by an accident that required a lengthy recuperation, Jordan, a voracious reader, decided to try his hand at writing.
Unlike mainstream realism, the fantasy form offers Jordan more latitude to express himself philosophically. "There is a freedom to talk about good and evil as absolutes which, to a large degree, doesn't exist in today's mainstream mainst ream fiction everything good and evil seems to exist in shades of gray. If you talk about absolutes in any way, you're very old-fashioned. In fantasy you can talk about right and wrong without too much equivocation. You can still put in as many shades as you choose."
And, to an extent, he is also put off by the gloomy aspects of mainstream fiction. His wife, Harriet McDougal, a well-established fiction editor, agrees. "My wife calls it the literature of depression. The protagonist seems to be depressed...the wo rld is depressed...and there is little chance of either being anything else."
Jordan quickly points out, however, that the Wheel of Time is not literature in which everything always works out to fairytale perfection with good always triumphing over evil. "But," he adds, "I always try to leave hope at the end."

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Taken from the January 1995 issue of Book Page