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Writing and conception
In the early 1980s Robert Jordan wrote several Conan the Barbarian novels for Tor Books, including a novelization of the movie Conan the Destroyer. These proved successful and in 1984 he proposed an idea for an epic fantasy series of three books to Tom Doherty, the head of Tor Books. Doherty approved the idea; however, knowing that Jordan had a tendency to go long, put Jordan on contract for six books just in case. Jordan began writing the novel that became The Eye of the World.
The novel proved extremely difficult to write and characters and storylines changed considerably during the writing process. The series was originally centered on an older man who discovered relatively late in life that he was the 'chosen one' who had to save the world. However, Jordan deliberately decided to move closer to the tone and style of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring and made the characters younger and less experienced. Once this decision had been made, writing proceeded much more easily and Jordan completed the second volume,The Great Hunt, at roughly the same time the first book was published.
Tom Doherty enjoyed The Eye of the World so much that he declared it would be the biggest fantasy series since Tolkien, and took the unprecedented steps of sending free review copies to every bookstore in the United States to generate interest. The combined hardcover and trade paperback run of the novel sold out of its initial 40,000-strong print run. Sales then doubled with the publication of the second novel just eight months later generating more interest in the first book.
Jordan wrote full-time at breakneck speed for the next several years until he completed the seventh volume, A Crown of Swords, at which point he slowed down, delivering a book every two years. Fans objected when he took some time off to expand a short story into a prequel novel called New Spring, so he decided to shelve his plans for additional prequels in favor of finishing off the last two volumes in the series. He rejected criticisms of the later volumes of the series slowing down in pace in order to concentrate on minor secondary characters at the expense of the main characters from the opening volumes, but acknowledged that his structure for the tenth volume, Crossroads of Twilight (where he showed a major scene from the prior book, Winter's Heart, from the perspective of the main characters that were not involved in the scene), had not worked out as he had planned. Knife of Dreams, the eleventh volume, had a much more positive reception from critics and fans alike and Jordan announced the twelfth volume, which he had previously announced would have the working title A Memory of Light, would conclude the series.
Author's death and final books
Jordan had stated that the main sequence would conclude with the twelfth book, A Memory of Light. According to Forbes, Jordan had intended for it to be the final book "even if it reaches 2,000 pages."
Jordan was diagnosed with the terminal heart disease primary amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy in December 2005, and while he intended to finish at least A Memory of Light even if the "worse comes to worst," he made preparations in case he was not able to complete the book: "I'm getting out notes, so if the worst actually happens, someone could finish A Memory of Light and have it end the way I want it to end."
With Jordan's death on 16 September 2007, the conclusion of the series was in question. On December 7 of that year the publisher Tor Books announced that fantasy author Brandon Sanderson was to finish A Memory of Light. Sanderson, a long time fan of the series, was chosen by Jordan's widow Harriet McDougal partly because she liked Sanderson's novels and partly because of a eulogy he had written for Jordan.
On 30 March 2009 Tor Books announced that A Memory of Light would be split into three volumes. The first volume, The Gathering Storm, was released on October 27, 2009.The second,Towers of Midnight, was published on November 2, 2010. The final book of the series uses Jordan's original title, A Memory of Light. The book was published on January 8, 2013.
Thought I'd share with you the Wheel of Time series from Robert Jordan! Yes, I've read all volumes...except the final one - and anyone who tells me what happens to Rand al'Thor before I get to will suffer my wrath! :)
In the series's fictional mythology, a deity known as the Creator forged the universe and the Wheel of Time, which, as it turns, spins all lives. The Wheel has seven spokes, each representing an age, and it rotates under the influence of the One Power, which flows from the True Source. Essentially composed of male and female halves (saidin and saidar) in opposition and in unison, this power turns the Wheel. Those humans who can use this power are referred to as channelers; the principal organization of such wielders in the books is called the Aes Sedai or 'Servants of All' in the Old Tongue.
The Creator imprisoned its antithesis, Shai'tan (or Dark One), at the moment of creation, sealing him away from the Wheel. However, in a time called the Age of Legends or the Second Age, an Aes Sedai experiment inadvertently breached the Dark One's prison, allowing his influence into the world. He rallied the powerful, the corrupt and the ambitious to his cause and these servants began an effort to free the Dark One fully from his prison. In return, the Dark One promised them worldly power and immortality. Few even among the servants of the Dark One realized that one of the consequences of freeing him might be the breaking of the Wheel of Time and the end of existence itself.
In response to this threat, the Wheel spun out the Dragon as the champion of the Light. The Dragon was a male Aes Sedai named Lews Therin Telamon, who rose to great influence and power among the Aes Sedai. A century after the initial breach of the Dark One's prison, a time during which the Dark One's influence spread throughout the world, causing society to become corrupt and decayed, open warfare broke out between the forces of the Dark One and those of the Light. After ten years of a grueling, world-wide war filled with atrocities on a scale never before imagined, the Light found itself facing the real possibility of defeat.
In desperation, Lews Therin led a hand-picked force of channelers and soldiers in a high-risk, daring assault on the site of the earthly link to the Dark One's prison, and was able to seal it off, although imperfectly. However, at this moment of victory the Dark One tainted saidin, driving male channelers of the One Power insane. The male channelers, in the "Time of Madness," devastated the world with the One Power, unleashing earthquakes and tidal waves that reshaped the planet, referred to in subsequent ages as "The Breaking of the World."
In his insanity, Lews Therin himself killed his friends, his family and anyone in any way related to him, and was known afterwards as Lews Therin Kinslayer. Given a moment of sanity by Ishamael, chief among the Dark One's servants, Lews Therin realized what he had done. In his grief, he committed suicide by drawing on far more of the One Power than even he could handle unaided.
Over time, the remaining male Aes Sedai were killed or cut off from the One Power. In their wake, they had left a devastated world: the land and the oceans reshaped, people scattered from their native lands, civilization itself all but destroyed. Only women were now able to wield the One Power safely. The female Aes Sedai reconstituted and guided humanity out of this dark time. Men who could channel eventually became objects of fear and horror, as they would inevitably go insane unless stopped, and even the Dragon became a loathed figure. Among the Aes Sedai there were women whose sole function was to hunt such men down and cut them off from accessing the One Power.
What followed was three and a half thousand years of history that was marked by a series of rises then inevitable declines in civilization, a time of troubles and chaos that stood in marked contrast to the now mythical Age of Legends. Nations and civilization itself fell, rose, and fell again. Occasional periods of uneasy peace were punctuated by warfare. There were two major conflicts that were of particular importance, in terms of their effect on civilization as a whole. The first were the Trolloc Wars, in which servants of the Dark One tried to destroy civilization once more, in a more or less continuous war that lasted for several hundred years. This period finally came to an end thanks to an alliance of nations led by the Aes Sedai. The second was the War of the Hundred Years, a devastating civil war that followed the fall of a continent-spanning empire ruled by the High King, Artur Hawkwing.
These wars have prevented the human race from regaining the power and high technology of the Age of Legends, and left humanity divided. Even the prestige of the Aes Sedai has fallen, with their terrible power and shrinking numbers, and the emergence of organizations such as the Children of the Light, a militant order who hold that all who dabble with the One Power are servants of the Shadow. The human race has clawed its way back to a level of technology and culture roughly comparable to that of our 1450 to 1600 (although without the sciences, formalized learning, or the military use of gunpowder), with the difference that women enjoy full equality with men in most societies, and are superior in some. One likely explanation for this is the power and influence of the female-only Aes Sedai spilling over into everyday life.
During the last war of note, called the Aiel War and taking place 20 years before the start of the series, the nations of the modern era allied themselves against the warrior-clans of the Aiel, who crossed into the western kingdoms on a mission of vengeance after suffering a grievous insult at the hands of one of the western Kings. The Aiel have since returned to the Aiel Waste, with some saying that they were defeated and fled, but others saying that they got their vengeance and left on their own terms. Despite this confrontation, little is known of these fierce warriors in the kingdoms of the east.
In the time in which the novels are set, mankind lives under the shadow of a prophecy that the Dark One will break free from his prison and the Dragon will be reborn to face him once more, raining utter destruction and chaos on the world in the process of saving it from the Dark One.
The prequel novel New Spring, takes place during the Aiel War and chronicles the end of that conflict and the discovery by the Aes Sedai that one of the Prophecies of the Dragon has been fulfilled, that the Dragon has been Reborn. Aes Sedai agents (including a young Moiraine Damodred) are dispatched to try to find the newborn child before servants of the Shadow can do the same.
The series proper commences almost twenty years later in the Two Rivers, a near-forgotten backwater district of the country of Andor. An Aes Sedai, Moiraine, and her Warder Lan, arrive mysteriously in the village of Emond's Field, secretly aware that servants of the Dark One are searching for one particular young man living in the area. Moiraine is unable to determine which of three youths (Rand al'Thor, Matrim Cauthon or Perrin Aybara) is the Dragon Reborn, so she takes all three of them out of the Two Rivers, along with their friend Egwene al'Vere. Nynaeve al'Meara, the unusually young village Wisdom (a healer or wise-woman figure), later meets up with them at the town of Baerlon. The men are mystified why Moiraine has allowed Egwene and Nynaeve to travel with them, until it is revealed that both of them can channel the One Power and learn to be Aes Sedai. A mysterious old gleeman named Thom Merrilin also travels with the group, claiming he wants to travel in safety when leaving the Two Rivers. The first novel depicts their flight from various agents of the Shadow and their attempts to escape to the Aes Sedai city of Tar Valon.
From then on, the story expands and the original characters are frequently split into different groups and pursue different missions or agendas aimed at furthering the cause of the Dragon Reborn (revealed to be Rand al'Thor), sometimes thousands of miles apart. The original group of characters from the Two Rivers make new allies, gain experience and become figures of some influence and authority. As they struggle to unite the western kingdoms against the Dark One's forces, their task is complicated by rulers of the nations who refuse to give up their authority and by factions such as the Children of the Light, who do not believe in the prophecies, and the Seanchan, the descendants of a long-lost colony of Artur Hawkwing's empire across the western ocean (Hawkwing had once united the mainland continent under his rule, and sent his son across the ocean to unite those lands as well) who have returned, believing it is their destiny to conquer the world. The Aes Sedai also become divided over the overthrow of their previous leader (an Amyrlin Seat) Siuan Sanche and the installation of Elaida a'Roihan as the new leader. The two sides are split idealogically between those who believe the Aes Sedai should be kept together in this time of crisis and those who believe that Elaida became the Amyrlin Seat through illegal means and want to remove her as an unfit leader. As the story expands, new characters representing different factions are introduced: although this expansion of the narrative allows the sheer scale of the growing struggle to be effectively depicted, it has been criticized for slowing the pace of the novels and sometimes reducing the appearances of the original cast to extended cameos. By the eleventh novel, it has become clear that Tarmon Gai'don, or the Last Battle, caused when the Dark One is able to exert its influence directly on the world once more, is imminent.
Tarmon Gai'don is both feared and anticipated in the lands of the Wheel. Deriving its name from the final battlefield of Armageddon (Har-Magedon) in Christian eschatology, it will be the apocalyptic (some say final) battle between the forces of the Shadow and the forces of Light; if the Dark One wins, he plans to break the Wheel of Time itself to prevent another challenge. Even though the Dragon Reborn might prevail and thwart the Dark One, many fear that the Last Battle and its aftermath will be as bad as the Breaking, if not worse. As the series winds toward its conclusion, signs begin to point to the nearness of this final struggle.
Within the storyline, there are characters who believe that the death of Rand before Tarmon Gai'don would prevent it from happening and therefore plot his premature death; others (mainly Elaida's Aes Sedai) just believe his mere presence would ensure their victory and therefore wish to capture him and keep him safe until the time comes. Before his death, Pedron Niall speculated that the Creator had abandoned mankind to its own devices, and that the Last Battle would be between armies and not include a non-existent (to his thinking) Dragon Reborn (in fact, he did not even believe Rand could channel). One member of the Black Ajah had her mind warped to believe that the Dragon Reborn must make it to Tarmon Gai'don in order for the Dark One to defeat him, and thus she has pledged to protect Rand al'Thor from anyone who tries to take his life.
Events and portents that are believed to lead to the Last Battle take place in Knife of Dreams and The Gathering Storm. The Last Battle takes place in A Memory of Light.
Some men and women are able to use something known as the One Power; using the One Power is called channeling. The One Power is split into two sections: saidin and saidar. Men channelsaidin, and women channel saidar. Not all people can channel. Specific flows of saidin or saidar are called weaves. Women can join together and form circles, but without a man, which only a woman can bring into it, the circle is restricted to thirteen members, with one person maintaining control by directing the weaves.
At the start of the series, saidin has been tainted by the Dark One for over three thousand years. Any man who channels it will eventually go insane and die. Because of this, the female Aes Sedai hunt down men who can channel and if they cannot gentle them (cut them off from saidin) they kill them.
There also exists a power of evil, dubbed the True Power. The tapping of this power caused the bore into the Dark one's sanctum in the first place. Some higher levels of authority in the shadow have been granted access to this power by Shai'tan, and explain its use less as graceful, and more as ripping through the seams of fate and time itself, to force one's will on nature.
Robert Jordan passed away in 2007 and the Wheel of Time mantle was assumed by Brandon Sanderson. Check back later for a post about the final three volumes in this epic series.