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.