"The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass,
leaving memories that become legend.
Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten
when the Age that gave it birth comes again.
In one Age, called the Third Age by some,
an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose....
The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings
nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of time.
But it was a beginning."
So began The Eye of the World (1990), Book One of Robert Jordan's sprawling Wheel of Time fantasy series. Although the story featured many of the standard conventions of the fantasy genre, Jordan's vivid characters, breakneck pacing, and attention to detail won me over. The next two books were equally entertaining. In fact, The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn were so good, I signed on for the duration of the series....wherever it was Jordan wanted to take us.
Well, a funny thing sometimes happens when a writer suddenly has a best selling series on his hands. Flush with the runaway success of their books, authors (with no argument from their publishers) will often "throw in the anchor" and drag the story out far longer than anyone could have ever predicted.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened with The Wheel of Time. Each book seemed to advance the story slower than the last, while the cast and scope of the story expanded to an almost comical level. Jordan's once admirable eye for detail became a caricature of itself, as two or three pages at a time would be devoted to describing the architecture of a building, the minute details of a room, or a character's exquisitely embroidered collar. The once-snappy pacing slowed to a snail's pace, as dry political maneuvering took the place of high adventure.
This dreary slog went on for a number of years, always with the hope that something....anything...would happen to keep me around. Finally, exhausted with apathy, I threw in the towel at A Crown of Swords (Book Ten). At that point, there was no end in sight for the series and Jordan had turned his attention to writing a prequel, of all things...so it appeared I made the right decision to leave The Wheel of Time behind.
Flash forward to the 2006 San Diego Comic Con, where Jordan (at eleven books and counting) announced that he would "finish the story in one more book even if it takes a 1500 page hardcover", making Book Twelve, A Memory of Light, the tentative final book of the series.
Sadly, it turns out that the Wheel of Time series will never be finished by Jordan, since he died this past Sunday of a rare blood disease at the tragically young age of 58. God bless the man and his family for enduring such a long illness...and a tip of the hat to the still-loyal Wheel of Time fans who patiently waited for the finale that would never come. Yes, apparently Jordan told a few people how he planned to end the story...and I'm sure there are enough notes and materials of Jordan's to piece something together...but still, what a blow to a once-promising series that had lost its way, yet was poised for a (potentially) spectacular send-off.
Despite the frustrations of the later books, I still have fond memories of the first five or six...especially The Great Hunt (my personal favorite of the entire series). A pity the distractions of the Best Seller Machine took Jordan's eye off the ball. I certainly don't mean to give the impression I'm slamming a dead guy...but having been such a fan for so long, I can't help but feel bad for Jordan. First, for losing his way through The Wheel of Time and, second, for never having the chance to finish it.
I suspect the problems with The Wheel of Time aren't unique. Have any of you ever signed onto a series of books that eventually fell victim to its own success? (Books, not comics. Meandering, artificially-padded stories are business as usual here in the comics world.)