James O. Rigney, Jr., who wrote most of his books under the name Robert Jordan, died at around 2:45pm yesterday.
The passing of any artist is tragic, but Jim’s loss is particularly so: only 58, he was still very much in the prime of his authorial life. His great epic Fantasy series THE WHEEL OF TIME was at last coming to a much-anticipated close, and his mind was no doubt already swirling with the promise of more unwritten dreams to come. For the millions of his loyal readers who would have followed this dragon to any creative end, his loss is difficult to accept.
The most popular Fantasy writer since Tolkien, Jim’s work undoubtedly revitalized the genre and had an impact that cannot be overestimated. Indeed, I think we cannot yet contemplate his full impact on fiction: only the turning of the wheel of time will reveal the fruits born when the seeds sown of his imagination take root in the fertile minds of writers to come. If all Fantasy writers walk in the shadow of Tolkien, we walk, too, in the company of Jordan.
I first communicated with Jim less than a year ago, when I wrote him a letter expressing my desire to establish a much overdue literary award in his honor here at The Citadel. Jim was a proud graduate of this institution, a fact that had no small influence on my decision to come here. As I explained in a letter to him:
I cannot pass up the opportunity to observe that I would never have accepted this professorship without you. As a high school freshman in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I bought THE EYE OF THE WORLD just after its 1990 release and was instantly hooked. A would-be speculative fiction writer myself, I was elated to find someone whose talents I could so admire. THE GREAT HUNT at last contained a tantalizing “About the Author” blurb, and it was there that I first heard of The Citadel, a place of such apparent mystery and mystique that it was the sole bit of biographical information to make it to the back flap of THE DRAGON REBORN and subsequent volumes.
While I chose not to attend this institution as an undergraduate, the name of The Citadel stuck with me — fostered, of course, by my continued reading of your work — and when the opportunity of a professorship here arrived, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see what this mythical place was like. Once arrived, I fell in love. So thank you for bringing me here!
Gratefully, Jim humbly agreed to my award proposal, and The Citadel is now proud to honor one student a year with the Robert Jordan / James O. Rigney, Jr. Award for Creative Writing.
We had several correspondences over the past year — entering into a fascinating debate over the definition of speculative fiction at one point — and this past spring I had the opportunity at last to meet him in person. Though in poor health, he was nevertheless warm and funny, passionate and giving. I have here on my desk a photo of him, a dashing black hat on his head, talking to me and some cadets; looking at it I cannot help but smile at the way that we are, all of us, riveted on what he is saying. If my memory serves, the moment captured is his declaration that writing Lan, a deeply impressive character in the WHEEL OF TIME series, was easy: “Lan is simply the man I always wished I could be,” he said. Though I knew him for far too short a time, I do not think Jim gave himself the credit he deserved.
Looking at the photo I see, too, Jim’s beloved wife, Harriet, smiling in her own gracious strength. I hope that I am not alone in turning my mind from mourning to thoughts and prayers for her during this difficult time.
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 in the Mountains of Mist. 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.”