This morning I took up an invitation to visit Jim Rigney’s home and office. Robert Jordan’s office, in other words. The home of the Dragon Firstborn.
It’s hard to describe what a surreal experience this was for me. Robert Jordan was a name of dreams for most of my adult life. I never imagined I’d meet him. He was letters on a spine, a sketch of an image on a dustjacket, a source of inspiration. Indeed, he’s rather directly responsible for the first novel I completed (a magic-less fantasy epic that resides on a dusty floppy disk here somewhere, likely never to be seen again): in the terrible lull between Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, I got the crazy idea in my head to write one myself. He was a muse. And one never expects to meet a muse.
Even when I was exchanging emails with Jim about my plans to establish the Robert Jordan / James O. Rigney, Jr. Award for Creative Writing here at The Citadel, it was hard for me to believe I was actually writing the man whose mythological creation had produced such an impact on my life. So it was with a truly odd sense of displacement that I got into the Jeep this morning and drove down to the peninsula under a deep blue sky, window down to the perfume of a Charleston spring.
Jason Denzel, the founder of the excellent Jordan-centric website dragonmount.com, has posted pictures of Jim’s office, so I’ll let those stand rather than sharing my own. Jim and Harriet live in her family’s home, which was built in 1795: an extraordinary building, though one suspects it would have to be to house such a wonderful pair of human beings.
Jason describes much of what I saw well, so I won’t go into the sights and (non)sounds of the place. Simply put, one of the staff members was quite right when she described it simply as “Fantasyland.” His office is a cultural explosion of books and objects — from southwestern pottery (looked to be from Acoma) to a skeleton (not real!) wearing a Viking helmet — yet as Andrew Harris, the cadet who accompanied me on my trip, astutely noted, one sees relatively little that screams out “Wheel of Time” among the variety of things that filled Jim’s sight as he wrote. I’ve been talking quite a bit of late about my “academic” perspective on Jordan, and one of the things I’ve pointed out has been how his work seems to subsume everything around it. No myth, no culture, was free of the mill of Jim’s mind. This fact, I think, actually shows in his material surrounds: The Wheel of Time wasn’t something he could touch; it was something he breathed.
And thus, one imagines, the Dragon made it live for us all.
I cannot let pass a quick statement about Jim’s weaponry collection. My students know only too well my own fondness of medieval weapons — I keep a few in my office and occasionally bring them to class to, um, demonstrate medieval literature at work — but my four little replicas positively pale in comparison to the armory in Jim’s office. While books dominate his workspace, weapons are a very close second. They were simply everywhere I looked: here a halberd, there a spear, over yonder a kukri, an axe, a claymore, a ka-bar dagger. Though the claymore (a traditional piece with quatrefoils) had the medievalist in me salivating, it was the Asian swords that most trembled my heart: it was something like a Japanese katana, after all, that was surely in Jim’s mind when he imagined the Heron-mark swords. Looking around, I couldn’t help but wonder if one of the blades I was seeing was one he held as he imagined Rand fighting the forces of the Dark One.
Unforgettable. Simply unforgettable.