James Oliver Rigney Jr.
James Oliver Rigney Jr. was a native Charlestonian, Vietnam War hero, loyal alumnus and generous benefactor of The Citadel. But it was in the alter ego of Robert Jordan that he gained worldwide fame as a worthy successor to J.R.R. Tolkien and as a spinner of tales about an imagined world convulsed by the battle between good and evil.
Jim Rigney was the author of the 11 novels of "The Wheel of Time" series, which sold 30 million copies and has been translated into 20 languages, according to his publisher, Tom Doherty, who spoke at the 58-year-old author's funeral Wednesday.
In an appreciation of "Robert Jordan's" work published in 1996 in The New York Times, Edward Rothstein, the newspaper's leading cultural critic, wrote, "Mr. Jordan has created a universe so detailed that elaborate commentaries have developed on the Internet [and] news groups debate the fate of characters. ... The books' battle scenes have the breathless urgency of first hand experience, and the ambiguities in these novels — the evil laced into the forces of good, the dangers latent in any promised salvation, the sense of the unavoidable onslaught of unpredictable events — bear the marks of American national experience during the last three decades, just as the experience of the First World War and its aftermath gave its imprint to Tolkien's work."
In addition to "The Wheel of Time" series — he was working on a 12th volume at his death — he wrote at least three of the volumes in the "Conan the Barbarian" series, using the Robert Jordan pen name and the "Fallon" trilogy of historical novels under the name Reagan O'Neal.
He was a meticulous researcher. When author Pat Conroy told him The Citadel was the only college in the nation to have two graduates at the top of The New York Times best-seller list (the other being Conroy), Jim Rigney checked the facts and found that Harvard led the list with six.
But no other college had even one. "Harvard and The Citadel. I like the sound of that. The Citadel and Harvard. I like the sound of that even better," he wrote in the inaugural issue of "The Citadel" magazine in 2003.
The Citadel awarded him an honorary Doctor of Literature degree in 1999, citing his lifetime commitment and support of the college, "and his writings which have focused on the meaning of family, home, religion and freedom."
In addition to his generosity to his alma mater, from which he earned a degree in physics, Mr. Rigney was quietly generous with his time and attention when it came to other Lowcountry writers. He was not to win his valiant fight against a rare blood disease, but he succeeded as have few others in his publishing field, touching a universal chord while winning critical acclaim.