Sanderson to bring book series full circle
Brandon Sanderson knew the conclusion of Robert Jordan's acclaimed, if prodigiously lengthy, "Wheel of Time" fantasy series had to embody the final notes of a powerful and resonant symphony.
His task, abetted by Tor Books and Team Jordan, was to make it so. The project would be a daunting undertaking, twining the manifest threads of the Jordan narrative, keeping it faithful to the style and intent of the man who created it, the late Charleston author James O. Rigney.
Sanderson, 33, a fantasy writer with several popular books to his credit, was chosen to complete the series by Rigney's widow and editor, Harriet McDougal, not long after Rigney's death in 2007.
Fittingly, the acolyte launches his 20-city book tour in Charleston on Tuesday, the day of the novel's release, with a 7 p.m. signing at the Northwoods Barnes & Noble, joined by McDougal and the rest of Team Jordan.
The 12th and final volume of "The Wheel of Time" was to have been "A Memory of Light," partially written by Rigney before his passing.
"Jim had been saying for years that he knew the last pages of the final book, and had written them," says Sanderson, author of the "Mistborn" novels. "He also had written a lot of material leading up to those final scenes. I've been able to simply drop those (passages) into the new book, 'The Gathering Storm,' untouched by me. The amount of material Jim left behind was what made this book possible."
The problem, it soon became apparent, was containing this dizzying wealth of material and dovetailing all the plotlines in a single book. The scope of the proposed volume was so immense, even by Rigney's herculean standards, that Tor determined to present "The Gathering Storm" as the first of three novels that will make up a concluding "A Memory of Light" trilogy. The sequence will complete "The Wheel of Time" and the long struggle against the Shadow, culminating a saga begun with "The Eye of the World" in 1990.
"Jim had been planning a gigantic volume, thousands of pages long, as the conclusion," Sanderson says. " 'The Wheel of Time' is not the story of one person; it's the story of an entire world, all these characters and how their stories blend with one another. The book needed a complete symphony, and you can't do this by eliminating characters and plotlines. I felt I needed to do what Jim had set out to do.
"That meant writing an enormous book, which is what I started doing. I immersed myself in the series, rereading all the books in three months and taking notes alongside the outline he'd left. Then I sat down to write the last one -- 900,000 words, approximately three times the length of 'Eye of the World' -- but (Tor publisher) Tom Doherty said such a book probably would not even be bindable at that size.
"So in January of this year, Tom and Harriet got together and decided to divide the book into three volumes, released one a year."
Just as important, says Sanderson, was the fact that it would require two more years for him to complete the series if done in that single book, and that the series' legions of readers, already impatient in some quarters, should not be asked to wait that long.
"You can only go so fast in doing this sort of thing. This was Jim's opus. I had to do something worthy of him. The second book will be called 'Towers of Midnight,' and the third, 'A Memory of Light.' The dividing line between them was pretty organic, and each book will feel of a piece, not episodic."
As always, McDougal is the editor, and Sanderson is under contract to her, not Tor.
Sanderson regrets that he never met Rigney, whose work he admires so greatly.
"I saw him just once at a convention years ago," the author recalls. "I was just a fan, and had no clue that this would be happening in the future. But I did not go up and talk to him. I could kick myself for not introducing myself and at least shaking his hand."
Today, Sanderson communes with Rigney through the realm of his creation.
"I feel a great responsibility. In a lot of ways, I consider Robert Jordan my mentor. I read his books over and over during the foundational years of my writing career. But I could not have begun the project without Team Jordan: Harriet and Jim's longtime research assistants, Maria Simons and Alan Romanczuk, who are amazing. I go to them all the time and depend on them to do for me what they did for Jim: keep track of all these characters and plot threads, delve into his notes, which were not all accessible in one place.
"I went into this knowing I'd have to set aside some of my own projects, and I depend on moving from project to project to keep me fresh. Working on 'The Wheel of Time' is extremely fulfilling, but challenging and hard.
"As to how much of the book is me as opposed to my interpretation of Robert Jordan, that's tough to answer. On the one hand, this book is almost all Jordan because I'm following the plot cycles he left behind. I'm building on the previous books in the series," he says.
"I have enough direction to feel like everything I'm doing is Jim's, but also enough leeway to know I'm not just collecting, but writing, telling a story."
The completion of the narrative does not mean the conclusion of the series. Team Jordan is working on "The Encyclopedia of the Wheel of Time."
"From Book One, we have been maintaining what we call the Raw Glossary, in which every proper noun -- the names of every ship, herb, sect and clan, 2,000 named characters, you name it -- has been kept from the beginning," McDougal says.
Sanderson says it was vital to have McDougal's blessing as well as her editorial expertise.
"She is the 'Wheel of Time' now. She's worked on these books from the beginning. She also edited this one, which adds a lot to the feel of it being a proper 'Wheel of Time' book. There is no way you could do this without her."
Reach Bill Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5707.