James Oliver Rigner Jr who wrote under the pen name Robert Jordan died yesterday of a rare blood disorder at 58.
I discovered him through the Wheel of Time series in high school during my medieval fantasy phase, which I have still not outgrown.
The series, originally meant to be a trilogy surrounding the lives of three best friends, Rand, Perrin, and Mat, was eventually expanded into an eleven book series that remains unfinished. The first book, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990, and Jordan had long claimed that he began the series with the final scene already written in his mind's eye.
I loved the early books in the series for their depth of character, and the way Jordan deftly wove together elements from almost every myth cycle around the world. Even though it has been years since I've kept up with the series (I left off around book 8 of 11 completed volumes), the characters sometimes come to mind, vividly, and I am mad with desire to know what happened.
His writing had his flaws too. Around book five or six, Jordan's writing became baroque, filled with tiny subplots and characters too numerous to keep track of, and ultimately distracting to the reader. The way he enriched his world prevented my entry into it -- with several years between books, it was nearly impossible to keep the characters straight without re-reading the series up the new books (no small feat, as the books got longer and longer as they went on, some exceeding 900 pages).
His view of gender politics was juvenile. He wrote a large cast of female characters who had real power, but power achieved through maniuplation of traditional roles within the society he created. However, Rand, the main character, had the strongest magical powers in the book and, as in so many books in this genre, he had three beautiful, hot, and powerful women drooling over him -- the great adolescent fantasy. His earlier books about Conan the Barbarian were much worse.
The series' benefits outweigh its flaws through generous use of myth and high-fallooting vocabulary, and it captivated fans who started newsgroups, clubs, and societies. Many books in the series were bestsellers. Jordan chronicled his life and death on his blog, and I do hope someone will take up his notes for the final book, and write the ending his fans have long been waiting for.