The end of an age

Last night, a rather significant era in my life ended. And it’s the end of an era that I am sharing with a lot of people all around the world, though when they experience it wasn’t necessarily last night. For some, it probably ended a week or two ago. For most, it’ll probably be in the next few months.

I suppose “significant” isn’t really that true in the grand scheme of things. But it is something that has definitely influenced one part of my life for at least the last 15 years. So, what happened last night? I finished reading A Memory of Light, the final book in the Wheel of Time series. For those of you who know the series, you understand already the significance, even if you’re not a fan of the series. For the rest of you, let’s just say that this is a moment that a lot of people didn’t expect would ever occur.

Robert Jordan began writing the Wheel of Time in the 1980s, and the first book, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990. Five more books followed, each one year after the previous. Book 7 slipped to a year and a half. Number 8 to two and a half. Book 9 took two morw. Book 10, just over two. With each book at least 650 pages, and most over 800, this is a prodigious amount of writing that Jordan accomplished. And the world he created was understandably complex. The initial cast of three expanded quickly to dozens and the plots expanded even more so. Corralling all of this made it understandable when book 11 took 3 years (though Jordan also publish a short prequel in 2004). By this time, a lot of people had already began to feel that the story was suffering because of its complexity, that a lot of nothing was happening in all of the pages being written. Two months later, in December 2005, Jordan was diagnosed with primary amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy, a disease with no cure. The twelfth book Jordan promised, would finish the series, even if it had be over 2,000 pages long. He died just less than 2 years after his diagnosis, book unfinished. But he left behind extensive notes, hoping that someone would be able to finish the story for him. Jordan’s wife and his publisher chose Brandon Sanderson to be that someone in December 2007. Sanderson is a prodigious and prestigious fantasy author in his own right. But even so, it was a year and a half before any real update on the final book, A Memory of Light, was given. In early 2009, it was announced that the finale to the series was going to be split into three books! The first of those came out six months later in October 2009 and part two just a year later in November 2010. But A Memory of Light itself was not released until just ten days ago, January 8, 2013. 22 years, 358 days after the publication of The Eye of the World.

My introduction to the series came around 1996 or 1997. My mother, wonderful woman that she is, got me the first 6 books in the series in a pair of box sets for Christmas. I tore through the books in just a few short weeks. I devoured the world that Jordan created. The adventure, the magic, the new ideas and depth of the history, cultures, mythology, and characters all combined in a way I absolutely loved. While the later books attenuated some of that love as the story became overly complex and slowed down, I still have those first six paperbacks, and the number of times I have read them has worn their bindings down and leaved their pages. When each of the new books came out, I usually re-read the whole series from start to finish. The characters became very well-known to me. When the first of the Sanderson finished books was coming out in 2009, I reread the whole series of 11 books in the span of a month. That was almost three and a half million words.

I picked up A Memory of Light last Sunday and I reviewed brief plot summaries of the last three or four books just to remind myself where things stood before I began reading it on Tuesday. I’m still not sure how late I stayed up that evening, but I was somewhere between a third and two-fifths through it. Yesterday after work, I did very little other than read and finished the book around midnight. And I experienced moments of joy and happiness as the characters achieved great things and moments of hurt and sadness as they suffered or died. 16 years of familiarity and wondering “What next?” and “Will they survive?” was finally brought to a resolution. But I know that A Memory of Light was not the ending to my relationship with these characters or novels. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was an ending.