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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Treat for You Fantasy Fans

This is a letter that author Misopogon wrote to Brandon Sanderson, the author charged with completing the Wheel of Time series after the death of series creator, Robert Jordan. Seth finished reading Sanderson's addition, The Gathering Storm, and immediately penned this response.

A Letter to Brandon Sanderson
By Misopogon


Like many Wheel of Time fans, I had some trepidation at the announcement that you would be finishing the series. In anticipation of the next chapter, I read a bit of your works, and couldn't see what Robert Jordan 's survivors obviously saw in you. I figured you for a puppet Amyrlin, dragooned into duty because you were young enough and simple enough to serve as scribe once the puppeteer's hand could no longer manipulate a pen.

Not to mention that I was moving on to this novel from my first read of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, a journey that took me further than I had ever been from the high schooler who stole Eye of the World off his father's bookshelf and hid in the cafeteria hours before school to read it.

I say this because I just finished reading what is, without a doubt, far and away the best novel in the Wheel of Time Series, and it is that not in spite of, but BECAUSE it was written by you.

And it is a testament to your writing that I devoured this, what I had thought to be a frivolous continuation of a long-since-grown-tired series, so much faster than DFW's generation-defining work of literature.

I understand, as you said in your humble foreword, that it is Robert Jordan's work, and you were, to use my own metaphor, a few innings of late-inning relief. Many of your readers believed it. You may have believed it yourself.

It is false.

You will surely follow Mr. Rigney's (ed. note: Robert Jordan's real name) path, but you are not simply some continuation of the tale. As Rand perceived in the final pages, you are not a continuation of an inevitability, but a second chance.

You will disagree (and have, quite unconvincingly), but Robert Jordan had become, like all great fantasists (and all fathers?), lost in the complexities he created -- too small to wield a fantasy that had grown larger than him, but too arrogant to relinquish control and let his characters finish the plot. Had he survived to finish the story, I am convinced the Wheel of Time would have met the same ignoble conclusion as those of Coppola and George Lucas.

Tarmon Gai'don would have come, yes, but it would have been only an inevitability, a merciful finish, like Natalie Portman's half-assed simpering princess dying of a broken heart at the birth of Luke and Leia, or trying to cry over Sophia Coppola's corpse while battling the callous thought , "well, at least her acting career is over."

Or Rand Al'Thor, Breaking the world, then marching to the Blight, because that was his destiny.

What you have done, in returning to the characters, and allowing those characters to act in their spheres, has been to give this series back its soul and direction.

Robert Jordan couldn't have finished this series like you. He could conjure Egwene Al'Veres and Thom Merrilins as easily as Vanen Jurminu's and Elise Teringail's.* His characters could appear so quickly. Each one had the same set of gifts as others. Each one loved the same. Each had the same flaws and same fears. And with each new character, the ones we had were diminished, not just in page time, but in reader connection.

It was too epic, and in the epic the identification was lost. Life is lived in a lonely place. Our fears and dreams and insecurities are given force by the rareness of opportunity to discover how truly un-unique they really are. One such opportunity is through entertainment. The reader's bond with a character is not about sharing fears and dreams, but sharing the HAVING of fears and dreams. That bond is broken when characters' fears get los t among thousands of others.

I'm going to take a stab in the dark and guess that among the pages already written before you took over, the final scene on Dragonmount wasn't one of them. That epic conclusion was, to me, pure Sanderson. And it was something that the Creator of this series never could have created.

His ends were flourishes of action, bursts of rage held back after toying around with his simpleton readers for 900 pages. Your Rand destroys a Forsaken too, but whereas his Rand would do it to give the book at least SOME plot, yours does it as part of the development of Rand's character, an astounding insight into the theme of the entire storyline. The climax, then, is just a man literally sitting on a lonely mountain, thinking. But because of your work on the character up until then, it was the most profound climax of any Wheel of Time book yet.

You came into this project with the same awe of the original characters that drew every reader to this series. That is why you are a better man to finish the Wheel of Time Series than Robert Jordan. It is, as well, the reason I believe this is your best work to date, for by taking on another man's magnum opus, you have effectively blocked yourself from the arrogance that is the downfall of all fantasists.

This is all a long way of saying I implore you to finish this series. By that, I do not mean simply to finish writing the novels that Robert Jordan laid out for you. The march to Tarmon Gai'don is assured. But the journey is incomplete, and now that your name is affixed to the Series, I want you to see it as yours, not his. To do so requires you to see the Wheel of Time as something greater than the man who created it. Can you do that? Can you imagine yourself betraying wishes of that creator when his vision and the wills of his characters no longer agree?

Can you continue to make the last two books about Rand Al'Thor, not Robert Jordan's plan for Rand Al'Thor? Can you surrender both your will and his to the Dragon?

Your first book tells me you can, but this was the easy one. You are now up against prophesy and a conclusion we have spent too long dwelling upon to not already know. You have rescued this series from the abyss, and given it meaning again. I challenge you, Brandon, to take it the next step further, to do to Al'Thor what Christopher Nolan did for Bob Kane , what Peter Jackson did for Tolkien , and what no-one could ever do for poor Mr. Lucas.

You have given us a second chance to love these books. What you do with it is up to you.

* Pop quiz: which of these characters could channel?