It’s been ten years since Robert Jordan died.
In some ways, I find this a difficult post to write. I’ve known for years I would want to put something here when this day arrived. At the same time, I’ve always found it a strange thing to remember the day of someone’s death. Though their life was something to celebrate, their death certainly isn’t.
But this is also a very meaningful day for those of us in Wheel of Time fandom. It was the day we lost a great man, and I lost a mentor I’d never met.
I believe I’ve mentioned how strange it is for me to know Robert Jordan’s family so well, now, after working with them intensely for five years—yet not know the man himself. To me, Robert Jordan is still an almost mythical figure, like from the books themselves. A statuesque man with a hat, a cane, and a knowing smile.
I could probably go on at length regarding the many ways he changed the face of fantasy, at least for me, but today I’ll try to pick just one. Robert Jordan taught me how to describe a cup of water.
It seems a simple task. We all know what water looks like, feels like in our mouth. Water is ubiquitous. Describing a cup of water feels a little like doing a still life painting. As a child I used to wonder: Why do people spend so much time painting bowls of fruit, when they could be painting dragons? Why learn to describe a cup of water, when the story is about cool magic and (well) dragons?
It’s a thing I had trouble with as a teenage writer—I’d try to rush through the “boring” parts to get to the interesting parts, instead of learning how to make the boring parts into the interesting parts. And a cup of water is vital to this. Robert Jordan showed me that a cup of water can be a cultural dividing line–the difference between someone who grew up between two rivers, and someone who’d never seen a river before a few weeks ago.
A cup of water can be an offhand show of wealth, in the shape of an ornamented cup. It can be a mark of traveling hard, with nothing better to drink. It can be a symbol of better times, when you had something clean and pure. A cup of water isn’t just a cup of water, it’s a means of expressing character. Because stories aren’t about cups of water, or even magic and dragons. They’re about the people painted, illuminated, and changed by magic and dragons.
I think of that whenever I look at my old, worn copy of The Eye of the World. (That’s the actual one I bought, back in the fall of 1990, that started me on this path.) Because, ultimately, books aren’t even about the stories—they’re about what those stories do to us.
Thank you, Robert Jordan, for teaching us these things. We miss you.