by Abhilasha Khaitan
It is a bitter-sweet day for millions of fantasy book junkies. Twenty-three years and fourteen books later, The Wheel of Time (WoT) will finally stop turning as its final installment, A Memory of Light, hits bookstores across the world.
Tarmon Gai’don, or the Last Battle, will be fought and I cannot wait to see who survives it. So far, I have no spoilers. I’m still awaiting my pre-ordered copy and staying clear of all Twitter accounts that love to play party-pooper.
Now, you may not get as many casual pop-cultural references about WoT as other epic works that have been adapted for film or television but, make no mistake, the series still reigns supreme in the high fantasy genre pioneered by JRR Tolkien. We may be living in the age of the Game of Thrones (geek alert: this is commonly mistaken as the name of the series, thanks to HBO’s TV adaptation, though it is only the first book of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga), but WoT has its own legion of fans who account for the over-50 million copies that the series has already sold.
I’ll admit it. I am as engrossed as the next person in the world of the Starks, Lannisters and Targaryens, spiked heads, dragon mothers, Red Gods and all, and wish there was a spell that could make George RR Martin’s fingers fly faster on the keyboard. But I am a WoT-er first. Even before the first Martin offering was published in 1996, Robert Jordan had already staked his claim to the mantle of 'fantasy author fantastic'. The wheel was set in motion with The Eye of the World on January 15, 1990, and continued to turn at a surprisingly rapid pace. The longest Jordan took to follow up on the series was a couple of years, often producing two books in one year.
The last few years have been tougher on WoT-ers because of the tragic death of Jordan in 2007 (after the 11th book was written). Not only did the fan-dom mourn the passing of this iconic writer, it grappled with the uncertainty of ‘what next’ for the series. Too much was left in limbo, too little had been resolved. But Brandon Sanderson, handpicked by Jordan’s wife and editor, Harriet McDougal, was thrown into the deep end with only Jordan’s notes and his own love of the series as a life-jacket. He had to wear that and swim.
While WoT has never tried to be the benchmark for great literary prose, Sanderson has maintained the pace and integrity of Jordan’s writing, staying largely true to the character arcs defined earlier in the series. And, honestly, after having already consumed 11 books, Sanderson pretty much had a captive audience. Reading this series requires serious commitment but once you’ve checked in, it’s tough to leave. You’re inextricably woven into the tales of the myriad characters, an emotional attachment surpassing many non-fictional relationships. I kid you not. How can you not get that involved? Consider that by the time you’ve finished The Memory of Light, you would have read about 11,004 pages translating to over 4 million words (4,056,130 to be precise, or so claims Wikipedia).
Much like other long-time fans of this epic fantasy series, I am both excited to know how it all ends and sad that it has to, you know, end. Like I said, love for fictional characters is a serious thing, and there is huge separation anxiety and emptiness when their stories reach endgame. Ask the Potterheads who most recently had to suffer their hero growing up and riding into the sunset. And they had only lived seven lives and about 1,084,170 words in JK Rowling’s fantasy world. Imagine how us hapless WoT-ers will deal with the curtain calls of the Dragon Reborn Rand al’Thor, the irascible Matrim Cauthon and the brooding wolf Perrin Aybara?
What makes it even more final is that there will be no more offshoots, prequels or sequels around this series. The words are done. The only newness possible would be if someone dared to bring together the 2,000 characters that this series boasts and tried to make a film or TV show out of them. A cinematic adaptation has been considered and shelved many-a-time, usually because of the grand, complex nature of the plot and the sheer investment it would involve. Perhaps now that it is all over, and given the massive success of GoT, there is renewed hope. And, at the least, there is still the fantasy.