The Wheel of Time is a series of fantasy novels first published 20 years ago. After 12 books, some baffling merchandising, and the death of the original author, we may see the end of the story before our grandchildren are old enough to start reading.
What are these books about? Simply put, they are about an entire world that is fucked. 3000 years ago, an evil deity known as "The Dark One" was freed from his prison due to the hubris of humanity. After a long, destructive war, he was imprisoned again, along with thirteen of his most badass lackeys. As his revenge, the Dark One tainted the source of magic used by men, so that they all went bonkers and broke the world. Fast forward to the present day, and the series begins with the search for the Chosen One, or "Dragon", who is now prophecized to destroy the Dark One once and for all, and also completely bone civilization in the process.
As the story unfolds, it becomes less and less about Our Heroes, and more about the clash of civilizations on the brink of destruction. The world is ending, the fabric of realty is literally unraveling around them, and someone out there is thinking "Hey, this is a GREAT time for me to declare myself Empress of Everything." While there are subversives working for the Dark One, most of the real antagonists are just stupid, opportunistic people who like to get in your way. Much like your office, sadly.
The sheer complexity of the series, coupled with Jordan's habit of dicking around with his readers have left us with several unsolvable puzzles. Who killed Asmodean? Is Verin an agent of the Dark One? Is Rand really hearing voices? Or is it the ghost of a long dead hero? Should I go outside at any point and make friends with people who don't know the correct pronunciation of "Aes Sedai?" What about the rich, mythological significance behind Scratch, the old yellow tom cat seen in the first novel? Will Mat ever find love? And more importantly, will it be me?
Many potential readers find themselves frightened off by these things. They ask, "Why does Jordan take three pages to describe the shrubbery surrounding the Winespring Inn? Is this going to come up again five books later?" After finding no easy answers, they decide to read George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire instead, which isn't much better -but at least it has whores in it.
There are 12 currently published books, a prequel novel (New Spring), and two more in production.
The Wheel of Time currently stands as the sixth longest written work of fiction in the world. It has been translated into 24 languages, spawned thousands of fan websites, and it's own convention. A movie is currently being developed with Universal Studios. All this isn't too bad for a series with cover art that looks like it was drawn by an 80's metal hair band with a crayon.
St. Louis! Are you ready to rawk!
Robert Jordan was actually a pen name for a guy named James Oliver Rigney Jr. Jim, as his friends and family knew him, wrote under multiple pen names, depending on what type of writing he was doing. "Robert Jordan" was used for fantasy novels, "Reagan O'Neal" for Westerns, etc. It doesn't matter. No Wheel of Time fan has ever read anything else he wrote, because it does not include any clues to who killed Asmodean. Jordan was the sort of larger-than-life persona that you could easily believe punching a rare blood diesease in the face and then sexing it's mother, so it came as a shock to all his fans when he died from amyloidosis in 2007.
Jordan lived in Charleston, South Carolina with his wife and editor, Harriet McDougal.
Sanderson is, depending on how you much you enjoyed The Gathering Storm, either a brilliant writer, or the sunavabitch destroying your beloved fantasy novels. In 2007, he was a moderately succesful author, with a critically acclaimed first novel under his belt and a few others on the way. Now, in 2010, he is the best selling novelist who outsold Dan Brown's wretched Da Vinci Code sequel and is credited with reviving a sagging franchise by those too stupid to remember that Knife of Dreams was already credited with that back in 2005.
He lives in Provo, Utah with his wife and children.
As with any popular intellectual property, there have been attempts to sell ancillary merchandise. While you don't need to purchase any of this crap to be considered a True Fan , it does give you something to do in between posting screeds about Trolloc sex on some of your less reputable message boards (Theoryland.com, we are looking at you). Some of the more notable attempts at Wheel of Time themed merchandise include:
A computer game...
Nothing says complex story and subtle characterization like a first person shooter!
Trolloc plush dolls...
Who's a cute wittle man-eating hell beast! You are!
And a collectable card game illustrated by people who never read.
If you've read the series, this depiction of the White Ajah just made you pee your pants laughing. If you haven't read the series, this is supposed to be a mathmatician.
But if you absolutely must buy something to round out your collection, we recomend finding old issues of the "New Spring" comics series...
We chose this solely so you could see how wrong Lavender the Trolloc really was.
Or some pretty snazzy jewelry...
After Jordan's death, his widow, Harriet, began the search for a new writer to take up the mantle and complete this series once and for all. Brandon Sanderson was chosen, partly on the strength of his published work, but also partly because of a blog entry he wrote once. Jordan had said before his death that he could finish the series in one book of about 250,000 - 300,000 words. According to the author's wishes, this book would be called A Memory of Light. And so Sanderson sat down to write...and write...and write...
Eventually Sanderson realized that there was absolutely no way this series could be finished in less than 900,000 words, and the decision was made by the publisher to divide the material into three novels, released in succession. This is a completely rational decision, as your average novel is only 30,000 words. The English translation of War and Peace clocks in at 560,000, which most of us agree is tl;dr. So predictably, the internet exploded into a fury of angry fingerpointing and accusations that the publisher only wanted to make money. Angry fans pointed to the fact that previous installations had price tags on them and the final novels were also intended to have price tags as their flimsy evidence of greed.
A Memory of Light, complete and unabridged.