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2012-04-30: I had the great pleasure of speaking with Harriet McDougal Rigney about her life. She's an amazing talent and person and it will take you less than an hour to agree.
2012-04-24: Some thoughts I had during JordanCon4 and the upcoming conclusion of "The Wheel of Time."
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(from the comments)
One other way to think of it is thus: The Wheel will keep on turning, and the Age that we live in (or like unto it) will someday arrive. Legends from what is happening in these books will have survived, and become the Arthur legends during our day. Or, in other cases, stories of other characters have survived in other mythologies. (Look up the Slavic god Perun sometime.)
Perrin is not a god, nor is Gawyn the knight of that story I linked. But perhaps someone who lived long ago, in another Age, gave birth to rumors about a young nobleman who made a mistake, and bore the weight of that sin for the rest of his days. And that gave birth to stories, which in turn inspired a poet to write a tale.
RJ said the soul is immortal. But Hopper says dying in the Wolf Dream is likely permanent. Is Hopper wrong?
RAFO, for now. Ask again after the last book is out.
It's not only an ancient structure like that. It's in places like, oh, say a country that has a tradition of the common man born in the log cabin and rising to the White House. You know, anybody can be President. And in recent years, anybody has been.
It's an old tradition, and it's not just American. I've seen it in Japanese and Chinese mythology and African mythology. In Asia and Africa, more often the fellow who's the commoner who aspires to greatness gets punished for it by the gods. It is more—I should say, not exclusively—but more of a European and Middle-eastern tradition that the common man can challenge the gods, the entrenched powers, and conquer, or at least work out some sort of rapprochement.
And yeah, I work with that. I've tried to mine myths from every country and every continent. And reverse engineer them, of course. The Arthur myths, the Arthur legends, are easily recognizable in the books. I tried to hide them to some extent, but frankly Arthur is, I believe, the most recognizable legend in the United States. More people know about King Arthur than know about Paul Bunyan or Davey Crockett or anything that we have out of our own culture. But the others—myths from Africa and the Middle East, Norse mythology, Chinese mythologies—those things I could bury more deeply, more easily, because they're not very much recognized here.
There are a number of characters reflected, mythological characters, reflected in each of the books. Because of the basic theme, if you will, of the books, that information becomes distorted over distance or time, you cannot know the truth of an event the further you get from it. These people are supposed to be the source of a great many of our legends or myths, but what they actually did bears little resemblance to the myth. That is the conceit, that time has shifted these actions to other people, perhaps compressing two people into one or dividing one into three as far as their actions go.
So Rand has bits of Arthur and bits of Thor and bits of other characters. And so does Mat and so does Nynaeve, and so do others. And yes Mat does have some bits of Odin, but not exclusively. He has bits of Loki and bits of Coyote and of the Monkey King.
(And then the first half of my tape was gone, and I decided to save most of the rest for the audience questions.)
Jordan mentioned all the different cultures and myths he used in WoT. That he'd mined everything from Europe and Asia and Africa etc...
[first sentence paraphrased...only started taping again halfway through this] I don't know how it is in other places, but the best known legend for the American audience, that I had in mind ... when I wrote this for ... that legend is King Arthur. I would imagine that more people know the complete story of King Arthur and Guenever and the round table and the whole nine yards than know any other myth or legend, or perhaps more than know all the other myths put together. Now there are Arthurian elements in these books, but I had to try to bury them, for that reason, make them not so readily apparent. And while I had a particular part of the Arthurian legend mentioned from the first book, it was not until the third book that people began to realize what it was. In fact my editor, who is my wife, and who is a very very sharp woman, uhm, had edited the book and was writing the first version of the flap copy for the book, when she suddenly shouted down the stairs to me (if you're young, forgive me):
[loud] You son of a bitch, you've done it it to me again! [laughter]
Because she had suddenly spotted, not until reaching this... not until reaching the cover flap, she suddenly spotted by a... chance connection of words, this one particular Arthurian thing. [Jordan never mentioned what this was, but the logical option is of course Callandor.] And that you see, to me it's very obvious that the Arthur legend and all of the others are in there. If you spend time on the net, you find sites where they discuss these legends. [People sitting around me knowingly chuckle] I have to tell you that if you visit any of these FAQs... I haven't seen one in a couple of years, but the last time I was sent copies, I've read the printout of the FAQ, and when I was through it. And about a third of the answers in there were correct.
Nynaeve is the name of the nymph who in some versions of the Arthur Legend, imprisoned Merlin. Amyrlin is of course a play on Merlin, as is Thom Merrilin, a play on Merlin, and Rand al'Thor is a play on Arthur, as well as on Thor, but then so is Arthur Hawkwing a play on Arthur, because as I said before it's not a retelling of the myths... As things are done by in the myth, in the legend, if things were done by one man, were actually in both done by several perhaps and had become inflated in time.
But the names come from everywhere. I read the ... in the New York Times, or the London Times, or something mis-seen on the street, I see, I catch a sign from the corner of my eye, and I misread a word on the sign because I only see it out of the corner of my eyes. And I jot it down, because it sounded like a good name.
Um, if you consider King Arthur to be a Jesus figure—the king who must die. [more, indistinct]
[I'm not positive on the exact wording of that question. It's indistinct.]
How do you create the names for the characters?
(He said a really long answer, and I will summarize it. He basically takes names from legends and twists them, mainly King Arthur. The two characters that are based after King Arthur are Artur Hawkwing, obviously, and Rand. For example, the "sword in the stone." He says that the Wheel of Time could kind of be known as the basis of where all of the legends and myths come from. He said he tried to bury King Arthur very deeply, because if people thought that The Eye of the World was just another King Arthur book, nobody would buy it.)
Character names—they come from all sorts of places. Some come from historical and mythological references, e.g., Rand al'Thor comes partly from Arthur and Thor. Artur Hawkwing is also from Arthur. Nynaeve is also a direct mythological name if you know the right version of the right myth. Other names are tweaks of foreign names he's seen that piqued his interest.
Cool moment from the book signing. An artist brought in a drawing of a Maiden of the Spear and asked RJ to name her! He thought for a few moments, then wrote "Ahrmin" on the print.
Oh, yes. I used Arthurian legends, Chinese and Japanese mythology, Indian mythology, traditions from Latin America and Africa. Some myths from Europe, but not much of Celtic because it’s been done so much.
This means you’ve read about all of these subjects?
I read about everything. My knowledge is this wide and much less deep. I truly like to read about a lot of things.
Melissa Craib, this year's JordanCon master of ceremonies, asked the Team Jordan members which parts of the story they had been surprised about.
Harriet told about an incident she has described before from when she was writing the blurb for the dust jacket of The Dragon Reborn and finally realized that RJ intended Callandor to be an analog of the sword in the stone. She yelled down to RJ, "You son of a ****, you've done it to me again!"
Maria said that she was surprised... well, actually I've forgotten what Maria was surprised about. Maybe somebody else remembers...was it from Knife of Dreams when Semirhage blows Rand's hand off? That's what comes to mind, but I don't remember any details about why that surprised her, really, so maybe that's not it. :s
Alan at first said that he wasn't surprised by anything; he had figured it all out, of course. Then he owned up to being a little surprised about the scene in Crossroads of Twilight in which Perrin chops off the hand of one of the captured Shaido, because it showed the depths to which a person could go when pushed to the brink.
Peter said he was surprised when it was revealed that Demandred was... (yeah, he was messing with us).
Nalesean at Theoryland pointed out that Maria said that she was surprised by the death of Rolan during the battle of Malden.
"The Wheel of Time" is in effect a recreation of the source of legends. I gathered together a lot of legends, fairy tales, and folk tales from around the world and stripped away the cultural references, so that just the bare story was left. The I reverse-engineered them.
You might recall a game: I've heard it called "Whispers," I've heard it called "Telephone"—a child's game. If you remember, the last child in the row stood up and said aloud, and what actually happened is what's on the piece of paper. So I've reverse-engineered to try and get back to something like what the piece of paper says. King Arthur is there, but most people don't recognize him right off. And there are a lot of other myths and legends too, although King Arthur is the most easily recognizable. As a matter of fact, I was shocked that some people didn't realize that Arthur was in the books until they read the third volume.
The story begins with The Eye of the World. That's the first book. And it begins in a very pastoral setting, with people who are very...well, innocent is the word. They are rural, they are themselves pastoral. And I tried to make the beginning almost Tolkienesque, as a homage, and as a way of saying, "This is the foundation that we're all jumping off from." But it begins to change, because I'm not trying to do a Tolkien pastiche in any way. And as we leave that pastoral setting, things begin to change. You begin to move away from the style of Tolkien. The characters begin to learn more about the world. They become more sophisticated, in the sense of having more knowledge, and thus they see the world in a more sophisticated way. They're not as innocent, as time goes on, as the books go on, as they were in the beginning. And so the tone of the books changes slightly with their worldview.
As to where the books are going—I know that exactly. I've known it from the beginning. I've known from the beginning what the last scene of the last book was going to be. I know how I intend to tie up the major threads. I know who's going to be alive, who's going to be dead, who's going to be married to whom, all these things. I know the details. I could have sat down six or seven years ago, and written the final scene of the books. And there wouldn't be a great deal of difference in what I'd write when I actually do reach that point.
(Concerning the crystals collapsing into the hill after the battle) Have you heard of a myth about Merlin in a crystal cave and the Holy Grail? We all know what its other name is.
Yes but there are many layers there. The sa'angreal was shaped like a cup (-which I did notice earlier-). And Bao the Wyld, think about the name, it sounds like Beowulf (-looks like I should read that for more theorizing-).
The [offscreen] conversation between Tuon and Hawkwing, can you tell us anything about that?
I can tell you that it did take place, and that Hawkwing is more inclined to agree with what's going on in Seanchan than I think what fans expect him to be. Now, remember that Hawking was not fond of Aes Sedai. Part of that was not his fault, but he was not fond of them. He is not just King Arthur, he is Alexander the Great. King Arthur ruled through justice. Artur Hawkwing ruled through justice and ruthlessness. It will certainly be a conversation filled with emotion and passion, but I don't think everyone expecting Hawkwing to take their side is understanding who Artur Hawkwing is.