Interview: How Brandon Sanderson Ended The Wheel Of Time
When Robert Jordan sadly passed away in 2007, the hunt was on for an author who could finish the epic The Wheel Of Time book series, which was so near to conclusion. It was Jordan’s wife who chose Brandon Sanderson, best known for the Mistborn series, and no-one was more surprised by choice than Sanderson himself.
Sanderson ended up turning what Jordan had expected to be his final book into three books (he explains why below). Two have already been published – The Gathering Storm and The Towers Of Midnight. The third and final one – indeed the last ever book in the Wheel Of Time series – is out next Monday (8 January). So SFX had took the opportunity to have an exclusive chat with Sanderson on the eve of this momentous occasion.
SFX: Was this a big responsibility to take on?
Brandon Sanderson: “Oh, man, it’s hard to explain what it was like because I started reading these books as a kid. I studied The Wheel of Time when I was trying to figure out how to write fantasy books in my twenties. So to be handed this project and be able to help finish the work of one of my heroes felt really good, but the weight of it was also like an enormous burden. I really wanted to make sure that I did a good job. Beyond that, there are millions of fans who all love the series so much and I felt a great debt to them. With my books, I own them so I going to tell my vision and I’m less worried about what the fan reaction will be. But with The Wheel Of Time books, I feel that they own them as much if not more than I do. I’m a steward of these books rather than the owner, so I had to keep that in mind and take a different approach.”
Did you ever meet Robert Jordan?
“I saw him once at a convention but I didn’t know him. I saw him as a fan and he wouldn’t have known me from Adam. He asked his wife Harriet McDougal to find someone to finish the series and after he passed away, she went hunting. She considered it something of a dying request so she searched through a lot of fantasy authors. She hadn’t heard of me, but she read my Mistborn series. She then called me up and asked me to do it. I didn’t know I was being considered: it just came out of the blue. To be asked to finish the series was just astonishing and I wasn’t expecting it. It was a little bit like winning the lottery when you haven’t bought a ticket but someone you love has to pass away before you can win.”
Was it your decision to split the final installment into three books?
“Robert Jordan was always telling fans that this book was gong to be so big that they’d have to invent a new binding system to get it out the door. When I was offered the project, I got all his notes and then spent about five months constructing an outline until I’d built the ending that I felt he’d indicated. I felt that he wanted it to be this big epic story and when I have an outline, I can usually tell how long the story is going to be. I realised that it was going to be a pretty big book – I was estimating it to be about 800,000 words, which is just enormous. I told Harriet and the publisher that this is what Robert Jordan wanted and what the story deserves. They then asked me if there were any places where I could split it. I agreed to do that as long as they would let me decide where and how to do that. There are some natural break points but it has to be done the right way. I haven’t expanded the outline or lengthened what I felt the story should be; I’ve just portioned it into three volumes instead of one massive volume.”
So what can we expect?
“I can tell you a few things as Robert Jordan was once asked what the series was about and he said that ‘It’s about what it’s like if you’re a normal person who is told that the world is going to end unless you try and save it.’ This end book is what everyone has been expecting. They call it the Last Battle, so it’s the last showdown as there’s this massive war going on. You can also expect the last chapter written by Robert Jordan himself. He always promised fans that he knew what the end of the series would be, so he sat down and wrote it before he passed away. It’s gone into the book virtually unchanged by me. It’s the goal I’ve been working towards all this time.”
One of the themes of the series is the cyclical nature of time so is it ironic that you’ve inherited The Wheel of Time after Robert Jordan’s death?
“I’m not unaware of how that relates to what’s going on with me. One of the things that Robert Jordan did early on as an author was to work on the Conan books, so he was working on the stories of another author that had passed. Then he passes away and I ended up working on his story, so there was this cyclical thing going on there.”
With HBO having recently turned George RR Martin’s A Song Of Fire And Ice into a hit TV series – Game of Thrones – do you think The Wheel Of Time would also be home on the small screen?
“I would dearly hope so, as I dream of seeing a great Wheel Of Time adaptation like that. Television is the perfect medium for these long form stories that we have in epic fantasy. There are certain differences but The Wheel Of Time and Game Of Thrones also have a lot in common and George RR Martin and Robert Jordan were good friends and contemporaries. The first A Song Of Fire And Ice book came out not long after The Wheel Of Time and Robert Jordan gave it a nice cover blurb. They’re both really human stories set in a fantasy world and are more like historical dramas than adventure fiction, which is not what people expect when they read the genre. They’re these great sweeping family dramas that just happen to take place in a world that doesn’t exist.”
Is Memory of Light definitely the conclusion of The Wheel of Time?
“There have been a lot of questions about this! Robert Jordan certainly wanted us to finish the series but we don’t feel that he would have wanted us to write anything else after this. For all the desire of fans to want more, Robert Jordan – as far as I can see – did not want The Wheel Of Time to become a legacy series like Conan or Star Wars, where you have other authors working on stories. Robert Jordan didn’t want that to be the vision for these books, so we’re going to stop here. We’re going to end on a high note and not continue it with any prequels or anything like that.”