A belated but heartfelt Rest in Peace goes to Robert Jordan, writer of a few (very good) Conan books (where I first discovered him) and, more notably, the Wheel of Time series. He passed away on September 16th 2007 and as I read the fan community writing about their thoughts of him and his books it made me look back at his works and how they affected me.
I started reading the Wheel of Time series when I was in high school 15 years ago. I purposely waited until book three assuming it would be a trilogy, but nope, it stretched to 12 books (and was rumored to be ending with the 13th book, which was a number of significance in the series). While the series had some major missteps around books eight and nine in my opinion (deceased characters returning from the dead even though there where too many foils/bad guys already, books focusing on annoying characters with no advancement and actions by the lead character that had me yelling at the pages), I still remember them very fondly and regard the series as a milestone in fantasy literature.
I approached the early books very much like younger people today approached the Harry Potter books; I would wait countless months till the next book was released and then read all 800+ pages in a weekend and want more immediately. The world was so raw and fresh and was such a departure from the LOTR imitation worlds of Forgotten Realms and DragonLance — there were no elves, orcs or magic, but instead there was Ogiers, Trollocs, Myrddraal (coolest bad guys ever) and the One Power. I loved the fact that even the most powerful users of the One Power are never as powerful as, say, an Elminster, Rasitlin or an Allanon. They are humans who can do exceptional things, but they fail, they miss or they are flawed.
Jordan's books introduced me to a broader scope of writing, one that wasn't defined by the safe fantasy worlds that most authors use. While reading his books I delved into other authors' works, some I loved, like George R.R. Martin and Raymond E. Feist, and some I hated, such as Terry Goodkind. Regardless of my feelings for these other authors, I may not have strayed from standard mass market novels to these new realms without Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time universe opening my eyes to different ways of writing Epic fantasy.
Over my years with the Wheel of Time I had the World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time Encyclopedia, the D20 Role playing source book, the D20 main adventure guide (Prohecies of the Dragon), or have played the FPS based on the universe and created my own sprawling campaign that had a tortured male Aiel character who could channel (and survived his suicide mission into the Blight that all male Aiel channelers have to face) who had a premonition that he would help the Car'a'carn (Rand Al'thor the main protagonist in the WoT series) in the final battle and would finally die that day. It had the Player Characters (PC's) following Rand's journey through the world. It was a very good campaign if I do say so myself, featuring dramatic and comedic moments, one of which introduced a recurring villain character (the Widdler) a soldier who was relieving himself against a tree when a battle was occurring and the PC's could not hit him to save their life. He escaped and to this day in other campaigns the Widdler appears out of nowhere…
So here's to Robert Jordan, an author with a vision that became a little too big to manage, but his words and ideas inspired me and millions of others and will continue to as long as the written word is still worshiped.