Novak (novak) wrote,

Personal: Talking with Kate about Robert Jordan's Passing

This infection just won't let up! I seemed to be past it as the week went on, and it's walloped me again this weekend. I'll try to get in to see Jason, my "family physician," tomorrow and see about getting some bigger guns to deal with it. Today was another day of aching sweaty dizziness. Oh, joy.

Even in the midst of such crappiness, though, there's always good things from my life to shine through. Kate called last night, having just discovered the news about Robert Jordan, and had been crying for about an hour with the pain of the loss of an author that meant so much to her. I was surprised to find out that she had never gotten Paul to read the series – though we both agree that he'd love it – and so she knew that I could talk about some of this with her in a way that he couldn't, just for my familiarity with and enthusiasm for the work. Though she was in pain, this kind of time together, even by phone, is one of the Good Things of my life: someone who just gets it – who sees the beauty in the same things I do, and who speaks the same language.

I hadn't realized that she felt so strongly about Jordan, although I knew she very much enjoyed The Wheel of Time. I had turned her onto it back at Notre Dame, after my brother had introduced me to it over Christmas break in 1994. I had been upset with Joe at the time, once I got three volumes into the five that he had handed me, only to then come to understand that the novel was not yet finished. I thought this would be so frustrating and annoying to me as to override the pleasure of a good read, but I was wrong. Even reading, and in time, re-reading, such a huge – if unfinished – epic continually brought me pleasure because of the strength of the story and of the characters. Joe had handed it to me with the claim that it was better than Tolkien, which I denied by definition. And while I don't think that Jordan's story reaches some of the same spiritual depths that Tolkien's epic does, it does beat Tolkien's achievement in that the world of The Wheel of Time is a far more populated world than Tolkien's Middle Earth, with so many more cultures, histories, and politics to be contained in what becomes a story of global scope. That, in fact, goes to the heart of the weakness of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which I eventually had realized and then found confirmed in a letter of the Master's himself: it's too short. It's just a bit too linear for reality: the complexity of Jordan's more fleshed-out and fully-realized world avoids some of that flaw. I repeated Joe's claim to Kate, with my qualifications, when I sold her on the story back when we were working on our Masters' degrees.

As it turned out, we had both left messages of condolence to Harriet Rigney, the widow and editor of Jordan, whose real name was James Oliver Rigney, Jr., earlier in the evening. Harriet had posted a note of thanks to the fans on Jordan's blog at, and Kate had come online an hour or two after me, to only discover there the fact of Jordan's passing. I had not thought to call her about it, in the same way I had thought to call her about Madeleine L'Engle's passing, because it was Kate who was the devotee of L'Engle's, and who had turned me onto her, also in our time at Notre Dame. I assumed, wrongly as it turned out, that she would have heard about L'Engle through other sources, and ended up inadvertently breaking that news to her when I emailed to ask her how she was doing in the aftermath of L'Engle's passing. So we talked at some length about the oddity of losing two of our key writers in one week. L'Engle wrote more directly about the things that are true and that we love, but Jordan, in the medium of epic fantsy, still spoke to the heart of goodness, character and integrity. He was somewhat famed for his strong female characters and for writing women so well, and we talked at some length about that, too, about how Jordan really captured that Irish vision of the fun clash between male and female perspective, and about how he claimed that all his women were modeled after Harriet in one way or another, making her perhaps the most formidable woman on the planet.

It was just good, after all these years, to still have such love and friendship to draw upon with ease and confidence. I do wish those guys were closer. And she, moving in the corridors of power in the Canadian higher education world, insisted that I ought to move up there if she could dig up a professorial position for me. It wouldn't be the worst future.


Michael Anthony Novak Says:
September 22nd, 2007 at 6:34 pm

Dear Harriet,

The greatest tragedy in life is when people do not risk saying the things to one another that ought to be said: your husband illustrated this movingly in Rand, Matt and Perrin all deciding to needlessly bear the burdens of their secrets alone. I, too, never commented on these pages, thinking that I did not want to “distract” your husband from his work of writing and of recovery. The truth was that he deserved to hear my thanks and prayers, along with those of the rest of his fans, for all that he has added to my life through his writing: the artist deserves his applause.

I am sorry that I never gave him that moment’s acknowledgment that he had so earned. But I know that I can always continue to give the greater applause of holding to those lessons of character he conveyed through his work.

In deepest sympathy,
Michael Anthony Novak
Marquette University

Kate FT Says:
September 22nd, 2007 at 8:50 pm

Dear Harriet,

I have loved your husband’s books since my friend Mike Novak (who wrote previously) handed me The Eye of the World back in 1994 and said “I know it sounds impossible, but– this series is better than Tolkien.” And of course he was right. I met you and your husband briefly at a book signing ten years ago when you came to Victoria, BC- it was such a thrill to meet you both. (We spoke briefly about religion, and about fishing on Vancouver Island.)

I hadn’t re-read the series in a couple of years, but last Sunday afternoon, I suddenly felt the urge to start reading my way through the series again, and I did. All week I have been enjoying and thinking frequently and with admiration about him and his marvelous writing, and also about his love of fishing (i.e. heard a description of the salmon run in Gold River, and hoped he had seen it). And then tonight I checked out his blog for the first time in about five months, and heard the news. With his unusually frequent presence in my thoughts this week, I can’t help but know that his passing last Sunday made itself felt to me, somehow, through the mysterious network of relationships in which we all exist.

So even though I am writing this message through tears of loss and sympathy for you, I also feel such gratitude for being touched in this way by his great spirit, and the gift of being reminded of this mysterious, wonderful reality in which we exist on both sides of the grave. I hope that sharing this story of my experience reaffirms for you his continuing presence and ability to relate to and touch all of us, and of course most especially you, as the person most dear to him. And I hope that his love, and all of his fans’ love, will make themselves felt to you in the days ahead.

Love & prayers,
Tags: books, friends-notre dame era, l'engle, literary, notre dame, personal, robert jordan, tolkien, writing

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