Robert Jordan is best known for writing the Wheel of Time fantasy series. At the time of his death in 2007, the series had sold more than 30 million copies and had been translated into more than 20 languages. The book series was later concluded by Brandon Sanderson.
Since Jordan's death, the series has gone on to top over 90 million copies sold worldwide, and was recently adapted into a TV series. Jordan’s world has captivated fans for decades, and his work has shaped the entire epic fantasy genre. To mark the Season 1 finale of the TV show adaptation, we’ve compiled 13 facts about Robert Jordan, the man behind the Wheel of Time world.
Robert Jordan wasn’t his real name
His real name was James Oliver Rigney, Jr., but Jordan wanted to publish under a pseudonym to protect the privacy of himself and his family. In fact, Jordan actually wrote under several pen names. His first series was a historical fiction trilogy published under Reagan O’Neil. He also wrote westerns as Jackson O’Reilly and dance criticism as Chang Lung.
Beyond his desire for privacy, Jordan wanted to write under different pseudonyms to temper the expectations his readers may have based on author name alone. There’s speculation that he chose the name 'Robert Jordan' based on the protagonist from Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. However, Jordan denied the truth in this theory. With the exception of Chang Lung, his pen names were all chosen based on his own initials.
He taught himself how to read
When he was four years old, Jordan taught himself how to read after his older brother stopped reading a book to him and he wanted to know the rest of the story.
From there, Jordan became an avid reader, tackling authors like Jules Verne by the time he was five. His love of reading never waned and by the time he died, his personal library contained over 14,000 books.
Jordan dropped out of college
After high school, Jordan was recruited to play football for Clemson University, but he dropped out after the first year to volunteer for the Vietnam War.
After the war, he enrolled at The Citadel as part of their veteran’s program. Jordan graduated in 1974 with a degree in physics.
He was a Vietnam War veteran
When Jordan originally enlisted in the U.S. Army, he was assigned a clerical role. However, he was eventually reassigned as a helicopter gunner, and served two tours.
In this position, Jordan earned multiple military honors including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, and two Vietnamese Gallantry Crosses. Jordan talked often about how his experiences as a veteran shaped the way he wrote about war from a character perspective.
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Jordan worked on nuclear submarines
After graduating from the Citadel, Jordan worked for the U.S. Navy as a civil service nuclear engineer.
In 1977, while working in the Charleston Naval Yard, he fell from a submarine and badly broke both his leg and knee. Jordan had to have his knee reconstructed, and nearly died from a postsurgical blood clot. He used a cane for the rest of his life.
His first novel was sold twice and published once
Because his recovery time from this injury was so extensive, Jordan started writing to pass the time. He wrote his first fantasy novel in 13 days.
Warrior of the Altaii was actually sold before his debut novel, The Fallon Blood, but it kept getting pushed back as his other novels were written and sold.
After his death, Jordan's wife found the manuscript for Warrior of the Altaii and felt that the book should be enjoyed by his fans. She resold it to his original editor, making it both the first and last manuscript Jordan's editor purchased from him.
Jordan married his editor
After writing Warriors of the Altaii, Jordan wanted to write a romance novel. He told a local bookshop owner, who connected Jordan with up-and-coming editor Harriet McDougal. McDougal encouraged him to write a historical fiction novel instead.
McDougal bought his debut, and in 1980, The Fallon Blood was published. The two began dating several months later. They married in 1981, and McDougal remained Jordan's editor for the rest of his career.
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He also wrote several Conan the Barbarian books
After Jordan's historical fiction trilogy was published, his publisher obtained the rights to Conan the Barbarian. They needed to start producing work quickly. McDougal knew Jordan had written his first novel in three days, and offered his name as a potential author for the series.
From 1982-1984, Jordan wrote seven Conan titles, including the adaptation of the original movie. He also compiled the Conan Chronology, taking all the stories written by Robert E. Howard and the subsequent works and arranging them in chronological order.
Jordan’s house was built in 1797—and features multiple dragons
Jordan lived in a house in Charleston, South Carolina that had been in his wife's family since the 1930s. It was originally built in 1797, and was praised by H.P. Lovecraft when he published his walking tour of the city.
Over the years, the couple made it distinctly theirs with features such as white dragon gates, a massive library, and an antique dragon chair.
He received an honorary Doctorate of Literature
In 1999, The Citadel gave Jordan an honorary Doctorate of Literature for his exemplary publication success and lifetime of service.
Years later, when Jordan revealed he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, the Citadel cemented his legacy by establishing the James O. Rigney, Jr. Award for Creative Writing in 2006. The award is given yearly in his honor. The Citadel also created a permanent exhibition of his life and work in their library.
Jordan was diagnosed with amyloidosis
In March 2006, Jordan revealed that he had been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis. The condition is rare, and with treatment, median life expectancy was four years. Jordan began chemotherapy the following month and participated in clinical drug trials studying the efficacy of Revlimid. Jordan died the following year, on September 16th, 2007, at 58.
Jordan's impressive sword collection went towards medical research
Jordan had hundreds of swords and knives in his personal collection. After his death, the family auctioned them off for fans to enjoy with the proceeds going to amyloidosis research. In the collection were multiple scimitars, dozens of Japanese swords, a “horsehead” saber from 1830, Randall knives, and antique Chinese swords. In addition, Jordan was a pipe-smoker and enjoyed a massive pipe collection. Both hobbies are apparent in the Wheel of Time series.
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Jordan also considered himself an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed fishing, sailing, and hunting. He played chess, poker, pool, and was a history buff.
He received posthumous honors
In 2008, Jordan was inducted posthumously into the South Carolina Academy of Authors. The induction was a great honor, as inductees are chosen based on whether their works are seen as culturally relevant.
In addition to this honor and the exhibit at the Citadel, Jordan’s papers are included in the special collections of Charleston College. These papers include typewritten manuscripts with handwritten copyedits, annotations, galleys, unpublished works, correspondence, and other papers relating to his life and career.
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