If I Don't Read It, It Can't End: Saying Goodbye to the Wheel of Time

In all my years of reading, I never thought it would come to this: I've encountered a series so important to me, such a pivotal part of so much of my reading life, that I can't bring myself to read it through to the end.

Let me rewind:

My father gave me a copy of the first book in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, The Eye of the World, when I was 11, eager for more fantasy novels after discovering the joy that was Redwall. I read the first few volumes of the Wheel of Time that year, before getting distracted by other, less daunting novels--but the books stayed with me for years.

Nearly a decade later, I studied abroad for a semester in Paris, living for the first time in my whole life without a television and with limited internet connectivity. Out came the Wheel of Time books for hours of affordable entertainment. I re-read the first on the flight across the Atlantic, the second a few weeks later, and scrambled to find the third at Shakespeare and Co or other English-speaking bookstores (I later gave up and just had my parents ship me copies from home). I finished the series--all 9,300 pages that were written at the time--in just under six months that semester.

In 2007, my father and I jointly mourned the death of Robert Jordan, and fretted over the direction of the series. We had 11 books of the promised dozen. Later that year, Tor announced that Brandon Sanderson would be completing the series, writing the twelfth and final book in three volumes. He would be working closely with Harriet McDougal, Jordan's wife and long-time editor of the series, they said. He would be working from Jordan's notes, they wrote.

In 2009, I started the series again from the beginning to prepare for the release of Sanderson's first volume of continuation, The Gathering Storm. It was one of the first reading projects I undertook after graduating from undergrad (free reading time, ya'll!). I read past my subway stop on more than one occasion. I read while I walked to work. I once ran face-first into someone on the subway stairs because I was trying to read while exiting the station during rush hour. Imagine my surprise when I looked up from book eight or nine or ten or thereabouts to find a baffled guy standing in front of me, holding his place in the first book. How I envied that he got to meet these characters for the first time that year.

I read the second volume of the promised 12th book, The Towers of Midnight, in two days. It was the first--and only--time I'd ever taken a sick day in order to keep reading (I was already going to be late to work that day, having stayed up until 3AM the day I bought the book to read it).

By all intents and purpose, I should have finished the 3rd volume in the 12th book--and true final volume in the series--in January 2013, when it was released. I bought it the day it came out, but much to his--and my--surprise, I let my husband take the first read (he's also a fan). And then when he finished it, I let other books and other projects come first, until three months had passed.

In March of that year, we went to a signing to hear Brandon and Harriet speak about the process of completing the series. I stood in line for upwards of three hours to meet these two authors who had meant so much to me in so many different places in my life. I read the first few hundred pages in line that night (I really wasn't exaggerating when I said I stood in line for hours), and promptly set the book down again when I got home.

Now it is practically March of 2014, and I'm still no further than I was a year ago. What is it about this book? These are the characters I know I love; the stories I want to see resolved; the battles that have been building for over 10,000 pages. But no matter what I do, or how much I enjoy the opening chapters (which I have now read three times), I can't keep reading. Of the 909 pages in this final volume, I have read 459 of them. I've read them more slowly than I've ever read a WoT book in the past; my burning desire to know what happens is wildly tempered by my even stronger desire not to say goodbye.

I've always been a believer in re-reading; my re-reads of this series alone are evidence of that. But once I know the end, really know the end, will I ever read the rest with the same gusto with which I first approached new volumes? Was re-reading Harry Potter really ever the same after reading that awful epilogue? Is it possible to find the same romance on the pages of Gone with the Wind once you know how Scarlet's battles will end?

This time, I will keep reading--slowly, I'm sure, but I will finish it. I will find out what becomes of Rand, and Min, and Aviendha, of the Aiel, and the Ogiers, and the Seanchan. I will learn the fate of the White Tower, and the Black Tower. The Dragon may or may not be reborn. I will finally turn the 11,916th page of the series that has meant more to me than I could possibly put in one rambling, somewhat-incohesive post.

And then? Then I'll start at the beginning and work my way back through all 14 books again. And again. And again.

1 comment

  1. Such a relatable post. I must say that I've been putting off reading the last book for the past 13 months. I see it in bookstores, touch it but don't buy it. Because I know if I buy it, I'll read it and if I read it, it'll end. So it made me smile to see that someone else was doing the same about WoT books :) Maybe I'll go and buy it soon after all.

    Oh and I can do nothing but nod passionately about your comment on Harry Potter's epilogue.


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