||Thus Spake The Creator
as a genre
Q: Why Fantasy as a genre?
A: Why a duck? Why not a duck?
Do you feel that the fantasy genre of literature has any
importance in society, and if so, what is its importance?
A: Well, I think it has too many levels of importance to
go into all of them here, but the one that is very clear
to me is the human need for myth. We have tried to scrape
away, carve away, all the myths in our lives, but we do
have that need. It can be demonstrated as simply as by
looking at the rise of urban legends. Humans have a deep
need for myth, and fantasy literature helps to provide
that, I think. Or at least to provide an outlet for that
Q: Welcome, Robert! We're
thrilled to have you with us here. Why do you think
"The Wheel of Time" series has struck such a
chord with fantasy readers? Do you have any speculations
about its amazing popularity?
A: No, I don't really. I write
stories...I try to write stories about real people. I'm
really glad the books are popular. But, I don't really
have any clue why they're so popular, except possibly the
fantasy element. I think that we have a real need for
fantasy as human beings. Actually Terry Pratchett says it
quite clearly. He says that by believing in things that
don't exist, we set ourselves up to believe in other
things that don't exist such as justice and mercy.
Q: Jordan, a veteran of the Vietnam war, has
definitely connected with his audience, both male and
female. And he has some definite thoughts as to why
fantasy literature is so popular.
A: Two things, really, I think. One, you can talk about
good and evil, right and wrong, and nobody tells you that
you're being judgemental. And the other thing is, in
fantasy there's always the belief that you can overcome
whatever obstacles there are, that you _can_ make
tomorrow better. And not only that you _can_, but that
you _will_, if you work at it.
Mr. Jordan, I'm a dedicated fan of your series who's
bought all of the books in hardback, and first I'd like
to thank you for bringing such a wonderful world to life
for us. It seems to me that your work is something
relatively new in fantasy -- you're exploring a situation
where there is no known quest or goal to be fulfilled in
order for victory to be assured. Instead it seems more
like the real world: uncertain, with the heroes fighting
a war without knowledge of the "victory conditions."
Would you care to comment?
wanted to write a fantasy that reflected the real world,
with characters who reflected real people -- not specific
people, but characters who were real people. And there
are things about the real world that I wanted, such as
that people who end up heroes very rarely set out to be
heroes, and heroic journeys consist mainly of sleeping
rough and going hungry, wondering how you are going to
pay for the next meal and wonder exactly what it is you
are supposed to do and how are you going to get out of it
Q: The Chicago Sun-Times calls your work "A
fantasy tale seldom equaled and still more seldom
surpassed in English." This is rather high praise!
What does fantasy mean to you? Why did you decide to
write epic fantasy?
A: It is certainly high praiseembarrassingly high!
I chose fantasy in large part because of its flexibility.
It is possible to talk about right and wrong, good and
evil, with a straight face in fantasy, and while one of
the themes of the books is the difficulty of telling
right from wrong at times, these things are important to
me. There are always shades of gray in places and
slippery pointssimple answers are so often simply
wrongbut in so much "mainstream" fiction,
there isn't anything except gray areas and slippery
points, and there isn't ten cents worth of moral
difference between "the good guys" and "the
bad guys." If, indeed, the whole point in those
books isn't that there is no difference. Besides, while I
read fairly widely, fantasy has been in there since the
beginning. My older brother used to read to me when I was
very small, and among my earliest memories are listening
to him read Beowulf and Paradise Lost. I suppose some of
Q: What does your fan mail tell you of the chords
you've struck to create such a devoted following?
A: In large part, that I've created characters people
believe in. One fairly common comment is that the reader
knows somebody just like Mat or Nynaeve or whoever, or
that they feel they could meet them around the next
corner. Character is very important to me; story flows
from character. Also, I suspect that the strong
interweaving of mythologies from a number of cultures
plays a part, too. Modern societyat least in the
Westpretends that we have outgrown the need for
myth and legend, but people seem to hunger for them.
Where we have forgotten our myths we create new ones,
although today we don't realize what we are doing. But
then, maybe people never did truly realize what they were
doing in making myth; perhaps it has always been an
unconscious act. The cultural trappings surrounding myth
and legend vary widely by country, but if they are
stripped to the bare core you find among them the same
stories repeated over and over around the world. However
different their cultures, customs, and mores, people
share many of the same needs, hopes, and fears. Anyway, I
believe there is a strong echo of myth and legend in my
writing, and I think people feel that.
''There are things I am saying, things I am talking
about, but I try not to make them obtrusive. The
necessity to struggle against evil, the difficulty of
identifying evil, how easy it is to go astray, are very
simple questions. In modern mainstream fiction, if you
discuss good and evil, you're castigated for being
judgmental or for being old-fashioned. Originally this
was a way of deciding which was the greater wrong - 'It
is wrong to steal, but my child is starving to death.
Obviously, in that situation it is better to steal than
to let my child die of hunger.' But today that has been
transmogrified into a belief that anything goes, it's
what you can get by with, and there is no real morality,
no right, no wrong it's simply what produces the
Platonic definition of evil: 'a temporary disadvantage
for the one perceiving evil.'
''In fantasy, we can talk about right and wrong, and good
and evil, and do it with a straight face. We can discuss
morality or ethics, and believe that these things are
important, where you cannot in mainstream fiction. It's
part of the reason why I believe fantasy is perhaps the
oldest form of literature in the world, at least in the
western canon. You go back not simply to Beowulf but The
Epic of Gilgamesh.
''And it survives pervasively today. People in the field
of science fiction and fantasy are willing to accept that
the magic realists are fantasy writers, but to the world
at large, 'Oh no, that's not fantasy, that's literature.'
Yes it is fantasy. And a lot of other things, that are
published as mainstream, really are fantasy but not
identified as such. We really have quite a pervasive
Q: What got you into writing fantasy?
A: Fantasy is an area where it is possible to talk
about right and wrong, good and evil, with a straight
face. In mainstream fiction and even in a good deal of
mystery, these things are presented as simply two sides
of the same coin. Never really more than a matter of
where you happen to be standing. I think quite often it's
hard to tell the difference. I think that quite often you
can only find a choice between bad and worse. But I think
it's worth making the effort and I like to expose my
characters to that sort of situation.
Q: Do you think literary critics take you seriously as
a good writer despite your writing of fantasy?
A: Some do, and some don't. That's the way it
always works. But I would like to add there is a lot of
fantasy out there that does not call it fantasy. The
magic realists are fantasists. (A.S) Byatt is a fantasist.
A good many mainstream literary writers are fantasists.
So maybe the critics won't put things down, just because
they are fantasy, quite as readily as they once did.
Q: Why do stories of the titanic battles
between good and evil seem to attract such a large and
A: Because most people believe in good and evil,
in right and wrong. And I think most people would like to
believe that they would stand on the side of good -- of
right -- however they happen to define those things.
Q: Is this what you wanted to do when you were a kid?
A: I wanted to be a writer.
Q: Why fantasy?
A: I'll tell you. I learned to read at a very early age.
Q: How old were you?
A: Four. I never read children's books. The first book I
read by myself, the second half of it, at least, was
"White Fang." My older brother would read it to
me when he was stuck babysitting and somehow or other I
began making the connection between what was coming out
of his mouth and the words on the page.
And I do remember. It must have a weekend, because it was
the day and my parents came back and my brother put the
book on the shelf and took off. He always read to me what
he wanted to read, usually not children's books. And I
wanted to know the rest of it, so I got the book back
down and worked my way through it. I didn't get all of
the words, but I got enough to do the story.
And I remember a particular incident when I was five,
which is when I realized that I really wanted to be a
writer. I had finished reading "From Europe To the
Moon" and "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry
Finn." I put those three books on the table,
standing up on end, and I sat in a chair with my feet on
the chair and my chin on my knees and I looked at those
books and said, "I'm going to do that one day. I'm
going to write one day, make stories like that."
Q: How did you get from there to the world of fantasy?
A: Well, the short version is that in fantasy you can
write about things that you can't write about in
mainstream fiction, or even in some other genres and
still keep a straight face today. Right and wrong are
taken to be simply two faces of one coin. It's simply a
matter of looking in the same mirror, but you're standing
at two different points, that there's no difference. And
I believe that there is a difference.
Q: You mean in fiction today?
A: Yes, yes. In so much fiction it is a great effort to
show just how many flaws the good guys have and just how
many extenuating circumstances the bad guys had. They had
terrible childhoods and were abused children and suddenly
you find yourself feeling almost sympathetic toward
someone who is out and out evil. I don't like that.
I know too many people who had miserable childhoods --
grew up in the slums and a ghetto and they did okay. They
didn't come out bent. They didn't come out twisted, so I
don't like that very much.
I think it's hard to tell the difference between right
and wrong. Sometimes a situation comes along and the only
choice you have is between bad and worse. But I believe
it's necessary to make the effort to try and find a
difference. The other way it becomes very sloppy and it's
very easy to just make your decision on the spur of the
moment, without any thought about what you are doing. You
never think that it's right or wrong, or you never even
think about whether you are choosing between bad and
worse. You're simply doing something for your own
Q: That attitude, however, is very much a reflection of
A: That is a reflection of society, and it is part of
society that I reject. I believe that you have to make
that choice. I'm not going to tell anybody what to think,
I'm not going to tell anybody what to do or what wrong
is, but I think you have to try to make that decision
yourself. And it goes beyond simply what's good for me
I don't preach in my books. I just have my characters
face some hard choices and have difficulty making their
decisions. It's not always easy. It's not always cut and
dry, and when somebody does something that is just for
their own temporary advantage, to get a quick payoff, it
doesn't always turn out the way they like it.
Q: Do you manage to get this philosophy into your work?
A: Well, I try to. I try to. Again, what I am doing
basically is telling stories. But I like to have my
characters in what amounts to real life situations. That
is, making hard decisions and finding out that the easy
answer is quite often the wrong one, and that very often
the right thing to do is the hardest thing to do. It's
just a matter of fitting it into the story. I'm not
preaching. I just try to reflect these situations and
these things in the story.
Q: In Holland there is some contempt to the genre of
A: Well, there's some contempt everywhere.
Q: Well, I can't speak for the rest of the world, but
what do you think of that?
A: I think it's foolish. There are many more people who
write fantasy than are tagged with the ghetto-phrase
fantasist, or fantasy writer. If you read A.S. Byat, or
'The Magic Realists' you're reading fantasy. If you read
any novel which has ghosts or spirits or time-weaving
back and forward.. many, many supposed main-streak
writers write fantasy. And they just don't call it
fantasy, eh.. the worlds in their books are not set in
reality at all, and that is fantasy. And... eh,
Midsummernight's dream, the epic of Gilgamesh, which is
... all over, it's a fantasy. I like to think of science
fiction and horror as subsets of fantasy. They're
particular sorts of fantasy.
The first specific question for Jordan
was asked why he chose to write a fantasy series, instead
of going for historical novels.
A: Well, in terms of history, I see some similarity to
the writing of a fantasy novel and the writing of a
history novel. In both cases you are presenting a world
that is totally strange and alien to the reader. And if
you don't believe that, read a good novel set three
hundred years ago, one that really describes the life and
you'll find very little recognizable in it.
So there is a great deal of similarity there. The major
difference is that if you're writing a good historical
novel you must place the historical events where they
actually happened, not shift them about at your own
convenience. In a fantasy novel you can shift history for
your own convenience. It's a great..., a great aid.
Q: And that's attracted you because you felt your hands
A: That's, that's a part of it. Another part of it is
that I felt I could discuss things writing fantasy that I
couldn't dicuss writing in other genres, things that I
would have to ... sidestep. There's a great deal of the
struggle between good and evil. I'm trying to decide what
is good, and what is evil, what's right, what is wrong,
am I doing the right thing? Not by preaching; simply the
characters keeping face with a situation or they're gonna
make a decision; they don't know enough, don't have
enough information, and they don't know what the results
are going to be; oh they know what the results are gonna
be and they're wrong. We'll give them that. At least
wrong a lot of the times. And they have to blunder on and
blunder through anyway, cause that's all there is to do.
But if I wrote about that, if I tried to say that there
is a right, there is a wrong, there is good, there is
evil, it's tough to tell the difference, but you really
have to make the try. ... it's worth the effort to try.
If I said that in a mainstream novel, it would be laughed
out of town.
Fantasy is the literature of hope. In
fantasy there is a belief that you _can_ make a
difference. Today may be bleak, but you can live through
today. And tomorrow will be better. And maybe there'll be
a different darkness tomorrow, but you can live through
that, too and you can make the light come, and the
darkness go away. It doesn't matter how many times the
darkness comes. There is always hope for something better.
I think that that is the central core running through
fantasy. And having said that... I have to apologize, by
the way, I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. I'm a
bit groggy, a bit punchy. And I'm trying very hard to
hold on to my thoughts and to my line of reasoning and
not go off on strange and aweful tangents. I think what
I'm going to do now is ask who would like to ask me a
Q: Is fantasy also disregarded in the
A: Yes. There is an exception in ..., he works for the
New York Times, a culture editor, not a literary editor.
But that's very good. He seems to understand what I'm
writing about. But fantasy is by and large dismissed as
What do you think of Fairs such as the Elf
Fantasy Fair here? Should more be held, to satisfy the
needs of the ever-growing Fantasy-public?
I think so, of course. In the United States, there are
many things like this, conventions as theyre called.
Every weekend in the US, theres at least one,
often three or four, sometimes five or six, conventions
in different parts of the country, every single weekend
of the year. Those conventions can be small, where there
are three or four hundred fans, five hundred fans, who
have gotten together for a three day weekend. They start
gathering at Friday afternoon and take off to go back to
their jobs and work on Sunday afternoon. And mainly when
people that have gotten together at a small convention
like that, they will have gotten together maybe ten
authors. Maybe nobodys famous at a small convention
like that, the authors arent famous. And some
painters, professional painters, maybe to some average
they hold an art-show, [..] judges competition, costumes,
parties at night, singing of songs. And then there are
the big conventions that maybe two thousand or three
thousand, in some cases five thousand. And instead
of ten writers they have thirty or forty or fifty writers.
And almost certainly at a convention like that therell
be someone well-known, famous, and illustrator and all
the rest of it. I think that there are such conventions
around Europe, I know, but yes, of course I think there
should be more.
Q: What inspired you to
write in the fantasy genre?
A: Some stories need to be told in certain genres, and
fantasy allows the writer to explore good and evil, right
and wrong, honour and duty without having to bow to the
mainstream belief that all of these things are merely two
sides of a coin. Good and evil exist, so do right and
wrong. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference,
just as it can be difficult to know what is the proper
thing to do, but it is worth making the effort.
Reports from signings
The reason RJ chose to write fantasy was its
opportunities to build cultures and experiment with them,
in a way and with a freedom to comment that is
unacheivable with a "realistic", domestically
based world. The story of TWoT evolved during a very long
period, in part beginning in the middle of the seventies
with the idea of the Breaking of the World, before he
found the "final scene in the final book" and
began to actually write TEotW.
Pratchett: Science Fiction and Fantasy
fans are better then football fans because Star Trek fans
don't get in huge fight with each other
(Jordan: Well, that's not entirely true, I remember one
occasion where a group of Klingons and a group of
Romulans at one convention got into such a big fight that
they'd actually needed to call the police to break them
Pratchett: Star Trek fans don't get into heated battle
with Babylon 5... well, nevermind that. [more laughter]
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