Robert Jordan was the best-selling author of The Wheel of Time fantasy series, and (because I need to get my utter impartiality out of the way at the start) one of my favorite authors. I’ve collected his books for the past 25 years. If you’re unfamiliar with The Wheel of Time, think of it as a 14-volume The Lord of the Rings set at a future point in Earth's history when society has regressed technologically and forgotten most of our history -- but discovered magic, naturally! Total sales for the series are estimated to be in excess of 80 million copies, although those figures are several years old and at least one of his publishers has suggested the estimate is on the low side. With a total readership of that magnitude, it seems likely there are many people collecting Jordan's books and related items, so we have assembled this guide to the major works and significant associated items.
Jordan’s real name was James Oliver Rigney, Jr., a Vietnam veteran who later worked for the US Navy as a nuclear physicist. Rigney began writing for his own amusement in 1977, and published under several pseudonyms in the 1980s. The first book of The Wheel of Time (WoT) series, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990, and sold well. By 1993, when the fifth installment, The Fires of Heaven came out, WoT books were huge bestsellers. Rigney was diagnosed with amyloidosis in 2006, and died in September 2007 after undergoing extensive medical treatment at the Mayo Clinic.
After his death, one of my semi-official duties at the bookstore I then worked at became informing WoT fans inquiring about publication of the next volume (which was almost a daily occurrence) of his passing. It was a challenge and privilege to play that role for so many fans, helping them move through the stages of grief and anger, and really impressed the size and passion of the WoT fan-base on me. The constant question was always, "will the series ever be finished?" (If current booksellers think they get a lot of questions about when the next "Game of Thrones" novel will be finished, let me assure you it's nothing like the volume of people hungry for news of the next WoT book during its heyday!)
Before passing, Jordan dictated extensive notes and outlines for the final “book” in the series. He had also written the ending scenes years before. His widow (and editor) Harriet McDougal, appointed Brandon Sanderson, who had then published his debut novel, Mistborn, to finish the series following these notes. In actuality, it took three books to wrap up the many storylines and character arcs. Fans were quite happy that Sanderson was tapped to do the writing, as he turned out to be an excellent writer, who also enjoyed updating fans on his progress through his blog.
The last three books in the series were published between 2009 and 2013. A comic book adaptation is on-going, and a television series is in development with Sony and Amazon Studios. So, it's likely that a new generation of fans will soon be introduced to one of the most-epic fantasy series ever written.
Collecting Robert Jordan
If anyone wants to build up a collection of books by James Rigney/Robert Jordan — or upgrade their spine-broken paperbacks for something with more shelf appeal — the obvious must-haves are the 14 volumes of the WoT cycle, plus one prequel, in hardcover. However, with the exceptions of the first two books, none of these are particularly uncommon, as the print runs for most were considerable. A copy of the ARC (Advance Review Copy) of "Eye of the World" (left) however, is much-less common (although 5000 were printed, which is a larger print run than many mid-list novels receive!). This ARC used a different cover, which really adds shelf appeal to a collection.
At this point, I should interject the #1 rule of the game for book collecting: "condition, condition, condition!" When looking at similar books (same edition, printing, both signed, etc.) always choose the one in the best condition. The #2 rule is "Don't buy as an investment." Book collecting should strictly be about following your own interests. It's extremely unlikely that books that were bestsellers in their day will ever be valuable by any objective standard. Scarcity and demand drive value. Jordan may have a lot of fans, but he also sold a lot of books!
Large-format trade-paper editions of the first two books (The Eye of the World and The Great Hunt) were published simultaneously with the hardcovers (the book blocks were the same size, the only difference was that some were bound between boards and some between paper covers), so completists will want both. The copyright page for both books lists two ISBNs, one for the hardcover binding and one for the paper binding. (View the copyright page for TEOTW (first/first) here; view the copyright page for TGH (first/eighth) here.) Later printings removed these duplicate ISBNs.
According to the Encyclopedia WoT website, most of the initial binding of The Eye of the World hardcovers went to libraries, while the paperbacks went to bookstores. As sales picked up, some of those The Eye of the World paperbacks were rebound as hardcovers; so that’s quite an interesting variation to hunt down.
There have also been several cheap or free paperback editions of The Eye of the World issued as promotions over the years to hook new readers. These were typically given massive print runs, so should be common -- although their cheaper (mass market paperback) bindings mean that good condition copies can be difficult to find.
Books in The Wheel of Time series:
The Eye of the World (1990)
The Great Hunt (1990)
The Dragon Reborn (1991)
The Shadow Rising (1992)
The Fires of Heaven (1993)
Lord of Chaos (1994)
A Crown of Swords (1996)
The Path of Daggers (1998)
Winter's Heart (2000)
Crossroads of Twilight (2003)
Knife of Dreams (2005)
The Gathering Storm (2009) w/ Brandon Sanderson
Towers of Midnight (2010) w/ Brandon Sanderson
A Memory of Light (2013) w/ Brandon Sanderson
Signed hardcovers are naturally more-desirable than unsigned. Jordan was not reclusive, and attended many book signings over the years. Finding fine first edition/first printings of some of the first few volumes might be difficult, but not impossible. (The Encyclopedia WoT website has a useful list of points to watch out for when evaluating first editions of the WoT books.) Remember, condition is key! Be very wary of anything sold in online auctions, as it's impossible to accurately assess condition from digital images. ABAA members have the experience and knowledge to assess condition and determine if signatures are genuine, so if you're hunting for a particular book, you would be well advised to work with an ABAA member to hunt on your behalf. (You can find ABAA members near you here...)
The series was published by Orbit in the UK, usually using the same cover art as the US editions. British publication usually followed publication in the US by a few months, so the American editions are the true first editions. Minor differences include the British preference for the author name running horizontally across the spine while the title runs down the spine from top to bottom, instead of the title and author being printed from left to right across the spine on the US editions (as in the image to the right). Although, this was not a hard and fast rule, as American editions of The Eye of the World printed the title and author name vertically, while all the subsequent US books printed both horizontally until the eleventh volume, Knife of Dreams, when the vertical orientation was resumed.
(Pet peeve: publishers who change the cover design midway through a series! Although, considering it took 23 years to complete WoT, we're probably lucky the publisher didn't change the design more during that time.)
In the UK, first editions of The Great Hunt featured different cover art (left) from the US editions. This art was replaced by Darrel K. Sweet's artwork on the dust jackets of later printings. This early UK dust jacket is an interesting variation worth hunting down!
In contrast, the British paperback covers have surely been among the lamest ever! British publishers have a history of publishing "adult" editions of popular fantasy or YA series with plain(er) covers, for those who don't want to be seen reading supposedly "juvenile" genres. Perhaps it does grow the readership, but I'm not inspired to collect those editions.
Limited, leather-bound, signed, deluxe editions of each book were published from book 4 (The Shadow Rising) onwards in the US. These ranged between 100 and 200 numbered copies, with a small number of lettered copies being reserved for the author’s use. (Again, the Encyclopedia WoT has a list of points and records the numbers printed.) Unfortunately, to my knowledge the publisher never went back and issued similar deluxe editions of the first books -- thwarting collectors who might want the complete set.
The British publisher, Orbit, did issue a collector's edition (slip-cased) of The Eye of the World in 2011, but I cannot (yet!) verify if it matched the US hardcovers in trim size or binding details.
Trade-Paper Editions (2012)
In 2012, Jordan's publisher, Tor, began publishing trade-paperback editions of the whole series with new covers. The artwork was originally created for the 2010 ebook release of the series, and each cover is by a different artist. Whether you wish to add this set to your collection really depends on your feelings about the art itself (and maybe your shelf-space).
If you have a collection of first-edition or signed hardcovers, keeping a trade paperback set around as reading copies is probably a good idea if, like me, you reread the series regularly!
Publishers occasionally mess up and fail to correct spelling errors before the printing presses roll. Nine times out of ten the error is minor and left uncorrected, as a new printing would likely make the book unprofitable -- plus they allow readers that feeling of superiority when they discover a typo! When demand warrants additional printings, the error or errors can then be corrected. Major errors can call for the entire print run to be pulped — or an errata slip added if the book is non-fiction. If the book had already been shipped to stores before the major error was spotted, these copies would be recalled. But, booksellers do not always comply, so that’s how uncommon variant editions can slip into the world.
When corrected, these errors are classified as different states of the same printing. The publisher usually fixes the typo, but does not change the edition or printing number on the copyright page, as the new printing simply replaces the defective one. Typically, the only people who remember the error occurred are rare book dealers and book collectors.
"Flaida" Variant Dust Jacket
Early dust jackets for The Fires of Heaven carried a typo: the Amyrlin Seat is named Flaida, not Eliada. This was corrected on later printings of the dust jacket -- which is not the same as printings of the book (I have a first edition/second printing of TFOH with the original "Flaida" dust jacket). Note: over time, the prices of the WoT hardcovers have increased, which has been reflected on the hardcovers. But pricing changes are not nearly as amusing as an unfortunate typo!
Occasionally, a batch of books is printed incorrectly: a signature of pages is omitted, or bound in the wrong order, or cannot be read due to insufficient ink, for example. These errors usual affect only a small number of copies, so no general recall is ordered. Booksellers return the affected books as they notice them and the publishers pulp them.
Dust jackets likewise can be slightly different due to errors or inconsistencies in the printing process. While these can be interesting for collectors, they are not particularly prized unless the book itself is very rare or significant.
In 2002, Tor divided the first two books into four volumes and republished them for the thriving young adult market, adding some illustrations from a WoT roleplaying game book issued by Wizards of the Coast (which I'll expand on below) and new cover art by Charles Keegan.
In one of publishing's many "What If" scenarios, the award-winning artist Charles Vess was originally asked to provide cover and interior art for the first of these YA repackagings. His illustrations were ultimately deemed a poor fit for the books -- which seems odd, as the cover (left) is exactly in keeping with Charles Vess' aesthetic -- which might explain why the Wizards of the Coast artwork was re-used. Ah, what might have been!
Books in the young-adult repackaging:
From the Two Rivers (2004)
To the Blight (2004)
The Hunt Begins (2004)
New Threads in the Pattern (2004)
The most-interesting thing about these YA-editions is the new material Jordan wrote for the first volume. A new 24-page prologue opens From the Two Rivers, centering the action on Egwene al’Vere, several years before the tale originally started. While Egwene is one of the seven main characters, the first few books are generally centered on the three male leads, and the female ones only come into their own as the series progresses. (In fact, from the fourth book onwards the majority of the chapters were written from a female perspective.) Reframing the narrative in this way was an interesting idea, and one that really changed the experience of reading the first book. Ultimately, the experiment must not have generated sufficient sales, as no further books were repackaged for the YA market after those first four.
Collecting Wheel of Time Art
While this is outside the scope of this article, suffice to say that some fans collect original art or prints by their favorite illustrators, and obviously the original paintings created for book covers would be the ne plus ultra of someone's fantasy art collection; but prints signed by the artist are collectible also. More often than not, a book's author has an option to purchase that original painting, so they only rarely come to market. (Trivia: Harriet McDougal reports that after they purchased the original painting for The Dragon Reborn, she asked Darrell K. Sweet to paint over Ba'alzamon's face because it was creeping her out. He obliged, so that painting is now significantly different to how it appears on the cover.)
If you are interested in frameable versions of the WoT book covers, keep reading or scroll down to the section on WoT calendars!
The audiobooks for the WoT use the same cover art as the books, so there's no new material or art per se -- with the exception of an audio interview with Robert Jordan included in the third audiobook. The narrators, husband and wife team Michael Kramer and Kate Reading, have recorded the audiobooks for the entire series, alternating chapters depending on the gender of the point-of-view character -- making them minor celebrities to WoT fans.
Graphic Novels/Comics Adaptation
In 2005, the prequel novel New Spring was adapted as a comics series. Following some production problems, it was eventually finished in 2010. A comics adaptation of The Eye of the World was begun in 2009 and completed in 2013. Both have been subsequently collected and published as a series of trade paperback graphic novels. Harriet McDougal has said that the plan is to eventually adapt the other books in the series, but no details of an adaptation of the next volume, The Great Hunt, have been announced at the time of writing.
While many countries use the same cover art (by Darrell K. Sweet) as the original US editions, some have commissioned brand-new illustrations. Interestingly, a few simply have another artist copy Sweet's original designs, producing covers remarkably similar to the originals; but a few have clearly gone to the trouble of finding artists that have read the books and make an effort to break new ground in illustrating key scenes. For what it's worth, Jordan once commented that the covers for the Spanish editions where his favorite.
For many collectors, having some foreign-language editions with varied trim sizes and different artwork really enhances the shelf-appeal of their collection! They can also be helpful if you are trying to learn a new language.
The accuracy and tone of the Sweet covers have long been controversial among fans, with Jordan himself often expressing dismay over inaccuracies. Rather than rehash that here, let me illustrate the constraints cover artists work under. Typically, the artist receives only a few pages covering the scene the publisher wants on the cover. So, the artist must fill in the blanks as they can. The most-obvious example of this method causing problems is with the two cover paintings for the first book, where the artist includes a character who was ultimately written out of the book before publication! (You can find high-resolution images here. Click-through and count heads if you don't believe me!)
Science Fiction Book Club Editions
Starting in May 1992, the Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC) began publishing editions of the WoT books. You can spot them at a glance as they are about an inch and a half shorter than the regular hardcovers. They used the same cover art, so just look like "shrunken" books. They are not hard-to-find. (Click here to learn more about collecting science fiction book club editions...)
Over the years, several scenes and stories were cut from novels or written for use elsewhere. These often found their way between boards eventually. Hard-core fans will want to read and own them all.
“The Attack at Shayol Ghul”
First published online, this account of key events before The Eye of the World was later published in the companion book, The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time -- informally referred to as "The White Book" (1997).
Originally published in the Legends anthology edited by Robert Silverberg. The first edition hardcover also includes some original WoT art by Darrell K. Sweet on the endpapers. This prequel tale was later expanded to novel length and published as a standalone novel, New Spring: The Novel (2004).
A sequence that was cut from Brandon Sanderson’s A Memory of Light, the story ended up being published in the anthology Unfettered (Grim Oak Press, 2013), edited by Shawn Speakman.
The Wheel of Time Companion (2015)
Jordan kept extensive notes regarding each character, the histories of the various kingdoms, and how his magic system worked. After the series was completed, his wife and research assistants compiled these notes into a comprehensive "series bible" for the most die-hard fans.
Other Books by James Rigney
Rigney was quite a fast writer, allegedly writing his first (unpublished) novel in 13 days, and in the early 1980s he wrote several Conan novels and a novelization of the 1984 film Conan The Destroyer.
Conan the Invincible (1982)
Conan the Defender (1982)
Conan the Unconquered (1983)
Conan the Triumphant (1983)
Conan the Magnificent (1984)
Conan the Destroyer (1984)
Conan the Victorious (1984)
Other Pseudonyms Used by James Rigney
Rigney liked to use different pen names for each of the genres in which he wrote. He chose them by making a list of names that played on his initials, JOR.
The Fallon Blood (1980) —originally published by The Popham Press, which was an imprint edited by Harriet McDougal. Rigney and McDougal married soon after, and she edited all his books from then on and oversaw the completion of WoT after Rigney’s death.
The Fallon Pride (1981)
The Fallon Legacy (1982)
Cheyenne Raiders (1982) — a western.
As with any popular book series, the publisher eventually stopped producing ARCs or uncorrected proofs because people would sell them on eBay and begin discussing plot spoilers on the internet. Instead, about half-way through the series they began issuing short preview books (and later ebooks), usually containing the prologue and previewing the cover art.
The preview for Knife of Dreams was reminiscent of an old Ace Double, with a small part of the Knife of Dreams prologue printed back-to-back with the first few chapters of the first volume, The Eye of the World, which has a certain curiosity value. These samplers were usually given out free through bookstores, so are not particularly uncommon, but finding one in really good condition might be easier said than done.
The WoT Computer Game
The Wheel of Time computer game was created in 1999, and made available to play on systems running the Windows OS. Whether it can still be played on modern Windows systems is debatable, with some reports that various software patches will allow gameplay, while others warn that the encryption used on the game discs is no longer supported and Windows-based machines will not recognize the discs. It was a first-person shooter, and the main characters do not appear in the novels. It is not particularly uncommon, and can be picked up very cheaply.
WoT Coloring Book
In 50 years, if humans are still around, somebody will write a history of the Adult Coloring Book craze of the 2010s, and tease out its meaning. While we’re still in the thick of it, all we can say is there certainly have been some oddball coloring books around, and Patterns of the Wheel: Coloring Art Based on Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time by Amy Romanczuk was one of the more unexpected brand-extensions of recent memory.
Among the oddities in my own Wheel of Time collection, are the following:
Wheel of Time Calendars
Artist Darrell K. Sweet painted the covers for almost all the WoT books. (Like James Rigney, he died before the series was complete. Michael Whelan then stepped in to create the cover for the final volume, A Memory of Light.) In 2001, Tor published a WoT calendar featuring Sweet’s cover paintings through book nine (Winter’s Heart), a map by Thomas Canty, and some other images. If considering buying one of these calendars, be sure it includes the large, folded-in map by Elissa Mitchell, as these have often been removed for display.
In 2007, Jordan — then fighting amyloidosis — sponsored an online fan-art competition to raise funds for amyloidosis research. He died later that year, and a 2009 calendar showcasing the winning artwork was published in 2008. While these images are not iconic, they do capture some of the diversity and scale of the considerable fan activity during the heyday of the series.
An officially sanctioned soundtrack written and performed by WoT fan Robert Berry was released in 2001. It's a little synthesizer-heavy for my taste, but it features some extremely expressive pieces that would not be out of place in a film or TV adaptation. Darrell K. Sweet created some new art for the CD packaging, so it’s worth adding to your collection for that alone.
According to wikipedia, the soundtrack “is an extension to the music originally produced by Robert Berry and Leif Sorbye for use as part of the Wheel of Time video game” produced by Legend Entertainment in 1999 (see above). The soundtrack includes additional tracks not used in the game environment. Unlike the game, the soundtrack CDs can still be played!
WoT Roleplaying Game
Wizards of the Coast partnered with Jordan to produce a role playing game for their D20/Dungeons & Dragons system based on the WoT storyline. The first book came out in 2001, and an expansion adventure in 2002. Part of the attraction was the huge amount of new art created for the characters — although some was a little too close to the cliches of fantasy art for many fans— and another is that the adventures weave around the events in some of the earlier books, so just reading through the guides is a little like discovering new chapters to the books themselves. Ultimately, Jordan appears to have been unhappy with the adventure’s narrative arc contradicting some aspects of the novels, so the project ceased after those first two books.
Dedication of the Permanent Exhibition, April 8, 2008 (Poster and Program)
After his death, an exhibition of some of James Rigney’s possessions was put on permanent display at the Daniel Library of The Citadel (his alma-mater) in Charleston, SC. The exhibition includes such items as the flat, wide brimmed hat that the character Matrim Cauthon wears in the books (and Jordan wears in the photo above), Rand al’ Thor’s heron-marked sword, which Jordan had made, as well as various signed books and other items. I visited the library to see the exhibition shortly after it opened, and a very kind librarian gave me some of the surplus programs and posters from the memorial service. (I highly recommend fans visit the James Rigney exhibition at The Citadel, it’s well worth it — as is exploring Charleston, SC where Jordan lived and wrote; but that’s a subject for another essay…)
James Rigney Papers -- College of Charleston
In 2012, Harriet McDougal donated James Rigney's original WoT and other manuscripts, correspondence related to the books' editing and publication, and much other primary source material to the Special Collections department of the Addlestone Library at the College of Charleston.
Sale of James Rigney's Reference Library
In early 2018, Rigney’s estate apparently sold his reference library (of more than 10,000 volumes) to a small chain of used-book stores in the Carolinas. This past May, I stumbled upon part of the collection at one store, and was able to examine literally hundreds of books that Rigney read and used to help build his fantasy world. The books are, for the most part, academic reference works on weapons, histories of warfare and battles, treatises on religions and cultures, and self-published studies of sword-fighting techniques and martial arts — in short, exactly what you would imagine a former military man turned fantasy novelist would have enjoyed. Additionally, there were a great many fantasy and science-fiction novels, many of which were likely review copies sent by his publisher, as the accompanying press releases were often still folded inside the front cover.
Rigney once commented that one of the things that he was most pleased about in being a successful writer was that he could buy any book he wanted, and that impulse to follow his interests to the limits of what information could be discovered between book covers can clearly be seen in the variety and range of books present. He was reputed to read a book a day, even while writing, and going by the evidence of this collection, I can believe it!
Viewing these books did shine some light on one of the critiques of his writing, the sometimes excessive description of settings; readers are often treated to long passages describing tapestries, carvings, swords, or clothing that don’t really advance the story. Now that I know Rigney had so many volumes devoted to medieval and asian art, and endless "coffee-table" books looking at swords, both ornate and practical, I can understand what inspired those passages.
James Rigney's Library Stamp
Unfortunately, Rigney does not appear to have been in the habit of writing in his books, either to denote ownership or make notes — and did I ever search! But, at some point in his life, Rigney did use a custom library stamp to emboss "Library of James Oliver Rigney Jr." and his initials "JOR" on the title page of some of his books. Going by the age of the books in which I found the embossings, I would guess this was in his younger days, and was perhaps a short-lived habit. Needless to say, I had to buy one of these stamped books for my collection!
Caveat emptor: the store in question is not an ABAA member, so I'll have to take the collection's provenance on trust.
The Future of the Franchise
At the time of writing, future development of the WoT world seems to be on hold, possibly awaiting news of the long-gestating television adaptation. Rumors center on a repacking of the books with brand-new cover art, the continuation of the comics series, and two possible prequel novels (to be written by another author from notes left by Jordan). If a Game-of-Thrones-esque television series gets made, I would anticipate a flurry of new WoT publications. (For the record, the WoT books have out-sold "A Song of Ice and Fire" by a large margin, so the potential for WoT to become the next successful omni-channel franchise seems undeniable.)
If you’re contemplating reading The Eye of the World to see if Robert Jordan’s brand of epic fantasy is for you, a word of caution: the book is sometimes described as “slow to open.” The first chapters are full of rising tension, but little action. Rest assured, all hell breaks loose in chapter 5, “Winternight,” and the action doesn’t stop for the next five books! So, be prepared.
And if you do become a diehard fan or collector, know that an annual convention for WoT aficionados, JordanCon, takes place in Atlanta, GA each April. The convention has just celebrated its tenth year. So, if you enjoy comparing points of difference between first and second printing dust jackets, cosplaying as your favorite character, or hunting for obscure memorabilia, that is the place to go!