Back in 1989, Tor Books began a huge promotion for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Contracted as far back as 1984 to write a traditional trilogy, publisher Tom Doherty already knew Jordan –based on previous novels Tor had published with the author- that he had a tendency to go long. So they signed him to a six volume deal. It was Doherty who deemed the series the next Lord of the Rings, and pushed the book hard, mostly by sending out Advanced Readers Copies to almost every bookstore on the planet. But the strategy succeeded and on January 15, 1990, Eye of the World was released. It quickly became a best seller, with fans asking when the next book was coming out. And Jordan did keep a great pace, writing as fast as he could, releasing the second book only eight months later.
Books three through six were released roughly a year apart after that. But it became clear by book three or four that Jordan was not going to wrap up the series in six books. During this period, some fans began to criticize the author -more so in later volumes, but it began around the fifth book- by saying that the series was slowing down in pace in order to concentrate on minor secondary characters at the expense of the main characters from the opening volumes. Jordan, of course, poo-pooed that idea.
After a year and half wait, book 7 was released in 1996, and then from then on, Jordan deliberately slowed down his writing process, and said he would try to release a book every two years. But even then, know one knew Jordan was planning to expand the series to twelve volumes. Book eight was out in 1998, followed by book nine in 2000. But there would be a two and half year gap before book 10 came out in 2003. In 2004, as fans awaited a new book in 2005, because there was going to be another two and half year gap between 10 and and eleven, Jordan released a prequel novel, New Spring (which started out as a novella for Robert Silverberg's Legends collection). Fans became even further irked with the writer, sensing that he seemed to be expanding the franchise for no other purpose than additional money by concentrating on a prequel and other characters that were not essential to the main ones (and Jordan planned two additional prequels, but set them aside after New Spring drew such criticism) and not completing the series. So by the time book eleven was released in October of 2005, Jordan promised that the twelfth volume would be the last book in the series, "even if it reached 2,000 pages."
But at the end of 2005, mere months after book eleven was released, the author was diagnosed with the terminal heart disease primary amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy. At first, this was not wildly known, but in March of 2006, he released a statement telling the world, and his fans, of his illness. While life expectancy was only four years, he assured his fans that he was going to beat the odds and not only finish his Wheel of Time series, but work on additional prequels to the series.
Despite this grave announcement, fans still asked book sellers when the final volume was going to be released. All we could do was shrug our shoulders and note that the author was severely ill. But of course, for all of us, we did not know how truly ill he was. It seemed clear to Jordan and his wife, Tor editor Harriet McDougal, as the days wore on, that Jordan may not live to see the final book released. While he had actually stopped penning A Memory of Light, the final novel in the series, he was writing extensive notes on how he wanted the book to end. According to blog entries he wrote, it confirmed that he sharing all of the significant plot details with his family and maintained that in doing so the book will get published even if "the worst actually happens.”
The worst did happen on September 16, 2007, when the author –whose real name was James Oliver Rigney, Jr.- died. Three months later, on December 7th, his widow and Tor Books announced that relative newcomer Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn, Elantris, Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians) was contracted to finish The Wheel of Time series. McDougal was so impressed with Mistborn, that she knew Sanderson was right for the job. As Sanderson began working on the final volume, going through the copious notes left by Jordan, it became clear to him and Tor Books that they could not conclude the series with one more book, so in March of 2009 the publisher announced that A Memory of Light would be split into three books, with the first book, The Gathering Storm planned for October of that year, with Towers of Midnight to follow in late 2010 and the final volume, A Memory of Light, planned for late 2011 release. But like Jordan, Sanderson was going to miss the 2011 deadline for that final book.
Tor then announced an early 2012 release date for the 12th book, with Sanderson posting on his blog that he did not "feel right about" getting it out in November of 2011 -even though he says he can have it finished by then. Sanderson assured his fans that he could make the new release date, but that possibility died a death when the novel came in 40,000 words over-length, extending the amount of lead-time needed for production and editing. So the March 2012 date became November 2012, but then Tor decided to push the book to January (which surprised the author), missing the all important holiday sales. So nearly twenty-three years after The Eye of the World was published, the final book in the series will be released on January 8th.
As noted earlier, Jordan had notes for at least two more planned prequels to The Wheel of Time, and whether those books ever see the light of day is unknown at this time. It is possible that Sanderson –or other authors- will be contracted to write them, but that will be up to Jordan’s widow to decide their fate. Sanderson has noted that Harriet McDougal plans to release a comprehensive encyclopedia of the Wheel of Time sometime in the future, but as for now, what started out as six books and that would eventually encompass fourteen, ends this month.