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All-Time Favorites: Fantasy

Originally published at Joely Sue Burkhart. You can comment here or there.

[Don’t forget this week’s Giveaway.]

So yesterday several people indicated they really hadn’t read much romance. I admit to reading heavily between both romance and fantasy to varying degrees over the years. I glommed through Amanda Quick, Julie Garwood, Christina Dodd…while waiting for Robert Jordan’s next Wheel of Time book to come out.

My history as a fantasy reader goes back a long, long time ago to the requisite J. R. R. Tolkien and C.S.Lewis as a kid. In later years, it seems that long-running series have been huge. I’ve started and abandoned many series, but through it all, I’ve stuck with Robert Jordan, may he rest in peace.

As far as I can remember, I started reading his series over Christmas break in 1993. A friend dragged me to the mall in College Station, TX where I was attending grad school (Texas A&M) because Jordan’s book four had just come out in hardcover. I remember being stunned that she actually bought hardcover. (Hey, we were starving grad students.) How awesome must this book be if she was willing to pay that much for it? Well, she gave me the opportunity to find out when she lent the first three books to me.

Now remember, it was the brief holiday in between semesters over Christmas and New Year. We had maybe 10-14 days off, I can’t remember exactly, and I don’t remember when she gave me the books. But I read them straight through and immediately rushed back to the same bookstore to buy that hardcover she’d been so excited to see. I’ve been a fan ever since, while I wait for the Last Battle to wrap up the projected 12-book series. Since RJ passed away last year, I’m even more breathless to see how the series ends.

What makes me a perhaps unusual RJ fan is how many times I’ve reread the books. Some people refuse to re-read books. I admit in recent years there are very few books I’d ever re-read, even if I enjoyed them the first time around. I just don’t have time any longer. But in the years B.C. (before children) and B.W. (before writing), I had a very dedicated tradition.

Since it took RJ 2-3 years to come out with the next monstrous tome (it’s nothing for his books to run 800 pages), I re-read the ENTIRE series to date in between, sort of a warm-up once I knew the projected date for the next book. Then I read the newest release — book six I read straight through in a little over 24 hours, taking breaks only to attend class. And then I re-read the ENTIRE series again, including the newest addition, to get the whole story line in my head.

Crazy!! Think of the thousands upon thousands of pages I’ve read and re-read over the years. Literally, my copy of Eye of the World has fallen apart (it was paperback). I’ve read it at LEAST ten times, and that’s a conservative estimate (I quit re-reading the whole series after book 7).

My argument at the time was that I learned something new with each reading, and that was definitely true. With a cast of thousands, someone I’d forgotten about in book 2 might suddenly be very important in book 8. I took great pride in making connections and tracking various characters through thousands of pages. When little hints about Forsaken were dropped in the Tower, why then I was anxiously reading the next pages, searching for clues of gown or lace that I could connect. I remember one clue was a “hawk nose” and so I was like a buyer at a horse market, checking each hero’s nose. At one time, I even started a physical list of all characters and when he/she was mentioned, but that got ridiculous fast.

Oh, the RJ stories I could tell. How I corrupted…I mean converted…Wanda into reading the series. The time I bought a couple of his books under an earlier pen name in Birmingham on a business trip with Wanda (off the bargain table–they were hardcover!!) and toted them home on the plane. Or the time the consultant — who’d driven everyone bat-shit crazy with her loud mouth — mentioned RJ and suddenly we all didn’t want to hang her out the 7th floor window any longer. Instead, we congregated in the rabbit warren cubicles to talk Lanfear plots. I even know someone who named her son after Perrin, and our littlest monster’s name is a version of Elayne, another character from the series.

No matter how much I complained about book 7, 8, and 9–or how many covers Faile has been on and Perrin STILL hasn’t rescued her from the Aiel–this series has touched my life not just as a writer inspired to attempt my own detailed fantasy world but also as a reader who’s wept and dreamed and agonized over these characters as if they were real people. To write this post, I haven’t had to pull out a book once to tell you these names: Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Moiraine, Lan, Nynaeve (although I never could pronounce it), Aviendha (now I might have messed up her name), Elayne, Min, Lanfear, Thom, Asmodean (starting to get shaking on spelling)… They are a part of me forever.

And so that’s why Robert Jordan is my all-time favorite fantasy author. When the promised book 12 comes out, I *will* read the entire series start to finish again, and at last, the Last Battle will be complete.

Do you have a favorite series or “crazy fan” story you’d like to share?

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