Top 10 Takeaways from My Trip to Charleston, SC
The Magic of Exploring Robert Jordan's Hometown and the Special Collections at the College of Charleston
This article does not contain spoilers.
I would not call myself a superstitious person, but I do believe that the universe sends me messages in the form of synchronicity during times of great change and upheaval. Coincidences, serendipitous alignments of time and space, people moving into or out of my life, a sense of everything happening at once. I see these as signs that I am not alone, that there’s a greater plan for me, and I’m moving in the right direction. It’s one of the few ways I believe magic is real in our world.
I've experienced the same kind of magic within The Wheel of Time and its fandom, so it was no surprise to me that my first trip to explore Robert Jordan’s notes came during a particularly weird time in my life. (I'd been to Charleston before, but never with the intention of doing anything Wheel of Time related.)
In the weeks between JordanCon 2022 and my father’s 70th Birthday/Retirement party in Charleston, I had already started noticing strange coincidences, signs, and symbols. When I made the decision to leave my partner of five years and move out of my apartment of twelve years, I felt it reinforced over and over again by the circumstances around me. Three days later—Friday the 13th, of course—I was on the plane to Charleston.
When I arrived, the synchronicity just kept coming. My hotel room number was my birthday. My cousin and I kept saying the same thing at the same time. My aunt misnamed someone with the name of a person I’d just been thinking about. A dog walked by that looked exactly like one I’d just seen on Discord. On my way to the library to check out Jordan's notes, my cab drove past the Elan Hotel.
This trend would continue the entire weekend, right up to the moment I thought I saw Michael Livingston walking around the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Center for Livable Communities at the College of Charleston, which happened to be right next to my hotel. I only saw the back of his head from about 100 feet away, but let me dream, OK?
Charleston already felt sacred just for being Robert Jordan’s home, but my visit felt guided and blessed by greater forces. It was as if the universe was telling me, “You did the right thing. You're in the right place. Now geek the f*** out.”
Should you ever embark upon your own pilgrimage to Charleston, whether guided by the universe like I was, or by powerful forces of your own, it may feel a bit overwhelming at times. Luckily, the Maidens have scouted it out for you and brought back some tips. Here are my top ten takeaways from my visit to Charleston, the Addlestone Library, and beyond.
10. You Must Schedule an Appointment
Access to Robert Jordan’s notes at the College of Charleston Special Collections is by appointment only, so make sure you contact them at least one business day in advance of your visit. Keep in mind the library is not open on weekends, and appointments are for three-hour blocks of time (9am-12pm or 1pm-4pm).
Every minute of those three hours is precious, so try to be on time. Due to travel delays, I was an hour late for my appointment and unable to get through the materials I requested with just the two hours I had.
Even three hours is barely enough time to scratch the surface, so if you’ll be in town for a while, consider scheduling more than one appointment. Click here for information on access to the Special Collections reading room.
9. Have a Plan of Attack
The James O. Rigney Papers consist of fifty-seven document boxes, seven slim document boxes, two flat boxes, seven oversize boxes, thirteen oversize folders, twelve oversize items, one DVD, two videocassettes, 106 floppy discs, and one Apple 3 computer. The document boxes consist of biographical material, working files, writings, correspondence, and marketing and promotional materials. The other boxes contain audio and visual materials, textiles, and artifacts.
Because the collection is so vast, the Archives Specialist will ask you in advance for a list of the boxes you’d like to access during your appointment. The Finding Aid allows you to browse the collection or search for a specific topic so that you can find the corresponding box number. You’ll likely be drawn to one of three types of material: biographical notes, typescript chapters with copyedits and printer’s directions, or notes from Jordan’s office files and computer files.
After you’ve chosen your boxes wisely, make a list of which box and folder number corresponds with which topic, then rank them in order of importance. This will allow you to find folders quickly and ensure that you have plenty of time to dive into your top priority topics.
The Archives Specialist informed me I could review twelve boxes within three hours, but I am not sure this is possible. Perhaps it would be, if you were only reviewing a thin folder from each box, but if you’re going through manuscripts or 100-page glossary entries (cough-Aiel-cough), you can probably only explore three or four boxes with any modicum of thoroughness. I requested nine boxes and was only able to look at folders from six of them, and most of those folders were thin.
Even narrowing down your search as much as possible, the scope of information can still be overwhelming, so take your time and remember you can always come back another time. And please, for the love of the Light, do not be a woolheaded idiot like me and forget to look at the display cases of artifacts, located just outside the reading room.
8. Look for ALL CAPS Comments
Robert Jordan had a system of working out ideas by making notes in all capital letters, ostensibly so that he or his assistants could easily find them later to answer questions or provide elaboration. This system benefits us as researchers, too, so we can easily spot Jordan’s comments among endless paragraphs of general information or extracts from the books. While some may prefer the latter, I find Jordan’s comments to be much more interesting.
One of my favorite all-caps comments is this one regarding brother-husbands:
“The idea of one woman having more than one husband (as Myrelle has done) is bizarre to the Aiel. They do not believe that men can be as close friends as women. Though men can be spear-brothers, if in the same society, and men can be near-brothers, there is no provision for men adopting one another as first-brothers. OR IS THERE? I THINK I SAID SIMPLY THAT THIS RARELY HAPPENS. NEED TO CHECK” —James O. Rigney papers, Box 20, Folder 19, page 69
Or this one:
“A man listens to his ______ before his own mother, and a woman to her _____ before her own. NEED TO WORK THIS OUT.” —James O. Rigney papers, Box 20, Folder 19, page 74
It turns out Jordan settled on “second-mother” and “second-father” respectively, as quoted in Lord of Chaos, Ch.19. (Thanks to GnomeAndGarden for this find.)