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.)
7. Aiel Culture is Every Bit as Huge and Complex As It Seems
The first folder I viewed was Box 60, Folder 19, which contained information about the Aiel, along with a few pages on the Aelfinn and Eelfinn. I did not view the contents of any other folders in the box, but my guess is that these are “A” entries within a huge database of everything in alphabetical order— perhaps a primary source or precursor for what eventually became The Wheel of Time Companion.
While it was near-impossible to sort out what information about the Aiel was new or different from canon, what stood out the most about the Aiel notes was the level of detail. Eighteen pages just on Wise Ones. Minutiae about dating customs, ji’e’toh, and what Maidens wear to sleep at night (OK, that last one isn't very surprising). An entire page dedicated to facts and figures about the average population of each clan and sept. (In case you were wondering, it’s 7,000 per sept and 581,000-714,00 per clan. Oh, and 92,960-114,240 from each clan are algai’d’siswai.)
In addition to Jordan’s musings on brother-husbands (quoted above), one of my favorite quotes from the Aiel papers was about the Wise Ones—Sorilea in particular:
“Leadership among Wise Ones very much depends on the situation–she is chosen because she is the best leader for that particular job. Sorilea overrides the usual process of choosing an appropriate leader for each situation. She takes charge whenever she is there. But she is considered to have very great ji, plus being a very forceful personality; besides which, most of the Wise Ones think she is very smart, very capable, and very likely the best leader in most situations.” —James O. Rigney papers, Box 20, Folder 19, pages 26-27
6. A Memory Of Light, Stripped Down
The folder containing the outline to A Memory of Light was very thin and unassuming, for all its legendary contents. Inside the folder was a short outline (ten pages at most) and three hand-written pages on yellow paper. I did not have enough time to explore these pages as deeply as I had hoped (I had about ten minutes left), but my takeaway was that Brandon Sanderson means what he says when he talks about not having much material to work with.
My favorite part of the A Memory of Light folder was a plain white post-it note on the first page of the outline, scrawled with what looks like, “Brandon, keep this open." The note is signed with initials I first thought were “J.R.” for James Rigney, but in hindsight it was Harriet McDougal who chose Sanderson to complete the series, not Jordan. My new theory is that the initials are probably “A.R.” for Alan Romanczuk, editorial assistant for Team Jordan.
Either way, there’s something surreal about seeing a post-it note on an outline for the last book of the Wheel of Time series. It’s crazy to think a book I read with such reverence had anything to do with something so ordinary as a post-it note.
5. You Will Find Information in Surprising Places
When reviewing Jordan's notes, it’s easy to get lost in all the typewritten pages that look almost exactly the same. And, since you are under orders to handle them with the utmost care, it would not be acceptable to quickly flip through the pages and scan for things that jump out at you.
It’s all the more rewarding, then, when you finally discover a hidden gem, something new and interesting about a person or place. And it almost always appears where you least expect it. For example, in the notes on Malkier, I found a couple fun quotes about Graendal and Myrelle.
Under the entry for “Jain Farstrider:”
“Graendal herself is not one to go digging about, hunting for things. Whatever she finds, she wants to keep for herself, and if any sharing is done, it will be on her terms.” —James O. Rigney papers, Box 61, Folder 2, page 3
Under the entry for “Lan:”
“Myrelle took him to bed; this to last until she has begun making his [sic] think of life again, to however small a degree, it being her belief that f***ing makes you center on life rather than death.” —James O. Rigney papers, Box 61, Folder 2, page 10
So, even if you try to limit your research to one or two specific topics, you may still find unrelated information you never expected. Similarly, there may be snippets of detail about your topic hiding somewhere else in the collection, maybe in a piece of correspondence, or a random undated note. All the more reason to keep coming back.
4. Bring Your Companion
As I read through each folder, page by page, one thought kept scrolling through my mind: “Don’t we already know this?” Reading notes that contained excerpts from the books or looked an awful lot like glossary entries from the books, it was hard to determine what I should be spending precious time jotting down and what was already canon.
Short of developing a photographic memory or a superhuman ability to take notes covering everything you read (photos are not allowed), the only way I can suggest to solve this problem would be to bring The Wheel of Time Companion and do some quick cross-referencing.
That said, even if there is overlap with what we already know, the notes in the collection still have a level of detail and depth that makes them absolutely worth jotting down.
I would suggest bringing a human companion as well to cover more ground, but the list of guidelines on the website quickly burst that bubble: “Only one researcher per appointment slot will be permitted.”
3. No One Else will Understand
Be prepared to accept the fact that no one else in Charleston will care how important this library visit is to you. As tired and apathetic college students wave you through security and into the Special Collections, they will acknowledge your excited smiles and nervousness. They will not wonder why you have tears in your eyes—if they even make eye contact. Do not go to them expecting ceremony or even sympathy. They'll be all business.
Even my family, who humored me with a few questions about my experience, did not truly understand. They seemed confused as to why I would want to include a three-hour library visit as part of my weekend in Charleston, and I got more than one raised eyebrow when I walked away from a family bar-hopping adventure to explore Jordan’s neighborhood.
No one else cares, but you do. So, plan your own ritual to celebrate the monumental importance of this experience. Close your eyes and say a mental “thank you” to Robert Jordan, Harriet, Maria, and Alan. Text your Wheel of Time friends or set up a Zoom with them later in the day so you can tell them everything.
2. Roaming the Streets is Magical
When I left the library on Friday, I made the questionable decision to walk 1.5 miles to my hotel while lugging my suitcase and laptop bag through the South Carolina humidity and misty rain. I'd been sitting all day, and it wasn't that far. Within ten minutes, just as I felt the first twinge of regret, I ran head-on into Ogier Street.
At dusk, I roamed the streets of Charleston near the Historic District under a fat, almost-full moon, made my way down to the borough known as South of Broad, and then toward the shoreline to White Point Garden and The Battery.
On the way, I stopped by Robert Jordan’s house to get a glimpse of the white dragon gates and the home where my favorite books were dreamed up and brought to life. I still get chills thinking about how it felt to slowly walk the streets Jordan walked, drinking in every detail, and stand in front of those majestic gates.
The stately, three-story white house had scaffolding covering most of it, with bright yellow lights glowing on the front porch. It looked so inviting. The neighborhood was quiet, except for the loud, rhythmic honking of what had to be a legion of Green Treefrogs, and the occasional sharp chirp of a Northern Cardinal.
I stopped there until the sun went down, just gazing at the house, the trees, the flowers, feeling so grateful for The Wheel of Time, all the hard times it’s gotten me through, and all the amazing friends I’ve met because of it. And though the gates only lead to a driveway, it looked like they were inviting me to travel down a new and mysterious path.
1. Sharing is Caring
Speaking of amazing friends, my number one takeaway from my trip was that none of it mattered until I shared it with you—the people reading my articles, interacting with me on Twitter, Discord, Live Chat, and Zoom. People who came out to listen to my stories on The Dusty Wheel and Three Fold Talk. People I hugged at JordanCon, who can truly understand and appreciate how special this visit was for me. People I have grown to love and am already dreaming up ways to bring with me on my next trip to Charleston.