Balancing the Wheel: Researching Origins of The Wheel Of Time – GUEST POST by Michael Livingston
Balancing the Wheel: Researching Origins of The Wheel Of Time
by Michael Livingston
I trained to be a historian because I enjoy history. So it makes sense that when I write a book about history, I truly enjoy working on the subject.
This has a lot of utility, obviously. My most recent book of traditional history was Crécy: Battle of Five Kings (Osprey, 2022); it was the culmination of many years studying King Edward III’s victory over the French in 1346. If I didn’t enjoy reading and writing about that battle, it would have been an awful misery to do this work.
Writing Origins of the Wheel of Time: The Legends and Mythologies that Inspired Robert Jordan (Tor, 2022) was, in this regard, both familiar and wildly different. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is certainly something I enjoy. And that enjoyment certainly made the vast amount of research I had to do for the book a lot easier. It’s not work, as the saying goes, if you love what you do.
Except the truth is that I don’t just enjoy the Wheel of Time. I have long loved it. I am, in every sense of the word, a fan. And at times in the writing of this book, my deep love for the subject could result in a tug-of-war between my head and my heart.
For instance, we have long known that Jordan utilized the myths and legends of King Arthur to help construct parts of his story. It’s a strong thread running through the books. But knowing that in principle is very different from what I felt on finding a piece of paper with an early, handwritten sketch of how Arthur would connect with the Wheel of Time — one of the earliest steps that Jordan would make in the journey that would lead to one of the best-selling fantasy series in history.
As a fan, my heart thrilled. This was not just a piece of paper, but the seed from which something I love ultimately grew. I wanted nothing more than to revel in the moment of feeling such a proximity to Jordan as the author.
But as a historian, my head thrilled. This was not just a piece of paper, but the key to unlocking the thing I was presently studying. I wanted nothing more than to use it to further my proximity to Jordan as my subject.
Among the many things I learned over the course of writing the book, was how to balance head and heart in such moments. They happened again and again, and each time I would allow the fan in me — for at least a few minutes — to have a heart full of thrill and delight unencumbered. And then — after a deep, centering breath — the historian could step in with a head full of questions unencumbered.
Balance. It’s a key theme in Jordan’s books. So it’s fitting, I think, that it’s a lesson he would teach me as I told his story.
Origins of the Wheel of Time is out now from UK Tor
Michael Livingston, PhD. is the foremost academic interpreter of Robert Jordan’s literary accomplishment and legacy. He is the author of the Shards of Heaven trilogy of novels and multiple award-winning studies of military history. He serves as the Secretary-General for the United States Commission on Military History and teaches at The Citadel.