This time of the year, I'm known for re-reading J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings series. I've read it at least once a year for the past thirty years and far more many times than that when I add in the papers I wrote in grad school about this epic.
Lord of the Rings was the first fantasy series I ever encountered. Prior to reading it, I didn't have much time nor did I cast much thought for fantasy fiction, I was reading things like J.D. Salinger's work. My then girlfriend, a gal who was about to enter her freshman year at Vassar, was aghast that I hadn't tasted the work of Tolkein and bought me my first copy of Fellowship of the Ring which I read in between trips to Cape Cod to see her. Needless to say I was captured by Tolkein's mythical world, his characters, his song and poetry. In a matter of a week I inhaled the three books in the series...and was delighted.
I remember turning the last page of the tale. The feeling of emptiness and loss when I knew I had to leave Middle Earth behind made me melancholy. I trudged through the lengthy appendix at the end of the final book and was still left wanting more. That began a search for more Tolkein to read and finding J.R.R.'s scholarly works in my college library, I pored over them, sometimes struggling but always dedicated to find out more about that man and his created (and reported on) world. Gawain and the Green Knight, Chaucer, Beowulf, The Reeves Tale and other scholarly works populated my library as well as photocopied poems and collections of verse all written by this master. As time went by, Tolkein passed out of this world and his son, Christopher began editing the reams of notes left behind by his father. There is quite a library of Tolkein works on my shelves and in storage.
Academia will not agree with my but the huge population who has read Tolkein's most popular work will argue that Lord of the Rings is by far his best work. And most fantasy writers who have followed will agree.
I have just completed another re-read of The Fellowship of the Ring and look forward to savoring the next two volumes.
I have a penchant for reading the good stuff over and over. There are many authors, classical and modern, who have touched me. I don't like endings. When Romeo and Juliet were entombed side by side at the end of that Shakespeare classic, I hated it. They should have lived on and happily ever after.
In 2012 there is another ending that I'm not really looking forward to--or perhaps, I'm relishing the thought of it. Robert Jordan began writing his Wheel of Time series in 1992. He died in 2006, unfortunately, without completing this series. When he passed, Jordan had written eleven volumes each massive in size and all had an overwhelming number of characters and sub-plots. Like most fans, I was saddened to hear of Jordan's death and more than a little upset with his lack of perseverance during the last years of his life to complete the tale that entranced and captured many hundreds of thousands of followers. Several years after his death, his wife and his publisher found another author, Brandon Sanderson, to complete the series using notes and outlines Jordan left behind. Of course, and I'm a bit cynical, they also realized that there was a cash cow that could still be milked.
Sanderson completed book twelve in 2009. It was good and had some wonderful writing. He did a pretty good job melding his own voice with that of Jordan's but discriminating fans screamed because it was obviously rushed and "not written by Robert Jordan."
The following year, Sanderson and Tor published book thirteen in the series. This effort was better than the one prior to it but like the preceding volume was littered with errors pointed out by the most dedicated fans. It did however satisfy most as it began to wrap up plot lines, some of which have lingered since the mid-1990's. And the final book with the grand conclusion (written by Robert Jordan) was begun and promised in 2011.
Tor publishing, Brandon Sanderson, and Harriet, Robert Jordan's wife, promised a tremendous grand finale. Sanderson has grown with the series and the monumental task of tying up loose strings and bringing his and Jordan's readers to the conclusion of "The Final Battle" must have been daunting to say the least. On Winter Solstice, December, 21, 2011, he finished the final book, A Memory of Light. Well, he finished the first draft. It has been announced that the book will be published in November, 2012. Many re-readings and revisions are the reason for the delay. My (and many other's) cynicism come to play here again-- Tor is withholding publication until Holiday Season 2012. I can just imagine someone going to a bookstore and seeing this, Volume 14 of a series and saying, "Oh Wow, look at this, here's a book by Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan. It's book 14 and I guess I should buy it for little Johnnie. No, he hasn't read the rest of the series but he might if the last book is good!" Well as a fan, I suppose I can wait...it's only been nearly 20 years (I'll never forgive the guy at the book store who recommended the first book of this series to me.)
How do I feel about this final book? Well, I'm eager to read it. When I get to the last page, I'm going to feel empty. I know I will. Heck there will be in excess of 12,000 pages of Rand and Matt and Perrin as well as Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Min and so, so many other characters. I hardly remember what life was like before I was waiting for the NEXT book o the series.
Will I reread the series, probably. I'm not sure it will be a yearly undertaking, though. That's a lot of books! I swear, though, I will never begin another series that has yet to be completed! Of course, never say never, eh?