By “pull a George R.R. Martin,” I mean let his series drag on infinitum while he worked on other stuff. This post springs from a Twitter debate with Kevin Xu, who put forward that scurrilous proposition. This aggression will not stand, man. I refuted it at the time, but some things deserve to be said at more than 280 characters at a time.
We are, of course, arguing a counterfactual. Jordan did die, so we will never know, and can never prove, what he would have done with the series had he lived. But the evidence is strongly against Kevin’s position.
Funnily enough, I first heard about A Song of Ice and Fire (ASoIaF) (Game of Thrones for you wretched TV-only fans) from Wheel of Time fans, many of whom, at the time, were willing to put it above The Wheel of Time. I think that means I can accurately place first hearing about ASoIaF to between 2000 (when its best book, A Storm of Swords, was released) and 2005 (when Knife of Dreams was released—more below on why I consider that book so relevant). The date is important because that was the last time you could made a strong argument that ASoIaF is superior to The Wheel of Time.
Let us start with some basic, damning facts. Jordan never let more than three years pass between books. Even when he got sick, died, and had to be replaced by a brand new author (hired only after his death), there was still only a four year gap between books. By comparison, Martin has already produced gaps of five years, six years, and seven years (and counting). A bold advocate would rest their case there.
Kevin argues Jordan would work on other projects. The evidence is to the contrary. Jordan talked often and fondly about the next series he had planned, but he was also firm that he was pushing it off until he finished The Wheel of Time. He planned three prequel books and three outrigger books, but he tabled those after seeing the response to New Spring (which had nothing to do with the quality of the story itself and everything to do with how fans felt about him working on something other than the main series).
One big difference is that Jordan never had Game of Thrones. This is another counterfactual. Maybe he would have had he not died! But even then, it is very unlikely it would have been the cultural phenomenon Game of Thrones has proven to be (a longshot in any case, but more likely for Game of Thrones because it shares both the approval of the literati and boobs). (Keep in mind, too, that the first phone call from Benioff to Martin took place 12 years ago. The wheels in Hollywood can move slowly.)
A TV adaptation would have taken up a lot of Jordan’s time. Which can be mitigated, sure (Martin himself stopped writing one episode each season so he could *cough* work on The Winds of Winter). Although I think it would be fair to say that Jordan would want to micromanage, lest he get Aiel swinging swords.
One difference between Jordan and Martin is that Jordan doesn’t have the same kind of well respected backlist Martin does, and Jordan doesn’t have the same history as an editor. Jordan would not have had the number of projects offered to him that have been offered to Martin in any event, I think. (I wonder whether Martin signed a deal that doesn’t give him any upside. Because if that were true, the only way for him to really monetize the massive success of Game of Thrones is to take on new projects, something he has done with wild abandon.)
The best answer, though, is that Jordan would have continued to prioritize work on The Wheel of Time, because that is what he always prioritized during his lifetime.
One caveat is that Jordan had a history of underestimating the time and pages he would devote to the story. His original pitch for The Wheel of Time was as a trilogy, after all. Finishing the series would have taken him longer than he estimated to be sure. But he also said he would finish the series in one book. I could see him having finished it in three. I could also see him having finished it in six, but you can bet he would have let no more than a couple years pass between each book. Worst case scenario the series is still finished, butI think it would be much quicker, and even if it did take that long, there would still be no comparison to Martin because Jordan would still be giving us a book on a regular basis.
You could say that Jordan’s books suffered for it, but, one, have you read A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons? Long delays produced the two weakest books in Martin’s series. And that was never Jordan’s way. I really think that The Path of Daggers/Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight/Knife of Dreams should have been combined, respectively, but Jordan pushed them out. He followed his weakest book, Crossroads of Twilight, with a very strong one, Knife of Dreams, only two years later.
Nor is it any argument to say that Jordan had no idea how to finish the series and that the conclusion was not in sight during his lifetime. He provided his successor with notes and an outline, which, if faintly sketched, still showed he had a vision for the remainder of the series. More importantly, Knife of Dreams shows that he not only had a vision for finishing the series, but that he was moving strongly in that direction. It was Knife of Dreams that assuaged my concerns about the series after books 8-10. (Hence dating the references to ASoIaF the way I do. It was easy to argue ASoIaF was in better shape than The Wheel of Time post-A Storm of Swords and pre-Knife of Dreams. It is very, very difficult to post-A Feast for Crows and Knife of Dreams.)
Conclusion: MYTH BUSTED.