When Robert Jordan died in 2007, his wife and longtime editor, Harriet McDougal, wanted to shepherd his multivolume Wheel of Time series to completion, with Brandon Sanderson co-writing the final three books. Twelve years later, McDougal has cast her attention back to the beginning of Jordan’s career, and is set to publish his first book, a standalone novel, Warrior of the Altaii (Tor, Oct.), which was written more than 40 years ago.
The book follows a character who, McDougal says, has “performed all the things that his culture says a candidate for manhood needs to do, living what he thinks is the proper life of a man, and the whole world is changing around him. He’s having to figure out what to do.”
The title was first acquired by Tom Doherty in 1979, but not published at that time. Then, when Jordan’s second book, The Fallon Blood, was published the following year (under the name of Reagon O’Neal), the two books appeared to be so different in style and content that the publisher held it. Jordan’s career took off, and the book was never published.
“Life was going too fast,” says McDougal. “After the Fallon books, he was writing the Conan books. He agreed to do one and wrote seven because he really enjoyed it. Then things just happened. His talent was so immense that things kept blooming.”
In the meantime, rights for Warrior of the Altaii were sold to Berkley, where the manuscript continued to languish. Jordan asked his editor to revert the rights, saying, as McDougal recalls, “This manuscript is resting on a high shelf in your office and not doing anyone any good. So I wonder if I can have the rights back. The editor said, ‘Sure.’ ”
Fans of the Wheel of Time will find hints of the epic saga in Jordan’s first book, including the name of the mountain range, called the Backbone of the World in Warrior of the Altaii and the Spine of the World in the Wheel of Time series. McDougal says Warrior also offers a deeper glimpse of formative ideas that developed throughout Jordan’s career, including his approach to writing about gender.
“There are a lot of echoes about the relations between men and women,” says McDougal. “He was fooling with those questions and comments long before general American society was, and he continued that in the Wheel of Time.”
McDougal says two earlier, rough, unpublished manuscripts of Jordan’s writings remain to be explored. She’s uncertain whether they will ever be published, but knows the first line of one of them—a western—by heart, and calls it quintessential Jordan: “I never meant to leave Texas, but I never meant to be a known man either.”