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Fantasy novelist Robert Jordan dies at age 58

Author Robert Jordan, whose “Wheel of Time” series of fantasy novels sold millions of copies, died Sunday of a rare blood disease. He was 58.

Jordan, whose real name was James Oliver Rigney Jr., was born and lived in this southern city most of his life. He died at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston of complications from primary amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy, his personal assistant, Maria Simons, said Monday. The blood disease caused the walls of Rigney’s heart to thicken.

He wrote a trilogy of historical novels set in Charleston under the pen name Reagan O’Neal in the early 1980s. Then he turned his attention to fantasy and the first volume in his Wheel of Time epic, “The Eye of the World,” was published in 1990 under the name Robert Jordan.

Jordan’s books tells of Rand al’Thor, who is destined to become the champion who will battle ultimate evil in a mythical land.

Book 11, “Knife of Dreams,” came out in 2005; there was also a prequel, “New Spring: The Novel,” in 2004. The other titles in the series include “The Great Hunt,” “Lord of Chaos” and “The Path of Daggers.” Jordan was working on a 12th volume at the time of his death, Simons said.

“The younger devotees of the series, who seem to be legion, have a habit of dutifully rereading the complete gospel before each addition. ... (Jordan) creates a universe simple enough to master and then challenges the characters to do the same in meticulously choreographed battles against chaos and dissolution.”

In a 2004 online chat on the USA Today Web site, Jordan said he hoped to finish the main “Wheel” series in two more books. “It’s not an absolute promise, but I’m very much hoping for it and I think I can do it,” he wrote.

Most of the books made The New York Times list of best sellers.

Southern voice a matter of rhythm, word choiceIn an interview with The Associated Press in 2003, Jordan discussed having a best seller. The first time it happens “you go out in the middle of the floor and you do a little dance. Then you go someplace booze is being served and buy a drink for everybody in the house.

“You have to have talent to some extent — I certainly hope I have talent — but you have to have luck as well,” Jordan said. “Once you get that first shot, that will get you noticed for the rest of your books and that will give the rest of your books a better chance.”

He said in the interview that his Southern background came through in his work, even though it is set in a fantasy world.

“What I write is certainly not set in South Carolina, but I have had a number of reviewers comment on the fact that I write with a distinctly Southern voice,” he said.

“It goes beyond more than simply where the story is set. I believe it is something we take in in the air and the water. It’s a matter of word choices — of the rhythms of sentences and the rhythm of speech in particular.”

A graduate of The Citadel, South Carolina’s state military college, Rigney worked as a nuclear engineer at the old Charleston Naval Shipyard before taking up writing full time in 1977. He served two tours of duty with the Army in Vietnam. He was decorated several times, including winning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star.

He is survived by his wife, Harriet McDougal Rigney.

Funeral arrangements had not been finalized on Monday, Simons said.

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