Family, friends and fans of fantasy gathered at The Citadel on Tuesday 8 April 2008 to dedicate a permanent memorial to my brother/cousin, James Oliver Rigney, Jr. This was a celebration of Jimâ€™s life and his work. I would be lying were I to tell you I was looking forward to the event. We had assembled only a few weeks earlier at the Citadel to induct Jim into the South Carolina Authorâ€™s Hall of Fame. That evening had propelled me back to the awful moments in September when we lost Jim. Both Harriet and I were in dread of the same happening yet again. It didnâ€™t. Rather the opposite.
Harriet had told us all, Onward, still she and I (and Iâ€™m sure the rest of the family) were mired in that part of grieving that causes us to hang on, denial. Only a day before, Harriet had rolled up her sleeves and dove headlong into the first chapter of MoL. She, Jimâ€™s loyal staff and Brandon were hard at work on the book. She called me to share that and her excitement was obvious. She sounded like a new woman. Harriet told me that she finally knew that Jim wasnâ€™t coming back. That doesnâ€™t mean that she doesnâ€™t still hurt. The hurt will never totally subside, but now it doesnâ€™t interfere with going "onward". Indeed it helps to maintain purpose and focus.
The memorial dedication was begun by a brief introduction of the event from Angie LeClercq, the Director of the Library. The introduction of the panel was made by our own Harriet. Sitting with her were Michael Livingston (Assistant Professor of Medieval Literature at The Citadel), Brandon Sanderson (Elantris, Mistborn) and Dave Drake (Hammer Slammers series, Lord of the Isles series and at least 60 other books). Michael Livingston began by offering what he thought Jim had meant to literature. He compared the body of writers to that of waves on the ocean with peaks and troughs, with the last peak being JRR Tolkein. After him there was a long period in the trough of the wave, then came Jordan. Brandon then waded in with the impact Jordan had upon him as a 15 year old reading fantasy for the first time. He said that his parents were directing him towards Chemistry and Medical School. But Jordanâ€™s fantasy world hooked him so much that he too wanted to write. But every time heâ€™d try something, heâ€™d say to himself, "I canâ€™t. Jordan already did that." (For you writers of the future out there, Brandon wrote 12 books before getting one published. Never quit.) This prompted questions about Jordanâ€™s impact on other writers, "were there people following his style?" I think you all know the answer to that question, there are many. Dave Drake added the observation that there are those who write about something and there are those who write about something that they know because theyâ€™ve lived it. He used his own experience from Vietnam to illustrate his point. He said that when you read Jordan you are privy to Jordanâ€™s experiences. The question was asked about who might be the next wave peak. Brandon offered a wonderful bit of insight. It wonâ€™t be someone who imitates anotherâ€™s work. Brandon said that the one(s) who get it right will look not at what Jordan did, but how he did it. If they are successful in applying the method to their own experience, then we may see the next great writer.
The photo below shows (from right to left) Harriet, Michael, Brandon and Dave. The glass case directly behind them houses the memorabilia. There you will find copies of all of Jimâ€™s books, a Heron marked blade, his wide-brimmed black hat, his ramâ€™s horn cane, his military decorations as well as his unit insignia from the 68th Attach Helicopter Company, photos of Jim throughout his life and of course, his Citadel ring. Should you find yourself in the Two Rivers, Charleston, do make time to go by the Citadel to see this very moving display. Iâ€™ve also included a copy of the dedication program.
I teased you before with MoL. You all know the timing, and that hasnâ€™t changed. But as I listened in on the exchange between Harriet, Maria (a walking dictionary of the books), Alan and Brandon, I couldnâ€™t help but get even more excited. You all know that Jim told me in great detail, the bones of the book and very vividly described the last scene. Still, listening to the team working collectively on the minute details, hearing the excitement in their voices, feeling the electricity in the room made me want to stay till we were done. I lingered for a moment before leaving watching them sitting around the dining room table where we had shared so many meals, stories and good times. As with most families, our family members have assumed places at the table where we normally sit. I smiled when it struck me that sitting in Jimâ€™s place was the man tapped to finish Jimâ€™s work, Brandon. Iâ€™m sure Jim was smiling too. Onward!
4th of 3
[Editor note: We also received some additional words and photos from Alan Romanczuk, one of Jim's assistants. Here's what he writes]
Jim's memorial case was put on permanent display in the Citadel library on the 8th of this month. It's a beautiful piece of work, and is probably worth more than some of the houses in the neighborhood. On display are a variety of artifacts representing different periods of Jim's life, and include photographs, articles of clothing and accessories, weapons, everything one would expect to give insight into the personality and experiences of this complex and fascinating individual.
Jim's Harriet convened a panel to discuss his life and literary works before an audience that filled one large section of the library. The panel was comprised of [i'm doing this in order of position, from the left, in the photo shown above] David Drake, famous author of fantasy and military science fiction, and friend/admirer of Jim and Harriet's for many years; Brandon Sanderson, talented young fantasy writer who was selected to finish the last volume in the Wheel of Time series; Michael Livingston, Assistant Professor of English at the Citadel, specialist in medieval studies and author in his own right, who is dedicated to ensuring that Robert Jordan's work be recognized by scholars to be among the masterpieces of world mythology; and, standing, Harriet. The discussion lasted about a hour, and included questions and comments from the audience. All in all, it was a stimulating evening, a fitting tribute to Jim, and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. It also gave Brandon the opportunity to say for the first time, "Read and Find Out."