Warrior of the Altaii’s Long Journey to Publication

It took 40 years for Robert Jordan's first novel, Warrior of the Altaii, to hit the bookshelves. We chronicle its long journey.

This article is sponsored by Tor Books. The opinions reflect those of the writer.

Long time fans of Robert Jordan, author of the bestselling Wheel of Time series, may be puzzled how their beloved writer, who passed away in 2007, had a new book hit bookstore shelves this fall. Warrior of the Altaii, the newest of Jordan’s books to be published, is also his very first novel, and its road to publication was a long one. To get the full story, Den of Geek interviewed Harriet P. McDougal, the editor who originally discovered Jordan (and later married him), and Tor founder Tom Doherty, who revealed the hurdles this book had to overcome to be published—and why now is the perfect time to pick it up.

An Unknown Author

Forty-odd years ago, Doherty and McDougal were working together in New York under the banner of Grosset and Dunlap. McDougal headed up an imprint called Tempo, which had some success with science fiction and fantasy, so, as Doherty said, “They bought us Ace to play with.” Doherty became the publisher of Ace books, and McDougal, the editorial director. But when McDougal inherited a house where she grew up, in South Carolina, she decided to move there with her young son, rather than staying in New York.

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“I couldn’t lose her, because she was the most talented editor I had worked with,” Doherty recalled. Despite this being the age before telecommuting, McDougal continued to work with Doherty, starting her own small publishing company, Popham Press. In order to find new writers, McDougal visited local bookstores, scouting for talent. There, she met James Oliver Rigney, Jr., the man who would become known as Robert Jordan.

Initially, Jordan pitched a book to fit her line–a bodice ripper that was truly awful. McDougal forgot about him for several months, during which time Jordan sold Warrior of the Altaii, which he had finished, to DAW books. DAW held onto Warrior of the Altaii for only a month in 1977 before they dropped the book by this unknown, first time author.

A year later, when McDougal called Jordan to see if he had anything he might like to show her, he shared Warrior of the Altaii. McDougal loved it, but it wasn’t right for Popham Press, so she called up Doherty, who bought it for Ace. (She also began working with Jordan under his other penname, Reagan O’Neal, publishing his trilogy set in the South during the American Revolution and the War of 1822.)

read more: Warrior of the Altaii — An Ideal Read for Wheel of Time Fans

Meanwhile, Doherty moved to found Tor Books, taking McDougal with him. At Ace, the editor “didn’t seem to like the book very much,” McDougal confessed. Though the Reagan O’Neal books were bestsellers, Robert Jordan was an unknown name, and when Doherty and McDougal left Ace, they took Jordan with them—and the editors at Ace knew they were unlikely to get any further books from Jordan. After Warrior sat on the shelf there for several years, Jordan told the Ace editor it wasn’t doing either of them any good, and he asked for the rights to be reverted.

Two More Series

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“Since it had sold without getting published, we moved on,” McDougal explained. “He was constantly busy,” and the book seemed to have a strange star over its head.”

But the novel continued to shape his career. Because McDougal knew from Warrior of the Altaii how convincingly Jordan could write a supposedly “barbarian” culture, Doherty and McDougal convinced him to take on writing for the Conan the Barbarian series. “He got kind of a kick out of writing it,” Doherty recalled, “so he began writing more.”

McDougal noted how Jordan included social commentary in the Conan books, though many readers may have missed it. “You can tell how he felt about our adventures in the Middle East in the last 25 or 30 years by reading his Conans,” she explained. “He took the opportunity to pretend that Conan is messing around in Afghanistan.”

And then came The Wheel of Time. Doherty contracted the first six books from the series in 1984, while Jordan was writing the Conan books. He worked on his initial plan for the series on the side while producing six barbarian bestsellers. The Eye of the World was finally published in 1990, and the series continued over fourteen books (with Brandon Sanderson finishing the series from Jordan’s notes after his death).

The Wheel of Time had a major impact on Tor Books, and continues to shape the publisher and industry today. “Fantasy is our biggest single category,” Doherty noted, “and our biggest fantasy author is Brandon Sanderson,” who gained many readers when he completed Jordan’s series.

Forty Years Later

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So why bring out Warrior of the Altaii after so many years had gone by? “It really began with a question from Tom Doherty, who said, ‘Do you have anything tucked away?’” McDougal explained. “I think he asked for it by name.”

Of course, after forty years, Doherty remembered very little about the story. He knew it existed, and he had wanted to bring Warrior of the Altaii out earlier. But with the success of The Wheel of Time, there was little reason to look back.

Now, as Wheel of Time is being adapted for the small screen in an original series by Amazon Prime, for which McDougal serves as consulting producer, it seemed like the moment might be right to return to Jordan’s early work. The series “may be one of the reasons Harriet eventually let me do Warrior,” Doherty posited. While McDougal has always said she wants Jordan to be remembered for his best, which is The Wheel of Time.

With the Amazon Prime series bringing a new audience to the work, learning the story first through the adaptation rather than through Jordan’s own words. By releasing Warrior of the Altaii, McDougal and Doherty give readers a chance to experience Jordan’s original voice, and take a look at part of his legacy that formed some of the groundwork for the later, groundbreaking fantasy series. 

Warrior of the Altaii is now available to purchase wherever books are sold.