High Hopes for the Upcoming ‘Wheel of Time’ Television Show

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The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, and Age long past, a wind rose in the offices at Amazon. The wind was not the beginning, there are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of The Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

At long last, we’re getting a television series based on Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy novels. There’s very little detail at the moment; no casting has yet been announced, but Amazon has ordered the series and has put Rafe Judkins at the helm.

Threads in the Pattern

For those of you who’ve never read, or perhaps never heard of, The Wheel of Time, a brief history: The first book in Robert Jordan’s series, The Eye of the World, came out in 1990. He wrote prolifically, releasing a new sequel nearly every year for a decade. In 2007, to the horror of fans everywhere, Jordan passed away and left his series unfinished. He’d planned one final book, but when his wife and editor Harriet McDougal got together with author Brandon Sanderson to pen the conclusion, they found that Jordan had left too much material, and it required another three books to finish. The fourteenth and final book was released in 2013, and it did not disappoint.

In the world of The Wheel of Time, history follows a cycle from one turning of The Wheel to the next. During each Age, a champion rises to confront The Dark One. That champion is known as The Dragon.

The Next ‘Game of Thrones’?

Like Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time takes place in a pre-industrial world of sword and sorcery. Like Game of Thrones, the heroes must prevent an evil inhuman army from marching out of the North and destroying human civilization. But The Wheel of Time features far less adult content.

Whereas Game of Thrones has some small hints of magic in Melisandre’s spells and Bran’s third eye, the magic in The Wheel of Time is far more overt. Aes Sedai is an organization of sorceresses who channel the One Power to call lightning, bend light, or use weaves of air to bind opponents. Magic is scarce at the outset, but its use grows more frequent as the story progresses.

And while Game of Thrones has dire wolves and dragons, the shadowspawn in The Wheel of Time are more numerous and more unique. The trollocs are massive dumb warrior creatures who bear wicked rusty blades. They’re led by Myrdraal, elite eyeless warriors, lightning-quick and near-unkillable. The grey men are soulless infiltrators and assassins who have given their souls to the shadow. While not invisible, they’re nearly impossible to notice. Darkhounds are poison-fanged regenerating pack-hunters made of shadow. There are many varieties of shadowspawn. I look forward to seeing them on-screen.

The Wheel of Time begins similarly to Lord of the Rings. A small village, simple folk with a greater destiny. By the end, it’s clear that the entire world is at stake. But The Wheel of Time is a story roughly five times as long as Tolkien’s epic tale.

Magic and Gender

Gender plays an important role in The Wheel of Time novels. Eons ago, just before The Dark One was last defeated, he tainted the male half of the source of magic. Since that time, any man who uses magic gradually goes insane. Given the extreme danger of an insane magic-user, these rare men are rightly feared, and the Aes Sedai have a subgroup specifically dedicated to hunting down such men.

From the little I’ve managed to dig up about the forthcoming Amazon series, season one will focus on an Aes Sedai named Moirane and her warder Lan. Moirane plays the Gandalf role at the story’s outset, finding the young heroes in their small village and whisking them off to adventure.

The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills

One of the primary problems I can imagine with adapting The Wheel of Time novels into a television series is the sheer number of books involved. There are fourteen books, and while the first six were all excellent, many of the later volumes were difficult to read. The pace of the plot was at times extremely slow, and there were far too many characters by the time we’d hit book eight. I read the later books with a dozen Post-it notes stuck to the inside front and back covers of the books, just to keep track of which characters were which.

My ‘Wheel of Time’ Character Notes

This character and content glut can be corrected in the adaptation process. I envision the television series having nine or ten seasons. Books one through six could each be a single season of the show. Books seven, eight, and nine could combined into a single season. This works because books seven and eight are among the slowest-moving, and there are places where writers might merge many chapters into a single scene. Book nine ends with the culmination of a major plot arc, and it would work wonderfully as a season finale. The remaining books, ten through fourteen, could probably be compressed into two or three seasons to end the series.

It’s still extremely early, and we know close to nothing about the show. The official announcement from Tor Books came only at the beginning of October. We do have a Q&A from creator Rafe Judkins on Twitter, but even that has very little concrete detail. We know that the first two episodes will be named “Leavetaking” and “Shadow’s Waiting,” so perhaps that means that the characters will actually get out of Emond’s Field in episode one, which feels like quite a fast pace for the show.

We found out about the casting for Game of Thrones back in 2009, and HBO didn’t air its first season until 2011. If that’s a standard pace in the industry, we’re looking at 2021 at the earliest before we get to watch the show. That’s almost enough time for me to re-read all the books!

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4 thoughts on “High Hopes for the Upcoming ‘Wheel of Time’ Television Show

  1. Cautiously optimistic about this. Hollywood has a tendency to change things just to change things and not always for the better. When the books describe the characters very accurately, it’s going to be hard to swallow major changes. It will be worse if they try to introduce some message into the show where one didn’t exist before.

    I look at what MTV did w/ the Chronicles of Shannara and really hope that we don’t get similar treatment w/ Wheel of Time. I can understand editing to pair down the story or to make it project better on screen, but wholesale changes and trying to bring in social commentary just because likely won’t go over too well with the fans.

  2. Cautious optimism is certainly my own feeling. Changing or adding a theme would be no good.

    I watched the first season of the new Shannara show as well, and didn’t love it. Probably the first real fantasy novel I’d ever read was The Elfstones of Shannara, back in 8th grade. I got the book from a book fair. I absolutely loved it, and just about cried at what was a big reveal around the book’s 90% point that I should have seen coming but didn’t. After watching that show, I found myself complaining that MTV had geared it towards juveniles and adolescents. Then I realized – that was _exactly_ what I was when I’d first read the book and become a Terry Brooks fan. I don’t remember too much about the book at this point, although I still have the same copy on my shelf 6 feet from where I’m now typing, so I can’t say too much about how faithful it was. But maybe the demographic was a big factor.

    Okay – that was a big sidetrack. I guess the main thing is that Rafe Judkins, at least from his tweets, seems like he wants the show to be a faithful adaptation.

    1. That definitely gives me hope. I get needing to change things to fit better on the screen or maybe to flow better. It’s also great the Jordan’s rather verbose descriptions can just be shown, not described. 🙂

      The MTV version deviated from the story in some significant ways, though it did keep the main plot point around the Elcrys. The book still holds up now. The MTV version just took too much liberty in adapting. (even with Terry Brooks on as consultant and saying that it was great) I guess to me it turned it more into a “teen angst” type drama than a fantasy story. I finished the first season to see how it would turn out, got about 30 minutes into the next and gave up.

      Anyway, it will be interesting to see how Amazon works out WoT. There’s a _lot_ of material to work with, so I imagine editing will be a large part of the work.

      1. Yeah – after seeing the synopsis of Shannara season two and realizing that it kept the same characters rather than moving on a generation and adding the characters from Scions, I was out. Never watched S2E01.

        I still think that if they do one season per book for the first six, then start compressing, it would work well. Path of Daggers and Crossroads of Twilight especially were so slow-going.

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