“The Wheel of Time” Series for TV
A pair of boots and a living room are similar in that one can step inside both and give a sense of coverage. Of the differences, some of the most obvious would be the materials and techniques used to build them, not to mention the different physical sensations one has by being in each. It is the same for movies and books. They are both storytelling mediums but different crafts altogether.
But how do you go about retelling a 15 (14 plus a prequel) – volume book series in an audio-visual medium, especially if it’s fantasy?
The beauty of adapting for television an epic like “The Wheel of Time” by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson is that worldbuilding is centered around stories’ evolutionary nature. This opening line is used at the beginning of each volume:
“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.”
Furthermore, in these books, the author also explored the multiverse theory in various ways.
As the fans of these worldwide best-selling books have been waiting for a TV show since long before “Game of Thrones” hit the screens, the producers found themselves in front of an enormous, overwhelming task.
In an interview with the publication “Deadline,” series producer Rafe Judkins talked a little about this endeavor: “The pressure is unbelievable from all sides at all times,” he said. “I feel the personal pressure because I love this series. I fought to get it made for TV, and that fight was so hard. It’s a success we’re getting it made, but now I face the additional pressure to do everyone proud. So many people love these books so much.”
You can find the full article here:
Rafe Judkins, Brandon Sanderson, and Sarah Nakamura all said at various times that the TV adaptation would be like another turning of the Wheel, the same Age replayed differently in the cycle of Time. Having written the final three volumes of the series after Robert Jordan’s death, Brandon acts as the consultant for the production. Sarah has been an important member of the fandom for years, and her role for the TV series is that of book expert. Robert Jordan’s widow and editor, Harriet McDougal, and Team Jordan editor Maria Simons are also actively involved.
Since the TV show will be launched on November 19th, 2021, on Amazon Prime and considering the above, I would like to tell you only a few of the reasons why I’m really excited about it.
If you’re not yet familiar with these books, they are about a world preparing for “Tarmon Gai’don” or “The Last Battle.” Deeply inspired by mythology, Robert Jordan tells a story in which an evil god, known generically as “The Dark One,” will be challenged by a hero. The Wheel and the Ouroboros are the main symbols for life, and the story builds upon the belief in reincarnation. Pretty standard so far, right?
The prophesied hero, named “The Dragon Reborn,” is not only a tale or superstition passed on by word of mouth, though. There is actually a compendium of prophecies, which can be found in some of the libraries in the big cities the characters visit.
One of the reasons why so many readers found the books to have a refreshing perspective is that the characters are seldom clearly positive or negative. While there are many recurring themes, motifs, and tropes, Robert Jordan was a master of navigating points of view and showing a variety of character motivations.
When the main cast for the TV show was announced in 2019, it was received with conflicting reactions. On the one hand, some fans were happy to see the representation of the books being properly honored. On the other hand, there were those who screamed “WOKE!” at some of the choices. While the term itself has acquired negative connotations, the fact is that in the world of “The Wheel of Time,” racial and gender differences are not presented in the way we are used to seeing in the real world. However, there are various forms of slavery, xenophobia, and heavily gendered magic, so the author definitely didn’t shy away from these themes. I see it as a different perspective, a different type of discussion around these topics, one that is more descriptive than argumentative.
The premise is that “The Dark One” managed to impart a curse on the form of magic be used by men. The story takes place after 3000 years of matriarchy, following a historical event known as “The Breaking of the World,” caused by men using this corrupted magic. Women are the only ones who can use their side of the magic without going mad. When the first volume, “The Eye of the World,” was published back in the ’90s, this was a huge trope reversal in fantasy. Brandon Sanderson said that it was one of the things that first drew him to these books as a young reader. “The Wheel of Time” has a woman (Moiraine) in a role similar to Gandalf from “The Lord of the Rings” and other powerful male magic users from other fantasy stories. Rosamund Pike will play the role of Moiraine in the Prime series.
This brings me to another important topic, the LGBTQ+ representation. While the magic is split between female and male users, with the male half-tainted (book term) or corrupted (movie term), queer characters and relationships are presented as normal in “The Wheel of Time.” Of course, we see most of them through the point of view of the main characters, who grew up in a remote place, their daily life governed by the “Village Council” (male) and the “Women’s Circle” (female). By gender, these two groups are at odds throughout the books, both sides thinking they are always right and the others are always wrong. Somehow, the dynamic works for life in the village as a microcosm of how the world works in this story.
While Robert Jordan wasn’t explicit, there is no doubt that female users of magic, called Aes Sedai, rule world politics from the White Tower, an academy-like institution located on a river island that looks very much like a vagina. During training to become Aes Sedai, some of the girls become “pillow friends.” In addition, there are polyamorous and polygamous relationships in another land in which women are called “sister wives.” An important character is definitely genderqueer, and there are hints of others.
Although these are little explored examples, they hint at a world in which, despite the binary nature of the magic and the 3000 years old socio-cultural dichotomy between men and women, gender identity and sexual orientation are not topics of discussion. The characters are what they are, and they love who they love, regardless of gender. In fact, from the way I see it, the lack of emphasis given to these topics indicates that they are seen, with some exceptions, as normal. Robert Jordan himself has also confirmed this.
One could argue that queerness wouldn’t fit in a book where magic itself is split into male and female types, but I think that’s precisely why it does fit. Rafe said he sees it as a story about balance, and I agree. It’s more about navigating an imbalance within the magic, reflected in the way men and women interact with each other than about good vs. evil.
From what the producers hinted at so far, the movies will expand on the LGBTQ+ representation. For me, these are not things that will change the story but rather build upon the basis of what Robert Jordan created.
Since I am new to the terminology, I would prefer not to go into details at this time. I am still discovering new names for what I’ve always known about myself. However, I will admit that when I first read the books, in my twenties, I was both happy to see the mentions of queer characters and relationships and frustrated at the lack of depth given to these topics. I could identify myself with some of the characters and see the relationship dynamics despite the euphemisms. “The Wheel of Time” was one of the first books I read that challenged the precepts of the heteronormative society I grew up in, while I still had no words to describe who I was and how I loved.
The production team, the actors, and the fandom all include members of the LGBTQ+ community. To follow the worldview of the books, this shouldn’t be a novelty or a groundbreaking endeavor. This fact should be seen as normal.
Another reason for being excited about this adaptation is the music. An epic fantasy series deserves to have an epic soundtrack.
This task was given to Grammy-winning composer Lorne Balfe, known for his work for various visual mediums, from television to gaming, and for the genre diversity of those productions. Among his most notable contributions, there are movies like “Mission Impossible” (Paramount), “Black Widow” (Disney/Marvel), “Jungleland” (Paramount), “The Lego Batman Movie” (Warner Bros).
The first album of the four prepared for Season 1 of “The Wheel of Time” TV adaptation, named “The First Turn,” is available on several platforms:
To give you an example of how deep the dive is into the expansive lore and worldbuilding of the books, I would like to mention that the lyrics were written in what is known as “The Old Tongue.” While Robert Jordan did leave a short glossary for this invented language, the songwriters went further and created new words based on that work. The fact that someone undertook expanding and building upon that rudimentary linguistic structure is a telling sign that there were no shortcuts or offhand solutions for the entire production.
While the music professionals of the fandom are already diving into the technical details of the individual songs and the score as a whole, I lack that kind of knowledge. I have, however, a few non-technical things to say about the track called “Mordero’Sheen (Bringers of Death).”
The song starts like a gust of wind, with the crisp energy of a gathering storm. Fading in rapidly, the feeling of distant thunder rumbles in the background. The chorus hits like the storm breaking overhead, thunder, and heavily pouring rain competing in intensity before finally joining forces. It’s also the noise of a raging sports crowd right before the team makes an epic comeback at the end of a bad game. At 2’40”, the melody changes abruptly, giving the feeling of having reached the eye of a tornado and a false sense of respite while keeping the raging winds in the background. It is not enough to describe it, and this is only one of the tracks.
With the care and attention to detail, I’ve seen so far from the team working on bringing “The Wheel of Time” to the screen, I’m wondering whether this kind of feeling about the song was intentional. After all, “The Gathering Storm” is the name of one of the volumes in the Book Series, and Robert Jordan is also known and loved for his skill with foreshadowing.
The entire album is a heart-pounding experience in itself, and I can’t wait to see how it will play in the TV adaptation.
Lorne confirmed in a recent Twitter post:
The second album will be launched on November 19th, with the first three episodes of the series.
On the same day, the official account of the TV show also announced the launch of a few animated movies that will present some of the historical events that precede the story in “The Wheel of Time.”
This event is yet another example of how far the care of the producers went into building the screen adaptation of this epic world.
I won’t go into detail about the costumes since another fan already has already written a detailed article about them:
For full cast, crew, and credits, see the official IMDB page: https://m.imdb.com/title/tt7462410/
For news, follow the official accounts:
If you haven’t read the books yet and would like to enjoy the surprises prepared for the TV show without spoilers, don’t search for things about it on the Internet. If you do, please remember that these books have had an active online fan community discussing in-depth details of the story for many years.
I finished my first read of the series shortly after “A Memory of Light” (the final volume), published in 2013. At that time, I couldn’t even have hoped for a visual adaptation of these books, considering the context of barely emerging epic fantasy in television. Now I am part of a fandom that has waited and waited and waited, looking forward to finally seeing our beloved characters on screen. While the story will be different, we are promised that the spirit of the characters will be preserved. I am ready to geek out over every detail that will be kept and to squeak at the screen: “That’s exactly how it was in the books!” instead of “That wasn’t like in the books!”