Readers of fantasy will almost certainly already have heard of the Wheel of Time. Many have probably read it. Robert Jordan’s magnum opus sits high on the list of best-selling fantasy books of all time. But as the fantasy genre is a bit on the niche side, there will be plenty of others who have never heard of the Wheel of Time at all, much as they had never heard of A Song of Ice and Fire before it was adapted for television. HBO’s Game of Thrones changed that for A Song of Ice and Fire, and the Amazon series being produced based on the Wheel of Time hopes to do the same for Robert Jordan’s books.
Whether it will or not remains to be seen. Thrones itself ended on a sour note, so much so that what was once the most talked about show in the world is now barely mentioned much less re-watched. And Wheel of Time is hardly the only other fantasy series to have attempted to draw in a mainstream audience. Shows like Legend of the Seeker, or Shannara, failed to impress. The jury is still out on the latest fantasy show to try and make it big. Amazon has thrown a lot of money behind the project, however, and the source material itself is beloved by many. If any series would have a chance of capturing the world’s interest the way Game of Thrones did, this would be the one.
When the two book series were at the height of their popularity in the 90s and early 2000s, they were sometimes pitted against each other by ardent fans determined to prove which one was the best, much as Marvel and DC often are. In a way, it is fitting that their adaptations should compete on the televised stage as well. Sadly, Jordan himself will not live to see it or enjoy the increased recognition it would have brought him, having died in 2007. He never managed to finish his story, and Brandon Sanderson was brought in to pen the final three novels in the series, using Jordan’s notes as a basis for the finale.
Even if the television series fails, it should not dissuade people from seeking out Jordan’s books. They are a huge time commitment it’s true, with a literal cast of thousands appearing in the fourteen novels of the series, the longest of which is over a thousand pages in paperback. Even so, there are good reasons that so many have bought and read the whole series. The huge scope is appealing to some, and the inversion of real world gender norms that place women in the dominant position in the setting is certainly an interesting departure from medieval stereotypes. Jordan’s battle scenes are also a plus, for he was a veteran of the Vietnam War and knew well the horrors and confusion of the battlefield.
Of course, how much of those books will make it into the show remains to be seen. It is often the case that showrunners license a property for the name recognition but then pay little to no attention to the source material, preferring to tell their own tale. In the case of Game of Thrones, most would agree that it was in hindsight very noticeable when the series ran out of source material to draw on and the showrunners began writing their own story. Noticeable, and a marked downgrade in quality.
In the case of Wheel of Time, the showrunners appear to have skipped the early season faithfulness that Game of Thrones had, and started putting their own twist on the tale already. Changes were announced in pre-production, with minor characters like Logain being elevated to larger roles and memorable scenes such as the creation of Dragonmount being cut completely. They can only hope that these changes will be improvements. Though, given that Robert Jordan was such a popular and successful author, and the people altering his tale are not, one wonders why they would consider themselves qualified to “improve” his work at all. But then, one often wonders that when things are adapted to television these days.
Most of those who liked Game of Thrones and moved on to read the books it was based on found the books to be much better. If Wheel of Time catches the interest it hopes to catch, it can be hoped that people will also give its source material a read. It might be hoped they will find those a similar improvement. Or perhaps instead it should be hoped that the writers working on the show really can make a better version of the Wheel of Time than Jordan himself did. With the amount of money that’s been invested in their project, they’d better!