Thursday, July 18, 2024

Curious about the Wheel of Time on Prime? Here is a Primer on Robert Jordan’s powerful and inspiring fantasy series

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The Wheel of Time on Amazon Prime is currently slated to air sometime in 2021. As a new fan who has just finished reading the fourteen-volume The Wheel of Time series (fifteen including the prequel) by Robert Jordan, I look forward to seeing the characters I’ve grown to love portrayed by a stellar cast.
L-R: Barney Harris, Madeleine Madden, Zoë Robins, Marcus Rutherford,  Rosamund Pike,  Josha Stradowski,  Daniel Henney.

So What Is The Series About? 

Well, as a loyal fan, I won’t give away the plot. One of the best aspects of The Wheel of Time fandom is the commitment to be careful of spoilers around new readers. The Twitter hashtag #FirstWOTimer provides new readers opportunities for spoiler-free commentary and discussions with the rest of the fandom.

However, I will tell you what makes me a fan: Robert Jordan has written an engaging, entertaining story with beloved characters and powerful, existential themes. The Wheel of Time is one of the greats of sci-fi/fantasy literature. It is mostly a fantasy story, with an underlying science-fictional theme.

In The Wheel of Time, ages past and future are considered to exist along an eternally-spinning wheel. Robert Jordan drew from the concept of the cyclical nature of time as represented in Hinduism, Buddhism, and some Native American beliefs. One oft-repeated saying in the books is the quote: The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills.

Like references to the character Mikkel in the Netflix film, Dark, the question is not only where is Jordan’s world, but when.

Readers of The Lord of the Rings will notice several nods to Tolkien’s work in the series. The first book in the series, The Eye of the World, is engaging to read and has a satisfying conclusion. A reader will think, “Nice story.  I’ll go ahead and read the second one.”  Then the rollercoaster begins; or let’s call it a tapestry: The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills, indeed. 

Discussions Worth Having

Besides offering readers a grand adventure in a racially and culturally diverse fantasy universe (with a few magical creatures included), Jordan invites us to examine our perspectives on gender roles and power. New readers will quickly notice the jarring assumptions male and female characters voice about each other. The characters’ biases reflect deep-seated traditions. They can hold inaccurate takes that lead to problematic decisions. While the author, Robert Jordan, has indicated his world does not depict an absolute matriarchy, women in The Wheel of Time have societal power balanced in their favor. As one character thinks to herself:

Being a King was not all that different from being mayor in the Two Rivers. The mayor needed to be respected and liked. The Wisdom and the Women’s Circle could do the difficult tasks, such as punishing those who overstepped their bounds. The mayor, however, needed to be loved. That led to a civil and safe town.

Jordan, Sanderson, The Gathering Storm, pp. 497

The author of The Wheel of Time has earned a range of labels from fans and critics: equal rights advocate, racially-inclusive, feminist, sexist, misogynist. While many feel he has fallen short on LGBTQ representation, others note that significant characters demonstrate subtle signs of being in same-sex relationships. In other words, he infers the relationships without explaining them. However, the question remains whether Jordan’s representation of LGBTQ lives is balanced and accurate. He mentions more nuances in descriptions of women’s lives than in men’s. Jordan also depicts varying levels of depth in loving and loyal relationship structures that are outside the norms of our own traditions. He gives us a lot to think about.

Mental health is another overarching theme in The Wheel of Time. More than one character’s journey takes us through haunting experiences of guilt, PTSD, stress, identity-questioning, and trauma. Readers’ perceptions of Jordan’s characters can be very intense because he depicts moments that are both relatable and confounding. That is what makes the story so extraordinary. Personally, I think Jordan invites us to become aware of our own assumptions and biases, whether toward gender roles, responses to stress and trauma, or our courage to express our true desires and talents.

Besides these thought-provoking assumptions about gender roles and mental health, readers are also invited to ponder deep existential questions: What is the purpose of our essential self or soul? What is the nature of time? Upon death, do we wake from a dream or return to a dream? I’m not at all religious, but upon finishing the last book, A Memory of Light, I thought of a line from The Gospel of Mark (paraphrased with pronouns adjusted):

For what shall it profit a person, if they shall gain the whole world, but lose their soul?

Paraphrase of Gospel of Mark 8:36

Jordan also challenges us to think about the concept of truth. Characters make assumptions and decisions based on garbled rumors, selfish desires, age-old biases, incomplete information, and traditions that have lived out their purpose. As a reader, I keep wanting the characters to just ask each other a few more questions. The feeling of suspense is incredible, but the author’s intention is to draw our attention to these character traits. Jordan skillfully depicts realistic situations where characters make decisions based on half-formed theories and facts filtered through their narrowed perspectives.

Amazon Prime

The Wheel of Time is an engrossing story full of well-drawn characters, adventure, mystery, humor, ethical dilemmas, loving relationships, justice achieved and denied, and disturbing moments of cruelty. Of course, it is also a hero’s journey.

Amazon Prime has put the adaptation of The Wheel of Time in showrunner Rafe Judkins‘ capable hands. It is clear that Judkins intends to produce a quality adaption of Robert Jordan’s work.

A Few Important Characters

The first few chapters of The Eye of The World introduce us to important characters in the story. Egwene Al-Vere, Matrim Cauthon, Rand Al-Thor, Nynaeve al’Meara,  and Perrin Aybara, who live in Emond’s Field, a small village in a region named The Two Rivers on the edge of The Wetlands. Moiraine Damodred and al’Lan Mandragoran have arrived just in time for the spring festival, Bel Tine. Moraine is an Aes Sedai (a woman who was trained to use her ability to channel the One Power) and al’Lan is her Warder. 

The fourteen-book series later introduces additional significant characters. This epic has more than one hero. 

The Opening Pages

The story has a beginning in The Eye of The World, as Rand Al-Thor and his father Tam are on the road from their farm to Emond’s Field. Tam is bringing two small casks of his apple brandy and eight larger casks of apple cider to the Winespring Inn. Emond’s Field townsfolk are preparing for the spring holiday. A bonfire and a spring pole are being prepared.  Rand will soon meet up with his friends Matrim, Perrin, and Egwene. He will also encounter Nynaeve, who holds an influential position as Wisdom (wise woman and healer) of the village.

Rand’s arrow is nocked as he walks with the wagon and he watches for wolves and bears. The winter has been one of the harshest in memory. As he walks, he senses that he is being watched. He turns and sees that a black-cloaked figure on horseback, a stranger, is following them. 

The Author(s)

Robert Jordan is the pen name of James Oliver Rigney Jr. He was a Vietnam war veteran whose experiences are reflected in The Wheel of Time’s themes. He published the first volume of the Wheel of Time, The Eye of the World, in 1990.

Jordan built an ardent following as he continued to publish books in his series up until his death in 2007. Fans of The Wheel of Time were heartbroken at his death.

Soon after, Brandon Sanderson was asked to help complete the series based on Jordan’s extensive notes and some fully-written chapters. Sanderson is the co-author of The 12th, 13th, and 14th books of The Wheel of Time. He is also a popular and prolific author of several of his own books, notably in the Cosmere Universe.

Brandon Sanderson has done a masterful job at completing Robert Jordan’s series. When one reads The Wheel of Time, it is difficult to notice a change in style as Sanderson takes over. Besides having the help of Jordan’s notes and completed chapters, he also had the support and input of Jordan’s wife, Harriet. Of his work on The Wheel of Time, Sanderson famously said

”My job is not to save The Wheel of Time, to fix The Wheel of Time, or anything like that. My job is not to screw it up.”

Brandon Sanderson
Brandon Sanderson:

Symbols and References

There is so much lore, and there are so many images and symbols, associated with The Wheel of Time that I cannot mention them all here, and I don’t want to give away spoilers, so I will offer just a couple. The first is The Wheel of Time symbol used by Amazon Prime.

This image, the serpent woven through the wheel of time, is drawn from one of the many chapter icons in the books. The serpent is drawn in the familiar image of the ouroboros, a symbol of eternity and rebirth.

I’m also rather fond of the multicolored stole of the Amyrlin Seat. The symbol of the most powerful woman in The Wheel of Time world. The following is an artist’s rendering of an Amyrlin from ages past: Rashima Kerenmosa.

The Amyrlin Stole Inspired Wrap – Tribute to The Wheel of Time (2 meters long) by

Living in the Story

One of the joys of reading a great work of literature or watching a powerful film is the opportunity to discuss our impressions with other enthusiasts. The #TwitterofTime hashtag is often used by knowledgeable fans. A couple of months ago, the #TwitterofTime fandom held a survey and determined that #DragonSworn was another preferred name for the fandom. The Wheel of Time subreddit r/WoT and The Dusty Wheel, a popular The Wheel of Time YouTube channel, are also good resources to explore. The Wheel of Time fans are some of the most fun, welcoming, and respectful people I have encountered in fantasy fandoms, and most make an effort to avoid spoiling details for new readers.  

So won’t you join us? Look for The Eye of the World (the first volume of The Wheel of Time) at any online bookseller’s website or at your local independent bookstore.

Have strong thoughts about this piece you need to share? Or maybe there’s something else on your mind you’re wanting to talk about with fellow Fandomentals? Head on over to our Community server to join in the conversation!

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