“Bring me the new Game of Thrones!” This was the message, more or less, that Amazon boss Jeff Bezos handed down to his minions in 2017 as George RR Martin’s bloodthirsty fantasy saga dominated the ratings, the news cycle and social medial.
Amazon was at the time trying to establish its Prime Video service as a quality rival to Netflix, and also to the HBO network which in the US had steamrolled over TV with Game of Thrones. But Prime Video was limping along with niche quasi-hits such as the Marvellous Mrs Maisel. Bezos wanted something bigger.
Four years later, big is certainly the word for the Wheel of Time. With a cast headed by Rosamund Pike, Amazon’s $100 million adaptation of the Robert Jordan fantasy novels is set to be the heavyweight television blockbuster of the season. And it looks certain to create a Thrones-sized splash.
But for those unfamiliar with the series – and the source material – what is the appeal? Grab your braids, and hold on to your huge flaming sword – as we bring you the beginner’s guide to The Wheel of Time.
1: Wheel of Time influenced Game of Thrones
When sometime theatre critic and former Vietnam helicopter gunner Robert Jordan started writing Wheel of Time in the mid-1980s, epic fantasy was dominated by just one book. That book was, of course, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. And because LotR had been published as a trilogy, received wisdom was that fantasy sagas had to be in three parts.
Jordan thought differently, however, and persuaded his publishers, Tor, to allow him weave a sprawling tale over multiple volumes. This, in turn, inspired George RR Martin when writing the (as yet uncompleted) A Song Of Ice and Fire.
“[Wheel of Time] really made my series possible,” said Martin. “Jordan essentially broke the trilogy template that Tolkien helped set up. He showed us how to do a book that’s bigger than a trilogy. I don’t think my series would’ve been possible without the Wheel of Time being as successful as it was. I’ve always wanted to sprawl, and Jordan, to a great extent, made that possible with his series.”
2: But the Wheel of Time Is Closer in Spirit to Lord of Rings than Thrones
The first Wheel of Time novel, the Eye of the World, unfolds as an enjoyable cover version of the Lord of the Rings. Its heroes are a group of rural youngsters who find themselves pursued by terrifying monsters serving “The Dark One”.
They are soon fleeing their bucolic home, a hooded villain on a black horse on their tail. Along the way there are adventures and meetings with new enemies and allies. And lighting the path is an enigmatic magic-user and their ranger-like sidekick. Far from a Middle Earth rip-off, though, this was a conscious strategy by Jordan and his publishers to draw fantasy fans into his vast tale.
The idea was that by giving them a grand adventure with which they will have been familiar from Tolkien they would be reeled in. It worked, with the Wheel of Time going on to sell 90 million copies.
3: The story is simple but sprawling
As the tale beings, magic is a mysterious force in the world – and one which only women can safely wield. Every so often a man is born with the ability to channel the “One Power”. However, they inevitably go mad and start destroying everything around them. And yet there is a prophecy that one day the “Dragon Reborn” will return: a man with the ability to channel. And that they can defeat the Satan/Sauron-esque Dark One at a final battle.
There are constant rumours that the messiah figure has returned – yet these “false Dragons” never amount to much. And they are always made impotent by the Aei Sedai – an order of female magicians who are vigilant about the possibility of a male with magical gifts devastating the world (as has happened once already).
But now there are reasons to believe that the Dragon Reborn has appeared in the tiny village of Emond’s Field. In the books the potential Dragon is narrowed down to three farmhands: Rand, Mat and Perrin. In the series, however, it is explained that a woman could be the Dragon too. And so villagers Egwene and Nynaeve are identified as potential Dragons Reborn as well. With the Dark One sending his minions, our wide-eyed heroes are rescued by an Aes Sedai warrior-wizard, Moiraine (Pike), and her “warder” Lan. Cue: a tale of high adventure and continent-spanning intrigue.
4: A Wheel of Time adaptation has been touted for years
When Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films set the box office ablaze, there was a stampede to bring other beloved fantasy properties to the screen. There followed unsuccessful adaptations of Christopher Paolini’s Eragon and of the Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass. Wheel of Time was lined up for a Hollywood retelling too – though the plans were ultimately abandoned as it was realised this would involve shrinking 14 novels down to just a few hours of cinema.
5: The Wheel of Time world is a complicated and vast as that of Game of Thrones
Tonally, WoT and GoT inhabit different universes. There is some violence and sex in Jordan’s novels – but he glosses over it rather than luxuriates in it as George RR Martin so often does. Yet the Wheel of Times contains as many moving parts as Westeros.
Wisely Amazon has incorporated some of those machinations, as the various