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Wheel of Time: A Retrospective

Friday, September 15th 2017

In 2011, I wrote about four of my favorite books that I thought would make great translations to the screen. Of the four, one has been done, and another should be airing soon. The Shannara Chronicles retold the story of The Elfstones of Shannara, probably my favorite of the Shannara books. Sadly, because it was an MTV series, it was targeted perhaps a bit too much to high schoolers. But given that I was in 8th grade when I first read and fell in love with the book, perhaps that's appropriate. The second one that's coming to the screen is Netflix's Altered Carbon, based on the book of the same name, which happens to be one of my favorite novels. A third is The Last of the Renshai, but I can't imagine that ever becoming a television series.

I'm here today to write about the fourth: The Wheel of Time. If you've never heard of this book series, let me give you a quick overview. The book series began with a 1990 book entitled The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. He continued writing the series, He released sequels nearly every year until the turn of the milennium. Each book topped out near 1000 pages, and they were all excellent. Well, the first six or so were excellent, seven and eight slowed down a good bit, and then the 9th was again very good. The series as a whole was amazing. Then, after writing the 11th book in 2005, Robert Jordan passed away, and fans of the world he'd created went berserk. But in 2009, author Brandon Sanderson picked up the series where Robert Jordan had left off, releasing the final three books in 2009, 2010, and 2013. I believe the final book was largely written by Robert Jordan himself. Any falling-off in the quality of the books which had happened in books 8, 10, and 11 completely disappeared once Sanderson took the helm.

While the story begins very small, and somewhat generically for fantasy fare: a boy on a farm, his village attacked by monsters forcing him to undertake an adventure and realize his greater distiny, its overall richness suddenly makes this seeming inadequacy irrelevant.

The way magic works is perhaps the most intricate and amazing aspect of the setting. All magic comes from the True Source, a force of nature. The One Power has two halves, represented by a ying yang, showing the male and female halves of the source. Females draw saidar and men draw saidin. However, centuries ago, an experiment to mine to the physical location of The Source accidentally released The Dark One. Humanity could not destroy him, but after a long war they managed to imprison him. However, his counterstroke tainted saidar, driving all men who channeled saidar insane. And an insane powerful magic user is a very bad thing. The men "broke the world". This is all history - it happens before the beginning of chapter one of the first book. Needless to say, men who can channel are a thing to be feared in this setting. Thus, all users of The One Power are female.

The enemy creatures created during The Dark One's reign are also unique and fascinating. The Trollocs are basically stupid brutish warriors, led by Myrdraal, who are deadly-quick dark warriors with no eyes on their faces. There are also the Grey Men, who are effectively invisible, the Draghkar, flying beasts whose song can ensorcel people, and the deadly unkillable Dark Hounds. To name a few.

In the first book, we learn about The Ways, magical pathways created in another time to enable peaceful and easy travel along beautiful elevated pathways. Walk for a half day and end up a month's travel away at another gate. But they've been corrupted. There is no longer any light within The Ways. Many of the bridges are crumbling. If you fall from the path, you are lost forever. And it's haunted by a horrible darkness named Machin Shin...

The setting has so so many more creative and unique aspects, from the anti-magic town of Far Madding, to the dream world of Tel'Aran'Rhiod, to the once-great city Shadar Logath, which was destroyed by an ancient evil named Mashadar.

Now that we live in a world where George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire is one of the best-received television shows in existence, it's my belief that we're primed for a Wheel of Time TV series. But only if it's done well. I'd rather have the series not be made than have it done badly. Wheel of Time is flat-out better than Song of Ice and Fire. But it needs the proper attention, casting, and direction in order to succeed. I don't want it to get the treatment that The Chronicles of Shannara, The Sword of Truth series, or The Dresden Files got. The TV series needs to adhere closely to the books, and needs to be well-directed. As of April 2016, it was announced that a TV series would be made, but given that this was a year and a half ago and nothing has been said in the interim, this may have fallen through. Again, I'd rather have it fall through than be badly made. I'm glad to wait until the year 2028 if that's what it takes.

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