Where LotR was the fantasy foundation for, well, pretty much everything, Wheel of Time (WoT) can be seen as the major precursor to the sprawling epics of today (think what Game of Thrones should have been). I read the series multiple times, re-reading every book when a new one came out – fair to say it’s been formative in my understanding of fantasy literature.
WoT spans 13 (!!) novels, and close to 12,000 pages in paperback. It took 23 years to get it all out, and the main author (Robert Jordan) passed away before the final 3 novels could go out. Others have tried to emulate this structure (Sword of Truth is next up, which is a long post itself) with varying levels of success. The logistical nightmare of building something this large, with this many meaningful characters is astonishing. And to actually be able to finish the storyline with some level of quality is astounding. The most meaningful part of this series is the approach to magic use in fantasy settings – a setting of its time. Both men and women have access to magic, though the men have to pass through a taint in order to access that power – eventually rendering them mad. While I am certain there are plenty of ‘woke’ people who will see this as a bad setting, actually reading the books demonstrates a continuous level of grey at all levels. From that initial separation and frankly, stereotype, the world needs to find some balance. Rarely does it work out.
It’s certainly a filmable series, but the sheer size would make this closer to 600 episodes without some amazing writing and editing. Amazon has taken that bet. Amazon released the first 3 episodes of 8 for season 1 last week. New episodes every week until Christmas.
First 3 Episodes
I don’t think it’s possible to spoil a 20 year old story, but I guess there are people who don’t know King Kong loses in the end, or that the Titanic sinks.
The focus for these is really exposition, setting the stage for what comes. You meet the main characters of import – Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Moiraine, and Lan. There are quite a few others along the way, and generally if they have more than a few lines of dialogue, they will be important later on. You get a quick overview of what happened an age ago, see Two Rivers, the trolloc battle, Shadar Logoth and the tinkers.
The army of shadow is well done, with the faceless in particular quite ominous. Think of the orcish army from LotR, but on serious evil steroids. The character learn quickly enough that they have been quite sheltered and that life outside their town is much more complicated. The major factions are put into play in some fashion, and the episodes generally follows the flow of the first novel.
There are no sex changes here, which makes sense given that this concept is sort of fundamental to the story capacity. They are multi-cultural, which works out just fine in the short term. It will be interesting to see how the Seachan are approached in future seasons… but that’s a while to go still. The actors do a serviceable job, with rather apt representations of their novel versions. Rand and Mat are easy enough to run with… Perrin is going to be interesting to see develop. In the novels, he has continual self-doubt that defines his character for a very long time. I’m quite curious to see how the actual Forsaken are cast and played through – they tend to be written as exaggerations of character flaws, with centuries of experience to plan ahead.
Now, is it a great series, with amazing production values and tight writing? It is not. It lacks the discovery element of modern writing style (think the wonder of Harry Potter), a martial approach to pretty much everything (like GoT at the start), and the need to set up dozens of threads for future tugs. How many series are able to knock it out of the park in the first season?
Is it worth watching? I would certainly recommend it, and for two reasons. First, so that you can experience the foundation for modern fantasy stories. You may think it’s a trope now, but it probably became one because of this series of novels. Second, because we could all use more series in this genre where the characters and plot are aligned. For every Expanse or Handmaid’s Tale, we get a Red Notice, or Warrior Nun.
I’ll have a fulsome review once all 8 episodes are out.