“There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.”

— The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

So each novel in the storied Wheel of Time (WoT) series begins. Long a beloved franchise for high fantasy and science fiction readers, Robert Jordan’s WoT collection is a reading journey not to be taken lightly. After all, there are 14 books plus a prequel novella in the series (yeesh).

The Wheel of Time’s Source Material

On paper, WoT’s plot-line is remarkably similar to that of JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Four young friends from a rural town called the Two Rivers are forced to trust a magical outsider (in this case, Moiraine of the Aes Sedai) and her swordsman (Lan Mandragoran) as they set out on a years-long quest to defeat The Dark One and fulfill their varied and, what will eventually be historic, destinies.

The world Rand al’Thor, Mat Cauthon, Perrin Aybara, and Egwene al’Vere — the four adolescents in question — encounter, though, is both more fantastic and somehow strangely familiar to contemporary readers than Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Even with dozens of major characters and sub-plots, Jordan’s fictional setting seems real. It’s a world any one of us could step into at any point. And that’s precisely the appeal of the books.

Now a live-action adaptation streaming on Amazon Prime, The Wheel of Time is headed into its second season. For fans watching the television show and unfamiliar with Jordan’s novels (or those who just need a refresher), here’s a breakdown of how the WoT books came to be and where the show might be going in seasons to come.

Robert Jordan’s World

The Wheel of Time

Born in 1948 in Charleston, South Carolina, James Oliver Rigney, Jr. was an avid reader from the age of four. In the late 1960s, the author who would later go by the pseudonym Robert Jordan served as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam.

Although well-decorated for his service (he received a Distinguished Flying Cross, a Bronze Star, and the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross), Jordan clearly infused violence and a sense of wartime uncertainty into his stories. Instead of guns and bombs, Jordan’s world is filled with powerful elemental magic, terrifying animal-hybrid Trollocs, and faceless Myrddraal, the ‘generals’ of The Dark One’s army.

The Road to Literary Stardom

Jordan attended Clemson University, but dropped out a year later. He then enrolled in the nuclear engineering program at The Citadel, a public senior military college in his hometown. After a knee injury caused a near-fatal blood clot, Jordan turned to writing, a profession he found particularly promising after a bookstore manager told him that a popular romance writer had pulled in $3 million dollars on just two books.

In the early 1990s, Jordan began publishing what would become his most famous work(s): The Wheel of Time series. As of 2021, the franchise is still numbered as one of the best-selling novel series of all time at over 90 million copies sold. Jordan’s approach to his world-building most definitely drew from Tolkien and other classic fantasy authors but also melded a wide array of international traditions into a believable and highly complex cultural milieu.

The Wheel Stops Turning (Temporarily) After Jordan’s Death

In 2006, Jordan made it known to the public that he had cardiac amyloidosis, a rare blood disease. Although doctors gave him an estimated lifespan of four years (and Jordan expressed his determination to “prove them wrong” and live longer), Jordan passed away in September 2007, not long after his public reveal of the condition.

Jordan’s death, however, didn’t mean that his dedicated fan base wouldn’t get a conclusion to the WoT series. The many notes Jordan wrote while ill were intended for a future novelist who could take the nuts and bolts of Jordan’s story and put their own spin on its ending. The question remained though: who was this “future novelist” and would he actually be able to deliver on one of the most beloved fantasy series of all time?

Brandon Sanderson Enters The Picture

Just as Rand al’Thor’s true destiny was to become the Dragon Reborn, another fantasy author by the name of Brandon Sanderson would be the ‘chosen one’ to step into Jordan’s Ogier-sized shoes.

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Sanderson attended Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah as a biochemistry major. After serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (The LDS Church), Sanderson realized that writing was his true passion.

Switching his major to English, Sanderson worked nights as a hotel desk clerk and attended school full-time during the day. Several years later, his hard work eventually paid off. In 2005, the Tor Publishing Group (a familiar name to any hard-core high fantasy reader) released Sanderson’s debut novel Elantris. The rest is the stuff of legend.

Revitalizing (But Not Reinventing) The Wheel

By the time Sanderson was tapped as Jordan’s spiritual successor for the last three WoT books, he was already a touted fantasy author in his own right. Although he also built up a strong pedigree as a writer of science fiction and young adult novels, Sanderson’s Cosmere series, at least to fantasy fans, were his true masterpieces.

The worlds on which the books Mistborn, The Stormlight Archive, and White Sand take place drew readers into complex magic systems, highly relatable (and awesome) characters, and rich storytelling. The best part? They all existed within the same universe, aka the Cosmere.

According to Sanderson’s FAQ page, Harriet McDougal, Jordan’s widow, reviewed several well-known authors when picking a successor for her late husband’s legacy. She chose Sanderson “partially because of [his] novels, and partially because she had read [his] eulogy of Mr. Jordan and knew that [he] was a big fan and follower of the series.”

Picking up where Jordan left off in Knife of Dreams, Sanderson used Jordan’s framework to finish the final three books in the WoT series: The Gathering Storm, Towers of Midnight, and A Memory of Light.

What We May See (And Not See) In The Show

With 14 books to work from, Amazon Prime’s version of WoT certainly isn’t lacking for source material. The real question remains whether certain characters and sub-plots will get left out of the live-action series entirely or show up greatly changed from their penned versions.

Obviously, no show is going to be able to please 100% of its fans, particularly when adapting such a beloved fantasy work. However, there are a couple of events in the books that deserve a mention as potentially interesting (and divisive) on-screen storylines.

Rand’s Romantic Interests

As the main protagonist in a series with many protagonists, Rand al’Thor transforms from an awkward farm boy to the Dragon Reborn, a rare magic-wielding man with powers beyond almost everybody else. In the books, Jordan creates not one, not two, but THREE ongoing love affairs for Rand.

Perhaps surprisingly for fans of the TV show, Egwene is not one of these romantic interests. Although supposedly engaged to Rand in all but name while living in the Two Rivers, Egwene and Rand never move past the stage of close friendship, even though they certainly feel a little possessive of each other at times. Alas, their steamy sex scenes in Amazon Prime’s version most certainly are not included in the books.

Instead, Jordan creates a slow-burn romance for Rand with Elayne Trakand, Min Farshaw, and Aviendha of the Aiel, three great characters in their own right who, strangely and a little disturbingly, all agree to become Rand’s courtesans in some sort of weird imitation of Sister Wives.

After Jordan’s death, Sanderson smartly played down this plot line in the last three books. Judging how Amazon Prime has positioned Egwene as Rand’s adolescent sweetheart already, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to think Rand’s romantic adventures will unfold a bit differently on screen.

Tel’aran’rhiod: The Unseen World

One of the cooler abilities that Egwene and other Aes Sedai — a matriarchal society of witches who evoke comparisons to a sort of all-female Jedi Order — develop is the ability to enter Tel’aran’rhiod, a dreamscape that exists between the waking and sleeping world.

In Tel’aran’rhiod, characters can change their appearance both accidentally and at will (which leads to a couple of humorous outfit snafus, particularly for Nynaeve). Several critical plot points also occur in this land of dreams by both men and women able to mentally travel there. How big of a role Tel’aran’rhiod will play in the Amazon version — as well as how it will be portrayed on-screen — remains to be seen.

All The Aes Sedai… Of Which There Are Many

The Aes Sedai are an order of women who can channel the One Power and manipulate events for their own, usually mysterious, purposes. Although several of Jordan’s best characters are fully-fledged or in-training Aes Sedai, there’s a long stretch in the middle of the 14-book series that introduces a whole bunch of Aes Sedai witches that, quite frankly, are hard to keep track of without some sort of an encyclopedia.

It doesn’t seem feasible — or desirable — that Amazon Prime introduces this many Aes Sedai simply because Jordan wrote them a scene or two, but it would be nice to get the primary members of the White Tower in there, including Siuan Sanche and Elaida, a Red Ajah who usurps Egwene’s position as the Amyrlin Seat.

Nynaeve’s Power

Amazon Prime’s adaptation seems to be leaning into this storyline already, but highlighting Nynaeve, the slightly older Wisdom of the Two Rivers who ends up accompanying the four main characters to the White Tower, and her kick-ass abilities should stay a prominent part of the plot.

Not only does Nynaeve get what is arguably the best love story in the series (spoiler alert — she falls for Lan, Moiraine’s Warder, which causes all sorts of “braid pullings” and heart-wrenching decisions between love and duty), but she also rediscovers the long-lost power of healing Stilled Aes Sedai (those who have had their connection to the One Power forcibly stripped away). She also goes toe-to-toe with Rand, the most powerful of the male One Power wielders, more than a couple of times.

Mat as a Military Mastermind

Clearly, one of the most popular characters in the WoT universe, Mat Cauthon is a lovable scoundrel, a sort of Han Solo figure who relies on the lucky “dice in his head” to get into (and out of) sketchy situations. As the series progresses, though, it becomes clear that Mat has inherited memories of thousands of years worth of military strategies and battlefield tactics.

This gift makes Mat a key character, particularly as the war between the forces of good and evil ratchets up. Like Solo, Mat tends to reluctantly swoop in and save the day right when he’s needed and also comes up with ingenious ploys that earn him a group of dedicated followers called the Band of the Red Hand. Seeing Mat come into his own on-screen could be a powerful storyline indeed.

The Wheel Keeps Turning… Maybe?

If the length and number of WoT books are any indication, the Amazon Prime show still has a long way to go until the final inevitable confrontation between Rand and The Dark One.

Regardless of when and if we get to the story’s conclusion on the Amazon series, though, readers and non-readers alike can still enjoy The Wheel of Time for exactly what it is: a show about reluctant heroes, mysterious mentors, and an encroaching darkness that threatens to break the Wheel’s cycles forever.

Just don’t expect any quick resolutions.

3 Comments

  • Rogue bear
    Posted August 22, 2023 10:12 am 0Likes

    Really? You need to explain? For who? The dozens of fake fans who actually think this is Robert Jordan’s work. This series is the work of Hollywood elites who couldn’t write a fantasy series if their lives depended on it. Then they have audacity to say they improved it. By ruining beloved characters and destroying Jordan’s work. This is laughable.

    • tjericks
      Posted August 23, 2023 4:25 pm 0Likes

      You seem very triggered by this. How dare anyone enjoy it differently than you 🤣

    • ThheDuke
      Posted August 26, 2023 6:28 am 0Likes

      Yeah, I hear you. I couldn’t get past the first episode. Loved the books, they changed the show entirely too much for me. Honestly the books were never really going to be tv material, but changing enough to alienate a majority of the fans of the books seems like a recipe for disaster, however Amazon has enough money to plow forward even if it is not making a lot of money.

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