Last year Amazon announced a new fantasy show that was anticipated to rival Game of Thrones. Many fans of George R. R. Martin’s work scoffed at the idea that any series could come close to reaching the popularity of the series. It singlehandedly brought fantasy adventure into pop culture consciousness and became HBO’s biggest hit ever. But before there was Game of Thrones, there was The Wheel of Time written by Robert Jordan. Those ignorant of fantasy novels will have a hard time understanding the impact Jordan had on the genre. Spanning 14 books – with a whopping 11,000+ pages – The Wheel of Time dominated book sales, with over 90 million copies sold (and still counting).
I first read The Wheel of Time when I was thirteen years old. My older brother had left me his entire library of sci-fi/fantasy books when he moved to Boston for undergrad. I pulled The Eye of the World (the first book in the series) down from my bedroom shelf because I wanted a new adventure – plus, I liked the cover. Little did I know that I was taking my first step into a fantasy world that would consume my time for the next thirty years. Unlike other dense fantasy material, The Eye of the World was a page turner. I stayed up reading late into the night, falling asleep in bed with the book next to my pillow, just to resume where I left off at the breakfast table while slurping down my Cheerios.
Once the first book was conquered, I made a trip to the local bookstore and picked up the next two novels in the series: The Great Hunt and The Dragon Reborn. I was left in despair when I realized…that was it. I flipped to the final pages of book three where an advertisement for The Shadow Rising teased its release – over a year away! This pattern would repeat over and over again for the next ten years until I abandoned the series out of frustration. Only to pick it up again a few years ago after learning from another rabid fan that the series was completed in 2013.
Song of Ice & Fire fans will understand my elation in learning that a once beloved series was wrapped up. Returning to The Wheel of Time was like being reunited with an old friend. And even though the final three books were finished by a different author (Brian Sanderson wrote the novels based on detailed notes left to him by Robert Jordan before his death in 2007) I can confidently say it is a fitting end to a grand adventure.
Now that I have proven my nerd bona fides, why should the casual viewer be interested in The Wheel of Time? The scope of the world, for one; spanning multiple continents and cultures, the heroes and villains of WOT are a multicultural bunch. Jordan was influenced by European and Asian mythologies, he pulled from Hinduism, Buddhism as well as Abrahamic & Islamic elements, weaving a beautiful tapestry rich with depth and metaphor. His world feels lived in and ancient. Yet he didn’t let the grandness of his creation get in the way of the personal relationships and character growth, the melodrama that allows the viewer to connect with the heroes.
The stars of the series are not superhuman elves & wizards, they are flesh and blood. Even as they wield extraordinary powers, they still fall in love, bicker, betray each other, and make foolish mistakes. There is also magic in this world, but Jordan added a fun twist: only women can wield magic. Magic, or The One Power, is split into the female half and the male half. The male half was tainted thousands of years ago when The Dark One was locked into his prison. Now if a man wields this power, he will go insane and die. Women are the most powerful people on the planet. And men who use magic are hunted down and killed.
Which is why I was excited and, at the same time, a little nervous when I heard Amazon had green lit a TV series based on the novels. How could any television show capture the hundreds of characters, the multiple continents and cultures that Jordan crammed into his work? My nerves shifted to relief when I heard Rafe Judkins was hired as the showrunner. Judkin’s credits include Chuck & Marvel’s Agents of Shield so I knew he had some pedigree. I spoke with Rafe about the challenges of tackling such a popular and beloved series and how he was able to condense tens of thousands of pages into an entertaining, concise and cohesive story for the screen. Watch our interview below.
Wheel of Time is airing new episode weekly on Amazon Prime.