Robert Jordan’s 14-book monolith of an epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, is being adapted into an Amazon Prime TV series that will almost certainly premiere in 2021. Jeff Bezos wants Amazon to have its own “Game of Thrones” — and he is sparing no expense. Based on some reliable speculation, it’s fair to estimate that the show’s budget could be around $10 million per episode, if not more. In the ranks of popular fantasy novel adaptations, that puts it above “The Witcher,” on par with the later seasons of “Game of Thrones” and not far behind Amazon’s other big TV bet, “The Lord of the Rings,” which is on track to be one of the most expensive television series ever produced.
Wheel of Time is a basket worth putting Bezos’s eggs in. It’s a book series that’s relatively inaccessible (due to its absurd length) yet widely adored, and it has a devoted fanbase that will help propel it into the mainstream. But where many fans see an opportunity for their beloved world to be rendered into reality and earn the cultural recognition it deserves, I see the possibility for a vastly different Wheel of Time. The TV adaptation is an opportunity to trim the worst of the novels and reframe the series as a psychological horror fantasy.
Despite being a fantasy megafan for as long as I can remember, I had never heard of Wheel of Time until adulthood. By then, every top-10-fantasy-novel list, BookTuber and internet starter-pack were collectively breathing down my neck to read it. I dutifully read all 14 books start-to-finish in hopes of opening my fantasy third eye. But instead of being enlightened, I came out feeling much more conflicted, my heart heavy with awe and disdain for the series’s highs and lows.
For the unfamiliar, Wheel of Time is a classic good versus evil story. Rand, Mat and Perrin live a simple life in Emond’s Field, a small village in the countryside. Moiraine Damodred, a member of an elite all-female group of magic users, comes to the village in search of a prophesied hero who she believes to be among the three boys. When Emond’s Field is attacked by a horde of monsters, Moiraine takes them on a journey away from home, a journey that preempts an epic endeavor to unite the world against the Dark One.
Despite the enticing premise, I found Wheel of Time to be an enormous slog. After reading, I learned that the most offensively dull stretch of the series has even been coined “the slog” by the fanbase, though I’d argue the majority of the books are a slog. Just about every storyline takes up more pages than it deserves.
Even by epic fantasy standards, there are far too many competing plotlines and characters that get juggled as the series goes on. (There are 2782 named characters!) There’s also a lot of material that didn’t sit well with me as a reader: an uncomfortably sympathetic lens on the Seanchan, a culture of slave owners and the accompanying problematic notion that their slaves “like being slaves.” Additionally, Perrin’s grossly dysfunctional relationship filled with men-writing-women moments, numerous scenes awkwardly contrived for readers to imagine female characters naked … The list goes on.
But beneath the obscene page count and often crippling flaws, I could also see what so many people fell in love with. The whimsical writing style, the genuinely holy-shit moments, the wondrous and complex world and cultures. The bones of Wheel of Time are worthy of a TV adaptation. So the question remains: How could a TV adaptation best bring out what makes Wheel of Time so unique?
Beyond letting half the plotlines and characters hit the chopping block, Wheel of Time can bring forward the novels’ assets that set it apart from other series. It has a truly beautiful high-fantasy world that is awe-inspiring to read about, that, when done justice on screen, would set it apart as visually striking. The series is full of so many heartfelt character moments that the cast could become one the most iconic and memorable in fantasy TV with the right changes. But the most unique factor could be leaning into an angle I am choosing to call fucked-up fantasy.
Wheel of Time is not wholly grimdark (no “Game of Thrones” here), but it does have a lot of freaky stuff. There are some frightening monsters (Shadowspawn), fanatical zealots (Whitecloaks) and conspiratorial cultists serving the Dark One (Darkfriends). You name it, Wheel of Time has it.
A core part of the series’ magic system is that a society of women have leveraged it to maintain power and influence, while men are cursed so that if they use the magic they are slowly driven to insanity.
There’s so much to lean into here. If the TV series sidelined a lot of the political alliance-building and battles with the Dark One’s henchmen and instead focused on its creepiest elements, Wheel of Time could be an exciting and unique adaptation for newcomers and long-time fans alike. The lightheartedness and joy in the characters and their interactions aren’t something to cut by any means.
In fact, it would make for a stark contrast to the fucked-up fantasy elements. Combine those with the books’ most exciting plotlines and a setting built with great attention to audiovisual detail, and Wheel of Time could be a winner on TV.
A lot is on the line for this series. If book fans feel it’s a poor representation of their beloved series, the TV show will lose its most valuable advocates. But if the TV series stays too close to its source material, I genuinely believe it won’t have any chance of captivating a TV audience. Focusing on what makes The Wheel of Time special is the show’s best bet at turning the classic book series into a compelling TV series.
Daily Arts Writer Dylan Yono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.