Rajiv Moté is Dragonmount's book blogger with a lens on the craft of fiction writing. When he's not managing software engineers, he writes fiction of his own, which can be found cataloged at his website. The Disney+ show WandaVision just ended, and I’m coming down from a high. It’s not that the Marvel Studios program paid off its every promise--the high had little to do with the ending at all. WandaVision set up a model of intense engagement that reminded me of some of my favorite stories, including The Wheel of Time. I watched, re-watched, theorized, discussed, dissected, and thoroughly immersed myself in WandaVision. There are a few story similarities with Robert Jordan’s epic--a history that spans centuries, pocket realities, glimmers of a multiverse, witches with a prejudice against Wilders--but there’s a recipe both tales have in common that fires all my taste buds and draws me in completely, always chasing that next bite. It goes without saying that a good story, with characters I care about, are prerequisites. But I watched each new episode of WandaVision the way I read each new volume of The Wheel of Time--by revisiting previous installments, asking questions, and speculating what those answers would be. For both I found a community of the like-minded to go deep, to challenge the story and each other. When you do it alone, it’s an obsession; when an entire community does it, it’s a fandom. But what is the recipe that elicits this behavior? Mysteries and Prophecies WandaVision started with the question “why did they make a show with two superheroes starring in a Dick Van Dyke/Bewitched remake?” Each episode added layers, until Agent Jimmy Woo helpfully started listing the pertinent questions on a whiteboard. He hung a lampshade on the show as a puzzle box. We should be asking these questions. The show promised answers. I remember reading the “Dragonmount” prologue in The Eye of the World with the same off-kilter sense of being dropped into something unexpected. It was the aftermath of a cataclysmic war, with a hero taken by madness and a tooth-gnashing villain. They slung around titles and names without explanation, mentioned artifacts like the Ring of Tamyrlin, and then declared that no matter who lived and who died, their battle would rage on until the end of time. It was a lot. Then we got an excerpt from a history, or a prophecy, before we found ourselves in, if not quite the Shire, then a place with enough similarities that we could ground ourselves. Slowly, we found out how Lews Therin Telamon and Elan Morin Tedronai connected to this story, and what it meant for their fight to continue until the end of time. Questions led to answers, that led to more questions. The Wheel of Time hung its own lampshades using symbolic prophecies, dreams, visions, and foretellings. They were promises about the story. Figuring out how they would be fulfilled (or whether they had already been fulfilled) became an intellectual game to play between books. Replay Value In WandaVision, there was an episode that stepped out of the show-within-the-show where it started, to focus on the characters trying to understand the inner show. We watched them react to the scenes we’d already seen, recontextualizing them and inviting us to go back and watch again with our new knowledge. Later, there was an episode that revealed someone pulling strings behind the scenes. Then, yet another episode took us through the parts of the main character’s backstory that informed the show-within-the-show (and its commercials). We saw previous episodes--and even earlier movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe--in new ways. (Avengers: Age of Ultron and Doctor Strange both became more interesting in light of WandaVision.) Some of us even wondered if movies outside of Marvel Studios were being recontextualized. I started reading The Wheel of Time when the fourth book, The Shadow Rising, came out. Thereafter, I reread the series before each new book’s release. Robert Jordan rewarded the rereading. He used third-person limited, and confined the early chapters to the perspective of the hicks from the Two Rivers, so what we learned about the world through their eyes was usually wrong, especially when they encountered new cultures, complicated politics, or the metaphysical underpinnings of reality. We realized that Aes Sedai, under their outward serenity, were as uncertain and desperate as everyone else, and not at all monolithic in their motives. We learned that nine of ten parts of folk wisdom about the Dragon, the One Power, and the Forsaken were myth and superstition, and that the nature of the so-called Last Battle was not what we’d believed. And rereading uncovered so much foreshadowing in the most innocuous passages, a reassurance that this story was carefully planned, and paying attention would be rewarded. A Rich Story World What makes this continual recontextualization work, of course, is having a rich and detailed world for the story. WandaVision had the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as the decades of comic books and even a different movie studio’s franchise to draw from. Sometimes that knowledge was a benefit (like knowing who the comic book characters Agatha Harkness and Monica Rambeau were), and sometimes that knowledge led down false paths (the astrophysics engineer and Evan Peters). But it created a “scholarly” space to answer the questions raised by the show, and to understand the meaning of the many details. There was satisfaction in guessing right. And sometimes disgruntlement in being wrong. Fans of The Wheel of Time are no strangers to a rich story world. While it’s possible to spot inconsistencies, strange one-offs, and missed opportunities, for the most part the Wheel’s cosmology is coherent and even predictive--a hallmark of solid construction. If a technology exists in one place, like a foxhead medallion or an Ogier stedding, it’s likely to be found elsewhere, like a gholam or the city of Far Madding. If there’s a discrepancy in details, like Aes Sedai achieving an ageless look from using the One Power, but not Wise Ones, Windfinders, or damane, there’s probably a discoverable explanation, like the use of the Oath Rod. Healing weaves can be modified to do harm, and Pattern-destroying balefire suggests a Pattern-strengthening Flame of Tar Valon. A trip backwards through the generations of Aiel history not only helps to understand their culture, but the Tuatha’an, the Green Man, the Whitecloaks, Warder cloaks, and even Lanfear’s role in freeing the Dark One. (But yes, I felt miffed that Adeleas’s murderer was not the one who flinched when someone mentioned that a woman could not be brought into a circle against her will, because the Black Ajah know about involuntary rings, after all...) The Wheel of Time lends itself to scholarship--and the wistful sense that if we could apply this much brain power to things that pay the bills, we’d be much better off. Refractory Periods WandaVision released on a weekly cadence. It was not amenable to binge watching, especially for people who wanted to avoid spoilers online. Marvel Studios was excellent about locking down leaks about the show before it aired, which meant that I had a week to think about the latest episode, and speculate about its cliffhangers and mysteries. It turns out that having that time to think is immensely enjoyable and intellectually engaging. Deciphering mysteries, reviewing recontextualized episodes, and the scholarly mining of a rich story world makes engaging with the story an active pursuit, where binge-watching is passive consumption. Given this time, I became a participant in the storytelling, not just a recipient of it. I began writing blog posts to refine my latest theories, and regularly engaged with friends (something I’m normally bad at) to theorize and discuss the pressing matters of the latest episode. It was joyful, and it only happened because I had time between each installment. The pause between books in The Wheel of Time was much longer than a week, and afforded a similar pleasure. Back then, I found like-minded folks on Usenet, and an old friend and I, who had moved to separate cities, carried on an old-fashioned correspondence about The Wheel of Time. When the last few books came out, we booked hotel rooms between our cities, left our families at home, and went on retreats together, reading a chapter, discussing, and then reading the next. It became a pursuit both intellectual and social, and remains among my fondest memories. I’m convinced that a story world can appear to be far richer than it actually is, given a dedicated fandom and time. The Star Wars saga built a galaxy by dropping casual mention of events, places, and characters that became fodder for head-canon and volumes of fan fiction, both paid and unpaid. It’s hard to find a corner of the Star Wars universe that hasn’t been thoroughly explored, and even the nonsensical-sounding “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs” found a canonical explanation. A few details go a long way for pattern-hungry brains. Sticking the Landing Inevitably, a story--by definition--comes to an end. Well, this isn’t strictly true for comic books and franchises, but as we know from The Wheel of Time, if it isn’t the ending, then there must be an ending. “Sticking the landing” is a matter of paying off the level of engagement the work elicited. Attention and engagement is currency on credit, and the ending is when the bill comes due. The work doesn’t need to validate every wild theory, but it needs to emphasize which details were important, and how they came together for a surprising-yet-inevitable conclusion. An ending works in competition with each fan’s head-canon. Did WandaVision’s series finale stick the landing? A Memory of Light? The answers will vary, and may even change with time. Both are topics beyond the scope of this discussion, because if anything, the recipe for joyfully obsessive engagement truly is about the journey. I occasionally write fiction, and though my current discretionary time means it’s short stories, my daydream is to someday write a world that could give readers the sort of joy The Wheel of Time gave me. It’s instructive to draw parallels with other properties that have sparked similar joy, be they epic fantasy series, long-form television shows, movie or comic book franchises, or computer games. It starts with the story, but by no means ends there. The world building must imply so much more beyond the scope of the story. There should be secrets that have a payoff if uncovered by intrepid fan-sleuths. New information should recontextualize what came before. If possible, it should be doled out in doses, feeding the fans without sating them. Create something that’s the fodder for endless daydreams, something that lives on after the last page is turned, or the credits roll.
Adam Whitehead is Dragonmount's TV blogger. Adam has been writing about film and television, The Wheel of Time, and other genre fiction for over fifteen years, and was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2020. Be sure to check out his websites, The Wertzone and Atlas of Ice and Fire (including The Wheel of Time Atlas!) as well as his Patreon. At some point in the hopefully-not-too-distant future, Amazon Prime’s Wheel of Time TV series is going to hit the airwaves, and the question arises on how are they going to get the show before as many eyeballs as possible? The current television market is glutted with more network, streaming and cable shows than ever before. More than five hundred scripted series – that’s not episodes, that’s series – will air in the United States alone in 2021, and that’s not counting English-language shows from Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and elsewhere. Getting eyeballs on the show is going to be essential to ensure it survives, but that’s harder than it ever has been before. Fortunately, The Wheel of Time has some help. Almost 100 million copies of the books have been sold worldwide since 1990. The Wheel of Time is one of the highest-profile and best-known fantasy series in the world, with a vast, international fanbase. Fans have already been talking excitedly about the series for around eighteen months, ever since the first casting and production information began to trickle out, and various Wheel of Time-related phrases and hashtags have been trending on social media. Multiple, high-profile booktubers have been discussing the adaptation for over a year, and high-profile geek websites like Tor.com and io9 have been spreading news as it breaks. Like Game of Thrones before it, Wheel of Time benefits from a passionate fanbase keen to spread the word of the TV show before it even airs, with the bonus that Wheel of Time has a much larger reader base than the Song of Ice and Fire novels had in 2011. But for the show to be a hit, it has to reach out beyond the core fanbase. Some of the high-profile casting will help. Rosamund Pike (Moiraine) has had a long career in hit films from Die Another Day through Pride & Prejudice, Jack Reacher and The World’s End, through to her massive hit role in Gone Girl (which garnered her an Oscar nomination), and she has plenty of fans willing to check out any project she’s involved in. Rosamund's profile has risen even higher thanks to her Best Actress (Musical/Comedy) win at the Golden Globes last weekend for I Care a Lot. Daniel Henney (Lan) likewise has a keen international fanbase of his work in both American and South Korean cinema and television, particularly his popular stint on Criminal Minds, whilst Maria Doyle Kennedy (Ila) has a strong fanbase from her work in The Commitments, The Tudors, Outlander and Orphan Black, as well as her singing career (among many other projects). The high-profile end of the casting will certainly draw eyes onto the project. Álvaro Morte (Logain) also has a strong following from his work, and recently spoke about his role. Amazon’s relatively small slate of original programming, at least compared to competitor Netflix, will also help with this: Amazon can afford to put more resources into marketing the show and making people aware it’s on its way, rather than risk the show getting lost in a morass of other shows coming out at the same time. For a long time, it looked like Amazon was lagging a little in the streaming race with Netflix, but recent breakout hits like The Boys and the hugely increased viewership and awareness of The Expanse after it moved over to Amazon have shown it can now produce great shows with large audiences. One question we’ve touched on before is whether the show will launch weekly or all at once. Given Amazon’s move to a weekly release schedule for many of their original shows, I think it’s probably more likely than not that Wheel of Time will hit the airwaves one episode at a time, possibly after the first two or three episodes are released at once. That will give The Wheel of Time more than a month of having people talking about a new episode every week, that will hopefully get people excited and willing to watch more. Amazon has already, of course, started drip-feeding us some marketing already, with a short look at the Winespring Inn, a look at the show’s swords, a tease of an infamous dagger and a brief glimpse at Thom’s new musical instrument, as well as unveiling some impressive concept art. At the moment these sneak peeks are aimed more at book-readers than a general audience, but that will change. I suspect a short teaser of some kind will be aired first, maybe 3-6 months out from airing, with a longer and more substantive trailer a few weeks out from transmission. These trailers will have to nail what makes The Wheel of Time different from other fantasy projects like Game of Thrones or The Witcher, or Amazon’s own upcoming Lord of the Rings show, so I’d suspect some display of the One Power in full force and a focus on Rosamund Pike’s star power as Moiraine (especially since early blurbs suggest the show will re-focus on Moiraine as a protagonist to keep the identity of the Dragon Reborn more in question than it is in the books). What will be interesting is if some kind of supporting website is launched as well. The world of The Wheel of Time is complex, with fourteen distinct nations in the Westlands alone, numerous competing factions and a detailed backstory unfolding over almost 3,500 years. Existing references are heavy on spoilers for the books, so a TV-specific website with maps, histories and descriptions of factions like the Aes Sedai, Tuatha’an, Aiel and Children of the Light could be a great reference, especially if it’s only updated to the latest episode to avoid spoilers. It’s also likely we’ll get some kind of aftershow to discuss the latest episode in detail with guest stars and comparisons to the books. There’s certainly plenty of Wheel of Time talent out there knowledgeable enough to make such a show engaging. There may also be featurettes and documentaries expanding on what happened behind the scenes on the making of the show. There’s also merchandising to consider. We’ll likely see The Eye of the World at least – if not the entire series – reissued with a TV tie-in cover, and we already know that Valyrian Steel are working on replica swords based on the TV designs. We’ll also probably see the soundtrack released commercially. More detailed merchandising – statues, action figures, a pop-up guide book to Tar Valon, and, of course, the inevitable Narg’s Cooking Masterclass cookbook – may wait on people seeing how successful the first season has been. One thing that is for sure is that when Amazon decide on a release date for the show, they’ll make sure as many people as possible know about it. As usual, hit us up in the comments with your thoughts and keep an eye on the Wheel of Time TV News page here on Dragonmount.
It's #WoTWednesday and @WoTonPrime didn't disappoint. A new video released today showed us our first look at Mat's ruby-hilted dagger. Here's the clip: The script says: "He moves toward it, blowing dust away. The iron is rusted and decayed, and CRACKS away as he OPENS the case -- -- and inside, he sees something protected from the ravages of time -- A RUBY-ENCRUSTED DAGGER. It must be worth more than anything he's seen before. He picks it up, looks at it, and then --" Here's an image of the dagger from the clip: Jason Denzel posted some commentary on Twitter, outlining the differences between the description in the book, as well as the chapter icon featuring the dagger. We can see some changes in the designs. This is the Museum Replica, approved by Robert Jordan: And the chapter icon looks very similar: Jason's arguments for the changed position of the ruby make logical sense. The thing that gave me chills was the voice of Barney Harris--who plays Mat Cauthon--saying "Alright, let's make a deal." Who is he talking to? Mordeth? If so, he doesn't sound scared. Also, it seems the dagger isn't in the treasure room as it was in the books, and it wasn't grabbed almost by accident when Mordeth blows up. Mat taking the dagger here is more calculated and intentional. And what type of deal is he trying to make? Is he willing to give up something in exchange for the dagger? Does he know the dangers that come from it in this turning of the Wheel? I think I speak for a large portion of the fandom when I say how much Mat grows on the reader. Hearing his voice makes the television show so much more real to me. I will die on the hill of worshiping Daniel Henney--I'm a Lan girl, through and through--but Barney Harris is an incredibly close second. How do you anticipate Mat's taking the dagger will change events of the story? If he knows the cost of the dagger, would he still take it? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Adam Whitehead is Dragonmount's TV blogger. Adam has been writing about film and television, The Wheel of Time, and other genre fiction for over fifteen years, and was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Fan Writer in 2020. Be sure to check out his websites, The Wertzone and Atlas of Ice and Fire (including The Wheel of Time Atlas!) as well as his Patreon. Welcome to 2021, the year that, all things being equal, we should see the Wheel of Time TV series finally hit our screens. It’s been a long road, both in terms of the thirty-one years the series has been in print and the sixteen months that have passed since shooting of the first season began on location in the Czech Republic and Slovenia. As transmission draws nearer, Rafe Judkins and the Wheel of Time publicity team have started teasing images and videos from the series, such as the show’s version of a heron-marked blade and Thom Merrilin’s musical instruments. These have been useful for showing the series’ production values and also hinting at creative decisions that are being taken which will mean things are different to the books. Differences between books and their screen adaptations are of course nothing new, often driven by a combination of budgetary restraints, time pressure and maybe the TV scriptwriters spotting good story changes that the original novel writer may have done themselves if they’d had the luxury of writing the entire story before publishing it (as George R.R. Martin has recently said, “Five Kingdoms” sounds as good as seven, and would be a lot less work). In some cases, some of the biggest changes from book to screen have been carried out or approved by the original novel author themselves: J.K. Rowling signed off on all the Harry Potter movie scripts and Frank Herbert approved of the idea of the “weirding module” sound weapons for David Lynch’s version of Dune, when Lynch rejected the original novel’s hyper-fast kung fu as being too difficult to realise with 1984 technology. Such changes can take place even in very faithful adaptations: Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is, by normal movie standards, very close to Tolkien’s novel, but fans to this day debate the merits of changes such as removing Tom Bombadil and the Scouring of the Shire, having Legolas shield-surf into combat, over-using the Army of the Dead or having Aragorn randomly knocked off a cliff by a warg. Game of Thrones started off extremely faithfully to George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels, but even in those early days fans still questioned the lack of violet eyes for the Targaryens, not showing a major battle sequence or casting a short actor as the supposedly-towering King Robert Baratheon. The Wheel of Time finds itself in a difficult position in that it is entirely possible that the series will have less time than Game of Thrones to tell a story almost twice as long (so far). The Wheel of Time tops out at fourteen volumes (not counting the prequel) totalling almost four and a half million words, compared to A Song of Ice and Fire’s projected seven volumes and around two and a half million words. The Wheel of Time’s first two seasons are expected to come in at eight episodes apiece (as compared to Game of Thrones’ first six seasons of ten episodes apiece). With the show unlikely to last more than Game of Thrones’ eight seasons, that means Wheel of Time will almost certainly come in with a fair few less hours to tell a much longer story. And yes, The Wheel of Time has a lot of descriptive passages which can be skipped over with simple visuals, but that’s not going to be enough to make up such a huge difference. That means changes, and compression and a substantial number of changes are coming to the story we all know and love. Some of these changes will likely be widely well-received – it’s a rare Wheel of Time fan who won’t admit to some subplot or tertiary character that doesn’t feel totally necessary to the story’s narrative, or eagerly asking for more scenes of Faile as a captive of the Shaido – and others will be more controversial. In a recent Q&A, Rafe Judkins addressed the issue of changes. He notes there are no 100% original-to-the-show characters, but some book characters and character names may have been repurposed, and some characters combined so one character is now doing the role of three or four smaller roles. He also noted that in some cases, extras or background roles may not speak or be identified in dialogue, but will nevertheless be based on character descriptions from the novels. Rafe also notes the perennial weakness of book-to-screen adaptations. In novels we can spend time inside characters’ heads and hear their thoughts and learn their motivations. On screen we can’t. The few times that shows or movies have tried doing this, it hasn’t really worked: the awkward voiceovers to describe character thoughts in David Lynch’s Dune comes to mind. As a result character motivations now have to emerge naturalistically through action and dialogue, and that can often be difficult and more time-achieving to show. Changes in the show also have a vetting committee of sorts, starting with Rafe himself and creative consultant/superfan Sarah Nakamura and then going to Brandon Sanderson (who completed the Wheel of Time books after Robert Jordan’s sad passing), Harriet McDougal (Jordan’s widow and editor) and Maria Simons (one of Jordan and Sanderson’s assistants and researchers). This won’t stop major changes being made where necessary, but will ensure that each change has at least been stress-tested by a number of book experts to see if they are at least in the spirit of Robert Jordan’s writing. There are several key changes likely for the first season. The first is that major characters who make their first appearance in The Eye of the World but then do not return for a long time, will not appear in the first season for simple practical reasons. The season already has an enormous cast with the characters who play a major role and adding in other characters who only appear for one scene and then don’t show up again for two or three seasons would risk being confusing as well as dangerous, since the actors might get other gigs in the meantime and not be available when they need to come back (this problem blighted Game of Thrones repeatedly, resulting in two actors playing Lord Beric and three playing the Mountain). Fans seem already resigned to key characters like Queen Morgase, Gawyn and Galad, and possibly Elayne, not appearing in Season 1 (although it is still possible some more roles will be announced), and other characters such as Elaida, Elyas and Mordeth have not been confirmed yet either. Another problem that epic fantasy often has is the travelogue aspect. Fantasy novels often have characters travelling from place to place to have adventures, rather than staying put in one location. This is great for a novel but bad for television, which likes to have a relatively small number of regular standing sets the characters can be based around. Game of Thrones was lucky with the source material which often established bases of operations for characters, such as the Red Keep in King’s Landing, the northern court at Winterfell, the Night’s Watch stronghold of Castle Black and the various cities Daenerys conquers in the distant east. Wheel of Time does not do this for a long, long time. Eventually the story settles down and the royal palaces in Caemlyn and Cairhien, the White Tower in Tar Valon, the Stone of Tear and various inns in Ebou Dar become such bases, but not for a long time. Filming a travelogue is very expensive and challenging even for big-budget films. The Eye of the World is a constantly-moving travelogue which moves from the Two Rivers to Taren Ferry, Baerlon, Shadar Logoth, Whitebridge, Caralain Grass, Arien, Four Kings, Breen’s Spring, Market Sheeran, Carysford, Caemlyn, Fal Dara, the ruins of the Seven Towers, the Eye of the World and Tarwin’s Gap. The TV show sounds like it will be adding scenes set in Tar Valon as well. Rafe has indicated that not all these locations will appear on screen, necessitating some changes to the story. The cost of building an elaborate, expensive outdoor set which is going to be used for a single ten-minute on-screen sequence may not be worth it when you can set those scenes elsewhere at a cheaper cost. Rafe’s answer to this does seem to add fuel to the widespread rumours that Baerlon will not appear in the first season, and that we will be meeting Min and the Whitecloaks (who have been cast) elsewhere, as an example of a practical change that may be unavoidable but will no doubt have some fans declaring the story to be “ruined forever” before seeing a single second of footage. Other changes will come from casting. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins is 50 years old and a mature Hobbit by the time the adventure starts, but Elijah Wood was only 18 when he was cast in the role. Hardcore fans complained about the casting, but Wood’s performance was later widely praised and is now considered iconic by many people. In Game of Thrones, the writers and casting producers realised that casting thirty-somethings for the roles of fathers and family men didn’t look quite right by our modern sensibilities and thus aged up characters like Robert Baratheon, Catelyn Stark and Eddard Stark to their late forties or early fifties, and this was widely accepted. For The Wheel of Time, the producers decided that Alexandre Willaume was the best actor they’d seen for the role of Thom Merrilin, even if he was around twenty years younger than Thom in the books. Casting an actual sixty or seventy-something for the role of Thom was unlikely to happen given the vigours of long-term, location filming. It also seems to have influenced the decision to change Thom’s instrument of choice. A harp is a large and unwieldy instrument to be lugging around a continent, and reducing the instrument to a half-sized harp or even a lyre may have felt a bit demeaning given Thom’s exacting standards. Switching to a guitar had several advantages, since it was more portable, better hinted at the setting’s more modern aesthetics (The Wheel of Time looks like a medieval fantasy, but more accurately is a 17th Century-style setting, lacking gunpowder) and it allowed Alexandre Willaume, who is a professional guitarist (even booking his guitar its own seat on the plane to the start of filming), to play the instrument live on set. These advantages were weighed as being more worthwhile than sticking to book accuracy. There is of course a sliding slope when it comes to such decisions. Terry Pratchett fans are very unhappy with The Watch, a TV adaptation of the Discworld novels that has abandoned event the vaguest pretence of adapting the novels faithfully in favour of creating an original story with almost no influences, characters or settings from the book even present. Many adaptations have suffered death from a thousand cuts, where small changes for good-intentioned reasoning has led to massive shifts over time that made people wonder why the writers even bothered adapting the story in the first place. These are valid concerns but, so far, it appears that Rafe Judkins and his team have made changes and choices for the best. We can – hopefully – judge how successful they’ve been later this year. As usual, let us know what you think and stay up to date with the latest news right here at Dragonmount.
Rajiv Moté is Dragonmount's book blogger with a lens on the craft of fiction writing. When he's not managing software engineers, he writes fiction of his own, which can be found cataloged at his website. First time readers of The Wheel of Time can be forgiven for thinking that Rand and Egwene will end up together as a couple at the end of the story. Robert Jordan introduced the two with a well-worn trope that fantasy readers recognize. In the eyes of their village, they’re all but betrothed. Rand is tongue-tied and awkward around Egwene. Egwene says and does things that challenge Rand’s entire world view. They bicker, Rand expressing a clumsy protectiveness, and Egwene chafing against it. But underneath, we know that they really care for each other. All they need is to go their separate ways for a while, grow up some, and realize that despite how they’ve changed, they remain meant for each other. Reading The Eye of the World, I remember feeling the vibes of Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydain, with its coming-of-age romance between Taran the farm boy and Eilonwy the nascent sorceress. Confusion, bickering, then love. Expectations led me to overlook details as obvious as Min’s prophetic warning (shown above), so I was shocked when Egwene told Rand, in The Shadow Rising, that she didn’t love him, and he told her the same. Both Rand and Egwene have atypical heroes’ journeys. Unlike “there and back again” fantasy epics, Rand and Egwene never return to Emond’s Field. Theirs is not a story about the promise of young love fulfilled. Their story--along with a great deal of The Wheel of Time’s--is about leaving old things behind and embracing new ways. Growth is forward, not circling back. Egwene telegraphs her intent in an additional prologue at the age of nine, and also when we first meet her in the first book. While the rest of the Emond’s Fielders are reluctant heroes, dutifully refusing Joseph Campbell’s Call to Adventure, Egwene is fueled by curiosity and ambition from the very beginning. The heart of the bickering between Egwene and Rand is Egwene’s eagerness to surpass the boundaries life set for her, and Rand interpreting her rejection of old ties as a rejection of him. Correctly so. In the world of The Wheel of Time, gender essentialism is a reality, and though men and women can both rise to high positions of authority, their paths and spheres of influence are separate. There are Wisdoms and mayors, Wise Ones and Clan Chiefs, Amyrlins and the Dragon Reborn. During Egwene’s test for Accepted in The Dragon Reborn, Egwene sees glimpses of other possible lives. The test is designed to wash her clean of crimes committed and suffered in the past, false pride and ambition, and false ties that bind her to the world. Each of the three trials requires her to reject Rand: as a husband and father to her daughter, as a friend desperate for help, and as a prisoner needing her merciful judgment. To be Aes Sedai, fate and the Wheel demanded Egwene walk away from Rand and pledge her loyalty to the White Tower. Sadly, that is precisely what the Pattern demands, at least until the very end. In every other alternate world, the Dark One won. Rand saw those other realities, those other failures, as he flickered through the mirror worlds connected by the Portal Stones. Only in the fullness of a series re-read did I see that, by the time they reunite in The Shadow Rising, Rand and Egwene have both seen that they literally have no future together. Rand was the Dragon Reborn. Egwene’s path lay toward the Amyrlin Seat who would unite the White Tower to oppose the Dark One. If Rand represented saidin, Egwene represented saidar, the opposing principle that pushed against Rand and was pushed by him, like the black and white parts of the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai. They were forces in dynamic opposition, keeping the Wheel turning. There was a parallel dynamic in the Age of Legends, between the previous Dragon, Lews Therin Telamon, and a powerful and influential woman named Latra Posae Decume, also known as Shadar Nor, or “the Slicer of the Shadow.” While there’s no definitive evidence that Egwene is Latra Posae reborn, there’s a symmetry in the tipping point as Rand attempted to negotiate The Dragon’s Peace before he went to Shayol Ghul. As Amyrlin Seat, Egwene was Rand’s equal in stature, just as Latra Posae was an equal of Lews Therin’s, and Egwene was prepared to oppose Rand’s plans to break the ancient seals on the Dark One’s prison. Only Moiraine’s intervention made this turning of the Wheel one where men and women worked in concert. If the original sin in The Wheel of Time cosmology was the schism between the genders enacted by Lews Therin and Latra Posae, the eleventh hour accord between Rand and Egwne grants the world absolution, and heals the rift. And as Rand realized in his long, dark night of the soul atop Dragonmount, this was the entire point. To try again, and do better.
Today, @WoTonPrime—the official Twitter handle for the Amazon Prime’s Wheel of Time television show—shared a short video and snippets of concept art. The short video featured Rafe Judkins, the showrunner for the Wheel of Time show, emphasizing the themes in The Eye of the World: “of balance, of gender, and the emotional journey of these characters.” While Judkins talks, several images of concept art flash behind him. Let’s take a closer look! So what can we glean from these images? Fans are already speculating. Here's my take. The first image must be Rand and Mat. Ginger hair on Rand. Mat has a quarterstaff. But which river are they looking at? Thom's not there, and if Thom is not there it has to be after Whitebridge. And if we're deviating from the novel entirely, perhaps this could be the place Rand and Mat glimpse the Tower of Ghenjei. Image number two: Winternight in the Two Rivers. Rafe Judkins already let us know we will get to see the Bel Tine celebration, so perhaps Rand and Tam don't return to their farm that night. The third seems a tame version of the Tuatha'an camp. It fits the description of the wagons, but the colors are all wrong! My first thought on the fourth image was it featured the Two River's folks on the other side of the Taren River. I seem to recall they hid in some dense trees that first night. However, the number count is off. Lan and Moiraine at the front. Rand, Mat, Perrin. Egwene. One more rider makes Nynaeve a member of this group. The only time they all rode together--in The Eye of the World, at least--was traveling to and from the Waygates stationed in Caemlyn and Fal Dara. The forest could be on the Shienar side of the Waygate. And finally, the one that actually gave me chills: Shadar Logoth. The dark atmosphere, the looming buildings, the lurking fog. This is amazing! Sometimes it seems the new information isn't coming fast enough. Other times, we see amazing glimpses into the making of this show and the anticipation it stirs inside will last for several days. The more we see, the more real it becomes. Here's the full video:
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab Is a life worth living if it is spent alone? As we are faced with the growing truth that we are mortal I am sure at one time or another we have all fantasized about what we could do with time without end. I have often pondered what I would be willing to give up for even an extra fifty years of life on earth. In her most recent novel V.E. Schwab gives us the opportunity to dance through time as we follow young Addie LaRue. She exchanged her soul for a life without end, but it didn’t come without a price. As Friedrich Neitzsche once said, “The devil is in the detail”. This is a lesson that Addie would have been wise to take to heart. Stifled and caged by her gender and rural surroundings of Villon-sur-Sarthe, France in 1714, Adeline dreamed of a life without obligation. A life full of wonder, new experiences, and the freedom of choice. It is this desire that leads her to be cursed by her own hand. She makes a deal with the devil to live until she is done with it. “You can have my soul when I don’t want it anymore,” she promises, and that’s all it takes to erase the life she had once known. I love when something I read doesn’t spark a memory or a comparison to another book. That speaks to my soul as something wholly original that needs to be read. To be honest I have not read many fantasy novels that take place in our own world. I prefer to be transported to another world, but I knew within the first few chapters that this book was something different. The best way I can describe it is a dance through time, seen through the eyes of Addie. As she navigates our modern world as something like a spectator, we are given a passport to her past. All of her 300 long years of life adding up to the final decision we see her make. There are no large action sequences or epic battles, except perhaps the entanglement between Addie and the Devil for her soul. Even still the book moves. I was carried through the pages by the desire to see if her road would come to an end. Was this to be a story about the entirety of her life? Or just a snapshot of her struggle? As I read the last words, I found myself aching to know more, but not so much so that I was dissatisfied. I believe that to be the hallmark of a tale well told. I was and am still impressed by how beautifully this story was written. V.E. (Victoria) Schwab has gained a new fan. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab is available from Dragonmount's store as a DRM-free ebook. You can also purchase it on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and your local independent bookseller.
The Child of Chaos by Glen Dahlgren In mother nature there is balance. For every dark night there is the light of day; for every devastating fire there is new life. In a world that is created by order, there will be a need for chaos to create harmony. In the young adult fantasy fiction world, there is a tendency by authors to follow a familiar path. As my fellow lovers of the fantasy and science fiction genre know, many authors can easily fall victim to this trap (Not that it means we love them any less!). Glen Dahlgren’s debut novel The Child of Chaos takes a new approach to the genre that was refreshing. Many in our fandom will know him as the lead designer of the Wheel of Time video game—which was released in 1999—but I suspect you will come to love him as a fantasy author as well. The story is told mostly in alternating points of view between the hero and the villain. Our hero, young Galen, and his former friend Horace grow up quite quickly as their lives careen off of their predestined paths. Dahlgren creates a polytheistic religious system in which people feel called by “The Longing” to serve their God. Those not tied to the temples are faithless and expected to pay their tithe to the Order. The different Gods come together to create harmony and order, but what happens when Chaos is thrown into the mix? Galen is a young man with a powerful imagination who does not fit into the black and white world in which the faithless live. In the end it is his differences that make him exactly what the world needs. At times the novel surges forward in leaps and bounds and you are never able to truly anticipate what lays ahead on the next page. The characters, religion and unique magic system are incredibly well developed. I personally would have liked even more world building, though as a disciple of Jordan I tend to live by the motto “more is more,” which is not for everyone. As I have stated before, I love reviewing debut novels as it is exciting to see where burgeoning authors’ careers will go. The Child of Chaos is a very nice addition to the fantasy genre and one that I recommend to both new fantasy readers and to those of us who forever dwell in this literary realm. The Child of Chaos by Glen Dahlgren is available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and your local independent bookseller.
Amazon's official WoTonPrime social media accounts revealed today a brief video showcasing Thom Merrilin's guitar. The video showed how the instrument went through its design phase to becoming an actual prop seen in the show. Thom-guitar-Dec23_2020.mp4 About Thom's instruments In the Wheel of Time books, Thom Merrilin (played by Alexandre Willaume in the TV show) is a skilled gleeman with a far-more-interesting-than-he-would-like past. He demonstrates his skill with both a harp and a flute. But interestingly, WoT TV showrunner Rafe Judkins and his team made the decision to give Thom a guitar instead. Here's what he wrote in a Q&A addressing the topic: Amazon has already released preview videos of the Winespreing Inn, Tam's heron-marked sword, and a basic audio trailer. What do you think of the Thom's guitar? Join the conversation below or view our reaction on The Wheel of Time Community Show on YouTube. Learn more about Amazon's Wheel of Time TV show.
It’s fall and winter! Kitty shows us how to make Tam’s Wheel of Time stew. Mmmm. Click here to download the recipe (PDF) Tams_Stew.pdf
This past #WoTWednesday’s episode of The Dusty Wheel, Innkeeper Matt Hatch hosted our very own Jason Denzel. Matt, who started the Wheel of Time fansite Theoryland, and Jason have been integral to the Wheel of Time community for the past 22 years. Their chat on The Dusty Wheel covered all those years of friendship and ups and downs within the community. The nostalgia is very intense here. They also go into all the known details about the Amazon Prime Wheel of Time television show. Jason does stress that we should be thinking of the show as another turning of the Wheel. This isn’t the same as the book series, there will be differences. I think this mentality is the best way to approach the whole situation. There will be changes we need to accept, and in this turning of the Wheel, the characters made different choices. This nearly 90-minute talk was riveting the whole way through. They covered so many topics, from writing advice, to meeting Brandon Sanderson, to filming the Towers of Midnight book trailer. If you’ve never heard some of these stories, I recommend tuning in! You can watch the full episode below. You can check out other episodes of The Dusty Wheel on their YouTube channel.
Lezbi Nerdy is a Wheel of Time content creator who recently realized that she has been reading and re-reading the Wheel of Time for more than half of her life, which freaked her out a little bit. When not obsessing over Wheel of Time and other nerdy pursuits, she works at a language therapy center in South Korea and enjoys long, socially distanced walks while wearing a mask and listening to podcasts. You can check out her youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/lezbinerdy and if you are so inclined, you can support her on patreon. http://www.patreon.com/lezbinerdy The Wheel of Time changed the way I read. So much so that I have in the past claimed that it is the first fantasy series I ever read, which in retrospect is just not true. I have also said that The Eye of the World was the first “real adult book” I ever read, which… also, in retrospect, has turned out to not be true. But it definitely feels true, and when trying to figure out why, I think I have landed on an answer. The Wheel of Time changed how I read books. It turned me into an active reader in a way that just makes it feel like a turning point in my reading life. This may simply be a by-product of the fact that I am an old-school fan, I was reading before the series was finished, and am among those who had to wait years between books, and wait over a decade to have the story finished. So, in the time I was waiting, I thought about these books, and about where the story was going, I made guesses and had theories. This is something I had never done prior to these books because I hadn’t needed to. The stories I had read before were just… there. I didn’t have to guess because if I just kept going, I’d find the answer. But I think it was more than just the wait for more books that caused this change in me. The story, the world that Robert Jordan crafted just lends itself to theorizing. The world is so wide in scope, that even with the story finished, there are still questions left. And there is such depth to the world building that even if there are no canonical answers, it feels like there are. And so, when reading and re-reading this series before it was complete, my head was full of theories. And there is one theory that, while it didn’t bear out in the end, I think it is worth examining. The world of Wheel of Time is a world that has fractured along gender lines. It is a world in which gender essentialism is… well, it’s true. We have a magic system that divides things along very binary gender lines. All male channelers must use saidin, and all female channelers must use saidar. And those two sources of power are inherently different. It is gender essentialism written into the foundational magic system that turns the eponymous Wheel of Time. Characters in the books often muse at the nature of members of the opposite sex. Men are spoken of by women in absolutes, and vice versa. Women undertake actions and understand ideas that men don’t seem to know much about (for example, that a Two Rivers good wife would change the curtains in a house depending on the season), and men do things that women can’t seem to understand or dismiss as illogical. It happens to such a degree that it can become frustrating to readers, even annoying, to hear these characters lump all members of the opposite gender into one group, to paint them all with broad brush strokes as all being the same. But as I read, and re-read, I came to the conclusion that this was intentional, it had to be. It had to be a symptom of something that was wrong and broken in their fictional world. And it was a symptom that made sense to me. If the foundational magic system of the world seemingly tells people that men and women are fundamentally different, and in fact, unknowable to each other, then why wouldn’t people just accept this as fact and not examine it further? As Moiraine says in The Great Hunt, “A bird cannot teach a fish to fly, nor a fish teach a bird to swim.” But of course, the fact that these differences between genders lean into very common and frustrating gender stereotypes was… well, as a woman, it was frustrating. In order to use the male half of the source, men have to approach it directly, from the front, dominate it through force. In order to use the female half of the source, women have to surrender to it, submit, and control subtly from within, or underneath the power. We see this play out in the way men and women use and gain power in the world of The Wheel of Time. Men, for the most part; battle, conquer, or negotiate directly by saying what they want clearly. The women, on the other hand, the women in power in the books are mostly seen as manipulators, they pull the strings behind the scenes. There are, of course, exceptions to these ‘rules’, but in general, this is how things work in this world. And because of our cultural biases, these two methods are not viewed equally. Battling, conquering, being direct… most readers see these as noble characteristics, brave even. Manipulating, pulling strings… most readers will see these as sneaky, underhanded methods. Even if both of these methods are used to achieve the same goals, they are not view equally. These factors color how characters and organizations are viewed. But again, this divide, this break between genders is literally baked into the foundation of this world. Men must be dominant, because if they aren’t and they are a channeler, they literally won’t be able to channel. And women must be surrendering, because if they are not able to surrender, then they literally won’t be able to channel. If they do not conform, then they must learn to conform in order to fully grow into who they are meant to be. Gender essentialism is enforced by how things work. But gender essentialism is wrong. Gender essentialism says that there are universal, immutable, intrinsic qualities to being male or female, and anyone with any sense knows that this is not true. I can tell you that in my over 20 years of teaching experience, there isn’t a single quality, hobby, or personality type that I could say universally applies to all the boys I’ve taught or all the girls. There are numerous exceptions to every gender rule I can think of. Even in that same conversation I previously mentioned in The Great Hunt, Verin comments on the faulty logic of the fish metaphor. “There are birds that dive and swim. And in the Sea of Storms are fish that fly…” These universal generalities about “all women” and “all men” only serve to divide us and to make anyone who doesn’t fit feel like an outsider. To read more about gender essentialism, you can read this piece on Gender Essentialism Theory by Dr. E. Boskey. And as I said, as I was re-reading these books, I began to think that this was the point Robert Jordan was trying to make, or it was one of them. That the characters were wrong about the nature of masculinity and femininity because they were fundamentally wrong about the nature of saidar and saidin. And the reason I began to think this was because of Nynaeve. If you know my YouTube channel, then you probably know that Nynaeve is my girl. She is my favourite character, hands down, and so she is the person I have thought the most about, and so yeah… on my re-reads it started to dawn on me that it didn’t make any sense that Nynaeve, for the first part of the series, can only channel when angry. It goes against everything we know about the nature of saidar and female channeling. Women are only supposed to be able to channel when calm, but that is out the window with Nynaeve, because she has to be livid to be able to ‘embrace the source’. And secondly, women are supposed to only be able to channel through surrendering to the vastness of the One Power – literally are only able to use power by surrendering to power. Now, maybe this is me, but anger is not a surrendering emotion in my book. And from what we read and know of Nynaeve, it isn’t one for her too. When she is angry, she bowls over people, she takes charge, she is blunt and direct, violent even. She is displaying very characteristically masculine traits. Theodrin even comments that she doesn’t understand how Nynaeve can channel in the first place because it goes against everything she knows about how the female half of the source works. And I honestly thought that this was the point. That Nynaeve was going to prove that everything that everyone has assumed about saidar – and saidin as well – was wrong. That Nynaeve was going to show that women don’t have to surrender, women don’t have to conform to these old and tired stereotypes about how women are manipulative and submissive. And through this we would also learn that men don’t have to conform to male stereotypes either, they don’t have to be violent, to conquer and dominate. That while maybe these old ways are easiest for most, they are not essential. That the male half and female halves of the Source aren’t as unknowable to each other as originally thought, and through that that the world would come to understand that men and women aren’t as foreign to each other as well. I thought it was going to be a part of the healing that this world was going to go through because of our main characters. I held out hope for this theory until the final book, even after she surrendered to the source at the bottom of that river. But it didn’t happen. I suppose, with the world continuing as it does, that this could be something that happened in the post-book era, but I think I have to accept that this wasn’t a part of Robert Jordan’s original plan. And, if I’m honest, it is one of the very few things in The Wheel of Time that I’m disappointed with. I’ve said before that I always assume good intent with Robert Jordan, and even in this area this still stands. I think that it was his intent to show the value in both ‘sides’ of the coin, to show that men and women must work together, that equality and cooperation are goals worth striving for. But gender essentialism is an inherently limiting philosophy. And when there are strict lines drawn between two sides, it practically invites people to make judgements about which is better. But with the show coming out, I think that there is a new opportunity to address this issue in the world of Wheel of Time in a way that doesn’t lock men and women into outdated stereotypes that were never universally true in the first place. Obviously, I am attached to my personal theory about how this could be addressed; but regardless of how it is done, I think it would be in keeping with Robert Jordan’s vision of healing the divide between genders to not stick to the fundamentally flawed principle of gender essentialism. But these, of course, are only my thoughts. What are yours? How do you feel about the role gender essentialism plays in The Wheel of Time?