For the 30th anniversary of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, Brandon Sanderson, Jason Denzel, and Michael Livingston joined moderator Jennifer Liang, Saturday at 5:30PM on the High Fantasy Track YouTube channel, to discuss the enduring popularity and upcoming TV adaptation of the series. Although the panelists discovered the series in different ways, they were hooked from book one, The Eye of the World. This somewhat dauntingly massive tome, they realized, was something special, and they devoured each new book as it came along.
As fans know, it isn’t easy to keep track of all the details of a complex series while waiting for the next instalment. Sanderson, who wrote the last three books, kept rereading all the books before each new one was released. He estimates he read The Eye of the World 12 times. He also started keeping a notebook with a list of characters and their situations by the fourth or fifth book, but he never used it because the internet had fulfilled that need by then. Denzel also kept a notebook, from which he started Dragonmount.com, a fan-based website dedicated to the series.
Part of The Wheel of Time’s popularity is due to its similarity to Tolkienesque fantasy as well as its departure from it. The series, Sanderson noted, was “the second generation of Tolkien inspiration,” where the trappings of Tolkien began to vanish. The first books were quest-oriented but with new magic, a focus on humans, and a move toward political intrigue that culminated in the third wave of fantasy epitomized by George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Livingston noted that although Jordan’s series started in the Tolkien tradition, it moved far beyond it by the end in a “beautifully organic way.”
Although Jordan moved fantasy forward, his works have not aged well in some respects. One of these is gender. Jordan’s goal, Denzel said, was to include women and push the boundaries of gender roles in high fantasy, but it’s important to remember the context of the times. Livingston wishes some parts didn’t bog down so much, but he pointed out that Jordan didn’t have models for what he was trying to accomplish. Sanderson agreed and is still amazed by Jordan’s expert use of viewpoint and language.
As for Amazon’s upcoming adaptation, Livingston hopes to see three things: a closeup of a certain character pulling on her braid, a depiction of the world existing in the present and the past, and good battle scenes. “You mean you’re not supposed to put your infantry behind your siege units?” Sanderson quipped. Denzel wants accurate depictions of the characters, like the gleam in Matt’s eyes as he winks, plus visualizations of the magic with its limitations and effects on Rand. He suspects the show will evolve the story, making it more modern and relevant. After all, the Wheel still turns.