The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again…
This famous passage marks the beginning of every Wheel of Time installment, a series of novels that began back in 1990. Before there was A Song of Ice and Fire, before there was a fantasy craze that swept the nation, there was Robert Jordan, and his encyclopediatic tomes with heavily illustrated covers, and a fight between good and evil straight out of Joseph Campbell’s concept of the Hero’s Journey.
In fact, one might argue that when The lord of the Rings swept every last Oscar, either deserved or not in 2003, the natural place for mvoies and tv shows to go looking to extend this trend was not George R.R. Martin’s short nasty and brutish lives of Westeros, but Robert Jordan’s florid storytelling. Both just as massive a scaled world, and yet much more easily realized on-screen, since the leading parties stick together far longer than they do in Game of Thrones, The Wheel of Time by rights should have been the next to be adapted–if nothing else, the inability of main characters to die would have made it the safer choice for most.
But instead here we are, over a decade into the fantasy craze, and with lower budget spin offs clogging up the landscape on even such hip channels as MTV. And The Wheel of Time is nowhere to be seen, quickly being passed by as a relic of an earlier age. Until now.
Part of the reason WoT didn’t get on the bandwagon at the right time and GoT did was pure business sense. Martin had spent his career prior to sitting down and writing in the television industry. he knew how easily it would be to lose the rights to his property and be screwed over by other’s bad choices. So he held on to his A Song of Ice and Fire rights when that first wave of eager beavers showed up with ideas of movies that cut out Dany all together or marginalized Jon Snow.
Robert Jordan did not. He gave the rights away to a completely incompetent and shady company known as Red Eagle Earth, who proceeded to sit on said right, and fail to produce anything–no movies, no TV shows, not even a role-playing game in the time of World of Warcraft’s dominance. Jordan is said to have gone to his grave cursing his choice to sell to them. But not as much as he would have if he had seen them buy an infomercial block at 1am on FX this time last year, and air their ashcan pilot in order to keep the rights from reverting back to his widow.
Perhaps it was the public nature of the screwjob last year that finally broke the impasse. certainly it was a public disaster for Red Eagle, who had up until then insisted it was not their fault the series had failed to find a buyer during the peak of the market. The insistence that they were going to sue Robert Jordan’s widow, Harriet McDougal, for calling them out on it and making a public stink only solidified anyone who had been on the fence of which side they should be on.
McDougal seems to have lawyered up and won this round, putting out a statement at the end of last week that the rights had finally returned home and they were rolling full steam ahead to a TV show.
Update: Wanted to share with you exciting news about The Wheel of Time. Legal issues have been resolved. The Wheel of Time will become a cutting edge TV series! I couldn’t be more pleased. Look for the official announcement coming soon from a major studio —Harriet
But is it too late? Twenty-five years ago, WoT seemed like “Lord of the Rings, but with strong female roles.” But that was a time when there were nearly no female voices on the shelves for us to read, and the slim pickings meant including female characters with actual dialogue was enough. Nowadays we not only have real women’s based fantasy stories which not only rock the shelves but are hit TV shows to boot like Outlander, but we have ones by women of color, bring in their own new fantasy tropes, like N.K Jemisin. And then there’s American Gods, which Neil Gaimen is steadily refusing to white wash, coming to STARZ next year In that light, WoT seems not only stodgily whitebred and sexist, but borderline bizarre in some places in its views of women characters.
Game of Thrones is winding down fast–this will be the last full season. Next year and the year after will most likely be a Breaking Bad like split year. Will the Wheel of Time be ready (or able) to step into that void, now that we’ve seen the fantasy tropes it resides in slaughtered for our amusement over and over? Or will it stay left behind?