Update as of 2020, I’ve never been happier to be wrong!-Steph
The Wheel of Time turns, and TV adaptations come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the TV adaptation that gave it birth comes once again. In an age called 2016, another proposed adaptation came to pass. This was not the beginning or the ending to the turning of the Wheel. But it was a beginning.
Robert Jordan’s fantasy epic The Wheel of Time holds a treasured (if sometimes angsty) place in the hearts of many fantasy fans. Throughout the ages it has caused us joy, consternation, anger, and boredom in turns but most of it’s fans still fiercely love it. I am one of those people. I know that sometimes it’s a sprawling mess, and I almost never recommend it to people, but it has a special place in my heart and bookshelf. And I am here to tell you why it should never be a TV show.
On April 29, 2016, The Wheel of Time Google+ page (yes, you read that right) announced that a new series was in the works and that the previous legal issues had been sorted (more on that in a bit). This note came signed by Harriet McDougal, the widow of Robert Jordan and general master of anything Wheel of Time that has happened since his death. As you can imagine, people have been clamouring for a Wheel of Time show ever since the books started coming out, with the fervour only building after the insane success of Game of Thrones. There have been multiple proposed shows, the first was a The Eye of the World (the first book) miniseries back in 2000. Then that faded away. Those rights were later optioned as a movie in 2008 but never got far. And that brings us to Winter Dragon.
Winter Dragon premiered on FXX at 1:30AM with no warning or notice. It was a rough 20 minute “pilot” for a Wheel of Time show made by Red Eagle Entertainment that showed parts of the prologue to The Eye of the World. Quality wise it has…issues. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. For some reason Billy Zane was cast as Ishamael, and he reads his lines with all the intensity of a man making a shopping list. Pronunciations are inconsistent throughout the 20 minute episode and the CG is terrible. I will admit it captured some of the feel of the book and the prologue, and the madness that came to Lews Therin. But honestly, none of that matters aside from one very important fact: it was made without the knowledge of Harriet. She made the following statement:
“This morning brought startling news. A “pilot” for a Wheel of Time series, the “pilot” being called Winter Dragon, had appeared at 1:30 in the morning, East Coast time, on FXX TV, a channel somewhere in the 700s (founded to concentrate on comedy, according to the Washington Post).
It was made without my knowledge or cooperation. I never saw the script. No one associated with Bandersnatch Group, the successor-in-interest to James O. Rigney, was aware of this.
Bandersnatch has an existing contract with Universal Pictures that grants television rights to them until this Wednesday, February 11 – at which point these rights revert to Bandersnatch.
I see no mention of Universal in the “pilot”. Nor, I repeat, was Bandersnatch, or Robert Jordan’s estate, informed of this in any way.
I am dumbfounded by this occurrence, and am taking steps to prevent its reoccurrence.”
-via Ta’Veren Tees
This fact alone was enough to alienate most Wheel of Time fans, because you do not cross Harriet. Winter Dragon was likely produced and pushed out at the last minute because Red Eagle was about to lose the rights, but Harriet’s comments triggered a lawsuit that wasn’t resolved for another few months. Great, everything is resolved! And here’s where I tell you why it’s never going to happen.
The Wheel of Time is massive. There are fourteen books, and each of them is between 250,000 and 400,000 words for a full count of 4,410,036 words. For a slightly less obscure metric, the audiobook of the shortest Wheel of Time book (The Path of Daggers) is twenty three hours and thirty one minutes. The longest (A Memory of Light) clocks in at a massive forty one hours and fifty five minutes. So let’s say that this show happens, and we go the “one book, one season” route, because in the first place it would be incredibly hard to compress more than that. That means to go through the entire series run you need fourteen seasons. Now if you can name me a show that maintained its goodness and integrity through enough time to raise a child to puberty, please enlighten me, because it’s a unicorn. And that’s saying that the show even gets through all fourteen seasons, keeps its viewers loving and guessing and theorizing for minimum fourteen years.
As much as I love The Wheel of Time, I’ll be the first to admit that the story is far from compelling at times. Now the same argument could be made for Game of Thrones, but I’ll say that Game of Thrones has one very important thing going for it that The Wheel of Time does not: intrigue. Game of Thrones is a political intrigue show set in a fantasy world. The Wheel of Time is your standard hero’s journey in a fantasy world. It has some intrigue, but later and lighter than Game of Thrones. It’s just not interesting enough to non fantasy fans. I’m sorry, but it’s true. When Game of Thrones originally aired, I told people that “It’s the Sopranos in Middle Earth” and while I wasn’t exactly correct, it was enough to get non fantasy fans interested. But if people asked me what a Wheel of Time show was about, I’d have a hard time saying anything that was enough to get people who don’t watch fantasy interested. Hell, I can’t get people to read the books half the time. The Wheel of Time is too much of a behemoth for it’s own good sometimes. But that’s okay.
Regardless of whether it can, The Wheel of Time doesn’t need to be a TV show. I think even the most die hard fan would admit that nothing on the screen could ever match the majesty of what the book puts in our heads. No Aes Sedai could be as cool, no Forsaken as terrifying, no Nynaeve sniff as infuriating. The true magic of The Wheel of Time lies in its ability to enchant, transport, and inspire, and no TV show could ever do it half as well. There are no endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time, but this is an ending.