The Wheel of Time is one of the greatest epic fantasy series consisting of 14 novels and one prequel. The first novel – The Eye of the World was published in 1990. This brilliantly conceived series was masterfully brought to life by author James Oliver Rigney Jr. more commonly known by the pseudonym ‘Robert Jordan’.
Initially not very well-received by critics, the series was an instant bestseller, with the 8th-12th novels of the series reaching the No. 1 spot of the New York Times Bestseller List.
‘With the Wheel of Time, Jordan has come to dominate the world Tolkien began to reveal.’– The New York Times
Robert Jordan (October 17, 1948 –September 16, 2007) was born in Charleston, South Carolina and taught himself to read at the age of four. He spent two years in Vietnam working as a helicopter gunner for the U.S. Army and was decorated with various awards for gallantry. He earned an undergraduate degree in Physics from the Military College of South Carolina, after which he worked as a nuclear engineer in the U.S. Navy. A history buff and a freemason, he began his literary career in 1977. Apart from the Wheel of Time series, he has also written The Fallon trilogy and has contributed 7 novels to the Conan the Barbarian stories. He has also written dance and theatre criticism. Not long after being diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, Jordan died in 2007 and the series was completed by Brandon Sanderson.
The Wheel of Time brings to life a world with a pattern of Ages that repeats itself endlessly, with the past Ages long-shrouded in mystery by the time they must re-occur.
The series is about a world forged by the ‘Creator’ – the only form of godhead for those following the path of the ‘Light’ – and the constant fight of its inhabitants against the ‘Dark One’ and his followers. At the time of Creation, the Dark One was firmly imprisoned by the Creator while the ‘True Source’ or the ‘One Power’ was used to make the world. Those humans who can channel the One Power are known as ‘Aes Sedai’ or ‘Servants of All’ in the Old Tongue. The story goes that an Aes Sedai experiment went horribly wrong and the Dark One was finding cracks to break free of his prison.
The one man who could defeat him, Lews Therin Telamon, was churned out by the Wheel of Time to combat him and save the world by wielding the One Power. But while Telamon managed to re-capture the Dark One and relegate him to his prison, the Dark One, also known as ‘Shai’tan’ (or the Devil in Hindi) manages to taint the male half of the True Source, thus fating all the male Aes Sedai to madness and a quick death.
The series, though, is based on what happens in the aftermath of these events. It was prophesied that the Dragon would be Reborn in a subsequent Age when the Dark One started to break free again and would ultimately have to face him in the Last Battle. The first book of the series focuses on introducing the main characters and getting them started on their long and treacherous journey to the Last Battle.
The main three characters of the story are initially picked out of their village by Moiraine Damodred, an Aes Sedai. In her hurry to take them before someone else can find them, she can’t discern for sure which one is the Dragon Reborn.
Rand Al’Thor – The Dragon Reborn was a baby of mixed descent and was abandoned at the foothills of Dragonmount in the midst of a raging war. He grew up in the Two Rivers, a minuscule village in a tiny part of a magnificent empire- Andor. He struggles to hold on to his sanity, until the Last Battle at least, as the taint of the male half of the One Power slowly starts to take over. He juggles three women that he loves equally and whose love he receives in return.
Perrin Aybara – A blacksmith in the Two Rivers, he is more about the brawn than the brains, but has a gentle heart. He is one of the very rare people who can communicate with wolves and relies on their help many times while travelling leagues of distances to help Rand in his quest.
Mat Cauthon – An avid gambler and a flirt, he is said to have the Dark One’s luck due to his constant success in gambling and is haunted by memories of being a military general in his past lives which start to surface after a horrific near-death experience. These memories provide invaluable guidance to him as he continues on his war against the Dark One.
The myriad of characters, races, legends and situations are seamlessly interwoven and the Glossary provided at the end of each book proves to be quite handy many times.
What makes it worth the effort?
The Wheel of Time series is for hardcore fans of fantasy and adventure, those who’ve outgrown Harry Potter but are still intrigued by the genre. A huge Harry Potter fan as a kid, (I was shattered, at age 9 when I dragged my parents to King’s Cross station only to find out that there are no platforms beyond platform no. 7, and hence no scope of dashing into the wall between platforms 9 and 10) I instantly fell in love with the Wheel of Time series when I was introduced to it in my mid-teens. The depth and detailed intricacy of the characters, places and emotions are mind-boggling and by the end of each novel, the reader is left hungry for more.
Jordan draws on a number of Asian and European cultural beliefs in his creation of the wheel of time. The Hindu belief of death and rebirth, the Buddhist concept of the Wheel of Time itself and the sheer variety of soft European curses make for a sumptuous melee and a delightful read. The series can be devoured by fantasy enthusiasts of all ages – it is sensuous without being vulgar, intensely violent without being gory and can be a rollicking riot with its subtle humour.
Robert Jordan was influenced by the Lord of the Rings while writing the series, but the similarities are arguably far less than the differences. Indeed, all works of fantasy fiction have an element of commonality which manifests itself on occasion – ‘Dementors’, the black-hooded, fearsome creatures from Harry Potter are reminiscent of ‘Myrdraal’ from the Wheel of Time – but as long as there’s a good storyline, these small similarities hardly make a difference.
The Wheel of Time has managed to capture the imagination of millions of readers around the world. It has been adapted into a computer game, a comic book series and also has a soundtrack album, as well as two songs composed as a tribute to the series by German Power Metal band – Blind Guardian. Universal Pictures has also been planning to produce feature films based on the series.
I recommend this series to all young adults who have ever developed even a remote interest in Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings, with a strong dose of suspension of disbelief. Personally I had no idea that there was a Wheel of Time game. I made this joyous discovery while writing this article and it has been getting downloaded as I type!