Hello all! I'm Vance, a massive Wheel of Time fan and I make Wheel of Time content on YouTube, run a podcast, and I am a regular contributor to TheGreatblight.com. This week I want to explain a little about why I love The Wheel of Time and what initially grabbed my attention about the series. Please keep in mind that these are my opinions and I'd love for you to comment and share what it is you find enthralling about the series.
The Wheel of Time is an epic fantasy series by Robert Jordan. It spans 15 books, including the prequel, and boasts a large cast of characters. The Wheel of Time is unique among fantasy, especially for its era, for the influence of Eastern religious and philosophical ideas. One of the most apparent of these ideas is the circular nature of time or time as a wheel. This is in contrast to the present popular notion of linear time or the arrow of time. If you are not super familiar with circular time, specifically as found in the philosophical and religious traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism do not worry as we will cover it down below! But first, let's look at a few other reasons why I love The Wheel of Time.
1. It is the ultimate expression of often tired fantasy tropes.
The Chosen One: Rand is perhaps the best depiction of the Chosen One we will ever get. His arc feels real the trauma his role inflicts upon nearly breaks him. This is exactly what would to a real-life individual, and any who thinks they can shoulder this role with no issues is a megalomaniac.
The White Tower is one of the best examples of the magical academy trope. We spend a fair amount of time there and truly get a sense of how it operates. I also enjoy how the student body is structured.
The series is often painted as a pure good vs evil story but in The Wheel of Time good is not nice. There are multiple examples of characters and organizations on the "good" side that commit anything from casual human rights abuses to outright atrocities.
2. The story is based on the hero's journey, but with some twists.
In the beginning, we are mostly focused on two of our three young male protagonists. Their chapters are interspersed with views from a few other characters but we mostly follow the point of view of Rand and Perrin in the first book. By book two we have chapters from a growing cast and by book three one of our mains is on the sidelines for the entirety of the story. Needless to say that if you don't like a specific point of view, just read on and you're bound to hit one you love.
The dive into the characters provides a cathartic examination of how the hero's journey and the obstacles encountered upon it, wear down on the psyche of the protagonists. The series forces you to bear witness to the internal struggles that many individuals under during times of immense pressure. Through this framework it allows you to place yourself in their shoes and think about if you would break or hold.
3. The characters are well-realized and deep.
This is often touted as one of the core strengths of the series. The character work within the Wheel of Time is on another level. You have 14 books to get to know many of the characters, and that is reflected in their growth. There come multiple points in the series where they stop feeling like fictional characters and more like real people. This may sound trite, but it holds true.
Do many characters start off as tropes? Yes. Do many more side characters continue as tropes? Yes again. However our core 5 main characters and 15 primary side characters all experience growth and development. They may not all be transformed at the end, but they are impacted by the journey.
4. The philosophical and metaphysical basis of the Wheel of Time is heavily influenced by a mix of Western and Eastern philosophical traditions. (This is my absolute favorite aspect)
The Wheel of Time is often praised for its influences of Eastern religious and philosophical concepts, but the Western influences are often overlooked. Specifically, if you dig into Jordan's early notes you'll find that much of the basis for what would be The Eye of the World started off with a heavily Arthurian influence. Jordan seemed to favor the earlier renditions of the legends as they have a strong Celtic and Welsh influence and opposed to the later British versions most modern audiences are familiar with. These include references to the sword in the stone, the Lady of the Lake, and Merlin. Jordan also pulled heavily from Irish and Scottish mythologies including their depictions of Other-worlds and the Fae.
Jordan also included references to Baltic, Germanic, Slavic, and Scandinavian myths and legends too! Some characters have parallels with various gods such as Odin or Perun. Truly interesting is that if you take a comparative mythological approach, you find that many of these myths and legends have their roots in the Proto-Indo-European mythology. Thus we can often easily find equivalent gods in the various pantheons. Perun, the Slavic god of the sky, thunder, storms, and law; has a parallel in the Vedic deity Varuna in Hinduism.
This works as a fantastic segue into the more Eastern aspects of the series. Jordan did quite a bit of research on Hinduism for this work as it evolved past the Arthurian roots. He seems to have become enamored with the idea of the wheel of time (aka the wheel of history), the concept from which the series takes its name. From here Jordan mixed and matched the various concepts of ages from Hinduism with those from Jainism and Buddhism. Eventually, he settled on a metaphorical wheel with seven spokes, each representing an age, that turn continuously.
Further, Jordan did not only pull from Hinduism but also from the Zoroastrian tradition. This is best represented in dualistic deities, the Creator and the Dark One. They have parallels in many Monotheistic traditions, however, I believe that Zoroastrianism fits them the best. Central to the Zoroastrian belief is that humans must choose to either follow Ahura Mazda (Ohrmazd) or not, and instead give in to the Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) or destructive spirit and mentality. There is also a messianic element to Zoroastrianism, though I think Jordan pulled a little more from the Judeo-Christian tradition for that element. Finally, we move onward towards East Asian influences specifically Taoism. We can see some of the symbolism lifted from Taoism in the ancient symbol of the Aes Sedai. It is essentially the Taijitu (Yin-Yang symbol) flipped vertically and without the balancing elements of each. Jordan did this to evoke the "imbalance" in the age the books take place in. Much of the series is rooted in dualities and with good reason. Dualistic philosophies have been popular for thousands of years across various cultures.
Those are the 4 main things I loved about the series, but I'd love to know what makes you all love the Wheel of Time. Comment on this post and let us know what made you love Wheel of Time!