(but also about words, bushcraft and legacy)
I could write considerable reams about this, so I will attempt to keep my observations and thoughts limited, for sake of brevity and time.
If you like reading fantasy tales, you will already know about the Wheel of Time (WOT), Robert Jordan’s vast, sprawling epic, finished by Brandon Sanderson after Jordan’s death, even if you never read it. I was just the right age for WOT to capture me in its clutches, and not really let go for many years.
When I was young, my parents gave me a £10 a month book allowance, and I would spend a LOT of time hiding away in Stromness Books and Prints
(do take some time to read this if you can, it is a good introduction to a remarkable place, one which makes life better simply by existing). It is still my favourite bookshop in the entire world, and I’ve been in a few. At that time, when carefully spending my book allowance, I was watched over by the remarkable bookseller Tam*, who very quickly understood exactly what I wanted to read — vast, huge and thick doorstops of fantasy, the longer, the better, preferably in trilogies or series of five or more. Basically, I was a wordaholic, and I devoured epic after epic. Not all have stayed in my memory, but some played a very important role in my development as a reader and a writer.
I can’t now recall if he pointed out The Eye of the World, the first WOT novel, or whether I spotted it on the shelf myself (it’s easy to spot, being a wedge of paper eminently suitable for holding doors open), but that doesn’t really matter. I bought it and read both it and the sequel, The Great Hunt, very, very quickly. Then began the wait for the third novel (still my favourite of the series): The Dragon Reborn. I didn’t have to wait long, months, rather than the years some readers wait for certain novels. But it felt like a VERY long time indeed.
But this section is not about the books. That is a story and series of thoughts for another day. This section is about the TV series.
I, like many others, have worried about the adaptation Amazon have pumped considerable cash into. Would the writing be up to scratch, what about casting, or special effects? How exactly will they deal with an epic of nearly four and a half million words? Or the 2782 distinct, named characters (many with more than one name)?
At the time of writing, I have watched the first six episodes and I am happy with what I have seen. There are flaws (more on this shortly), and things missing (which I suspect will be fleshed out in flashback scenes, so as to not spoil things for those who haven’t read the books) but, on balance, it gets a big thumbs up from me.
The diversity is excellent (a pet hate of mine is those who complain about diversity in fantasy, I mean, come on, you argue about that but the magic, dragons and monsters, or general FANTASY nature of it are fine?). The casting perfect. I love that the darkness of the books is present and that they’ve shifted the ages of the main characters from being in their late teens to their early twenties — it feels better this way. The costumes, the acting, and the music also deserve a mention.
Above all, however, I appreciate the writing. The showrunner, Rafe Judkins, has done a strong job of taking something loved by millions and making it something slightly different, more fitting for our times, whilst keeping the principal story. That is not an easy task, not at all, and some people will always feel this version is not for them.
For those of us who know the story in and out, it still feels fresh and new, with certain little details appearing and often not yet being explained (which is a great tactic to keep everyone engaged — it rewards both those new to the series and those who have grown up with it). Yes, there have been parts missed out or altered, characters I would have loved to have seen missing entirely (so far?), but that doesn’t matter — and this is the crucial point — the books are still there, after all. This is something different, but familiar. A brand-new well-worn coat, or an old friend you’ve just met.
I am hopeful this will continue, building on this strong foundation and, I suspect, it will.
It is not perfect, some details seem to be missing, such as where are the smaller towns and villages? Some are mentioned by name, admittedly, but not shown. The landscape seems too empty, compared to the world Jordan created — I hope this will change as the story progresses.
The thing which has irritated most, however, is a common complaint for me. When a show has a budget of millions, why, or why, can’t they hire someone to check the bushcraft details? Who, for example, would ever leave a bow strung, bent and susceptible to the weather? Especially when care is taken in the books to mention the fear of a damp bowstring.
Making fires is another example. Many of the characters are supposed to be seasoned travellers or country people and they’d know how to make fires economically, quickly, and well. (It should be mentioned, however, that The Wheel of Time is not the only show or movie to irritate me in such a fashion; I could name many more.) I was half tempted to tweet them, offer my services as a consultant (reasonable rates, would bring my own knife, flint and steel).