Rafe Judkins, the showrunner of the Wheel of Time TV series in a recent Q&A on twitter said that the show would be "leaning away" from certain elements in the books to make the show feel fresh.
Those words were music to the ears of some, to others a jarring note that sent shivers down their spines. Lets take a look at some of the scenes, events or places that Judkins could be talking about for the first season, which is believed to mainly cover the first book of the series 'The Eye of the World'.
The Rings of the Wheel
It won't come as much surprise to most that the Eye of the World is chock full of parallels to The Lord of the Rings. Moiraine/Gandalf, Lan/Strider, The Ways/Mines of Moria, Fain/Gollum and Myrddraal/Nazgul are a few of the most obvious ones. Their hard to escape and were intentional.
In the first chapters of The Eye of the World, I tried for a Tolkienesque feel without trying to copy Tolkien’s style, but that was by way of saying to the reader, okay, this is familiar, this is something you recognize, now let’s go where you haven’t been before. I like taking a familiar theme, something people think they know and know where it must be heading, then standing it on its ear or giving it a twist that subverts what you thought you knew. I must admit that I occasionally drop in a reference—for example, there’s an inn called The Nine Rings, and Loial is seen reading a book entitled To Sail Beyond the Sunset—but it isn’t a regular thing by any means. - Robert Jordan
There is not a lot that Judkins can do to escape the LotR's parallels as those characters and places are rather important to the plot of the books. So what tweaks can he make to put a little more distance between his turning of the wheel and LotR's?
Well we already have a few hints.
In the Eye of the World Moiraine uses a staff much like Gandalf does. On nearly every occasion that Moiraine uses the One Power she uses her staff, but Jordan makes it clear that the staff its self is not magic.
“Your staff is very powerful,” Egwene said, earning a sniff from Nynaeve.
Moiraine made a clicking sound. “I have told you, child, things do not have power. The One Power comes from the True Source, and only a living mind can wield it. This is not even an angreal, merely an aid to concentration.” Wearily she slid the staff back under her girth strap. “Lan?”
She then throws it away towards the end of the book once it becomes corrupted by the taint in the Ways.
Judkins scrapping the staff, not only brings Moiraine's use of the One Power, more into line with how it's wielded in the rest of the series, but also helps put a little more distance between Moiraine and Gandalf.
As she moved to one of the walls, Rand realized that that wall was different from the others. They were ordinary brick; this was intricately worked stone, fanciful swirls of leaves and vines, pale even under its coat of dust. The brick and mortar were old, but something about the stone said it had stood there long, long before the brick was fired. Later builders, themselves centuries gone, had incorporated what already stood, and still later men had
One part of the carved stone wall, right in the center, was more elaborate than the rest. As well done as the rest was, it appeared a crude copy in comparison. Worked in hard stone, those leaves seemed soft, caught in one frozen moment as a gentle summer breeze stirred them. For all of that, they had the feel of age, as much greater than the rest of the stone as the rest was older than the brick. That old and more. Loial looked at them as if he would rather be anywhere else but there, even out in the streets with another mob.
"Avendesora," Moiraine murmured, resting her hand on a trefoil leaf in the stonework. Rand scanned the carving; that was the only leaf of its kind he could find . "The leaf of the Tree of Life is the key," the Aes Sedai said, and the leaf came away in her hand.
Rand blinked; from behind him he heard gasps. That leaf had seemed no less a part of the wall than any other. Just as simply, the Aes Sedai set it against the pattern a handspan lower. The threepointed leaf fit there as if the space had been intended for it, and once more it was a part of the whole. As soon as it was in place the entire nature of the central stonework changed. He was sure now that he could see the leaves ruffled by some unfelt breeze; he almost thought they were verdant under the dust, a tapestry of thick spring greenery there in the lanternlit cellar. Almost imperceptibly at first, a split opened up in the middle of the ancient carving, widening as the two halves slowly swung into the cellar until they stood straight out. -EotW Chapter 44
The entrance to the Ways was perhaps too similar to entering the Mines of Moria.
Even if the stone pillars above get a cgi make over, there's no confusing them with a door in a wall that comes "alive". A small tweak that also allows Judkins to bring in some real world inspiration.
When Johann Myers was announced to be playing Padan Fain, Deadline reported that he was only booked for one episode.
Morte, Animashaun and Willaum have each been tapped for multiple episodes; Johann is currently booked for one episode with potential to return.
If that is accurate, then he will only appear in the first episode of season one. In the books Fain follows the main party after they leave the Two Rivers, and appears in Baerlon, Caemlyn and is then captured in Fal Dara. His demeaner and actions(post Winternight) readily brings to mind Gollum, and that's just the start of the parallel between the two. However if we only see Fain in the first episode before the Trolloc attack on Winternight, then there is no resemblance. He does of course play a pivotal role in the events of book two, and they will need to go back and explain what happened to him if they skip/brush over his story in the first season. So at best, they are just pushing the comparison to Gollum into season 2, assuming they intend to keep his story consistent with the books.
Still it's one less "in your face" similarity to LotR's for season 1, which might be handy as there is not much they can do about the Lan Strider/Aragorn comparison. They could possibly remove references in the first season to Lan's past and being the Last Lord of the Seven Towers.
The superficial similarities between Nazgul and Myrddraal will of course draw comparisons. The above scene is also very reminiscent of this scene of Rand and Tam in the Westwood.
This time the horse made no sound at all. In eerie silence the dark rider returned, his shadowy mount stopping every few steps as it walked slowly back down the road. The wind gusted higher, moaning through the trees; the horseman’s cloak lay still as death. Whenever the horse halted, that hooded head swung from side to side as the rider peered into the forest, searching. Exactly opposite Rand the horse stopped again, the shadowed opening of the hood turning toward where he crouched above his father.
Rand’s hand tightened convulsively on the sword hilt. He felt the gaze, just as he had that morning, and shivered again from the hatred even if he could not see it. That shrouded man hated everyone and everything, everything that lived. Despite the cold wind, sweat beaded on Rand’s face.
Then the horse was moving on, a few soundless steps and stop, until all Rand could see was a barely distinguishable blur in the night far down the road. It could have been anything, but he had not taken his eyes off it for a second. If he lost it, he was afraid the next time he saw the black-cloaked rider might be when that silent horse was on top of him.
Abruptly the shadow was rushing back, passing him in a silent gallop. The rider looked only ahead of him as he sped westward into the night, toward the Mountains of Mist. Toward the farm. -EotW Chapter 6
Judkins has mentioned that Rand and Tam in the Westwood is one of the scenes he's exited about adapting.
Whether that includes the moment with the Myrddraal, we'll have to WAFO. It is conceivable that moment could be skipped though, as it does readily draw the Nazgul scene to mind.
Raised by Whitecloaks
Which could explain why we got this
Three men in breastplates and conical steel caps, burnished till they shone like silver, were making their way down the street toward Rand and Mat. Even the mail on their arms gleamed. Their long cloaks, pristine white and embroidered on the left breast with a golden sunburst, just cleared the mud and puddles of the street. Their hands rested on their sword hilts, and they looked around them as if looking at things that had wriggled out from under a rotting log.
No prominent sunburst, less armor and more Creamcloaks than Whitecloaks will certainly help with direct visual comparisons.
Based on or Inspired by
The above are just a few examples of possible changes that could make the show "fresh". There will no doubt be many more both small and large in season one of the show, and down the track there are some Game of Thrones similarities that Judkins may decide need changing.
These changes, along with the expanded plotline of Logain and structual changes to how the story is told, will undoubtedly give book readers a different experience. Judkins in his efforts to make things fresh for everyone and to blaze his own aesthetic and world, could easily stray far away from what Jordan wrote.
When The Eye of the World came out it wasn't "blazingly fresh and different and new", it felt familiar. From the Tolkien vibe to the Arthurian references, there wasn't much that was new. What Jordan did well, was draw us in with the familiar, make us care and then slowly expand the story into something epic and new. Jordan didn't shy away from tropes and clichés, he just did them better and improved them. Writers shouldn't be afraid of doing something that has been done before, they just need to do it better. Few have done it better than Robert Jordan.
Lean too far away from The Wheel of Time, and the show won't be based on the books it will just become inspired by them. It's not the overall grand arc of the story that makes The Wheel of Time one of the most popular and read stories of all time, it's the small moments, the big ones, the characters, the living world and the themes that Jordan explores.
Change in itself is not a bad thing, change for the sake of just being different though, is debatable. As the old saying goes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".
Whether or not Judkins turning of the wheel works, we'll have to WAFO!