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Billy Todd

Welcome to the Family: An Open Letter to Old and New Fans of The Wheel of Time

“History repeats her tale unconsciously, and goes off into a mystic rhyme; ages are prototypes of other ages, and the winding course of time brings us round to the same spot again.”

—James Burns, The Christian Remembrancer Vol 10, 1845

“If what I get is what they did in Merlin, I’ll be perfectly satisfied.”

—Robert Jordan interview, 1999

Fans of The Wheel of Time are conditioned from its earliest moments to respect the power of prophecy and to analyze the tiniest minutiae of word choice. The story’s characters perceive their foretold Breaking of the World with a mix of fear and hope…and now we fans have mixed feelings about our own coming cataclysm. Long whispered in real-world prophesies, the Wheel of Time TV show will be upon us in a matter of days.

Rational viewers (which I admittedly am not) will anticipate an hour’s entertainment, one episode after the other. But for some of us, this is a moment of transition, a Breaking of what The Wheel of Time is, essentially, and a reforging of what it means to be a WoT fan. It is as though many of us are at a feast—we existing fans huddled around the table anxious to dig in, while curious but unfamiliar people peek through the windows, waiting for Amazon to let them in. A minority of fans already seated at the table are looking nervously at those people outside, and they are being noisy about them. Why? Their problem is not really the new guests. Their problem is with the feast itself.

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From the Two Rivers: Casting and Race in The Wheel of Time

“It’s about my story, isn’t it? That’s what this is all about. He didn’t want to publish my story. And we all know why—because my hero is a colored man.”
—Benny Russell, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Far Beyond the Stars”

“Momma! There’s a black lady on TV and she ain’t no maid!”
—Caryn Elaine Johnson, age 10, watching Star Trek in 1966, 16 years before becoming Whoopi Goldberg

Last week the producers of Amazon’s Wheel of Time television adaptation announced the cast for what can reasonably be called the show’s main protagonists, insofar as a 15-book series with over 2000 named characters and 147 unique point of view characters has main protagonists. In the books, the five characters announced today serve as the reader’s eyes for over 40% of the action, whether counting by words or by POVs. These characters matter—they are among the most famous characters in all of Western fantasy, with over 80 million copies of the Wheel of Time novels sold in the past thirty years.

Three of the five actors are of African ancestry or are Aboriginal Australian.

The announcement has sent shock waves across much of the fandom, and for an important reason: it serves as explicit rejection of an implicit promise made a very long time ago.

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