Spoiler: I’m a dude. So maybe I’m not the perfect person to dive into the quagmire that is identity politics blogging but, spoiler number two, I’ve read all of the Wheel of Time books. There’s 14 of them. That’s a lot. So while I may not feel fundamentally equipped to wax poetic about feminism at large, I do feel qualified to talk about Wheel of Time and its upcoming TV series. And what I want to talk about, what is to me the greatest strength of the WoT series, is women. The women in the WoT are fantastic. They are also, at times, terribly written.
This wonderful Tor blog last month brought to light the exceptional work of redditors who tracked one of the endearing phenomena known to WoT fans: the braid-tugging and skirt-smoothing ways of our heroines. They sniff, too. And cross their arms under their breasts an obscene number of times. It comes across as lazy, cookie-cutter writing attached to characters that are among the most powerful women in any fantasy epic this side of The Wall.
The crux of the WoT story revolves around women mages (Aes Sedai) regulating access to magic because men who dabble eventually go crazy and some even try to destroy the world. There is, of course, a legend about “the Dragon Reborn” who will cleanse the evil from the male side of the True Source and defeat an ancient evil, and the man becomes a legend and the legend fades to myth and myths are long forgotten etc etc. I’m not going to try to truncate 14 books into a few sentences. But throughout those 14 books an astonishing amount of power and courage and respect surrounds the women in the Dragon Reborn’s life as they ascend alongside him as friends or foes.
I started the WoT series when I was 22 years old, the middle of my peak bro-years. But it was so refreshing to read a fantasy epic where women were more powerful than men. Not because of some deep-seeded Women’s Studies fetish I had, but because it felt different. It felt unique and original and compelling in a way the usual casts of bearded Norsey dudes in fantasy epics do not. So I am especially hopeful that Sony Pictures adaptation finds a good TV home with a good cast of women who wield character depth equal to their arcane prowess.
I say this as another of my favorite feminist sci-fi books gets the TV treatment soon. The Handmaid’s Tale is coming to Hulu on April 26 and with it a haunting, prescient examination of Christian patriarchy run amok. But while Margaret Atwood’s tale may give us some unwanted existential stress, the WoT can deliver the escapism so many people seem to need. If handled right, the WoT series can inspire. If handled wrong, prepare to see a lot of sniffing, braid-tugging, skirt-smoothing, arms-crossed-under-breastsing style petulance from fans like me.