Adapted for television

11 February 2015 11:00

Yesterday one of my colleagues, who is currently reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, gave me a link to a video that was released the night before called Winter Dragon, which was apparently meant as a pilot of sorts for a Wheel of Time television series. Robert Jordan’s people seem to have not been informed of this pilot, nor did Brandon Sanderson (who completed the series) seem to be aware of its existence until the moment it was broadcast, on a little-known TV channel in the middle of the night. The consensus seems to be that it was made for legal reasons more than anything else. My opinion about this was briefly summarized on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/JSteenbeeke/status/565237145473138688

I won’t even bother you with a link to the video. You’re going to have to trust me that it’s crap. Still, aside from the two of us exchanging reasons just how bad this video was, it did lead to an interesting discussion: suppose they’d ever make a serious effort to film Wheel of Time, wouldn’t they need an extraordinarily large special effects budget? The main form of magic in Wheel of Time is the One Power, which, at least for those trained in its use, has a very visual component, and many of the weaves have astounding visual effects. In addition to this, there are practically hundreds of events that would probably require massive amounts of CGI.

Not to mention the fact that with 14 pretty big novels, they’d have one hell of a time fitting the whole story into a series.

So if not Wheel of Time, then which series would be more suitable for adaptation for television? Beware of spoilers ahead.

1. Shannara Shannara is currently being adapted for television by MTV, and I’ve been following its development with some interest (Terry Brooks has long been one of my favorite authors). There are currently 17 books in the Shannara universe (not counting the 9 prequels or the graphical novel set after Wishsong), with two more scheduled for release. The series is an adaptation of the second Shannara book: The Elfstones of Shannara (which, incidentally, is a good place to start reading Shannara books. The first book, Sword of Shannara, is so much like Lord of the Rings that many people give up on Terry Brooks altogether, which is a shame).

Magic in the Shannara universe is generally limited to a small number of persons, artifacts and supernatural creatures, and far from omni-present. As such, the budget for magic-related special effects doesn’t have to be that large, at least at first. The end of Elfstones has the dimensional walls of the so-called Forbidding break down, leading to armies of demons invading.

Wishsong (the third book) is similar in scope, and the 4-book series that follows (Heritage) can probably be filmed with a budget similar to Elfstones (assuming one series per book). It isn’t until you get to the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara series that things start getting difficult, with the introduction of airships. Things get gradually worse from there on (two words: Prekkendoran Heights), though the High Druid’s Blade (the last book to be released) should probably be easier.

Assuming the series ever makes it that far, of course. Either way I’m curious to see how this one turns out.

2. The Kingkiller Chronicle Special effects shouldn’t be that much of an issue in translating this series. The magic of Sympathy barely has any visual components, so it should be relatively easy to convincingly portray this setting. The music of the story is probably harder than the magic. Of course, with the third book nowhere near completion, it’s difficult for me to predict what turn the series will take.

Either way, the series has been optioned for a TV series, so maybe something will come out of this.

3. The Farseer Trilogy Robin Hobb is currently working on her fifth series in the Elderling universe, and if any of her series are suitable for adaptation to film, the Farseer Trilogy would be the most obvious candidate. Set in a feudal medieval society, the special effects should be simple at first, gradually becoming more complex (The Skill could be tricky to portray though), culminating in the events regarding the stone dragons of Assassin’s Quest.

From there on, things might get more complicated. The Liveship Traders series features sea snakes and living ships. Not sure how that would work out. Once Tintaglia is introduced things get CGI-tastic, and if they ever make it past the Tawny Man trilogy the CGI bill will explode.

4. The Healers of Meligna There’s no way I’m finishing this list without at least one indie writer. K.J. Colt’s series would be an excellent candidate for adaptation to television for many of the same reasons as Robin Hobb’s novels. A feudal society, and magic with only a marginal physical component. The only difficulty with this adaptation would be the fact that the magic is triggered through intercourse, and the protagonist is under-age.


Of course, there might be many more novels suitable for adaptation to a television series. What series do you think is a good candidate for adaptation to either a television series or one or more movies?