The Wheel of Time and The Lord of the Rings are two extremely popular high fantasy novel series with huge fan bases. J.R.R. Tolkien’s work is the frontrunner that influenced the entire high fantasy genre, but Robert Jordan’s novels are nothing short of the original. With The Wheel of Time TV show premiering on Amazon, how do the books and shows compare?
The Wheel of Time is an epic series, but The Lord of The Rings is the work everybody else looked up to. The books are more concise, but the writing is harder to follow than Jordan’s. As for the LotR movies and WoT series, there’s no doubt that LotR is above-and-beyond better.
While Jordan’s writing is more straightforward, he tends to go overboard with character introductions, development, and in-story world-building. On the other hand, Tolkien’s stories are easier to follow, but many characters don’t get much depth, and most of the world-building is done outside of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Let’s compare them thoroughly.
The Wheel of Time Story
The Wheel of Time is a series of high fantasy novels written by Robert Jordan. Jordan didn’t finish the series before he passed away, but he left tons of notes, guidelines, and ideas behind, so Brandon Sanderson finished the last three books.
The series was originally planned to be six books, but as the story developed, Jordan had more and more material coming out of him, which ultimately led to the series being 14 books long, spanning from 1990 to 2013.
The brilliant high fantasy series is known for its complex magic system, imaginative world-building, a huge cast of characters, and spectacular storytelling while using quite a simple vocabulary and writing style, making the series accessible even for non-prolific readers.
After it finished, the series was nominated for the prestigious Hugo Award and has sold over 90 million copies worldwide. There are video games, soundtracks, card games, and finally, a high-budget TV series developed from the books, making it clear that The Wheel of Time is not only popular among high fantasy fans but a much, much wider audience.
The story is set in a world that is both the past and the future. The time in this series is cyclical, meaning it repeats itself after a cycle is completed. A deity known as the Creator forged the Wheel of Time that spins and changes the Pattern of the Ages. Men, women, and their lives are the threads that create the Wheel.
The One Power is a mystical energy that flows from the True Source, and it’s divided into two halves – male and female, or saidin and saidar. At first, some men and women could harness the One Power and use it as magic, but the male half got pollution, and now every man using the One Power goes insane – only the women can use it.
The Dark One, or Shai’tan (Satan), is the main antagonist aiming to influence and corrupt the world. He’s imprisoned, but his influence managed to breach the prison and start corrupting the world, with the Dark One’s followers trying to set him free.
As a response, the Wheel spun out the Dragon, one channeler with the omnipotent power to defeat the Dark One who gets reincarnated after each spin of the Wheel. The Aes Sedai – those wielding the magic from the One Power – are searching for the Dragon to stop the Dark One forever.
It’s hard to put everything that happened in 14 books into a synopsis, but this is the premise Jordan worked on. Of course, the books thoroughly explain the world, the magic system, and the characters. Still, the main premise is like any other high fantasy series – the fight of good versus evil, where the “good” is not always purely and unmistakably sinless.
The Lord of the Rings Story
The Lord of the Rings is an incredible high-fantasy novel series written in 1953-54 by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s considered the frontrunner that paved the way for the high fantasy genre. Many authors found inspiration in Tolkien’s work, and many followed in his footsteps, but the original stays the original.
The story is divided into three books, which seems like a much smaller, more concise source material. Well, that’s not the entire story of Middle-earth and Tolkien’s world. A novel called The Hobbit was published nearly 20 years earlier, and the Silmarillion, where a lot of the world-building and backstories for The Lord of the Rings character and events are given.
In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a story follows a group of people – humans, dwarves, elves, and hobbits – who are desperately trying to defeat Lord Sauron. He’s the Dark Lord, a sorcerer who created the Rings of Power, most notably, the One Ring, which is the source of all Sauron’s power.
The worst part is that it corrupts anybody wearing it, listening and obeying no one but its master.
Someone has to take the Ring to the very place it was forged in, the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor, the land where Sauron rules. The task is given to a young hobbit, Frodo Baggins, who embarks on the journey defended and guided by the Fellowship of the Ring.
Meanwhile, Sauron and Mordor recruited Saruman the White and Isengard as allies to help bring an end to the world of men. As the story goes on, the human kingdoms, Rohan and Gondor, face adversity inside their walls while the Orcs of Isengard and Mordor attack from the outside.
Frodo’s epic journey ends where it’s supposed to end, and the Dark Lord is destroyed once and for all.
The Lord of the Rings plot is much more straightforward, and there’s not too much world-building within the books. And, it’s not needed – you get just enough to understand the world the characters are in and how it works. If you want more details, Tolkien left behind a ton.
He created such a unique, detailed world from its beginnings to the very end, with an elaborate map of the world, its system, the people and their species, even completely new languages.
It is an epic journey, and it’s no wonder that The Lord of the Rings is used as a template for the high fantasy genre.
The Wheel Of Time Vs. The Lord Of The Rings Books Comparison
From the start, we can see that The Wheel of Time is much longer, appearing more elaborate and complicated. It has 14 books, compared to The Lord of the Rings that has only three. There are many more characters, and Jordan tried giving most of them an elaborate backstory in an already incredibly elaborate fantasy world.
Let’s compare the books based on some crucial categories.
As I’ve mentioned before, Robert Jordan introduced many characters into the series – over 2000. Almost every character gets its “five minutes,” with a back story of how they got where they got and a character arc of them changing throughout their story.
It wouldn’t be a problem, and it isn’t at first, but two things make it a problem in later books.
First, the sheer number of characters is huge, and sometimes it’s hard to remember all of them, who they are, what they do, and why they’re important for the story. Second, Jordan rarely kills any characters but keeps them around forever. It becomes a problem due to an over-abundance of characters.
Some storylines were left behind and not reintroduced to the main storyline for three whole novels. Keep in mind; the books came out periodically, meaning you had to wait for three or four years for a storyline to continue, enough to forget its significance.
Second, Rober Jordan hardly ever kills a character. He keeps them around until the end, which results in an overabundance of characters and stories you need to follow and remember.
Every character is greatly developed and elaborate, especially the main characters. They all go through a major character arc, changing them from who they were at the beginning to who they become at the end.
On the other hand, The Lord of the Rings doesn’t try too hard to give you elaborate, thorough, colossal backstories to most of its characters. In fact, one of the things that high fantasy fans resent in the trilogy is the lack of character development – at least for some characters.
Tolkien gives you enough to understand the character, their history, and motivations but doesn’t go much further than that. For instance, I’d like to learn more about Gandalf’s powers, Legolas’ history, or why the dwarves and the elves dislike each other that much.
You can’t learn that from the trilogy – you have to dig through the rest of Tolkien’s work to find the answers. Still, you get just enough to understand the story, and the characters that needed to be thoroughly developed have been, with epic character arcs and changes throughout the books that I’ve cried over a few times (please, don’t tell my girlfriend I did).
While Jordan sometimes goes overboard with character development, Tolkien is sometimes too sparse, and you need to dig into the rest of his work if you want to learn more.
We have a similar situation with world-building. Jordan’s world is much more complicated but incredibly well-elaborated, explained, and detailed. The major part of the first few books is dedicated to building the world and explaining how it works, including the Ages turning and the magic system.
It’s incredibly well-written and detailed, but it’s just too much at moments. Unlike Tolkien, who had done most of his world-building outside of the trilogy, Jordan crammed everything he had imagined into the books. It would be overwhelming if he weren’t such an incredible writer, but Jordan somewhat balances and evens it out with a very exciting story.
The world-building in The Wheel of Time is much more needed to understand the plot, whereas The Lord of the Rings can be understood even if you don’t know much about Middle-earth. Again, Tolkien gives the reader just enough to understand where, how, when, and why a situation develops.
There’s plenty to read about in The Hobbit and The Silmarillion if you want more detail and elaboration. When you put it all together, Tolkien’s world is one of the most magical, elaborate, incredibly well-written, and imagined worlds with several new languages and dialects written and history from the beginning of time to the end of The LotR events.
Jordan does his world-building within the books, while Tolkien does so too, but the details are elaborated outside the LotR trilogy.
Finally, Jordan writes in a very easy-to-follow language that’s not too poetic. Anyone can easily understand his writing style without too much effort or straining – the only problem is keeping up and remembering all the characters, storylines, and details about the world.
Opposingly, Tolkien’s writing style is simply epic. Sometimes, it’s not that easy to follow until you get used to it because every sentence ever said or written in The Lord of the Rings is poetic in nature.
The characters speak archaically, almost too poetically at times. Still, the way Tolkien presents it is all but too poetical – it only builds onto the story of the spectacular world and the journey J.R.R. takes you on. It immerses you into the plot in a way no other book ever did. At least for me.
The Wheel Of Time TV Series Vs. The Lord Of The Rings Movies Comparison
The quality difference between The Wheel of Time TV series and the Lord of the Rings movies is much larger than the quality difference of the books. The latter is above and beyond better and more successful, and here’s why.
Robert Jordan’s books and the characters within are so elaborate, well-written, and developed that it’s hard to adapt for the screen. The entire first season of The Wheel of Time didn’t even cover the entire first book.
Some characters are unnecessarily detailed, while others are too bleak. Some had character arcs very different from the source material. Characters were abundant, and the female characters sometimes fell too “bitchy” to me – pardon my French. Overall, there’s an imbalance that somewhat ruins the impression of such an impressive world and concept.
On the other hand, The Lord of the Rings movies have the same “issue” as the books – some characters are simply under-developed. We get tons of characters there, but we know almost nothing about who they are in terms of their history, motivations, or character development.
Who is Legolas, and what motivates him? Who was Gimli before LotR events? What about Gandalf? All we know about Arwen is that she’s an elf who fell in love with a human. In short, I would love to learn more about the characters within the story instead of having to gloss over the rest of Tolkien’s work to find out what I wanted to know.
Still, it doesn’t affect the story whatsoever – the director, Peter Jackson, had done a marvelous job at giving us just enough information and character development to fall in love with the characters, regardless of how deep their character arc goes.
The world-building in The Wheel of Time series is quite elaborate, and it had to be if you wanted to understand anything that was going on. The same as the books – if some things weren’t elaborate explained, the plot would make no sense to the reader/viewer.
The TV series had done a great job introducing the viewer to the new world and the magic system it comprises of, but just like in the movies, it felt too much at moments for me.
On the other hand, I’ve seen some comments saying they would’ve loved to learn more about Jordan’s world and its concepts, but it would completely take over the story itself.
As for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s not that elaborate and in need of a thorough explanation about how it works and why it works in the way it does. We get just enough world-building and backstory about every part of Middle-Earth through dialogue, flashbacks, and through the plot and the journey itself.
Again, it lacks detail and history, but you get enough to understand everything that’s going on, allowing you to focus on the storyline instead of the world it’s set in.
This is where I felt the most difference. The Lord of the World is spectacularly well-crafted and directed. It’s so poetic that it almost feels like you’re immersed in an epic poetry piece. Peter Jackson had done a fantastic job adapting the source material for the movie, making crucial changes that were needed to fit the narrative while staying true to Tolkien’s work.
On the other hand, I didn’t enjoy The Wheel of Time that much in the directing department. Perhaps it’s only my impression, but it felt jumpy at times. The pace was off, sometimes banging event after event in the same episode, while sometimes dragging a single event throughout an entire episode, or even two.
They focused too much on building the world and elaborating the characters, making the storyline feel watered-down, slow, and off. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very good and worth your time, but simply not as great as The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The Wheel Of Time Vs. The Lord Of The Rings: Which One Is Better?
Finally, it will all depend on what you enjoy more. The Wheel of Time is a lot longer and time-consuming, but the story is awesome, the world-building incredibly elaborate, and the writing quite easy to follow.
However, it doesn’t come close to what Tolkien managed to create. Sure, if you want more elaboration of the world and the characters, you have to look outside The Lord of the Rings trilogy itself. Still, it gives you more than enough to understand everything that’s going on, how it works, and why it’s happening the way it’s happening.
Tolkien’s work is the original – even Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin, two of the most famous high fantasy novelists after him – claimed Tolkien’s work inspired them and helped them create their respective work, The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones).
I prefer The Lord of the Rings, but if you start reading and don’t enjoy the writing style throughout the first few chapters, you probably won’t enjoy it later, either. However, the story is much more concise, straightforward, and immersive – I found myself lost a couple of times while reading The Wheel of Time, and it never happened with LotR.
As for the TV show and the movies, there’s no comparison. Even if you like The Wheel of Time more than you like The Lord of the Rings, there’s no denying that Peter Jackson’s movies are above and beyond better than The Wheel of Time TV show.
The acting is somewhere in the same ballpark, but the writing, directing, screen-setting, costumes, dialogues, and virtually everything else is better in the epic trilogy. If you need any more proof – the trilogy received thirty Oscar nominations in total, while the third film, the Return of the King, holds the record for most Oscars ever with eleven, tying Ben Hur and the Titanic.
While it might be a matter of preference with the books, it’s a matter of quality with the adaptations. Still, both The Wheel of Time and The Lord of the Rings are well worth your time to read and to watch. If you enjoy the high fantasy genre, it doesn’t get much better than the two.