Warning: Spoilers for Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time novelsBefore the debut of the Prime Video series, Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson’s epically long Wheel of Time novels found life in 1990 (and like many high fantasy books, seemed to bear influences from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings). Considering how the 2021 series is faithfully adapts the novels, it is not surprising to find similarities with the tales and characters from the Middle Earth. Jordan already drew comparisons with Tolkien in his lifetime, a parallel he probably never shied away from as there are some deliberate namedrops and references to the latter’s voluminous trilogy throughout his own writing.
In season 1 of the show, which is adapted from the first book, The Eye of the World, the central clash between forces of good and evil comes off as the obvious common aspect. The prophecy of finding the Dragon Reborn is again comparable to the mythos of the One Ring, with both Rand al’Thor and Frodo Baggins qualifying for the “chosen one” archetype. Every hero needs a mighty villain and the Dark One doubles in for Sauron in this case. Even Dark One’s minions, the Trollocs, are easy counterparts to the antagonistic Orcs of Lord of the Rings. Similarly, Rosamund Pike’s protagonist Moraine also seems to mirror the wizard Gandalf.
The Dark One Feels Inspired By Sauron
Sauron, the Dark Lord and creator of the rings of power serves as the primary antagonist in Lord of the Rings. Even though his powers are boundless enough for him to create a new societal order, he is depicted with such might that his followers (such as the Ringwraiths) find his cause to be a righteous one. Similarly, The Wheel of Time‘s chief villain The Dark One has capabilities to recreate time and space as whole new entities. Much like Sauron, The Dark One serves as an evil god-like figure, who has enough support from loyal followers collectively known as Friends of the Dark.
While the Ringwraiths were kings who were corrupted by the Rings of Power and committed themselves to servitude under Sauron, the Dark One regularly relies on the beastly beings known as the Myrddraal who derive their powers from him. In both cases, the Ringwraiths and Myrddraal have something to be tempted about in exchange for their partnership with the dark forces. Appearing as eyeless beings with razor-sharp teeth, the Myrddraal evolved out of Trollocs, the Wheel of Time equivalent of Orcs from Lord of the Rings. Hence, it’s not just the chief villain of Wheel of Time but even his accomplices and minions seem to be reminiscent of Tolkien’s universe.
Moraine Damodred Is A Gandalf-Like Figure
The Aes Sedai, known as Moraine Damodred, is an extremely powerful character in The Wheel of Time, who is proficient at channeling the One Power. Her pursuit of the Dragon Reborn by finding young recruits near the Two Rivers is very similar to Gandalf visiting the Hobbits and assisting Frodo and his friends in The Lord of the Rings. Both Moraine and Gandalf double as mentor figures to the protagonist and are driven in their purpose to defeat the evil forces. Just like how Gandalf has fought and trained alongside old wizards like Saruman and Radagast, Moraine has also had a similar experience with other members of the Aes Sedai.
While the Lord of the Rings protagonist Frodo Baggins learns valuable life lessons and undergoes a heroic evolution in his personality throughout the narrative, Gandalf is already established as a figure who has had enough adventure-filled experiences in the past. His central role in The Hobbit bears testimony to this. Similarly, Moraine is introduced as quite a veteran of the magic realm with the Wheel of Time prequel New Spring shedding more light of how she joined the sisterhood and picked up their ways before she sought out the Dragon Reborn among the other ta’veren characters. Much like Gandalf and Frodo, Moraine and the Field Five develop a teacher-student relationship.
The “Chosen One” Narrative With The Dragon Reborn And The One Ring
The Hero’s Journey is quite a common trope in fantasy fiction as can be seen in franchises ranging from Star Wars to Harry Potter. Similarly, even Wheel of Time‘s Rand’al Thor goes through a life-changing journey similar to that of Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings. Just like how Frodo’s life changed from an ordinary Hobbit to the wearer of the One Ring, Rand’al evolves in the novels from a naive villager to a heroic figure who is fated to become the so-called Dragon Reborn. Both heroes are found by wise magical beings (Moraine and Gandalf) and undertake arduous journeys out of their small settlements to achieve their heroic goals.
These similarities aside, both Rand’al and Frodo’s journeys do share a major difference. While Rand’al Thor’s ascension to the Dragon Reborn is a part of a central prophecy in the books, Frodo is assigned the task of protecting the One Ring as a matter of circumstance. Lord of the Rings fans might argue that the Hobbit was born for this role but the events in the books, as well as Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, offer no direct hints to support this theory. After all, at one point, Bilbo Baggins had the One Ring before Frodo, again through mere circumstance.
Trollocs Are Comparable To Orcs
A vast majority of the Dark One’s armies is constituted of the Trollocs. These bestial beings are hybrids of humans and animal stock and were created as a crossbreeding experiment by Aginor. In terms of their purpose as minions to the antagonistic forces, they can be easily comparable from the Orcs from the Lords of the Rings, who have been found working as footsoldiers and enslaved under Saruman, Sauron, and other Dark Lords of Middle-Earth. While the origins of Orcs might be more obscure, they themselves are likely to be hybrid beings, resulting from a crossbreeding experiment involving Elves or humans.
Going by Tolkien’s own The Silmarillion and based on what Saruman has to say in Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, a major theory behind their origins lies in the fact that Orcs evolved out of Elves or humans who were corrupted by dark magic. However, their physiological origins aside, the Trollocs and Orcs do share differences in terms of appearance. While the Orcs in Rings of Power and the films appear as brutish humanoids with tusk-like teeth and pointy ears, the Trollocs look more animalistic in the sense that some of them even bear bird-like beaks and deer antlers. Some of the Trollocs even display feathery skin.
Do The Wheel Of Time Novels Reference Lord Of The Rings?
While Robert Jordan had never gone on record to state any direct influences from Tolkien’s books, a glance at some specific elements of the Wheel of Time books reveal what seem like some deliberate references to the Lord of the Rings lore. For instance, an inn in the second book The Great Hunt is named Nine Rings, much like the Nine Rings of Power that Sauron used to corrupt humans to serve under him. The same book also includes an inn called the Nine Horse Itch, which can possibly be seen as an indirect reference to the nine riders, the Nazgûl, from Rings of Power and Lord of the Rings.
Even in the live-action series, most of the action starts in and around the Two Rivers that neighbor the Mountains of Mist. The name of the mountain range obviously seems to be derived from the Misty Mountains of Lord of the Rings. It would be an overstatement but even the country of Andor in Wheel of Time seems to bear roots in the Middle-Earth as the kingdom of Numenor was originally known by the same name. So, while the characters of Jordan’s literary universe might have their Lord of the Rings counterparts, even the geographical locations are linked to Tolkein’s rich mythology in some way or the other.