How an ancient symbol for rebirth could make Amazon millions.
By Ariana Nicola, Arts and Culture Staff Writer
“The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again… The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.” So opens each of the 15 books in Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy magnum opus, The Wheel of Time.
Often hailed as the successor to J.R.R Tolkien’s works and one of the greatest modern creation stories, the series is considered a pillar in the fantasy community. Two decades after the masterpiece of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, years after the disappointing end to HBO’s widely successful Game of Thrones series, Hollywood is finally starting to recognize the hidden potential of fantasy adaptations. Thirty years after its release in 1990, The Eye of the World, the first book in Jordan’s series, will make its debut into mainstream media as a Prime original show on November 19th. Following a cyclical battle between light and darkness through multiple turns of ages with a hero’s journey at its core, the series explores never-ending rebirths of prophecies, characters, and worlds as threads being weaved into a great pattern by the Wheel.
The logo for the series is a wheel entwined with a snake eating its own tail. Known by many names throughout many cultures and ages, the ouroboros (as it is commonly referred to) is an ancient symbol representing the eternal cyclical renewal of life through death and rebirth.
Creation stories have existed for as long as humankind. The two most pressing questions to our species are where we came from before, and where we go after life on Earth. Most stories that belong to the literary canon of creation are ex nihilo creational beginning; born from nothing. The canon of linear creation stories did not exist until very recently in human history. The Abrahamic religions are thought of as the first belief systems to see creation with a strict beginning and an end. Creation from some matter, usually destruction (ex-material), has been the predominant belief. From the earliest remaining depictions of creation, such as the Babylonian Epic of Creation, matter exists before Gods and other creations.
The symbol of the ouroboros has joined heaven and hell, Chronos and cosmos, life and death for millennia. The oldest depiction of the ouroboros is found in the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, where at the beginning, Atum, the sun god, descends from chaos-torn waters as a snake that rebirths itself every morning. The sun symbolizes destruction and fire, but also allows life on earth to be created.
Jordan started writing The Wheel of Time while serving two tours as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam. His magnificent story spans one hundred thousand different characters, over a thousand of which are named, and over a hundred unique cultures. The series draws from pre-Christian and prehistoric traditions of creation while maintaining prose and plot that is accessible and enjoyable.
In The Wheel of Time, time is symbolized through a wheel with seven spokes, representing seven Ages. The turning of the Wheel of Time, which brings along each Age, weaves “The Great Pattern”, an existence that defines the past, present, and future as cyclical. Eternal return is at the heart of the ouroboros. It is destroyed as it is replenished, offering infinite renewal. The statistical probability of the world’s existence happening uniquely once throughout its entire existence is nonzero, even more so if we continue to believe life to be cyclical, with no linear beginning or ending, with the Chronos and cosmos being infinite. The concept of eternal return naturally follows from these conclusions – existence is eternally recurring.
The Wheel of Time is my favourite book series of all time and has changed my life in many ways. Upon my most recent read in anticipation for the TV series, I found myself getting lost in the ouroboros and what it means in terms of defining infinity. The iconography of the ouroboros represents the ideal cyclical nature of eternity, the unending process of birth, life, death, and discovery that gives meaning to creation. Viewing creation through the ouroboros as ex material leads the reader to new vistas of discovery through time, the universe, eternity, and ultimately, themselves. Watch the first three episodes of the show beginning November 19th on Prime Video, or consider supporting a local independent bookstore and picking up the first book, The Eye of the World.