3.11: On similarities between The Wheel of Time and other SF (including Dune)

[Michael Nielsen, Pam Korda]

People frequently point out similarities between Jordan and other authors. A common example is to point out parallels between Frank Herbert's Dune series and The Wheel of Time -- similarities between Rand and Paul Atreides, for example.

First, note that in a series as large and complex as The Wheel of Time (or Dune), parallels with such an enormous variety of literature can be found that pointing out parallels (particularly if they are common to many sources) can be fairly pointless. In the interest of avoiding endless "RJ ripped off author X"/"Author X ripped off RJ" arguments, we present the following:


  1. Many of the similarities between Jordan and other authors can be explained on the basis of the use of common source materials. Certain motifs, themes, etc. have a very long and rich history in literature. For example, messiah figures (such as Rand) and powerful mystical / priesthood castes (such as the Aes Sedai) have appeared in an enormous number of literary and historical guises over periods of thousands of years.


  2. Jordan is not copying or "ripping off" other authors, as has sometimes been stated on the group. Using common source materials does not imply copying: he transforms and embellishes old ideas from a diverse range of sources (which he has freely acknowledged), and sometimes innovates. The way all these different elements relate is unique to Jordan, since no other author uses the same range of elements.

    The only direct influence we know Jordan has acknowledged is Tolkien: "The only deliberate connection between WOT and any other modern fantasy was giving the first 100-odd pages of TEOTW a Lord of the Rings-esque flavor, to start people off in familiar territory." [from Dublin talk, 11/93, Emmet O'Brien]

    For example, Rand losing a hand doesn't mean that RJ got the idea from Tolkien (Frodo and Beren both lose parts of their hand), or George Lucas, or S.R. Donaldson, any more than Lucas or Donaldson copied from Tolkien. Rather, all four authors most likely got the idea from the Norse god Tew.


  3. While there are similarities, there are also great differences. Paul Atreides and Rand may both be Messiah figures, but they are remarkably different in a multitude of ways, many of them crucial to the story.


Dune Similarities

Many parallels between Dune and the Wheel of Time have been noted. Some of the more important similarities include:


  • Rand / Paul Atreides : Messiah figure from the outside leading great rising of desert warriors (Aiel / Fremen) in fulfillment of prophecy. Has powers usually only available to women. There are also similarities in the way we see both characters develop: a young, rather naive and powerless adolescent changes into an extraordinary leader with great powers. Note that this is a fairly common archetype in SF and other literature.


  • Aes Sedai / Bene Gesserit : Powerful, secretive and manipulative female caste with extraordinary powers, sometimes known as witches. Both go through intensive training and painful rites of passage. Somewhat similar internal power structures and mindsets. Similar remarks may also be made about the Aiel Wise Ones, the Kin, and several other groups in RandLand.


  • Foretelling the future / dreaming : Appears in various guises in both books.


  • Aiel / Fremen: Kick-ass desert warriors who ally themselves with the Messiah figure. The strong similarity makes perfect sense once one knows that Herbert's real-world sources for the Fremen were the Israelites and Zulu (or maybe Native Americans? I lost the relevant article), and RJ's sources for the Aiel are the Zulu and Native Americans.


  • Some common words are used: "Shaitin" and "Mahdi" are two examples. "Shaitin" derives from an Arabic word which in turn is derived from a Hebrew (and Arabic) word, meaning "satan". My dictionary tells me that a "Mahdi" is "any of a number of Muslim messiahs expected to convert all of mankind to Islam," and that the word is of Arabic origins. Obviously this is a usage that can easily be adapted to both TWOT and Dune.

Tolkien References


  • The Nine Rings Inn [TGH: 21, The Nine Rings, 258]


  • Elayne's thought about the Snaky folk: "Elayne's first thought was for the children's tale Bili Under the Hill, but only because of the three answers" [TSR: 6, Doorways, 95]; may be a reference to Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, playing the riddle game underground with Gollum.


  • The name Andor is noted in the Silmarillion as the "original" name for Numenor, and means "Land of Gift".


  • Karldin, the Asha'man traveling with Loial, uses "Mr. Underhill" as a psuedonym. "Yeah, 'cause, like, the Asha'man is so short compared to Loial. Hah. Hah. Hah." [John Novak]

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