The Wheel of Time is a long-running fantasy series by US author Robert Jordan. It is set in a world with an immense amount of history and background, and populated with characters of great depth and realism.
The total complement of Wheel of Time products currently (at time of writing) includes nine books, a reference guide, a couple of short stories, some calendars, a first-person computer game, a Dungeons & Dragons-based roleplaying game and enormous amounts of fan fiction which can be found on the Internet (although these are obviously not endorsed by the publisher or the author).
The first book begins with a prologue set during the 'Breaking of the World', a terrible time three thousand years ago when the counterstroke of the Dark One at the end of the War of the Shadow tainted the male half of the One Power, the force that turns the Wheel of Time, sending all the male Aes Sedai1 utterly insane. Before the female Aes Sedai, who were not affected by the Taint, were able to track down and kill all the male Aes Sedai, the world was completely changed - mountains raised where there were none before, oceans drained and plains flooded.
The prologue chronicles the last hour of the life of Lews Therin Telamon, the male Aes Sedai who lead the final strike at Shayol Ghul, the location of the Dark One's prison. Lews Therin, also known as the Dragon or Kinslayer2, is brought back to sanity by Ishamael, the only one of the Forsaken3 who was not completely imprisoned in Shayol Ghul by Lews Therin and his Hundred Companions.
When he realises what he has done, and sees the body of his beloved wife Ilyena at his feet, Lews Therin commits suicide by deliberately drawing too much of the One Power to himself. The resulting explosion creates Dragonmount, upon the slopes of which the Dragon Reborn will be born, three thousand years later.
The Dragon Reborn is the man destined to face the Dark One at Tarmon Gai'don, the Last Battle. Unfortunately for the world, the Dragon Reborn can channel, and is thus destined to go horribly insane if he cannot find a way to cleanse the Dark One's Taint from saidin, the male half of the Power.
The books follow a variety of characters thrust out of their homes when Trollocs and a Myrddraal, the main components of the Dark One's armies, attack their village. In a world strange to their isolated perspective, they have to fight for survival with the guidance only of the Aes Sedai by the name of Moiraine Damodred and her Warder, Lan Mandragoran. Along the way, they all make many discoveries about themselves and their own potential and role in the survival of the Light and the defeat of the Shadow.
There are many, many characters in the series, some of whom become important only later on. Here is a selection of those we meet at the start of The Eye of the World.
Rand al'Thor - the son of Tam al'Thor, a resident of the village of Emond's Field in the Two Rivers. Rand is forced to leave his home after an attack by Trollocs.
Matrim Cauthon - Rand's best friend in Emond's Field, Mat has a reputation for pranks and tricks. He is also forced to leave after the Trolloc attack.
Perrin Aybara - an apprentice Blacksmith, Perrin is large and very strong, careful of thought and movement. After the Trolloc attack, he too is forced to leave.
Nynaeve al'Maera - the Wisdom of Emond's Field with a gift for Listening to the Wind and a reputation for effecting near-miraculous cures for illness and injury. She is young for the position, but nonetheless extremely capable. She is also determined to protect Rand and the others from the machinations of Aes Sedai, although for different reasons to Thom.
Egwene al'Vere - the daughter of the Mayor and Innkeeper in Emond's Field, Egwene is studying to become a Wisdom like Nynaeve. She is also generally considered to be Rand's future bride, and chooses to leave with him and the others after the Trolloc attack.
Thomdril Merrilin - a gleeman with an unusual past, Thom becomes determined to protect Rand and his friends from what he sees as Aes Sedai machinations.
Moiraine Damodred - an Aes Sedai of the Blue Ajah, Moiraine came to Emond's Field 'in search of old stories', but without her channelling of the One Power during the Trolloc attack, the village would not have survived. It is Moiraine who deduces the reason for the attack and leads Rand and the others out of the Two Rivers.
al'Lan Mandragoran - a mysterious man who radiates potential violence even when relaxed, Lan is Moiraine's Warder, bonded to her with the One Power in a way not entirely understood by any save the Aes Sedai and Warders. Lan's skill with a sword, alongside Moiraine's fireballs and lightning, saves Emond's Field from the Trollocs.
At the time of writing (February 2002) there are nine published books in the series. They are:
- The Eye of the World
- The Great Hunt
- The Dragon Reborn
- The Shadow Rising
- The Fires of Heaven
- Lord of Chaos
- A Crown of Swords
- The Path of Daggers
- Winter's Heart
- Crossroads of Twilight
A tenth book is expected during the last half of 2002, but no confirmed dates have been announced.
Each book is a couple of inches thick, so provides a good amount of reading. The plot contains much subtlety and detail, and because of this the books can be read multiple times with little boredom ensuing. It is often enlightening to read the series from the beginning straight after reading it for the first time, as many of the earlier events will make more sense.
The Short Stories
Robert Jordan has written one published short story, entitled New Spring and telling the story of Moiraine Sedai's first meeting with al'Lan Mandragoren, who she eventually bonds as her Warder. These two characters are pivotal to the story, and the information about how they met is very welcome.
The other short story, The Strike at Shayol Ghul was released on the Internet and is a short essay written in the character of a modern historian at the Royal Library in Cairhein, telling the story of the end of the War of the Shadow some three thousand years before, as gleaned from the most complete text to have survived the Breaking of the World which immediately followed.
Properly entitled The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, this work has earned the title 'The Guide' on many discussion forums, simply because its real title is too long to type repeatedly. The Guide (which must not be confused with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) contains a lot of information about the history of Jordan's world (affectionately called 'Randland' after one of the principle characters) which does not appear in the books but helps enormously with understanding them. It is not essential, but invaluable to anyone who likes to speculate on some of the more abstract theories floating around.
The Computer Game
The game, also called The Wheel of Time was created by GT Interactive and Legend Entertainment using Epic's 'Unreal' engine with a few added bits. It is a first-person 3D game in the same style as 'Unreal', offering twelve single-player missions (some of which are enormous, requiring multiple level files to contain them) and two types of multiplayer gameplay. In the single-player game, the player takes on the role of Elayna Sedai, the Keeper of the Chronicles of the White Tower, who starts off pursuing an assassin who murdered fourteen Aes Sedai and stole an invaluable ter'angreal - an artefact from the Age of Legends which, unbeknown to Elayna, has the ability to allow her to realise her full strength in the One Power.
In multiplayer, the player can take on the role of Elayna, the Hound, Ishamael or the Lord Captain Commander of the Children of the Light, to either play a standard death-match style game (although with forty ter'angreal of all kinds to play with, it's in no way boring) or a citadel game, where teams attempt to steal seals from the enemy's citadel, while defending their own.
There are a number of unofficial mods supposedly in development for the game, but support for it is dropping away as it becomes older, and, like many 'Unreal' engine games, is known to be unreliable on some of the more modern versions of Windows.
Produced by Wizards of the Coast and based on the Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition ruleset, The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game provides everything needed for pencil-and-paper roleplaying in the Wheel of Time world. An add-on pack, Prophecies of the Dragon, is due to be published in early 2002 and provides a storyline and more weapon, item, weave and character stats.
One of the most notable things about The Wheel of Time is the community it has generated on the Internet, including a number of highly successful free-form roleplaying sites and many theory discussion forums. Jordan's world provides plenty of opportunity for people to play characters living in it, unlike some books which seem to leave little open to readers' imaginations. There is an undeniable appeal to roleplaying an Aes Sedai or Asha'man battling against the Shadow with the One Power, and on many sites you can roleplay your character through the vagaries of novice training at the White Tower, or the hardships of learning saidin at the Black Tower.
The community on the Internet is also a lively source of theories about the world and its history. Some are more plausible than others, but one which has particular credence is that which suggests that the world of The Wheel of Time is in fact our world at a different point in the turning of the Wheel. If this theory is correct, then the logical conclusion is that we are currently at least two Ages before the Age of Legends, as the world would need to change substantially to reach that point, including the discovery of the One Power, which theorists have suggested will be forgotten or lost at some point, possibly as the only way for the Dragon Reborn to win at Tarmon Gai'don, the Last Battle. Evidence supporting this theory includes the story mentioned in The Eye of the World of Lenn, who flew to the moon in an eagle made of fire4, and the discovery of an object which appears to be remarkably like a Mercedes Benz logo, made of silvered plastic and radiating an aura of greed.
Criticism of The Wheel of Time
Despite its popularity, or perhaps because of it, there are many people who criticise the series for various reasons. Certainly, it is clear that Jordan has drawn ideas from many other authors, and, in turn, it is likely that other authors have drawn ideas from him5. However, Jordan takes his own angle on most things, and it is surely unrealistic to expect all works of fiction to be totally unique.
The second major criticism is harder to ignore. Robert Jordan has often and validly been accused of stretching and distorting the story arcs in order to fill more books, so that he can sell more and make more money. Now, while this is probably also at the instigation of the publisher, it is starting to get mildly irritating. Yes, The Wheel of Time has become an enormously complicated story with many characters doing many different things, but the first book was intended to be part of a trilogy, and it shows - it moves a lot faster than subsequent books, and the pace seems to be getting even slower for books eight and nine. However, Jordan has said that he should be finishing the series in about three more books, which at the current rate will probably be just about the right amount of time to tie up most of the story arcs and cover Tarmon Gai'don in all its indubitably gory detail.
The Internet community for the Wheel of Time is enormous. Here are some of the more important links:
- WheelOfTime.com the official site of the computer game, this also has links to information about the books, and the Wheel of Time Book Forum.
- Tor, Jordan's publisher in the USA
- Orbit Books, Jordan's publisher in the UK
- Dragonmount, Silklantern.com, WoTMania - three of the largest WoT community sites on the Internet.