James Oliver Rigney Jr. wrote the Wheel of Time under the pen name Robert Jordan. This series consists of fourteen high fantasy novels and has two authors, the aforementioned Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Jordan died while writing what he planned to be the twelfth and final book of the series. Sanderson, a long-time fan of the books, utilized the extensive notes Jordan wrote down before his death and finished the series. While writing the twelfth book, Sanderson realized that the final product would be of prodigious size and decided to split it into three separate works. The first book was released in January 1990. The last book was published in January 2013 – over twenty years since the first book hit the shelves around the world. Below, you will find information regarding the setting, magic, summaries of each book, the author, and the series’ reception and popularity.
Unlike most fantasy series, the world in which The Wheel of Time takes place is not named. Many of the lands in which the story is told are not named either. What is known is that the world is somehow simultaneously the distant past and far-flung future of Earth. Many myths and legends in the book tell of modern-day Earth, while some events in the book are precursors to our ancient legends.
The books take place roughly three-thousand years after a cataclysmic event called ‘The Breaking of the World’ that ended the ‘Age of Legends,’ supposedly an era with highly advanced technology. At this point, the world’s technology level resembles our Renaissance, though several Industrial advancements occur in the later books. Culturally, the world resembles the Renaissance as well, though several matriarchal societies exist, promoting greater equality for women when compared to our own Renaissance.
‘The Pattern’ is a concept that encapsulates the physical world and its laws combined with people’s destinies. ‘The Wheel’ represents the passing of time. Combined, these two concepts apply to the world of The Wheel of Time and several alternate realities, some of which are visited. Each reality is somewhat different from the main one. Some differences are slight, and the worlds largely resemble each other, while others are so drastic that the world is entirely uninhabited. Sometimes the physical laws upon which a reality operates are wholly different from others.
A good example of this is Tel’aran’rhiod, the realm of dreams. It is a plane that can be visited while asleep, though it is possible to enter while awake. All events that occur in this realm are real. Tel’aran’rhiod is connected to all other realms, enabling everyone to dream by visiting it.
Many themes stemming from Asian and European culture are incorporated into the books. Much of their mythology is included, especially concepts from Buddhism and Hinduism, like the ideas of balance and duality. Some tenets of Taoism are also included. The creation story of the world heavily favors Christianity. Much of the story revolves around the struggle between Light (similar to God in Christianity) and ‘The Dark One,’ also called Shaitan. Shaitan is a world in Arabic countries that means the Devil or Satan.
The Wheel of Time contains one of the most well-thought-out magic systems in literature. It revolves around the usage of the classical elements – air, water, earth, and fire – and the addition of a fifth element, spirit. Those who wield magic are called channelers. This power is rarely referred to as magic in the books.
Channelers access what is called the ‘One Power,’ a natural source of strength. A channeler creates a ‘weave,’ each designed to have a specific effect, and imbues different elemental flows within the weave. Weaves must be created in specific geometric formations to function. Men and women have different biases when it comes to manipulating the elements. Men are more predisposed to earth and fire, while women have more talent in wind and water. The ability to manipulate spirit is equally rare among the two genders.
The One Power has two different methods of accessing and using it: saidin and saidar. Saidin and used by men and saidar by women. They are incompatible with each other and differ to the point that a woman cannot teach a man how to channel, and vice versa. While their methods may differ, the two types of magic often achieve functionally identical results.
Men are, on average, individually stronger in magic than women, often drastically so. Women make up for this disparity in power by linking with other women, allowing them to harness more power than they have individually. Levels of strength are determined by how much magical power a channeler can hold and utilize at once.
Some people are born with a ‘spark,’ inherent talent to use magic. Upon reaching puberty, these people will begin to use magic spontaneously, with little control or precision. Unfortunately, most of these natural talents will die from illness brought on by uncontrolled channeling. Those who do survive are dubbed wilders and often have strange limitations on how they use their powers. Others, who do not have the spark but do have the potential to channel, must be trained and their ability brought out. Talent for magic is determined by other channelers, who can sense if someone has the potential to learn.
Channelers have the bonus of an increased lifespan. They live longer according to their strength with the One Power, greater strength equaling a longer life. The strongest channelers can live to be roughly 800 years old.
The Wheel of Time has one of the highest costs of using magic in any fantasy series. Shaitan tainted the One Power thousands of years ago, during the apex of the Age of Legends. In doing so, he caused men to go mad when they used magic. Male channelers would often go berserk, causing rampant destruction in their madness. The world fell because of this, causing the Age of Legends to come to an end. In the present day in the books, this cost has not gone away. Male channelers are almost always rendered incapable of using magic by female channelers to prevent this destruction.
Robert Jordan was born on October 17, 1948, in Charleston, South Carolina. From a young age, Jordan loved reading and devoured as many books as he could get his hands on. He learned to read, mostly on his own, by age four, and by age five had already read more advanced books from authors like Mark Twain and Jules Verne.
Jordan served two tours in the Vietnam War and received several awards for his service, both from the American military and the Vietnamese. After the war, Jordan went to college and received a degree in physics. Post-graduation, he worked as a nuclear physicist for the United States Navy.
In 1977, Jordan embarked on his career as a writer. He had many ideas bouncing around in his head and be finally began to organize them. The Wheel of Time came from these efforts, instantly topping charts around the world. His background with math and physics made his world very logical in how it was organized, particularly in the context of his magic system.
In 2006, Jordan was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, an extremely rare blood disease. Doctors told him he only had a few years left to live. Determined to prove them wrong, Jordan went on living his life as best he could. He started chemotherapy and tried some experimental drugs, none of which worked. Jordan began writing extensive notes and outlines for the rest of The Wheel of Time, hoping that another author could use them to complete his life’s work in the way he wanted.
On September 16, 2007, Jordan died. His wife chose Brandon Sanderson, an accomplished fantasy author and long-time fan of The Wheel of Time, to complete the books. Sanderson used Jordan’s notes to complete his masterpiece, fulfilling Jordan’s dying wish.
The books follow a broad, well-developed cast of characters. Some books heavily feature a few characters, while others get little screen time. The story begins with Moiraine and her guardian, Lan, searching the world for the Dragon Reborn. The Dragon Reborn is a warrior meant to fight Shaitan. Moiraine and Lan eventually come to the village of Emond’s Field, where they take three youths on their journey with them. These young men, Rand al’Thor, MatrimCauthon, and Perrin Aybara all might be the Dragon Reborn, though Moirains is unable to determine which.
They flee from Emond’s Field, running from The Dark One’s forces. The first novel depicts them trying to get to a city called Tar Valon. Tar Valon is a bastion of the AesSedai, a group of magic-users dedicated to helping the world.
Subsequent novels illustrate the fight against The Dark One’s forces and undertaking different missions around the world. The main characters are often split apart into different groups, with new characters introduced and expounded upon in each book. They struggle to unite the world against The Dark One, traveling to various kingdoms and fighting different battles along the way.
The Wheel of Time sold tens of millions of copies around the world. It is heralded as one of the greatest fantasy series ever written and is beloved by countless people. It will forever remain one of the hallmarks of the fantasy genre.
The series spawned comic books, music, and several video games. Over the years, several efforts have been made to bring The Wheel of Time to the big screen, with little success. Though, this may change soon, as Sony is heading an adaptation of the series. It was recently revealed that Amazon partnered with Sony to produce the series, provided the show would premier on its streaming service. Production for the adaptation began in autumn of 2019, though the Covid-19 pandemic significantly slowed production.