Amazon Prime’s adaptation of the epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time launches this month and with 14 main books, a prequel and 2 supplementary books it is a monster of a series. So in case you don’t have time or desire to read 4,410,036 words before November 19th, here is a 10-point primer on the world and history of the Wheel of Time. Now obviously the show is going to make adaptations, I in particular am pretty excited to see what direction they take it, so some of this may not end up being relevant. This isn’t meant to be a list of “Things you can complain about them getting wrong” and more of a background to help you not get too lost in this detailed world.
- The Wheel of Time isn’t just a literary device, it’s in-universe cosmology. Basically, the idea is that the universe runs on a big seven-spoked wheel that powers a loom that weaves the fabric of space-time. Each spoke represents an Age, and while the length of an age isn’t defined, when the books start we are in the Third Age which has been going for about 3,000 years.
- Duality is really important in the Wheel of Time. There are two forces, the Light and the Dark represented by the Creator (who made the universe, imprisoned the Dark One and then fucked off), and the Dark One who is constantly trying to break free so he can destroy the Wheel and the universe. Duality is also represented in the One Power, the magic source. The One Power has two flavours: saidar (accessed by women) and saidin (accessed by men) and those two flavours pushing against each other turns the Wheel. Now you may be asking, what about nonbinary or trans folks? And that is more or less not addressed in the books, but there’s a chance it’ll come up in the show? I’m going to be using the terms “female/women” and “male/men” for the rest of this article because that’s how it’s laid out in the books, even though it is very cisnormative.
- Magic users (channelers) in the Third Age are all female and known as Aes Sedai (Servants of All). In The Second Age, also known as the Age of Legends, Aes Sedai were men and women. However the Age of Legends came to a violent end when some well-intentioned Aes Sedai accidentally cracked open the Dark One’s prison while looking for a power source that men and women could equally access. Woops. The Dark One’s influence spread over the utopia of the Second Age and eventually started a war for control of the planet Fun fact: The Wheel of Time universe is in fact our universe and our time is generally considered to be The First Age. So keep an eye out for real-world references!
- Once the Dark One was getting his nasty funk all over the place, things got real bad real fast in a way only the embodiment of darkness and evil can manage The War of Power lasted a few hundred years and ended when Lews Therin Telamon (The Dragon) led a band of 100 men (the women thought the plan was too risky) to the Dark One’s prison and sealed that thing back up. But no good deed goes unpunished, and the Dark One clapped back and tainted saidin with evil so that no man could access it without touching evil. The Hundred Companions all went insane instantly and started to wreak havoc across the world. Turns out when you have 100 all powerful wizards and they want to rearrange a mountain range, there’s not much you can do about it. The next 300 years are called The Breaking of the World.
- The Breaking of the World was an almost complete and utter destruction of everything. Mountain ranges flattened, seas raised, society collapses and male channelers continue to go insane as they touch the One Power. Lews Therin Telamon famously kills every member of his family, earning the epithet Kinslayer, and then kills himself very dramatically creating a large volcano called Dragonmount. By the time the Breaking is over, the planet looks completely different and society is reduced to a primitive level.
- There is a lot of stuff that happens over the next 3,000 years, but the main thing to know is female channelers continue to call themselves Aes Sedai. They work out of their home base The White Tower in the city of Tar Valon. There are 7 groupings called Ajahs that are colour coded based on what their focus is: Yellow are healers, Brown are scholars, Greys are mediators, Greens are warriors, Whites are philosophers, Blues follow causes and the Red Ajah hunt down male channelers (more on that in a bit). The Aes Sedai of the Third Age swear Three Oaths which are bound to them by the One Power so they cannot be broken. Basically they swear not to lie, not to make weapons with the One Power, and not use the One Power as a weapon except in defense. Particularly the lying one was meant to help the common folks trust Aes Sedai again, but over 3,000 years it has given them a reputation (often deserved) of being incredible manipulators.
- There are prophecies that Lews Therin Telamon will be born again to both save the world from the Dark One but also break it again. One might say that this is controversial.
- There are 2 styles of channelers: those with the spark born in, and those who can learn. People with spark born in will always start to channel at some point in their life (usually they start around puberty) there is no way to stop it. This is particularly problematic for male channelers with the spark because saidin is still tainted and therefore they are doomed to go mad. The Red Ajah makes it their duty to hunt down male channelers before they cause too much damage and “gentle” them, which cuts them off from the One Power forever. Channelers of any gender typically do not live long after being cut off from the One Power. For this reason and many others, Red Ajah don’t really like men, and the feeling is mutual.
- Female channelers or channeler-hopefuls are expected to go to the White Tower if they want to be an Aes Sedai. Female channelers with the spark born in sometimes manage a rough sort of self learning and are known as wilders. This is important because channelers with the spark of any gender who don’t manage to teach themselves die horribly.
- Despite 3,000 years passing since the Breaking, society is still at a roughly medieval European level, since big catastrophes and wars break out roughly every 1000 years. This is not a coincidence, but the show may not bother going into that and it’s not super relevant for this background.
So there you go, a rough background of the world, how magic works, and the history leading up to the start of the books. I can’t wait to see what the show looks like, everything I’ve seen really indicates that the showrunners truly love and respect the source material so it should be interesting!