Saturday, 6 October 2018

A History of the Wheel of Time Part 1: Introduction and the First Age


Between 1990 and 2013 Tor Books published one of the most popular epic fantasy series ever created. Across fourteen novels, a prequel and two companion volumes, The Wheel of Time has sold over 85 million copies worldwide, including 56 million sales in the United States and 5 million in the United Kingdom. It was the biggest-selling epic fantasy series after The Lord of the Rings until 2018, when it was overtaken by sales of George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Wheel of Time has expanded to secondary media, with a video game, soundtrack album, comic book and a pen-and-paper roleplaying game all being released for it (along with T-shirts and replica swords). Now it is set to become a major TV series for Amazon, with Rafe Judkins and his team at Sony TV set to produce an apparently faithful adaptation of the books.

Like all of the biggest fantasy series, The Wheel of Time is built on a bedrock of a deep and well-realised backstory, or "lore" as common parlance has it these days. This history is extensive and continuously expanded upon through the books and the spin-off material. Published in 1997, The World of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time by Teresa Patterson attempted to tell this history, but numerous additions to the backstory followed in the subsequent seven novels in the series, along with more information provided by Robert Jordan in the form of fan Q&As, notes given to the makers of the roleplaying game, and his own worldbuilding notes, some of which were mined for the later Wheel of Time Companion (2015).

This, then, is an attempt to update the deep history of the Wheel of Time world, drawing on all of the available canonical sources.

A Note on Calendar Systems
Since the Breaking there have been three calendar systems used widely in all the lands between the Aryth Ocean and the Spine of the World (that subcontinent known, with a disappointing lack of originality, as "the Westlands"). The first, the Toman Calendar (developed by Toma dur Ahmid), recorded the years as After the Breaking (AB) and came into widespread use two centuries after the death of the last male Aes Sedai. This calendar was used until the end of the Trolloc Wars, by which time some nations had lost track of what year it was. A new calendar was created by Tiam of Gazar which recorded the years as Free Years (FY) and celebrated the world’s freedom from the Trolloc threat. The Gazaran Calendar came into use within twenty years after the end of the Trolloc Wars (which are estimated to have ended around 1350 AB). The chaos and destruction of the War of the Hundred Years again disrupted this calendar, so that within eighteen years of the war’s end (in c. FY 1117) a new system had to be instigated. This new system, the Farede Calendar, was devised by Uren din Jubai Soaring Gull, a Sea Folk scholar, and popularised by Farede, the first Panarch of Tarabon. This system counted the years as being part of the New Era (NE) and remains in use today, some 998 years later.

No calendar has survived from the Age of Legends, though we do have dates on various documents. Without context, these dates are meaningless. No calendar was in use during the Breaking of the World, since people had more important things to worry about.

As such, it is not entirely clear how much time has passed since the end of the Age of Legends. The AB and FY periods lasted roughly 1,350 and 1,135 years respectively, and the New Era has just entered its 998th year, but the length of the Breaking is difficult to determine (estimates range from 239 to 344 years). As such the length of time that has passed since the end of the Age of Legends may be anything between 3,724 years and 3,829 years.

Lands beyond our own, such as Shara and Seanchan, use different calendars. The Seanchan may use one of three different calendars: the Gazaran Calendar, the little-used Founding Calendar (dating from the founding of Artur Hawkwing’s empire in FY 963) and their own calendar dating from the end of the first phase of the Conquest (around 700 years ago). The Sharans, as with so much else, have refused to comment on their own calendar systems.

Historical Sources
This history attempts to cover a period in detail from around 110 years before the Breaking of the World to the present day, a period approaching 4,000 years. There are, as you may imagine, many sources available for this period, but their accuracy in many areas is open to question.

No sources have directly survived since before the Breaking of the World. All the knowledge we have about the Age of Legends comes from histories written in the early part of the AB era, presumably when the writers had access to more direct sources. The oldest such source we have dates from the first few decades AB and is nothing less than a history describing the entire period between the drilling of the Bore into the Dark One’s prison and the end of the War of the Shadow. Such a history would be huge, but only 212 pages have survived and the largest number of consecutive pages is a mere six. These fragments, recently unearthed in a dusty room in Chachin, have been carefully analysed by historians and, it is said, an Aes Sedai sister of the Brown Ajah, and their authenticity confirmed. These pages describe something of life in the Age of Legends, before and during the Collapse, and also describe the War of the Shadow. Most importantly, the six surviving consecutive pages describe the attack on Shayol Ghul by Lews Therin Telamon and the Hundred Companions, possibly the most significant event in world history (aside from the drilling of the Bore itself).

Most records of the AB era – the period between the Breaking and the Trolloc Wars – were lost during the chaos of the wars, but several key history books of the period - complete and undamaged - survive in the library of the White Tower in Tar Valon. It is also believed one similar volume resides in the Great Library of Cairhien.

Records of the Free Years should be more common than records for the prior era, since they are up to a thousand years more recent, yet only a few more history texts have survived. It is believed that for a time during the War of the Hundred Years all books which even mentioned the High King, Artur Hawkwing, were burned, even books which had nothing to do with him but were merely published during the reign of the Empire. For a similar reason sources on the Hawkwing Empire itself are relatively scarce, though a few have survived in the libraries of Tear, Cairhien, Tar Valon, Tanchico, Ebou Dar and Caemlyn (the major cities of both the imperial and modern eras).

Histories and records for the New Era are the most common of all, naturally, and only for this period do we have strong, reliable records.

The reader should, however, bear in mind that all records and sources are prone to similar problems: the writer’s opinion, copyists’ errors, propaganda, bias and even plain guesswork corrupting the truth. For that reason, this history uses, wherever possible, only sources verifiable by other sources. However, for some matters, especially the oldest parts of the history, we have had to do some speculation and guesswork. The reader is fully entitled to disagree with our interpretation of events and offer alternatives of their own.

Before the Age of Legends
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go. According to myth there are seven spokes to the Wheel of Time, and each spoke represents one of the Seven Ages. Our Age is called the Third Age by some, the Age of Prophecy by others. But long ago, before the Breaking of the World, a time of peace and harmony existed. This period was called the Second Age of the Wheel of Time, the Age of Legends.

The origins of the Age of Legends are lost forever in the mists of time. According to the most ancient legends the First Age, an age of mysteries, was a time of conflict and pain, when technology meant that death could be rained down upon innocents from thousands of miles away and the entire world was forever in danger of tipping into chaos and oblivion. During this Age the One Power and the True Source were unknown. People simply could not channel. Then, near the end of the Age, they could. The histories and legends are massively unreliable, with speculation and rumour mixed in with more reliable data, but it may be that the ability to channel was introduced (or reintroduced, from the previous turning of the Wheel) artificially, by people using machines and science to change the genetic nature of test subjects.

It is unknown how this was done, or how many people died before they first channeller was successfully created. According to legend, this person was named “Tamyrlin.” This person and their fellow surviving test subjects suddenly found themselves able to move objects without physically touching them, spontaneously create or douse flames and perform many other seemingly impossible tasks. The ability to wield the One Power had been granted to humanity.

At this time the world was made up of hundreds of nations, all competing with one another in complex webs of alliances. Suddenly, the nations were battling one another to create channellers of their own. Thousands died, but hundreds appeared able to wield the One Power. They were used as weapons or spies. Wars erupted over who could control them. When it was revealed that the genetic link was passed on through bloodlines, with often the children of the channellers also able to channel, some of the more callous countries developed breeding programmes dedicated to creating as many channellers as possible.

Eventually, after a few decades of this treatment, the channellers themselves rebelled. Now numbering in the hundreds of thousands, they refused to be used as weapons anymore and demanded their lives back. They banded together to stop the chaos and restore peace to a fractious world. Their “masters” proved unable to stop them. In time the channellers ended the wars and restored peace to the world. With the One Power, they realised, they could end pain and hardship forever. They could alter weather patterns to bring rain to areas afflicted by drought. They could make farms more productive. They could use the One Power to locate valuable stores of minerals far below the ground, or oil underneath the ocean floor. As time passed they even discovered how to travel from any one point in the world to any other point in an instant. Aided by the One Power, they could forge new technologies and undertake scientific research to a far greater level than ever before. Above all, the reasons for poverty and unhappiness could forever be removed.

The channellers dedicated themselves to caring for mankind and protecting the world from itself, if necessary. They named themselves “The Servants of All,” or Aes Sedai in the Old Tongue.

Note: much of the preceding is highly speculative and may be regarded as a best guess on how the First Age gave way to the Second, but in no way should it be taken as fact.

Please note that Parts 2-4 of this series are also available to read now on my Patreon page and my other blog, Atlas of Ice and Fire, is currently running a Wheel of Time Atlas series.

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The History of The Wheel of Time, SF&F Questions and The Cities of Fantasy series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

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