Having concluded my atlas of the Malazan world after several months (at least for now; new information is coming to light which will require its revisiting in coming months) I now move on to a project I’ve hoped to tackle for about twenty years: an atlas of the Wheel of Time series.
If you are not familiar with the Wheel of Time series, please check out my Wheel of Time franchise familiariser, which covers the setting and the sequence of books. Briefly, The Wheel of Time is major epic fantasy series which covers fourteen novels in the main series, a prequel novel, two companion volumes, a video game, a soundtrack album (!) and a forthcoming TV series from Sony and Amazon. Oliver Rigney Jr. wrote the first eleven novels and the prequel under the pen name “Robert Jordan,” publishing them between 1990 and 2005. Sadly, he passed away in 2007 with the series still incomplete. It fell to Brandon Sanderson to complete the final three books using notes, dictation cassettes and information from Robert Jordan’s assistants and editors. The final volume was published in 2013.
Previously I’ve had to make use of other people’s maps, editing them as needed, as my own artistic skills were limited (to put it mildly). However, for this series of maps I started using a different programme which makes it much easier to create maps from scratch, with improved options for things like mountains and forests. The maps that follow will be, by and large, my work as opposed to building on other people’s efforts. Nevertheless, the original maps from the books and companion works are hugely important and influential in assembling these maps. The original Wheel of Time maps were created by the following:
- Thomas Canty – the colour endpaper maps from the first four hardcover volumes.
- Ellisa Mitchell – the black and white maps from all the books, followed by the beautiful full-colour painting which appeared in every book from Lord of Chaos She also provided the fantastic (and relatively unknown) colour maps from The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game and its expansion book, Prophecies of the Dragon.
- John M. Ford – the maps from The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, including the world maps and the only extant maps of Seanchan and Shara (also an excellent author in his own right).
- Linda and Dominic – Wheel of Time superfans and masters of the Thirteenth Depository blog, where for some years they assembled some very useful and well-thought-out fan maps of particular locations.
The world of the Wheel of Time is our world, both in the distant future and the remote past. Time is a wheel with seven spokes, each spoke representing one of the great ages. The Wheel is forever turning and returning, weaving the pattern of the age out of the lives of those who live in it, and the events of each age are long forgotten when it comes again. Each turning of the Wheel is subtly different, as the Wheel allows for free will and decisions that were made one way in one turning may be made a different way in another.
In the Second Age, known as the Age of Legends, humanity reached a pinnacle of science, engineering and technology. A utopian golden age was achieved, people living for hundreds of years in lives free from toil, hunger and suffering. In this age both men and women achieved great feats using the One Power (drawn from the True Source), a way of manipulating the five elements (earth, wind, fire, water and spirit) to create effects ranging from instantaneous travel across thousands of miles to creating fire or healing injuries. Despite the great achievements of the age, the potential of the Power was limited by the fact that only men could use the form of the Power known as saidin and women could use the form known as saidar, achieving the same effects through different means. Channelers of the One Power – known as the Servants of All or Aes Sedai in the Old Tongue – were greatly honoured for their service to humanity, but many chafed at the seemingly arbitrary limitation placed on their abilities.
In their hubris, Aes Sedai scientists found an apparently undivided source of the One Power, hidden behind a barrier of energy. Unbeknown to the Aes Sedai, this energy was a prison, meant to keep the malignant source of all evil in the universe – Shai’tan, the Dark One – safely sealed away. The breaching of the prison led to the release of evil, chaos and depravity back into the world, leading to the gradual collapse of civilisation over a period of a century. A world that had not known war for over ten thousand years was suddenly plunged back into it, as the followers of the Dark One strove to free their master from his prison and others rallied to fight them in a great war lasting a decade. Monstrous creatures known as Shadowspawn – genetically-engineered monstrosities – were unleashed by the Dark One’s followers, whilst the forces opposing them rallied with new forms of the Power and new weapons. In the final confrontation, the great leader known as the Dragon, Lews Therin Telamon, sealed the Dark One’s prison. But the Dark One’s counterstroke tainted saidin, driving all male channelers of the One Power insane on the instant.
In their insanity, they destroyed the world. Civilisation was obliterated, entire landmasses sank beneath the waves and new ones were raised up to replace them. Earthquakes rearranged the landscape until almost all trace of the past was lost. After three centuries the last male Aes Sedai was killed or “gentled” (cut off from the One Power), but in that time almost all of the achievements of the Age of Legends were lost. Humanity, reduced to a bare handful of survivors scattered across the globe, was reduced to the primitive level of using carts and horses instead of aircraft and hovercars, swords and axes instead of firearms and books and scrolls rather than holographic displays.
Guided by the Aes Sedai – now all women – humanity nevertheless survived and prospered. After three and a half thousand years, despite the usual setbacks of war, strife, plague and famine, millions of people now fill the lands between the Aryth Ocean and the Spine of the World. But the influence (and numbers) of the Aes Sedai is waning, and humanity lives under an ominous warning: the Third Age is known as the Age of Prophecy, for at the end of the War of the Shadow it was foretold that the Dark One was only defeated, not destroyed, and the seal on his prison will weaken and shatter. When that time comes, Lews Therin Telamon shall be spun out of the Wheel in a new body to lead the Last Battle against the Shadow, but he will remain under the curse of madness and death. He will save the world by destroying it anew. The Dragon shall be Reborn, and the world will suffer for it.
The World of the Wheel
The world a great sphere, some 24,900 miles in circumference. Most of its surface is covered by water, in liquid form as the great oceans and in ice at the poles. It is circled by a single moon, and is the third of at least six great planets circling the sun (ancient records suggest that there may be either eight or nine planets – the records seem to argue the point rather heatedly – but the others are too distant to be seen easily).
There are three major landmasses known to exist. In the northern hemisphere lies a large landmass with no single unified name: the western third is known – with a slight lack of creativity – as the Westlands or “wetlands”; the central area is known as the Aiel Waste; and the eastern part is known (most commonly) as Shara. The Westlands are the home of great kingdoms such as Andor, Illian and Saldaea and the seat of Aes Sedai power at Tar Valon. To the north of all three regions lies the vast, forbidding and hostile Great Blight, the home of Shadowspawn who plague the north of all the lands.
South of the Westlands and south-west of Shara lie two large island archipelagos. These are the home of the Atha’an Miere, the “People of the Sea” or, in common parlance, the Sea Folk. The Sea Folk spend most of their lives at sea aboard huge ships, the greatest vessels afloat, and facilitate trade between the nations of the world, although they do not cross the Aryth Ocean.
Far to the west of the Westlands, across the colossal Aryth Ocean (successor to the World Sea of the Age of Legends), lies the continent of Seanchan. Divided into two landmasses by a huge dividing channel, Seanchan is the largest continent in the world. It almost girdles the planet from pole to pole. It is home to hundreds of distinct cultures, races and societies, but they all live under the authority and yoke of the Seanchan Empire, the most powerful and populous nation on Earth. Founded by colonists from the Westlands more than a thousand years ago, the Seanchan have long dreamt of returning to their homeland and re-establishing communications…and dominance.
Far to the south of the Westlands, across the tempestuous Sea of Storms, lies an obscure continent known only as the “Land of the Madmen.” The Breaking of the World remains ongoing in this land, as the male channelers were never wiped out. Instead, they continue to ravage the land and the landscape, resulting in near-constant earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods. This has prevented any kind of civilisation from emerging, leaving even the non-channelling population in a constant state of turmoil, trauma and dread. The inhabitants of the continent attack strangers on sight. Despite multiple attempts by the Sea Folk to establish a peaceful dialogue with the inhabitants, they have been unable to visit the land without being assaulted. They have declared the continent off-limits and forbidden all travel there.
South of the Land of the Madmen lies a vast region of ice, many thousands of miles across. According to ancient records from the Age of Legends and even before, an entire continent once existed at the south pole, but its fate in the Breaking is unknown. Some believe it is still there, frozen under miles of glaciers.
North-west of the Westlands lies a foreboding region of water which is completely lifeless. No fish or aquatic life can be found here at all, north of the latitude of the southern edge of the Great Blight. The Sea Folk call stretch of ocean the Dead Sea, and it continues westwards for as far as they have explored. North of the Dead Sea lies the northern polar ocean, which is impassable at all times of year due to being frozen solid.
To the east, beyond Shara, lies the Morenal Ocean (sometimes called the Sea of Omerna), which separates that land from the Seanchan continent. Curiously, linear measurements show that the distance from Shara to Seanchan across the Morenal Ocean is far smaller than the distance from the Westlands to Seanchan across the Aryth, raising interesting questions about why the most well-travelled sea lanes between the two landmasses are the longer route across the Aryth Ocean. This suggests that the Morenal Ocean may be too dangerous to traverse, or a past confrontation between Shara and Seanchan convinced the Seanchan to give that nation a wide berth. The truth of this remains speculative.
The world of the Wheel is, of course, Earth in a remote future epoch (I would estimate between 15,000 and 20,000 years from now). The continents have been dramatically rearranged by the Breaking of the World, with only Australia being vaguely recognisable and even that have been altered significantly in shape and apparently increased somewhat in size.
Contrasting the time of the Wheel with our own, it appears that the world is cooler. Both the polar icecaps are huge, much larger than our own, with Antarctica (or whatever part of it survived the Breaking) completely buried under reams of ice. The larger icecaps increase the albedo of the planet and reflect more sunlight into space, likely cooling it further. The known deserts are much smaller than in our time (with the possible exception of dry lands deep in the Seanchan interior) and temperate forests exist at tropical latitudes. The world is likely rainier than now, due to the much vaster oceans giving rise to larger rain clouds (this is indicated by the vast ceranos storms that ravage the southern coast of the Westlands).
Robert Jordan declined to provide a name for the main continent (the one containing Andor, Tar Valon, Illian etc). The closest presented in the books was “the wetlands,” a descriptive name created by the Aiel. Fans coined the name “Randland” early on, but this was clearly impractical for an in-universe name. Finally, The Wheel of Time Roleplaying Game came up with the name “The Westlands” which Jordan seems to have reluctantly adopted (he used the name himself in several articles and notes), but not been very keen on. In-universe, the name Alindhol may have been appropriate: alin means “west” in the Old Tongue and dhol means “land.”
Robert Jordan was well aware that Seanchan was much closer to Shara across the Morenal Ocean than to the Westlands across the Aryth, specifying as much in the geographic notes (presented below) that he gave to John M. Ford to make the world map in The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time in 1995. Jordan never addressed why the Seanchan embarked on a lengthy 11,000 mile journey across the Aryth Ocean rather than nipping around the south coast of Shara to invade the Westlands via Mayene and Tear, which was less than half that distance (and maybe closer to a third). Fans have presented various ideas, including a previous confrontation between Seanchan and Shara that resulted in a bloody defeat and Seanchan backing off (this seems unlikely); insufficiant infrastructure on the west coast of Seanchan, with all of the major ports and shipyards for the invasion located on the east coast; much more favourable currents heading east across the Aryth then west across the Morenal; and potential manipulations by the Forsaken. The truth remains unclear.
From Robert Jordan’s notes:
The world of the books is the same size as our world. After all, it’s supposed to be our world, with all the tectonic plates shifted. Some reference points:
- Falme to Seanchan across the Aryth Ocean is about 11,000 miles.
- Seanchan to Shara across the Sea of Omerna is about 3,000 miles.
- The Aiel Waste is about 1,200 miles across, while Shara is about 2,000 miles (W-E) by 5,000 miles (N-S), with the Great Blight extending further south in Shara than in the Borderlands.
- Seanchan is about 16,000 miles from the southern tip to the Mountains of Dhoom (named by Hawkwing’s armies) in the north—yes, the same mountain range that girdles the world on land and under the ocean. The north of Seanchan is about 2,000 miles across at its widest, and there is a span of 6,000 miles at its widest in the south.
- South of the known world is an island continent known only to the Sea Folk, but avoided by them, which they call “the Land of the Madmen.” Its dimensions are about 3,000 miles (W-E) by 2,000 miles (N-S), with its southern coast less than 500 miles from the southern ice cap in places. Some speculate on the resemblance of this continent, in all respects, to current-day Australia, but on this we have no opinion.
There are both northern and southern ice caps. The southern ice cap completely covers whatever land is beneath it, and is larger than Antarctica. The northern ice cap also stretches somewhat further south than in our world.
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It must be the larger oceans, because otherwise I’d expect the colder Earth in Wheel of Time to be drier as well (just like how Earth in the glacial epochs of the Ice Ages is drier than the interglacials). The Westlands in particular seem like they should be drier, with mountains on three sides (something like the Eurasian steppe or Great Plains).
Maybe not that far. It seems pretty likely that our time period is supposed to be the First Age (the age before the Age of Legends), and if I recall correctly Jordan said in a Q&A that the appearance of channeling was the dividing point between the Age of Legends and the age before.
I think RJ had a couple of different ideas there. Channelling appeared near the end of the First Age but not quite at the end: the Portal Stones were created before the age ended. In his original plan for the series the First Age also ended in a nuclear war, with the Age of Legends beginning with humanity recovering (helped by the original channellers). That never made it into any of the text though, and it’s unclear if that was still his plan later on, when so much else changed.
I always liked the idea that channelling came about through genetic engineering (which is hinted at in the world book) with different nations racing to create their own channellers, and then tensions rising and maybe things heading towards a massive war but the channellers stopped things escalating and took over themselves, becoming the Aes Sedai and enforcing a new era of peace (perhaps through Compulsion; there’s some sketchy stuff suggesting that the AoL wasn’t quite as utopian as people think it was). The AoL grew out of that.
One of the issues with timescales is the Aes Sedai lifespans: they could live up to 750 years before the Oath Road curtailed that, so even a 7,500 year period is only 10 Aes Sedai generations. About 10,000 years sounds good for the AoL, enough time for war to fade as a concept but still be dimly recorded in histories.