After my new map of the main Wheel of Time continent, I’ve created a new map of the entire world.
This map draws upon the canonical world map in The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, but I have replaced the very rough details of the continents with the more detailed continental maps. For the most part they match exactly and consistently.
Description of the World
(note: this is a partial reprint of a previous article)
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 to John Ford:
“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.”