The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time: A companion book from the series’ halfway point

The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time:The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan & Teresa Patterson

The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is a companion for readers of Robert Jordan’s THE WHEEL OF TIME novels. Although I enjoyed the ~14 (15, if New Spring is included or fewer if the final three novels are counted as one, the way Jordan intended) WOT novels, I don’t recommend this companion. Here’s why.

The book is written from the point of view of fictional historians from within Randland, but the device doesn’t work. It seems odd that many characters of little renown are mentioned in a history of Randland. Prominent characters from the series like Faile, Nyneave, or Mat seem like odd inclusions in this history, and Padan Fain’s entry is especially incomprehensible. Padan Fain is an important villain in the series, but how would a historian know about such an obscure contemporary? It’s not like there’s an international press in Randland. Further, the historians do not appear again at the end of the book, which means the narrative device is all but abandoned after it’s introduced in the preface to generate a voice for the book.

The worst part of The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, however, may be that it reduces the depth and breadth of Jordan’s imagination. At first glance, the WOT is amazing — a wide and varied range of antagonists, a detailed history of many cultures, and an intricate magic system. Upon reading this companion, all are reduced. The way the trollocs are illustrated makes them seem ridiculous, revealing that readers’ suspension of the trollocs’ ridiculousness is tied up in the more general suspension of disbelief. The Forsaken, when introduced one after another, seem less like characters than final bosses in a video game — it’s almost as though there are 13 of them because the series has about 13 books. The Aiel, meanwhile, have many ways of forming communities — clans, sects, and still other societies — but this book does not explain their culture any more clearly than the novels do. Suffice it to say, the magic system also seems less magical.

Originally published in 1997, The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time came out between A Crown of Swords (book 7) and The Path of Daggers (book 8). Given that the series would continue for over another decade, it’s difficult to justify reading this book. In fact, I often found myself wondering why this book was published. I usually conclude that it was a place to publish “The Strike at Shayol Ghul,” an account of Lews Therin’s attack on the Dark One at the end of the Age of Legends. It may be worth noting that this short piece can be found online.

Ultimately, very little about Rand’s world is revealed that is not already provided in the novels and their glossaries. The artwork rarely inspires wonder, much of it is actually just the covers of the (first seven) books, and the maps are never more sophisticated or detailed than what are provided in the novels. The World of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time does not stand up to similar books about other fantasy series, such as The World of Ice & Fire or Day’s A Tolkien Bestiary, and it’s hardly surprising that a replacement WOT companion has since been published, The Wheel of Time Companion: The People, Places and History of the Bestselling Series.

Published in 1997. Since its debut in 1990, The Wheel of Time® by Robert Jordan has captivated millions of readers around the globe with its scope, originality, and compelling characters. The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and go, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth returns again. In the Third Age, an Age of Prophecy, the World and Time themselves hang in the balance. What was, what will be, and what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. In this series companion book, over fourscore full color paintings include stunning new maps of the world, portraits of the central characters, landscapes, objects of Power, and national flags. The reader will learn about the exotic beasts used by the Seanchan and read of the rise and fall of Artur Hawking, peruse the deeper story of the War of the Shadow. Here is the tale of the founding of the White Tower, and the creation of the Ajahs. The inner workings of the closed country, Shara, are revealed, as is the existence of a hitherto unknown continent called The Land of the Madmen. This stunning volume also includes double-page spreads of the seven book jackets by Darrell Sweet so that the art can be enjoyed without type, and all the known maps of the world, including maps of the Seanchan Empire, the nations of the Covenant of the Ten Nations, and the nations as they were when Artur Paendrag Tanreall began his rise to legend. Every Robert Jordan fan needs this book.

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RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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6 comments

  1. With these kinds of books, especially when they are not well done, I do wonder if the publisher’s profits were more of a motivation than any creative impulse.

    • I agree that it’s a possible explanation.

    • Yep, and I had a hunch and checked the publication date–both the hardcover and paperback were published on dates in mid-November of their respective years. This was meant as a Christmas gift, methinks.

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