From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time

This week is magic week on my blog! That means discussion about all the wonderful sorts of magic that is found in fantasy. I think that, if I were to skip Wheel of Time, I would have to turn in my Fantasy Lover card. However, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve read WoT and I am not known for having an excellent memory. Luckily, Rob Edwards, author and youtuber, has lent his expertise. As he points out, there is an upcoming TV show. If you’re a book hipster who likes to read the book before the adaptation, you might want to hop on it! You can also hear Rob Edwards’ thoughts on WoT on Youtube.

Rob Edwards:

The Wheel of Time turns…

And what turns it is magic. Or, more specifically, the True Source and its male and female halves, saidin and saidar. Every aspect of the world Robert Jordan created is predicated on this fact. The existence of people who can channel, men who can use saidin, and women who can use saidar, touches almost every aspect of the world.

I want to be particularly careful of spoilers, as Amazon’s television version of Wheel of Time is getting closer, and this story is (hopefully) going to find a brand-new audience. On balance, I think I’m safe to spoil things that happen in the prologue of book 1 of this 14-book behemoth.

The male half of the One Power, saidin, is tainted by the Dark One and male channelers are doomed to insanity as a result. One of the earliest victims of this (at least on this turning of the Wheel) is Lews Therin Telamon, who slays his friends and family, and releases so much power he reshapes the very geography of the world. Ever looked at the map of the Wheel of Time and thought it looked a bit weird? Blame Lews Therin’s madness and saidin.

The fact that only women can safely touch the One Power makes their order, the Aes Sedai, a power in the world. I’m not going to attempt to argue sexism isn’t a thing in the Wheel of Time, it is, but there are women in positions of influence in most cultures of the world. The story starts in the Two Rivers, a village so provincial they don’t even realise what country they are in, but they have heard of Aes Sedai. They don’t trust them, but they have heard of them.

But I wanted to talk about the magic system. What do we know about how the One Power works?

Quite a lot, in fact. Over the course of almost 4.5 million words of fantasy epic, we spend a fair amount of time with women, and men, who can channel. We watch them learn, and come to understand their methods and risks.

To access the power, women must surrender to saidar, being careful not to be consumed by the desire to draw too much power, or risk burning themselves out. Men channelling saidin, don’t talk about it as a surrender, their use of the power is more combative, and while the desire to draw too much power is there for them too, it is set against the oily poisonous feel of the Dark One’s taint.

The one power is used to create weaves from earth, air, fire, water and spirit. Women are typically strongest with weaves of air and water, men with earth and fire. These weaves can be used for all sorts of purposes from fireballs to Healing, from influencing the weather to influencing people. 

Over the course of the series, we learn so much more about the intricacies of use of the power. We learn the circumstances in which a channeler can (or cannot) detect other channelers’ weaves. Inevitably, we learn what happens when two channelers come into conflict.

Really, I’m trying to be vaguely specific here to avoid spoilers!

The way that channelers can come together to create greater effects are explored, including noting that in earlier Ages, it was only by linking men and women in the same circle that the true wonders of bygone Ages were achieved. To keep me on brand, there’s a table in the old Wheel of Time RPG which shows how many men and women are needed for what size Circle. This table is not something invented for the game, it’s all in the books, though admittedly not in table form.

I’m barely skating across the surface here. I’ve not mentioned the differences and significances of power-infused items like angreal, ter’angreal and sa’angreal. That new weaves are created, or old ones rediscovered. Each with implications that are explored in the…

Burn me, there’s a lot. I guess that’s part of why this series is so long.

Still, if you’re looking for a fantasy series which really explores its magic system and its implications. If you want to get into the crunchy, almost scientific minutiae, Robert Jordan’s work is astonishingly detailed. It’s not a series for everyone, it has its problems, and some of the books are… not as good as the others… But light blind me for a wool-headed sheep herder, I love this series, and if you’re into this kind of thing, you might too.

Or wait for the TV show.

About the author:

Rob Edwards is a British born writer and content creator, living in Finland. His podcast, StorycastRob, features readings from his short stories and extracts from longer work. He writes about coffee, despite not drinking it, spaceships, despite being down-to-earth, and superheroes, despite everything.

His debut novel, The Ascension Machine was published in 2020. His short stories can be found in anthologies from Inklings Press and Rivenstone Press.

A life-long gamer and self-professed geek, he is proud of his entry on wookieepedia, the result of writing several Star Wars RPG scenarios in his youth.


Follow him on Twitter:
Check out his Podcast: Storycast Rob
Or YouTube: Rob Edwards

For more from this series:
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Coldfire Trilogy
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- The Weather Warden
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- And Now This
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Blood, Fire, and Death
From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Teaching Physics to Barbarians


19 thoughts on “From Merlin to Mistborn: A Discussion on Magic- Wheel of Time

  1. Thanks for the overview! I’ve started twice the WoT. I didn’t finish all the books yet, I think I didn’t finish it the second time because of …I don’t have them all (just the first 6 volumes). Maybe it’s time to give it another try.
    From the world build, what I find most intriguing is the “nearby” worlds. Worlds were things happened in another way. It has some quantum-world interpretation feeling. Don’t remember how those were called at this moment…

    Liked by 1 person

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